Game 3, Team SoloMid versus Team Liquid, 3 minutes in: Broxah ganks mid and forces Bjergsen’s flash. 4 and a half minutes in: Broxah ganks top and forces Broken Blade’s flash. 7 minutes in: Broxah ganks mid again, securing a kill on Bjergsen. TL leads by 1,000 gold. 8 minutes in: Broxah ganks top, securing a kill on Broken Blade and takes the Rift Herald. 15 minutes in: Team Liquid is up 3,000 gold. 34 and a half minutes end, the game is over.
14 kills to 2.
“With everything that happened in Spring Split, the massive failure that spring split was, us not managing to go all the way in summer split and with all the challenges I had to face this entire year…” Broxah says.
In essence, this is prime Broxah. Constant smart Jungle pressure. Steady but active snowballing. Lane-focused, team-focused, objective-focused jungling all supplemented with great teamfighting. This will also be the last game Team Liquid wins in the summer playoffs. This is arguably the best it will get for Team Liquid’s 2020 LCS season.
This is the pinnacle right before the plummet.
Game 4, 12 minutes 40 seconds in, the game state is dead even and Team Liquid has the better scaling comp. A brilliant stopwatch by CoreJJ absorbs a huge amount of pressure and lets Team Liquid kill Broken Blade on the back end of the fight. Then, Broxah and Tactical line up perfectly for a Syndra stun, getting double killed.
Following this, the team tries to force a fight while down two players and two teleports. The macro is uncharacteristically sloppy and TSM takes advantage, winning the fight and evening the series.
Game 5, 31 minutes and 10 seconds in: Team Liquid has an advantage in game state. They use this to gain baron vision and start it. They didn’t clear one deep ward behind them and Broken Blade teleports in.
Unaware that they’re getting pincered until far too late, the team tries to retreat, falls into an Irelia and Shen engage in a tight corridor, and loses the fight, the baron, and about 10 minutes later, the game and the series.
“I guess it was always in the back of my mind that, with all the sacrifices I’ve had to make to be in the position I’m in, and with all the sacrifices [I’ve made] due to the pandemic, I really had to go all the way. Not being able to do that was not easy to accept,” Broxah reflected.
After the series, Broxah takes a moment to simply break down. Face flush with emotion, hands on his head, how much it all means is written and bolded in body language. Seeing him with Cain in Team Liquid’s newest SQUAD video — or even in the player cams on broadcast — it’s clear how heavy the world of a competitor can be.
It’s clear that there are some things you can only see when you reach the top. And that there are some things you can only feel when you fall from there. On face, it’s 5 games, every single one hard fought, every single one within reach of victory. But underneath that, for Broxah, it’s even more.
It’s months of him waiting and having to watch his team struggle because of legal and political circumstances far beyond his control. It’s joining the team and being one teamfight away from beating Cloud9, qualifying for playoffs, and giving a very ugly spring split some kind of meaning. It’s spending his first year away from family and loved ones because of a global pandemic. It’s having the most successful regular season in the history of your organization and still being doubted every step of the way. And it’s coming just two games in two best of 5’s shy of proving those doubts wrong.
For everyone watching from the outside, it’s hard to even imagine. For everyone on the inside, it’s part of the game.
“I felt a lot of regret. I could have played better; I wanted to play better,” CoreJJ said this in an interview with Inven, talking about Gen G’s brutal group stage exit at 2018 Worlds. “From the ashes of these emotions, the thought of moving forward came up. I am not saying that Ruler and I were lacking as a duo. I merely took the path that gives both of us the best momentum for improvement.”
For Jensen, that great moment of disappointment came in the 2017 LCS Finals, when one single missed key press cost him his first trophy. “I actually remember the night before I won my first LCS Title with Liquid, I re-watched that game just to remind myself of the emotions I had,” Jensen said in an interview, “and I told myself it was not going to happen again. In a way, it felt like something I had to overcome.”
“I was confident that we can beat anybody […] so it was regretful,” Impact said. Impact’s moment comes just last year. These words come from an Inven interview not long after our team was one game shy of making it out of a tough group. He continued: “It’s always regretful at the end. We didn’t show what we practiced properly… There’s a lot that I can say, but it would just be giving excuses. We were simply bad.”
For Broxah, 2020 as a whole has been a non-stop battle. He describes to me the year in full, from the visa issues to entering into a team in full decline to missing playoffs for the first time in his career.
To the up and down summer split where the team’s regular season record hid a long, continual effort to find footing and synergy after those efforts got scuttled by visas and roster changes: “If you take that entire rollercoaster and throw a massive pandemic on top of it, then there’s no doubt that I’ve had a lot of challenges to deal with.”
It wouldn’t help that Broxah became the media circuit’s whipping boy. Analysts highlighted his lower kill participation, lack of early game activity, and tanky champion pool as the weaknesses which they felt would come back to haunt Team Liquid. The culmination of the criticism came in a bizarre affair with 100 Thieves where the team won with Broxah having not gotten a kill, assist, or death until 32 minutes in.
Broxah worked hard to change a lot of these issues over the course of the split, which culminated in playoffs. In the playoffs, Broxah brought out a potent Hecarim pick that helped win the team a game and demanded a ban of TSM in the next three games. He’d tried at different moments to create more leads and aggression as well, but many of these moments backfired simply because the team played less clean macro on the day.
The perfect example being in game 5, where Broxah and Impact had Broken Blade pinned flashless and low health under tower. At its heart, it’s a good early game play designed to get Impact ahead. Unfortunately, the team didn’t respect that both mid and bot were pushed in, allowing Biofrost and Bjergsen to roam and counter the play if it dragged on too long.
Broxah had improved as a player and within the team structure by the series against TSM. To the point that his ganks and pressure plays secured Team Liquid a notable early game lead in every game of the series but one. To really flesh this out, in the playoffs, TL had the second highest gold difference at 15, the highest first tower rate, and the highest percentage of Rift Heralds secured of any team in the LCS playoffs.
It was just that new, team-wide issues arose at the same time. These kinds of wider team issues regularly come back on the jungler too, given how team-oriented the role is.
“The jungle is the type of role that can change the most depending on the team’s needs, really. And Fnatic and Team Liquid are two very different teams. I’ve tried to adapt, I’ve tried to learn and I’ve just tried to figure out a different way to approach the game,” Broxah says.
The difference really manifests in the mid-jungle duo. “I think our style as a team isn’t super focused around mid-jungle,” Jensen tells me in an interview for Monster Gaming. That alone is a big difference from the 2018 days where he’d shadow Caps in order to keep the perennially aggressive mid laner out of trouble.
Jensen adds that, despite the differences, the two have improved a lot as a duo, “I think, you know in our playoff series against TSM we [Broxah and I] played a lot better together than we did in the past. […] I think we’ve been improving.”
It’s true, but it was lost in the shuffle of a playoff series where we were winning off of early game and losing off of mid to late game macro mistakes – a shift so drastic that it’s naturally what most media focuses on. In a real sense, Broxah had adapted and the team as a whole had improved in certain areas. That improvement simply wasn’t enough to cover where the team had slipped.
The team had slipped from a stellar regular season into a playoff run where it seemed like the identity fell away right as the new star jungler got a hold of it. Given the entire context, the lead up, the efforts to improve, the full weight of the series settles in. The full sense of the loss settles in.
But, the loss to TSM isn’t the end of the story. Not for Team Liquid and not for Broxah.
Broxah and the entire team felt this loss like few others, but they’re all aware that the playoffs were never the end goal in the first place: “I think the goal of going far at Worlds can be achieved and that is what continues to keep me up and running and to keep me motivated. That belief that the second goal of mine is still a reality.”
For Boxah, that belief in future success is vital, regardless of whether it’s in line with or up against the past.
“If you go up against really good players and really good teams without trusting in your own abilities and without believing your team is better and without believing you’re the better player, you’re gonna get destroyed,” Broxah says matter-of-factly.
At the highest level, you have to take risks and you have to believe those risks are going to pay off. Broxah has experienced this firsthand, in what he calls the most famous clip of his career.
“Literally anyone watching thought I was dead,” Broxah says, “but in the moment, without even thinking, without even hesitating, I just saw an opportunity and I instantly went for it knowing that it was the only way for me to escape. I feel like when I’m really, really in the zone; when I’m playing at my best; when I’m really, really confident; I just believe that I can outplay anyone.”
This no Broxah-specific ego trip either, it’s a mindset common to the very best players.
“I never lose confidence in the game,” CoreJJ tells me in an interview to be released later this week. “Whenever I play my play, no one is better than me.”
Broxah marks this deep sense of self-trust as a kind of “game sense” up there with pathing, ganking, and positioning. In his eyes, it’s key not only to unleashing strengths but to facing down flaws and improving. It’s something he saw a lot in his time at Fnatic, where he made three of the most surprising Worlds runs anyone’s seen.
“Everyone would be down and there would be a lot of frustrations and emotions in the air after losing a lot of games at Worlds,” Broxah remarked of the moments when Fnatic not only looked down at Worlds, but like they might be out entirely. For example, when Fnatic had lost 4 straight games in the Group Stage in 2017.
“And then you know we would end up having a good team discussion, we would make a game plan on how to go forward, and then we would go into the next games with no regrets. Not worrying about the future. Not worrying about the past. Not worrying about the pressure. Just going in following our game plan, playing our game and then hoping for the best.”
After losing those 4 games, Fnatic would still escape their group by winning the next 4 games in a row (including the two tiebreakers). “On most variations of Fnatic rosters that I was part of, we would have a crazy amount of mental strength. Honestly, when we were pressured the most, that was when we played our best.”
This isn’t to say that belief and self-confidence will make every play turn out. Fnatic still lost to RNG in the Quarterfinals directly afterwards. Belief is not so much a salve as it is a basis. If a team wants to create any big play, any major upset, any deep Worlds run, they have to have hope before they get anything else.
“One thing that I’ve learned from my time in Fnatic is that no matter what situation you’re in, no matter how difficult things are looking, there’s always hope,” Broxah says.
Broxah has so much hope, positivity, and optimism that it’s baked into about every interview of his on the internet. Whether he’s defending Team Liquid’s awkward looking regular season success; or reminding the community that underperforming players are still people; or pushing back against the disbelief in NA even when it’s at its deepest — a disbelief he disagrees with at his very core.
Given the current buzz around NA – hell, given all of 2020 – Broxah’s intense optimism may sound naive and his hopes may seem false. Right now, it’s only understandable that even NA fans won’t believe in their teams in the way the players do. Right now, it’s only understandable that all kinds of talking heads will sharply criticize NA. This is just them doing their job.
But proving them all wrong is Broxah’s job — is Team Liquid’s job. Optimism, belief, trust, self-confidence, none of this is naive or silly. It is simply the first step to getting the job done.
Said Broxah: “Regardless what anyone says about this team, regardless of how negative people can be and how much shade they can throw our way, I’m gonna continue believing that. And I’m gonna continue putting in as much work as possible to prove all those people wrong.”