When Team Liquid had walked into the hotel conference room hosting the group stages of the Six Invitational last year, they had done so with swagger and confidence.
Or, perhaps more accurately, over-confidence.
Ninjas in Pyjamas took them down 2-1 in the first game and while Team Liquid responded with a strong 2-0 over Giants Gaming, they fell to their compatriots of MIBR as well and crashed out of the tournament in the group stages -- a far cry from expectations.
As the final round confirmed Team Liquid's fate, its players broke down, with João "HSnamuringa" Deam and André "NESK" Oliveira nearly inconsolable at the end of their campaign after a mere three days.
This year, the team heads into the Six Invitational after another strong season, having finished third and first in the August and November Majors, second in the BR6 2020 Finals, and first in the Copa Elite Six in Stage 1 of this 2021 season.
But, as confident as they look now, they had looked just as confident heading into last year's Six Invitational.
Then, they had finished top in the BR6 2019, second at DreamHack Montreal 2019, and had taken down eventual Invitational champions Spacestation Gaming for the OGA PIT Minor victory.
As such, while many Brazilian and even other international fans have been pointing to them being one of the favourites to lift the caber, it is unclear which Team Liquid is going to be turning up.
Even if Team Liquid itself turns up, it is unclear how they will stack up against other international favourites such as the home team BDS Esport, reigning champions Spacestation Gaming, or local rivals FaZe Clan.
However, the duo of NESK and Luccas "Paluh" Molina have been absolutely inexorable in their march towards chart-breaking ratings.
In the Copa Elite Six, Paluh has been untouchable, leading the ratings column and demolishing his peers in the Entry and K-D split columns, being more than two times ahead than the next player in the latter category.
Meanwhile, in the BR6, Nesk leads Paluh in rating by a slight margin, while Paluh leads NESK in K-D and Entry splits by similarly small margins.
Of note is that Thiago "xS3xyCake" Reis leads the field in both competitions in terms of the number of defuser plants, pointing to a very well-rounded Team Liquid so far in 2021.
To understand if Team Liquid can definitively be considered a favourite this year at the Invitational and how it is approaching the event, SiegeGG spoke to its Head Coach, Adenauer "Silence" Alvarenga.
Your team has started off the 2021 season quite well; second in the BR6 and top in LATAM in the Copa Elite Six, carrying straight from your November Major win and BR6 2020 Finals second place finish. What has been the key to this winning formula?
Our team is very strong mentally and I believe that is due to teamwork and the organisation itself.
Starting with the team and all the way to the staff, everyone here has a key function to help things work smoothly. But I believe that the biggest secret to our success is our unity as a team.
Your team is the only one in LATAM to have won an international title, much less two. Does this add pressure onto your shoulders?
I don’t think so, because we have a philosophy here to always stay in the moment, take each step at a time. I believe that the pressure, in this case, falls on our opponents.
I think few can forget the scenes from last year’s Invitational, much less you and your players. How are you ensuring that something similar does not happen again, especially since your team was on form leading up to SI last year, too?
The previous Invitational cannot be forgotten, it must serve as a lesson for everyone in the team. Because we went in with a mentality that “we are ready”, we ended up making a lot of mistakes. Went in too “loose” for the most important tournament in the world.
So, this year, we are going in thinking that we are not completely ready and, yes, we must practice hard and study a lot to earn this title.
With Paluh and NESK being such ridiculously strong fraggers, how does an attacking and a defending round flow for your team, which I assume is structured around them?
I believe we are one of the only teams in the world where a player can play well in any role, like Jäger, for example. That shows our structure. A team can’t be built around just around one or two players, but around the group overall.
If it worked like that, when Paluh and Nesk got killed in a round, the round would be basically lost. So we don’t like to think like that, we think collectively.
Many fans have touted your team as the strongest at the event. Is that a fair assessment? What about LATAM as a whole? Is it the strongest region at SI?
Our team may even be one of the strongest, but I’ll use the previous thought process as a complement here. We like to take it one step at a time.
So, our objective is set with this in mind, thinking one game at a time. There is no favorite, because every team that is here is here because it deserves it. They earned their spots.
The LATAM scene is very strong, I believe that it is one of the top two regions in the world currently and can also surprise everyone this Invitational.
What is your goal for the Invitational and how confident are you that you'll achieve it?
This Invitational we really want to lift that hammer. It’s the most important title in the game and it is what we want the most! So, we will give everything we have to win this one!
What is your opinion on the changed format for the Invitational and how do you rate your chances in the group?
I think that in this format there will be more games for a team to “warm up” and get into the rhythm of the tournament. The fans are the ones who will gain the most here, they will have hundreds of matches to watch. I thought it was good!
And I believe that we have a big chance of going through to the playoffs. We just need to keep our head in the game.
Is there anything you want to say to your fans and maybe your competitors?
I would like to say to our fans, firstly to send good vibes our way, so we can keep playing at a high level and earn this title for you guys!
To the other teams, I would like to wish you good luck and, above all, have fun in this tournament. I’m sure that this one will go down in history due to this situation we are allgoing through.
Catch Team Liquid next in action on the 11th of May at 6 AM BRT (UTC-3), when they take on Team Empire live from Paris.