Team Liquid deposed the mighty Astralis and stormed to the top of the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive rankings this month following emphatic victories at IEM Sydney and DreamHack Masters Dallas. This sustained brilliance drew plaudits from competitive gaming fans and signalled the dawn of a new era in CS:GO.
Yet it was just the latest in a long list of triumphs for Liquid, which is officially the most successful esports franchise of all time. They have secured $26.8 million in prize money and that puts them ahead of Evil Geniuses and OG as the world’s highest earning team.
It has been an epic journey over the past 19 years. The organization began life as a StarCraft team in the Netherlands in 2000. Victor Goosens, the first western StarCraft pro to head to Korea to try his luck against the best in the business, set it up and then launched a popular website focusing on the StarCraft scene the following year. The website allowed the community to organise tournaments, keep up-to-date with developments in Korea, and generally bond over a shared passion for the game.
It ticked along throughout the following years, but it really sprang to life when StarCraft 2 and League of Legends were launched at the tail end of the decade. This coincided with the further rollout of high speed broadband around the world, and the advent of the Twitch streaming platform gave the nascent esports scene a further shot in the arm.
Competitive gaming quickly soared in popularity and Liquid evolved from a community platform to an esports franchise. It secured sponsorship from The Little App factory, and this allowed it to become a professional organisation while Goosens formally split the team website from the news site.
In December 2012, Liquid launched a Dota 2 division to reflect the growing popularity of Valve’s MOBA title. This also saw it branch out of its European heartland, as the Dota 2 team was composed of North American players. In January 2015, it purchased Team Curse’s League of Legends roster. The following week, Liquid snapped up a CS:GO team that had previously competed under the Denial Esports banner.
It continued to grow its sponsorship base and branch out into more emerging competitive titles. Liquid now competes in LoL, Dota 2, CS:GO, StarCraft 2, Hearthstone, Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Rainbow 6 Siege, Call of Duty, Clash Royale, Tekken, Street Fighter, and more.
It describes itself as “a multifaceted global company with unparalleled reach in the industry,” and it can back up such claims. Team Liquid is headquartered in Utrecht in the Netherlands, but the LoL and CS:GO teams are based in the United States. The CS:GO outfit is now hailed as the first North American team to top the HLTV rankings for the current iteration of the popular first-person shooter.
In 2016, aXiomatic purchased a controlling stake in Team Liquid and set about building “a portfolio of dynamic company holdings in the esports and video gaming industry through strategic partnerships, investments, and acquisitions.” aXiomatic is a sports and entertainment firm whose investors include Golden State Warriors co-owner Peter Guber, NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, and AOL co-founder Steve Case.
Guber serves as executive chairman, while the heavyweight leadership team comprises Bruce Stein, Ted Leonsis, Jeff Vinik, and Bruce Karsh. Goosens and former leader Steve Arhancet are also involved.
The idea with Liquid is to be more than just an esports team, and the executives are building a media empire featuring a video content production arm while still maintaining the extremely popular Liquidpedia resource website.
Yet it all counts for little if the gaming results are not strong, and Team Liquid is currently thriving at a range of pursuits. It encompasses more than 60 pros competing in 14 of the world’s top games, and its teams are ranked among the best in each of them. The athletes can benefit from its Alienware Training facility in Los Angeles, and Liquid continues to nurture impressive talent while pushing forward in technological innovations.
In 2017, Team Liquid secured one of its finest triumphs when its Dota 2 team soared to victory at The International. It is the biggest esports tournament of the year and the prize money stood at a record-breaking $24.7 million. KuroKy, Miracle, GH, Mind Control, and Matumbaman blazed a trail of destruction across the group stage, but ended up in the lower bracket after suffering a surprise 2-1 defeat to Invictus Gaming.
They were on the brink of elimination against Team Secret, but battled back in style and vanquished Team Empire, Virtus.pro, and LGD Gaming before toppling LGD.Forever Young in the lower bracket final. That teed up a grand final series against Newbee, and Liquid delivered a magnificent performance to win the trophy with a 3-0 clean sweep.
The following year the prize purse rose to $25.5 million for The International and Liquid finished fourth. KuroKy is now the highest earning esports star of all time in terms of prize money, while Miracle is second. Mind Control is fourth, Matumbaman is fifth, and GH is eighth. It will be interesting to see how Team Liquid fare at The International 2019, as Matumbaman has just left the organization and change is now afoot.
TL has been similarly impressive within the LoL scene. The team has dominated North American League of Legends in recent years with star ADC Doubelift at the helm, winning the last three LCS championships. They also did their region proud at the 2019 Mid-Season Invitational, where they went all the way to the grand final and secured a very credible runner-up finish after losing to G2 Esports.
That made them the first North American team to appear in the finals of a Riot-sanctioned international tournament since Counter Logic Gaming in 2016. They are now bidding for an unprecedented fourth consecutive LCS title and will be among the leading contenders at the LoL World Championships in Paris later this year.
LoL, CS:GO, and Dota 2 are the three biggest esports in the world, and Liquid is now a major force in all three. If you check out these esports betting odds, you will notice that Liquid’s teams are among the favourites for a variety of upcoming tournaments. Fortnite is also aiming to muscle its way into the esports elite by offering up $100 million in prize money throughout 2019, and TL’s stars are starting to see success there as well.
The esports scene is growing increasingly competitive, but Liquid looks well positioned to remain at the top of the ladder. A recent Forbes analysis rated it as the third most valuable esports organization in the world, being worth $200 million. If it can turn its success at tournaments into commercial might by tying up more sponsorship deals, there is every reason to think it will soon leap up to top spot ahead of Cloud9 and Team SoloMid.