Repositioned: Can EliGE adapt on T-side?
From 2017 until 2021, Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski was a mainstay in HLTV's top 20 players of the year. 2019 marked the highest place a North American player had ever reached, with EliGE claiming number four after a phenomenal campaign that resulted in Liquid's Intel Grand Slam victory. During the latter half of 2022 however, EliGE was replaced as the number one option on Liquid.
The introduction of Latvian superstar Mareks "YEKINDAR" Gaļinskis resulted in a shift, with the face of the franchise being moved into alternative positions than he is used to. Liquid concluded the year with two finals appearances and one top 20 player, as YEKINDAR placed 15th overall. Narrowly missing out, EliGE was confirmed to have placed 22nd, being absent from the list for the first time since 2016.
Both EliGE and YEKINDAR are classed as aggressive riflers. Both players find their comfort zone in aggressive duels which are accommodated by their supporting teammates. The issue for Liquid so far has been, how can you accommodate both of these players who want to play their own way when they both play the same spots.
Anyone who has played in FACEIT pugs is used to the debate surrounding spots on whatever map you're playing. The majority of players in CS have spots on the map where they can thrive. It is within this topic where we spot the reason for the difference in EliGE's statistical output with the two slightly different rosters he competed with in 2022. When the Latvian made his debut for Liquid as a stand-in at IEM Cologne, EliGE commented in an interview with Dust2.us about the changes that had occurred:
Well, it kind of depends on the map for CT-sides, because I'm pretty much playing all the same spots except for Vertigo - I've shifted a little bit. But, T-sides, he's kind of taken more of my spots. There's obviously been some of the spots that I've stayed on T-side, I haven't changed all of my spots on T-side - just some of them.
Despite a noticeable drop-off, EliGE's numbers on the CT-side still remain respectable when it comes to opening kills. During the Richard "shox" Papillon era of Liquid, EliGE attempted the majority of the team's entries at 26.2% and was successful 61.1% of the time. Compared with YEKINDAR's first season during the latter half of 2022, EliGE attempted far less than YEKINDAR's 33.7%, with 21.8% of the entries, finding success 54.5% of the time. Despite the lack of adjustment to positions on the defensive end, the effect on his output is evident in EliGE's overall impact and success in entry duels. When looking at his opening duels on both sides, there is a clear drop as his overall opening kill ratio dropped from 1.26 to 0.88.
The change in his T-side spots is where the issues for EliGE become far more evident. While shox represented Liquid, the burden of finding the entry was nearly precisely split between the Frenchman and EliGE on the T-side. With shox having 24.5% of the attempts and EliGE boasting 24.8%, the disparity was found in their success rates. Slightly more than half of the time, EliGE was successful in his opening duel attempts at 50.5%, while his French comrade struggled with a dismal 39.5%.
The disparity between YEKINDAR and EliGE's opening duel stats is even larger on the T-side than the CT-side. The Latvian attempted a whopping 36.7% of Liquid's entries and was successful in 43.0% of those fights. As for EliGE's attempt percentage dropped to 20.9% and had an even worse success rating than shox at 38.5%.
In 2022, Mirage, Ancient, and Vertigo were three of Liquid's most-played maps, being played 27 times each during the year. Taking a closer look at the stats for both EliGE and YEKINDAR on the T-side of these three maps gives some interesting insight into the areas where the individuals and the team, in general, are struggling.
Mirage has typically been a very strong map for Liquid, only losing six times out of the twenty-seven times they ventured onto the map in 2022. Interestingly, EliGE's T-side rating actually improved following YEKINDAR's arrival, jumping from 1.04 to 1.09, while YEKINDAR held a solid 1.14. The thing with Mirage is that EliGE has not been pushed into an uncomfortable position, remaining in the pack that takes middle on defaults. Alongside YEKINDAR, it makes sense to have both of these players in the center of a map like Mirage, with the most action being found here, hence why both are thriving on the T-side.
Vertigo is a map that illustrates the difference in EliGE's role on the T-side now that YEKINDAR is wearing the blue of Liquid. With shox in the lineup, EliGE posted a 1.14 rating, generally while being front-facing toward A ramp, holding for aggression, and leading the pack toward the site. That responsibility now falls to YEKINDAR, who is posting an identical 1.14 to EliGE, with the American playing a more back seat role in the A take and sitting in behind YEKINDAR who takes the space. This has led to a noticeable decline in EliGE's rating, falling dramatically to 1.01.
The attacking side of Ancient may be one of Liquid's most concerning issues based on the statistics. Ancient has been quite CT-sided since it's induction to the map pool, with EliGE being the highest-rated player in the first half of 2022 on T-side with a 1.03 rating. During the second half of the year, the situation worsened further still. YEKINDAR rarely played Ancient with Virtus.pro/Outsiders, only competing four times on the map in 2022. Neither YEKINDAR nor EliGE flourished on T-side Ancient, posting dismal 0.89 and 0.88 ratings respectively. With only Keith “NAF” Markovic remaining in the green, the struggles on Ancient may point to requiring an entire overhaul of the playbook to try and unlock Liquid's two stars on the offensive end.
YEKINDAR has undoubtedly added the spark that Liquid was missing to be considered a real contender amongst the top teams in Counter-Strike. Statistically, we have seen that he has continued to thrive following his jump to NA's top team, playing his signature explosive style of CS in the positions EliGE once occupied. At 25 years old and creeping up on his eight-year anniversary with the organization, EliGE is at a crossroads.
His skill remains unquestionable, the issue is with his adaptability to his new role. When he admitted at the RMR that there were still some things he was not comfortable with, it showed his own awareness of the issues facing him with the new roles. Despite that, if he can adapt and find comfort in his new roles in 2023, you would be hard-pressed to find a team capable of stopping Liquid when they're firing on all cylinders.