At ESL One New York, Team Liquid pulled off the unimaginable in defeating Astralis and SK Gaming during a run to the finals. In Group D of the ELEAGUE CS:GO Premier this weekend, all three teams will rematch again to see who will advance to the playoffs. And it should be two of these three teams going through as Heroic is nowhere near their caliber. But this time the favorites have changed. Before ESL One New York, no one except the more zealous supporters would have confidently put Liquid above SK and Astralis. But now the roles have switched: Liquid is the favorite to advance first and Astralis and SK are expected to battle it out for the second playoff spot.
Liquid’s current form has surpassed all expectations. The team has adjusted all of the roles to allow every player on the team to contribute and have consistent game-to-game. Additionally, all three of the stars delivered in every series in New York except the finals. Even then, it’s not much of a stretch to pardon Liquid for not being a coherent unit: there was a clear lack of inexperience behind Liquid’s lifeless performance as few of the players have ever been in multiple grand finals. Going into the future, the most encouraging factor is Liquid’s revamped system. Liquid doesn’t depend on individual players to drag the burdens in tow. The team relies on roles and tactics to perform accordingly. With renewed confidence, Liquid showcased incredible composure in several nerve-wracking matches against Astralis and SK.
For the two titans, ELEAGUE will be a crucial test to see if they can escape their current funk. New York was the first time Astralis failed to advance from the group stage of an event with its current lineup, which was the best team in the world earlier this year. Despite playing in the most difficult group at the tournament, it must still sting as Astralis fought in the semifinals of a Major only two months ago. The series against Liquid in New York exposed some unexpected flaws one wouldn’t expect from the polished, prepared Danes. The individual form of the players hasn’t been nearly as good, especially Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjærbye; to add to the woes, Astralis had a questionable veto process in choosing Mirage instead of Overpass as the deciding map. Overpass was once Astralis’ home map, and Astralis was considered the best in the world on it. Liquid was able to win the series on Mirage, dealing with Astralis’ vaunted post-plants with ease.
For SK, this will potentially be a third rematch against Liquid. SK’s first loss at ESG Tour: Mykonos was accompanied by a discordant murmur of opinions regarding its significance. Did the match signal Liquid’s realized potential or was it a fluke, only made possible by a sluggish SK making a bunch of uncharacteristic mistakes? Common wisdom attributed SK’s rust to coming back from the August player break without much practice.
No such excuse existed in New York, as Liquid bested SK once again in a best-of-three series. It was a remarkable series as the new Liquid roster never crumbled under pressure, not even when Marcelo “Coldzera” David went complete god mode on Inferno. No matter how many hero plays SK pulled off, Liquid remained undeterred, stayed right there and eventually closed out the game. The final round on Cobblestone was a similar test of endurance, punctuated by a decisive call from Liquid that took advantage of the LAN environment with Peter “stanislaw” Jarguz running down drop knowing that the drop player likely couldn’t hear it over the noise of the crowd. From there, he got two kills to end the series.
Both were incredible series that displayed the quality of the new Liquid roster. But another rematch at ELEAGUE would have a different flavor. Anyone who has been in a 1-v-1 car or foot race knows that there are two types of psychological pressure. The first is when you are chasing someone and it feels like you can never close the gap. It breaks your confidence and you slowly start to wonder why you are trying so hard to beat someone who never relents or displays a weakness to exploit. That is where Liquid has been for the last year up until ESL One New York. Now the roles have reversed, and Liquid must now feel the the pressure of being chased. No matter how much you work, how far you go, the challengers are always breathing down your neck, unwilling to let you slip away.
This is the new burden Liquid faces. Although I still consider Liquid to be an elite team, this is an entirely new trial to face. Astralis and SK have been here before. They know what it means to chase the elephant. They will have taken the mistakes they made from ESL One New York in stride and addressed them. This time it will be Liquid that will have to fight them off or else get overrun.