It’s been a long while, but North America’s most promising prospects finally managed to take down a top-tier LAN event and live up to their designation as favorites. With nitr0 pretty much confirming their so-called choking issue in an HLTV interview, one has to wonder whether this victory over Fnatic can finally get the monkey off their back. Could this be a sign of things to come or will it be just a one-off like G2’s unexpected win at DreamHack Masters Malmö 2017 in the same circuit?
Despite the fairly lackluster group stage, the playoffs truly delivered in Sydney, both with the scrappy nailbiters on Fnatic’s side of the bracket and Liquid’s confident performances all the way to the final. These two storylines collided in spectacular fashion in the ultimate match of the event, with another one of those memorable five-map barnburners that had shades of Chicago about it until the very end of that Inferno game.
Spare a thought for Fnatic, who really pulled out all the stops in this event but couldn’t quite bridge the gap. Their future prospects are somewhat of a concern after Cache’s slated removal from the competitive pool, and they won’t always be able to rely on such incredible individual performances by Xizt for that little bit of extra oomph. Reaching two top-tier LAN finals in the space of a month is quite impressive, but it feels like they can’t truly compete with the big boys just yet.
The real story here, of course, is Liquid’s long-awaited success, the ability to turn some of those tiny moments in their favor that decide a close series after amassing ten second-place finishes at big events. It has to be said that they had a fairly easy time with this one: with FaZe’s visa-related troubles and Renegades’ unexpected implosion on home soil, the world was truly their oyster. Beating BOOT-d[S] and BIG was enough for them to guarantee a playoff spot, which should tell you everything about the strength of the rest of the field here. They did dispatch their closest challengers from that point on – but there’s only so much stock you can put into wins over the world’s #7, #8 and #10 in a playoff run.
To be fair, Liquid’s posted a set of pretty impressive results so far in 2019, achievements most other teams would love to have. In fact, they have just as many first-place finishes this year as silver medals! They’ve made it to the finals of all but one of the LAN events they’ve attended this year – with Katowice being the exception due to that series against ENCE –, all of which were also attended by Astralis as well. This makes their results are fairly comparable for the calendar year – and for that matter, both sides also comfortably topped their group at ESL Pro League. Most other teams would be celebrated for an epic run after what they’ve achieved in Sydney, winning every map until the grand final.
The North American side clearly made a step forward recently, and the real question is whether it’s a permanent increase to their mental fortitude or just a temporary boost. It might make sense to keep piling on caveats when examining their results, but the stats just don’t bear that out: 2019’s Liquid is just a little bit less fragile than last year’s iteration, and somewhat more dominant against lesser opposition too.
Looking back at Sydney, it’s not going to be the strength of the competition that will define how important this performance was for Liquid’s development – it’s purely about dealing with the mental block they’ve developed in finals. A recent HLTV interview with nitr0 pretty much confirmed that this isn’t just the punditocracy’s fantasy, but something the team is actively looking at. With two tournament wins under their belt in the calendar year, albeit against diminished fields, there can be no more excuses on the big stage going forward.