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Team Liquid's Doublelift finds glory after tragedy

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Team Liquid 4th no more (sort of) (3:01)

Perennially just on the outside looking in at the NA LCS Finals, Team Liquid was finally able to break through for its first ever championship, in no small part due to several high-priced additions. (3:01)

MIAMI -- When Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng joined Team Liquid near the end of the 2017 North American League of Legends Championship Series Spring Split, he was a mercenary.

With Liquid nearing relegation and needing a savior, it looked toward the famous American AD carry to salvage a lost season. Although Doublelift helped the sinking longtime organization, he was merely a passerby who rejoined Team SoloMid and won his third domestic championship later in the year.

"There are three pretty big problems [for TL]," Doublelift said a year ago following his return to the NA LCS after a short sabbatical. "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."

A year later, playing in front of a packed crowd at the Fillmore in Miami Beach, Doublelift stood not as a hired hand, but as the heart and soul of the new Team Liquid.

Following one of the most dominant finals victories in league history, a 3-0 sweep of 100 Thieves, the AD carry many thought might miss the tournament due to the death of his mother a week prior was giving top lane teammate Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong a piggyback ride and smiling from ear to ear. This win wasn't for himself, but for his team, the one that had his back from the start of the split in a revenge match against Team SoloMid to the final Nexus push in the victory over the Thieves.

"It's such a fleeting feeling to win now ... I think you get diminishing returns every time you win, but when I win with a new team, the thing that really makes me happy is seeing how happy my teammates are," Doublelift said while watching from the second floor of the Fillmore as fans pressed on the glass from the outside, hoping to get a chance to see the AD carry before he departed into the night to celebrate. "Right after Game 3, I felt kinda numb that we won -- I was really excited that we won -- but then I looked over at [Kim] 'Olleh' Joo-sung, and he was getting emotional, like he was tearing up a little bit because he was so happy he had won, and I feel like those moments for me are what I'm going to remember."

Over the course of the playoffs, no player was as good as Doublelift. He entered the final with a 39 KDA over his first two matches. In Miami, it was the same story: Doublelift won the matchup over his former support, Zaqueri "Aphromoo" Black, the NA LCS regular-season MVP. And Doublelift helped his new bot-lane partner, Olleh, win the first major championship in his career.

Last year, Doublelift was alone on Team Liquid, there only to try to prop up a team that was already fractured. Now, he's surrounded by players he can rely on during the tough times.

"Olleh, day to day, just hanging out with him, we don't really have that much in common. We're really different people," Doublelift said. "But it's the experiences that we go through together that we can share, and over time, I think we've just gotten better and better with each other. And I remember early on in the split when I was really tilted at him and was so frustrated and he -- like the experience I remember the most was -- he talked to me and was like, 'Peter, I don't like it when you get really tilted and frustrated. It makes me feel unconfident and feel bad. And it's OK if you have criticism for me, but just try not to [shift the blame onto me].'

"I instantly gained 1,000 percent respect for him because he called me out on my s---, which I really respect. And he had the courage to, like, be open with his feelings ... and I don't even think I have the strength to do that to people. As the split goes on, we have tough losses and great wins, and the longer I play with him, the more I understand him and the closer we got."

Although the road to the lifting of the trophy and the dropping of the commemorative on the surface appeared easy -- a 9-1 playoff record, a quick and tidy 3-0 final -- it was anything but.

Before the season even began, expected head coach Dennis "INTERNETHULK" Hawelka passed away. Then, the team hit a slump in the middle of the split and was on the verge of not even making the playoffs. Team Liquid didn't lock up its playoff spot until the final week of the season.

But from there, it looked easy, just like Liquid's matches did on Sunday, when it won its first league championship and became the fourth franchise to ever hoist a domestic trophy in NA LCS history. The team will also get to go to the Mid-Season Invitational for the first time as a result and represent North America at the event this May in Europe.

That, too, will be a chance for Doublelift to make some new memories to go with the ones he picked up Sunday in Miami.

"I'm not going to remember how much adrenaline I had or how fast my heart was racing," he said. "I'm going to remember the feeling of how loud the crowd was and that they were chanting my name and that Olleh was tearing up because he was so happy that he had won. And those things to me, I think I'm going to remember that for the rest of my life."