With talks of Liquid's chances of going all the way to the title at the FACEIT Major picking up steam as the tournament progresses, we decided to explore the North American squad's outlook in the upcoming playoffs.
"Liquid are going to win the Major," Chad "SPUNJ" Burchill tweeted on September 1, before the first stage of the tournament began. That prediction has since been repeated by the Australian player-turned-analyst and has picked up more and more traction throughout the FACEIT Major, which will soon enter its third week of play, when eight teams will be competing in the playoffs, held at the SSE Arena on September 20-23.
Liquid are one of those teams, and it's fair to say that they have been looking like one of the best sides of the tournament, with a 6-0 record following the first two stages, including their first win over Astralis with this lineup.
Do they have enough to go all the way to their first Major title, though?
There's a lot of logic to the arguments supporting Liquid's chances in the upcoming playoffs. Nick "nitr0" Cannella's team have consistently proven themselves an elite team over the course of the last several months, ever since before Epitacio "TACO" de Melo replaced Lucas "steel" Lopes, with top-four finishes at six of their last nine "Big Events", including three grand final appearances.
Before the Major, they skipped ZOTAC Cup Masters and DreamHack Masters Stockholm to focus on preparation for the London event, which gave them the opportunity to watch every one of their main rivals without the danger of being scouted themselves. For a team that likes to plan for specific opponents, that is quite an advantage.
"Coming into this event and playing against teams who were playing in Stockholm helped us a lot because we can see if they have new stuff, we can actually steal some stuff for our team, as well, so it was really good to watch that tournament.
"We got to know the opponents we would face here and in the Major, and going 3-0 means we will have even more time to practice, so we can still change stuff, we can prepare for the real Major," TACO said in our interview with him after the New Challengers stage.
While others struggled at their first tournaments following the off-season, Liquid have yet to falter. They got dangerously close in their New Challengers stage encounter with Vega Squadron, who took them to overtime on Cache, but we can attribute it to, as TACO fittingly put it, Vega surprising Liquid "as expected".
There's no questioning the key players and the team's form. Liquid's stars have all delivered so far, while nitr0 has had his fair share of impact in opening up rounds to give his stars room to work with. The team as a whole has looked well-rounded, looking better than ever at their heavy-trading style.
Liquid have also broken their losing streak to Astralis with their first win against this lineup, secured in the New Legends stage. That should theoretically give them some much-needed confidence for this matchup, with which they have struggled for months, having encountered the Danes at almost every event they have attended. It is almost inevitable that the two will meet in the semi-finals of the FACEIT Major, with Astralis about to meet a shaky FaZe and Liquid heading into a heavily-favored HellRaisers matchup, so that win is an important piece of the puzzle.
With that, we also have to get to the other side of the coin.
Looking at the way Liquid almost threw away the 13-2 lead on the CT side of Inferno against Astralis in the third round of the New Legends stage, the match ended up serving as more of a warning that the Danes will never go down easily rather than a confidence-booster. You could tell that nitr0 & co. were getting afraid of losing the match before it even became that dangerous, as they made some questionable decisions on the defence when Astralis started closing the gap and lost a few very favorable situations, most notably a 3v1 to Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander at 13-12 and a 4v2 at 15-14.
"I think we were a little bit afraid to lose. Towards the end we were just like "we should just keep stacking B and eventually, one round, they will come to us" (laughs). I think we were trying to do a lot of wacky stuff that just didn't work. LIke I said, we were just getting a little afraid that we were so close to winning, it kind of got out of hand and it went to OT…" Keith "NAF" Markovic said in an interview after Liquid's win against Astralis.
It took a tilted NAF, who bought an AWP in overtime — not because he thought it would work but out of frustration — and got a few key pickoffs in the 3-0 CT half which secured his team the win.
"It is funny, when we got into overtime I was so pissed off, I was really tilted. So I'm just "F*** this, I'm going to buy an AWP." I bought the AWP out of pure frustration, it wasn't like I thought it was the solution. And honestly, it ended up working in our favor because I got a lot of picks. Going into OT, I guess AWP was pretty much the solution that helped us (laughs), and obviously everyone started playing really good. I think everyone was more calm, we had a little break because it goes into OT, so we can just reset ourselves. Both teams have more money, we are not scraping by and obviously that helped as well. So yeah, I think we just found our footing OT and took it home." - NAF
That tells you a lot about the mindset Liquid have when it comes to facing Astralis, which does not bode that well for a potential rematch on Saturday. It's hard to bet against the history between the two; the North American team had been able to take maps off Astralis even before the Major, but they had rarely had a realistic chance in series, of which they lost six with the current lineups. The current map score is 14-3 in the Danish team's favor, with all three of Liquid's map wins being hard-earned (either 16-14 or overtime triumphs), while Astralis have lost around eight rounds on average in their wins against NAF & co.
However unlikely it looks based on the aforementioned record and on the power Astralis have to take the veto almost anywhere they want and still be favored, there's a chance Liquid will prevail and make the final, whether by surprising the Danes with some more anti-stratting (though I suspect Astralis will learn from their earlier match) or by taking advantage of some of the shakiness we've seen from gla1ve's camp following the off-season.
Naturally, their path could be very different and, in a way, easier. FaZe have a reasonable chance to take down Astralis in the quarter-finals and then the semi-finals become a completely different matchup, one that has no history attached to it with the exact same lineups, and one that Liquid would likely prefer purely because of their measly record against the Danish team.
If they do pass the semi-finals against either of the two teams, even then will Liquid have a tough time overcoming someone like Na`Vi in the grand final — despite their supposed advantage in that particular matchup — because of another psychological barrier. The added pressure of a big grand final — a Major grand final — looks like something nitr0's squad can't handle just yet when you look at the team's core in title deciders: 0-4 in series and 1-10 in maps at "Big Events" (which Liquid gathered largely against Astralis).
That makes picking Liquid to win the Major quite a bold statement. Based on what we've seen so far, they have improved as a team and have the advantage in preparation, which is obviously a step forward, but they will still have to overcome a few mental barriers and very challenging matchups in order to hoist the trophy come Sunday.