Superstar AD carry Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng has played in the League of Legends Championship Series final the previous three seasons, winning one beside his longtime teammates on Counter Logic Gaming before moving over to Team SoloMid. He would then lose to his former CLG team in the 2016 spring final before defeating C9 for his second title that summer.
Now, essentially on loan on Team Liquid for the remainder of the spring split -- a team that is lurking near the bottom of the table -- Doublelift's streak of finals appearances is likely over unless a mini-miracle happens in the last two weeks of the season.
After his first match with his new team, Doublelift discussed his return to professional play, the successful streaming life he left, and whether Team Liquid can become a more permanent home if the final weeks of the season lead to an improbable playoff run.
"It feels good [to be back in the NA LCS]," said Doublelift. "Just going up against C9 -- I hate losing more than anything else -- but I know it's the first time in a really long time where there is a huge gap between me and the team I'm playing. ... But yeah, it feels good to be back in the LCS, competing and playing."
Doublelift's introduction couldn't have come at a rougher time for his new team. Team Liquid, usually around the fourth position in the league, is having its worst season to date, and the club just made a major roster move by switching natural AD carry and former world champion Chae "Piglet" Gwang-jin to the mid lane. Even now, Team Liquid will be changing Doublelift's support for his second week on Team Liquid, as former All-NA LCS support Adrian will be playing with TL in their desperate hope to make the playoffs.
"There are three pretty big problems [for TL]," he said. "They're not insurmountable, but they're pretty blatant problems. The first one, they probably didn't have good shot-calling before I came in. I don't even think my shot-calling right now is very good. ... Their vision game doesn't exist, and that was very apparent against C9 when we just had, like, no vision and [C9] were just walking everywhere and taking over the map. That's number two, and I think that might even be the most important one.
"And then, lastly, I feel like everyone on Team Liquid, because they haven't been doing well and having good results, they don't play with their teammates. And I don't think it's like, 'I don't trust this guy to play this well.' It's [more] like they don't consider their teammates are tools for them to use. ... So having that eye for team play is also completely missing from Team Liquid, so I think if I can fix that, if everyone can have the same eye as me when I look for plays and if I can fix the vision game, that's going to be the big turning point for TL."
Doublelift's return to action was par for the course for a returnee of his caliber: He showed some rust -- his dying to Red Buff is now forever in Riot's blooper reel -- but he rebounded by the end of the weekend to carry Liquid to a victory over Team Envy in a game that could have essentially pushed Liquid into relegation. Now with a 4-10 record, and two matches behind the sixth and final postseason slot in the NA LCS, Team Liquid has an outside chance of keeping Doublelift's streak of NA LCS finals alive and making him the first player to accomplish that feat in three different organizations.
"I have only been playing with TL for a day, so my champion pool is still solo-queue champion pool," he said of his choice of the rarely seen Draven in the bottom lane against Cloud9. "I just needed a safe AD carry versus their triple dive, and there's just nothing. Honestly nothing. It was either Jhin or Draven. They banned or took all the safe AD carries -- like, they took Ezreal and banned the others, so I felt like I gotta play Draven, I guess, and hope for the best."
And while Team Liquid has understood from the beginning that Doublelift would return to his old club, TSM, at the end of the spring split and that the current situation is basically a loan, there is always the chance that things could change. Maybe TSM will win the title with Jason "WildTurtle" Tran and keep a five-man roster. Maybe TL somehow wins NA LCS and Doublelift finds synergy with his new support in Adrian "Adrian" Ma. Maybe Doublelift and Team Liquid can agree to a contract for the summer.
For Doublelift, at least, his mind is already clear on his plans, and there are no maybes or what-ifs.
"I basically have plans to play on a six-man roster with TSM," Doublelift said. "I really want to help Team Liquid get better, and I really want to see them not get relegated. Getting me acclimated to being competitive again is one big positive of this experience, and then hopefully I'll be on TSM summer split. I think it's really, really likely, but I don't want to say for sure."
It didn't have to be difficult for Doublelift. He was resting from the professional world after being one of the originals in the League of Legends scene, and he didn't need to return to the pro scene if he didn't want to. He was enjoying the lucrative life of streaming online on Twitch as one of the leaders on the video game-streaming website, and he could have transitioned away from the pro-gaming career as many others have in the past.
"My ultimate goal is to win Worlds. I think TSM and me have the exact same vision, and that's why they're my team of absolute preference and choice."Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng
But he couldn't step away. A true competitor until the end, Doublelift ended his vacation earlier than expected and signed with Team Liquid to prepare for the summer split and possibly the worlds alongside his former (and probable future) teammates on Team SoloMid.
"It was definitely very difficult to leave my cushy life. I was making insane money, I lived with my girlfriend, and it was just amazing. I love my girlfriend and I love that life, but playing pro is my passion, that's it," Doublelift said. "It's the only way I can describe it. I just love it more than anything else, and it gives me a sense of purpose every day that streaming doesn't. It just pushes me to grow."
While he could return to the life of a streamer down the line, today, in his prime as a player and with his passion still strong, winning the Summoner's Cup with Team SoloMid is the dream Doublelift works toward every day.
"I really want to be on TSM [by the end of the year]. I just want to pretty much have won worlds by then, if possible," he said, laughing. "My ultimate goal is to win worlds. I think TSM and me have the exact same vision, and that's why they're my team of absolute preference and choice. I'm extremely loyal to them because everyone on that team, from the CEO down to the players, have the same purpose and dream of winning worlds. So I'll do anything for them."