Liquid's Year in Review
It has been three years since Liquid's 2019 Grand Slam roster last won a S-Tier event, and after a tumultuous time during the Online Era NA's best team had hoped to regain their title contender status moving into 2023.
The deconstruction of the 2021 roster
The end of 2021 brought a curtain down on another incredibly disappointing year for NACS. Liquid's gamble on Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo fell apart due to internal conflict between members of the squad including Jake "Stewie2k" Yip. The team faced struggles early on and it failed to get any better as the year went on.
Ironically Liquid's best results of the year came once the team had already been publicly marked as dead and after Stewie2k openly criticized young rifler Michael "Grim" Wince referring to him as a ''slow learner''. At the BLAST Fall Finals they managed a surprise top four beating NAVI and Astralis in the process.
Grim found himself replaced alongside FalleN and the controversial Stewie2k. It left the two ever presents of Liquid Keith "NAF" Markovic and Jonathan "ELiGE" Jablonowski for the org to rebuild around in 2022, as they went hunting to refind the formula that won them the Grand Slam in 2019.
The rebuild for 2022
The first piece of the puzzle would be the hot prospect AWPer Josh "oSee" Ohm who had been dominating the domestic scene on Extra Salt with a 1.29 rating and 72% winrate with the future Complexity core. This would be a significant upgrade over FalleN whose production was far from his best on the NA side.
Nick "nitr0" Canella had spent the last year playing in VALORANT for 100 Thieves but with limited success. The IGL, affectionally nicknamed 'Captain America', decided to return to the team he led to the Intel Grand Slam title in 2019. During that run, nitr0 was known as being a capable fragging IGL, and having spent significant time away it was questioned as to what level he would return at.
nitr0 was no doubt a gamble, a player who had been out of the game for the best part of a year and who would not only need to catch up on the meta but also try and refind some fragging power he had lost towards the end of his first run in the team. However, the majority of the community would accept the gamble as a worthwhile risk.
The final move never really made sense to the majority of the scene, as Liquid decided to take a gamble on 29 year-old Richard "shox" Papillon. The French rifler is inarguably a legend of the game, and one of the most clutch players to ever play CS , however, towards the end of Vitality he was suffering from a decline in performance and it was hard to see where shox could have a impact in this lineup.
Bad Omens, the start of the 2022 season
Despite the question marks, Liquid were committed to this lineup at least for the first half of the year, with the goal of making a run at only the second Major since LANs came back. The year got off to a wretched start for the team at the BLAST Premier Spring groups, they managed to win only one map, which happened to be against Stewie's woeful new Evil Genuises roster.
The next tournament for the NA side was the first big one of the year, IEM Katowice, an iconic event almost as prestigious as the Majors themselves. Liquid once again performed poorly, winning just a single map. At least this time it was against FaZe, a worthy opponent. Nonetheless, they still lost the BO3 which made it two bottom place finishes in a row for the new Liquid.
For those worried about nitr0's ability to hang with the top after a year out they were vindicated as in his first two tournaments back he posted a 0.8 and 0.85 rating respectively. The much more worrying sign was shox's complete lack of impact, even being worse rated at Katowice than nitr0 with a 0.81 rating of his own.
Whilst some of this could be argued away by the fact that the French rifler had spent his entire career playing on French-speaking lineups and so the transition to an English speaking roster could cause problems with miscommunication, none of that can explain just how out of shape the rifler looked mechanically.
The Antwerp disaster
With EG being a shambles and Complexity struggling, with Paytyn "junior" Johnson in particular underperforming, Liquid were still NA's best hope going into the first Major of the year. Before the Major, Liquid made 5th-8th at ESL Pro League S15 although they were helped by placed in a extremely weak group.
To demonstrate how much of an outlier that result was, Liquid didn't even manage to be in the top 2 at the Americas RMR. After a shock loss to 00NATION in the opening matchup left them with a 3-1 record and qualifying in fifth place. It did not set a positive outlook for the Liquid team as they rolled into the Challengers Stage, although shox did find significant impact for the first time since his addition to the Liquid roster with a 1.19 rating.
At the Challengers Stage for Antwerp, Liquid turned up expecting to go 3-0, with G2 and Vitality their only real competition. However, an opening loss against G2 followed by a dismal performance against FalleN's Imperial left them 0-2 and staring elimination in the face.
The NA side managed to get things back on track in the BO3's though with wins against 9z and Complexity in which shox showed some flashback form with a 1.32 and a 1.27 rating. With a close 2-0 win against Astralis in their final match and a solid 1.14 rating from IGL nitr0, Liquid squeezed through to the Main stage with a few scratches but some positive signs.
However, whatever hopes the team had of going on a run were swiftly crushed as due to their low seed they had fairly tough matchups at every stop and failed to win a map against Heroic, FURIA or Vitality. Liquid went out 0-3 and the statlines were not good for the team, with only NAF going positive at the event and shox, nitr0 and ELiGE all being in the bottom ten players at the event all below 0.82 ratings. oSee didn't fare much better than the rest of his squad, posting a 0.87 rating.
For the first five months of the year, shox and nitr0 had been under fire for their in-game impact. While nitr0 could be somewhat forgiven, shox found far less sympathy with both NA fans and the scene as a whole. The former French star was the bottom rated player at the main Major stage, despite having shown some promising performances at the Challengers stage, and it wasn't even close he finished with a 0.64 rating.
The perfect switch
Safe to say that shox's time on Liquid was up and whilst it could be chalked up to being uncomfortable communicating in English and spending alot of time away from his young family, to put it simply he was not good enough. Not for where Liquid want to be. The team stayed together for IEM Dallas but it was a dead project at that point and everyone watching knew it, they at least put up a couple of map wins to give NA fans something to smile about before the player break.
The expected changes came from an unexpected source as Liquid seemingly hit gold on their timing of the switch as Mareks "YEKINDAR" Gaļinskis found himself out of Outsiders at the same time as Liquid were looking for an injection of fresh blood, and what could be fresher than the emotive and innovative star entry fragger.
Not only would YEKINDAR bring a dynamic and different approach to the game for the team, he also was a much needed massive upgrade in firepower. Initially coming in on loan, due to complications caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Latvian star was not locked in as a permanent addition until four months later.
The Latvian's impact was instant. IEM Cologne was the first test for the side and they would show the lineup's potential with wins over FURIA and Cloud9 to progress to the playoffs. Despite a close loss to underdogs Movistar Riders, off the back of a 1.38 monster showing from Alvaro "SunPayus" Garcia, Liquid showed that YEKINDAR was already an instant improvement.
Most importantly YEKINDAR's addition seemed to have enabled the rest of the team to perform as nitr0 was the only player with a negative rating at the event. It is important to note that Liquid also switched out their longtime on again, off again coach Eric "adreN" Hoag for Damian "Daps" Steele, a switch seen by the community as an endeavor for more tactical nouse from the coach position.
Back in title contention
A 1.32 rating from the Latvian rifler at the BLAST Fall groups ensured a 1st-3rd finish and kept the momentum building for the NA side. This setup the best S-Tier tournament placement for Liquid, since the dissolution of their Grand Slam winning team, at ESL Pro League S16 where after a tricky group stage they put together a run all the way to the grand final.
Liquid had a real chance at winning the title, which would have been a monumental achievement just months after adding YEKINDAR and having to shift up their system. They would be tasked with overcoming a red hot Mathieu "Zyw0o" Herbaut in the grand final and despite taking the BO5 to all the maps they just fell short against the French/Danish mix. Still a second place finish and an easy run through the Rio RMR suggested that Liquid could be in for a deep run at the Brazil Major.
Another disappointing Major
It felt like Liquid's entire backend of the season came down to Rio, their run at EPL and BLAST would mean almost nothing if they failed to find a result in the most important tournament left of the year. The team had worked so hard to improve upon their form from the first half of the year it would of been incredibly harsh for that hard work not to paid back with a run to the Top Eight.
Liquid failed to make playoffs, let alone Top Eight. On the face of it it sounds disastrous, the team had been building themselves back into title contenders, had just made the Grand Final of ESL Pro League and yet here they were having to watch the Major playoffs from the sideline.
nitr0 was in the bottom three of all the players at the Legends stage and thats with his team winning two matches. YEKINDAR failed to find the same impact as he had done throughout Liquids Pro League run and EliGE had one of the worst S-Tier events of his career with a 0.98 rating.
However even with all these negatives, Liquid still nearly qualified. Despite a blowout loss to MOUZ in their opening BO1, they beat Sprout and then NAVI to set themselves up 2-1. Their first chance for qualification would be against future finalists Heroic where they lost 1-2 after nearly completing a comeback on the final map Overpass.
The NA side's final shot at qualification came against the dangerous but less favored Spirit. After splitting the opening two maps, it looked like the odds were in the NA team's favor as they moved onto Ancient. A map they had just beaten NAVI on, showing great strength in a shocking comeback to beat the CIS squad.
However things did not go to plan. NAF was the only Liquid player to post a positive rating and EliGE, so often Liquid's saviour posted a 0.72 rating on the final map to compound his rough tournament. Liquid ended with a 2-3 record, and with that were out of the Rio Major despite the progress they had been making since the addition of YEKiNDAR.
Finishing the year well
They only had the BLAST Fall Finals left to play, a bit of a nothing event for the NA side as they would need not only a top four finish but other results to go their way in order for them to qualify for the BLAST World Finals which would be the last S-Tier LAN of the year.
In a positive twist to the footnote of Liquid's 2022, the team seemingly were able to shake off their struggles in Rio and not only managed to beat G2 but ran out 2-1 winners over NAVI to secure that top-four finish. YEKINDAR and ELiGE managed to find their impact and even nitr0 went positive a great sign for the side if he can keep it up moving forward.
Liquid would make the World Finals in Abu Dhabi and they once again showed that this lineup can finally be title contenders. Starting off with a match against Rio winners Outsiders, where despite losing the opening map the NA side would smoke the Major winners in the following maps not allowing them to even reach double digits on either map.
Liquid would end up losing a close match against FaZe, who themselves had refound some form, but in the playoffs they beat out NAVI and OG to secure a second S-Tier Grand Final of the season. They would be matched up against an in form G2 who themselves were wanting to prove their new lineup could finally return them to the top.
Neither team had won a S-Tier event since the online era, with Liquids last being their infamous Grand Slam roster of 2019 and G2 stretching even further back to 2017. Unfortunately, it would not be Liquids day. Maybe there was just no gas left in the tank for the NA team, after playing twelve maps at the tournament before the Final even started. Every single player on G2 had a 1.2+ rating, apart from IGL Rasmus "HooXi" Nielsen, whereas EliGE was the only Liquid player to post a positive rating.
Ultimately when it comes to looking at Liquids 2022 I think it's fair to judge it as a disappointment, in terms of achievements within the year itself a lack of high finishes and poor performances at both Majors. If we are judging purely of trophies won then certainly Liquid could be judged to have had a poor year.
However, it is also fair to argue that this year, and particularly the last three months, has no doubt laid a strong foundation for NA's number-one team to be considered title contenders for 2023 and the roster is much stronger than the one they entered the year with.
So whilst they have not quite been able to convert the potential into trophies yet, all the signs point to that being a possibility in 2023 and NA fans should be excited for what's to come.