The Liquid Dark Horse: ELEAGUE Major Preview

Team Liquid has tapered off since their top-four finish at ESL One New York. Can this be the tournament where they return to glory?

For a team with one of the largeset fanbases across all esports, Team Liquid has not given their fans a lot to celebrate on the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive side of things in the last two months of 2016.

This side took home the silver medal at ESL One: Cologne, and became the first ever North American team to finish in a Major Grand Final. Even with Oleksandr “S1mple Kostyliev subbing in for Jacob “Pimp” Winneche, it was this side’s largest achievement in the past year and it directly qualified them for the ELEAGUE Major.

Liquid was galloping home with a lot of promise for 2017, but in the middle of a coaching swap in October, the team lost a lot of ground in the homestretch.

Over the past three months, Liquid has slipped out of the top-10 in the global rankings and they are currently sitting at 15th in the World on HLTV.com. In terms of all teams heading to Atlanta, they are ranked in the bottom four, and it is all due to their shaky performance at previous LANs.

Past Performances

The past three months have been rough for Team Liquid, exiting as the last team out of the group stage in both Oakland and Montreal, and finishing 2016 with a map record under .500.

This was mostly due to their play on Train, where they teetered on a 4-6 map record in total over the past three months. Fans of the side would like to forget their team’s 16-1 loss to Astralis at IEM Oakland, and in total on LAN, the side has not won a game on this map in the fourth quarter of 2016.

The other tough map to crack for this side is Cobblestone, where Liquid has not won a map since their 16-6 win over Splyce in Season 4 of the ESL Pro League. Since then, the side has lost to Luminosity and only picked up two rounds on Immortals online, and lost to Heroic on LAN 16-7.

Bear in mind, top sides that enter this major, like SK and Astralis, love both Cobblestone and Train, and would happily face Team Liquid on these maps.

In total, Liquid has seen 15 matches on LAN, and only won six of them, two of which came against the unranked side of compLexity. It could be argued that the team’s strong map is Cache, where they took down G2 Esports at IEM Oakland and kept it close against Immortals, but the side has just not caught a break in recent months. Their current match rating is just above the worst five teams in the world, and with Pimp, Spencer “Hiko” Martin, and Josh “jdm” Marzano all having sub .9 K/D’s, their play needs to step up if they want to survive in Atlanta.

Here’s what the side accomplished in total over the past three months:

  • Top-four at ESL One: New York 2016
  • Top-eight at ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals
  • Top-six at Northern Arena Montreal
  • Top-eight at IEM Oakland
  • Seventh in ECS Season 2 NA (Online)

Can Liquid Run With the Thoroughbreds?

The Swiss format definitely throws a wrench in any team’s chances at the ELEAGUE Major, given that it could give a team some potentially horrible matchups after the first round, and could lead to extra matches played that can wear down a side before the playoff.

The first match for Liquid is against Team EnVyUs, and their chances do not look promising. Only seeing the boys in blue once over the past three months on a LAN, a 16-4 loss on Dust2, this does not bode well for Liquid. As for other potential matches, Liquid has faced potential ELEAGUE opponents seven times in the past three months on LAN, and only beat Natus Vincere and G2 once each.

On the FlipSid3 (and speaking of them), the current Liquid lineup has not faced six of their potential opponents over the past three months on LAN, and defeated Fnatic twice at ESL One New York. This leaves a lot of leeway with predictions after the first round, as the Swiss format could give them the treat of a new opponent. Especially if it is FlipSid3, HellRaisers or Gambit, all of which have had a tougher time finishing out 2016, Liquid could receive help from the system and potentially avoid snares in Astralis or OpTic Gaming until the playoffs.

All Team Liquid needs is three wins in order to advance to the quarterfinals, and secure a Legend spot in ELEAGUE, but can they achieve this?

Quite frankly, I would not get your hopes that high.

With how the past LANs went for Liquid, it does not seem like this side recovered ever since s1mple went over to Natus Vincere. Qualifying for the ELEAGUE Major all the way back in Cologne could be this side’s biggest downfall, as they are simply not the same North American team without s1mple’s phenomenal play.

Yes, the Swiss format could give this side a few favorable looks at teams, but with nV being the first round matchup, Liquid has a lot to prove before it soldiers on in Atlanta. And even then, a date with a top-10 side in the world could make it a rough time for fans of Liquid to watch the entire tournament.

If this team is able to pull off a few upsets and have done more in preperation for this event than other sides, then yes, Liquid could make it out of the Swiss stage and potentially earn themselves a Legend spot in ELEAGUE.

However, there are a lot of “if’s” to that equation, and the more likely scenario is Team Liquid evaporating under the pressure of the best sides in Europe and Brazil, and will leave Atlanta with only a win or two under its belt.

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James Mattone is a journalist for GAMURS and can be contacted on Twitter –@TheJamesMattone.