Liquid in Valorant: The Full Timeline (ft. Sliggy)
Let the record show, Team Liquid entered Valorant on August 7th, 2020.
Then, let the record go. To understand Team Liquid’s time in Valorant means taking things past announcements, contracts, and ledgers - past all the branches and into the root. Into the UK’s long-struggling Counter-Strike scene, into Liquid’s longtime rival in the tactical FPS, into a goofy name that’s been around longer than most esports careers:
[2007-2019] UK Counter-Strike
“The earliest I came aware of it, was probably 2009? No, maybe even earlier than that, maybe 2007* - around there.” Sliggy draws the words out slowly, relying on memories of Counter-Strike Source which are now ancient in the rapidly evolving world of esports.
He’s talking about his first run-in with the name Fish123. Memey as the name sounds, it carries meaning in a UK CS scene that’s often taken the piss out of the esport that the self-serious Nords and French dominate.
“The current coach of Fnatic - Keita - [Fish123] would be his go-to name if we was gonna make a mix team.** Or if we couldn’t get an organization [to sponsor us] for a LAN tournament. There was always a good group of UK players that were pretty talented and we’d always [use that name]. Cause we didn’t play enough to be in an organization and we kind of did it for fun, but we were still pretty good and we could get good results.”
“We recruited anyone that was good, that was teamless, and could play in these tournaments.” If you follow EU Valorant closely, you’ll know some of these recruits: Boaster, Mini, Stanley, tsack, Weber, Frei, Ardiis, ec1s, L1nk, Soulcas, Kryptix, Sliggy, the list goes on.***
“As long as I was in the team, or if Keita was in the team, or if our manager Eamon was in the team, we all had permission to use [the name]. I made sure I asked Jamie,” Sliggy clears his throat, “sorry, Keita, his permission if we could use it. ”
For Sliggy, Fish123 was both a fixture in his scene and his social life. Many of the names from those days are still friends and colleagues. 2/3rds of that founding trio are alive in Liquid now, with Eamon working alongside Sliggy as the team’s manager.
That motley, communal feeling lives on as well, with Eamon popping into the staff slack to announce games on broadcast or even run a thread of live round updates on the qualifier matches that don’t reach the broadcast. (Radio Valorant, host Eamon Drea). That motley crew did well enough that Fish123 evolved beyond fun and games and into esport.
“It started out as a memey thing for sure and then, in Counter-Srike: Source, we started getting results. We started winning some events with it and then we were like ‘maybe we actually save this name for when we’re sure that we’re gonna at least do well.’”
*The details are ancient enough that they take corroborating. Eamon, via asking Keita, tells me the team began in 2009. The name used to be Keita’s password, until he accidentally typed it into the team/username field. **A mix team is a group of players informally creating a team, often a bit before an event or qualifier. *** If you want more background on these names or the UK scene, I strongly recommend Yinsu Collins’ feature on Upcomer.
[April 24th 2020 - June 14th 2020] Best in the beta
In Valorant, Fish123 was at first a continuation of its CS identity: a mix team featuring some of the best talent in the British Isles. Initially, this was ec1s, Ardiis, Kryptix, L1nk, and Soulcas. Sliggy has planned to enter Valorant as a player but seeing that 5 of his region’s best players had already formed up, he made his first foray into coaching instead.
Sliggy may have been old guard and Fish123 may have had a memetic legacy but he and the entire team wanted to be more than a continuation.
“I’m down to do the coaching,” Sliggy said to the team, “as long as everyone takes this fully seriously. As in, I give us all a schedule, everyone’s here, people aren’t late.”
“The big problem with the UK is just the mentality, no one treats it seriously. I needed to make sure that I was only committing time as long as they were all [doing] the same as well. We’re all in this together, kind of thing.”
It took close to no time for Fish123 to become more parts evolution than continuation. The team was close to unstoppable in the early beta, winning 8 of their first 9 tournaments.* While the beta was undoubtedly less competitive than EU Valorant is now, it was still no easy scene. Ninjas in Pyjamas entered very early and mix teams like StartedFromCS and Prodigy held newly hungry old school legends (ScreaM, Ex6TenZ) as well as rising stars like (Mixwell, Draken, Davidp, Yacine).
Much of Fish123’s early identity - and early success - came from innovation as well as hard work. “When we did the first week, I was putting in honestly between 16 to 18 hours a day and I was giving them all the lineups really early,” Sliggy says.
The innovations Sliggy brought to the team came less from the keyboard and more from the camera. To this day, Sliggy’s biggest impact on the tactical FPS scene wasn’t as player or coach, but observer. His work managing the in-game camera in CS was revolutionary, some regarding him as one of the GOAT observers. He happened to do his best observing during the peak of one of CS’s greatest strategic teams.
“CS kind of didn’t get treated properly until Astralis started using utility right. I just learned a lot of stuff from how people approached CS and took a lot of notes from that. [...] In my head, it kind of just triggered, these guys [Astralis] got it. They sussed it out. This is how the game should be played. Valorant is just [like] that.”
Sliggy does not take all credit for the team’s early strategic brilliance - nor should he. The entire team has a consistent identity around innovation and experimentation. The entire team spent hours labbing things in customs and didn’t fear executing on weird ideas in scrims.
Soulcas ranked highly as one of the best players overall, as well as one of the best Raze players (later becoming one of the best to play Skye as well). Kryptix similarly was hailed as the world’s best Cypher in the early days. As the team’s shot caller, ec1s was a leading voice in a lot of regards and a regular on Valorant’s talk shows and interviews.
Then, there was Ardiis’s Jett. Regarded as one of the weakest agents in the game during the beta, Ardiis identified the Jett + Operator combination very early and showed how suffocating it could be at the top level.
“It felt crazy strong. [...] I’m pretty confident we were the first team to use it,” Sliggy says of the Jett + Operator combo. “That was honestly more Ardiis. I was on the same wavelength as everyone else, I didn’t think it was that good.”
Those innovative beta days would lay the foundation the team would build on as they became Liquid. “I gave a lot of people freedom. We tried so much random stuff in practice.” Sliggy’s words go half under his breath for a second, “People must have thought we were trolling a lot.”
A troll pick for some players in the beta, Ardiis’s Jett may still be Liquid’s biggest innovation (kind of hard to top that). Ardiis was not only an innovator but a glue player who helped the team’s social cohesion. Come July, and a big offer from G2, Ardiis would also become one of the team’s biggest challenges.
* Data taken from Liquipedia. It’s possible there are gaps here, especially given how helter-skelter the beta ages of games can be.
[July 3rd 2020 - February 24th 2021] Ardiis departs, Liquid enters, the ScreaM show starts
“I actually wanted to do a full contract where no one could leave and no one could get poached but we didn’t get into that because I thought there was a big, good trust with all of us that we could do it. But I wasn’t expecting the numbers that G2 came with to poach Ardiis.”
Just a few months into a game that was itself still in beta, it’s hard to blame Sliggy for the misread. Sliggy notes that it was equally hard when faced with a tier 1 contract, to blame Ardiis for leaving Fish123.
“When it’s life-changing amounts [of money], you have to see it from everyone’s individual standpoint. Yeah, I don’t blame him. It was something I thought would happen but maybe not as soon and not to the extent that it was moneywise.”
G2 was one of the first orgs to empty the wallet for Valorant and it did pay off - resulting in a hegemonic run in late 2020. G2’s success only meant Fish123 was in an even rougher patch. Now they were without a top player who doubled as a glue player and they were left to face a powerful new rival.
To fill the void, the team shopped two options: Smooya - a player who currently looks to be one of the best UK players in modern CS. And ScreaM - the headshot machine who had been reborn in Valorant and posed a constant challenge to Fish123’s reign in the beta.
“Ardiis was a big part of us, he was our Jett main, our hyper-carry. I knew that we needed someone similar. I never wanna put a foot back, I always wanna be going forward. So there was literally 2 people I believed were better than Ardiis at the time.”
“Smooya, dude this guy loves CS, so it just didn’t feel right. We tried it with ScreaM, he really connected with the team. [...] The fact that he got on with everyone was the main point so that was good enough for us.”
“That was the main thing about Fish123, right? At least everyone had known each other for like 3-4 years and some of the others (like me and Kryptix) coming up to like 10 years or something like that. There’s always such a giant friendship there and it was always one of our biggest strong points. If I could get firepower as an upgrade from Ardiis and keep [everyone] friends - that was the main goal.”
On the new Fish123, ScreaM would not only become a friend but a focal point. In the initial month or two with ScreaM, the team dipped slightly in performance - both as a response to teams like G2 forming and to finding a new style with a new star. They quickly found they had the most success when they put that star at the center of their system.
“I like to hyperfocus on a lot of stuff,” Sliggy notes, “during that period we kind of hyperfocused on setting ScreaM up. We had a tournament where he was on Jett and ec1s and was Breach and honestly, all we were doing is he would have a pocket breach that would just flash him around corners, so he could dash on people.”
“Our whole gameplan was just focusing heavy on getting this guy to get 30-40 kills every single game. Everyone was essentially just a support player. And it worked.”
“I saw a lot of the criticism about ‘The ScreaM Show’ but honestly it was pretty accurate. That was how we felt - at the time - we needed to win games.” Shortly after picking up ScreaM, the team would have all the more pressure to win, because they were signed by Team Liquid. Joining the top org, Sliggy and Eamon went as far as to sit down with the team, discuss direction, and choose between reaching for the top or staying something of an underdog band of friends. The team collectively chose to reach for the top.
Liquid did reach quite far, winning games, and giving ScreaM perhaps the best numbers in his career in the tactical FPS (which is saying something for a player who has ranked in the top 10 in CS). However, much akin to ScreaM’s CS teams, Liquid lacked that little bit needed to win big events.
“It worked,” Sliggy stresses, readying to drop the other shoe, “but in terms of consistency, I don’t think it was best. But I think it was really integral that we did to know that we could have that kind style of play. Then we slowly shifted into giving some other people a bit more freedom.”
Over-indexing on one style and one player means betting everything on one lodestone and hoping it holds the weight every time. One bad day, one dud performance, even one duel going the wrong way - it could wrench up Liquid’s works entirely.
This became all too clear at First Strike Europe, where the team fell in the quarter-finals to a red-hot Team Heretics - the eventual tournament winners. Liquid played Heretics incredibly close, bringing them to their only overtime of the tournament. In the end, Heretics simply had more cylinders to fire on and a more consistent approach to the game.
The team shifted focus coming into Red Bull Home Ground, enabling Soulcas to frag, entry, and dictate the game more on Raze. ScreaM slipped from a ludicrous 352 ACS/map, 29.6 kills/map to a more reasonable 265 ACS, 21 kills, while Soulcas and L1nk both rose in stats. The result was much closer, with Liquid beating Guild, SUMN FC (soon to be Fnatic), and just narrowly losing to G2 in game 5.
[March - May 2021] Bitter goodbyes and scaling new heights.
However, Team Liquid wasn’t the only team that was improving. With more orgs entering the arena and more rosters finding their footing, the competition had only intensified. Following Home Ground, Liquid would lose in two separate qualifiers. First, to their bracket demon, FPX, and then to an Alliance that had suddenly hit peak form and would go on to beat G2.
It may have been bad bracket luck but it was also a sign that Liquid was out of step with a meta that they had accidentally created.
Was a part of [bringing on Jamppi], literally just, we need an Op-er [sniper]?
“Honestly, yeah. We trialed JuGi [a prominent CS AWPer] just to see Jett-Operator. [...] We didn’t have a primary Op-er in the team, so I just needed to see, do we need it? It felt like it would carry other teams. [...] Even though JuGi hadn’t played [Valorant] too much, I could see the potential. That’s when we were like, ‘Okay we need an Op player.’ ”
Since Ardiis first popularized the Jett+Op combo, it has increasingly become a necessity in Valorant, despite Riot’s best efforts to rein it in with repeated Jett nerfs. In early 2021, Liquid’s roster had 5 rifles, which almost necessitated a roster swap.
Eventually, Liquid would bench the longtime in-game leader and shot-caller, ec1s, for the Finnish wunderkind sniper, Jamppi. This was no easy decision, given ec1s was not only a leading voice but a founding team member.
“It sucked, man. It sucked. Me and Eamon spoke to him in the TeamSpeak. For a young guy, he’s so professional, he’s so understanding, but like I said we were all friends in this team. It’s something we knew we had to do.”
Part of the change came from the fact that Sliggy increasingly felt that Valorant could use a different style of shot-calling, where more voices contributed rather than having a set IGL. A mix of Valorant’s ability system and newer lifecycle (less established plays to memorize) pushed the team to create a calling system where Jamppi, Soulcas, and ScreaM will each call - often depending on the map, the stage of the game, or even who’s first to find a definite idea to pursue.
In this way, losing the IGL was rough but also a part of Liquid’s growth. Because Sliggy was an IGL and observer for much of his career, it felt easier for him to teach much of the team how to call than it did to teach them how to use the Operator. All the same, the team suffered heavily for the loss of ec1s initially. (For more info on Liquid’s calling style see this interview)
With Jamppi in the lineup, they would post some of their worst results thus far - falling to Rix and Guild early into two separate qualifiers. The growing pains sprang from multiple joints: For starters, losing ec1s also meant losing the team’s best Viper in a meta where the agent was a must-pick. Then, there was the fact that Jamppi was still learning the game.
“The main struggle with Jamppi was gauging the agents and how aggressive he should be - especially when he was on Jett. A lot of his decision-making was too aggressive, it didn’t have much thought behind it. It came down to time. The amount of time he’d spent on it before our first officials was maybe like a month.”
“And the biggest difference between this game and CS and why it’s harder for these players to learn is no in-game demos, right? No VOD reviews. It’s not like he can just sit down and watch a cNed video or like you would do in CS and just watch a ZywOo or s1mple video. You just have to watch a VOD and watch the minimap but every time you can’t really tell what’s going on because it’s only on one POV.”
“It’s really hard to digest the information and work out how you’re meant to be playing.”
Jamppi’s signature aggression could earn him legendary moments, but it could also get the entire team punished. As the team began to click, they’d qualify for Challengers 2 - a major regional event - and beat a number of strong teams like Alliance, NiP, and BDS along the way. However, Fnatic would shut Liquid down 3-1 by specifically targeting Jamppi, waiting for overextensions.
All, the same, give Sliggy the opportunity and he will praise Jamppi to the moon. For him, the young Finn hadn’t just replaced Ardiis on the Operator but as a motivator. In both comms and vlogs, there are so many moments where Jamppi keeps the energy high and is the first voice to hype a teammate up. (For more about Jamppi’s role as motivator, see this interview.)
In time, Jamppi and the team would improve enough to not only qualify for Valorant’s first international LAN - Masters Reykjavik - but win the EMEA regional event over Fnatic. On LAN, Liquid looked so good that they went into Reykjavik as one of a few favorites. In scrims, the story couldn’t have been more different.
[May - September 2021] New comms/burnout, bad practice, and brutal losses
“All of our practices when we actually got to Iceland - dude, we lost so many.” In reflection, Sliggy has sees humor in the scrim disasters. “Practices were not going well. Like at all. Even KRU esports and the Brazilian teams, they would play us and we were getting banged. We were literally losing every prac[tice].”
Despite the outright disastrous scrim results, the team projected a lot of confidence. In a press conference before the start of the tournament, ScreaM would admit the regions were close in skill but then go on to call Sentinels “predictable.” It’s almost necessary to have good humor now, given Sentinels won Reyjkavik without dropping a single game.
For Sliggy and Liquid, the goal became to stabilize morale before the event and learn as much as possible.
“We actually cut down our prac hours. We had been playing and practicing for so long that I think it was hard for us to get good prac, everyone’s mind was in a different area. [...] We started playing just Fnatic only on the LAN client.”
The result was that Liquid did defy the practice results, even if they didn’t meet press expectations. Placing 4th overall, the team had an upset loss to V1 where Sliggy credits the NA team for massively adapting their strategy. Then, a fairly close loss to Fnatic where he felt the team beat themselves.
“I think we did okay at Iceland. [...] I think we had been playing non-stop for so long. I think for how quick we were with Jamppi, we did well to qualify for Iceland. [...] With how newly formed we were, we weren’t too upset but we knew that we should’ve done better.”
Part of why the team had played non-stop and why they had burnout was that both ScreaM and Jamppi fundamentally changed how the team played: ScreaM becoming a focal point and then Jamppi becoming an aggressive sniper and additional play-caller. Growing pains meant qualifier losses, which mean playing in future qualifiers, and practicing for more events.
Around that period, Sliggy and Eamon both felt the quality of practice deteriorated along with player motivation. “Our practice was really bad. [...] We weren’t playing as much outside of the game. [...] Apart from maybe ScreaM looking questionable on KAY/0 - definitely wasn’t a good fit for him - everyone’s individual play wasn’t up to scratch.”
After a stern conversation, the team rallied, won the second qualifier, reaching the next big EMEA regional. Here, they would need a top 4 placing to make it to Masters Berlin - the next big international LAN. Since the team had a longheld goal to attend every international LAN that year, this regional had special meaning.
That meaning, an upset loss to NaVi in winners, and the seeding of the event would all congeal into what might be the most devastating loss in Liquid’s Valorant history.
Up 12-11 on Gambit, on the final map, L1nk very nearly wins the series by killing Chronicle as he plants the spike for Gambit. With a man advantage and both players isolated, the series looked like Liquid’s to lose.
As the round proceeds, Gambit’s star player, nAts, executes a near-perfect lurk that would win the round, tie the score and force overtime. Gambit would win the series, qualify for Berlin over Liquid, then go on to win both the EMEA regional and Berlin as a whole.
“Obviously we messed up the bracket where we lost to NaVi [in Winners], so that was our own fault. [But] to face Gambit so early, it felt a bit sour. I personally believed we were better than SMB and G2 and they had an easier run than us. To meet Gambit in the lower bracket in such a big, deciding match, was brutal,” Sliggy recounts.
“I believe us and them are the hardest working teams in Europe. I knew that whoever won that had the capability of winning the whole thing.”
In talking over the loss here and on social media, Sliggy has a different mood. There’s more a sadness than an anger, and more respect than criticism.
“It was like the first time where I’ve watched a game and I was like, ‘Yeah this could have gone either way.’ [...] This was honestly one of the only moments where I felt like the other team beat us instead of us beating ourselves.”
“I think it’s nice to know they won and we lost to the overall victors. [...] It’s at least good for the motivation, for the self-belief in the team.” Sliggy adds a silver-lining before pointing to the storm cloud. “But yeah, dude, watching Berlin from the sidelines was honestly heartbreaking. That loss to Gambit itself was so brutal. The week after that was... honestly it was horrible.”
“Watching Berlin, from the sidelines...” there’s a rueful sigh, “it was all really cruel, man.”
[Onward] Brothers and Champions
Part in parcel with that game being Liquid’s cruelest loss was that it was the team’s biggest motivation yet.
“Pretty much every player, and even me, felt like any extra small bit of change, could have changed the whole thing. I think that helps when we talk about putting in the extra hours. That one extra hour might make you hit that extra shot.”
A less expected benefit was that the team finally got a break from the game. Clocking out was especially crucial for Kryptix, who had personal issues looming over him since the beginning of the Berlin qualifiers.
“He had spoken before about taking time off. We, trying to qualify for Berlin, were like, ‘Well, we can’t. We don’t have the time to make any of these changes.’ Once we didn’t get to Berlin, we had a sit down and asked him, ‘What do you want? What do you need?’”
Kryptix would ultimately take a leave from the game, with ScreaM’s own younger brother - Nivera - coming in as a replacement. Another founding member, Kryptix’s departure was equally as personal as with ec1s but easier to swallow. “I’ve known him for like 10 years, so it felt weird, but I just wanted to do what was best for him, really. Same with him, he wanted to do what was best for the team. It actually wasn’t too bad.”
“Everyone has to put priorities first,” Sliggy now speaks as much as a friend as a coach. “I’m glad that he’s doing a lot better and I think the time for him was really good.”
Coincidentally, Nivera’s addition to the team was the smoothest yet. Though Nivera is ScreaM’s brother, the two have directly opposite playstyles. Where ScreaM is a rifler notorious for his aim and fragging, Nivera is a deeply versatile player who can snipe, rifle, use utility, and support very well.
Nivera’s run in CS was fairly successful too, at one point joining Vitality as a 6th man. His time in Vitality ended more to Valve ruling that removed the 6th man than anything related to Nivera. When he did join Liquid, he had played Valorant for longer than Jamppi had and also slotted in very directly to Kryptix’s role as a clutch, utility-heavy anchor.
Behind the scenes, the move felt even more natural than anticipated. “After the first conversation with him, I was just so pumped. So, nAts from Gambit, Nivera was talking about all of his YouTube and setups and stuff. He was asking me so many questions about how I VOD review and stuff like that.”
“Oh my god, this guy’s so keen. This is incredible, this is so perfect for us.”
The connection to ScreaM was an added bonus - more a fraternity than a rivalry. “Adil [ScreaM] was just super pumped about the idea. I’ve never seen Adil so excited about the idea of something.”
Nivera joined just in time for the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), a winner-take-all tournament where first place alone gets to go to Champions. Valorant’s biggest event, reaching Champions is the main goal of most teams. Even the regional LCQs were stacked with top teams, leaving Liquid to beat names like G2, Guild, SMB. With Nivera, they looked fully renewed.
Never dropping from the Winners side, Liquid won the tournament, lost two maps total, and unveiled a new strategy: Double Operators. The double AWP is fairly common in CS, where the AWP itself is stronger and there are more rounds to build economy. In Valorant, where the Op is more costly and usually most effective on Jett, most teams only employ one.
“I just like us having loads of options. If the money’s in a really good place and we think this is something that’s really strong for us, we’re gonna try and use it. [...] I’ve always wanted all our players to be super flexible so we can have so many styles to fall back on - and hopefully, to make us harder to play against.”
The double Op strategy worked as a brutal snowballing strategy against One Breath Gaming, with Liquid 13-0-ing the CIS squad on Ascent. L1nk - the team’s anchor and clutch player - had become more flexible as well - picking up Astra. The star-based sentinel is immensely hard to play but opens up a myriad of options and combos. Having played scarcely any Astra before, L1nk would play her on every map save one in the CQ.
At Red Bull Home Ground #2, the team’s growth only continued. Soulcas would pick up KAY/O and the team looked strong on Fracture - the newest map in the pool. Well ahead of the curve, Liquid looked even better at Home Ground #2.
Acend played a close Grand Finals with Liquid - but they otherwise looked unrivalled. With Home Ground #2 being so close to Champions, it’s an open question as to how hard any of the teams were trying. Many of them may have sandbagged, choosing to perform poorly here rather than reveal their hand going into Champions.
Regardless of what Home Ground #2 does or doesn’t tell us, Sliggy’s outlook has rarely been this sunny. I interviewed Sliggy following the LCQ victory and before Home Ground, while he was on break. It was the first I’ve heard of him taking one and the most optimistic I’ve seen him in an interview.
“Dude, we’re so - this is the most confident we’ve ever been. Honestly, the most confident that I’ve been. I’ve always felt like we could win one of the big LANs - especially Champions. I’m feeling really confident that we have a really good shot at it.”
Champions will likely be the hardest event Liquid has played in. The sweet honeymoon period that can come with a new player will be over by Champions as well. The trying period of international scrims hadn’t begun at the time of this interview, either. All the same, Sliggy is unbothered and full of belief.
“If we play our best game, I think we win for sure. It’s just whether we can show up.”