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The first major of 2017, ELEAGUE, in Atlanta, GA is just a few weeks away. This is the longest Valve has waited between majors, and as a result, the landscape of CS:GO has dramatically shifted. Just to name a few examples: The defending champions SK have undergone a roster change due to internal conflict in the team; The runners-up, Liquid, lost their star player s1mple and have subsequently fallen off the radar in even the North American scene; semifinalists fnatic participated in a massive exchange of players, and have been a shadow of their once legendary selves ever since; and fnatic’s olofmeister and NaVi’s Guardian, the 2 unanimous best players of 2015, both suffered injuries requiring time away from the game. This chaos, combined with both the strongest class of challengers ever seen in a major and a swiss format that guarantees each team 3 maps, is all but assured to lead to many electrifying matches.
In the first of this series of articles (and to hopefully avoid people spamming 'omg so long' in the comments), I will look at the first 4 of the 8 matchups. The first round pits a legend (left) against a challenger (right) in each game. In addition to summarizing each team’s current form going into the major, I will give my prediction as to who will take the map. I’ll also keep a tally of my record throughout each round to see how good or bad my predictions were (which I’m sure I will regret come February)! Let’s dive into it.
Gambit was one of the surprises of the last major for many, particularly in the way they became legends. The Russian – Kazakh mix was put into a relatively easy group in the qualifier, where they stomped a struggling Cloud9 team to make it through to the major. Then at Cologne, they played and won a close map against CLG, who was using their coach, pita, as a stand in. After such a close game against a weak opponent, many thought they would have no shot against Astralis – but they were wrong. Gambit made it look easy against the top seed of the group in a 16-5 romp to assure their legend status for ELEAGUE. The team has only gotten stronger since then, parting ways with veteran IGL hooch and fragger spaze to make room for Zeus, the longtime leader for NaVi, and Hobbit, a breakout player of 2016 (ragareport.com/b/breakout-players-2016
) on loan from Tengri. They will be riding high into Atlanta off a Dreamhack Winter win back in November.
Unfortunately for Gambit, they run into one of the strongest challengers in this tournament in the first round, and in fact the only team from their last major group that they did not play. The newly minted team North was signed by Copenhagen FC in a blockbuster deal at the beginning of the new year. The Danish soccer club has good reason to be interested in them. MSL has led this team to the most meteoric rise of a team since the last major, ranking them at #2 for some part of the year. He had a lot of help from 2 other breakout players, magiskb0y and k0nfig, who seemingly came out of nowhere this year to consistently dominate other teams. The roster is rounded out well by role-player Rubino and veteran off-AWPer cajunb. Given both these teams’ form recently, it’s going to be a close matchup, but I’m giving the edge to North because their lineup looks a bit more lethal.
If the last section was about two teams on the rise, this next one will be the exact opposite. As I mentioned in the intro, fnatic overwent a massive roster swap with fellow Swedish team GODSENT which ultimately saw flusha and JW get traded for twist and wenton. They wound up dropping wenton for young talent disco doplan. The results have not been pretty for them. Olofmeister has been a shadow of his former self after his hand injury, and disco doplan’s performance has tanked ever since joining the big leagues. Only at the beginning of 2017 has the team started to have some semblance of their old selves.
The only saving grace fnatic have right now is the state of the French CS scene. G2 has been on a rollercoaster since they lost to fnatic at the last major. They have been ranked as high as #2 as well as outside the top 10 in a 6 month span. Just when things were looking up, as shox and ScreaM were getting their mojo back and bodyy was adapting to high level play, a French roster shuffle was announced for after this major that left Scream and RpK out in the cold. Teams have been known to have last hurrah moments in big tournaments [See: s1mple carrying Liquid to the Cologne 2016 finals], but given the alleged behind-the-scenes dealings that led to this superteam being formed, this may not be one of them. With fnatic actually looking decent in the new year, G2 will need full support for Scream and Rpk to get a W from this, and I cannot see that happening in a post-superteam world. After fnatic stomped G2 this week in the Dreamhack qualifier, the Swedes get the clear edge in this one.
The two-time defending major champions are in a bit of a rut as of this past Autumn. Due to some internal conflict in the team (there are rumors of fnx flirting with coldzera’s girlfriend), fnx and the team agreed to part ways. With the major qualifier occurring only a month ago, there was not enough time between the events to poach a player from Immortals. So SK decided to go with another Portuguese speaker, fox, as their stand-in. Even though he is a skilled AWPer, FalleN is better, so it remains to be seen how he is going to fit into this team’s style of play. One thing they can count on though is the fragging power of coldzera, currently the best player in the world and the MVP of ESL One Cologne. With him on the team, any match is winnable.
HellRaisers are a team who also made a roster change recently, but in contrast, the new player has had an extremely positive impact almost immediately. DeadFox wasted no time slotting into this lineup and is the highest rated player on the team (currently at 1.08). He was a huge factor in their wins over NiP and Cloud9 that ultimately qualified them for the major. This lineup would be intimidating under normal circumstances – but this is a major. This is the easiest matchup to predict, because even with a stand-in, SK should be able to dominate HellRaisers in this one. Nobody on HR can match up to coldzera or Fallen and they will probably be unstoppable in this game.
If you can only catch one of the matches in the opening round, this matchup between the ELEAGUE Season 1 and 2 winners, respectively, would probably be the most exciting to watch. The legendary Polish team Virtus.pro made it to the semifinals at Cologne, and they might be the only lineup that hasn’t changed since then. Their results have been pretty good since the major – An ELEAGUE Season 1 win, a win at Dreamhack Bucharest, a finals loss in overtime to NaVi at ESL One New York, and a finals loss to dignitas (now North) at Epicenter: Moscow. Snax has been unbelievable this year and will probably be in the list of top 5 players of 2016, but don’t discount the dedication other players have put in. TaZ is as good a leader as anyone in the game, Neo is a legend that can go off at any time, and byali is, despite recent events, an extremely consistent fragger who probably just missed out on the top 20 this year. What’s more is that VP have not played a match in 2 months, giving them the element of surprise going into this one.
Meanwhile, OpTic has had a brilliant run since mixwell and tarik joined the team. I’ve written before about how much the Spainard has meant to OpTic (ragareport.com/b/breakout-players-2016
), but tarik is the mastermind for this team and an equal part of what makes them so good. Couple those two with the emerging star fragger RUSH, and you have the guts of the #3 team in the world. Their surprise ELEAGUE Season 2 win cemented their status as the best team in North America and a team to look out for in any major tournament. The last time these two met, VP won 16-14 at ESL One New York, and I expect this game to be just as close. I’m picking VP to win because they have so much more experience at majors than OpTic, and these days, the old guys live for major tournaments.
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