In lithium-sulfur (Li-S) chemistry, the electrically/ionically insulating nature of sulfur and Li2S leads to sluggish electron/ion transfer kinetics for sulfur species conversion. Sulfur and Li2S are recognized as solid at room temperature, and solid-liquid phase transitions are the limiting steps in Li-S batteries. Here, we visualize the distinct sulfur growth behaviors on Al, carbon, Ni current collectors and demonstrate that (i) liquid sulfur generated on Ni provides higher reversible capacity, faster kinetics, and better cycling life compared to solid sulfur; and (ii) Ni facilitates the phase transition (e.g., Li2S decomposition). Accordingly, light-weight, 3D Ni-based current collector is designed to control the deposition and catalytic conversion of sulfur species toward high-performance Li-S batteries. This work provides insights on the critical role of the current collector in determining the physical state of sulfur and elucidates the correlation between sulfur state and battery performance, which will advance electrode designs in high-energy Li-S batteries.