The end of 2018 was a curiously harmonious period of CSGO history, as was only correct. Where, normally, fans are debating which team, player or coach might be the best, we had the answers to those questions quite clearly laid out in front of us, in the shape of Astralis dominating the competitive scene and s1mple any player he came up against.
HLTV duly crowned the Ukrainian this week and all seemed well in the world of CSGO. This year would bring more of the same, thought the experts, with the best team staying together and those below them making changes, especially Liquid. The expert opinion was that the Americans had been forced to trade zews and TACO for Stewie and, as a result, could not really improve on last year, as nobody at the top of the game rated the NA player at that point, instead crediting TACO with much of Team Liquid success, claiming he’d brought a "clutch mentality" over from SK Gaming.
As is his way, though, Stewie ignored all of that and set about getting to know his new Team Liquid colleagues, while TACO has embarked on a tour of photo opportunities that should surprise no one familiar with Noah Whinston. Coming into the troubled iBUYPOWER Masters IV event that concluded on Sunday, most still felt Liquid were in the top group but the majority were expecting another Danish win, which isn’t surprising after being conditioned throughout 2018.
No excuses for Astralis*
As it turned out, though, that was not the case, as Team Liquid were able to get their first win over the Danes in a big final, albeit in slightly odd circumstances. Nobody could be aware of this event without knowing of the issues that plagued it, from security to tech to stream problems and beyond, but as the vanquished Danes were quick to point out, that was the same for both teams, and cannot be considered an excuse.
To put the situation into context, here are a few stats that demonstrate how dominant Astralis were over the second-best team in 2018. Astralis held a 24-4 map lead over Team Liquid, and during TACO's time with the NA org the Danes won 10 Bo3 or Bo5 series between the two teams, losing none. That represents more than 50% of all the Bo3 or Bo5 series Liquid lost throughout the entire of 2018, just to hammer home how big a block Astralis were for them.
In terms of IBP itself, conditions cannot be ignored. There is an argument to say that the poor audio would hurt a tactical, fully evolved side more than a newer line-up like the Liquid one, but this is CS in 2019. After London, there is no way to know what conditions you’ll be facing at any event, even a Major, so there can be little comfort taken in the fact that this was less than ideal, and when it matters things will be right, as that is not certain. And then we get down to the ‘clutch’.
Prior to TACO joining, it’s fair to say Liquid weren’t the best team in NA, as the results from the Boston Major show, but that doesn’t mean that it was necessarily his addition that made the difference. In the twelve months that have just passed, we have also seen NAF and Twistzz ascend to the top level of CSGO, as well as nitr0 gain experience of leading at the highest level. TACO’s work as a support was key, no doubt, but his effect on the mentality might not have been what was assumed.
In fact, TACO might have turned up at his lowest point mentally, if you listen to those close to him at the time. In a recent ‘Reflections’ recorded by esports historian Duncan ‘Thorin’ Shields, Gabriel ‘FalleN’ Toledo discussed the reasons for TACO departing, stating that the team had lost its belief in their ability to win in clutch moments, with TACO a part of that problem. That would line up with the results SK were achieving prior to his departure, and is not contradicted by Liquid’s long string of second places.
The luck of the draw
The final reason why this could in fact have been the right move, done by accident, is the 2018 Stewie endured. Thrown from Major champion to pariah after he ‘abandoned’ a failing Cloud 9 to play for MiBR, he has also attracted abuse from the likes of Thorin for his decisions. If you know the story of young Jake Yip, you’ll be aware he had to fight even before he got to pro CSGO too, meaning he is unhappily experienced at this aspect of life.
That would probably not be his choice, but hard times make good men, and 2018 has certainly shown Stewie fears no man. Be it conquering the superteam FaZe in a Major Grand final, questioning bad calls by the most respected IGL in CSGO or publicly challenging the C9 owner when he tried to make the org the victim in Stewie’s move, he has fought for twelve months or more, and never let his head drop.
Don’t forget, too, that the "greatest team in CSGO history", led by the masterminds zonic and gla1ve, only exist today because kjaerbye decided to leave for North. If Team Liquid didn’t want to make the move, that is one thing but being forced to take on a Major winner against your will and then getting your first win over the world’s best isn’t a bad result, and speaks to a potential future where the Americans are finally able to challenge the very best.