Has YEKINDAR made Liquid more potent?
With a fresh face on the team, Liquid has broken the playoff boundary that has eluded them for so long. Mareks "YEKINDAR" Gaļinskis is well known for his aggressive "in your face" style of Counter-Strike, willing to take seemingly disadvantaged duels and taking the frag giving Liquid an early head start. While he may only be with the team for IEM Cologne, North American fans are rejoicing far and wide for the team's first look at a competitive form. The new five defeated two top ten teams on their path to the playoffs in just two maps each, including a victory over rank four Cloud9.
YEKINDAR takes the place of Richard "shox" Papillon, who departed the team as Liquid looked for answers to their recent disappointments. shox is well known for his passive play and T-side lurks, so naturally, when fans heard of YEKINDAR's stand-in, they wondered how effectively the young Latvian could be integrated into the Liquid given their stylistic clashes. Everyone was excited, of course. Discourse was rumbling over which team would snag YEKINDAR from the free market so North America getting a hand on the star was an absolute blessing. Nonetheless, the questions persisted.
We didn't have to wait long to have our questions answered. Our answers were immediate as soon as Liquid hit the server. Although the sample size is relatively small, only ten maps in total, we've looked through the data to determine exactly how YEKINDAR has changed Liquid.
First of all, it's important to note that YEKINDAR hasn't been the only change the American team has seen. Damian "daps" Steele now sits behind the team as head coach, so any positioning or gameplay adjustments also went through his head too. But, now onto the positional changes, we can ask:
Who's playing where on CT-side?
With shox, Liquid never played Nuke, and that obviously hasn't changed with YEKINDAR's former team, Outsiders, also choosing to ban the only NA-based map. We also haven't seen the YEKINDAR lineup play on Inferno yet, but with Movistar Riders, Liquid's next match-up, first-picking Inferno in their latest match, we could see the Latvian on the map very soon.
On three of the maps Liquid have played so far, Dust2, Ancient, and Overpass, YEKINDAR has slotted exactly into the roles that shox had. Specifically, these are the mid to B rotator and secondary AWP on Dust2, cave (or cheetah for those inclined) on Ancient, and the connector or bathrooms player on Overpass. Liquid have elected to keep their default setups almost identical on these maps, but perhaps they've formulated special strategies to enact with YEKINDAR that we just have not seen yet.
Here we have some heatmaps showing precisely where shox and YEKINDAR got kills while on the CT-side. You can see that they are virtually interchangeable with one another. Sometimes first kills are highlighted instead of total CT kills to emphasize kills from the players' default positions and not on rotation or retake. The heatmaps with shox were also taken from events pre-IEM Dallas, since shox's stint with the team was on it's last legs at that event, meaning the team might have been desperately trying different positions in search for better results. Open each image in a new tab to expand.
Liquid Before and After YEKINDAR on Dust2
As you can see, shox mainly inhabited the mid to B position, which YEKINDAR played very well for Liquid in their match versus Cloud9. He even picked up the secondary AWP, just as shox would have.
Liquid Before and After YEKINDAR on Ancient
On Ancient, both of them played cave, a very aim heavy position which is expected to be able to dodge flashes, be knowledgable of rotates, have calculated aggression, and importantly, know when to give up the position.
shox's heatmap sourced from Liquid vs Astralis at PGL Major Antwerp 2022 Challengers Stage. YEKINDAR's heatmap sourced from Liquid vs FURIA at IEM Cologne 2022.
Liquid Before and After YEKINDAR on Overpass
On Overpass, both shox and YEKINDAR played the lone gunman positioned forward on A site and mid. Both rifled in the bathrooms, either supported by an AWP or completely alone. They also played connector too, keeping that vital rotation chokehold in check. Interestingly, you can also see in the heatmap that YEKINDAR played his position slightly more forward than shox would have, getting his kills further from CT-spawn than shox had. This is a small example of YEKINDAR's aggressive nature versus shox's passiveness shining through the positions they play.
shox's heatmap sourced from Liquid vs 9z at PGL Major Antwerp 2022 Challengers Stage. YEKINDAR's heatmap sourced from Liquid vs 00 Nation at IEM Cologne 2022.
Liquid Before YEKINDAR on Vertigo
As we can see, shox was holed up in B site the whole CT-side while EliGE had his way all throughout the A site. Keith "NAF" Markovic rotated through mid and B while the in-game leader nitr0 supported his star rifler on A site.
Heatmaps sourced from Liquid vs Astralis at PGL Major Antwerp 2022 Challengers Stage.
Liquid After YEKINDAR on Vertigo
Here we can see the wide extent of sweeping changes Liquid had to do to accommodate YEKINDAR on Vertigo. YEKINDAR won the battle for A ramp positioning and now Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski supports him on A site, though you can tell via the heatmap that he's quite successful on retakes at B. Many were wondering which of the two would lay claim to A ramp and it seems as if YEKINDAR will, at least for now. NAF now anchors B but gets many of his kills on A rotates. nitr0 plays the important role of mid defender now, holding the split between the sites and hunkering into B site whenever NAF anticipates a hit and completely changing his bombsite from the previous roster.
Heatmaps sourced from Liquid vs Cloud9 at IEM Cologne 2022.
Liquid Before YEKINDAR on Mirage
On Mirage, shox used to be the B anchor and NAF played the star role in connector, braving the passage between mid and the A site. EliGE played on catwalk, supporting the B site as well as keeping mid in CT control.
Heatmaps sourced from Liquid vs Gaimin Gladiators at IEM Dallas 2022 North American Closed Qualifier.
Liquid After YEKINDAR on Mirage
With YEKINDAR, NAF can now go to anchoring the B bombsite, a position which he's very familiar with on other maps. Filling his spot in connector is EliGE, taking the star aim role on Mirage while YEKINDAR comes in to fill his spot on catwalk. With EliGE and YEKINDAR in middle, the two aim stars get to show off their mechanical prowess as nitr0 and NAF lob flashes overhead.
Heatmaps sourced from Liquid vs FURIA at IEM Cologne 2022.
Of note, Josh "oSee" Ohm isn't mentioned in any of these positional adjustments. As the AWPer, it's his duty to float around the map and be wherever the site his is approaching. Also, as the holder of the most powerful weapon in the game, any set defensive play that Liquid have planned, such as a push through B halls or A ramp on Mirage, will definitely include him supporting in the back lines. For that reason, it's generally unhelpful to try to pin him down to any one position, since over the course of one round, he could move from connector to nest to ticket booth to market.
As we can see, YEKINDAR has definitely shaken up Liquid's defensive half. Interestingly, they hold around a 60% CT-side win rate regardless of whether they needed to make many positional changes for YEKINDAR, or simply plugged him in and played.
But what about on the attack?
While YEKINDAR has absolutely brought some of his aggression into the team, it's not in the manner that most expected. While he is entrying with the pack sometimes, he's often-times found on the other side of the map, aggressively lurking. His superior aim and knowledge of angles are used to get a quick pick and make the defense panic and over-rotate while the rest of Liquid take a weakened bombsite.
There are obvious exceptions to this, and this could also be a short-term solution. shox was lurking on T-side as well, so until they manage to have a long bootcamp with the new coach daps, maybe it fits best in Liquid's repertoire to keep YEKINDAR in these lurking roles. It's definitely working considering the fact that Liquid have made it to playoffs.
YEKINDAR is still taking almost as many opening duels as he did on Virtus.pro and Outsiders, holding a 29.7% opening kill attempts on Liquid versus a similar 32.8% with his previous team. It's just that Liquid are using him differently, to prompt rotations and find little nooks and crannies that YEKINDAR can exploit to give his team a quick advantage.
He has been slightly less efficient with his duels, maintaining a 42.6% opening kill success rate versus a 51.5% on his previous teams. Nonetheless, YEKINDAR's impact cannot be overstated. His willingness to take these duels frees up Intel Grand Slam winning riflers EliGE and NAF to do what they do best, tap heads.
We can see that YEKINDAR's aggression has freed EliGE up from entrying as much, which is a definite positive since his opening kill efficiency has also decreased with this new roster. Not that that's slowed him down at all, EliGE is posting a multikill round 21.5% of the time. His effectiveness as a fragger is absolutely opened up from being able to take fair gunfights where his raw aim can come through, not a disadvantaged opening peek.
In Cologne, NAF has a 1.09 rating and EliGE holds the tournament's fourth-best rating with a whopping 1.27, the second best of any rifler. EliGE is playing better than he has all year, while NAF has taken a slight hit just from the nature of switching out from his star roles into anchor positions.
How does YEKINDAR fit in?
What can't be measured in stats, though, is the team environment and atmosphere that the Latvian brings to the team. NA fans can all remember the distraught looks on the Liquid players faces whenever they lost a game. It was just disappointing result after disappointing result, never amounting to anything. But, recent interviews with YEKINDAR and the rest of the Liquid players have revealed the lighthearted nature and glue he brings to the roster.
Nick "nitr0" Cannella, the team's leader, recently said in an interview,
We were feeling pretty confident. We had really good results in practice and YEKINDAR is an amazing player and he’s been helping us a lot. I think we have a really good chance of making it to playoffs and go on from there. Whatever happens from there after that happens and we will keep rolling with the confidence.
These good vibes aren't just the leader trying to psych up his team. EliGE, the team's star fragger, had good words to say as well;
He's definitely brought that, being really outgoing. He likes making jokes a lot, a lot of Dad jokes so I vibe with that a lot. And just overall, he's helping a lot with bringing in-game stuff, different protocols and how the meta is being played right now.
NAF too had nothing but positive notes and even YEKINDAR himself talked about the upbeat and optimistic atmosphere in the bootcamp.
I think in this team it was a bit more free atmosphere, like "Ah I'm going to chill now". I came, I said "We're gonna play, we're gonna improve, we're gonna practice, we don't want to be losers, and we want to win"
It's impossible to overstate how important the team environment is in facilitating a growth mindset and tournament-winning squad. You don't get to the top without facing your fair share of challenges along the way, and unless any team has the grit and tenacity to weather through hardship, they'll never approach greatness. Ever since losing Jake "Stewie2k" Yip, Liquid have been looking for a glue to their roster, someone who can keep the game light-hearted and make sure his teammates are in the right headspace. shox was supposed to be that replacement, but the mental fortitude never arrived for Liquid. Perhaps YEKINDAR is the change in attitude that Liquid need to surpass that mental boundary.
Take for example Liquid's game versus 00 Nation. After an insanely close triple-overtime loss, it would be easy to fall short on Mirage. In fact, if they had, Liquid would have exited IEM Cologne winless after their second BO3. But, on Mirage, Liquid came back and won against two map and series points to win in overtime, after which they didn't lose another map for the rest of the group stage. Tenacity like that is hard to come by. Liquid didn't crack under pressure, an enormous departure from their previous form.
|Liquid||K - D||+/-||ADR||KAST||Rating 2.0|
|Jonathan 'EliGE' Jablonowski||90 - 65||+25||97.8||77.6%||1.36|
|Josh 'oSee' Ohm||83 - 58||+25||76.5||76.6%||1.22|
|Keith 'NAF' Markovic||82 - 66||+16||84.4||69.2%||1.18|
|Mareks 'YEKINDAR' Gaļinskis||67 - 68||-1||66.4||70.1%||0.98|
|Nick 'nitr0' Cannella||41 - 72||-31||49.8||67.3%||0.72|
|00NATION||K - D||+/-||ADR||KAST||Rating 2.0|
|Santino 'try' Rigal||77 - 69||+8||80.6||66.4%||1.09|
|Eduardo 'dumau' Wolkmer||78 - 78||+0||82.4||62.6%||1.06|
|Marcelo 'coldzera' David||62 - 76||-14||64.3||70.1%||0.92|
|Bruno 'latto' Rebelatto||62 - 67||-5||64.7||57.9%||0.88|
|Epitacio 'TACO' de Melo||49 - 74||-25||57.0||64.5%||0.80|
On CT-side, YEKINDAR has mostly taken shox's roles, but on some maps, his distinct playstyle has forced Liquid to completely overhaul their game plan. His T-side is a departure from his Outsiders days, where he is now aggressively lurking instead of taking head-on battles as the front of the pack. However, his willingness to take opening duels still remains, and frees up the rest of Liquid to do what they do best.
If YEKINDAR stays with Liquid, he might be placed in those hard entry roles that he's known for, but in IEM Cologne, the current game plan is working. He also brings a revitalized mentality to Liquid. No longer does Liquid wonder how low they'll finish, but rather how many tournaments they need to attend until they pick up their next Grand Slam. Everybody has a renewed sense of optimism and it shows on the server. Liquid is more dangerous than ever, defensively, offensively, and mentally, all thanks to one cheeky Latvian.