Coming into the first day of Groups, Team Liquid had misread the meta, drafted poorly, and got pretty thoroughly beaten by the LMS’s first seed, Machi. The game would be the difference between a three-way tiebreaker for first in a group where Team Liquid had beaten everyone and the third 3-3 in three years. Yet, the mood around TL is anything but hopeless. Team Liquid had done something very few North American teams do at Worlds: they adapted. Over the course of a few days, they revamped their draft strategy, refocused their macro, fit into the Worlds meta as best they could and went 2-1 in the second phase of Groups. Surprisingly, TL got a lot of support from the North American community, many fans asking for the team to stay together. That level of hope is something you rarely see for a team that didn’t escape Groups. At the center of that hope is Edward “Tactical” Ra, the team’s rookie ADC.
It starts against MAD Lions with a flash forward on Twitch — a squishy ADC with no gap closer and a poor early game. Tactical flashes over Kaiser’s Leona ultimate to kill Carzzy’s Ashe, setting up for a Herald play. The Herald play turns into plates but more importantly into pressure that forces Shadow ‘s Evelynn to show bot lane. This allows Impact to all in Orome in the top lane.
NA talent feels increasingly hard to find, making Tactical a rarity stacked on rarities: a homegrown NA talent – on top of a rookie who needed no more than a split before he looked like a veteran – on top of being in an NA team that actually adapted and changed styles mid-Worlds. There’s no question, Tactical is good. But he’d like to be better.“I want to become a more dominant player. Rather than just being able to play against the best ADC’s and hold my own, I’d say I wanna become the better AD carry myself,” Tactical said. He specifically means laning. Since he joined the LCS, laning has been Tactical’s comparative weak spot. Like he says, he doesn’t lose lane hard anymore. Gone are the days where one of the weaker LCS teams can dogpile him at level 1 and offset him for the game. However, winning lane is another story.Even in his very successful Summer 2020 split, Tactical has been more a teamfight god than a laning god. Tactical had the 4th highest DPM and 2nd highest damage share of all players in the Summer 2020 LCS. Given TL had a pretty middling amount of overall kills and was less active, those numbers feel slightly more impressive in full context. In the playoffs, they got even better, with Tactical leading ADs in DPM and damage share and getting second overall behind PowerOfEvil.But in Gold and CS at 10, Tactical was fairly middling in both the regular season and playoffs. He debuted on the LCS stage with a straight-up 2v2 kill but he doesn’t quite have the laning prowess of other world class ADs – something he admits to in the interview.In our interview, Tactical points to his laning micro in particular. For him, the biggest difference between a regional botlaner and a world class one are the many small things they do incredibly right in lane. Small things like perfected auto-spacing* can push you from holding your own to winning in lane.“I notice a lot of these good AD carries, their spacing will be very good in the laning phase. It’ll be much harder to get auto attack trades or free auto-attacks. That’s something I’m trying to improve on too,” he said. Even with perfect micro and spacing, a carry can only control so much of their own laning phase. League is in particular a team game – and a draft game.* Doublelift got crucified for trying to make auto-spacing a thing but this layer of micro should have its own term, whether that’s spacing or auto-spacing. League’s language is underdeveloped compared to other sports and needs more jargon, not less.
The Play-Ins meta was not the Worlds meta. We all learned this the hard way when the team locked in Twitch-Rakan against Suning.“If the Twitch-Rakan’s opposing team is able to form any kind of numbers advantage and try to move down to the bottom side, it can be pretty hard to Twtich-Rakan because they can’t actually do a lot by themselves. The only thing they can do in lane before they have level 6 is farm basically.” Tactical says Twitch-Rakan’s like of early priority basically makes it a waiting game that a good team could punish very hard.“I think play-ins was just that either bot laners were not able to punish well enough v2 or coordinate well enough with the team to try to set up a plan where they could try to screw over the Twitch-Rakan.” Suning would have both the laning and communication to do what the play-in teams couldn’t.
“It was kind of hard to match up against other teams the way we were playing and the way they were playing. So we realized we have to change too for the highest chance of winning. It was also like we realized if we were actually a good team we wanna play the way the other teams were,” Tactical reflected. The team’s new draft strategy came out of necessity. Down 1-2, it was play the early game champs, or perish.
Tactical said: “In scrims we had a hard time against these kinds of drafts, where they had a lot of pressure early but we couldn’t really match it as much – and we’d just lose too much, basically. And also even in solo queue, oftentimes what we’d naturally end up picking to wanna win solo queue would be like early pressure picks.”In the following games, Team Liquid entered with a crucial Sett pick that could flex top, mid, or bot and have strong laning priority in any spot. In the following Suning game, Jensen took the Sett mid. Meanwhile, Tactical and CoreJJ took Jhin and Bard, a duo that retained the general utility of Twitch-Rakan while losing the very poor lane priority.
All of this requires a certain game sense and outlook of both members in the duo. “I’d say, when he does roam, I know what he [CoreJJ] wants to do. So I’ll think sometimes when he roams, it’s the best option. […] It’s probably just a common game sense thing – basically like a universal understanding of what the best option is in the game at that time and knowing what my job is. It’s basically not to die… and then we win.” Tactical ends with a chuckle.**Tactical’s idea of the game comes in part from playing so much with Core, a Korean support who competed against and defeated Gorilla. “It might have came from playing a lot of solo queue with him during spring split, where I might’ve like, kind of helped [us] line up.”But even moreso, it seems as though the two naturally agree on how the bot lane should play. “We’re really close and we’re very good working with each other. Since we’re easily able to work with each other, we’re able to put a lot of attention on basically just only improvement rather than having different ideals.”Their natural synergy is also a big part of why Tactical improved so much and had such a great rookie year. “He’s probably helped me the most with development because we just talk throughout the game and we kind of agree most of the time and we just keep learning together.”Core’s mentorship shows clearly on the rift, but even more bizarrely, it shows in the way Tactical talks. From just recently interviewing Core, I can’t help but notice that Tactical picked up some of Core’s speech patterns. Some things are very small, like using “just” more often – the English filler word Core defaults to. Or using more of the simple, punchy Pronoun-verb-object sentences that second language English speakers tend to default to (“I don’t like games. I just like winning”). Or using more introductory clauses.And some things are more noticeable. In my first interview with him, Tactical was quick to answer most things, putting the words down and revising as he went. Now, he’ll sit with a question and leave multiple seconds of silence in between if he needs. It’s something not a lot of people do (most people throw out conversational filler), but it is something that Core does, even in native language interviews. Tactical is still every bit his own player with his own way of talking. If anything, the shared bits of language and mannerism remind me of the ways good friends take on pieces of one another without even thinking about it.* PraY’s first longtime bot lane partner and mentor was our strategic coach, Cain.** Core’s roams show in Tactical’s stats, where he had the 2nd highest XP difference at 10 of ADCs (LCS Summer/Playoffs), despite having more average gold differences.
This story – despite the friendships, belief, and growth – has a bitter ending. Those two brutal losses where we had misread the meta meant everything. We finished at 3-3, one win shy of forcing either a three-way tiebreaker and G2 coming one win shy of giving us a two-way tiebreaker. The growth and the potential still hung in the air at the end of the run.The team had improved a ton not just in the draft but in communication and execution. “Throughout the split we got better at trying to play the same game, because it’s not always easy to line up 5 people’s vision into one. […] We got better at trying to cover for each other, basically. I think our communication got much more clean and individually we started trying to recognize what everyone’s role.”The improvement simply didn’t come in time. Tactical cites Team Liquid’s main weakness as not having a more consistent way of playing and a good read on the meta established earlier on. At the same time, there’s a reason why NA has so many near misses at Worlds.“It’s a bit harder because the other regions are usually more on top of the meta and since they’re more on top of the meta they get to have the better practice because they’re trying these newer things. And eventually it becomes the Worlds meta. But then here it’s kinda just completely different because teams are more often than not trying to just scale.”This isn’t to blame the near miss on NA as it is to say that the near miss is becoming NA’s identity. A team can separate from their region and far outperform where they came from, but it’s a harder path. Tactical, a homegrown talent, came up through the amateur upsurge league, got spotted for Scouting Grounds from there, and got into TSM Academy from there. He said the talent pipeline helped him quite a bit, amateur league giving him the chance to learn team skills and TSM academy giving him a great coach in form of Peter Zhang. However, he felt that teams and young talent could both benefit from things like the trainee programs that the LCK and LPL have. Given the recent changes to the Australian League scene, import trainees might even help bolster NA’s solo queue and lower its brutal 30-minute long queue times at the challenger level.On purely personal terms, the North American near miss colored the year in a very odd way for the rookie. He tells me that objectively it’s been a good rookie year, one where he improved just about every part of his game but the feeling is different. Being a game away from glory three times in a row makes sense of that feeling.At the same time, the whole process made Tactical come away with a much clearer sense of the game, of himself, and of what to improve on. As a player, he speaks much more confidently and knowingly than he did in the spring interview. There, he struggled exactly to say what determined skill gaps in League, how the game should be played, or how he could become a team’s main carry. Here, he’s found specific parts of micro in other ADCs that he wants to replicate. He’s identified styles and tactics he can trust to win regularly. He’s even been the main carry at points in the split, but he’s spotted ways to bring even more to the table.In our first interview, he was a rookie struggling to sleep through the anxious nights in between stage games. In this interview, he felt that those nerves broke on the rocks that were play-ins. Now that he has the confidence to play on any stage, his focus is on finding the laning prowess players like Imp and PraY had, as finding a clear voice in the team.“I’d say, there are aspects where I could work in terms of becoming a main carry – basically trying to express what I want exactly. I’m getting closer to knowing more often what I want and what I want to do. I’d say probably with some more time I could become a better carry.”He’s cognizant of the work that he still needs to do, as well as the work that the team and the region needs to do. But he’s ready to do all that and more.
“How confident are you feeling about the next split and your future in the LCS?” I asked him. “I’d say I have way more confidence now, after Worlds. I feel like not only am I gonna be less nervous, I’m gonna do way better this time around.”“Who in NA are you looking to beat?”“Everybody. I’m looking to beat everybody.”
Writer // Austin Ryan
Imagen de Teamsecret.gg