Four teams have crashed out of the event featuring most of CS:GO’s best and brightest, and now there’s no more room for error: the knockout rounds are upon us. The second semi-final will pit the best player of the game against the most promising prospects of the Americas: it’s Na’Vi versus Liquid, HLTV’s second-highest ranked team against the fourth in a matchup that should be just as mouth-watering as the other semi-final, if not more.
Perhaps the most important story of the last few months was the rapid improvement of s1mple’s supporting cast on an individual level: flamie, Edward and electronic have finally answered the call of their star player, and while Zeus is still attracting criticism for his individual contributions, by all accounts his in-game leading performances have also played a large part in the CIS squad’s turn of fortunes, winning three major events in a row, crashing the party at Cologne by inflicting the first series defeat on Astralis in a very long time. Seemingly out of nowhere, after not winning a single event since last December’s Dreamhack Open Winter – which was their only title in 2017 – they are now a realistic challenger for the top one spot. They’ve topped Group B after beating both mousesports and Fnatic in straightforward fashion, albeit only after being forced to a decider map in both cases. They’re firing on all cylinders now, and certainly are the number one team right now if you’re only looking at form.
Team Liquid’s performance at the event is much tougher to call right now: apart from their winners-bracket game against Astralis – where they had nothing to offer up against the Danes –, they’ve only played against the struggling MiBR in Atlanta, though they have beaten them in convincing fashion both times. Still, Na’Vi will bring a very different level of challenge for the team, and one can’t help but feel that the quality in Group A was inferior to what was on offer in the other one. Is that predictive? Judging by historical standards, not particularly – still, it’s an interesting facet to note nonetheless.
The two teams have only met once over the course of the last six months – it was at the finals of ESL Pro League Season 7, where Liquid won on two maps (16-10 on Inferno and 16-14 on Dust2) before going on to face Astralis in the final. That was over two months ago, and this current Na’Vi side is a very different beast to the one that went out in the semis of that tournament. It’s also a matchup that seems to favor the CIS side: TL’s real strength stems from their high-level gunplay as opposed to intricate tactics, and NAF-FLY and co. are certainly going to meet their match in this department here.
The logical bet would be a Na’Vi win – what arguments can we stack up against that decision? For one, note the signs of frustration that were clearly present throughout the group stages in the Na’Vi team, an issue that hasn’t reared its ugly head in a while but could very well prove debilitating if it resurfaces in a high-stakes knockout match. Also, s1mple and his merry men are yet to play either Dust2 or Cache on LAN since February, maps which Liquid have played 7 and 12 times respectively in a similar timeframe with fairly decent winrates. Getting one or more of those maps through could prove to be the key to their victory.
Whatever the case may be, expect a high-octane brawl with an emphasis on individual skill over masterful setups. Both teams feature multiple plyers that are capable of just going off and carrying a whole series on their backs, so you could find an edge by spotting that early on. Of course, there’s always the s1mple factor, and it’s one that works both ways: he’s consistently great, but no matter how much the rest of the team improved recently, it might be tough to make up for their star player’s absence against the number 4 team in the world right now.
All in all, Na’Vi is favored, but their performances throughout the event so far suggest a three-map affair with a decent upset potential. It’s surely going to be a cracker.