Fake it 'til you make it
On March 28, the final day of North American Pro League heading into the Apex Legends Global Series Split 2 Playoffs, Team Liquid's Brandon "Nocturnal" Singeris wasn't feeling his best physically. He woke up in a cold sweat, anxiety off the charts. He wasn't able to keep down the one meal he tried to eat that day. But when he sat down at his PC to start the last day of Pro League for the Split, something just clicked.
"Really the honest truth of it," Nocturnal said. "My brain decided 'hey you're gonna you're gonna kill it today,' and we did."
"He lied to himself," his teammate Brandon "FunFPS" Groombridger added jokingly. Nocturnal immediately agreed.
"I literally just lied to myself, like fake it till you make it," he said. "I'm not the most confident person, but I mean after yesterday it was a little bit of a wake up call."
Their coach, Haris "Hodsic" Hodzic, was pleased with their results, regardless of their arguably shaky foundation.
"We're not one of the most talked about teams in Apex," he said. "In fact, we're almost never in people's lists of teams to watch out for, but it does mean a lot to have a consistent fan base that, no matter what happens, they'll always be excited to watch us. It feels good to finally be able to give them a performance, for the first time in a while, that we're proud of and that I'm sure they're probably proud of too."
Heading into Day 12, Team Liquid were sitting eighth on the NA leaderboard, putting them in a do or die position for playoffs contention. They would have to perform if they wanted to qualify, and perform they did. Games 2 through 4 were all TL wins, and they almost took a consecutive fourth in Game 5. Cloud9 managed to finally end their streak, but it was close to the finish. They didn't even make it to the top ten in Game 6, but at that point it didn't matter. At the end of the day, Team Liquid had retained their eighth place spot with 92 ALGS points, securing them a spot at the Split 2 Playoffs in Stockholm, Sweden – the first LAN event for professional Apex in three years.
The more veteran members of the TL squad have competed at in-person events like this before, including the 2019 Preseason Invitational in Poland. But this will be the first time for new member Zachary "Gildersons" Dennis, formerly of the Pittsburg Knights – who is only 18 years old. Despite that, his teammates are confident in him and his ability to perform on the international stage.
"Honestly, I don't think we need to worry about Gild," Nocturnal said. "Realistically, we trust him completely to be his own person because he's amazingly level-headed for being 18."
"When it comes to tournaments, he's just stone cold," Hodsic added.
"For me, it's always been 'last game literally doesn't matter.' There's nothing you can do about it. If it was good or bad, you just move on immediately."
Gildersons joining the team has completely changed TL's playstyle, as has the addition of Storm Point into the ALGS map pool. During Split 1, the squad were focused on playing for position and would only take fights they knew they had a high chance of winning. But Gildersons has given them new firepower to play with.
"With the addition of Gild, our ability to actually take fights, just hard 3-v-3’s, went up dramatically," Hodsic said. "It's something we're still adjusting to, but it's definitely the biggest difference in our game plan from Split 1 to Split 2. We're not as afraid to take fights as we used to be."
This newfound aggression isn't the only new trick Team Liquid have up their sleeves, though. Now that Storm Point has been part of the Split 2 competition alongside World's Edge, Hodsic has been working to find the best compositions for his squad on both maps. On World's Edge, he's found it's best to rely on picks the guys are comfortable with, while on Storm Point, it's all about that Loba loot.
"Although a lot of teams are running Caustic [on World's Edge], and it's a very strong pick, the biggest thing we've been struggling with is just being confident and playing confidently," Hodsic said. "So literally, the main reason we play Wraith, Valkyrie, Gibi is it's just comfort picks. It's characters that everyone's really familiar with and knows the limits of very well."
Liquid's approach to Storm Point is much more focused on positioning themselves within the approximate location of the first ring. Storm Point is still new on the competitive scene, so TL are prioritizing finding points of interest (POI’s) that allow them to gain an early advantage. This allows them to build a solid foundation of loot and positioning to go into the end game with.
"Storm Point doesn't have a lot of center map POI's, so we wanted to go for a POI that allowed us to play more for zone because I feel like playing edge on Storm Point is less forgiving than World's Edge," Hodsic explained.
They use Loba to gather loot quickly and to later supplement anything they're missing so they can instead spend their time after the initial drop focusing on getting into the zone they believe the first ring will close on. In the late game, her Black Market also makes it possible for the squad to grab supplies and grenades, which as Hodsic puts it, "win fights."
Team Liquid are obviously looking to win all the fights they can in the game, but experience has also taught them how to win fights within their mental states so they can ease the pressure of high stakes matches and fully perform.
Nocturnal admits he tends to brood during games, but he's working on stepping away from his PC to get fresh air when he needs it, and he has his girlfriend to lean on as well.
"She's wonderful and supportive," he said. "Without her, I'd probably be royally boned, I'm not gonna lie."
FunFPS leans on the mentality he first learned during his time playing football in high school, and his teammates have come to rely on this mentality as well.
"For me, it's always been 'last game literally doesn't matter,'" he said. "There's nothing you can do about it. If it was good or bad, you just move on immediately. And always just keeps it going. Keeps the vibes up, keeps the momentum going."
Nocturnal agreed. "That helps more than anything I've ever learned in my entire life," he said. "It kind of just kills all the anxiety, it's crazy."
Going into the playoffs, Nocturnal isn't feeling anxious. Instead, he finally gets to rest easy. He's looking forward to seeing the friends he's met while competing, both new and old.
"There's some people I've met in Poland that I still talk to, to this day, and they still compete and they've qualified – shout out to my boys in Scarz, also Alliance," he said.
Beyond "messing around with Alliance," who Nocturnal sees as Team Liquid's counterparts, he's not really concerned with any of the teams they'll meet in the playoffs.
"They're a really good team," he said. "But other than that, I don't really care. We're just gonna go in and win."