Since the StarLadder Berlin Major, the three big CSGO teams to look for have been EG, Liquid, and Astralis. One of the most intriguing storylines to come out of these clashes is the disparity in how Nuke plays out.
Whenever EG plays Astralis on Nuke, they win the map. In contrast, each time Liquid plays Astralis they lose. This difference displays the difference in the identity and strategy between the two squads.
The Baseline Stats
Before I delve too deeply, we need to set some baseline stats. Both EG and Liquid have played Astralis three times on Nuke. EG played them at the StarLadder Berling Major (where they were NRG), ESL New York, and ECS Season 8 Finals. Liquid played them at BLAST CopenHagen group stages, ECS Season 8 Finals, and ESL Proleague Season 10 Finals.
EG won their three meetings 16-4 at Berlin, 16-8 at New York, and 16-13 at ECS Season 8. At Berlin, EG won 12 rounds on the CT-side. At New York, EG went 8-7 on their T-side and then closed Astralis out 8-1 on the CT-side. ECS Season 8 was the closest affair where EG squeezed out the win 16-13.
TL had much less success compared to EG as they went 10-16 at BLAST CopenHagen, 11-16 at ECS Season 8, and 7-16 at EPL Season 10 Finals. At BLAST Astralis had a dominant CT-side going 12-3. At ECS Season 8, Astralis had a good T-half of 7-8 and closed out the game 9-3 on their CT-side. At EPL 10 Finals, Astralis smashed Liquid 11-4 from their T-side.
At a cursory glance, these base stats are surprising. EG and Liquid are both NA squads filled with highly skilled players. EG has: Vincent “Brehze” Cayonte, Cvetelin “CeRq” Dimitrov, Ethan “Ethan” arnold, Tarik “tarik” Celik, and Peter “stanislaw” Jarguz. Liquid has: Nicholas “nitr0” Cannella, Jonathan “EliGE” Jablonowski, Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken, Keith “NAF” Markovic, and Jake “Stewie2K” Yip.
If you were to compare the makeup of the teams, both squads fall along the lines of Sam “DaZeD” Marine style super squads. Teams packed with as much skill as possible. If I were to look at the raw potential on paper, I’d say that Liquid are a slightly better squad skill-wise than EG. Both squads play a more individualistic style and both of them are good Nuke teams.
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So this begs the question, why is EG winning all their Astralis Nuke games while Liquid is losing theirs? There are multiple ways we can go about answering this question. Player form for instance, is a potential legitimate answer. Two of the three times EG blew out Astralis, they were player at the absolute limits of their potential. In contrast to that, the Astralis players always seem to be in better form when playing against the Liquid squads.
While that plays a part, for me the root cause comes from the strategic differences between EG and Liquid and how that interacts with Astralis’ playstyle on Nuke.
The Astralis Style
So before we get into how EG and Liquid play Astralis, we need to understand the basics of how Astralis like to play. Astralis are a structured tactical squad that like to take map control and then use that to collapse on a site with a slow push execute. If Astralis gets into a trade war, they will instead use map rotations, spacing, and flanking to take out their opponents in a manner akin to dominoes or speed chess. Each move takes a piece off the board and forces a rotation that leaves a space or angle which they exploit to take another piece out.
The CT-side works in a similar manner with Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander and Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz being Astralis’ primary aggressors. They are the ones who look for info and duels in smart calculated ways that often suffocates the opponent. Either they get a pick or they get the info needed to make the right rotations to get in position and make it a hard fight for the enemy T-sides to get something done.
How EG played Astralis
The first time the EG lineup played Astralis at Berlin, they went super aggressive and made near instantaneous rotations. In the fourth round of that match for instance, stanislaw rushed out of secret, saw that there were no Astralis players behind the yard smokes and made an instant rotation to the left corner at the bottom of the ramp. It was so fast that it never occured to Astralis to check the corner and stanislaw ended the round with his individual play.
The move was emblematic of what happened throughout the half as the EG players caught Astralis off guard. In the fifth, Brehzhe used his smoke to sneak into the corner of hut. When Emil “Magisk” Rief pushed in later, he got blind sided and killed. In the seventh round, Brehze blew up the door early with an HE which let CeRq sneak in and get an early pick.
EG played into the faces of Astralis and often kept surprising them in the half. The other notable thing to look at from this game is the mid-round pushes and EG’s rotations as a result. In nearly every round Brehze pushed into hut or further around the 1:00 mark. Tactically this was perfectly in sync with EG’s early aggression. CeRq, stanislaw, and tarik’s pushes constantly slowed down the Astralis machine. Once Astralis started to push out at a later timing, they could fall back and this triggered Brehze to backstab Astralis and put EG in a winning position.
EG’s dominant CT-side meant that it was hard to gauge what their T-side was like since the T-side wasn’t long. We got a better glimpse of it at ESL New York. EG had a strong early half while Astralis’ economy was in tatters. EG largely went for post ups. They’d take an area of the map, let their individuals wait for the duel, win the duel, and then hit a site. CeRq looked for picks with his AWP, Ethan looked for picks with his Krieg, and in the sixth round, tarik used a smoke near main to catch Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen off guard and get a kill. Once the Astralis economy stabilized, they were able to shut down EG’s attempts and made a comeback in the half. As for the CT-side it was stylistically similar and they used some of the same early game setups. The most notable thing to take away from this is that Brehze still played the same role and Astralis still couldn’t stop him.
EG’s third run-in against Astralis was the most revealing. EG changed it up on both sides of the map. On the T-side, EG went for fast map control rather than a post-up pick style. EG consistently went for fast early nades and used their speed to either hit the sites fast or to get into advanced positions earlier than normal. One of the primary effects was utility ambiguity. It was harder for Astralis to know when to use their nades early or when to save them. Stanislaw used this to his advantage as he deployed the fast utility in the ninth round and called a freeze as Astralis used their counter-nades.
The other effect this fast pace had was minimizing Astralis’ rotational strength as EG were either already hitting them or they were getting in better positions faster. In the 15th round for instance, EG got into a 5v4 early on as tarik got a kill. EG decided to use this advantage by getting Brehze into the vents and deploying their smoke nades to control yard early. This forced two Astralis players to rotate down, but because the EG players rushed down secret, one of the rotating players had to hold for them leaving Brehze in a favorable 1v1 against the other player.
EG’s CT-side was also different from before. EG opted out of doing aggressive early pushes from ramp or stanislaw from yard. Instead they opted for a different approach as they played forward passive positions. For instance, in the 26th round Astralis used their yard nades around the 1:20 mark and started to clear yard and garage. Instead of going for a head-on brawl, stanislaw hid behind the smaller box in the yard while tarik held secret at the second turn. Tarik won his duel against dev1ce, while stanislaw was traded. But by the time Astralis had found them, there was only 35 seconds left on the clock. So they had to commit to a site instead of using their newfound map control to create more flanks and win through rotations.
While EG opted out of early game aggression, their mid-game aggression was the same. Brehzhe continued to make his mid-round pushes, fast flanks, and rotations and was still a thorn in Astralis’ side.
How Liquid played Astralis
Liquid’s approach was different compared to EG. They had a more structured approach to how they wanted to play out the game. Liquid like to play default as their primary go-to against Astralis. They spread out, wait for potential aggression and play out their areas, take yard control around the 1:00 mark and then take map control. They usually play out a 4-1 style with EliGE as the lurker. Beyond that, they like to mix it up with executes, fakes, and some contact plays.
Overall, it’s a solid and sturdy style that should net Liquid a lot of wins against the broad field of competition. However against Astralis in specific, it’s too predictable. Astralis know how to play out the rounds, when to have dev1ce or gla1ve make a mid-round push, and where to rotate based on the information they get.
As for the CT-side, Liquid play more to the Astralis style than the EG style. While they can go for early aggressive plays with either Stewie2K or EliGe, they prefer to focus more on reading the map, making the right rotations, and beating the other team through smarts and skill. Beyond that, the most stylistic thing about Liquid’s CT-side is that they like to use the double-AWP setup with NAF and Stewie2K.
Unfortunately for Liquid, this style is at a disadvantage against Astralis’ T-side. Astralis have the best site executes and so whenever Liquid have a double-AWP setup, Astralis can exploit it by hitting the upper site. If Astralis can get into a 3v3 or 2v3 with the bomb down, they are at an advantage as two of the remaining three players will have to retake with AWPs. If Liquid played standard, Astralis are more likely to get into a small man 4v4 or 3v3 scenario. Astralis is the best team in these scenarios as all five of their players has superb map awareness and lurking ability, so it becomes a game of flanks on flanks on flanks. In this type of speed chess match, Astralis usually come out the victors.
The difference between EG and Liquid’s Approach
Now that we’ve gone through how EG and Liquid play against Astralis, it’s time to contrast them. First we’ll look at the CT-sides. Liquid’s CT-side is already less stable economy wise as they like to use the double-AWP setup. Beyond that though, they are less variable than EG. EG used a super aggressive in-your-face style at Berlin and ESL New York. At ECS Season 8, they used a more passive style to catch Astralis off-guard. The biggest consistent factor I could find in EG’s CT-side was Brehze’s as successful aggression as he consistently killed a player or put himself in a position to flank whatever Astralis were doing. While Brehze is amazing, the EG CT-side setups are all created with his mid-round aggression in mind.
In contrast to that Liquid largely play the same style of CT-side against Astralis each time they meet. The other thing to note is the difference in experience. The Astralis players are the best scouters in the world, so the more you play against them, the more information they have to beat you with. Four of the five Liquid players have faced off against Astralis since DreamHack Marseille last year. In contrast to that, these EG players have only become a real contention threat within the last few months.
So if you look through the EG games, they can still catch Astralis off guard with positions they hadn’t seen or considered. At Berlin for instance, in the 13th round Tarik played at the box on B-site and killed Astralis B-hit as the player from connector door didn’t realize he was there. After that player died, tarik could focus on the main pack coming from the other door. At ECS Season 8 Berlin, tarik used the same position in the 25th round, but this time Astralis switched the timing with the main pack coming out first which created space for the connector door player to get an easy kill on tarik.
While I can’t go too in depth, these micro-details are critical as they can win individual rounds. Astralis’ entire history against Liquid means that it is far harder for Liquid to come up with something new against Astralis. EG on the other hand is still novel to Astralis and so it is harder for Astralis to know what positions, angles, or timings they like to use. This is why Astralis were so close to beating them the third time around.
This idea also permeates the T-side. If I was to compare the EG and Liquid’s T-sides, I’d argue that Liquid’s style is better against the vast array of teams, but EG’s is better against Astralis in specific. While EG have played a fast-paced map control style and a post-up slow pick style, shifting between them means that they are less refined in either. This shows that EG is more liable to change big picture things, but this also increases their volatility.
This increased volatility makes it harder for Astralis to know when or how to deploy their utility. In contrast to that, they have a set idea of how they want to use it against Liquid. The final thing to note is the difference in strategy. Liquid want to beat Astralis by beating the best team possible, EG seem to want to beat Astralis by minimizing their strengths.
What I mean by that is Liquid play Astralis in a more tactical structured style generally and Nuke in specific. This puts Liquid in more small-man 3v3 or 4v4 scenarios. These situations favor Astralis as these types of rounds emphasizes teamplay, map-awareness, and rotations. Those are Astralis great strengths as a squad and while Liquid is very good in those scenarios, they are often just a step behind Astralis. Essentially for Liquid to beat Astralis with this strategy, they have to be better than Astralis in Astralis’ own strengths.
In contrast to that, EG have used two different styles of play on each side. On the CT-side they used a super aggressive style to slow down Astralis and a more forward-passive approach where they don’t directly go for fights, but take advanced positions on the map. On the T-side they’ve used post-up pick plays and fast-paced map control deathballs.
All four of these styles have one thing in common, they minimize the chances of the game getting into a chaotic small-man situation where everyone becomes a lurker. Those situations are the ones where Astralis thrives. Whether by design or coincidence, EG’s strategy lets them bypass or minimize the amount of slow 3v3 or 4v4 situations that make Astralis so great. So while player form, mentality, and experience are all good reasons why EG is more successful than Liquid against Astralis, the killer to me is the fundamental strategy underneath. EG minimizes Astralis’ strengths while maximizing their own. Liquid fights those strengths head-to-head.
The Root Cause of the Difference
After looking through these games, I couldn’t help but remember stanislaw’s twitlonger. The one where he talked about the split with Liquid back in 2017. In that twitlonger he talked about his disagreements with Wilton “zews” Prado, “I brought up several times that we should stop focusing on every little thing and focus more on the big picture - innovating new things and perfecting our fundamentals. Instead, we focused on the little things too much”
If you look at how EG play out their nuke games against Astralis, you see this philosophy play out. EG’s is looking at the big picture, they try to maximize their skill while avoiding the inherent strengths of Astralis. What’s more this philosophy is shared by Chet “ImAPet” Singh who made his name off of anti-stratting Gambit and SK back when he was the coach of CLG and OpTiC.
In contrast to that nitr0 learned how to be a leader under zews and Eric “adreN” Hoag. Both of them are more focused on the small details of refining the standard game. While they add new tactical setups and positions all the time, their overall goal is to refine the standard game to a higher level rather than making big picture shifts. This style of play is at the essential core of Liquid and why I suspect they revert to this style the most often when put into high pressure situations.
So this begs the question: should Liquid play more like EG? While it sounds like a good solution on a superficial level, I suspect it’s more complicated than that. When I reviewed these games, I was struck with how much the underlying principles of the respective players and team identity seeped into the tactics, setups, and individual plays each person made.
CS:GO is as much a competition as an art. The ultimate truth of competition is victory and the art is the expression of creative skill and imagination aimed at that truth. The synthesis of the individual player characteristics, the leader, and their combined ideas creates the style of a particular team. So CS:GO is more than just a battle between teams and players as style can matter just as much.
The difference between EG and Liquid’s approaches against Astralis’ Nuke articulates this perfectly. EG’s loose variable style has given them the edge against Astralis while Astralis tore apart Liquid’s solid sturdy style. Style cannot be changed so easily, even though Liquid can adopt ideas and tactics from other teams, the will have to make their own path. For any team to succeed at the highest level, they must become the epitome of their styles.
EG are as close to the epitome of their style as they can reach with the players they have in their lineup. I don’t think the same can be said for Liquid. While the zews-Liquid style is still a foundational piece to their current lineup, Liquid have shown that they can also inhabit the explosive looser style that is more akin to FaZe in late 2017-2018. Liquid are a hybridization between the structured style of Astralis and the individual style of FaZe, but Liquid haven’t reached a full synthesis of that style. Liquid have the players and ability to play a more explosive loose style, but need to find a way to integrate those contradictory aspects into a cohesive whole when they play Astralis. If they are able to manage that, Liquid will reach even greater heights.