Less than a year ago, Nabil “Nivera” Benrlitom beat crisp Desert Eagle one-shots against Tier 1 teams in Counter-Strike.
Nivera was the sixth man on a Team Vitality roster with the potential to be the best in the world. A handful of months later he played the professional VALORANT for Team Liquid, who have not lost a single series since Nivera replaced James “Kryptix” Affleck in September 2021.
Liquid swept through the Last Chance Qualifiers to secure a spot at Champions 2021, the highest gaming forum the game has known since the beginning of the year VALORING Champions Tour. Plus, they only dropped two cards. One for G2 Esports – directly after a strong performance by Masters 3 Berlin – and one for Guild Esports in the big best-of-five final.
Simply put, they were the best team in the tournament.
The most suitable dark horse in champions
“It’s amazing,” said Nivera Upcomer on Showstopper, Upcomer’s weekly VALORANT Talk show. “We only had three weeks of training.”
While their recent form is encouraging, competition at Champions will be above anything this iteration of the roster has seen. While Liquid is by no means the favorite to win champions – this award belongs to Stage 3 Master Berlin winners, Gambit Esports – they are certainly a contender. Maybe even a dark horse – a perfectly fitting nickname given the Liquid logo.
“Liquid has a solid opportunity as they have built a strong foundation,” said Vincent “Zescht” Talmon-Gros, a caster and analyst for the VCT for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “Let’s just hope it’s not just a honeymoon.”
With all of this recent success, it’s hard not to think about the time since Nivera started being a honeymoon. But for the core of Liquid, the VCT’s past year was anything but. Lower bracket runs and early exits from tournaments came quickly for the team, who were considered favorites at many of the events they participated in. At the Stage 2 Masters Reykjavík they were surprisingly pushed off against Version 1 in the lower class before they were knocked out by regional rival Fnatic. Then they were beaten at the EMEA Stage 3 Challengers Playoffs by Natus Vincere and the powerhouse Gambit Esports, which put an end to their hopes of participating in Stage 3 Masters Berlin.
These losses have made Liquid a team that knows adversity and has been made stronger for it. Nivera was just the final piece of the puzzle and fitted into the controller position the team had to fill.
“I took on the role of Kryptix, so it wasn’t as difficult as it looked because everyone was playing together for a year and a half,” said Nivera. “So you had really good chemistry.”
To say Liquid has chemistry is an understatement. In fact, two of the players have known each other for … their entire lives. These two are of course Nivera and his brother Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom. ScreaM is why Nivera joined the team after leaving Vitality’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive roster. ScreaM is also the reason that Liquid is consistently rated as one of the most dangerous teams in VALORANT. The star duelist is a well-known figure who took part in countless events in CS: GO before moving to VALORANT, a move his younger brother also took almost a year later.
“He’s not an operator type,” Zescht said of ScreaM. “That is very remarkable. He’s not into one-kill-shots, he takes duels much more actively, but wisely. He’s also incredibly strong in terms of constant success in the opening duel. “
Liquid’s honeymoon ends at Champions
Team Liquid moved into Group B with Sentinels, KRÜ Esports and FURIA Esports. Only two of the four teams make it into the champions playoffs. In this group, the guys from Liquid are supposed to advance alongside Sentinels. But expectations – and KRÜ Esports – are one hell of a barrier to overcome. The Argentine organization showed their skills in Stage 3 Masters Berlin, where they reached the playoffs before being knocked out by Gambit.
Then there is FURIA, who won the South American LCQ to qualify. You are a stranger on the international stage and a real outsider in a group, but excitement is always possible.
For Liquids fans, it should be encouraging that the team wasn’t complacent after winning LCQ. On Showstopper, Nivera spoke about improving his own gameplay. Despite making the leap from CS: GO with ease – a true VALORANT prodigy – Nivera knew that before Champions, both he and his team still struggled to iron them out.
“More preparation, more discipline, more strategy,” he said. “And we need more trust. When every player is confident, we just can’t be stopped. “
Winning champions would round out Liquid’s meteoric rise. But to win it all, it’s almost inconceivable that they could get to the top without suffering their first defeat since Nivera joined. The team needs to turn it upside down, recover, and show some of the resilience that has been gathering dust lately when they challenged the bosses of some of the best teams in the EMEA region.