As Liquid finally breaks its negative streak against FURIA, Tim Masters asks whether all it takes for them to return to the top is a streak of confidence or a change in how they use the AWP.
Cast your mind back to the days of yore when CS:GO was played on LAN. Back then, shortly after Astralis had won a major, there was an American team called Team Liquid that ruled the world, playing a brand of CS:GO the fans fell in love with. Sure, they weren’t the first great American team, and they never became Major winners, but for many in the scene it was the peak of NA CS to date.
Today, Team Liquid isn’t in a great place, with the IGL mantle shifted around after a loss of confidence leading into the second Valve event of 2019, and nothing more to show for their time at the top than some replica trophies (and a cool million split six ways thanks to the Intel Grand Slam). They sit eleventh in the world rankings, five spots behind the husk of the Astralis team that both preceded and dethroned them back in 2019.
How they came to be here is a long and sad story, and one that will be covered by writers closer to the men in question, so we’ll focus on the other side of time: the future. How could Liquid recover their number one spot, and could this team even surpass what they achieved in 2019 by winning a major, or is the current project dead in the water, destined to be stripped for parts and sold to the highest bidder?
Rehabilitation is possible, and the Danes have proven so. Prior to Astralis the accepted wisdom was that you got one ‘era’, and then you were yesterday’s news. When the Danish gods recovered to dominate again in the latter half of 2019, having dropped off for the summer, it came as a shock to many, but Astralis redefine CS:GO for fun these days, and it really shouldn’t have.
The Danes also showed that you don’t have to change to get better, as you can just find yourself in-game again, with the team recovering from a slump born of burnout and individual issues, never having to change a player. So far, Liquid have taken this route, and for this writer, this is the right approach for now (not least because we’re in an online reality that will one day end), but the roster overall could be tweaked to potentially find a bit more of what they seem to have lost since last year.
From the outside, it seems like the biggest loss has been direction, which would make the most obvious and first suggestion a coaching change – or a further addition. While adreN is clearly doing something, what Liquid lack in that position is a driving force, a personality. The team and org have the financial support to increase the coaching staff if they want to keep working with their current coach, and comparison with Astralis does suggest there is a gap to be filled.
We see it in esports with the likes of zonic at Astralis or Ceb in OG’s Dota 2 team, and we see it in traditional sport too with figures like Jürgen Klopp, that management is more than just facts and figures, but feelings too. Liquid as a team seem susceptible to big drops in motivation, so the addition of a zonic-type to stand behind them and bellow battlecries could well make all the difference, as well as providing a single voice to make, or at least deliver decisions.
The alternative to this would be player changes, with most likely nitr0 on the chopping block as the former IGL with no role in the team now. If they did take that avenue, it has the potential to change how the team operates too, as the addition of a dedicated AWPer like Evil Geniuses’ CeRq or even Gen.G’s autimatic would be a departure from their hybrid style, which has seen at least four of the five members pick up the big green at some stage. Who would lead is a question to be answered here, but with Stewie2k already somewhat having taken up that mantle it’s not like there are zero options.
While one player might not seem like a big change, having a dedicated AWP would also force a change in Liquid’s playstyle or at least add definition and structure to their individual roles. They’ve have passed the AWP around like a ‘vase’ at a cs_summit afterparty, and having a dedicated star in that role could provide the team with a new view on the game, as well as a central point to rotate around for a team that occasionally seems lost on the map.
As we said, they could also just ‘find’ themselves again, in the way Astralis did, but that seems like the hardest route back of them all. The org should be praised for not making knee-jerk moves based on online results that mean little in the bigger picture, but this period of online play is a chance for them to finally fix the issues that have plagued the team for close to ten months now, and return as the leading light of CS:GO in NA, if not the world.