Much of Liquid’s recent success has come from their excellence on Inferno. Since their return from the player break, the NA team have five wins under their belt and only a single loss on the map. Inferno has been pivotal in their most important series wins: they’ve beaten SK on it three times, as well as Virtus.pro, Astralis and Mousesports. Their single loss, however, came in the final of ESL One New York, where a dominant Inferno team in Liquid was trampled by an on fire FaZe.
Since the three-map series was composed of five dominant halves by FaZe and only one good half to the name of Liquid, the final has been considered a landslide win by a super team that was hitting all their shots. But for a team as good on Inferno as Liquid, an 0-15 T half deserves a better explanation. How did FaZe crush Liquid on their best map?
Before tackling how FaZe countered Liquid, we need to discern what made the NA team so strong in the first place. The brunt of their success has come on the Terrorist side, on which Liquid has gone below 9-6 only twice since nitr0 took over as IGL.
Generally, Liquid’s T-side begins with two groups. One group, usually JDM, nitr0 and on occasion stanislaw, tries to take Banana control. One or two molotovs are thrown, one of which will always be at car. A flash may come in to let nitr0 peek past half-wall. The second group, EliGE and Twistzz, take control of apartments with a couple flashbangs. Once both are under control, JDM or stanislaw watch the flank while the others move on to pressure the site of choice.
This default allows Liquid to take either site without giving the enemy team any prior knowledge of their decision. Their coordinated executes are very effective at isolating certain players, particularly cart-side and B site players. Their practice shines through in the execution of their hits; each player looks where they should, and trust their teammates to cover the angles they aren’t watching. While there are weaknesses in their executes, Liquid have demonstrated a talent for adapting their executes according to the positioning of their opponents. On top of that, there’s always someone watching the flank during the latter parts of the execute, and every player keeps in mind the opponents rotations. Liquid are a well-trained team through and through.
This tactical T-side did wonders against SK, who play a very passive CT side on Inferno, especially on Banana. Unlike teams like North, SK do not regularly throw a top of Banana smoke to prevent AWPing, nor do they opt into the double-molotov setup to prevent early pushes from the T side. Rather, SK will play a passive Banana setup: past thirty seconds felps and fer find themselves playing site rather than Banana, ready for an incoming execute. This may be a standard way to play CT side, but it gives up all the map control that Liquid needs to perform their executes undisturbed. SK are left relying on their ability to out-aim their opponent, innately at a disadvantage from the waves of utility used by Liquid. In their third matchup, felps and fer tried to take Banana control, but did so without flushing out the Ts immediately. This led to many deaths for the both of them as they were easily overwhelmed and exploited; a disastrous attempt to adjust to Liquid’s aggressive Banana play.
Nevertheless, SK remained largely passive, all three maps considered. This approach to playing CT Inferno is problematic when dealing with any well-crafted execute that accounts for the position of each CT player and forces them into disadvantageous positions. For example, FalleN likes to play archside with his AWP when he anticipates an A hit. In their first game at Mykonos, Liquid, in every A execute, smoked off both archside and motto, eliminating FalleN’s presence during the execute unless he is willing to risk pushing through a smoke. In the third match at ELEAGUE, Liquid changed up their setup, pushing directly into FalleN’s AWP. They traded on FalleN on every A hit: FalleN killed nitr0 six times, but was killed six times by EliGE and seven times by Twistzz. In both cases, what was once a three man site hold has been brought down to only two. Fending off four or five terrorists is a tough ask from TACO and coldzera, and though they’ve had some success doing it, it is by no means reliable. This example demonstrates some weaknesses in SK’s passive CT play that have been exploited by Liquid in their many Inferno games against the Brazilian squad.
By taking advantage of passive play like SK’s, Liquid achieved one of the best T sides in the game. Despite its strength and consistency, it was completely countered by FaZe, which led the tournament winners to a dominant 15-0 CT half. FaZe played the A site in a similar setup as SK. GuardiaN was AWPing archside, while olof and rain were playing around pit, porch and site. There was a greater focus on maintaining top-of-mid control, as rain favours porch, making him a more aggressive A site player than coldzera. Nevertheless, the A site was mostly predictable and susceptible to the same A executes that decimated SK. The unpredictable aspect of FaZe’s CT side was their hyper-aggressive Banana setup. From the very first gun round, Niko and karrigan frag-stacked top of Banana, chunking nitr0 down to 14 HP. In the following rounds, smokes were thrown and Banana was set on fire to deter nitr0 from moving forward and gaining Banana control. They were so effective in doing so that Liquid quickly gave up on contesting Banana altogether, save for some half-hearted molotovs at car. In itself, this isn’t revolutionary. As previously mentioned, North have a similar aggressive Banana hold that prevents any push from coming through. Moreover, both FaZe and North not only bully their way into Banana, but maintain that map control for most of the round, preventing anything but a full commitment to a B hit from the T side. Since the B site players are playing in Banana, they gain information of a B execute very early on, allowing for their A site players to rotate much faster than they would with SK’s setup. The Ts thus have little to time to plant the bomb and prepare to defend a retake, if they can even plant the bomb at all.
Though they share the benefits of aggressive CT play with teams like North, FaZe push it a step further. While MSL and k0nfig maintain Banana control together, karrigan leave NiKo to solo hold Banana at half-wall. In their match against Liquid, karrigan would either make NiKo smoke off T-ramp and push through his own top of Banana smoke or rotate back into a four-man hold on A. In the first scenario, karrigan disrupts Liquid’s A execute setup, not expecting a flank through Banana considering their habitual control over that area. In a second, an execute drilled to isolate two people on site and truckside finds itself fighting three. GuardiaN may be smoked off, but karrigan is here. His presence adds a variety of angles Liquid need to check, crossfires they need to care for, and molotovs they’d need to flush out CTs. On top of that, the rotation need not come from two people from Banana, as one is already there, right behind a smoke at Motto. This deeply complicates Liquid’s execute, as they simply couldn’t adjust to all these added variables on the fly, all due to a single rotation from karrigan midway through every round.
There’s an obvious weakness to karrigan’s rotation: NiKo is left having to solo hold B. Liquid recognized this weakness midway through the half and attempted a B execute to exploit this fact. Though a five-man execute on a single-player should be a slam-dunk, FaZe’s gamble relies on NiKo’s ability to call a rotation as the execute begins, retreat into site, and do what NiKo does. In round 3, NiKo learned of the execute by a Liquid flashbang thrown into Banana midway through the round. Standing on front of of half-wall, Niko sprays through two smokes in the early parts of the round to chunk two players down to below 20 HP. When the flash comes in, Niko sprays until Liquid players have crossed his top-of-banana smoke. He retreats into fountain, finding two kills before dying.Not only was Liquid left in tatters, having only a single full-health member on their team, but since NiKo could call the execute so early on, KarrigaN is already in construction before Liquid can get on site. Niko’s death can thus be traded, and the retake thus becomes a cakewalk for FaZe, despite the original execute seemingly leaving NiKo against thea world.
Through NiKo’s skill, FaZe developed an approach to CT site that rendered all of Liquid’s strengths on Inferno ineffective. Their A executes were insufficient in dealing with four players on A site, and the early callout for a B execute from NiKo, made possible by their complete Banana control, made Liquid’s hopes of a bomb plant come at the cost of at least two deaths and an early CT rotate every time. To make matters worse, FaZe pushed mid in round 10 with three riflers, after playing a passive A hold for the entire half. Liquid were caught off guard and decimated. All these variables were unaccounted for in the NA squad’s default and in their executes, leaving Liquid lost, unable to find a single T-side round on their best map.
After the mid slaughter in round 10, Liquid tried to adapt. They dedicated three members to gaining Banana control, which they succeeded in doing twice. Unfortunately, olof and rain took advantage of this first attempt at Banana controlby pushing apartments and killing both EliGE and Twistzz. In their second attempt, karrigan called in rain for a three-man defense once they lost Banana control, predicting a B execute from Liquid. The defense proved too strong, though it was perhaps the closest round of the half.
After a such a disastrous half, Liquid’s seemingly excellent T-side has had its flaws laid bare. Though Liquid’s executes have been remarkably effective, they’ve have trouble adapting when their strategy haven’t taken into account the opponent’s behaviour. They rely heavily on establishing map control and hitting a site in which players are playing conventional spots. Though they can adapt to an unexpected spot like flowers, their lack of consideration of that spot as a possibility cost them an important gun round. When karrigan and NiKo dominated Banana, Liquid didn’t find a way to respond and earn that map control back until it was too late. When karrigan rotated onto A site, they couldn’t find a solution to FaZe’s four-one setup. One can forgive Liquid’s inability to successfully adapt mid-game to these unexpected tactics, but their effectiveness casts a shadow on the NA team’s T-side.
Though they failed to pick up a round, there’s reason to be optimistic about their chances moving forward. They recognized the strength of FaZe’s Banana hold, and pressured it in the late rounds. If the change had come earlier, Liquid wouldn’t have been so telegraphed in their B executes; they would’ve been significantly more successful in that T half. Yet while Liquid showed an ability to change both their defaults and executes against FaZe, they struggled to anticipate changes in their opponent’s gameplan. They may have the appropriate reactions, but Liquid cannot afford to drop so many rounds to unconventional strategies. An execute style can’t only be precise, it needs to be meticulous, considering all possible setups and pushes by the CT side. FaZe proved to Liquid that they need to consider more variables in their Inferno play. It’s a challenge they will need to answer if they want to continue their rampage on their best map, and thus, a challenge they’ll need to answer if they want to be one of the best in the world.
Photo Credit: Adela Sznajder / DreamHack