NAF: "Any time we have to face Cloud9 I think a lot of us are very confident"
Liquid secured themselves a semi-final berth in the playoffs of ESL Pro League Season 16 on Thursday, defeating MOUZ in the first series of the bracket stage to end in two maps. The result is already the North American team's deepest run of the year, and puts them just one series away from making their first offline grand final in nearly three years.
Following the conclusion of the series, HLTV spoke to Keith "NAF" Markovic for his thoughts on how the series went from his perspective, as well as to find out what Liquid have been working on to keep their form on an upward trajectory. The 24-year-old also discussed Josh "oSee" Ohm's form and his own role changes, continuing to be a chameleon when required by the team to enable the other stars.
First of all, congrats on the win, 2-0 and through to the semi-finals — it must feel good.
Yeah, I mean coming into the MOUZ game we felt very confident, it was probably one of the teams we felt the most confident against. In terms of their playstyle, who the players are that they rely on, we just felt very comfortable. I heard that with YEKINDAR, daps, and nitr0, they just felt way more confident watching their games and just saying like, 'alright, I think this is a style that will just suit us better' because we believe they rely a lot more on individuals, whereas we have our teamplay, but we are stronger individuals in my opinion versus them. No matter what, we just outbrained them and outgunned them in every area in the game.
When Inferno started off, you were abusing banana a lot. Was that part of the game plan going into the series, to abuse that early on?
No not necessarily, it's just that when playing we had the reads. Obviously I'm kinda just lurking, chilling in the corners just waiting, but I just believe that they had really good, solid reads and they knew when the right time was to hit the B bombsite. We just made some mistakes, I think at one point we believed that dexter was alone and we had a chance to pop through, but we waited too long and they had a rotated and they were able to win the round just because we went too slow. There were some small mistakes that cost us a few rounds, but overall in the end we were just playing way better, we had way easier reads in our minds and the game was just flawless from our understanding.
Yeah, the first half especially was pretty dominant, but in the second half there were a few rounds you struggled to close out-
Yeah, I think in the second half we tried to do some aggression plays and catch them off guard, but frozen had some good rounds denying their aggression in banana, and denying our aggression in mid in some areas. Once we slowed down and recollected ourselves, played more of a passive style, we were able to outmaneuver them in a way. I remember oSee was over at B, he was able to hit some nice shots, we had the read they were going B. In the end it was just really good reads, and we were able to just stay alive, play the trades and close it out.
YEKINDAR mentioned during the group stage that some of the team's individual level and teamplay got worse after BLAST when you went home. Has that been contributing towards some of those more shaky rounds?
I remember coming into this event, our practice was a little shaky. We were having a lot of doubts and mentally we were getting really frustrated. We just had really high expectations of ourselves in practice, more so than others had higher expectations as well. When we were coming into the games and things would go wrong, we would be really hard on ourselves and we'd kind of bring ourselves down, and the team mood and the team atmosphere would drop a bit.
But especially after the Eternal Fire game that we had in the group stage, after that we all realized that we need to just sit down and talk about what is going wrong, within the team and within the game as well, and we just need to fix those problems. After that talk that we had, it was very helpful for our progress so far here in Pro League, so we just need to always remind ourselves that we're insane and that in the end, the biggest enemy is ourselves, and we need to always remember that. If we can just destroy the negative mindset that at times we can have, then no matter what happens we can win, we just need to stay in it to the very end.
Can you share some of the details or some more insight into that conversation you had?
The biggest thing we talked about was that we were playing too much as individuals, and we weren't relying on our teammates to back us up. We weren't thinking about, hey, we have teammates behind us, let's use them to win the round. We were just focusing so much on individuals and individual plays. I'm sure maybe YEKINDAR at times felt like he needed to be a hero, even a lot of times he is pushing and trying to find those entries, but back then it was more like everybody was trying to plan some hero plays, some individual play. Even myself, at times I was dying and getting caught off guard, and I'm just like, everything I'm doing isn't working so well, and I think that everybody else was kind of in the same boat when they were trying things. We just needed to remind ourselves that this is a team game and we need to recollect ourselves, talk about it, and get back into it with a different mindset. That's where we are at this point.
Talking about individuals, oSee's performance has dropped off a little bit, and it's been pointed out by some analysts that he is hanging around the back more playing a more supportive role, throwing more grenades. Do you have any idea as to what's going on with his level?
Yeah, I know with Josh [oSee], he did feel that... a lot of it all stems from our bootcamp and our mentality coming into the event, where a lot of us were just relying on individual plays. I know Josh at times, he seemed a little lost at some points, and I remember even during our talk that we had after the Eternal Fire game that was a big thing I know he brought up, that he believed that he wasn't performing up to par. I think a lot of it was just how we were playing as a team, which effected him a lot. I just believed that after that talk, it boosted and helped him a lot. Obviously a lot of of the AWPers in the game, they'll be throwing nades in the back in certain scenarios and certain situations, that's just how it is.
I do believe that Josh's confidence just got a little shaken at the start of the event, and he's regaining it — in this MOUZ game he played terrific, he played absolutely amazing, so right now it's all mental, it's all in his mind. He's working on everything that he can, and he'll get there, he'll get back there again. He's a young guy, he's less experienced than the rest of us, and he'll keep striving and he'll keep playing and performing well for us, it's just a matter of time.
daps said that YEKINDAR has helped EliGE find a new-ish role that fits his playstyle a bit better, how has that effected you? Has it made you change much on your end, or is it mostly the same old for you?
I do realize that with YEKINDAR coming to the team and the amount of things that he wants to do, the way he wants to play, and also how he wants the team to play, individually I've taken a little bit of a hit. Even during our practices, one day I'd wake up, and they'd be like, 'oh, you're playing here now,' and then the next day they'd be like, 'oh, you're actually playing here now.' I seem to just be that guy, and I do realize that I need to be that guy. Playing with Liquid before, I think I've always been that second/third star player, but I do believe now I've taken more of a shift into more of a fill player and a very... I don't want to say supportive, because I always believe in myself that I need to be fragging and performing well, or else my team won't win, but I do believe that nitr0 and I are the players who take really big hits for the team right now.
I feel like with how teams are now and how the game is now, AWPers are always the most important players on a lot of the teams. You always see the AWPers that are the ones popping off, so your AWPer always needs to be comfortable and performing. With EliGE, he's always been a star player and he always wants to be in comfortable areas where he can play and where he can take control of games, and naturally Mareks [YEKINDAR] is the same way. He wants to be in control, he wants to take over games as well, and with the way he entries he has a really good understanding of it. He talks about how he wants to do things and how the team can work around him, and I do realize that I just need to be that guy who they can just rely on, and I can just get my kills and play my anchor spots, all that type of stuff. I know there's been some changes within the team in areas where they're just like, 'we want you to play here,' and I'm like 'ah, I don't know if I want to play there,' but I'll do it for the team.
I need to just do whatever I can, because if YEKINDAR, EliGE, and oSee are all popping off and nitr0 and I are just supporting from the side and we're popping off, we'll be winning every game no matter what, so we just need to make sure that's the way it goes. I just need to make sure I work on myself and the positions that I play so I can perform for them, because at the end of the day I know that they'll be performing for me.
Heading into the playoffs, I know you were watching the bracket draw happen live. From what I heard you were pretty happy with the way it worked out, you had fnatic first and now MOUZ-
Yeah, I mean seeing the bracket draw it was just like you mentioned, it was something that we really liked. fnatic, the first round that we had to play them in the playoffs, we knew they were a new team as a five. We knew that they were going to have a lot of things that we could exploit and things they're not going to understand to do, some reactions. We clearly saw that. We played fnatic on Overpass in practice, so we knew that they were very strong, and we knew they were going to pick the map. We knew it would be a tough game and they're able to win it, but overall on any other map we knew that we could destroy them. That was just their map and they got it.
Coming into MOUZ, in my opinion they're another inexperienced team together, but then again they're also a lot of inexperienced players. They don't have a lot of deep playoff run experience and all that, they don't know what to expect in a lot of these games deep into an event. That also gave us a lot of confidence that at the end of the day, these are just the new kinds on the block, we know how to smoke 'em. As long as we play our game and play confident, and like I mentioned before in the interview that we believe that we're the smarter team and we have more individual fire power to rely on, we were just able to beat them.
So it started our pretty favorable with fnatic and MOUZ, but now you're heading into a semi-final against either FaZe or Cloud9. You beat Cloud9 in your last group stage game to even make the playoffs, but I think I saw in an interview that you all felt like they didn't care as much in that match because they were already through.
The best answer to that is what YEKINDAR said, that they already knew that they're through to the playoffs, so they can just naturally know in their minds that, 'hey guys, we made playoffs, we're going to go in here and give it our all, but we've already made playoffs. Whereas us, we had our backs against a wall, it was do-or-die. When you're in that position mentally, when it comes to the game you're just on a whole new level versus a team that's comfortable in their heads like they're trying to give it their all, but it's not the end of the day.
Heading into the semi-final here, how do you feel about going up against FaZe or Cloud9?
Honestly, recently with YEKINDAR, he's very smart, he's very knowledgeable about how Cloud9 plays. He has a lot of input on what we need to do versus them, and a lot of us have also seen how he wants to play and we've grown a confidence around how he wants to play. We believe a system is the right way to play versus them, so any time we have to face Cloud9 I think a lot of us are very confident and just excited and eager to get into the game versus them.
Going versus FaZe, obviously FaZe is on the brink of winning another Grand Slam. From my experience, especially when I was in the finals, and I understand this is a semi-final, but when I knew I was in the finals of winning a Grand Slam, I knew there was nothing that could take that away from me. It's kind of like how I mentioned before, like when it's do or die for us versus Cloud9, with them it's like, there's a million dollars on the line here. They're just going to playing the most smart, mental, and just perfect game of Counter-Strike, that's at least how I felt.
When it comes to a Grand Slam and you know something that big is on the line, it's hard to take their mindset off of that. If we are to play FaZe, I think it'll be a pretty good game, I don't even know the last time we played FaZe, it was maybe in Katowice or something, but a very long time ago. It's a matchup we haven't faced in an official in a while, so that will be a super exciting game. I get to play against my former teammate Twistzz, fellow Canadian you know-
There's some motivation to deny him the chance to win a second Grand Slam then too.
Yeah, I mean we'll see. Maybe I can deny the second Grand Slam from him, but if he goes on to win it, I'll be super proud of him, I'm super happy for him. If there's any player that deserves the success that he has so far, it's him. Regardless, I'm pumped, I'm excited, and I can't wait to keep going.