Jason “moses” O’Toole has been hard at work trying to bring Liquid back to where they were in 2019. They have been a far cry from the side that dominated the circuit during the first half of the season that year, with only three players remaining from that exciting squad that won the Intel Grand Slam Season 2.
The 34-year-old coach appeared on Sunday as a guest on the ‘HLTV Confirmed’ podcast and spoke about some of the team’s lingering issues and how he is still working to improve their mental toughness.
“I knew it was going to be hard because I knew when I took this job that it wasn’t necessarily a matter of Counter-Strike itself being an issue,” moses said. “I knew that the biggest obstacle was the objective to change the culture, the mentality, fixing the problem of choking, and falling apart mentally.
“That was one thing that I kind of highlighted as my biggest goal. I still haven’t achieved it yet, it’s always a work in progress. It certainly hasn’t been stress-free.”
moses arrived in Liquid right after the team replaced their longest-standing member and in-game leader, Nick “nitr0” Cannella, with Michael “Grim” Wince. Not only did they have to fit the new rifler into the team, but they also had to basically rebuild their entire system as Jake “Stewie2K” Yip became the shot-caller and Keith “NAF” Markovic started playing more with the AWP.
Meanwhile, Liquid still had to attend multiple online events as the competitive calendar became even busier than usual amid the COVID-19 pandemic. They kept playing to see what they needed to change in the team, with almost no time to fix the problems.
“The online era caused a certain amount of issues,” moses said. “Like the small external problems involved in playing Counter-Strike online for what’s over a year now kind of caught me off-guard a little bit when we initially started. So I kind of went in with the mindset that this is going to be a ramp-up period, in which everyone is getting a little bit used to each other and working on some things, and then we’ll be ready to take those big leaps and starting running forward once LANs come back. And obviously, that hasn’t happened yet.
“If there is one thing that I learned very quickly within this team when I started coaching it’s how important nitr0 was. We always had the conversation on the analysis desk and during matches about how sometimes he probably didn’t get the credit he deserved as an in-game leader, how sometimes he was kind of an overlooked player on the Liquid roster, but he was like the cohesive guy, he was the glue, everyone on the team had some positive relationship with him in one way or the other.”
Liquid didn’t live up to expectations in the second half of 2020, their best result a runners-up finish in the IEM Global Challenge, Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken‘s final event with the team before he stepped down from the roster. Although the Canadian had been one of Liquid‘s best players since he arrived in 2017, moses quickly realized that Twistzz and the rest of the team weren’t on the same page anymore, inside or outside the game.
“Some of the things we worked on got better, and some got worse,” moses explained. “It was one of these weird situations in teams where I don’t think anyone was necessarily the problem. But it just got to a point where I don’t think it worked well enough in any way to fix it. The option was to spend months trying to fix this kind of problem or just get rid of it.
“It was not like he was the problem, but everyone together was a problem on some level. That was one of the main reasons why I decided to pull the trigger and move Russ on. I think that worked well for him as well.”
Liquid picked up Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo to replace Twistzz, with the Brazilian joining the team ahead of BLAST Premier Global Final, in January. After a disappointing run in the BLAST Premier Spring Groups in February, the two-time Major champion took over in-game leadership duties from Stewie2K, leading the team to a semi-final appearance in IEM Katowice.
“That change occurred the day that we were beaten by FaZe the second time in BLAST (laughs),” moses revealed. “The plan wasn’t always to have FalleN become the in-game leader. I think Stewie reads the game very well and he can be a great in-game leader if he ever chooses to be. The attractiveness of FalleN as a player to pick up wasn’t him just being an AWPer and an in-game leader, it’s just a lot of flexibility.”
moses admitted to being impressed by how quickly FalleN was able to settle in the team and get comfortable enough in his new surroundings to pick up the baton. Many in the community had doubted that the Brazilian would be motivated after the turmoil in MIBR, but the 29-year-old has shown that he still has plenty of gas left in the tank and remains as ambitious as ever.
“Those concerns were fair and valid, I remember even having those concerns and speaking about them on broadcasts,” moses said, revealing that he asked to FalleN if he still wanted to win trophies. “He was focused on cementing his legacy as a player and his history as one of the best AWPers and in-game leaders, and finding himself another Major. That was obviously perfect for me, I want guys who are going to chase down a legacy.”
As far as objectives go, moses said that the team haven’t set any specific targets, but he stressed that everyone is aware of the lofty expectations that come from representing a storied organisation like Liquid.
“If you’re part of Liquid, even if we are struggling as much as we have at times over the past few months, the expectations and the goals are still to win,” he said. “We haven’t sat down and been like, ‘We have to win a particular event’, but ESL One Cologne is a big goal of mine and ESL Pro League is a huge deal for us. We also got the BLAST Premier Spring Showdown after EPL and we obviously want to qualify for the Spring Finals.”
You can access the full VOD of Sunday’s episode of ‘HLTV Confirmed’ below.