Historically, the best team in North America has always been the biggest fish in a relatively decently sized, yet exceedingly mediocre pond. Being the number one team in a domestic scene like NA rarely resulted in good performances abroad. Throughout late-2016 till now though, the NA region has undergone a renaissance. In this post-Boston major era, the two top teams for NA are looking to rival each other up and down the top eight teams in the world. The traditional domestic scrap to be NA’s best now means something real in the scope of international play.
As iron sharpens iron, so one person shapes another
Liquid and Cloud9. It’s the marquee match-up that’s defined so-much of North American competition. While the contest between the two has usually swung heavily one way or the other, in the present, both sides are closely contested. On form alone though, Liquid are the ones currently winning.
At the Boston Major, Cloud9 manifested the most incredible play their region has ever seen. From how they were able to consistently catch teams off-guard with their style to individuals defining what maybe could be the peak of their career. It was a performance that will remain seminal in CS:GO history. But it’s not without fault, and not one that intimidates Liquid.
Cloud9’s Boston performance put their way of winning rounds under the maximal possible scrutiny. Every fan, analyst, and importantly, fellow pros were gripped with curiosity as to how C9 were able to do this. Their fast-paced map control mixed with comfort in the mid-round and incredibly strong firepower fuelled them advantages. More left-of-field, unique strats complimented a relentless base to make C9 both tough-to-read and catch-up to when ahead. While this worked to win them the major, the lynch pin is always being able to adjust, evolve and overcome the far better prepared opposition at the next LAN.
Cloud9 weren’t afforded any luxuries in this sense, being given a little over a week to ready-up for cs_summit 2, to then a week later playing StarSeries and then immediately playing IEM Katowice. They haven’t been able to expand beyond their Boston style and Liquid, on a similar schedule has been able to play catch-up; looking to use the firepower upgrade of NAF and a more structured approach. Importantly, Liquid have expanded and solidified their map pool, boasting their best map in Inferno, one of the key battlegrounds in top-tier play.
Liquid are looking like a legitimate main-stay in this 5th-8th team in the world category whereas how C9 reform after the break leaves a lot to the imagination. While C9’s status could plummet or shoot-back up by the time Marseilles comes around, at the very worst, it seems Liquid will maintain.
Liquid’s overall philosophy seems to be a more stable approach than C9’s. They have no dedicated AWP in the traditional sense, with Nitr0 favouring the sniper only in situations where it’s more advantageous than a rifle, rather than looking to buy it every chance they can. This is more than fine given how well-rounded their fragging base is with five rifles. While nitr0 is the clear entry with an AK in-hand, every member of this side is capable of pressuring for openings or finding the big double-trade to turn a round. Elige and TwistZz have both had more experience at the front of the fragging pack late last year with Nitr0 taking up IGL duties and stanislaw lurking. This generally sees NAF and steel coming into the site later into the hits or lurking, allowing NAF to fulfill the integral round-closing role.
These well-balanced set of roles is nested within a system overseen by the ever watchful zews. Zews, while not in the server, is the backbone of this side. He pushes a very structured approach that is diversified through the natural volatility and starpower of his big fraggers. This style seems to struggle the most against teams who can match Liquid on an individual level and play a more patient game, dominating and frustrating the NA fraggers.
It’ll be interesting to see whether C9 look to further refine their own style or look more towards adopting Liquid’s approach. C9 could easily come to France with a more fleshed-out strat book, slightly altered positions with well-rested fraggers and perform at a high-level. To dramatically shift away from what got them to the dance in the first place might be to the disdain of their firepower. Or it might not be. C9 could equally look more towards the Zews style of system. Skadoodle could be wrangled back in and become a more consistent, position-orientated sniper in-line with a device or flamie-type AWPer. Interestingly, RUSH is one of the big candidates to take a more passive approach in hits, and it’s not unreasonable to expect a more reserved RUSH in the coming weeks.
What C9 does though, remains to be seen. The important thing for them is that they actually look to change something. Liquid are winning the arms race, and seem to have a more stable base to evolve from. Liquid are forcing C9 in their domestic match-up to become better or to die. By manifesting greatness, Liquid are driving the quality of play in their scene up and demanding a more closely contested regional rivalry. Iron sharpens iron, and for C9 to be on top in April, they’ll never have to be more on the bleeding edge.
If you liked this article, check out our Rivalry Rapid Recap post ft. dusT!