By rejoining TSM, Doublelift, 26, completes a circle that began with a boot in late 2017. Fresh off another disappointing performance at the League of Legends World Championship, TSM chose to replace Doublelift and lane partner Vincent “Biofrost” Wang with imported European stars Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodríguez. Although the roster shake-up was made with international success in mind, it ended a partnership that cemented TSM’s status as North America’s marquee team and fueled two LCS titles, including a historic 17-1 regular season during the 2016 LCS Summer Split.
Doublelift was surprised by the abrupt dismissal at the time, but also understood the business of making changes to an underachieving lineup. Revenge came swiftly when Team Liquid, keyed by Doublelift’s outstanding performance against Zven, smashed TSM to kickoff the 2018 LCS Spring Split. The victory was a harbinger of TL’s ascendancy and TSM’s impending struggles.
“I felt pretty vindicated in that moment,” Doublelift said in an interview with The Post Saturday. “And then after that, I didn’t really have any hard feelings against TSM. It’s not like you want to keep driving that point home. I actually kind of felt bad that TSM didn’t make Worlds for the next two years and they were never able to have a successful bot lane or have a successful team.”
His point made, Doublelift set about satisfying another competitive drive: Proving he could win without TSM mid laner Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg, arguably the league’s best player at the time. Like Kobe without Shaq, Doublelift was determined to step outside Bjergsen’s shadow and define his own legacy as a leader and superstar. One MVP award, one Finals MVP award and four straight LCS championships later, Doublelift stood alone as the most decorated North American player of all time.
“What I learned on Team Liquid was how to be a leader,” Doublelift said. “I got the team to un-tilt, to have some confidence, to have some energy during practice and during stage games. Every playoffs, people looked to me as the source of strength for the team, for me to know what to do, to always have a win condition and be the player that we can play around.”
Despite his heightened influence on the team, Doublelift’s dismal record at international tournaments followed him from TSM to TL. He failed to qualify for the World Championship knockout stage in 2018 and 2019, extending a career-long drought. By the start of 2020, it became clear that Doublelift’s goals had become focused to simply getting out of groups at Worlds. “I would sacrifice five of my domestic championships for one good international run,” he told The Washington Post in January. “But you can’t do that, you can’t cash that in.”
It was also evident that Doublelift was suffering from a lack of inspiration. Due to rule changes implemented in the offseason, an LCS team’s spring split finish no longer had any bearing on their Worlds qualification. Deprived of a steppingstone toward his ultimate goal, and with visa issues delaying the integration of Liquid’s new import jungler Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen, Doublelift’s play deteriorated. After missing a weekend of games with laryngitis, Doublelift tweeted on March 3 that he was being benched in favor of Edward “Tactical” Ra “because I had no motivation until very recently.” Doublelift eventually regained his starting spot, but by then it was too late to turn around the team’s fate. Team Liquid finished in 9th place with a 7-11 record, missing playoffs and unable to defend their LCS four-peat. It was by far the worst split of Doublelift’s career.
Over the course of the spring split, Doublelift’s relationship with Team Liquid deteriorated. In a personal vlog he posted to YouTube on Sunday, Doublelift claimed he was the only person who wanted to keep Jake “Xmithie” Puchero after the team flamed out at Worlds 2019. Doublelift prized the strong communication he’d built through years of practice with Xmithie, and resented how his friend was scapegoated for Team Liquid’s poor performance at Worlds. Also on the vlog, Doublelift noted his teammates complained of his play to Team Liquid’s coaches, but they declined to address it with him, further straining the relationship.
Once he was benched midseason, Doublelift began having conversations with Co-CEO and Owner Steve Arhancet about the future of Liquid’s AD carry position. In those discussions, Doublelift made his position clear: Nothing against Tactical, but he wasn’t interested in splitting time with anyone.
“It's honestly just insulting to me, to split time with somebody when I know that I am absolutely worthy of being a starting player on the best team in the league,” Doublelift said. “I think splitting time is really bad for my career and my development as a player.”
Doublelift was further disheartened by Liquid’s indecisiveness when it came to deciding between the two of them. If the organization was at all unsure who to start, then it was time to leave, he reasoned. Both parties agreed that a trade was the best available option, and Doublelift’s contract was made available in mid-April.
“I want to play on a team where everyone buys into me as a person,” Doublelift said. “I want people to be excited to play with me, you know? You don’t want to inject yourself in a place where you don’t feel like you’re fully wanted, or you’re not even sure if you are wanted.”
While multiple teams expressed interest in acquiring his services, Doublelift targeted TSM as his best option due to its familiar faces and high talent level. He’d maintained close friendships with former TSM teammates and management over the years, and was excited by the prospect of playing alongside Bjergsen and Biofrost again. Having accomplished his goal to win without Bjergsen, Doublelift believed the two iconoclasts could resume their alliance. He expects their natural chemistry outside the game will translate in positive synergy inside the game. He also wants to move on from the rocky end to his time with Team Liquid.
“I want to have a redemption story here with TSM,” he said in the vlog.
As the LCS transitioned online in response to covid-19, Doublelift participated in a streamed set of scrimmages with the old 2016-17 TSM roster during the league’s brief hiatus. The matches showcased how much chemistry those close friends still had. Their near-constant banter featured jokes about current teammates, Doublelift’s form after being benched and small callbacks to their days playing together.
Doublelift claimed that reunion, the two-part highlights of which he titled “Rejoining 2016 TSM” on YouTube, did not influence his decision to rejoin TSM.
“We’re just like a rowdy bunch of kids,” Doublelift said. “I’d hoped to stay in touch with everyone for the rest of our lives. … I think that’s cool that the public got to see us play together again, how we talk to each other. And yeah, it’s fun. I’m not gonna lie to you, it’s really fun to do.”
In his vlog post, Doublelift also addressed his relationship with TSM president Leena Xu, which caused speculation of potential tampering.
“Yeah, me and Leena are in a relationship,” Doublelift said in his vlog. “No, she didn’t poach me. … If Leena was on Dignitas, no I would not join Dignitas. If Leena was on CLG, no I would not join CLG. If Leena was not on TSM would I join TSM? Absolutely yes. That has nothing to do with it.”
In a statement, LCS commissioner Chris Greeley said that the league had reviewed documents and communications related to the trade and “found no evidence of prohibited behavior.”
The acquisition of Doublelift does create a ripple effect on the TSM roster. In an ironic reversal from 2017, Doublelift will replace European import Kasper “Kobbe” Kobberup, who signed a two-year contract with TSM as a prized free agent this past offseason. Dinh is counting on Doublelift’s established connection with Biofrost to boost a bot lane that did not meet its lofty preseason expectations. Kobbe’s talent was evident, but his playstyle clashed with Biofrost’s instincts, according to Dinh.
“Together, [Biofrost and Kobbe] don’t communicate well,” Dinh said. “That doesn’t mean those players aren’t good, it just means that it’s a big mismatch in terms of personality in a play style.”
Dinh and TSM General Manager Parth Naidu do not consider TSM Academy a viable destination for Kobbe, and will work with the world-class Danish bot laner to select an appropriate landing spot.
“The reason why we thought Double would be a better fit for our organization is because, with Bio and Kobbe, our bot lane really lacked the synergy that we thought we would have,” Dinh said. “After trying and evaluating, we thought it would make more sense with the opportunity that presented itself to really go for that change. With Bio and Double, it will give us a really high percentage actually of doing extremely well in North America.”
Dinh and Naidu didn’t expect Doublelift to become available this summer, but when the opportunity arose, they bought into an old friend. For his part, Doublelift is optimistic TSM can recapture its former North American glory and challenge Cloud9 for regional supremacy. He’s always excelled in the summer, having been named to the Summer Split All-Pro 1st-Team every year since 2016. And with Doublelift’s inclusion in the lineup, TSM has dangerous carry options in all three lanes, echoing the triple threats featured by many of the world’s top teams.
“Could we be the best team in LCS? For me, it’s really obviously yes,” Doulblelift said. “I think with me on that team — a team that really has great individual talent but has never been able to form a good identity, have good shot-calling, have good drafts — I can fill in a lot of the issues that they have.”