Evaluating Liquid's run in Rio
Heading into Brazil's first CS:GO Major, many fans and pundits struggled to pick a clear favorite who would claim the coveted championship. Cases could be made for any one of the top five ranked teams. Defending champions FaZe, NAVI, Cloud9, Vitality, and Liquid were all considered legitimate contenders. For the North American scene, Liquid's upward trajectory, from making the playoffs in Cologne to reaching the finals of ESL Pro League, was enthralling. The addition of Mareks "YEKINDAR" Gaļinskis looked to have given NA their first legitimate challenger for a Major title since 2019's Liquid who were halted by the goliath that was prime Astralis in the quarterfinals of the StarLadder Berlin Major.
As we now know, the iteration of Liquid that went to Brazil failed to match the achievements of the previous lineup in Berlin, crashing out before playoffs at the Legends stage with a 2-3 record. Everyone is now wondering the same thing: "What went wrong for such a stacked and exciting roster to miss out on the playoffs in Rio?" In this article, I will be breaking down the key points from Liquid's run. In doing so, I will pinpoint what were the main issues that plagued the team, while also highlighting the positives that were present.
When Liquid needed him most, he vanished
Undoubtedly, the only reason Liquid was even in the conversation for winning IEM Rio was down to their Latvian import YEKINDAR. Prior to his arrival, Liquid floundered with Richard "shox" Papillon who was far past his prime and clearly did not fit the system Liquid had. The pre-Major news that YEKINDAR was no longer a stand-in was expected to boost his confidence now that all the uncertainty around the situation had vanished. While uncertainty was out of the picture, unfortunately, YEKINDAR vanished alongside it in Rio.
In terms of rating, the 1.00 rating YEKINDAR posted in Rio is the worst event that he has had statistically since June 2021 at IEM Summer. A well-established element of what YEKINDAR brings to the table is his opening duel success rate. On a surface level, the 23-year-old was successful in this endeavor, acquiring 31 opening kills out of 63 attempts. One of the issues for YEKINDAR was that in the matches that mattered, he was underwhelming. In the crunch series against Spirit, he went 2 for 9 in first-kills on Vertigo, while on Ancient he had a slightly better success rate as he went 4 for 9. Liquid cannot afford players such as YEKINDAR to severely underperform, and sadly for Liquid, the Latvian wasn't the only culprit.
It has been no secret that the addition of YEKINDAR has forced Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski to adapt. Playing similar positions and roles, EliGE discussed the difficulties that he faced with the stylistic clash at their first tournament together, playing IEM Cologne in July. Now that we have reached November, five months and multiple tournaments (including a finals appearance at EPL) should have been enough time for the long-standing Liquid member to have settled.
In the initial stages of their run, EliGE was instrumental in Liquid's success. No one on the NA side of the server showed up against MOUZ, however, against Sprout it was quite the opposite as EliGE and YEKINDAR both showed up massively. The game against NAVI was EliGE's masterpiece. Down 12-3 at halftime, EliGE took over the game on CT-side. Several decisive multi-frag rounds from 2019's fourth-best player turned the game in Liquid's favor. Leading the server in rating and frags, it looked as if EliGE had arrived in Rio. The following day, as Liquid looked to secure a playoff berth, EliGE dropped four frags on Vertigo and went 0 for 6 in opening duels.
The issue of EliGE's consistency is concerning for Liquid's hopes of being a real top team. The 25-year-old has been an incredible performer for Liquid for nearly eight years now. EliGE disappeared for Liquid at EPL in the finals against Vitality, posting a 0.78 rating in a BO5. He bounced back with an MVP-level performance at the RMR but disappeared yet again in Rio after he dominated NAVI. It is obvious to everyone that watches EliGE how much this game and this team mean to him, but if this team is going to become the best in the world, the face of Liquid's CS division needs to find a level of consistency in his form.
nitr0's fragging hit a new low
A considerable issue that I noticed when watching Liquid at the Major was Nick "nitr0" Cannella's appalling fragging performances. I understand that the heavy lifting regarding fragging is done by the four other players on his team, however, Captain America's production in the kill-feed was particularly atrocious in Rio even by his standards. Out of the 80 players who took to the server in the Legends Stage, the Liquid IGL was the third worst performer with a 0.79 rating. That 0.79 rating is the worst performance that nitr0 has had at a tournament since his return to Counter-Strike at the start of this year.
No one expects nitr0 to be the consistently great fragger that he was on the 2019 Liquid team that won the Intel Grand Slam. Although Liquid has three riflers who could be individual superstars on most other teams, having a player fail to post double digits in four out of nine maps, and only go positive in one of those maps, makes things incredibly difficult. While I think nitr0 has improved immensely in terms of his calling, mainly due to the additions of YEKINDAR and Damian "daps" Steele as a coach, I think it is time for him to really try and focus on his own game a bit more if Liquid is to succeed with this roster.
NAF and oSee held their own
While no one from Liquid stepped up and went above and beyond their expectations, Keith "NAF" Markovic and Josh "oSee" Ohm performed to the level that is expected of them. NAF has taken up the role of a more passive support player in this iteration of Liquid and has been the third star in general behind YEKINDAR and EliGE. Posting a 1.07 rating, NAF was Liquid's highest-rated player in Rio and performed consistently throughout Liquid's nine maps played. A 1.07 rating is not what you would want for your highest-rated player if you're aiming to win a Major, but NAF's consistency and the role that he has played for Liquid as a more passive element was one of the few bright spots for Liquid this tournament.
There have been questions asked of Liquid's young AWPer as he comes to the conclusion of his first full year at tier-one. I find it difficult to really criticize oSee, especially when you consider the rifling trio of YEKINDAR, EliGE, and NAF that surrounds him. A 1.04 rating on paper is not enough for your AWPer considering the gravity that the sniper holds in the current meta. oSee performed just fine in Rio. The 23-year-old performed consistently to the level we have come to expect from him. His performance on Mirage against Spirit gave us a glimpse of the potential step up we can hopefully expect from him going into his second year at tier one.
I find it very hard to not be severely underwhelmed and disappointed by Liquid's run in Rio. Far from the only top team to not perform, FaZe and Vitality both bombed out in the Legends Stage, while Cloud9 and NAVI crashed out early in the playoffs. The difference between Liquid and those teams mentioned is that all four of those teams won relevant tournaments this year. Considering those teams' disappointing runs and the strength of the field in playoffs, in retrospect, this was one of Liquid's best opportunities at a Major title if they had only shown up in Rio. The season is not over yet as the BLAST Premier Fall Finals approach next week. Liquid will be hoping to end their trophy drought there, but more importantly, they should be hoping to address the issues that faced them in Rio going forward. There are still high hopes for this lineup, but the performance in Rio needs to be a once-off moving forward into 2023.