Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng is back in the familiar black and white colors of Team SoloMid, and he wouldn't have it any other way. Back in the North American League of Legends Championship Series after a small loan stint with Team Liquid last spring season, the superstar AD carry hasn't changed his mindset since rejoining the team. His goal, as is the team's, is the same as usual: the top, and anything underneath would be a massive disappointment.
"The motivation of the team is pretty high," Doublelift told ESPN following his club's victory last Sunday against archrival Counter Logic Gaming. "The feeling of being [back on TSM] is just really, really nice."
The spring season was one of reflection for Doublelift, one of NA's most tenured players. After playing professionally since almost the inception of competitive League of Legends, the star marksman decided to avoid burnout by taking a split off, deciding to recharge by streaming on Twitch. It wasn't too long, though, until the feeling of wanting to compete on stage once more took over, and his split-long sabbatical turned into a half-season, with Doublelift helping Team Liquid stay in the NA LCS by joining the team late in the split and the promotional tournament.
"I miss aspects of the streaming life," he said. "For example, obviously the money is a part of it and the feeling of being able to talk to my fans on a daily basis. Almost always when I connect with my fans in a streaming sense, it's positive, because I get to interact with them in, generally, positive ways by reading donations and trying to entertain them. But as a pro player, there are really high highs and really low lows, where my fans might hate me one week for playing badly, or one week they think I'm a god."
Now, sitting in the familiar confines of the LCS Arena, his mindset has shifted toward regaining his position as the top AD carry in the league, and in doing so, complete a three-peat of domestic championships for the most successful team in the region.
At home following the promotion tournament, Doublelift could do nothing but watch as his team struggled to get off the ground at the Mid-Season Invitational in Brazil. The team, narrowly defeating Cloud9 in the domestic finals, just couldn't find the consistency needed to succeed in the tournament of domestic champions from across the world, one day looking steady before faltering in the very next game.
"But as a pro player, there are really high highs and really low lows, where my fans might hate me one week for playing badly, or one week they think I'm a god." Doublelift
It all culminated with TSM throwing a comfortable lead versus Europe's G2 Esports that changed the fates of both teams forever; G2, on the verge of getting eliminated, won the game and advanced on to the knockout stage where it would eventually end up as runner-up of the tournament, giving South Korean dynasty SK Telecom T1 a hard-fought contest in the final. And for TSM, so close to making the top four, everything unraveled. The North American representative failed to make it out of the group stage, and with it went the region's Pool 1 seed at the World Championships.
All Doublelift could do was watch as his friends, his teammates, and his team fell to pieces.
Seated once more alongside his comrades, he's done watching from the sidelines.
"The community definitely doesn't really understand what makes a player valuable," he said. "Like, just their individual play, or is it the communication they bring to the team? Is it the help they bring to their teammates, or what is it exactly that makes a player super great? For example, Aphromoo might not be the best mechanical player, but he pretty much has every other aspect you would want in a teammate. He's extremely likable, great leadership skills, and drives everybody on the team to a single purpose. ...[Things happened at MSI that] I would have noticed and tried to steer in the right direction."
As he talked about Aphromoo, the conversation trailed off into a discussion about the old days of CLG, where Doublelift and Aphromoo formed the "Rush Hour" bottom lane that stood above all other tandems in the league. Almost two years since Doublelift and Aphromoo parted ways, the old core of CLG has fractured, with Aphromoo leading the current new generation of the club, Doublelift playing a large role in the shot-calling for TSM, and the pair's jungler at the time, Jake "Xmithie" Puchero, currently the leader on the new iteration of Immortals.
Out of all the teams in the NA LCS, CLG has produced the most players with the gift of leading a team through macro play, and it all goes back to the roots of the organization.
"CLG started out with all the old school players who were egotistical and really, really opinionated about the game, and I think me and Aprho, especially, coming from that culture, we carried it on a little bit," Doublelift said. "There were a lot of arguments and a lot of back and forth, and if you didn't have your points down, if you didn't really understand the game at a really high level, and if you didn't take the time -- I was AD carry, but I knew everything there was about top lane, and that's why our 2v1s with CLG were so sick, because me and Aphro would take the time to understand the best top lane pathing, the best jungle pathing, and how mid is supposed to play. I think our game knowledge was so high because we were arguing so much. You have to back up your points, or else you're going to get run over and not have a voice."
For Doublelift, who wants to lend his voice and knowledge to TSM, it wasn't about one player or any one thing that caused his team to fail at MSI, but a number of decisions along the way that ultimately led to its demise. He wants to bring the team back to the point where it was last summer, when TSM had its greatest single individual split in history, only losing a single best-of series during its entire run to the title. Doublelift wants another chance at the World Championships, where last year, even with all the domestic success, TSM still failed. That's why he gave up streaming. That's why, even after being a pro for so long, he boots up the game and goes to work every day.
But before thoughts of redemption at the biggest tournament of the year -- held in China, the country of the team that knocked TSM out of the tournament last time -- Doublelift will have an opportunity to exact some revenge on the club that started TSM's spiral down at this year's MSI: G2 Esports. With the introduction of Riot's new international competition, Rift Rivals, TSM along with Cloud9 and Phoenix1 will face the top three teams from Europe's spring split in a three-day competition for bragging rights and LCS superiority.
Also, Doublelift has the added incentive of facing the AD carries he's routinely compared to when the debate comes up for "Who is the best marksman in the West?" in Fnatic's Martin "Rekkles" Larsson and G2's Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen. For P1's AD carry and reigning league MVP Noh "Arrow" Dong-hyeon, that duel can wait. For now, thanks to Rift Rivals, Doublelift can face the best Europe has to offer in the bottom lane.
"I hope it can be my chance to get people to stop talking s--- about my international performance," he said. "Which, in my opinion, has only been bad at [last year's] Worlds. I hope to dispel the idea that I'm not a good player internationally. Me and Zven get a lot of comparisons, [because] we both have similar champion pools, we like taking resources, and generally, our teams play to bot lane a lot. I'm just interested, I actually haven't played against him a lot. I'm just curious how we matchup because I think me and Biofrost's laning is really, really good."
The streaming life -- while easier and the safer road to traverse -- can wait for now. For Doublelift, there are rivals to defeat and championships to win.