Opinion: Why Liquid will eliminate Astralis in Antwerp
Round five of the PGL Major Antwerp Challengers Stage begins tomorrow, meaning the final three teams will qualify for the Legends Stage while the other three will fall just short of the sweet sixteen. Clawing through the intense competition of five rounds creates unique and memorable storylines for each team, which further magnifies the result of the final matchup. Of course, preexisting storylines between 2-2 teams can compound with what is happening now, creating an even juicer product in the elimination matches. When seeking out the best example, look no further than the upcoming matchup between Liquid and Astralis.
Although Astralis has dominated the historic rivalry with a 33-8 record, the two new lineups have yet to face one another. With the two teams staring down the barrel of elimination, Liquid is in the best position possible to get revenge on their rivals at a very opportune time. Here are the reasons why Liquid will beat their Danish rivals, send them packing, and advance to the Legends Stage:
Astralis is in a map crisis
Heading into this match, Astralis is operating with a much weaker map pool than they historically have had under the helm of veteran in-game leader Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander. Over the last 30 days, they’ve posted a 13-10 map record, with those thirteen wins coming from six different maps. With the team only having a 60% win rate on three maps, these results and this map pool is not a product typical of Astralis, but it is what they have provided at Antwerp. In the Challengers Stage, they’ve lost on Mirage, Overpass, and Ancient while securing a win on Nuke and Overpass.
Although Liquid is not at one-hundred percent, they appear to be stronger in the important areas to secure the victory, like map pool. They’ve secured wins on Ancient, Overpass, and Vertigo in their two BO3s. Although the Vertigo win is largely moot because of Astralis’ likely banning of the map, Liquid’s proper showing on Overpass instills confidence to take their Danish foes out if they meet there. Beyond that, Liquid’s constant insta-banning of Nuke takes out a huge weapon in Astralis’ limited arsenal. When assessing Ancient as an expected battleground for the two teams, Liquid and their fans should enter that war with confidence to succeed. They are undefeated on the map and have even moved into picking it for their BO3 games in the last two days. Their newfound confidence on the newest map gives the team an ace up their sleeve against tomorrow's opposition.
As for Inferno, it is always an attractive map in this matchup. EliGE said in his most recent interview with Dust2.us that he is one-hundred percent expecting their next opponents to pick Inferno. Unlike Astralis of the past, this one has not proven to have a strong familiarity with Inferno together. Over the last month, they've only played it twice. Even though Liquid has only played it three times the last month themselves, with their opponents now confirmed to be Astralis, expect Liquid to be doubly prepared for an Inferno decider. Lastly, with Liquid on a four-win streak on Mirage, Dust2 looks to be Astralis’ best chance on paper to tip the scales.
In the same spot but not in the same form
Despite the two teams being in a do-or-die round five elimination match, both teams are not operating at the same form nor with the same level of momentum fueling their play. In fact, almost all of Astralis’ lineup is playing well below their individual standard, with all of them besides star rifler Benjamin “blameF” Bremer performing below a 1.00 rating. Keeping the Danes afloat in this stage was almost entirely blameF and his 1.40 rating across the five maps. Although he has not personally been stopped or even slowed yet, it does not bode well for a team when four-fifths of it is not operating at maximum efficiency against a team that is seemingly gaining momentum.
It looks doubly bad for Astralis considering the two longest-standing talents in the lineup, the two most familiar with the Astralis-Liquid rivalry, are performing the worst for the team at the event. Clutch king Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth and in-game leader gla1ve have been non-existent for the team, failing to net a positive K/D ratio on any maps besides the 16-2 Nuke beatdown of IHC in round one. With the former Major winners earning below ten frags a combined three times and both performing below a 0.90 average rating, the tenured talents will have to turn it on for Astralis to see victory.
When looking at Liquid, their players are finding success at the right time. They entered the event with many unanswered questions and closed round two with perhaps even more. However, Liquid star players found their form in the elimination matches to help boost the team over 9z and Complexity. Although EliGE has not peaked yet at the Major, his recent performances far overshadow the abysmal eight frag showing against Imperial on Inferno. As for Keith “NAF” Markovic, he’s now crept his way into the top-20 in rating at the event with a 1.12 after the team's slow start. Following the poor showing versus G2, NAF picked up the pace and eventually sniffed 30 frags in both of the BO3s.
From top to bottom, the whole Liquid lineup looks to be in better form than Astralis, with the exception of blameF. With Liquid coming together as a team at the right time, their newfound chemistry should be enough to suppress blameF to the point of being able to secure the BO3 victory and Legends Stage invite.
The shox factor
One consistent benefit Liquid has reaped since the joining of French veteran Richard “shox” Papillon is his calling of pistol rounds. They’ve been strong in the first round of each half, and have retained that strength in the Challengers Stage. Currently sitting tied for third in pistol win percentage with 58.3%, Liquid currently dominates their opponent in this field. As for Astralis, their 20% leaves them nearly hopeless against their opponents to start each half. Going beyond his ability to call pistol and anti-eco rounds, shox was brought into this team for matches like this, where historically the lineups would crumble. His storied knowledge and success are something that Liquid’s players could greatly benefit from, given the right situation and amount of time. Given the circumstances, Liquid has been forced to make the most of a bad situation, which they have done so far.
Liquid's success in the rounds shox is calling, as well as his experience offered has been at times a worthwhile compromise for the lack of individual impact offered by the French import. He has had a rough go against European competition throughout his tenure with Liquid, averaging a positive rating against only two of the seven European teams he's faced with the Americans. His match against G2 at this event was particularly bad, netting only five frags in 22 rounds in the round one loss. His experience and an undying will to win came alive after the poor showings in rounds one and two. After only getting 18 frags through two maps, shox did not go below 20 frags in each map of the two BO3s after. Unlike his opponents' veteran players, shox is an aged talent that appears to only be improving as the event progresses.
The culmination of the circumstances at hand compounding with the arrival of shox could be exactly what Liquid need to not only trounce Astralis but to complete the 0-2 to 3-2 comeback, replicating the Cloud9 comeback of Boston’s past.
The stakes only continue to increase between these two teams, as shox and Xyp9x will also be fighting to stay atop the mountain with Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen as the only players to make top sixteen at every Major. Liquid and Astralis will do battle for a spot at the PGL Major Antwerp Legends Stage tomorrow at 06:00AM.