With the sudden and shocking roster swap by Team Liquid, fans are left with hundreds of questions on the matter. Let’s discuss the facts, and try to understand the motives behind each party.
Aliwi “w33haa” Omar is set to join Team Liquid in preparation for the Epicenter Major. Liquid have announced days before of the departure of Matumbaman, but fans reported w33haa playing party games with the other players of Liquid. It’s likely that Liquid have planned this swap, with or without Matumbaman’s knowledge, due to their recent lackluster results. Let’s try to make sense of what motivated Liquid to make this decision.
Liquid Wasn’t Built In A Day
Matumba along with Mind Control and captain Kuroky were the “Founding Fathers” of Liquids current iteration. Kuroky expressed that after his run with Team Secret, he felt he was ready to start his own team, built around himself. With the help of Matumbaman’s trademark stable carry playstyle, and Mind Controls technical marvels, he was able to set a solid foundation for building a world-class team. By early 2017, Team Liquid have finalized their roster with the addition of GH, and they went on to win TI (The International) that year. That is why the departure of Matumbaman was considered to be a massive shock since he has been on the team for many years. Its a change akin to PPDs departure from EG, or Dendi from NaVi.
Since TI8, Liquid have placed 8th and 16th in the following premier tournaments and did place second at the recent MDL Disneyland Paris Major. The mediocre results left captain Kuroky in a state of limbo. He mentioned in interviews that for Liquid to experience the success of the past, they would have to make major changes. He also mentioned that the only reason he would warrant a kick of a player is if he displays a lack of respect to the team, or have a really bad work ethic. Without speculating, it’s impossible to confirm nor deny if this was the case with Matumba.
It was no secret that Liquid have been struggling to find their stride for many months. Kuroky mentioned in an interview that “Liquid is an old team” and that teams have “figured them out” so to say. He expressed that changes needed to be made, and fans assumed the changes he was talking about were tactical ones. Initially, Matumbaman was the default safelaner for Liquid, and Miracle was the midlaner. This decision was made back when playing flashy and greedy heroes in the middle lane was a viable strategy; so it was a no brainer for Miracle to take on the mantle. Matumban would offset Miracle’s volatility by playing more conservative and “safe” carry heroes. This strategy proved to be extremely dominant, and for a good few months, Liquid seemed impossible to beat.
A New And “Improved” Dynamic
Recently, however, flashy and greedy mid heroes are not what they used to be. The optimal strategy is to invest more into the safelane, with picks such as Morphling and Terrorblade. Liquid have tried to stay true to their ways, but their poor results forced a change. Miracle would later swap positions with Matumbaman, and become the default safelaner. Matumbaman went on to create his own “meta” in the midlane, picking unorthodox heroes at the time such as Viper, and more recently, Brood. This did show a slight improvement in their performance, but nowhere near the level they were in their glory days.
To put it bluntly, Liquid was formed with the idea that they had the greatest players in their respective positions. Nowadays, different positions are becoming more and more intertwined. Taking Team Secret as an extreme example, its not unheard of YapzOr having more resources as a position 4 support, than Zai’s position 3 core. Its slightly different for Liquid, since taking Liquid as an isolated case, the lanes themselves don’t mean as much to them as farm priority does. Regardless of what lane any of the 3 Liquid cores are in, Miracle will always have the highest farm priority, followed by Matumba, then by Mind Control.
Liquid was the perfect team during their glory days, but Dota changed a lot since then, and Liquid have only changed slightly. Kuroky’s solution was to make Matumbaman’s and Miracle’s lanes very flexible. Matumba would continue to play his space creating a hero in the mid, and Miracle would continue to play the greedy core from the safelane. Kuroky later would realize that this idea puts them back into square one, where they’re very predictable to draft against. A year ago, Liquid’s game plan was to draft a stable safelane, and a greedy mid. Now they’ve adapted to drafting a stable mid, and a greedy safelane. It was a very good short term solution, but Kuroky’s years of experience likely gave him an inkling that this will be their falling at TI.
Miracle vs Matumbaman
Liquid was then presented two choices, kick Miracle or kick Matumba and find a new mid. Let’s explore both options.
Miracle’s role has largely been unchanged since his debut into Dota 2. He’s the epitome of greed and is able to solo carry you if given a few minutes of space. Over the years, he was able and willing to take on the safelane role if the time was right, flexing his Terrorblade and Anti Mage skills. Historically, he did have experience playing traditional carry heroes, but was more comfortable playing from the midlane. His adaptation to the new role was very natural since the only change that he had to adapt to was the heroes he played (which he already was comfortable playing).
Matumbaman has had to drastically alter his role in the team, mostly due to meta shifts. His signature heroes that he would take to the mid lane have been consistently nerfed in previous patches. Heroes such as Necrophos, Viper, and Broodmother. He has tried to bring in new ideas via his Lone Druid, Dazzle, and Timbersaw, but with minimal success. In a scenario where he’s able to play on a sidelane, with his own traditional heroes like Lycan, and Ursa, he thrives more. It was clear that Matumbas mid hero pool was suited more for situational drafts, and he didn’t have a stable pick to fall back on. This is also largely due to meta mid picks not following Matumba’s style.
At the end of the day, the decision to kick Matumba over Miracle makes much more sense than initially thought. An important distinction to be made, is that this kick was not motivated due to a skill disparity. It is a common thought to assume that Miracle is one of if not the best players in the world. Matumbaman was forced to play in unknown territories and continued to perform at an extremely high caliber. In a way, all three sides will greatly benefit from this swap (if not counting the DPC point disparity). Matumba will be able to play his own natural style of Dota in another team, Liquid will be able to have more flexibility in drafts, and w33haa will have a place to shine.
Unfortunately, no news has surfaced as to what Matumbaman’s plans are for the immediate future. He will likely have to compete in the open qualifiers to secure a spot at TI. A possible team that Matumba would want to join is Mineski, who have recently kicked Ahjit, a superstar safelane player. It’s not completely out of the question that this would happen, but neither Mineski or Matumba have commented on the situation as of yet, so Matumba might be sitting this major out.
— Team Liquid (@TeamLiquid) June 12, 2019
In terms of Epicenter and TI, it’s difficult to tell. Liquid will most likely need a little more time to adjust to this new roster. Although placing first at Epicenter is very improbable, but a decent top 6 finish will create a good bout of momentum that will carry them on to TI. It’s very clear that this roster swap was done in preparation for TI9, and Liquid are likely setting their sites there. Epicenter will act as a good testing ground to see where they stand compared to other teams.