At Starladder i-League Season 5, Liquid were upset in the playoffs by NRG. There are multiple reasons this happened. Perhaps they didn’t take NRG seriously enough, perhaps NRG played at a higher level than expected given their relative inexperience, or Liquid played worse than usual. In the end however, there are no excuses. The bracket Liquid drew was the easiest one possible to get to the finals and stumbling at the first step is a failure. This Liquid roster has everything they need to be one of the best teams in the world, by my own estimation the second best after Astralis. But this loss here and the results they have been posting since 2018 tell me that the one thing that Liquid need left to ascend to the next level is the “It” factor.
The it factor is a magical element. It is a championship mentality. In sports, it is that magical moment that forces players to rise above regardless of circumstance. It is making the buzzer beater in a do or die situation, of making the last drive in the last seconds of the game, of making the the game winning goal in overtime. However it is more than that, it is a kind of grit that refuses to give up regardless of circumstance, a second gear that can be reached when the going gets tough.
In CS:GO terms think of some of the all time great teams. NiP had magic. When it came down to the crunch, their players pulled off miraculous moves when all seem lost to take the game and win titles. Think of Fnatic of 2015 or 2016. In 2015 they took a timeout against Virtus.Pro at the Major and in those 30 seconds said nothing to each other. Only recomposed themselves and when they went back into the server they destroyed the Virtus.Plow in it’s full might. In 2016, Fnatic made a living off of pulling out incredible comebacks on maps and series they had no right winning. When we think of the last two years, SK has been the most emblematic of that clutch mentality. That ability to rise up in the final rounds and show you why they were the best team in the world.
This is the mentality that Liquid need. Look at their roster for a moment: Nicholas’ Nitr0” Cannella, Jonathan “EliGE” Jablonowski, Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken, Keith “NAF” Markovic, Epitacio “TACO” de Melo. On paper and in the server they have proven to be the potent five. Liquid has been marred by constant roster shuffles, but this five is it. There are no other upgrades that they need. They have three stars in EliGE, Twistzz, and NAF. nitr0 is the in-game leader, but can have incredible impact as an entry-fragger or sometimes AWPer. TACO is a great support and team player and gives the team the space they need to excel.
In terms of tactics and team play they have shown incredible results in the past few months. Wilton “zews” Prado seems to be an incredible leader for the team and together they have one of the best map pools in modern CS:GO. They should be in contention to be a top four team and arguably the second best after Astralis. But the missing element is that it factor.
Look upon their results through 2018. Specifically the round differentials in series. It runs across both the TACO lineup and the Lucas “steel” Lopes lineup. At CS Summit 2, they had a bo3 series against NiP and won 2-1. However in the map they lost they got smashed 16-3. At Starladder i-League Season 4, look at the Astralis, Renegades, and Mouz series in the playoffs. They went 1-2 against Astralis but the two maps they lost were 4-16 and 7-16.. Against Renegades they won 2-1, but the one map they lost was 7-16. Against Mouz in the semifinals it was a 1-2 loss with the scores being 7-16, 16-4, and 9-16.
At IEM World Championship they lost to Astralis 1-2 and Fnatic 0-2. The scores against Astrais were 16-12, 5-16, and 5-16. Against Fnatic they lost 13-16 and 7-16. At DreamHack Marseille, they lost to Astralis and Gambit, 1-2 to both. On the maps they lost the scores were two 3-16s against Astralis and 6-16/14-16 to Gambit. At ESL Proleague Finals it was a bit different. They lost two series against Astralis. The group stage was as normal, but the finals had them lose 1-3, but the scores were far closer outside of the first map where they lost 1-16. It was 14-16, 16-14, and 12-16.
Now we come to Starladder i-league Season 5 against NRG where they won the first map 16-10 and then lost the subsequent two 6-16. If this happens once, you can ignore it. Twice it might be a coincidence. But this has happened across six different tournaments and there is a clear pattern. This team seems to drop maps without putting up much of a fight.
Now theoretically speaking, this shouldn’t matter. A loss at 14-16 is the same as a loss at 1-16 in terms of the result. But it speaks to the lack of championship mindset that Liquid need to get over the hump. Think about the NiP, Fnatic, or old SK lineups. To beat them you had to drag them down and fight for your life on every map on every round. They were relentless. That is what Liquid need to go to the next level, relentlessness.
And some credit to them, we have seen it once. In the biggest match in 2018 was the finals against Astralis and even though they got smashed on the first map, they showed incredible strength in the following three. There is something in there that can reach that level, but it has only appeared once in their 6 tournaments across these two lineups. This is the final barrier to what Liquid need to become Champions.
And unlike many other teams, they have time. Look at the ages of their players. Nitr0 is 22, EliGE is 20, Twistzz is 18, NAF is 20, TACO is 23. These players have a long time to develop and grow. Think about how skilled and incredible this team already is. This team is the future. It seems likely that at least one of their three stars in EliGE, Twistzz, or NAF will become a superstar level player. Perhaps even all three. If they had that killer mindset they could be winning titles right now.
And while you could say they still have time to develop that mindset, it isn’t something easy to train. That mindset we speak of that define NiP, Fnatic, or SK was forged in relentlessness. They were like wild animals who never stopped clinging to you when they got a bite into you. The best teams in the world could get leads on them, could be in position to upset them, but to do it they had to push that boulder up a mountain.
So while Liquid are young, they must play as if every map matters, as if every round matters. Because that will be what forges their spirit and their minds to become champions. That is what leads players to become champions. We have seen many players who can be clutch, but they need to be relentless. It isn’t enough to be great once in a while, they must learn to become great at every moment.
For me that is what defines those all time great teams and this team has so much potential in it/ They are already on the path. Should they ever gain that relentlessness, that clutch, that it factor, they will ascend to become one of the best teams we’ve ever seen.