Stewie2k is in control of Team Liquid, and that's a good thing

Nick J. August 23, 2020

Jake "Stewie2k" Yip recently revealed a newfound confidence along with an explanation for the addition of new coach Jason "moses" O'Toole, and there's more to that explanation than meets the eye.

While some fans might think being a top Counter-Strike: Global Offensive star is a life of luxury, Stewie's recent comments show that it sometimes means making difficult decisions and living with their consequences. Speaking during an ESL One Cologne interview, Stewie explained his team's recent coaching change. His responses partially confirmed the idea that the departure of Nick "nitr0" Canella meant that Stewie is now in full control of Liquid's CSGO team.

Following TL's win against Cloud9 on Cologne's opening day, Stewie joined the tournament broadcast for a post-game sit down with analysts regarding his play, Team Liquid, and the occasional frustration with his leadership role. His answers gave weight to theories that nitr0's departure and that of head coach Eric "adreN" Hoag were both interpersonal and professional in nature. But more importantly, it showed a newly mature Stewie.

Stewie talks moses addition and TL leadership

To talk about Stewie today, an older version of him has to be mentioned first.

This isn't Stewie's first time at the helm of a top team. During his time in Cloud9, whispers made the rounds regarding his involvement in the release of former stars and fan favorites Jordan "n0thing" Gilbert and Michael "shroud" Grzesiek in 2017, a move that ended with Stewie in the driver's seat with Tarik "tarik" Celek at his side on the road to a Major championship.

Stewie then left Cloud9, signing a deal with MIBR. tarik would later follow.

Stewie's time on MIBR might still sting for Cloud9 fans, but it's unlikely that his maturation doesn't occur without his time on its roster. Stewie himself attributes his growth to his time under the team and its leader, Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo.

"I learned a lot from MIBR, and I felt like I grew a lot as a person there... they [told] me my mistakes and helped me to be more mature," Stewie said.

In an interview with ESPN in 2019, Stewie seemed to find it difficult to describe what exactly he had learned from his time with the Brazilian squad, saying he had become more "versatile." A year and a half after his transfer, it's clear Stewie's time with MIBR taught him more about himself than it did about CSGO. 

Stewie barely spoke about C9's changes at the time, but the in-game leader took questions regarding Liquid's own roster shakeup unwaveringly during the Cologne stream. He was an open book, a fact that became apparent when drilled about his physical reaction to a round that was caught by ESL's player cam.

"We saw you turn away from your screen and kind of center yourself... is that something you're trying to do?" prompted host Alex "Machine" Richardson.

"...It was more so us just missing our [grenades]. I don't like losing rounds because of simple mistakes like that... I'm trying to keep myself calm," Stewie said, grinning.

Stewie2k isn't s1mple, despite desire for perfection

No one needs to be reminded that winning means everything to some CSGO players. It's a mentality familiar to Liquid fans in particular, instantly comparable to another famous TL player that helped bring Liquid into the international spotlight during ESL One Cologne 2016. Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev's time with Liquid was brief and at times chaotic, but the side would have never reached its first CSGO Major grand final without him. According to TL manager Steve "jokasteve" Perino, s1mple wouldn't stand for anything less than perfection from his teammates. But former Liquid player Spencer "HiKo" Martin has admitted that interpersonal difficulties made s1mple's days with TL numbered from the start:

"There were so many problems. We had so many fights [that] we got into that were just stupid fights if you were on the outside looking in.  It just would not have worked,” said HiKo in a 2019 interview.

Years after s1mple and 2016's Cologne Major, Stewie is exhibiting a similar mentality in the pursuit of perfect play. The difference is that Stewie has the clout with the TL organization that s1mple may have lacked. Combined with his unbridled desire to win, Stewie has set out to correct what he believes to be the team's weak points while tackling the challenges that come with leadership in what is now "his" roster.

His responses were carefully measured in the ESL interview, but it was also clear that Liquid's leader was as honest as he felt he could be. The interview revealed an evolved Stewie, something he's grown in to over the past year and a half. He's transitioned from a player who once allowed himself to be held back by both his and his teammates' performances into a competent leader. Where he stands above the rest is his awareness of his own mistakes, something that comes complete with the management of ego that separates the few great leaders from the many good ones.

Of course, it's possible that Stewie's time on Liquid ends in a similar way to his time on C9. One too many "simple mistakes" can drive a player so motivated by a desire to win to jump ship to a rival team, too frustrated with the inability of those around them to live up to their perceived potential.

But Stewie has been there and done that, and he's become a veteran leader himself. Despite being susceptible to his own emotional swings over the course of his career, today's Stewie doesn't crack under the weight of his own expectations.

Stewie2k's has evolved as a player with Liquid, not just as a leader

Liquid lost to Evil Geniuses in their following match, sending the team to Cologne's lower bracket. In its first real test after shedding a tenured player and a head coach, Liquid dropped its own Mirage pick 16-7. TL, a team that historically favors the CT side, failed to grind out even one round win in a poor defensive effort. 

Fresh off a great carry performance against C9, Stewie went 8-20 versus EG.

The IGL finished Mirage with a 0.62 rating, marking Stewie's lowest rating on the map in more than a year, when Liquid lost to FaZe Clan at BLAST Pro Series Miami in April 2019. A younger version of Stewie would have let that kind of performance bleed into the next map in the series. This goes doubly so in this case, considering EG's Nuke pick was a map Cloud9 had famously banned for a year after its competitive release reportedly due to Stewie's personal dislike of the map. But things are different now.

While TL lost Nuke in part to EG's Ethan "Ethan" Arnold going nuclear, Stewie bounced back after his poor Mirage game. Despite Nuke being the worst statistical map in his career, Stewie fought through it and recorded a noteworthy 93.9 average damage per round while tying Ethan 4-4 in duels and outdueling EG star Vincent "Brehze" Cayonte 5-2. While new player Michael "Grim" Wince was abused on the map where he once dropped 61 frags against MIBR, Stewie posted a 1.17 rating. 

Liquid Stewie2k's all-time average rating by map

  • Nuke vs EG, ESL One Cologne 2020: 1.17
  • Train: 1.07
  • Cobblestone: 1.06
  • Overpass: 1.06
  • Vertigo: 1.05
  • Mirage: 1.04
  • Cache: 1.04
  • Dust 2: 1.03
  • Nuke: 1.00

That's not to say that Stewie hasn't recorded ratings that high on Nuke before, but the comeback performance on a disliked map is an example of how Stewie may have turned a corner in his career as a player.

Liquid's tournament future now rests on Stewie's shoulders

Long-time fans might balk at how quickly Liquid handed the keys over to Stewie. There are even signs that adreN's release wasn't initially a part of nitr0's departure, with Team Liquid's Twitter using his persona in a video announcing the signing of Jarosław "pashaBiceps" Jarząbkowski as a TL streamer. If adreN was already on his way out, he may not have been included in that recent video, though this is only conjecture.

Made up of clips and sound bites from adreN's TL interviews, adreN's release announcement had all the hallmarks of a quickly produced gesture despite Liquid's signature shine. 

It's unlikely that TL would have made the switch unless most everyone on the roster agreed to it. But Stewie's explanation makes it clear that it was ultimately his plan that brought moses in. Stewie's answer shifts from using "we" to "I" on the topic. All signs point to Stewie's targeting of moses as the squad's next coach.

"adreN for us was more of a strategic coach, and we felt like we didn't really need a strategic coach. We needed someone to point people out and make sure they're accountable for their actions. Kind of to be the 'bad guy' on the team," Stewie said.

It's here that Stewie, marked by many as a player that runs on emotions, showed his increasing maturity in how he approaches both the game and his teammates.

His responses in the ESL interview show that Stewie realized that he needed an arbiter, someone to weed out the small mistakes that have often kept TL from achieving great things. With moses, Stewie now has his third-party to criticize and critique. In one move, he's smartly reassigned that role. He's effectively separated himself from the inherent negative associations that all humans make when they're forced to take ownership of a mistake. Stewie went on to take full responsibility for TL's coaching change in an almost apologetic tone. 

"For me [to be the bad guy] all the time for this team could look bad for me. If I'm consistently telling people their mistakes while I'm making mistakes at the same time... It would feel like I'm blaming them..." Stewie said. "I was figuring out what was best for us. What we needed in a coach."

Liquid's stacked roster has CSGO Major ambitions

Stewie is no longer the leader of a ragtag C9 squad that cut its way to a surprising Major championship title. His new teammates are now explosive talents and consistent veterans, but they are also players that require strong leadership to reach the upper limits of their potential.

TL's roster boasts Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken and nitr0's replacement, Grim, a duo that has devasting potential and the mechanical skill to reach it with the right push. Combine them with Jonathon "ELiGE" Jablonowski, one of CSGO's most dominant mid-round players ever, and Stewie has a roster built for championship glory. EliGE's one-versus-one clutch differential of +90 certainly doesn't hurt, either.

And where does Keith "NAF" Markovic fit in?

As ever, NAF is the team's cornerstone, strong and reliable in his play.

While the rest of Liquid's players often take the spotlight, NAF has quietly carved himself a spot amongst CSGO's greatest players.

The Canadian AWPer and rifler is ranked eighth out of all players on top-20 teams since rejoining Liquid in 2018. Below him is a list of CSGO's most recognizable names - a who's who of CSGO legends.

Total Player Rating Rankings since Febuary 5, 2018

  1. s1mple (1.31)
  2. ZywOo (1.27)
  3. dev1ce (1.22)
  4. NiKo (1.19)
  5. electronic (1.18)
  6. Magisk (1.15)
  7. woxic (1.14)
  8. NAF (1.14)
  9. ELiGE (1.14)
  10. dupreeh (1.13)

No matter what his critics say, Liquid's sudden changes aren't the result of a Stewie2k coup. Instead, Liquid's captain has engineered a what may be the perfect situation to the team's most recent problems, one that may lead TL to more titles rather than last-minute losses. If moses fulfills his new role's expectations and Stewie finds a way back to his most explosive playing roots, Liquid could also retake its former world number one ranking.

After Stewie's ESL interview ended, accomplished esports caster Lauren "pansy" Scott atply summed up the Liquid player's transformation.

"For a player like that to be so self-aware... it's incredible," pansy said.