Esports News

Luci Kelemen
Written By: Luci Kelemen

Telling tales of esports, one word at a time, six years and counting

August 12th, 2020

Team Liquid’s revamp of their flagging squad continues with a high-profile coaching replacement, bringing in Jason "⁠moses⁠" O'Toole as a replacement for adreN shortly after their decision to remove nitr0 from the lineup. Is he the right person to lead Team Liquid forward, and can he do better than fellow ex-analyst YNk in this new role? As it turns out, the answer to this question mostly depends on how you see the role of coaches in CS:GO in the current environment.

OK, I’m the coach. What’s next?

Perhaps with the exception of “esports consultant”, no job description is more nebulous in the scene than that of a CS:GO coach. Are they your tactical mastermind, a pillar of mental and moral support under the floodlights, a general tool for team cohesion as the grim day-to-day to-do lists pile up, chief opposition scout or all of the above? What makes the players listen to your insight and how can you ensure that you won’t be the first one out the door if the side hits a rough patch?

After all, you’re not the head of the operation as in the case of a traditional sports team (not that their coaches and managers spared from the axe at the expense of the players either). Also, since your chance to provide input during a match has been drastically and arbitrarily capped by Valve’s coaching rule changes, any sort of tactical insight you can provide will inevitably be limited (though it’s worth pointing out that the coaches could actually provide input throughout the entire game in the Valve-sanctioned Road to Rio events). How can you augment your team’s in-game leader both in and outside the server and how does that hierarchy look like? No doubt each team has its own answer to this question at this point of time depending on the specific skillsets – not to mention the relationship – of these two individuals.

With adreN’s departure, Liquid are letting go of the man who was inarguably a part of their most successful run in history, who also had a proven track record and experience as an IGL. There’s no denying the team is a shadow of its former self, even if it seemed impossible to pinpoint the kind of move they should make to put things right as each individual piece of the puzzle seemed just as pristine as it was a year and a half ago. They are clearly taking a risk here with the removal of their longest-standing player just as they bring in a greenhorn coach. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt: what is the setup where this sort of a decision makes sense, especially in the middle of the online era where everything is temporary, and what is the sort of change you want to promote by this move?

Untangling the intangibles

With no IGL experience in his professional career, the tactical breakdowns on the silver screen is most of what we can gather from moses’ preferences about the game. However, even a cursory look at Liquid’s playstyle would suggest that they aren’t looking for a chess master as their sixth, as that hasn’t been the reason why they managed to get to the top.

Liquid at their best never exhibited anything like Astralis’ boa constrictor-like grip on their opponents, resembling the best Fnatic sides of the past instead with ruthless aggression and unplayable levels of skill on display. Their grand final against ENCE at IEM Chicago last year remains the pinnacle for the team in many ways, total domination of the opponents and the stage equipment itself. When you’re in such form, CS:GO becomes a point and click adventure – and that is when Liquid are at their sterling best.

By the same token, their blocker against Astralis in grand finals over the entirety of 2018 had nothing to do with tactics: it was purely a mental one. With their performances in disarray, wouldn’t it make sense to opt for a coach who can get them in the right headspace again? Signing The Bald Eagle to coach the premiere North American side is a perfect cultural fit in a way YNk’s first coaching stint never was.

Chemistry class

Famously reluctant to work with coaches, FalleN’s MIBR was a tough a nut to crack as you could get for your debut assignment. Becoming a sixth wheel, as it were, in a tight ship ran by a veteran IGL with a big brain (and as we’re seeing nowadays, perhaps an even bigger ego), hailing from the other side of the world and hobbled by a change to English comms, was the dictionary definition of a poisoned chalice. Seeing how rudderless the Brazilian side remained both during and after his involvement, we can conclude both that he wasn’t at fault for their failings and that he was fairly ineffectual for the reasons described above, and he’s confirmed in an interview with HLTV that he was unable to create the sort of culture he’s envisioned for the side.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, moses has also touched on a similar theme in his announcement video where he also targeted a Major title as his goal in non-equivocal terms. In his eyes, everything else would be a failure – certainly a nod to that wonderful run in the middle of 2019 but nevertheless a moonshot considering the precedent of the last seven years. The only North American Major title to date is rightly remembered as a miracle, perhaps even a mirage. Who knows? Maybe it is exactly this sort of bravado that Team Liquid need to rediscover their old selves.

This Team Liquid is basically peak Fnatic 2.0
The golden submarine: how FaZe snuck back to the shores

Looking past the standard challenges of a CS:GO coaching role, there are also the unique aspects of the current landscape to consider. How can you integrate a new player and a new coach remotely and what kind of work can you do under the current, quite challenging circumstances? Realistically, it will take a few LAN events to determine the real levels of this new-look Liquid side, which could still be quite far away. It’s pretty much an open secret at this point that there’s no way you can host such an event in Brazil considering the current state of things.

If we accept the premise that a CS:GO coach can be at its most useful by developing a good relationship with the team’s IGL and creating a unique responsibility-sharing setup, it makes sense see why YNk clearly seems much more at home at FaZe Clan and why Liquid decided to take a gamble on moses. It’s been accepted for a long while now that the superteam is basically NiKosports 2.0, and working with a compatriot with a solid understanding of the tactical side of the game has clearly eased out many of the wrinkles in the side, bringing along a marginal improvement in performances and results alike.

If it’s the mentality and the fortitude that a coach could improve in the middle of a high-stakes series, and the pursuit of individual perfection outside of it, moses’ lack of experience as an IGL and previous coaching roles matters a lot less than you would think at first glance. For a team like Liquid, the social intangibles could prove more important than any sort of tactical insight, and he clearly has existing relationships with the squad. Whether the sixth man can fix the front five in CS remains an open question – but based on his on-camera chops, moses clearly has a lot of answers to offer.

Photo credit: HLTV