Analysis: Understanding Liquid's bet on skullz
In one of the strangest and most exciting moves of the pseudo-off-season, Liquid elected to blow up their European project after months of, and let's not sugarcoat it, failures. Intended to be the next iteration of the Liquid Counter-Strike team, the EU lineup never reached playoffs and crumbled at the starting line more often than not. But let's not dwell on the past.
European Liquid is done. What comes next? Liquid made one of the most electric off-season transfers, signing Casper "cadiaN" Møller from Heroic after the Danish team had a kerfuffle with the squad, to say the least. The flashy AWPer who has made a name for himself over the past few years with a dynamic playstyle, unique in-game tactics, and a larger-than-life personality, will enter Liquid for a chance to prove that his success is not a flash in the pan and that he should be immortalized among the best in-game leaders in history.
Of equal stardom, Liquid are also reported to make the monumental move of acquiring Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken from FaZe Clan. One of the best North American talents of all time will now make his way home back to the team that propelled him to international limelight and set the path for Twistzz to become the lone player with two Intel Grand Slam ingots. Contributing to the bustle of noise surrounding Liquid's new roster, FaZe has dominated the Counter-Strike 2 landscape ever since the game was officially announced, with an incredible win streak and an eye-water amount of prize money earned in just a few months following the game's release. Breaking up such a strong lineup ought to be for a good reason.
But, among the headliners of cadiaN and Twistzz, a meek Brazilian named Felipe "skullz" Medeiros also enters the Liquid fray. If your first reaction is to ask "who?", then you wouldn't be alone. Suppose Liquid are going all out to capture the biggest names in the scene. Why would they opt for skullz, a South American who has never even played in an international lineup, not to mention just a single Major appearance to his name? Who is skullz? Why do Liquid want him?
Roque Marques, Editor-in-Chief of Dust2 Brasil, says that skullz first popped onto his radar in 2019 when he first started to play for W7M, "The team was pretty solid and had a core of players together for years, but skullz came and quickly became their best player." skullz was even loaned to Luminosity for a short stint before returning to W7M, bouncing between domestic and international levels. skullz described his initial struggles as growing pains, "In my career I made some mistakes, but I never let it get me down. I went there very inexperienced, it was a difficult period for me." skullz turned enough heads in his second stretch donning the W7M jersey to be given a chance on oNe.
However, skullz's international foray with oNe led to disaster, and he was benched after six months of averaging a 0.85 rating in last-places finishes at events like ESL Pro League Season 13 and IEM Katowice Play-In 2021. He returned to Brazil, a move the organization said, "will give him the necessary time and support so that these matters can be solved and he can return to our team as soon as possible." skullz did not return to oNe.
Post-oNe, skullz achieved decent success with Liberty before the organization released its roster. Dejected but not defeated, skullz then built his own project named UNO MILLE with hand-picked teammates, and it is with UNO MILLE, who were later picked up by the organization ODDIK, where skullz's true skill shone. Back in Brazil and in his comfort zone, skullz posted a 1.15 average rating with his hand-selected squad. Eventually, paiN handed skullz an offer he could not refuse, a decision that skullz said was "definitely the hardest goodbye I've had to date."
skullz hit the ground running on paiN. Immediately it was clear why skullz was considered one of the hottest prospects in the Brazilian scene. In one of his first tournaments with paiN, he led the team with a 1.21 rating to win ESL Challenger Melbourne 2022. Heartbreakingly, paiN narrowly missed out on the IEM Rio Major, the chance to compete in front of their home crowd on the biggest stage in the world, despite skullz' 1.20 rating at the RMR. Earlier this year, paiN were strong contenders for the best team in the Americas, surpassing Complexity, FURIA, and even Liquid during their meteoric rise. The core of IGL Rodrigo "biguzera" Bittencourt, AWPer Romeu "zevy" Rocco, and anchor skullz were unmatched in terms of firepower and tactical prowess. Despite the team's downturn following dual departures after the Paris Major, skullz is still lighting up the leaderboards.
So now we know that skullz is a good player with decent experience, fine, but why does Liquid want him? Roque theorizes it has to do with other options on the market:
It's kinda obvious that the main reason [behind Liquid signing skullz] is to go back to the American RMR. I think he was the best option they could get after KSCERATO. He's one of the best players in the region, has good English skills, is still a young player, and can become even better playing with such an experienced roster. Also, the Brazilian ties are really strong in Liquid; they have Brazilian teams in Rainbow Six: Siege and VALORANT, Brazilian streamers, a huge office in São Paulo, and now, of course, zews.
What exactly makes skullz a good player, though? He has a great HLTV rating, but the rating doesn't tell the whole story. Let's take a deep dive into skullz's statistics.
skullz is, first and foremost, a passive player. In every single map, he takes a supporting, almost lurking T-side role and an anchor role on CT-side. It's exactly that passivity which makes him such an exciting player. You'd expect superstars to play active positions, like Connector on Mirage or Outside on Nuke, but skullz excels in the opposite roles, playing by himself and doing what's required. He's a self-sufficient player who can frag out without assistance, which is made clearer by his strong clutch and support statistics.
skullz gives star players, such as Mareks "YEKINDAR" Gaļinskis and Twistzz, their much-needed space while performing exceptionally with none of that same space. skullz' personality melds perfectly into his role too, with Roque explaining, "He's a pretty down-to-earth guy, who doesn't speak a lot and is very, very calm."
Simply put, skullz is a supportive player who will not ask for more from cadiaN and will clock into the server to do his job without reluctance. However, don't be surprised if you see skullz play altered positions once Liquid starts playing official matches. The team suffers from a few role clashes on paper, but more importantly, cadiaN's fluid style of calling on Heroic lent itself to what some analysts call a "roleless" system, where lurkers become entries and any player can play any position.
skullz is a strong individual rifler with incredible mechanical prowess and selflessness. He's also young enough that zews can mold him into whatever Liquid requires of him. At just 21 years old, skullz has more experience than most of his peers, but still pales compared to the absolute wealth of experience in his Liquid teammates. With a strong base of maturity and skill, mentorship from one of the best coaches to grace North America, and teammates with seven combined MVPs, skullz might become one of the best stealth pickups of the off-season.