A high risk/high reward roster change and a fascinating storyline will ensure that 2021 begins with a bang for CS – but can he find a way back to the top after three years in the wilderness?
Suppose you’re the Dr. Frankenstein of pro CS and put yourself to the task of building the best player to get Liquid out of their current rut. Chances are, you’d be looking at some sort on a storied in-game leader who’s also pretty good with the AWP.
In that sense, FalleN is the perfect pickup, and his existing link with Stewie2K from their time together on the first ill-fated MIBR squad is basically just an added bonus. Even factoring in the sort of communication issues which plagued that mixed-nationality roster (which featured tarik, fer and coldzera alongside them at the time), this squad will only have the one non-native English speaker, one you’d also expect to have improved his language skills since if only because of the natural passage of time.
The Brazilian’s pedigree also can’t be called into question, and if you’re a proponent of “form is temporary, class is permanent”, that ultimate cliché in sports coverage, he’s definitely got a high ceiling both as an individual player and an in-game leader. You can’t overstate his part in establishing the country as a strong presence in the CS scene, and even though the emergence of FURIA and the duds of his latter-day MIBR talent pickups suggest he may have lost the golden touch when it comes to spotting emerging talent, that won’t be a part of his remit with Liquid to begin with, suggesting it’s his individual playing prowess that will make or break this move.
Indeed, a lot of this is predicated on the belief that a return to better times past is possible for the veteran AWPer and in-game leader. What some seem to forget is just how long it’s been since he’s spearheaded a truly elite side.
FalleN’s last tournament win (and indeed MIBR’s only one to date) came at ZOTAC Cup Masters 2018, an event supposedly marked as A-Tier on Liquipedia but only featuring a single opponent from the top 15 (OpTic’s Danish squad) due to Team Liquid’s withdrawal. In the end, that trophy came off the back of wins over Flash Gaming, MVP PK and TaZ’s Team Kinguin – not exactly top-tier opposition. In fact, you’d have to go back as far as December 2017, the ESL Pro League Season 6 Finals culminating in one of his many high-profile wins over FaZe Clan.
There’s also the age bracket to consider: though we still haven’t really seen what a truly dedicated older player could do in this game of youngsters (and there are indeed freaks of nature seen in traditional sports), the fact of the matter is that at the age of 29, time is not on FalleN’s side to rediscover the mojo that seems to have left him over three years ago.
Indeed, it’s a real challenge to make sense of FalleN’s individual stats simply because of how big a drop they’ve seen in the level of opposition at the tail end of the MIBR project. Even though his average rating on HLTV spiked in the summer of 2020 before fading again later in the year, it’s not like he was facing titans of CS at events like the Eden Arena Malta Vibes Cup or the Vie.gg Legend Series – and even then, poor showings at small online cups can just as well be down to a lack of motivation for a player as accomplished as he is.
Here’s what we’ve got: a -15 K/D at ESL One Cologne 2020’s European bracket, with a +1 match against FaZe on the three-map defeat and a -16 pasting against G2. Though most of the team did even worse, those are not really acceptable numbers when you’re the one wielding the big expensive green. For a more consistent metric, a look at his regular opponents throughout the year of the pandemic provides a somewhat nicer view: FalleN still could style on small fish like Envy and Gen.G (or, indeed, even Chaos, +47 across 13 maps), with a notable +38 K/D against Evil Geniuses across eleven maps. However, poor performances against the region’s big boys (Liquid, FURIA, five maps against Complexity) are clearly in the negatives and dip into sub-1 territory per HLTV’s rating 2.0 – nowhere near enough for a climb back to the summit.
As with so much else in Counter-Strike nowadays, there’s a wider context to consider, sticky and scary in the middle of the pandemic and so much mismanagement. The issues with the state of North American CS are well-documented and often discussed, and there’s a good argument to be made that any further failure could prove to be devastating, especially one that involves such big names – who are, just to remind you, just bounced back from a stint outside the top fifteen for the first time since December 2017.
Besides, it’s not like everything’s strong and stable elsewhere in the scene: it’s just been confirmed that cogu departed from MIBR after just three months, with a bunch of players likely to follow. Unless some sort of high-profile acquisition is on the way (hello FURIA?), the fact that their impressive early performances and the community goodwill they’ve garnered wasn’t quite enough to keep themselves onboard, one has to wonder what the expectations are. Keep in mind the travails of the former Chaos squad, splintered and disintegrated and partially VALORANTified with no org to pick them up, and the 35-year-old veteran’s plan of a “stable and set project with 6 players” might struggle to get off the ground in this environment.
Which ties us back neatly to the wider implications of FalleN’s rumored move to the North American org. Even if you’re not a fan of Liquid’s lovable lot, we should still be united in wishing them well. It’s tough to imagine what would happen to NA CS going forward if even this high-profile change would turn out to be a failure, and it’s quite possible the flames that burned through the lower levels of the regional scene could encroach the top of the ivory tower too. If they can’t make it work, who can?
Photo credit: HLTV