I still remember the day as if it were yesterday. It was the day after Star Horn Royal Club played in the LPL's equivalent of the promotion tournament. So certain was I of the result that I hadn't even stayed up to watch the match. After all, how could a team with InSec on the roster possibly fall to one of the LSPL's notoriously bad teams -- the various incarnations of Qiao Gu are an obvious exception. Yet, when I opened TheScore's esports app that morning, I was in for the biggest surprise in my time watching the League of Legends scene. Star Horn Royal Club had been relegated. The team that was once considered the biggest challenge to Korean supremacy hadn't even managed to keep their position in their own domestic league. As a fan of the LPL, I didn't know what to think, as it was one of the most grounbreaking events that the league had ever seen. The team had been a stalwart member of the LPL since its inception. Its elimination was unthinkable.
So when I say that I sympathize with Team Liquid's fans after this weekend, know that I mean it sincerely. Expectations might have been set low for Team Liquid after their loss of Dardoch and the controversy surrounding their documentary film that released at the end of the last year, but no one ever imagined that Team Liquid would end up in a punching match with Team EnVyUs to try to stay out of the last-place spot. Every week, fans of the organization kept telling themselves that things would turn around soon, especially after Doublelift surprised everyone by coming out of retirement in order to help the ailing team make a comeback. In the end, though, Team Liquid proved that Counter Logic Gaming must have some sort of monopoly on faith-based performance and finished off the split the same way they began it, underwhelmingly. Team Liquid is now on their way to the promotion tournament, and no amount of faith will pull them back from the brink that they've found themselves on.
So the question of the hour is thus: will Team Liquid pull themselves back from the brink, or are they destined to follow in the footsteps of Dignitas as the second major founding member (though technically they were still known as Curse at the time) of the LCS to be relegated?
In order to answer that, we must look at their competition. The two NACS teams that will be taking part in the promotion tournament are eUnited and Gold Coin United, both of which are historically powerful teams that features multiple LCS-tier players. In my estimation, the question is one of seeding. If Team Liquid is merely forced to take on eUnited in order to keep their LCS spot, then I would give the edge to Team Liquid. Piglet has proven to be less of a liability that expected in the mid lane, though he hasn't exactly been eye-popping either. It's not unrealistic to assume that he'll manage to survive against Fox, and if he perseveres in lane, then Team Liquid can bring their overwhelming advantages across the rest of the map to bear. Not many would bet on a lane of Zeyzal and Deftly against Doublelift and Adrian, and the most likely path to victory for Team Liquid lies in the rather large disparity on the bottom side of the map, especially when combined with Reignover's trademark aggressive style.
The tables turn somewhat if Team Liquid is forced to instead face Gold Coin, however. To be clear, I don't favor Gold Coin, but the matchup is close enough that I'm hesitant to give Team Liquid the edge in the same way I do against eUnited. I can see it going either way, and that concerns me. Team Liquid's talent pool is far too large for this to be an uncertain thing, and it's a true testament to exactly how bad Team Liquid have looked that I'm not willing to predict their unconditional success. Piglet might be able to stand against Fox, but Fenix is another question, and right now it's very difficult to win a game of League if your mid lane fails.
The short answer? Is this the end for Team Liquid? Maybe, and that should be a scary thing for any fan or the team. While Team Liquid can almost certainly battle their way back into the LCS if they do fall out, it's uncertain they'll be able to keep their top-tier talent without the appeal of a place in the LCS to keep their interest. While i have no doubt that Team Liquid will find their way back into the LCS one way or another, it is unlikely to be a cheap affair.