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Building to New Heights: Steve’s State of NA




2017 was a huge year for Team Liquid. As an organization, we didn’t just dodge relegations twice, we also submitted our application to become a franchised partner in the LCS.

And honestly, League was only a part of what made that year huge.

The day we survived relegations, we were also hours apart from winning the biggest esports tournament in the world. I was at the LCS studio for relegations — but I was also watching The International from my phone. We were crawling back from the lower bracket to win the whole thing probably an hour and a half after we won relegations.

The amount of changes we had to make to win relegations — who we moved around, getting Cain, getting Doublelift! It was insanity! Relegations felt like the human race was in peril and we had to find a way — and so we found that way! And then to win the biggest esports event on top of that…

That moment was special. I was proud of not just the League team but the organization as a whole.

We’ve come so, so far since then, going from roughly five to six esports and 30 employees all the way to 17 games and some 160 people; going from not making Worlds and the 4th place curse to reaching the MSI finals; from two relegations in a row to back to back to back to back championships!

It’s insane to think about and so freaking awesome because everybody from the players, the coaches, the analysts, the support staff… We all worked hard to make winning a part of our identity.

So, weird as it is to say, in 2020 when we had our third 3-3 performance exit in the group stage, I didn’t feel disappointed. If I’m being completely honest, I felt disconnected. For the first time with League, it felt like I wasn’t present.

Don’t get me wrong, I was at home watching and screaming and feeling the anxiety like you guys. But it just wasn’t the same. I can point to COVID, I can point to the fact that I wasn’t there, I can point to the fact that we weren’t even in the office training and I didn’t spend much time with the guys.

But even when it came to the actual 3-3 result, I don’t think I was disappointed. I know that sounds lame, but we had had such a slow start and for the first time I wasn’t close to it. Every other year I had been there, I was there when the problems were happening, I was seeing the problems, I was doing something about it, I was helping, I was contributing.

This year, I wasn’t there with the team day in and day out, so I felt a lack of control and I lost a little hope along the way.

I was still there, taking calls with the coaching staff, helping them along the way but my role had changed. Now it was more I’m going into these meetings as a mentor, doing everything I can to make sure the coaches are trusting themselves. I could say the change was because of COVID but it was also because of the success we’ve had at Team Liquid.

There are more responsibilities than ever, to all of our stakeholders, to all the new hands at TL, and to everyone who’s still with us. There’s more responsibility than ever to ensure Team Liquid’s sustainability and growth and for me, that can’t just be League.

With those responsibilities comes a reallocation of time and focus. Knowing that, we brought in Josh [Jatt], we brought in more staff with more experience and more love for esports, setting up for all of this to operate on its own.

Even if it’s necessary at points, it is tough to step back from League. The LCS means a lot to me and it means a lot to TL too. Franchising was a huge moment for growth and identity for TL as an org and for me as a person. Up to that point, we had spent so much time struggling to find some point of sustainability for esports teams.

We felt like we were an agency. We were buying rights on behalf of players and trying to earn sponsorships in order to survive but we didn’t have anything that lived on past those relationships.

For the first time, we had an in perpetuity right to be part of a league, share in the benefit, and build something together with a developer. When that moment came to change our team, we decided to do it in what I think of now as the TL way: We were gonna go all the way in. Dig our heels into the ground, be tenacious, obsess over the details.

Our application ended up being 259 pages long, with its own mini-site. Once we got accepted, I learned that most teams did a real subpar job compared to us. We went way above expectation, not for Riot, but so that we had a strong plan going into franchising. The application reminded me that, as a fabric of TL, we execute well and we’re thoughtful, meticulous, and cerebral.

League of Legends is a huge part of Team Liquid’s DNA, so it’s not that League is less important, only that we’re building on the identity we’ve had all the way since the beginning by making the team more professional and autonomous.

There’s always been a consistent thread of professionalism: treat players well, provide the very best in terms of housing, facilities, training, analysts, software, coaching, sports psychology, cuisine, apartment living, transportation.

We’ll take everything out so that the players don’t have to worry about it and all they have to do is focus on learning and training. That infrastructure, we have consistently aimed for year after year after year.

It meant so much to me when Impact said, “I think [TL] is my favorite team of my career.” That’s a big statement! He was on a world championship team! Broxah, Peter, and a lot of players have had amazing things to say about Team Liquid as well and those endorsements mean a lot.

We are building on that world class professionalism, and the next step is for the infrastructure to be so strong that it can not only stand on its own but build on its own.

I think infrastructure and execution is the path forward for the entire region, too. I know NA has had difficulty getting results at Worlds year after year after year, especially given how much money we put into the game.

But in some way, I am at least proud that we’re putting up 3-3 results and challenging other regions.

In NA, you get a hundred people to build a successful team out of. In the LPL, you get a million. That’s the multiplier! That’s our handicap. You’ve got a lot more options in another region. So the fact that we’re able to be as competitive in Groups, that speaks to how our infrastructure is good, but not good enough to get what we really want.

If we can really leverage the infrastructure that a handful of teams in the LCS have built, then I think we’ve got a real shot at a World championship.

For us, leveraging that infrastructure means creating longer-term contracts and relationships. We feel like being able to build with an organization that has so many support tools means that a player will just get better over time. It’s not like when we sign a player we get what they’re willing to give us.

We believe that we can help that player will get even better — and even better the next year.

When a player is really great and we know that they fit our team, we’re gonna opt for longer contracts. That’s why, even if I was more disconnected in the season, I was just as plugged in during the offseason. For the entire offseason the league staff and I meet three to four times a week in workshops, helping the team decide what we want.

When the team decides, the task is on me. Go get it done, Steve! I make calls, recruit, persuade, and then also budget and forecast and communicate with the board. I’m doing all of that while talking with different teams and owners while driving updates with the rest of the group.

It’s a lot of work for everyone and when I see our roster it’s clear it paid off. I mean holy moly, right?

Alphari: First and foremost, he was statistically the best top laner in the LEC. Second, his attitude and his maturity is so strong. He’s got a lot of self discipline, he loves League, he’s a perfectionist, and his work ethic is insane! He asked us if he could train in the EU Alienware Training Facility and he travelled out there not for a weekend — no, he stayed there for about three weeks!

Santorin: He’s incredibly consistent. In order to be one of the best in your respective role, you can’t just have amazing moments some of the time or even most of the time. You have to have amazing moments nearly all the time! You have to be consistently incredible and I think Santorin has proven over a long period of time that he isn’t only consistent but he can adapt to any meta and that he’s a great teammate.

Jensen: He’s incredibly talented, has held up against every mid laner in the world, and has a pretty diverse mix of playstyles. That’s probably one of the best things about Jensen. Most mid laners have their genre of play, right? It’s hard to play assassins at the highest level and then also play Orianna — it’s a different frame of thinking. We get a lot of great diversity and champion pool from Jensen, which makes it hard to play against us.

Tactical: I just hope he stays fearless. That’s been his x-factor, from my perspective. Sometimes fearlessness can die off once you have social pressure and you have more experience and you think through things too much. I hope that he’s able to keep that fire. Because he’s definitive in how he feels and what he does and it shows when he flashes forward to carry a game.

CoreJJ: A fucking beast. Has been a beast. Is more of a beast. He surprises us with MVP — this guy is just insane and he’s on a high. He just got married, he’s gone all-in, he’s putting on show matches and in-houses. He is engaged! You don’t run into that everyday, players that just wake up everyday and say, “What can I do?”

Since 2017, we’ve put the work in to not only build world class rosters like these, but to help the players and the region build to new heights.

It is really tough to move forward, to change from Impact and Cain, who stood with us for years and brought us so much success. And Broxah, who was such a leader and positive voice on the team. But at the same time, I think there’s a lot to be excited about in the LCS this year.

NA has some very competitive teams this year. Cloud9 with Perkz, TSM with SwordArt, Flyquest with Josedeodo. At least on paper, NA is looking strong.

Given the handicaps, the four years of 3-3, all the Group stage disappointment, it can be hard to be hopeful, but there’s plenty of chapters left in this book. NA can still have a run. That is still very much possible. We can’t lose sight of that just because of the stigma we’ve created for ourselves. We can’t succumb to that being our destiny.

We gotta change it.

For all the fans who stick with us while we change that destiny, I love each and every one of you and I’m sorry that I’m giving you all these heart attacks and close calls! I’m obviously biased but I look around at other communities and I think it’s hard to describe, but we have a truly special community.

I love our TL Fans and I hope I can give all of you something to cherish — whether it’s quality teams, content, memories, gear, or community.

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Code S RO16 Preview: Trap, Armani, sOs, Zest




by Wax

The round of 16 comes to a close with Group D, where three championship-winning Protoss players are joined by an unlikely underdog in Armani. It’s a warped mirror image of Group B, where sole Zerg Solar had to go up against three far more well-regarded Terrans. The streamlined practice may not have availed Solar then, but perhaps Armani will show us what three weeks of his finely honed ZvP can do.

Group D: Trap, Armani, sOs, Zest

Start time: Thursday, Apr 15 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)

Any talk about Trap has to start with addressing the elephant in the room: what the hell happened to him at IEM Katowice 2021? Headed into the tournament, he was the most-hyped player on the planet, having won three major titles in a row. But when it came time to play at the world championship, the weak-hearted choker of the past re-emerged. Trap was humiliated in the group stages, getting eliminated after finishing behind players like HeroMarine and Astrea.

This… this is a concern. Trap himself admitted in past interviews that his championship at DH: Last Chance wasn’t quite as meaningful as if he had won a bigger tournament like GSL or IEM Katowice. You have to wonder: did he only manage that three tournament winning streak because the pressure was off? Because those tournaments—two Super Tournaments and DH: Last Chance—were merely ‘tier 2’ tournaments? If that’s the case, then it means Trap still has significant mental barriers to overcome. Sure, there’s a chance his IEM collapse was just the product of crazy variance, the kind that we’ve come to expect in competitive StarCraft II. But even then, Trap will be the subject of much doubt should he reach the Code S finals again.

Still, Trap’s growth and accomplishments over the last two years suggest that the Code S RO16 should hardly be an issue for him anymore. Prior to IEM Katowice 2021, Trap was clearly the best Protoss player in the world—not just a jack-of-all-trades but an ace in every department. Whether it was all-ins or late-game play, macro or micro, you could hardly find fault in anything he did. If Trap is to rehabilitate his reputation and prove that he’s not just a paper tiger, then dominating his opponents in Group D will be an important first step.

At least he has an easy initial opponent on paper—or does he? Trap snapped up Armani with the second pick of the group selections, seemingly unimpressed with Armani’s unbelievable, titan-slaying qualifier run. Code S qualification this season was more complicated than usual—basically, the qualifier was divided into two segments. On the first day of the qualifiers, four direct Code S seeds were handed out to the best players on the day, while everyone else who qualified were forced to go through the rigors of Code A. Obviously, you’d expect the four players to win those direct Code S spots to be the cream of the crop. And that was the case, for the most part. Rogue: Obviously. INnoVation: Sure. Solar: Not a huge surprise if he was playing at his highest level. Armani: WHAT?

Indeed, Armani managed to claim one of those precious direct seeds, defeating Dark (twice!) and Maru in order to do so. Alas, we don’t have much info on what the hell happened. Little could be gleaned from the banter of the group selections, with the precise events of the qualifiers left unmentioned. But the fact that Trap snapped up Armani suggests he is NOT a believer. That’s not to say that Armani is a poor player—he’s become a solid member of the GSL middle-class, even making a one surprise semi-final run in 2020. But, as his #16 standing in the Korea rankings suggests, he’s not a player who you expect championship contenders like Trap to sweat. While I’ll agree with Trap’s implicit appraisal of Armani for now, I’d love for Armani to show us what let him score those massive upsets in the qualifiers.

Speaking of mysterious players, the third contestant in Group D is none other than sOs. Now, there’s a contingent of readers on who are convinced that the legendary sOs has been washed for years, and is just living on his reputation from a bygone era. There’s some merit to that viewpoint, considering that this season marks his first return to the Code S RO16 in around two years. Yet, has sOs made enough ‘random’ deep runs in major tournaments during that time to suggest that he’s still got a lot of fight left in him. Furthermore, various video vignettes often reveal that sOs’ fellow progamers are quite averse to playing against his unpredictable style. At the very least, the draft order shows he’s still more respected—or at least more loathed—than the likes of Zoun and Hurricane.

The fourth and final contestant in the group is Zest. There’s an ill omen for fans of the veteran Protoss: among the class of players consigned to mandatory military service this year, both TY and Stats have already been eliminated from their final Code S season (it’s not 100% certain with Stats, but it seems likely). Going out on top is certainly an attractive concept, but when you look across the history of sports, clinging on until you flame out is more of the norm. Even Zest himself has given clues toward this kind of anticlimactic finale, mentioning his reduced practice during the group selections.

Still, there’s more than ample reason to have a positive outlook for Zest headed into this group. He has the best recent major tourney result of any GSL player: a second place finish at IEM Katowice 2021. While his micro, macro, and multi-tasking vexxed viewers at times, there was nothing confusing about his ability to put wins on the board. Sure, warping in 12 Zealots when your opponent doesn’t expect is a bronze-tier tactic—but getting it to work against the best progamers in the world is why Zest is SC2’s galaxy brain.

Prediction: Unless Armani can reinvoke his mojo from the semifinals,this group will probably come down to PvP ability. In that regard, Zest and Trap have a significant advantage. Though PvP still deserves its reputation as an unpredictable match-up where anyone could win, there’s still plenty of skill separation at the top level. Over the course of the 2020/21 EPT Season, both Zest and Trap recorded over 70% match win-rates in PvP, while sOs only recorded a 57% in that same period.

That said, there are some interesting head-to-head quirks to consider. Trap is 7-0 against sOs since 2020. In that same time frame, sOs is 1-0 against Zest, having swept him in their meeting in December’s Super Tournament. As for Trap and Zest, it’s close to a wash, with Trap leading 11-9 in series.

What does all that mean? Ehhh, who knows.

Trap > Armani
Zest > sOs
Trap > Zest
sOs > Armani
sOs > Zest

Trap and sOs to advance.

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Use this Cyper tripwire trick to lure enemies into your sites




Cypher’s spy kit shines brightest on Split thanks to the map’s enclosed areas and choke points. This galaxy brain play proves that Cypher is the key to winning on split thanks to his strong options on the B site.

Valorant has 15 agents and all of them are equipped with abilities that may or may not work on select maps. For example, Sova often underperforms on Split since his arrows are best on maps with verticality. On Icebox, controllers lose much of their purpose as their smokes rarely come into play. However, these agents have their own map picks where they become absolutely invincible. Cypher enjoys a sky-high pick rate on Split due to his ability to choke entries.

His tripwires and camera help him keep the backlines secure, but he can be deadly on the defensive side as well. In high-ranked lobbies, this strategy may help you secure extra kills as Cypher.

Attach your tripwire from the B main entrance boxes towards the large wooden box. This is a unique angle that the enemy would likely miss spotting while rushing into the site. After that, place your cage in the middle of default and the wooden box. The purpose of the smoke is to trick enemies into finding a secure corner, a corner where you have placed your tripwire. As soon as the attackers tumble on the wire, you’ll have their positions exposed while they’re vulnerable due to the slight concuss. 

While it’s often expected for Cypher to play safely as the team rotates back from A, the agent can singlehandedly lock down a large area and get kills using this trick. The defenders can trust you with a whole bomb site if you know how to execute this setup flawlessly. This trick pairs best with Raze’s grenades and Killjoy’s nano swarm as well. The two agents can injure the dazed enemies after the trip exposes their locations.

What class is Cypher in Valorant? 

The information broker was released in the original Valorant roster as a Sentinel who keeps tabs on enemies from the sidelines. He’s a one-man surveillance network who can secure a large area on his own thanks to his information-gathering abilities. Cypher is a valuable agent in full lobbies where teammates can benefit from his map control and extensive intel. 

Recent buff deactivated Cypher’s equipment post-death, but his pick rate didn’t falter. The agent is still the top Sentinel in high ranked lobbies and professional Valorant games. 

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ESL Open Week #66: Stats, Clem, Solar win




The second week of the ESL Open Cups for the 2021-22 ESL Pro Tour (and 66th overall) have come and gone: On Sunday, (Wiki)Stats marked his first win of the second season in Korea, while (Wiki)Clem defended his title in the European showdown on Monday. In the American cup, (Wiki)Solar celebrated his first successful overseas campaign of the season.

The top echelon of Korean Protoss players seem to have thing for EPT points. Their participation in these cups has been steady week after week, while their colleague’s spirits seem lacking in this regard. No wonder, then, that once more the warriors from Aiur dominated the competition on Sunday by taking three out of four top spots in the Asian cup. Stats had a pretty comfortable way to the finals, with (Wiki)MacSed and (Wiki)SpeCial being the only notable opponents he had to overcome to gain entry to the decisive bout. There, he clashed with (Wiki)PartinG, who had already stood in the finals in the previous week (eliminating Stats along the way). Unfortunately for PartinG, he had his hopes thwarted once again. Just like in Cup #65, the Big Boy won the first map, only to be crushed in the three subsequent games. Having defeated (Wiki)Has and (Wiki)Trap along the way, his PvP mojo seemed depleted.

While ‘the Clem Weekly’ really doesn’t have the same ring to it as ‘the Big Gabe Weekly’, the Liquid player seems to have the will to make the new unofficial title for the tournament series a reality, having already secured the second win in the new season and laying a foundation for a long streak of victories. It was a hard-won triumph, for Clem had to contend with (Wiki)souL and (Wiki)HeRoMaRinE to reach the finals. But with his reputed weakness in TvT really not being as much of an issue anymore, the two Terrans were nothing the Frenchman couldn’t handle. On the other side of the bracket, another heavy hitter cruised through the bracket without breaking a sweat: the reigning world champion (Wiki)Reynor graced the cup with his presence and reached the finals without losing a map, disposing of (Wiki)GunGFuBanDa in the semis—already the second top four placement for the German this season. The Italian and his opponent from France rekindled their rivalry from last season, Clem winning the first map after a series of Bio pushes. Reynor struck back by taking a page out of Dark’s book and opting for Roach-Ravager, transitioning into Lurker-Viper and eventually winning the macro game in the second match. He followed this up by showing his range on the third map, taking a win with Muta-Ling-Bane. A wonky base trade scenario on Blackburn equalized the series, with Clem closing things out in another Bio-Mine vs. Muta-Ling-Bane match on the final map—it wasn’t the most exciting series these two have played against each other, but seeing this duel in a weekly cup sure is a fantastic thing for the fans.

After crashing out of the Korean/Asian cup early on, Solar made up for it with a dominating performance in the American ESL Open Cup one day later, going through (Wiki)Vanya, Has and SpeCial without dropping a map to claim the win. Has had already reached the semi-finals in the previous week, seemingly gaining some consistency. The same goes for Polish Protoss (Wiki)Gerald, who had appeared in the finals of Cup #65 and only narrowly missed out on repeating this feat, being eliminated by the Mexican Terran with a 2-3 score after himself defeating the defending champion (Wiki)MaxPax and Korean player (Wiki)NightMare. Taken together with his very solid performance in the World Team League on the weekend, the eXoN player’s form seems to be quite good at the moment, so another finals appearance or perhaps even a win look like they’re in the cards for him.

ESL Open Cup winners earn $200 in prize money and 10 ESL Pro Tour points. Players who finish second earn 5 ESL Pro Tour points and $100. A top 4 finish guarantees at least $50. Edition #67 of the ESL Open Cups will take place on the 18th (Korea) and the 19th of April (Europe and America).

by TheOneAboveU

Korean Server Cup #65 (Click for full bracket)

European Server Cup #65 (Click for full bracket)

Americas Server Cup #65 (Click for full bracket)

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Call of Duty anti-cheat update by Raven Software




Raven Software, a developer in Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War and Warzone, shared their updates and plans on their anti-cheat program, saving players from the plague of cheaters.

Anti-cheat Update and Report

According to the team, over 475,000 permanent bans have gone out to Call of Duty Warzone accounts with cheats. In the update, Raven noted that its security enforcement teams constantly dish out bans every day of the week. A big focus to tackle the high amount of cheaters in Call of Duty is to remove cheat providers and sellers. Thus far, 45,000 black market accounts linked to cheat merchants and sellers have been banned, easing up the play space.

Raven Software points the anti-cheat improvements in Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War and Warzone to four areas. One of the easier options, enabling two-factor authentication deters cheaters and sellers from quickly creating new accounts. Constantly supporting security teams and improving more communication with the CoD community is important. Finally, banwaves go out more and more often in addition to the daily bannings.

Call of Duty and Warzone Cheaters

Though there is still much more work to do, this shows valuable progress. In fact, Raven Software banned 60,000 cheaters in a recent ban wave. On top of that, the company banned 45,000 cheating players over the last week.

The fight against cheaters in the gaming and esports industry continues, and for Raven Software, it’s a long one. Thanks to the actions they take, including hardware bans on repeat Warzone cheaters, the Call of Duty community can rest assured knowing anti-cheat measures are taken.

Written by Justin Amin

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