The Team Liquid CSGO division has had a long way to the top. Particularly the early beginnings were marked with underwhelming international results. At that time, this was the norm for North American teams. It would take until 2018 before any North American team would consistently be able to prove itself against the top CSGO teams.
Their Counter Strike Global Offensive journey began in January of 2015, when Team Liquid picked up the ex-Denial squad. At that time, their lineup consisted of Nicholas “nitr0” Cannella, Eric “adreN” Hoag, Damian “daps” Steele, Jacob “FugLy” Medina and Keith “NAF” Markovic.
All of these players are still competing and having impact within the CSGO scene. FugLy has recently been part of Team Envy and daps has built up another solid squad under the Gen.G banner. Right now, ⅗ of the original lineup are actually still contracted to Team Liquid. NAF re-joined the squad in 2018, adreN was brought back as a coach and nitr0 has actually never left at all.
But in 2015, things didn’t look all that rosy. Just two months in, NAF was already replaced by
Jonathan “ELiGE” Jablonowski. In May, daps was thrown out in favor Kyle “flowsicK” Mendez, who was booted within less than four months. Spencer “Hiko” Martin was signed in his place. During this period, the results were shaky. Liquid won some smaller LAN events on home soil, but as soon as they faced international competition, their performance dropped massively. DreamHack Cluj Napoca was the only Major which they were able to qualify for in 2015. There, they went out dead last.
2016 promised to bring some change. In January, Team Liquid announced a significant acquisition. Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev signed with the organization, promising to elevate their gameplay to new heights. The young Ukrainian prodigy had already made waves in the European scene and showed incredible potential. However, he was also known for being difficult to work with.
s1mple: Keep or Kick?
This made his stay in NA and in Team Liquid a tug-of-war between maintaining a healthy team atmosphere and getting international results. The players wished him gone, even though he was the primary reason for their success – of which they had lots during this period.
When s1mple was part of the team, they made deep runs into the two Major events of the year. At MLG Columbus, the CSGO Team Liquid made it into the Semi Finals, where they almost beat Luminosity Gaming, the eventual Major champions. In two 15-19 losses, the team narrowly missed out on the Grand Finals spot.
At ESL One Cologne 2016, s1mple went above and beyond to carry the team into the Grand Finals, where they once again lost to the same team (now playing under SK Gaming). After this event, s1mple bid farewell to North America. With his departure, the scene would once again fold. Every once and again, the likes of Cloud9 and Team Liquid would manage a playoffs appearance in a big tournament. But for the time being, that was all they had to offer.
2018: The Breakthrough Year
In 2018, the tides turned. Cloud9 suddenly found themselves in the Grand Finals of the Boston Major. In a nailbiter series, they took the trophy home. They were the first North American team to ever win a CSGO Major and they were able to do it in front of a home crowd. The hopes for the future of this squad were higher than ever. However, Cloud9 failed to deliver on those expectations. Soon after their historic victory, the team split and the remaining player were unable to connect to their previous success in any way whatsoever.
Ironically, when Cloud9 faltered, the Team Liquid CSGO squad started to pick up momentum. Right after the Major, where Liquid had suffered a premature exit, they decided to sign Keith “NAF” Markovic in place of Josh “jdm64” Marzano. This proved to be an impactful decision. Moving away from the traditional paradigm of having one primary AWP player, they developed a more unpredictable and tactically versatile playing style.
Competing on an International Level
StarSeries Season 4, IEM Katowice, ESL Pro League Season 7, ECS Season 5, ELEAGUE Premier… suddenly Team Liquid were managing those deep runs into important international events. They proved to be able to beat just about any team. Mousesports, Na’Vi, fnatic, MIBR, all of them fell to Liquid in Best-of-Three series. During that time, Lucas “steel” Lopes was let go in favor of Epitácio “Taco” de Melo, who fit into the support role much more easily. More high-place finishes followed.
Unfortunately, there was one team they just couldn’t beat. Gradually, Astralis became Team Liquid’s nemesis, their kryptonite, their ever-deadly enemy. In 2018, their rivalry was one of the biggest talking points and their matches were perhaps the most exciting to watch. Six times, the Liquid CSGO squad was eliminated from events courtesy of Astralis’ prowess. Towards the end of the year, the CSGO Team Liquid players decided that they needed to make a roster change in order to unlock the next level. As Jake “Stewie2k” Yip was seeking the exit door away from MIBR and Taco was desperate to get back to his Brazilian mates, the two teams agreed on a trade.
Trophies & Consistency
This set the stage for 2019. With so many second-place finishes and barely any trophies in hand, fans wondered whether Liquid would ever manage a big tournament victory. The first event of 2019 took place in Los Angeles. At the iBUYPOWER Masters, some of the biggest teams met up before the first Major of the year. There, the Team Liquid CSGO players finally managed to break free and deliver on their promises. Stewie2k proved to be that final missing piece they needed.
The first map saw Liquid being defeated on a 4-16 scoreline. It felt as if they were losing grip, but they persisted throughout the next two maps. NAF concluded the match with a beautiful triple kill. The fans erupted into cheers, as Liquid had finally won a medal in front of their home crowd.
IEM Katowice was a shocker event for everyone. ENCE burst through to the top, eliminating Team Liquid and Natus Vincere on their way to the Grand Finals of this Major event. Liquid’s recent victory in Los Angeles was all but forgotten at this point. At two BLAST events, they would once again send their fans’ hearts racing in tense Grand Finals. Both times, they would fall short. Until then, the team had already secured themselves a reputation of finishing second and crumbling in Grand Finals, especially against Astralis.
Then came IEM Sydney. The Danish powerhouse was not present at the event. Finally there was a chance for Team Liquid to break their curse. They made the Group Phase and playoffs look like an absolute cakewalk. That was until they met fnatic in the Grand Finals. Once again, the pressure started to set in. A 2-1 lead in the Best-of-Five series slipped away when fnatic took Dust 2 on a 16-6 scoreline. It appeared as if Liquid were doomed to suffer the same fate once again.
“Stewie Is the Answer”
While Stewie2k was definitely not the biggest contributing factor during the Grand Finals, he had made a strong impression on the team as a whole. His playing style perfectly complemented the rest of the squad. He was definitely willing to sacrifice his individual performance for the good of the team.
This arguably gave them the final push. Towards the middle of the year, they had already accumulated four big international trophies and won the Intel Grand Slam in record fashion. All of this culminated in a victory in the “Cathedral of Counter Strike”. ESL One Cologne is one of the most prestigious events within the esports circuit and the Team Liquid CSGO squad can call themselves proud owners of a Cologne trophy.
Unfortunately, Astralis weren’t quite done with them just yet. At the StarLadder Berlin Major, Liquid would once again fall at the hands of the Danish trophy hunters, who eventually secured their fourth Major victory at that event. Team Liquid were unable to win another international trophy for the remainder of 2019. Astralis always made sure to keep them at bay.
Team Liquid CSGO: Where Are They Headed?
Team Liquid have built a legacy. They were the first North American team to consistently match up against top international teams and come out as equals. They may not have won a Major, but their sheer mass of high finishes and big trophies amount to so much more than a mere Major victory.
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There is no knowing what the future holds for Team Liquid. Recently, the players decided to hand the in-game-leading duties over to Stewie2k. The impact of this decision is unpredictable, but there is a strong support structure behind the players to help them in this transitional period. With the coronavirus pandemic and the move to online play, the tournament results have never been more unreliable.
We won’t see the true power of the Team Liquid CSGO division until the first offline events start popping back up. The next Major is likely going to be the biggest proving ground for any team this year. There, Liquid can finally show us what they’ve got.
Will they rise to the top again?