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Liquid enters the ELEAGUE Major after another chaotic year

Anyone who followed Team Liquid’s Counter-Strike travails in 2016 can tell you they were a hot mess. No team had as many roster problems as Liquid, which never found the stability expected of a top-tier team. Liquid always seems on the precipice of imploding. But every time the pressure reached an apex, every time a large tournament showed up on the horizon (usually a Major), something clicked. Despite clashing personalities, ideologies and playing styles, Liquid always forced together to achieve a big result. This is the Liquid Tempest.

It all started with the blockbuster move of adding Oleksandr s1mple Kostyliev. Back then Liquid was already a good North American team with some strong players in Spencer “Hiko” Martin, Jonathan EliGE Jablonowski and Nick nitr0 Cannella. Like all serious competitors, Liquid was not satisfied with merely being “good” within the scene and wanted to rise to the level of the top European teams. Acquiring s1mple offered a path toward that goal. He wasn’t a superstar player at the beginning of last year, but everyone knew he had the potential to become one. The problem was he acquired a bit of a reputation since his emergence as a prodigy in 2014. “Internal issues” inevitably plagued the teams he joined. S1mple rarely stuck with a team for more than a couple of months, and he was temporarily banned from ESL for cheating. As a result, the biggest teams in Europe refused to work with him. But he once played with Hiko on Flipsid3 when Hiko stood in for the team. The two got along, and Hiko had gained considerable respect for the supposed enfant terrible. He reached out to see if s1mple was willing to move to America to compete, and the greatest love story in CS:GO started.

Problems instantly flared up after s1mple joined. Eric adreN Hoag came under fire for his lackluster performance. He wasn’t good enough for the highest echelons of competition, so Liquid made the bold move to replace him with rising North American AWP star Kenneth “koosta” Suen, but it led to a rather awkward situation. It turned out koosta couldn’t attend the MLG Columbus Major anyway; because he had played for Enemy in the Americas minor, he was ineligible for playing with Liquid at the Major. The newly-minted team now needed a stand-in and brought back adreN for one tournament.

Despite all the problems and disagreements, Liquid managed to stay composed for the sake of the Major qualifier. Temprarily setting aside all differences, adreN raised his level of play, and Liquid barely clawed its way to a last-minute spot. More importantly, s1mple’s team carried him during one of the worst performances of his career. It was an ominous beginning to his tenure on Liquid, yet it proved to him that he wouldn’t have to dominate every game to have a shot of victory. He came to trust his team, at least for a time.

Fate was very much on Liquid’s side at the main event. The team upset FaZe through sheer individual skill and lucked out twice against Fnatic. The map generator spit out Liquid’s best map (Dust2) and every player managed to simultaneously elevate their performances. S1mple and EliGE carried the team hard while adreN and Hiko both gave impactful rounds that gave Liquid just enough to close out the game in double overtime. Liquid then received the best draw possible in the quarterfinals and beat Counter Logic Gaming.

Afterward came the infamous semifinal match against Luminosity. It’s unsettling to consider that the future SK squad, which became the most dominant team of 2016, almost failed to gain any traction for their year-long zenith. On both maps, Liquid was on match point by huge margins and both times was denied. It was a commendable comeback by Luminosity, which maintained composure despite near-impossible odds, yet the responsibility lay on Liquid. Right at the moment of closing out the match, the team inexplicably collapsed. Communication evaporated, shots failed to line up, and embarrassment after embarrassment piled up with no end in sight. It became the most famous choke of CS:GO history as Liquid dropped 15 match points between the two maps.

Still, it was a big accomplishment. No North American team had reached a Major semifinal since compLexity at DreamHack Winter 2013. But that success wasn’t enough to catapult Liquid into a threat. With the crushing disappointment of the Major, the team fell apart. Koosta joined at DreamHack Malmo, but the move failed to avert disaster. A fed up s1mple left the team and went back home. Liquid brought back adreN but still continued its slide.

Liquid went for bold moves to shake the team out of its lethargy. The  team acquired CLG’s star AWPer, Josh jdm64 Marzano, in exchange for koosta. Former Tempo Storm coach Luis peacemaker Tadeu joined as the leader. The final pickup was Jacob “Pimp” Winneche, fresh from SK Gaming, to round out the roster.

Judging from talent alone, it appeared Liquid was back on track to become one of the best teams in the region. Once again, a participation issue came up to halt any optimism. Pimp had already played in the qualifier so he couldn’t play for the team at the Cologne Major. Once again, Liquid was forced to use a stand-in from its own organization. S1mple was still technically on the roster, so he re-joined the team for ECS Season 1 Finals and the Major.

In terms of sheer firepower, Liquid was one of the most dangerous teams in the world. Yet with so many strong personalities, no one knew how the team would turn out. The stories and rumors from the bootcamps didn’t inspire confidence. Peacemaker would not yield an inch when it came to implementing his ideas. He was just as stubborn as s1mple, which resulted in full-blown shouting matches between them. But the Major and Peacemaker’s stubbornness proved more powerful than one man, and — for perhaps the first time ever — s1mple was integrated into a team system.

Whereas the Columbus Major run had many lucky breaks, Liquid’s Cologne run was difficult from beginning to end. Liquid was placed in a group with Virtus.Pro, mousesports and EnVyUs and finished second by beating the latter two. The second seed placed Liquid against Natus Vincere, one of the best teams in the world, in the quarterfinals. For much of the match, the disparity in teamwork was obvious. Na’Vi won Train and was on the edge of winning the series outright on Nuke until s1mple pushed himself to the next level. He carried Liquid into a winnable position, and after a few clutch rounds from the others, managed to steal the map. Riding the momentum, Liquid crushed Na’Vi on Cobblestone to secure another semifinal berth. Liquid then faced Fnatic and won 2-0 in close fashion. In the finals, Liquid lost 2-0 once again to the Luminosity roster, which had jumped to SK Gaming.

It was an incredible feat and a fitting end for the s1mple-Hiko romance. No North American team had ever reached the finals of a Major before, and Hiko’s recognition of s1mple’s potential finally bore fruit. Back when Hiko’s career was in turmoil, s1mple demanded Hiko be the stand-in for Flipsid3; Hiko in turn had gotten s1mple back onto a competitive team when no one in CIS was interested in him. Together, with Liquid, they made history in reaching the Major final. This was a legendary performance by s1mple and likely the tournament that convinced Na`Vi to pursue him. Barely a month after ESL One Cologne, s1mple departed for Na’Vi. Although it was a sad moment, at least Liquid still had a strong squad with potential to retain its status as one of the region’s best.

Then Valve’s coaching rule hit. Liquid’s entire structure fell apart because Peacemaker could no longer call in-game. It was a disaster, and the team’s form disintegrated until ESL New York. Once again, the draw of a large tournament seemed to focus the team, and Liquid put on another incredible performance. This time it was EliGE leading the charge as Liquid’s star player. His performance was incredible, as Liquid advanced out of the group stage with wins against Fnatic (twice) and G2. In the playoffs, Liquid was forced to play against s1mple and lost a close 2-1 match to Na’Vi.

Despite the semifinal loss, ESL One New York proved that Liquid’s lineup could work. But that potential soon became another hypothetical. Peacemaker left the team after disagreements with management. His departure left the team with no clear way to reconcile all of its talent. Liquid passed around the leadership role with no avail and was unable to go anywhere. All five players recognized each other as skilled players, but they couldn’t get on the same page.

Once again, Liquid is in their traditional state heading into a Major. This time, Wilton zews Prado has joined as coach to help fix things. There is no reason to believe that Liquid can rise up for a fourth time, but when it comes to big tournaments, it’s a habit. Liquid is a volatile storm, loud and uncontrollable, and every once in a while will capture that lightning in a bottle. They can be very dangerous underdogs as long as they don’t self-destruct. The Liquid Tempest is coming, the question is if it implodes or wreaks havoc upon the competition at the ELEAGUE Major.

Cover photo by Patrick Strack/ESL, eslgaming.com

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