StarLadder i-League Season 3 was the last tournament in the circuit before the Kiev Major qualifiers and the last chance for many teams to secure a potential invitation and avoid the shark pit that is the Major qualifiers.
It was also a Lazarus Pit for the two teams in the final, Liquid and Vici Gaming.J. Last year Liquid had proved itself to be the second best team in Europe with multiple second place finishes at top-tier tournaments — including both Majors — as well as winning EPICENTER. After a disappointing International, Liquid went through a roster shuffle and came out with the best player in the world in Amer “Miracle-” Al-Barkawi. On paper, this was a clear upgrade from Adrian “FATA-” Trinks, but the team lost Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka, the best support player of 2016, to OG. Kanishka ‘Sam’ “BuLba“ Sosale replaced him, with disastrous results.
Liquid went from potential world beaters to not getting out of the qualifiers. Miracle- is an incredible player, but he needed a support player who could create space, get information and make decisive plays. For all of his in-game knowledge, BuLba could never match the likes of Miracle-’s former support player Andreas Franck “Cr1t-” Nielsen. He was inherently passive and skittish when it came to the laning phase, and Miracle- often found himself getting run over by the gank train. With rosters already locked, it looked as if Liquid would have to wait for the next season before finding a potential fifth.
But Liquid’s failure was another man’s opportunity. Maroun “GH-GOD” Merhej had gained fame as a great solo queue player and earned a chance to stand in for Liquid during DreamLeague Season 6. Liquid went on to win the tournament, and GH secured himself a permanent spot on the team.
He was the final piece Liquid needed. The addition of GH ensured Miracle- could survive the laning phase and increased the team’s overall versatility. Liquid could play the 4-protect-Miracle- strat, teamfight incredibly well and open up the entire map with GH’s Io. This versatility of strategy eventually earned Liquid the win at StarLadder.
While Liquid previously dropped from great heights, VG.J started at the bottom. The team captain was Bai “rOtk” Fan, who had come off one of the worst years of his playing career. It got to the point where everyone rightly questioned his place on the team and his place as a pro player. Given rumors of his lack of practice as well as his disastrous results as a player, it seemed he could retire any day.
At the end of 2016, two changes rejuvenated the roster: Liu “Freeze” Chang became mid-laner and Xu “fy” Linsen joined as a support player. This was extremely exciting for a few reasons.
The alchemy of the five players on VG.J was perfect. Sun “Agressif” Zheng is a brilliant carry player, but one who must constantly be active and fight as compared to the traditional safe laner. Fy and Fenrir are a legendary support duo who can control the pace of a game, teamfight, spell cast and control map vision. Between these three players there was a strong consistent core that can win you most games. Then we come to Freeze, who is a bit like rOtk. He is an inconsistent mid laner who can either take over or feed. Most importantly, he matches the tempo of the other four players despite not being in the highest echelon of mids. The entire team comes together under rOtk, whose leadership style is perfectly suited to this aggressive team fight play style. In addition to that, the ease of the 7.00 off lane reintroduced heroes that perfectly fit rOtk’s play style. He showed he can pull off strategic surprises in Game 2 of VG’s series against OG: rOtk played support Undying while Fy took over the off lane role.
StarLadder was the last stop before the Kiev Major qualifiers and it was also the place of resurrection for Liquid and VG.J. Even if they don’t get invites to the Major, they remain favorites to get out of their regional qualifiers and potential championship contenders at the event.