Liquid have solidified their spot as the best team in the world halfway through 2019. This is a great achievement as Liquid were perennial runner-ups in 2018. Liquid made the final leap in 2019 as they pushed to become the best team in the world. In the first six months of CS:GO, they have accrued the best results with the most top finishes and the most victories against top 10 rated opponents on LAN. Liquid are the best in the world, but their potential is such that no historical feat is out of their reach.
Liquid in 2018
To understand the potential that Liquid can still unearth in 2019, we need to go back to 2018. Liquid’s lineup at the time included: Nicholas “nitr0” Cannella, Jonathan “EliGE” Jablownoski, Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken, Keith “NAF” Markovic, Epitacio “TACO” de Melo, and Wilton “zews” Prado as coach. Prior to the current lineup, it was the best lineup NA ever assembled.
That lineup was special for a number of reasons. In terms of raw firepower, it was one of the best in history. NAF, EliGE, and Twistzz all have superstar potential. In 2018, we saw NAF reach a top five level in the first half of the year, while Twistzz was a top five player in the latter half. Nitr0 was an overqualified fragger for an in-game leader. TACO was the support player, but even he found new form on the team as his new supportive roles allowed him to be better than he was on MIBR.
Along with their incredible firepower, the 2018 Liquid lineup was structurally one of the strongest we’ve ever seen. They had fairly defined roles in the team. EliGE was their space-making playmaker who often teamed up with nitr0. Nitr0 was the AWPer. NAF was the passive superstar. Twistzz was a brilliant entry fragger and anchor, but was also versatile enough to play the lurker. TACO filled out whatever roles Liquid needed.
With these roles, Liquid hammered out a solid tactical game. Liquid consistently found ways to take map control, trade, get info, and team play. The versatility of their five rifle style allowed them to swap roles and give them new looks (like when TACO became the primary AWP on inferno). This resulted in a six deep map pool (Inferno, Mirage, Cache, Dust2, Nuke, and Overpass). By the end, Liquid showed that they could even play Train and surprised Astralis on it in the ESL Proleague Season 8 Finals.
While this Liquid roster is the second best lineup NA ever created, it had two weaknesses: Astralis and finals pressure. Liquid lost every bo3+ encounter to Astralis in 2018 and this resulted in five different grand finals losses. Their other weakness was in finals. The notorious example being ESL New York where they lost to Mouz 2-3.
At the end of 2018, both zews and TACO decided to leave the team to join MIBR. With both of them leaving, Liquid looked for replacements and picked up Jacky “Stewie2K” Yip and Eric “adreN” Hoag.
The 2018 period sets up the base to show how Liquid eventually became the number one team and why I think they have the potential to aim for more.
Liquid in 2019
It is undeniable that Liquid are the best team in 2019. After six months of play, no one matches Liquid’s results: Three 1st place finishes at big LANs: DreamHack Dallas, IEM Sydney, and ESL Proleague Season 9 Finals, a top eight at the Katowice Major, another 1st place at IBP Masters, and second place finishes at BLAST Miami, BLAST Sao Paulo, and CS_Summit four.
What’s interesting about Liquid’s run is that their fundamentals haven’t changed. They have a solid structure, roles, and tactics. While Liquid’s core style hasn’t altered too much, it has evolved after Stewie2k and adreN joined the team.
Stewie2k wasn’t just a firepower upgrade, but his addition added two things that Liquid did not have before. The first was a wildcard factor. While EliGE was the aggressive playmaker, his style was smart and calculated. This is why EliGE is one of the most consistent players in the game, but a team sometimes needs an X-factor to surprise the enemy. In the 2018 lineup, NAF could play this role, but it was often in the context of small-man scenarios. Stewie2k on the other hand is someone who likes to make first contact and pull out a surprising, potentially risky move where you have hit the right timing. The most notable example in recent memory was his defense of B on Vertigo against Astralis. Vertigo is a map where you have to take high risks on the CT-side to get anything done on the CT-side and Stewie2k is the perfect player to do that for Liquid.
The other aspect Stewie2k adds is a secondary AWP. He likes to take aggressive short angles as the small-site anchor. By doing this, he gets to find picks, get info, and potentially save his utility for the late round. While this was a potential option for Liquid in 2018, Stewie2k makes it far more potent to the point that Liquid often default to their double AWP setup as their primary defense on multiple maps.
As for adreN, he’s been praised for his tactical mind. While it’s hard to know the level of impact he’s brought to the team, from the outside we can see that Liquid’s map pool has shifted since adreN has come into the lineup. In 2018 they specialized on Mirage and Inferno. In 2019, Liquid have grown much stronger on maps like Overpass and nuke, maps that Liquid generally tried to avoid in the past.
The addition of tactics and firepower has allowed Liquid to be even more of what they once were. They have a structured approach as their base, but can use their individual skill to cut corners or find aggressive openings. They’ve also increased the versatility in their role swaps with the AWP being juggled between Stewie2K, NAF, and nitr0. All of the players can play as a lurker, entry, or as follow-up. Another side-effect of the firepower increase is that Liquid need less utility than before to take map control as they can win aim duels across this maps. This in turn gives them more options in the later round in terms of isolation plays, fakes, or stronger executes.
The final thing to note about Liquid’s run in 2019 is that their superstar has changed again. In early 2018, NAF was their most impactful player. In late 2018 it was Twistzz. In 2019, it has turned out to be EliGE. His level of play has gone to new heights. He’s mastered guns like the AUG or Krieg and has taken his aggression and team play to the next level. On Overpass, he is an absolute menace on the CT-side as he consistently gets the flank or info that wins the round. In the postplant situations, he’s become a monster at winning retakes with his team. If you look to the T-side, he is consistently winning his duels to get Liquid the map control they need to win the round.
Liquid’s potential is limitless
Once you take into account both 2018 and 2019, Liquid’s potential seems limitless. In terms of firepower, they have the best lineup in the world and it hasn’t reached its full potential. Currently, EliGE is their best player, but both NAF and Twistzz have proven that they can also play at a top five level in the world. If there is ever a moment where even two of these three players play at that level, they could be heads and shoulders above everyone else. It’s not even improbable considering that EliGE is Liquid’s most consistent player and has the least variance in his performance. With two MVP medals, it’s likely he will continue on and we’ve seen Twistzz start to ramp up to his 2018 peak form like in his inferno game in the EPL 9 finals.
In terms of tactics and style, Liquid have shown they can mix strategy with their individualism. They can play fast or slow, with deliberation or off of instinct. At times you can see them play the structured style that made the 2018 Liquid so amazing and at other times they can play the loose explosive style of Stewie2k’s Cloud9. Liquid have continued to develop different defaults that require a methodical approach, but also enough leeway for individuals to make their own plays without hurting the whole.
If you look at the map pool, Liquid have the elements to be good at almost every map. While the specialties of the 2018 and 2019 lineup differ, the depth is the same. This five man lineup is six maps deep. Liquid even have the potential to be a decent Train team, even if they don’t have a traditional primary AWPer to solidify their CT-side.
Liquid only have two weaknesses to speak of. The first is that they sometimes lack discipline in favorable situations. CS 1.6 legend, Alexander “ave” Holdt pointed out on twitter
This is something that they should be able to fix over time. Liquid played a lot cleaner at EPL 9 Finals compared to before.
Their other infamous weakness is choking under the pressure. However this is an outdated narrative that no longer applies to Liquid. While Liquid did shut down in high pressure moments during their 2018 run, in 2019 they’ve matured and grown past those problems. There have been some hiccups with finals losses (Summit to Vitality, Miami to FaZe, and Sao Paulo to Astralis), but I’d argue none of those were chokes in the true sense. Vitality outplayed them at CS_Summit 4, FaZe’s individual players were untouchable on that day, and Astralis were still in form back at Sao Paulo.
When you look at the other finals, Liquid have won out the high pressure moments. They beat Fnatic 3-2 at IEM Sydney, notably winning Overpass in a close 16-14 fashion. At DreamHack Dallas ENCE pushed them to the edge, but Liquid closed out the series on Inferno 16-13. In high pressure moments, the team and players no longer looked lost.
The best example comes from their most recent run at EPL 9 Finals. In the quarterfinals Liquid played against Astralis on Overpass. This was a high pressure match as Astralis beat Liquid like a pinata all throughout 2018. However Astralis’ decision to play at BLAST tournaments in 2019 made their form atrophy and they looked vulnerable. At this point, Liquid was now the favorite to win and so it was the perfect test to see how far Liquid had come with their mental game.
Liquid passed the test. It looked bad in the beginning as Astralis was slaughtering Liquid in the first half of Overpass, but Liquid rallied in the second half. After losing that map, the team regained their focus and took the series. After dispatching of Astralis, Liquid went to the semifinals against Mouz. While it was an easier series, Ozgur “woxic” Eker had a godlike performance on nuke with a 40 bomb. Even so, Liquid persevered and closed Mouz out 2-0. In the finals, both Kenny “kennyS” Schrub and Richard “shox” Papillion had a throwback series. While Liquid won the series 3-1, it was a close series with G2 winning nuke and pushing both Dust2 and Inferno into overtime.
That finals series exemplified Liquid’s growth. At ESL New York last year, Liquid weren’t able to deal with the incredible form of Mouz in that finals and capitulated in the highest pressure moments and rounds. At EPL 9, it was a different story. Each time one of KennyS or shox threw a haymaker, Liquid got back up and threw one right back. Liquid continued to make decisive plays and calls throughout the series.
Liquid have it all: firepower, tactics, and map pool. But the kicker that floors me is the age of the Liquid players. The average age of the team is 21. Nitr0 is 23, Twistzz is 19, and the rest of the players are 21. Despite their young age, they all have experience playing at the top level of CS:GO. With the entire lineup being this young, the Liquid lineup have even more time to grow into their own. Nitr0 can continue to grow as a leader. EliGE, NAF, and Twistzz have the chance to solidify themselves as consistent global superstars. Stewie2K can continue to refine his aggression and be a key part of the most successful NA lineups in history.
At the average age of 21, this five man lineup is the best team in the world and there is nothing outside of their reach. They are on the verge of being the second team to win the IEM Grand Slam. They can win majors, create eras, and establish themselves as one of the greatest lineups we’ve ever seen.