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CS:GO

02 Jul 2018

Team Liquid: Jack of all trades, masters of none

Photo Credits: Starladder 

Coupled with the community’s widespread excitement off the back of ELEAGUE’s Boston major, Beyond The Summit’s second venture into Global Offensive would host some tantalizing storylines. Despite featuring a watered down field compared to that of a few weeks prior, two questions prevailed entering cs_summit 2: could the newly found major victors in Cloud9 retain their championship level form? or would SK’s reunion with boltz bring a swift return to winning ways?

Shockingly, both narratives met an unexpected demise. With limited expectations being this lineup’s inaugural outing, Liquid would stunningly slay SK and Cloud9 in consecutive series. Enduring as Liquid’s only international title to date, this North American organisation is yet to snatch up an illustrious championship in front of a packed arena. Evening out on the cusp of elite tier, TACO’s arrival in early May seemed a potential catalyst to spur Liquid towards further titles and although the North American side appears more well rounded than ever, disappointing exits in favourable matchups of late has cast doubt over their elite ranking. Boasting proficiency across so many aspects of modern Counter-Strike whilst simultaneously lacking any world beating strengths, behold the enigma that is Team Liquid.

A recurring theme

 Never thinking twice before entering the bomb sites first, Twistzz unquestionably adopts Liquid’s team centric philosophy. Rarely overstepping whilst anchoring his sites the Canadian similarly embodies Liquid’s excellence at minimising teamwide mistakes on the CT side; through acknowledging the need to make information plays and take gambles when going a man down zews’ squad aims to makes the most from difficult situations. Outside of NAF’s overzealous pushes Liquid is more passive than other top sides, being disciplined on the defensive half they universally recognise the importance of not giving up cheap entries. Swap over to T and Liquid remain systematic in their approach, defaulting to the extremities Twistzz and TACO play cautiously whilst favouring the numbers game NAF and EliGE spearhead the capture of map control. Frequently executing as a team off the back of their gained ground, Liquid acquire the added bonus of uncommon loses to eco or forces. Straying away from applying map pressure or working picks during the mid round, this is another aspect where lacking a seasoned AWPer hampers Liquid’s ability to offer opponents different looks.

Liquid’s favoured maps have them showcasing refined utility usage and player movements to seize on Terrorist map control and although their drilled attacks from Inferno’s short area display flawless entry pathing, problems arise when forced into unconventional scenarios. Here, a team like Astralis is considerably better at retaining smooth execution when roles and utility become disrupted. Excluding some recent innovations on Dust2 Liquid rarely goes for early explosive site hits seemingly reverting to them only from necessity to punish overly sparing CT utility usage. Averaged out, Liquid’s quality of execution is not on par with that of lmbt’s mousesports or Astralis and their infrequent early attacks similarly reside below stewie’s C9 and previous iterations of SK. Alongside their lack of elite tier AWPing Liquid’s minor deficiencies at raw execution is likely why we don’t see Train nearing the top of their pool.

A key motivator behind the switch of dedicated AWPer jdm to hybrid player NAF was Liquid’s desire to increase versatility. Moving away from the confinement of wielding a Terrorist sniper Liquid craved the ability to seamlessly transition into five rifle approaches on either side. Through passing round the big green alongside flexing into double AWP setups Liquid aims to apply sniper pressure across the map whilst defending, even so, device and s1mple alone will regularly display more versatility. Although fairly static and cautious in his approach nitr0 is by no means a terrible AWPer, certainly competent at playing the standard positions. This stagnation though is a significant contributor to Team Liquid’s predictability on the Counter-Terrorist side of Inferno, where nitr0’s reluctance to post up towards short, apartments or banana limits the variation his team can achieve. Flip over to the Terrorist side and Liquid makes little attempt to utilize nitr0’s AWPing outside of a default fashion, almost never running sniper contact plays or putting him in position to find entries.

On certain maps Liquid’s predictably can be exploited and whilst cognisant to reduce readability by giving the illusion of similar rounds, the Terrorist side of Mirage commonly has them defaulting back to variants of A executes. Recent events have called nitr0’s mid round calling into question, although rarely making enormous mistakes it will often requires zews’ intervention to throw in unorthodox rounds. During their recent defeats to FaZe in Belo Horizonte and Astralis at ECS a lack of decisiveness and clear direction seems to have hindered them, alongside some inexcusable missed utility costing rounds and perhaps the youth of Liquid’s squad was coming back to bite them in the biggest moments.

As previously alluded to, Liquid exhibits a bland flavour of Counter-Strike on the defensive side of Inferno. Fortunately for us spectators things starkly improve moving onto Mirage, in addition to the increased variety showcased across Dust2 and Cache during recent events. Favouring use of their CT utility to contest map control Liquid rarely switches on a dime into the conservative utility game, it being uncommon you will see them win rounds from well placed molotovs or smokes in the dying moments. Outside of Inferno – a map where multiple top teams like to bring it out – Liquid’s primary adaptation on the CT side is to drop into double AWPing with the second is passed between the regular site partners of TACO and NAF. Nearing an even split between them, within the context of their positions NAF appears the more capable sniper, especially on Dust2 and Mirage where across both he is undoubtedly a world class hybrid.

Whilst certainly above the norm when averaging skill across the team, Liquid remains outclassed in the firepower department versus Astralis, FaZe, Na’Vi and perhaps still the underwhelming MiBR. Considering TL’s best in isolation NAF simply is not of the calibre to consistently contend with NiKo, s1mple, device or cold, not to mention the problems posed by EliGE and NAF’s significant overlap in skill sets on the Terrorist side, both suited to occupying second or third man in. Currently residing at the back of the pack NAF is regularly depended upon in late round scenarios and although performing admirably I cannot help thinking he would find more individual success positioned closer to the front.

Cologne and beyond

Since their title back at cs_summit 2, Inferno has endured as the only map that Liquid can rely upon and having experienced some lackluster performances in recent times Mirage comes in as a volatile second. This ordering is a double edged sword for Liquid: nearly all opponents are willing to play one if not both across a series, while also meaning the North American’s lack a safe haven across all matchups. Through self admission nitr0’s squad recognises the need to widen their pool and coming into Belo Horizonte their improvements across Dust2 and Cache were obvious. However, with Nuke remaining middling alongside little willingness to explore Overpass and Train Liquid’s pool remains questionable. For the North American’s to achieve a top placing in Cologne this concern needs to be shored up.

Even as the masters on none there is no disputing Liquid’s stake as a world class team, and albeit unlikely it is certainly possible to become Counter-Strike’s number one without being the best in any facets of the game. Undeniably, Liquid’s packed schedule across the previous few months will have contributed towards their slight staleness and a healthy dose of well coached practice should improve Liquid’s variation. With the fast approaching events of ESL One Cologne and ELEAGUE Premiere being two of 2018’s most stacked tournaments, NAF and company await a grueling test just to retain their current ranking. As for moving up the food chain, Global Offensive’s top step appears firmly sealed up but in wielding the potential to cement themselves as understudies to Astralis, number two in the current landscape does not sound so bad to me.

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