Since late 2017, Nicholas “nitr0” Cannella has been the in-game leader of Liquid's Counter-Strike team. Since then, Liquid have gone on to do great things. Their 2018 lineup was the best NA CS:GO had seen up to that point. The 2019 Liquid roster eclipsed that lineup as the best NA team in history. The community have praised Liquid as a whole, but few credit nitr0 as being one of the top leaders in CS:GO. Jonathan “EliGE” Jablonowski pointed this out on twitter, “I don’t understand the still lack of credit given to nick when he’s been IGLing since late 2017 and how well we have been playing since.” While that is a fair assessment of the community’s attitude towards nitr0’s leadership, nitr0 is one of the hardest leaders to evaluate in CS:GO. There are multiple factors why nitr0 hasn’t been given full credit for leading Liquid.
A Different History Compared to the Others
The majority of in-game leaders have a history of leading different rosters or raising up young talents from the bottom and taking them to the top. Finn “karrigan” Andersen has shown he can lead a full Danish roster with his time on TSM/Astralis and an international roster with his time on FaZe and Mouz. Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo led his team from the depths of Brazil to the top of the world. He then stayed at the top with three different lineups, though the core remained the same. Most recently, the community praised Aleksi “Aleksib” Virolainen for his ability to lead an all Finnish roster to become a top two team in the world.
Nitr0 has a different history compared to other in-game leaders. In the early years of his career, nitr0 was known as a star player who sometimes wanted to in-game lead for a few weeks before dropping the role. Nitr0 never picked up the role fully until late 2017, one year after Wilton “zews” Prado had joined the team.
While nitr0’s past failings as an in-game leader has no bearing on how good he is now, it’s an easy narrative to believe that zews was the primary force behind how Liquid played Counter-Strike, particularly because Liquid was a hotbed of conflict before zews arrived. After zews joined the team, they started to become more of a cohesive whole and so people naturally believed that zews was the de-facto leader of the squad at least culturally, if not tactically. In addition, pros, teams, and community figures have praised zews as one of the best coaches in all of CS:GO. Credit is a limited resource and so it was hard to give nitr0 full honors when he was paired with zews.
The Before and After Effect
The second reason why nitr0 gets less credit as an in-game leader is the before and after effect. No one outside of the team can know the level of impact that any in-game leader has. In order to analyze and speculate, fans and pundits have to see how an in-game leader works through multiple squads and their effect on any particular lineup.
If you take Astralis for example, Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander is given credit as the best leader in CS:GO, and arguably the greatest we’ve ever seen. Like nitr0, gla1ve was paired with one of the best coaches in Danny “zonic” Sorensen. However gla1ve came in when Astralis were slumping and then fixed them by changing the roles and adding a tactical structured system. In this case, we saw how Astralis looked before gla1ve into the picture and how they looked after. Thus people gave him a lot of credit as an in-game leader.
In the case of Liquid, they had two such events. However, neither have directly pointed to nitr0 as being the biggest catalyst of change. The first time nitr0 became the in-game leader was in late 2017. However there were too many factors involved in that particular change that it was hard to credit nitr0 as the biggest factor as multiple roles were swapped within the team.
At the time, we also got a glimpse into Liquid's power dynamics when Peter “stanislaw” Jarguz posted a twitlonger after being removed. The post makes it sound like zews was the leader at the time and so many assumed (whether rightly or wrongly) that a lot of the positive changes that were coming into the squad were at the behest of zews. Without a history of leading other lineups to success, it was difficult to allocate who did what.
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The second time was after zews and Epitacio “TACO” de Melo left Liquid and Jacky “Stewie2K” Yip and Eric “adreN” Hoag joined. The swap in the roster has brought some tactical change to the lineup as Liquid are now a strong Nuke and Overpass team. From the outside looking in, the biggest tactical change was adreN coming in as coach. As that’s the case, many people’s first instincts are to credit him for helping Liquid expand their map pool. While it’s likely that nitr0 had some level of input, we can’t discern how much of the positive change was due to him as an in-game leader.
The Karrigan Factor
The final variable we have to consider is the Karrigan factor. When Karrigan was leading FaZe, he wasn’t given as much credit because people saw the lineup and assumed that with that many superstar players, it was easy to lead them. The same factor has applied to nitr0 across his last two lineups. In 2018 he had: EliGE, Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken, Keith “NAF” Markovic, and TACO. This lineup has three of the best star players in the world with both Twistzz and NAF hitting a top five level at different points in 2018.
In 2019 his lineup had Stewie2k instead of TACO. The 2019 lineup is the most stacked lineup NA ever produced and one of the best lineups we’ve seen in CS:GO. It’s harder for people to praise leaders who have that much talent on deck.
So what can we say about nitr0’s leadership?
Throughout this article, I’ve broken down the various mitigating factors as to why nitr0 likely gets less credit than he deserves as an in-game leader. From the outside, there are far too many factors that make it hard to know the level of impact he has on Liquid. Here is what we can say about nitr0 though.
Liquid were immediately a better team after they made nitr0 the in-game leader and moved stanislaw to the secondary caller. By the time 2018 rolled around, Liquid had decided to use a versatile five-rifle setup with nitr0 being the leader and primary AWPer. While they had an abundance of talent, their strength as a squad in 2018 comes from their structured approach to the game. They continually improved their playbook, tactics, and map pool in their 2018 run.
In 2019, they seamlessly transitioned over from TACO to Stewie2K and have gotten even stronger. While they still have a strong tactical base, they give enough leeway for players like Stewie2K or NAF to pull out wildcard plays that can disrupt the enemy. As a team, they have the most options of any squad out there. They can play the five man rifle setup, a typical four rifle and AWP, or play double AWP. As individuals, they have realized even more of their potential talent as nitr0 has found better form in 2019 than he did in 2018.
Finally, they identify weaknesses and adapt quickly. On Mirage, they swapped their CT-side default when Stewie2k came in. They had Stewie2k take Twistzz’s roles, but after realizing it wasn’t working, they had Stewie2k play near window with the AWP, have Twistzz go back to his original spot, and have nitr0 fill the gap. At the CS Summit, they found their weakness on Nuke and changed their setup. This solidified their nuke to the point where ENCE were unwilling to pick the map into them in the finals of DreamHack Dallas.
When you take all of that into account along with the fact that nitr0 has been the leader of the two best NA lineups CS:GO has ever seen, we have to acknowledge that he must be doing something right. No one can luck their way into that amount of success, regardless of the players or coaches surrounding them. Nitr0 is at worst a good in-game leader, but he could turn out to be a great one. While no one can know for sure how much impact nitr0 has now, if he continues to lead his teams to success for years to come, no one will doubt his impact as an in-game leader.