SYDNEY -- It wasn't a major, they didn't beat Astralis, but for Team Liquid, lifting the IEM Sydney Counter-Strike: Global Offensive trophy was a seminal moment.
While they've won tournaments before, none have had as robust a format or the level of competition as IEM Sydney. Liquid had to battle through a dangerous Ninjas in Pyjamas and MIBR before facing Fnatic in the grand finals Sunday. Liquid uncharacteristically fought tooth and nail over a full five-map series, not yielding against an in-form dark horse.
While IEM Sydney didn't host either of Liquid's main rivals in Natus Vincere or Astralis, the event represents the first meaningful tournament victory for this iteration of the North Americans' roster. Shortly after Liquid lifted the hardware, ESPN Esports talked to tournament MVP Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken about his team's mentality in the final, Liquid belonging among the top three teams in the worlds and the squad's struggles with Terrorist-side approaches.
ESPN: Map 4, Dust II, ended very convincingly the way of Fnatic with you guys not posting any T-round wins in the second half. How were you able to mentally reset in between maps to come out with such a strong start on the last map, Inferno?
TwistZz: Losing like that? It's a pretty big blow. Two months ago we probably wouldn't be able to reset after that. The series might've been over before the next map even started. But obviously we reset pretty well.
I'm actually thankful Dust II was such a blowout. It's going late into the night, and going 16:14 or something would've harmed us more, you know? A draining match, if it was intense, Inferno could've been a whole different story. But thankfully it was a blowout and we lost quickly.
ESPN: You say two months ago you wouldn't have been able to reset like you did here. What has been the biggest change that allows you to do it now? Does the new coach in Eric "adreN" Hoag help in this sense?
TwistZz: It's kind of everything to be honest. Before, in our old lineup, I felt like I was the only one who was super, super positive and constantly motivating, but Jake ["Stewie2K" Yip] is on the team as well now, and he's hyping people up. He works well with [Keith "NAF" Markovic]; they work well together. I feel like a lot of things have changed in the past two or three months: our ability to reset, be happier, positive, always fun, laughing.
I remember it started in the final in Miami against FaZe. We were getting destroyed on Dust II, and all of us just started laughing. Because like, there's honestly no reason to be depressed about it. It just makes everything more miserable. So if you're just laughing, having fun, you play better, and it's better for everyone.
ESPN: Even though you guys did manage to have the reset and post a good first half, toward the end of Inferno, again, on T-side, there were moments of momentum for Fnatic. What were you thinking on T in that final map?
TwistZz: I feel like on our T-side, when it started becoming 14-8, 14-9, we've gotta slow things down. We were getting really eager. I was fully positive we were going to win the game still. But we made a lot of plays that could've been done differently and slowed down.
For instance, on our first gun round we tried going mid, we popped mid, got destroyed. Honestly wasn't the greatest thing to do. Then after that, we [sent four to the B bombsite]. We do four-B a lot, and it's really good for us, but we read the situation wrong, and we went into the smoke in Banana. We tried popping through, and we ran into a cross-fire and died. I feel like if we executed it would've been a much different story, and the game would've been closed out much faster.
That's just the learning steps to it. I was very excited to finish out the match and everything. We knew were going to win.
ESPN: Both Astralis and Na'Vi aren't here in Sydney, and you guys have managed to walk away with the trophy. How do you see your place in the top three after this event?
TwistZz: I think we're still undisputed No. 2. For sure. We've hit every final pretty much this year besides the major. I think it's pretty fair to say that we're No. 2, and we're working on that No. 1 spot.
We chose not to go to Madrid because we felt that going from this event to Madrid would've been damaging for us actually. We wouldn't have been able to practice, and both the top teams would've been able to look at us while we played, so they learn what we're doing. And then jet lag going to Madrid, it's like a 20-plus-hour travel time -- not good for us. So I feel like Madrid might've been a bad result for us if we decided to go.
ESPN: You walk away with the MVP medal here in Sydney. What was the key for unlocking your individual performance not just in the final, but across the whole event?
TwistZz: I think us just playing well as a team. Obviously no player is going to play well consistently if their team is not helping them. Like in Astralis, our team, you gotta work together, and if you work together then everyone is going to be a star. I feel like everyone had a breakout performance on every map here, at least.
I'm kind of in that role where if it's a one-sided game, if we're just destroying people, I'm probably not going to be up there. If we're all fragging out, I'm an anchor for some spots, and I'm OK with that. Like, I want us all to be stars, but I might not have heaps of frags.
I wouldn't consider this a breakout performance. I do admit, though, in the first two maps of the final, I was very out of it. My energy levels were low. I know I can't be like that. I told myself. 'I'm crucial to this team, and I have to keep my energy up or else things are going to keep going down, not just for me, but everyone.' So I stepped up.