Team Liquid is a team that tries to do a lot right. From their adherence to the oversight of a coach, to the manner in which they pursue a textbook style of Counter-Strike as a result, Liquid’s game makes sense in the server. Unfortunately for the high-performing North American squad, 2018 has had an apex predator in Astralis who seems to be able to do everything Liquid does in this sense, but better. Astralis has defined many of their tournament runs throughout 2018 with a ritualistic domination of Liquid in the grand finals. The EPL S7 Finals, ECS S5 Finals, and ELEAGUE Premier has showcased on the biggest stages just how much better of a team Astralis was than Liquid. Who's aboard the Team Liquid major hype train?
Astralis managed to match Liquid individually, put them on the back-foot with superior teamplay and stomp them with a ‘killer-instinct’ Liquid themselves never had, and did so three-times in a row. The Danes showcased a comprehensive dismantlement of a team, that by all accounts outside of their match-up, was a very good, elite-level squad.
While Liquid has for a long time been a high-level side, at the FACEIT Major so-far, they’ve consistently hit an extra gear. They’ve gone through both the challenger and legends stage of the tournament without dropping map, being the only team to do-so. Six Bo1’s against six different opponents, two over-times, some easy teams, some hard, but all wins nonetheless for Liquid. While their wins over the likes of NiP, Vega and Optic were all impressive for different reasons, the real hype around Liquid’s major run comes from their Inferno win over Astralis.
In the game that saw them enter top eight and begin a campaign to the final, it was against their final boss. The looming Danish goliath that had put them in the position of bridesmaids so many times, and in such a devastating fashion would be their last step to the playoffs.
Astralis has, in recent endeavours, showed chinks in their armour to sides that were scrappy, individually motivated and very confident. So-far we’ve seen them lose games and series to the likes of Na`Vi, North, Tyloo, and NiP. These teams (admittedly NiP, less so), all deploy looser approaches and took the fight to Astralis. In all of these games you can see rounds overflowing with individual wide-peeks, gamble stacking, heavy CT aggression, and forward positioning used to put Astralis on the back-foot. These less structured elements seemed to be the things that Liquid had always failed to bring to the table in their encounters. While Liquid could always beat teams below their level due to their clinical approach and world-class talent, Astralis could do the same to them.
In their Bo1 at the major though, Liquid did Astralis what they’d been doing to teams all tournament. They played their own game, with each player being able to come alive when it counted. Nitr0, especially, seemed he had something to prove as both the captain, entry for map control, AWPer, and key support player in some rounds. He was able to consistently match the high-pace entry-fragging of Dupreeh on Astralis’s T-side with some great first-bullet aim and aggressive pushes of his own. Elige was able to consistently find holes in Astralis’s defence with individual pushes around arch and through banana. And mixed in with the tight AWPing of NAF in over-time, device on Astralis was effectively neutralised.
Reading the stats, and acknowledging the over-time, it can be easy to point to device’s sub-50 ADR, bottom fragging performance as the primary AWPer and fall into the historical narrative of ‘choker.’ And while such a bad game is definitely at a level the fault of the player, it shouldn’t take away from just how effective Liquid was at shutting device out. Device is very much a positional player and relies on a cultivated model of where enemies should and shouldn’t be - what shots they can and can’t take. If we look at their games against Hellraisers and Optic, we see that both w0xic and JUGi posted similar sub-50 ADR games of their own. Both of these players are considered explosive, star AWPers in their own right, or at least, players whose style is hard to contain. But Liquid excel in constricting areas of the map - especially on Inferno and Mirage - with utility and denying space from the enemy. Liquid’s success against Astralis wasn’t a one-off like Tyloo or NiP’s win.
Liquid’s run at the major was capped off with a victory against Astralis because they’ve earned that victory. Their individuals are all looking on-point, which is crucial in transcending some of their problems in closing rounds. Their map pool may be shaky on off-picks like Cache as their over-time against Vega showed, but on the big-stage arena maps like Mirage and Inferno they seem scarily calm and patient with their own game.
While the Astralis win is massively representative for Liquid, showing an ability to beat their biggest rivalry, it’s also an objective measuring stick for just how good they’re looking. Having slayed the front-runner, and dismantled so many big ‘upset’ sides like Vega and NiP, the only untested waters for Liquid are in series play or playing against someone like Complexity, a side in blistering hot form themselves. Regardless, though, the hype train for Liquid’s run in London is definitely beginning to gather steam off conquering historical enemies, but whether they can actually make history is another matter altogether.