The Liquid Review - April 2023
Happy Thursday folks,
In the last six months or so, a lot of folks have been faced with the hard truth that the competitive gaming industry is shrinking. Hardworking and talented people lost their jobs, once-promising projects fizzled, and historically important institutions—Wonders of the Esports World—shuttered their doors after over a decade. This phenomenon has impacted every corner of the gaming community to some degree, and there is a lot of uncertainty floating around about the future of esports. People have reacted differently to this uncertainty, from the optimistic pointing to a simple market correction for an inflated industry to the doomsayers eternally prophesying catastrophe. Still, at the very least, it leaves a lot of Liquid fans worrying if it’s going to get worse.
As fans, we’re not going to get the kind of insider information to answer this question. But there are a couple clues that make me hopeful. Liquid’s co-owner Steve Arhancet dropped by Hotline League this past Monday, and offered a lot of insight into how Team Liquid is run.
Steve highlighted Liquid Enterprises, a separate company offering goods and services to other businesses that want to enter or grow their position in the gaming market. He explained Liquid gets a lot of its revenue from this business-to-business model, supplementing the revenue from sponsorships, apparel, and League partnership.
The second positive sign to me is that Liquid’s relationship with its sponsors seems to be as strong as it ever has been. Just three weeks ago, Liquid announced a renewed and improved Ambassador program with Coinbase.
And look, none of this means we know what the future of Team Liquid will look like, no matter what kind of mysterious emails we get. Nor can it be said that Liquid is entirely immune to the pressure. Last week, we learned the sad news that Joey, Mayron, and the rest of TL;DW had shot their last episode before an indefinite hiatus.
TL;DW holds a special place in my heart—the first episode dropped just one day after my first recap post on Reddit (then called This Week in Liquid). For a trip down memory lane (and to see how far Joey’s hair has come), take a look back at the first ever episode. So one last time, for a video recap of Team Liquid’s escapades this past month, you can find the TL;DWs here:
Until next time, Joey. I hope you’re happy, and have a good week.
Before the upper bracket final against Gaimin Gladiators last month, it was difficult to imagine a world where Team Liquid didn’t finish first. We were crushing every match we played, a point I made several times last month.
But unfortunately, Boxi suffered a severe health issue right before the match, and was forced to withdraw from the tournament and return to Europe for care. On such short notice, Liquid’s best available substitute was our analyst, Jabbz. And although Jabbz has a respectably high MMR in pubs, he has never played professional DotA in the Tier 1 scene.
All things considered, Jabbz played his role admirably, but it simply wasn’t enough. We fell to the lower bracket in a quick 0-2 to Gaimin Gladiators. There we had a rematch against Talon Esports, the team we beat in the first round of playoffs, and were able to end the impressive lower bracket run of the Thai team, earning a rematch against GG. There, they dispatched us in a 3-0 final, even if we kept games 1 and 3 relatively close. Gaimin’s carry Quinn went completely monster mode, obliterating us in nearly every teamfight.
Barely a week later, we faced yet another rematch with Gaimin Gladiators to kick off the DPC Tour 2. Though Boxi was well enough to play, he was still recovering, and Team Liquid was also trying to figure out the new patch. All this to say, GG once again smoked us in two extremely dominant games, giving us a rough start to the second DPC Tour.
But Liquid got right back on that horse. Over the rest of March, Liquid won every single series against the best competition in Western Europe, locking in another first place finish, a berth to the Berlin Major, and a $30,000 prize. And on top of all this, Liquid are in a commanding position to qualify for The International, sitting 230 DPC points above the second place team, and more than 600 points above the last qualifying spot. At the risk of jinxing us (again), I will try to temper my expectations. But suffice it to say, Liquid’s chances of qualifying for TI are much better than they were this time last year.
April will be a quiet month for DotA until the very end, when the Berlin Major starts. Liquid seeks revenge for the 0-7 shellacking we’ve taken from Gaimin in March, and this time we’ll have a home field advantage.
Liquid`Counter-Strike is a roller coaster with results to match. And I’m being about as literal as I can be about that.
With complaints of poor practice in North America before ESL, Liquid started slow in Copenagen, and never truly got off the ground. We suffered a frankly humiliating defeat to Chinese squad Rare Atom, but were able to clean up ATK the next series. Then we fumbled yet another 0-2 loss to a mid-tier Team Spirit, and in most other tournaments, that probably would have been it. But thanks to the triple-elimination system of the group stage, Liquid had one more chance to make playoffs. In the lower-lower bracket, Liquid finally seemed to turn it around, getting revenge against Rare Atom, and cleanly beating Astralis to get the very last spot in playoffs.
But when we got there, we got smoked by paiN Gaming. The loss included a 7-16 loss on Mirage, where we’re supposed to be one of the best teams in the world. And then, just a little more than a week later, we lost again to paiN, again on Mirage. And it would be one thing if paiN looked like an up-and-coming team that could beat anybody in the world, but right after beating Liquid, paiN lost the next round.
Liquid’s recent results paint a frustrating picture going into the American RMR. The BLAST American Showdown was supposed to be an easy tournament for us, and we failed to qualify for the Spring Finals. And just a week later, Liquid has to play in another tournament to qualify for the Major in May. There’s only one spot in the Legends Stage of the Major available, so we have no margin for error at this tournament. We’ll need to finish 3-0 in the Swiss system, and win the first place match at the end. Failing that, a 2nd place finish will land Liquid in the Challengers Stage, and 3-5th still earns a Major Spot in the Contender Division. Our first match of the RMR is today against 00 Nation.
Get ready for the major!
After almost a full month of anticipation, Liquid`Rocket League is finally going to be back on the big stage. Atow, Oski, and AcroniK begin their run through the San Diego Major starting today and running through the weekend.
The Group Stage takes up the first two days, and between Liquid, Secret, and Gaimin Gladiators, the first stage almost looks like a European DotA tournament. But unlike DotA, Secret’s Rocket League team comes from Latin America, while Gaimin Gladiators are from APAC. Rounding out Liquid’s group is the Australian team Ground Zero Gaming. In the Group Stage, Liquid will play a best of five against each of these three teams. If we win the group, we’ll qualify directly to the quarterfinals of the single-elimination playoffs. Alternatively, a second or third place finish in the group will place us in round 1 of the playoffs against another 2nd or 3rd place team.
Liquid’s first game today will be against Ground Zero Gaming, and then Team Secret later on today. On the line is $310,000 in prizes, and a bevy of RLCS Points that will contribute to Liquid’s campaign to qualify for the world championship in August.
League of Legends:
Week 9 of the LCS spelled a disappointing end to a frustrating split. Sitting at 6-9 going into superweek, Liquid was in a position where every game was a must-win, and we stared down EG at the end of the week, who was a top 3 team at the time. Liquid also had to beat CLG, who were sitting with Liquid in the middle of the pack. But our weaker opponent ended up being a dagger. The Cavalry were eliminated from playoff contention after losing to CLG, but were able to beat EG the next day in a meaningless game.
In a lot of ways, Week 9 encapsulated Liquid’s split. Over the course of 18 games, Team Liquid was 4-4 against the top four teams, and 0-6 against the 5-7th teams. I have no explanation for this trend. Going back through old games, it’s very easy to find mistakes, but much harder to find patterns. Sure, for the first few weeks, Liquid had a massive team-fighting coordination problem, but as time went on, it was clear we were improving. But then we lost games for other reasons—our early game dominance became finicky, and we’d find ourselves in insurmountable mid-game holes.
Whatever the reason, Liquid failed to make playoffs for the first time in three years. It’s a maddening result considering the talent on this team. But at this point we can only look towards Summer.
Liquid`Challengers had a much more successful run in the Challenger League, however. After a disappointing second round loss to Cloud9 Challengers, Liquid climbed all the way through the lower bracket. The Challengers Squad won four series to earn a rematch against C9 in the lower bracket final, but we couldn’t exact our revenge. Still, Liquid`Challengers takes the Bronze Medal, and our Challengers jungler, Mir, won Most Valuable Prospect!
In the midst of all the doom and gloom of Counter-Strike and League of Legends, Liquid’s Brazilian VALORANT team is an exploding beacon of light washing away the gray. Over the course of the last month, Liquid won the final qualifier to the Brazilian Game Changer Series 1 tournament, and then we went ahead and won the whole tournament too. And up until the winners’ final, it wasn’t particularly close. Liquid crushed both MIBR and HUMMER in the first two rounds, setting up the first matchup between Liquid and LOUD of the season.
I’m pretty sure the winner’s final between LOUD and Liquid was the first time the two organizations have ever faced off against each other. But it’s not the first time those ten players met on the server. Before being signed to LOUD, the team played under “jelly e amigas.” And in all three of the qualifiers leading up to Series 1, Liquid`BR eliminated them. Funnily enough, if you look back at the three qualifiers, you can see the progress jelly e amigas made. In the first qualifier, Liquid beat them 2-0; the second, 3-1; the third, 3-2. And when Liquid and LOUD met in the upper bracket finals, all three games were extremely close. But just like every other head-to-head, Liquid ended up on top. And then, just for good measure, we absolutely clobbered LOUD 3-0 in the grand finals.
The win re-crowned Liquid as the Brazilian Game Changer Champions, and earned the Squad about $6,800 and a head start in the race to Game Changers Championship in late-November.
Across the Atlantic, Liquid’s European VALORANT Squad hasn’t found the same level of dominance we have in Brazil. Then again, no one has. But Liquid has shown a vast improvement from our disastrous performance at LOCK//IN. Although the Cavalry weren’t able to win our series against Vitality, we blew them out of the server on Fracture, showing a massive improvement on the map from LOCK//IN. Liquid also picked up its first series win as a full team, beating FUT 2-1. After a close loss on Lotus, Liquid dominated the rest of the matchup, winning both Split and Ascent 13-6.
Over the next two months, Liquid will play seven more matches, one against each of the remaining teams in the EMEA league to complete the round robin. Tomorrow, we face off against old teammates ScreaM and Nivera for the first time. Their new team Karmine Corp. is 1-1, just like Liquid and 4 other teams, so the match will be important to set Liquid apart.
Rainbow 6: Siege:
After the first round of the brand new Brazil League, my initial impressions are that it feels a lot shorter. There are still 10 teams in the league, but instead of doing a full round robin, they split into four groups. This means each team only plays four best-of-ones instead of nine. Ubisoft uses the time saved from cutting these best-of-ones to add a playoff with three tickets to the Major in Copenhagen on the line. This new playoff replaces the previous system that seeded the top Brazilian teams into a broader South American tournament to compete for Major spots.
Anyways, Team Liquid breezed through most of the group phase and the playoffs to secure the Cavalry’s place at the Copenhagen Major. Liquid won every game against a team not named FaZe, securing a second-place finish, a Major spot, and $27,500 to boot.
The team has about three weeks before the Major takes place. 16 of the 24 teams at the Major will need to pass through “Phase 1,” a GSL-style group stage where two teams from each group go on, and two go home.
However, thanks to Liquid’s silver medal finish in the Brazil League, we qualified directly into “Phase 2,” the Swiss Stage. Counter-Strike and Rocket League fans will be familiar with this system, but I think this is the first time Rainbow Six has used it. In the Swiss system, each team plays up to 5 matches. Every team that wins 3 of those matches moves on to the playoffs, and every team that loses 3 of those matches goes home. Finally, in every match, each team always plays another team with their record.
If Liquid makes it through the Swiss Stage, we’ll enter “Phase 3,” a single-elimination playoff with 7 other teams. On the line is a $750,000 prize pool and a truckload of points we’ll need to qualify for the Six: Invitational next February.
Smash has had an eventful March - especially for Riddles. Liquid’s own Kazuya main has made the character look nearly as busted as everyone says he is, getting 1st and 3rd at two incredibly difficult tournaments. Both those runs weren’t bracket luck either, if anything, they were the opposite.
At Collision, Riddles 3-0’ed MkLeo (currently ranked first in the world), managed a reverse 3-0 against Sonix (a brutal matchup), and then cooled off the upset run of the century from Skyjay. At Major Upset, Riddles made 3rd place by beating Kurama and Big D. His win against Big D was a particular shock, given that the Ice Climbers main had destroyed Riddles in their past two matches and had a lot of people wondering if they were one of Kazuya’s few bad matchups. Riddles had even lost to Big D in Winners of that bracket. Somehow, over the course of that weekend, Riddles simply learned the matchup and came back with a 3-0 dismantling of his bracket demon.
Riddles cooled off at Summit, earning 9th, but still managed to 3-0 MkLeo (again) and beat Sparg0. Hbox got last at Summit, but did perform respectably, getting surprisingly close to taking down some big names in bad matchups. Dabuz had a rough month, being the first of many to get upset by Skyjay at Collision and falling out at 33rd. But he recuperated well with a nice regional win at Pax East 2023 Arena. Atelier did well regionally too, getting 2nd at a decently tough Tokyo tournament.
In the Melee world, Hbox is doing his best, but the competition is tougher than ever. He placed 4th at Major Upset, losing to Cody and aMSa but showed signs of a return to the top along the way. His sets with aMSa and Cody were closer than ever - and he take sets off of lloD, Polish, and aMSa (Winners side). Melee is harder than ever for Hbox, but it looks like he’s far from giving up on his return to the top.
April seems to be relatively quiet for Liquid’s Smash Stars, as it looks like they’re gearing up for a trip to Japan! The whole Smash squad has registered for MaesumaTOP#12 at the end of the month. Dabuz, Riddles, and Hbox are signed up already for the Osaka tournament, and it seems likely that Atelier will join them. It’s likely for Golden Week, a Japanese holiday that allows the Japanese FGC to host events, travel, and compete without the restraints of normal life. Trips like this, to compete in Japan, are pretty rare and usually we have to wait for Japanese players to come to a US supermajor to see Ultimate’s two best regions interact.
Although rapha no longer has a perfect record in the QPL, he’s still at the top of the table, and looking sharp as ever. Curiously, though rapha lost his series against ZenAku 1-2, he still outdid his Australian counterpart 24-23. rapha also prevailed 2-1 over Av3k, and flattened dramiS 3-0. This all means that with a 6-1 record and a monstrous 18-3 scoreline, rapha sits on a precarious one-point advantage over both vengeurR and RAISY. This month, he’ll have a chance to widen that lead as he faces off against vengeurR this Saturday.
Fortnite is back, and Liquid`Brazil is thriving!
Epic’s first Major of the new system finished this past month, and three of Liquid’s players made the final week. Felipersa took home a 3rd place finish with his duo Diguera, and double-Liquid duo Seeyun and EdRoadToGlory finished 16th overall. The second major begins April 16th, and runs for three weeks. Liquid`Fortnite will spend the first two weeks earning points through kills and placement to get a spot in the Finals on April 30th.
Age of Empires:
Newly re-christened DeMu landed a top-10 finish in the Golden League 2, despite his rocky start in the first week. In the second week, DeMu was able to make it to the 3rd round before falling to VortiX, but made a decent lower bracket run, beating Dark and YUImetal before falling to Bee in the Top 12. He fared even better the next week, making it to the top 6 before losing once again to Bee. However, his run in week 3 included wins over 1puppypaw, and revenge over VortiX. Overall, DeMu’s ninth place finish meant he was the very last competitor to get a cut of the prizepool, and he walked out with a $1,350 payday.
This month, DeMu will take part in the Streamers Cup, a double-elimination tournament using captains mode to pick civilizations. For each map, the players draft two civs they may want to use, and their opponent snipes (removes) one of those civs, leaving the remaining two to be played. For best of threes in the upper bracket, this process is repeated for each game. The lower bracket only has best of ones, an efficient way to run a tournament, if a little punishing.
Neither robin nor Kurum got the results they wanted at the Mid-Set Finale last month. Kurum exited on the first day, and robin was unable to make the final lobby. The disappointing finishes means that not only did the two Liquid players fail to earn a spot at the Regional Finals, they also didn’t make the cut for the Mecha Cup. This means they’ll need to qualify for the tournament through ranking high on the ladder.
But now the mid-set has been released, and there are still opportunities for Liquid to make worlds. The first one comes from the Mecha Cup this month. Placing in the top 4 of the tournament will directly qualify Kurum or robin to the Regional Finals.
Still, there are other paths to the Regional Finals. Competing at the Defender Cup, Corrupted Cup, and Mecha Cup earned the players qualifier points, and the top 10 point earners from these events get a spot at the Regional Finals. Additionally, each week, RIOT takes a snapshot of the ladder, and awards Leaderboard points to players for how highly they’re ranked. The top 2 players on the leaderboard earn a spot at the Regional Finals as well. And finally, the top 16 players on the leaderboard who haven’t already qualified for Regionals will get a chance for fight for one of the two remaining spots during the Last Chance Qualifier at the end of this month.