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What is happening with Team Liquid – Alphari benched

Only one week into the LCS Summer Split, 4-time LCS Champions, Team Liquid, appear to be in dire straits.

Team Liquid’s acquisition of the toplaner Barney “Alphari” Morris was heralded by many as the most significant offseason move going into 2021. In a year where the likes of Luka “Perkz” Perkovic and Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Chieh entered the ranks of the LCS, this was certainly quite a claim. Alphari had earned his reputation, at first by playing a role in Misfits famous Worlds 2017 run, and later by remaining a top-tier solo laner in the LEC.

Alphari’s move to Team Liquid seemed like a perfect fit. Alphari was widely considered among the best, most consistent toplaners in Europe. Though individually Alphari contended with top tier toplaners, such as Martin “Wunder” Hansen, his teams were often lacking. After the breakdown or Origen, Team Liquid seemed like a stable home for Alphari, one where we could finally see his return to Worlds.

Largely, Alphari lived up to the hype. In the 2021 Spring Season, Alphari was undoubtedly the best toplaner in the LCS. Making the All Pro First Team and coming in second in the MVP voting, Alphari topped his role in KDA, CPSM, KP%, DMG%, and most lane differentials. Yet after only one game, Alphari was benched for TL’s academy toplaner, Thomas “Jenkins” Tran.

Why was Alphari benched?

No official statement has been made regarding why exactly Alphari has been benched. Many have speculated that this sudden roster move occurred because of behind the scenes ‘behavioral issues.’ The LCS is no stranger to attitude problems. Last split Eugene “Pobelter” Park was benched for this reason and longstanding LCS players such as Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett are notorious for consistent problems outside of the rift.

Team Liquid’s first game of the split against TSM was an incredibly tight match. Though Team Liquid fell behind early, a mid game rally almost brought them back. Ultimately, TL fell short of starting the season off with a win. This must have been a frustrating start for the Team Liquid players and staff considering how close they were to a win.

Alphari particularly seemed to struggle this game on Lee Sin, a toplane pick popularized over the course of MSI. Considering his incredible champion pool and known skill ceiling, many believe this game (moreover what must have been said after the fact) must be the reason for his benching.

Shortly after this game, Team Liquid released a roster update video announcing that Jenkins would be replacing Alphari for the remainder of the week.

Alphari’s response

Since being benched, Alphari has Tweeted several ominous, if not comical, responses. After the week of games had concluded, Alphari tweeted out a thin veiled criticism of his situation.

Replacing the fast food chains with Alphari and Jenkins quite obviously points to his current situation on the bench. Countless community figures such as Yiliang “Doubelift” Peng commented on the situation, emphasizing TL’s lunacy for benching such a star player. Heavily criticized for being ‘unprofessional’, Alphari seemed to double down, poking fun at the situation and refusing to be silent about ‘my undying passion for fast food.’

Nicloaj “Jensen” Jensen also vaguely commented on the issue, tweeting out an ominous gif. Most likely, Jensen is referencing the current state of the team, implying there are some further internal issues at hand.

Can Team Liquid perform without Alphari?

As next week’s games are quickly approaching, it is unclear whether or not we will Alphari’s return to the rift or Jenkins continuing to stand in. Considering the stand Alphari has taken against his benching, it seems unlikely that Alphari will be the starting toplaner moving into the immediate future. Considering how integral Alphari was in Team Liquid’s strong showings previously, how will they perform without him?

Historically, Team Liquid has performed fairly well with substitute players. Whether due to visa issues or player health, Team Liquid has had to pull from their academy team several times. Both Shern “Shernfire” Cherng Tai and Jonathan “Armao” Armao were pulled into the starting roster at critical points. Thankfully for Team Liquid, investing heavily into their academy team has paid off. Despite not playing a single game in the regular season, Armao exceeded expectations in the LCS finals.

Replacing Alphari is a tall task however, and while other roster swaps were used as a short term fix, if Jenkins is meant to start for an extended period of time, Team Liquid could be in trouble. The starting toplaners in the LCS range from top talent from other regions to former World Champions, and toplane difference will be easily exploited.

Whether or not Alphari returns to the roster remains to be seen, however what is clear is that Team Liquid has found themselves in hot water just days into the Summer Split. A recovery from this point will be difficult, but necessary should they hope to make Worlds.

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Image Credit: Riot Games