Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng's postseason success -- well, more succinctly, lack thereof -- used to be a joke in the League of Legends community.
As one of the pioneers in the game that has become the biggest esport in the world, his follies were magnified after each failed attempt to win a championship. Doublelift's lack of hardware became such a part of his character that a subreddit was created to mock his futility known as /r/DoubleliftsTrophyCase/, a blank page with no topics or discussion allowed in order to represent his missteps.
Every time Doublelift made the playoffs, the same script would play out. The ace of Counter Logic Gaming, the organization living in the shadow of its archrival Team SoloMid, would lead his team to the playoffs and fall in either the quarterfinals or semifinals. Each time CLG would be dispatched in the postseason, the subreddit would resurface -- torment in the guise of playful teasing.
Now, if you come across /r/DoubleliftsTrophyCase/, the webpage is filled with Doublelift's triumphs, transformed from a place to mock the superstar AD carry to a place to honor him. Since making his first final in the summer of 2015, exorcising his and CLG's demons by sweeping TSM in New York City, the accolades haven't stopped. Out of the seven possible league finals following CLG's win over TSM, Doublelift has been in six of them, winning four and now entering the spring final in St. Louis with a chance for another.
If Doublelift can capture his sixth league title, he will surpass former teammate and four-time LCS MVP Soren "Bjergsen" Bjerg in championships and win the race to six trophies.
Under the arch in St. Louis, the final between Doublelift's Team Liquid and Bjergsen's TSM will be more than an added checkmark to their laundry list of accolades. It's a meeting of the region's two most recognizable stars, once partners on Team SoloMid, seemingly destined to create the greatest dynasty in North America League of Legends.
In the 2016 summer season, the pair led the most dominant single-season squad in LCS history, only dropping a single match throughout the regular season. Come playoff time, TSM broke through to another one-sided championship victory. Doublelift and Bjergsen entered the world championship that year with an air of confidence around them, ready to conquer the world, which once seemed impossible for any team from North America to do.
At the world championship, it turned out to be impossible for TSM. While they took a game off eventual tournament runner-up Samsung Galaxy in the group stage, a misplay by Doublelift on Lucian became the lasting memory of their run.
Doublelift took a sabbatical in the 2017 spring season but returned to help Team Liquid, saving them from being relegated from the LCS. That short stint with TL is the only time in the past four years when Doublelift hasn't played in the LCS final. Although Doublelift would leave TL in the offseason and rejoin TSM for the summer split, it would be another rocky end to the year. TSM would eventually win another domestic title, but once again, Doublelift and Bjergsen failed to lead the team out of the group stage at worlds.
Doublelift's career has always felt like he was searching for something, trying to find the missing piece that would make it whole. Unlike Bjergsen, who hasn't left his place as the icon of TSM, Doublelift has completed his run of finals and titles on three different teams. He was supposed to be that Bjergsen-like figure on CLG and even led the franchise to its first championship, but following a messy exit, he was gone, signing with TSM.
And when it became apparent that TSM would always be Bjergsen's team and domestic glory wouldn't translate to international success, it was another unceremonious exit for Doublelift.
Funny enough, the franchise where Doublelift might spend the rest of his prime is the one he treated as a tuneup from his sabbatical before returning to TSM. Liquid needed Doublelift to change their culture, which was plagued with domestic mediocrity, and he needed a franchise that would stand behind him. In the year-and-a-half he has been on TL, the team has seen nothing but domestic success, with Doublelift winning his first league MVP and not dropping a single game in either final they've captured. The semifinal this season with FlyQuest was no different, with the No. 1 ranked Liquid sweeping through former mid laner Eugene "Pobelter" Park and FlyQuest to come within one best-of-five from completing a three-peat in the LCS.
Bjergsen's strength has always been his elite consistency. He has always been there. Since 2014, he has been in talks for MVP of the league whilst leading TSM to final after final. Although TSM faltered in 2018 by not making a domestic final for the first time ever, Bjergsen didn't waver. With a few new pieces around him, he has regained his position as one of the league's premier players and is a front-runner alongside Doublelift's bottom lane partner Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in for split MVP. Bjergsen is the rock of TSM, expected to be at the helm of the franchise until he decides to retire and founder Andy "Reginald" Dinh builds a statue of the Dane outside the LCS Arena.
In contrast, and as cliche as it sounds, Doublelift is water. He's adaptable. When life gives him lemons, he somehow makes lemonade out of them. He's a fighter. When he was kicked out of his family's house in 2011 when they disapproved of his choice to be a professional gamer, he persisted and became the region's best AD carry. When his relationship with CLG disintegrated, he signed with TSM and continued to win championships. At a time when he could have comfortably retired and made more streaming on Twitch, he couldn't stay away from the competitive scene, returning even before sitting out an entire season. A week following the death of his mother in 2018, he traveled to Miami and won another LCS championship, sweeping rookie franchise 100 Thieves.
Through it all, Doublelift perseveres at 25 years old, still atop of the game, one of the best AD carries in the Western region and playing better at an age considered "old" in the world of esports. Year after year, players that began playing alongside Doublelift have fallen off. During Doublelift's life as a pro, Joshua "Jatt" Leesman has gone from a top jungler in North America on Dignitas to working at Riot Games and becoming one of the world's most popular League of Legends commentators before recently transitioning to the balance team.
Think about that: Former players have grown up, had illustrious careers and then changed said careers all in the span of Doublelift's ongoing career with no end in sight.
Win or lose on Saturday at the Chaifetz Arena, Doublelift will be there at the start of the summer season, situated in his normal spot on stage looking out at the fans that have seen him grow up in front of their eyes over the last eight years.
His goal remains the same -- the Summoner's Cup, the one thing truly missing from his once bare trophy case.