From 16-1 to 6-16: Love and Heartbreak in CS:GO
In Counter Strike, if a team loses a map with less than 6 round wins, it’s a beatdown. It’s such a beatdown that we normally see it in an outclass scenario—a tier 1 team against some upstart. When it happens between two tier 1 teams, it’s often not an outclass and more a perfect storm.
FaZe Clan’s brutal 16-1 Nuke shellacking against Team Liquid was that perfect storm. The FaZe squad strategically outplayed Team Liquid on Nuke, meaning it would’ve been hard for TL to find a win even if the winds were right that day. But the headwinds were so catastrophically bad that Team Liquid barely took a round.
However, that beatdown sparked a wider Nuke war between the two teams. Team Liquid would rally in the lower bracket to nearly take Nuke off of FaZe in double-overtime only days after FaZe nearly shut them out. Completing the trilogy at IEM Katowice, Liquid found their wind and burned FaZe down in a strong 16-6 win.
The back-and-forth battle over Nuke drew me in not as a TL fan but as a CS:GO fan. These 3 games on Nuke felt like quintessential CS - but not necessarily in the sense of mastery or style. More, in the sense of the personal dance that CS takes on as one of the oldest, most strategic, and most emotive esports titles in the world.
If this sounds like a lot, that's because it is a lot.
New teams and age-old narratives
FaZe and Team Liquid come into their first bout at BLAST Spring with big roster shifts. One of the game’s legends Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo signs with Liquid as a voice of veteran leadership. It may be something both FalleN and Liquid need, given that in recent tournaments they’ve been breaking before they bend.
Meanwhile, FaZe is bringing in another legend of the game: Olofmeister. Olof has one of the most decorated careers in CS but he’s solidly retired now and standing in partly as a favor for the team. He’s a wild card in the matchup, his skills well-known and well-learned but possibly not as well-maintained.
For both teams, there’s the crux: Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken.
This is a superstar CS player who went directly from Team Liquid to FaZe Clan about two weeks before this match. He’s played with Team Liquid since April 2017—nearly 4 years. He’s one of the best aimers to play CS, the most lethal shooter in NA, and one of the biggest reasons that Team Liquid won the fastest grand slam in history and became the greatest NA team CS has ever seen.
The move doesn’t come totally unprovoked. Twistzz was struggling to adapt to a changing Liquid lineup and the lineup was struggling to keep Twistzz happy. In short, the breakup was mutual but it was a long-term relationship with deep roots that don’t pull easy.
That breakup adds another layer to this Nuke saga: both emotion and strategy. It’s a player going against a team that he knows and a team going against a player they know to respect.
This is all an oxymoron—a very average big deal. The casters and commentators will talk about the move in each of the matches, but it won’t completely take the narrative center because moves like these happen a lot in CS.
Rosters can become revolving doors in the rapid world of Counter Strike, where even legendary players end up bouncing around teams. That’s not to say there are no franchise players and no stable rosters. Moreso, enough players rotate around that these kinds of rivalries and habit-reads aren’t uncommon.
This is one of the big joys in watching CS: it’s an old game where the strategy is both layered and personal.
Adding to those layers, players don’t only have these relationships with each other but with the maps themselves. For FalleN Nuke is more acquaintance than friend. Over his long career, he’s played just 891 rounds on Nuke. That’s out of over 35,000 total rounds played, adding up to a map that’s just about 2.5% of FalleN’s total rounds played.
Going forward, keep this in mind: Twistzz might well know Team Liquid better than he knows FaZe, and better than FalleN knows Nuke. At least, in the beginning.
In the beginning: Dust2
Team Liquid and FaZe wouldn’t start their war on Nuke, they’d open instead on Dust2. Even though Liquid often leave it up or pick it, this map hasn’t favored them much recently. According to HLTV statistics, in the past 3 months they’ve only won it once in the 5 times they’ve played it.
Looking at the new form Liquid’s started to take on, it sort of makes sense. Dust2 is a more linear map with less options for rotations and movement than Overpass, Nuke, or Mirage. It’s a map where aiming and dueling can mean close to everything because retaking the B-site is very difficult and entering into pretty much most areas takes swift peaking and a quick draw.
It’s an exciting map but also an old one that can almost feel luck-based in the way that it draws out duels and the way those duels dictate the momentum. Momentum always matters in CS and when a player gets hot, akin to basketball, they start making more shots and winning more 1v1s—even if the other side plays the 1v1 very well. In Dust2, the hot shots and 1v1s can have even more impact than they might normally.
The current Liquid roster isn’t quite as duel-heavy and streaky as it used to be. Every player on the team has world-class aim but 2021 TL isn’t winning ecos off deagle duels as much as they’re crafting unique strategies that can catch opponents flat-footed. Take, for example, the double grenade set-ups that earned them entry kills on Vitality.
On the other hand, FaZe is a pretty new roster with very talented aimers in rain, broky, and Twistzz. Dust2 suits them well, though on paper, about as well as it would suit Liquid. Both teams are new lineups with the potential to go hot or cold.
In the upper bracket match, FaZe burns hotter than Liquid. Symbolic to how the match will go, in the very first round NAF dinks rain down to a single health and seconds later Twistzz taps Grim right out of the round. FaZe calls out Team Liquid trying to push out near doors as ColdZera gets another headshot and gets traded out after FaZe puts out good damage.
It’s a hard round to win already, being down a man and about 100 health across the board. It gets harder when TL commits to the B-site and rushes through tunnels slightly out of sync with their utility.
4 of 5 of FaZe’s kills in the round are headshots. The lost round, like a lot of the rounds TL will drop, come from a mix of getting outplayed on the duel, FaZe counter-strats, and slight mistimings on Liquid’s end.
Before any of this, Stewie2K talks about being tired.
“Being on the road all the time takes a big toll on you, mentally and physically as well,” he says in his pre-game interview with Freya. For the team, this has all been a long time spent at the AWTF in Europe, away from home, grinding professional CS even in their time off.
The player cams seem to tell a similar story. Even in the wins, pop-offs seem rare in the TL camp. For the most part, the players look worn out and stressed.
On the FaZe end. Olof looks loose and energetic—the match holding very little stakes for a one-tournament stand-in who has no legacy to lose.
In the end, Team Liquid claws back a solid 11 rounds but there’s a tilting nature not only to their losses but their wins. There’s a weirdly brutal stretch between round 9 and 12 where TL is poised to swing the momentum but these small accidents add up to give FaZe a way back in.
Round 9 opens with FalleN immediately getting awped just out of the spawn by broky. Despite that deficit, TL makes a great call, moving up Long and catching FaZe out of position. Coldzera misses a crucial molotov, Stewie hits a crucial shot, and TL has the round won. Ever the momentum player, Stewie tries to ride that hot streak and get one more kill on the way out.
This is where things get weird. Stewie loses enough HP to die to the bomb and as he does, he hurls the awp to Grim, hoping to save the very expensive gun. The explosion blows the bomb all the way to the back of the map where Grim is a slim second away from picking it up. NAF dropped as well, meaning Team Liquid’s economy isn’t as strong as it ought to be. They don’t have the money for a new awp and take a timeout, likely to talk economy and awp-less strategy.
Liquid still has an economy advantage in the next round and is in a decent spot to break FaZe’s bank. Stewie nearly manages to break FaZe by himself, with a clever forward position that catches FaZe off guard and gets a clean kill. Against most players, Stewie would have the double. However, Twistzz, backpedals at just the right time, ducks and weaves as Stewie tries to swing out, and then one taps his former teammate.
Team Liquid still wins this round but this kill matters a lot because Twistzz takes the AK-47 from Stewie and carries it into the next round where FaZe should be flat broke.
In the next round, Team Liquid takes the same approach up Long, only a lot faster this time. Taking advantage of their haste, broky slips into a weird spot just outside the smoke and lines up two headshots with a pistol. Despite the brutal entry, NAF equalizes and brings it to a two-on-two. Unfortunately, one of those two is Twistzz, who uses Stewie’s AK to spray through the smoke and win the round.
This should have been a 3 round swing for TL that tied up the scoreline. Instead, it’s a series of mistakes, of lost duels, of reads that brings momentum back to FaZe. Worse yet, it’s all centered around Twistzz.
Despite the momentum-killer, the team does find rounds against FaZe in what’s a decently competitive match. If things go differently, if Team Liquid is just that bit more on, if FaZe is that bit more off, then who knows how the momentum goes on what is a very momentum-heavy map?
It’s part of what makes Dust2 one of CS’s most entertaining and infuriating maps. It’s also part of a mental battering that’s going to make the 16-1 loss possible.
Go ahead and toss out all the pictures with Twistzz. This one’s a heartbreaker.
Team Liquid heads into Nuke already beleaguered. Every other shot from FaZe is a headshot. Most people expect Team Liquid to win this, especially after a surprisingly strong performance in the BLAST Global Finals. It’s been a long European tour where there’s a lot less to do outside of the game than there normally would be.
Despite the fatigue, Team Liquid comes in strong and decisive. They storm the A-site very quickly in the first pistol round and catch FaZe dozing at the wheel. They set up strong positions and force a retake which gets shut down almost immediately via Stewie covering the players dropping in from Heaven.
With just a boxed-in ColdZera left, it should be one easy kill into an easy eco round. And yet, nothing’s gonna come easy for Team Liquid.
Team Liquid comes in one-by-one, late to flank, late to trade, jittery in the movements. ColdZera takes four kills and $1200 at the end of a round where he probably should’ve gotten nothing at all.
That extra $1200 will help the team buy utility, a Scout (less powerful sniper), desert eagles, and go into the next round on a stronger force buy.
But the main damage isn’t economic—it’s mental. $1200 doesn’t mean as much as four separate players losing a pistol duel in a row right after they got outdueled on Dust2. It’s less about actually breaking FaZe’s back and more about failing the back breaker again. You can feel that frustration in Stewie unloading on his former teammate’s body at the end of the round.
This is our 1.
Up next are 16 straight rounds where it feels like FaZe have a vacation home inside the team’s head. In a lot of these rounds, FaZe pushes into very forward positions that Liquid don’t see coming. They use these forward positions both to grab info and to make hard reads on the moves TL usually likes to make on Nuke. They’re positioning aggressively and they’re hitting near every shot they need to, completely stymying any flow Liquid could find.
It starts as early as FaZe’s eco on round 2.
Rain moves inside Mini, covering the door with a desert eagle. This position isn’t insanely aggressive but plenty of teams would prefer to sit back and hold the A-site itself or try to pick a kill off outside by sniping from Garage. Broky does hold Garage as well, which will matter later.
Rain’s spot is particularly good against Liquid because the team likes to take executes on the upper end of Nuke and to use them as potential ways to force quickly into Mini. Where he stands, he can see the shadows of the TL players coming as they swing around and he lines up a clean headshot on Stewie.
Because Broky threw a grenade from Garage earlier, Elige assumes the shot came from there, turns away from rain, and dies as well. This puts pressure on Grim to flank rain and trade. However, Twistzz reads this, moves up through Vent, and headshots Grim.
In this first battle, FaZe is really good about creating tricky situations like these and pushing forward into territory where Liquid isn’t used to being contested. They do it again in the very next round, where Twistzz swings out wide and clears Stewie out. It’s an especially meaningful kill since Stewie is one of two players who has a gun—not a pistol.
Liquid read correctly that this means FaZe probably doesn’t have as much presence towards B and they rotate that way. However FaZe responds just as correctly, moving their team down. While retreating into the site, Olof cleverly shoots a window, both allowing his team to more easily climb into the site and faking Team Liquid out, forcing them to slow down and check the angle. That will give more time for Twistzz and rain to arrive and prevent Team Liquid from even planting the bomb on the B-site.
(Click image for a streamable with the outside shutdowns)
This is how much of the map goes. FaZe reads where Liquid will be, they counter-position, and they hit the shots they need in order to win the round. Several times, those counter-positions are closer to T-side territory than you’d normally see and it plainly catches Team Liquid off guard.
Twistzz clearly understands the specific routes that Team Liquid likes to take into the power plant and he holds a lot of specific to call out these rotations and get free kills. In round 5, he’s sitting near CT Spawn ready to catch Elige going into spawn. In round 6 he tucks into a cubby by silo, forming a triangle of angles that completely obliterate TL’s push. In round 12, he not only calls out a classic TL Nuke strat of falling off the roof of Mini but puts a molotov right where Stewie will land.
(Gor an even deeper look into the moves on round 6 and 12, I’d recommend this video from NartOutHere.)
Just by having Twistzz on the lineup, FaZe wins the battle over asymmetric information. They know what TL will do much, much better than TL knows what FaZe will do. Even when Twistzz’s outside positions don’t lead to kills (and they usually do), they often get info that’s as good as cash.
Team Liquid leaves an unfortunate hole in the wall of smokes, showing that they’re headed towards the B-site. They might’ve gotten lucky enough for it to go unnoticed, but Twistzz is out on Heaven and calls the movement out to broky, who immediately gets an opening awp kill.
While Team Liquid struggles to adapt to Twistzz, FalleN struggles to adapt to Nuke. Nearly any stat you can think of, he’s on the bottom of the board for it. Given that the whole team is collapsing and FalleN is the newest member, that shouldn’t be surprising.
Still, his rotations routinely feel a second or two slow and in the world of professional CS a second or two off of a missed timing can cost the round. Olofmeister, on the other hand, knows Nuke much better (2,137 rounds played vs. FalleN’s 891) and even manages to hold some odd lurking angles that exploit FalleN’s own lack of experience.
This is particularly rough since one of FalleN’s strongest skills is in awping, something that’s hard to do without knowing the map’s more commonly populated angles. In Nuke especially it’s tricky, since the map is so wide and has so many nooks, crannies, and passageways. Against a FaZe that’s shooting lights out, it’s even trickier.
New team, unfamiliar map, red-hot aimers popping off, It’s a lot of new info to stack on any player’s mind and it leads to one of the worst performances the team has seen in a minute.
The mental stack
Things are about to get much, much better for Liquid but to understand why, it’s important to understand the mental stack.
This term is exactly what it sounds like: it’s the stack of things that your brain is actively dealing with in a given scenario. It’s used a lot in the world of fighting games to describe how decisions get more difficult with added factors and easier with added experience.
For example, if you jump into a new moba or fighting game, you have a large and mostly unsorted mental stack. The more complex the game, the more factors you have to consider and the taller the stack. The more experience you have, the more you simply and sometimes instinctively know how to deal with these factors. You may struggle to deal with the first three-hit passive you run into in League of Legends, but by the 50th you get the picture.
The mental stack applies to any competition but especially to a fast-paced and well-established one like Counter Strike. Even younger competitors like Twistzz or Grim have been playing the game for years and it’s why they can make sharp and difficult shots look borderline guaranteed.
For a new player, the mental stack would be overloaded with quick, small decisions like where to place the reticle, when to look for the peak, what angles to check, when to crouch, when to shimmy, spray patterns on this or that gun, and so on. The professionals spent thousands of hours sorting each factor out individually until they could isolate the situation down to just the factors they need to focus on.
At the highest level, every competitor will manage their mental stack. At the same time, every competitor will disrupt their opponents’ process by adding more shit to deal with.
The mental stack plays out very directly in the war over Nuke.
FaZe got that 16-1 in part because of a big difference in the mental stacks of the two teams. FaZe came in already knowing many of TL’s strategies and how to call many of them out. The new FaZe players - Twistzz and olof - came in knowing the map much better than the new TL player - FalleN. The new FaZe team came in loose and still honeymooning, while Team Liquid fell right back into high expectations.
Obviously, everyone on Team Liquid will cut down their mental stack with practice and preparation. They’ll come in with counter-strats, footage of older FaZe lineups, and so on. But this info doesn’t rival what Twistzz has on them, especially because this new FaZe lineup is very fresh and isn’t as easy to scout.
Curiously, the stratbooks and the scrim blocks aren’t the only part of overloading that mental stack. Hell, they may not even be the main part.
Talent overwhelming will overload even the most prepared players, especially really dynamic talent. 2007 Super Smash Bros. Melee had a great example of this.
In 2007, Joseph “Mang0” Marquez was Melee’s most dynamic talent. At the time, Mew2King was Melee’s overall best player in large part because he had an insane mental stack. Mew2King likely knew the game better than anyone on the planet, to the point that he personally supplied some of the most reliable frame data and guides at that time in Melee’s history.
A lot of players called him “The Robot” because of his insanely optimal, data-driven, strategic style. It seemed he had ever interaction labbed out and worked into a flow chart, playing to a level of preparation that many Smash players hadn’t seen before.
Mang0 is an insanely disruptive player who—like Kobe—can surpass defensive tactics that seem like they should work. When Mang0 met Mew2King at Evo 2007, he won in what was a huge upset because he overloaded the robot.
Mang0 knew Jigglypuff’s rest hitbox better than anyone at the time and used it more aggressively and consistently than anyone. He did the same with Puff’s bonkers aerial mobility, swimming around Mew2king’s air space with movement too ambiguous to fit into a flowchart. Even with a near-perfect knowledge of the game, there’s a certain level of skill you can’t account for.
Most of FaZe’s players have that level of skill in CS:GO, but Twistzz especially can heat up like a sun and completely overload the enemy team. And yet, as in basketball, as in Melee, as in CS:GO - everyone is beatable. In team games especially, it’s about seeing what they did to overload you and readying for that as much of that as you can.
Sometimes it’s enough and sometimes it isn’t quite.
The rematch comes in the lower bracket of Blast Spring. Team Liquid doesn’t ban Nuke even though Faze has now beaten NaVi there as well. On face, that may seem brash but now the information pendulum swings back into TL’s favor. They have two very recent matches to look at.
They’re also coming in revitalized, gaining confidence in the most Liquid way possible: by pummelling MIBR. (We’ve won 10 sets in a row against them over the last year and a half or so.)
The confidence and knowledge radiate pretty quickly into the second bout on Nuke. Though they lose the first 2 rounds to FaZe, it’s not so much for want of strategy or mentality as it is just losing a few key duels and some slightly twitchy decision-making. Particularly, TL probably wins round 2 on an eco if Grim doesn’t pick up a rifle prematurely.
Team Liquid’s mentality looks a lot better as they go down 2-0 and respond by playing with more confidence and aggression. Like they’re pulling pages straight from FaZe’s book, they put FalleN way forward in round 3, in an unconventional all-or-nothing spot that provides great vision at the cost of poor cover. FalleN takes advantage with a crisp double-awp opening.
Already, it’s a better play than anything the veteran awper had in the 16-1 rout and that’s not even counting the immediate rotation FalleN makes to Ramp. That rotation lets him catch Olof trying to throw a grenade, get a third kill, and shut down FaZe’s second entry attempt. It’s a flawless first round win for Liquid—worlds away from the messy quad kill they fed coldzera before.
FalleN clearly knows the map—and the opponent—better now. Liquid continues to push forward, holding higher-risk spots that end up yielding very high rewards. These tricky outside spots aren’t far from the ones FaZe held against them and similarly, they catch vulnerabilities in FaZe’s movements.
(Click image for a streamable highlighting TL’s more aggressive positions)
The changes to the gameplan are enough to purchase Liquid a 5 round hot streak early into the match but not enough to win them their CT-side. Watch their play closely and the overload shows. The fatigue of the European journey, the weight of thoughts stacked on thoughts, the battle to adapt to new players coming in and old players coming for you—all of it shows.
It’s in these little mistakes and these missed duels that talented teams will not grant you. Elige misses the barrel of broky’s gun jutting from the corner and he eats a headshot instead of getting to collapse on the rest of FaZe. Team Liquid miscommunicates on who should watch Hut or Stewie simply turns to late, giving FaZe a key entry into A. Twistzz ducks Stewie’s AK spray to get a headshot, then Grim waffles for a second too long again on which side of the A-site to check.
(Click image for a streamable of some key mistakes)
It’s a much more valiant showing, mentally resilient showing, but it’s still hard. That stack is still immense and the seemingly endless hero plays from Twistzz only adds to the difficulty. Team Liquid drops 4 rounds in a row as FaZe counter TL’s outside aggression and simply win a lot of duels, making TL much more hesitant across the board.
Not folding this time, Grim manages to hold onto an awp with a quad kill of his own, which sets TL up into getting a nice half-buy win right before switching to the less-favored T-side.
The T-side—and overtime—get very messy but take a similar direction. Liquid comes in with good adjustments. They’re wise to the tricky spots that FaZe want to hold and they check these spots or are ready to trade out players if they don’t.
They’re also more confident and less linear in the way they play. They’re switching up the timings on rushes and slow pushes and using the smoke wall to cross into Secret more effectively. They take much bigger risks and those risks pay off - the best example being FalleN running and jumping across a molotov to plant the bomb just seconds before the time runs out.
(Click image for a streamable featuring TL’s strong T-side)
It’s much harder for FaZe to counter Team Liquid this time and when FaZe wins, TL is fighting back. The problem is, FaZe are fighting just as hard and they seem lighter and faster on their feet. Just like in the CT half, TL gets a commanding lead off of a hot streak only to lose it to a FaZe hot streak.
FaZe makes TL work for every round and it’s exhausting to a team that already looks tired. The FaZe team is calling out Liquid’s angles, Broky is clipping people by tracing their grenade arcs, Twistzz is turning around TL-favored rounds, and these tiny missed timings from TL have to have eaten a handful rounds in a map that goes into double overtime.
(Click image for a streamable featuring FaZe’s retaliation)
FaZe win the war of attrition and get a huge momentum swing heading into the second map, where they’ll win in a decisive 16-6.
Still, Liquid cleaned up considerably across the board. Sure, they had to endure the wrath of their Canadian ex - a literal top 10 CS:GO player - but at the end of the day, this loss was hard-fought and as much due to a random savant performance from a retired legend as from Twistzz.
Rough as losing in double OT is, the second battle for Nuke wasn’t a heartbreak or a mental collapse but the process of moving on.
If you’re Team Liquid, the real value of playing 42 rounds of Nuke against a really good Nuke team is that FalleN’s going to learn a whole lot very quickly.
He was showing growth on the map even while the second bout was still going. His forward push out of Garage in round 35 was a pretty savvy moment of combat awping. It’s hard to imagine he knows to look for that opportunity if he hadn’t seen so many outside crosses.
By the time IEM Katowice rolls around, FalleN is also taking on a much bigger role in the team in general. He’s now the primary in-game leader (IGL) for the team and handles most of the shotcalling, along with some help from Stewie, who had the job prior. Since TL assigned a new IGL, who is the least familiar with the team and map, it would have been reasonable to see them avoid Nuke against FaZe or simply lose the map.
However, letting FalleN take the lead has some surprising advantages. By committing to the new flame, Team Liquid is managing their mental stack.
FalleN may have entered the team stating that he wasn’t looking to be the IGL, but taking the role on does mean that he can route more of the communication through himself. Since he has to learn the team’s structure and the team’s map pool, he’s also not taking on as much extra strain as it might first appear. As a historically great IGL, FalleN isn’t learning the role either, just how to fit that role in the team.
Stewie is an experienced IGL as well but there’s debate over if this shoe fits or if he’s been forced to wear it. As a player, Stewie has the insane CSIQ of a great IGL but he also thrives off of a dynamism, aggression, and momentum that the IGL usually doesn’t get to have.
Burdened with the calls and the comms, IGLs tend to sacrifice individual performance for sake of the team. In the days when Nitr0 led the team, you’d often see him pull off clutches as the last man standing because without any teammates to call for, his mind became free to focus on individual play.
Stewie2K’s focus now becomes much clearer and more fitting to his style. He can put more of his mind to dynamic entries and pushes and deliver the clutch rounds he’s known for.
FaZe made their own IGL shift going into part 3 of the Nuke war, replacing stand-in Olofmeister with legendary IGL Karrigan. A number of analysts expected FaZe to instantly improve under Karrigan, since it’s pretty common for the IGL to immediately level-up the teams he joins. After the first map, it’s clear TL is the team that’s leveled up.
Liquid wins 11-16 on Mirage. While respectable, 11 rounds isn’t necessarily a close fight and the map felt fairly Liquid favored.
However, Nuke is morer FaZe’s map and one of CS’s more intricate maps. So Nuke should be where FaZe and Karrigan shine. Initially, they do.
FaZe puts up 3 straight rounds and then a 4th right after Liquid battles back in. Some of these losses have to be tilting too. Losing raw aim battles that FaZe excels at, getting completely snuck up on while you’re trying to save, broky literally closing the door on the round - all tilters.
(Click image for a streamable of the TL tilter reel)
This time, Liquid doesn’t look rattled. Far from it, from here Team Liquid will go 15-2. This includes a whopping 9 round win streak that continued past the side swap - a moment that can boils things back down the pistols and can let the momentum reset.
The team’s mental stack is obviously better, partially because the novelty of facing Twistzz on Nuke has worn off, partially because Olofmeister isn’t dropping 30+ kills in the server like it’s 2015, and partially because of lineup switches and the extra time FalleN got with Liquid and with Nuke.
That time was just as quality for Grim as it was for FalleN. These two players saw meteoric growth in their stats. FalleN in particular going from the lowest performance rating in bout 1 to the third highest in bout 2 to a gorgeous 2.11 rating in bout 3. That’s a full .6 better than the second best performer, Grim.
FalleN comes in the third match looking like he’s gained a much deeper understanding of the map’s angles. You can see how much he’s improved in a laundry list of ways. His angles and positioning around the vent is almost prescient, covering the exits FaZe players would try to use to get out of a lost round alive and salvage some economy.
His awp shots are much more cleverly placed and particularly good at catching the follow-up player who would try to spring on him while he reloads. He’s also playing with much more confidence, swinging into players and winning duels.
One of the biggest parts of his success comes from just going for limbs and body shots. As a map, Nuke gets a lot harder when a team has an awper who knows angles so well that they can spot and hit the limbs of the enemy as they pass through. These kinds of shots either catch a player before they could turn to duel or as they’re retreating for cover.
Nuke has so many of these tricky angles and hallways that nailing a shoulder around a turn is huge. It’s part of why Nuke is so core for prime NaVi and Astralis - the map sets S1mple and Dev1ce up to awp the lights out. FalleN reminds FaZe that he’s an awp legend too, netting 7 first kills and 126 ADR.
(Click image for que ota?)
Grim has some remarkable stats as well with 94.8 ADR, 21 kills, and an insane 100% KAST. KAST indicates when a player got a kill, assist, survived, or was traded out in a round. This meant Grim didn’t lose any foolish duels and found something to do in almost every round. In the realm of the eye test, Grim looked much more confident and steady.
Gone are the twitchy, nervous plays of those post-breakup BLAST days. In a very direct comparison, you can see Grim hold the same position behind the silos on the A-site but this time, he hard commits to swinging one side or the other. This confidence makes a major difference as he quickly clears angles and prevents the pincers that killed him before.
It’s worth noting, Stewie is a massive part in Grim’s - and really, the team’s success. Grim and Stewie form a duo that communicate pretty seamlessly and trade each other out very well. In map 3, Stewie played in the fearless way he’s known for, throwing his body around corners for kills, trades, or even just for information. The selfless offense helps the whole team to get going, but Grim in particular.
(Click image for the Grim highlight reel)
As a unit, TL looks much more unified and ready for what FaZe has to offer.
TL makes FaZe’s prior aggressive outside holds unsafe with callouts on those spots. They take a much better bead on when FaZe will switch up their strategies, predicting A-rushes and slower movements towards B or around Heaven. Elige also takes even more unique forward positions to sneak around smokes and find early kills, all while minding the angles that killed him before.
They also play around FaZe’s aim-gods by ducking and weaving to deny the headshot while someone else follows up, or by moving more tightly in tandem so that the trade comes faster and there’s less room for disaster.
Liquid’s feints are much stronger too because they’re significantly more committal. The team will dump serious utility into selling an approach on one site, then hitting the other.
Combine all these things together and you’re also getting a team that’s overall more effective but particularly at the anti-eco. Team Liquid shuts FaZe out on the pistol and eco rounds and that’s a big deal. Those momentum-stealing rounds in Dust2? They don’t happen when FaZe is so shut down that they don’t even have desert eagles, let alone rifles.
It’s doubly important against infuriating talents like Twistzz. Denying him any chance to hold a rifle is like if you could take away the short hop from Mang0.
The 6-16 revenge on Nuke could as well be the cherry on the top of Liquid’s much more notable IEM Katowice run. They made it to the semis with wins over NaVi and Vitality as well. However, that moment on Nuke feels a touch special because it’s powered by direct growth in the team’s two new members.
What more a sign is there that it’s time to move on? Twistzz is in a FaZe jersey and Nitr0 is in another game. Time to put FalleN and Grim right into that heart-shaped locket.
What’s the score?
6,000 words about Nuke, Team Liquid, and FaZe, we come to a final question: What’s the score? What’s it all mean?
Nominally, nothing more than a matchup between two high level CS teams.
Emotionally, to me at least, it’s a reason to love the game on the whole. The adaptations, the counter-strategies, the wide web of relationships, the deep reads on players and teams, the losses, the victories, the incredible thought that can go into just one map versus one team. The love and the heartbreak. That’s some good Counter Strike.
In the war over Nuke, you can see all of that out bare and in the open. It’s pretty exciting because it all applies far beyond Nuke, FaZe, and even Liquid. Between now and then, CIS teams burst into the online era at IEM Katowice, Virtus.Pro knocking TL out convincingly in the Semis and setting up for a CIS final. And yet, at EPL Season 13, the counters that came for FaZe’s 16-1 came for Virtus.Pro too, Team Liquid winning 2-0 in groups.
The mental stack is usually smaller when you’re the dark horse that’s hit its stride. When you’re the stallion that grand slammed the world in record time, then you feel the weight of expectation and the strife of everyone strategizing for you specifically. What’s your score then? Where is the love and where is the heartbreak then?
That’s the endless question, one especially exciting now, in an online era where there’s no king - just a throne full of hard L’s and brutal roster changes. Maybe even more so for two teams like FaZe and Liquid: major names in the scene, both with their inconsistencies, both with a lot to prove.
Right now, the score for Nuke is 2-1 in FaZe’s favor. To even get the chance to run Nuke back with FaZe, Liquid has to run through a bracket featuring the rising CIS stars in Team Spirit and an even larger rival in Astralis. They’ve got to do all that at the BLAST Showdown this week and even after that, much will depend on the bracket.
Assuming the stars and the seeds align, then the Nuke war continues. How it goes depends on every little factor: The mental stack, eco-round momentum, FalleN as IGL and Nuke player, Grim’s confidence, Stewie’s fluidity, Karrigan’s counter-counter-strats, love, heartbreak, aim - the whole shebang.
Or maybe one team bans it and next time it’s 6,000 words on Overpass. Either way, it’s exciting to watch and even more exciting to feel.
Writer // Austin R. Ryan
Graphics // Zack Kiesewetter