LOS ANGELES -- In his new Team Liquid jersey at the LCS Arena on the opening weekend of the regular season, star mid laner Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen admitted why he left the only League of Legends team he had ever known, Cloud9, in the offseason.
It wasn't because he didn't appreciate the team. It wasn't because of a lack of international success -- after all, Jensen and C9 became the first team from North America to make a League of Legends World Championship semifinal.
It was that, at the moment their tournament ended at the hands of Europe's Fnatic in a one-sided sweep, Jensen knew that he had gone as far as he could with the team around him.
"I think we were kinda peaked," Jensen said. "That's why I thought I had to make a change, because after the Fnatic series, I just realized they were better than us, like individually. I know the next worlds is going to be a lot harder because I think the [South] Korean teams will be a lot better, so if I ever want to win worlds or win an international tournament, I had to make a big change.
"After the Fnatic loss, it really hit me that I've been playing for almost four years now, and I need to win something."
In the three and a half years Jensen has played professionally, consistency has been his greatest weapon. He hovered in the upper echelon of mid laners in the world each year with Cloud9, battling with Danish country mate Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg for the title of best player at the position in the LCS. Even with that consistent success, which resulted in three straight world championship quarterfinal appearances, Jensen's trophy cupboard remains bare.
Every time he has come close to winning MVP, he's been edged out. Each season in which it appeared C9 was destined to hoist the domestic crown, an errant ultimate or out-of-the-blue slump from the team would deter them.
On Team Liquid, the goal isn't to make the semifinals at worlds. It isn't just to win a domestic title or two. There is no "just" when it comes to this iteration of the Liquid lineup, which has been constructed through the seemingly endless pockets of ownership, ingenious planning and a bit of luck.
They locked down stalwart top laner Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong, who now has resident status, on a three-year deal in 2018. After playing in the region for four years, Impact's residency meant Liquid had an extra import slot on the team and could sign Jensen. When Jensen becomes a resident in the summer, it will open up even more flexibility if Liquid feels the need to tinker further with the starting lineup.
"I think on our best A-game, we can definitely be a real contender for winning worlds," said the team's starting jungler, Jake "Xmithie" Puchero. "But as of right now, I think we're still in the infancy stage. Even though there is three of us core members [from 2018] in the team, this is a different play style than we are used to."
The team got off to a strong start to the season with a 2-0 record in the first week of LCS, but they didn't show a product capable of Summoner's Cup victory. Jensen got to strike first against his old friends on Cloud9, and then Liquid used their superior teamfighting and raw skill to overpower winless Counter Logic Gaming in a game that on paper should have never been anywhere near as close as it turned out to be.
Team Liquid's players know their performance wasn't exceptional. Xmithie wasn't too impressed with his team's victories and believed the roster didn't show anything near its full potential. Domestic success is an expectation, not an ambition, this year. Something no North America team has ever done, a Mid-Season Invitational or worlds title, is the goal, and raw power won't be enough to make League of Legends history.
"This year, I'm working twice or three times more than I used to in the past, in my opinion," Xmithie said. "I'm just motivated to win more than anything else. I'm mainly focusing on [the game] and [the game] only."
Doubters of the new Liquid lineup have wondered how Jensen and the team's ace and the reigning LCS MVP, Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng, would coexist on the Rift. For the entirety of his tenure on C9, Jensen was the No. 1 option. With him coming over to Liquid, the question was if Jensen and Doublelift -- two confident, outspoken players -- would learn to share the limelight.
Jensen has bad news for those critics. If Liquid has a pitfall, he doesn't expect it come from the relationship between him and Doublelift.
"I had no idea what to expect when I first joined Liquid, but he is a super nice guy and a super selfless player," Jensen said. "He will do what is best for the team. Now we're playing a bit more mid-focused, something Team Liquid didn't do much before, but he understands what he is doing is better for the team. He might give some pressure up in the lane so we can play the game more together, whereas before they seemed to play around [bottom lane] only and isolate mid lane. But now, we're making sure mid lane is more involved."
Every player on Liquid has won a championship with the exception of Jensen. Impact and new support Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in are former world champions who have combined to play in the three most recent Summoner's Cup finals. Xmithie has been to the world championships with four different organizations. Doublelift has won five domestic titles in the last six seasons in which he's been fully active, coming in second the one season he didn't finish first.
Leaving C9 was a difficult decision for Jensen, but he believes it was the correct one. On the LCS broadcast last weekend, his former coach, Bok "Reapered" Han-gyu, said Jensen's replacement, Yasin "Nisqy" Dinçer, might not be at Jensen's level right at this moment, but he will one day surpass C9's former ace.
Jensen, looking ahead to the best year of his career and finally silencing the critics for his lack of championships, isn't worried.
"He] has to believe in his statement," Jensen said, "but I think deep down, he knows [Nisqy] won't be better than me."
And if Jensen has his way, Nisqy and Cloud9 won't be able to add to their trophy case this year, either. The title will belong to Team Liquid.