ESL One Cologne 2014 preview
With the year's most anticipated tournament one day away, we take a look at the ESL One Cologne 2014 field of competitors.
With each group starting on Thursday and being spread over the course of two days, we have decided to include all sixteen teams in one massive preview for the $250,000 major.
We have divided the teams into four groups titled the top dogs, the second tier, the challengers and the underdogs. You can find the groups for ESL One Cologne 2014 on the event page.
Our official ESL One Cologne 2014 viewer's guide is available here. Two teams will advance from each GSL-style group, and the playoffs will be played in a single elimination format.
In case you've missed it, we've also been conducting interviews with most ESL One Cologne participants, and you can find them all below:
We recommend reading through all the interviews as they give a good idea of what to expect from each team, and maybe more importantly, what they expect of themselves.
Continue reading for full previews on all sixteen teams who will be eyeing the $100,000 first place check, to be handed out on Sunday evening in Cologne, Germany.
Who will play on the main stage on Sunday? (Photo: ESL)
The top dogs
NiP (f0rest, Fifflaren, friberg, GeT_RiGhT, Xizt)
Though NiP's last two tournaments have been grand disappointments, failing to crack the top four at both - excluding the practically two-team IronGaming event - they remain my number one favorites to win it all in Cologne. Group A may look somewhat tough at first glance, as they have lost against both HellRaisers and Epsilon in the past, but looking at how it will play out shows there's practically no way they will not make it to the quarter-finals.
NiP will beat Indian Wolf in the opening round, and then face one of their two competitors for a playoff spot. They will not have to win the first battle to advance, which means they effectively only have to win one of the two games -- not an easy task, but one that should be easily done by NiP. They seem full of motivation after their vacation and a poor G3 performance, and bootcamping for these final days should be exactly what the doctor ordered for the team still missing that elusive major title despite coming into each of them as favorites.
In the best-of-three playoffs NiP should once again thrive, though the loss against dignitas certainly proved even the team who has been world's number one for the majority of the two years CS:GO has been out is vulnerable to early exits now. NiP have been publicly very receptive to the new maps, and their skill-heavy playing style should translate well to maps no one has much experience on, assuming their heavyhitters Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg and GeT_RiGhT are back in shape. Besides, Faruk "pita" Pita will be able to help the team out in his new role as a strategy adviser.
Expect NiP to get out of group A on Friday morning with a first seed, and get a favorable quarter-final match-up. It won't be easy for NiP to claim that elusive major title on their third try, but it's hard to see how you should not consider the Ninjas favorites to once again reach the grand final. If they get knocked out in the quarter-finals it will be interesting to see how they deal with another disappointment, but for now, expect to see NiP playing on Sunday.
GeT_RiGhT wonders whether NiP can get back on top
Virtus.pro (byali, NEO, pasha, Snax, TaZ)
Together with NiP, Virtus.pro are one of the main favorites to win it all at ESL One Cologne. They're fresh off a victory at Gfinity 3 in London, despite only having less than a week to prepare for the event. This time they will be well prepared thanks to a bootcamp between the two events, and with over five times more money, and an even higher multiplier for prestige, on the line, you can bet the Poles will have done their all to try to defend their Katowice title.
This time Virtus.pro won't be playing in front of a supporting crowd on their home-soil, but it won't matter too much, seeing as no one else will be either. In group C the team now led by TaZ will start off in a match against dAT, who despite upsetting mousesports and ESG to qualify for the event, are massive underdogs and shouldn't be a problem for such an experienced team at a major event. The two other teams, fnatic and iBUYPOWER, will be tougher though.
Still, neither team should be good enough to take down Virtus.pro at such an important stage. The Poles' core is known for elevating their level of play at major events, as proven by TaZ and Filip "NEO" Kubski's ridiculous track record at major events across the different Counter-Strike versions. Expect Virtus.pro to cruise through what looks like a really tough group C, and advance to the playoffs where they'll be well suited to make a deep run.
Traditionally this Virtus roster has had different players shine at different times, and whenever they've had three of them on at the same time, they've been near unstoppable. If Jarosław "pashaBiceps" Jarząbkowski shows up in his early 2014 shape, the two veterans do decent, and both Paweł "byali" Bieliński and Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski have some good games, expect the Poles in at the semi-finals, if not further. They should still be competing on Sunday.
Virtus need pasha's A-game to defend their Katowice title
Natus Vincere (Edward, GuardiaN, seized, starix, Zeus)
Though they've had this roster since early December 2013, Na`Vi didn't break through until May. At the previous major they crashed out in the group stage - the same fate they had to deal with at DreamHack Winter - and now on their third try they will need to finally make it out to the playoffs, especially being considered the favorites to win their group. Na`Vi looked good in the summer, but recent online results have made some question their form.
It's worth remembering Na`Vi aren't a great online team, but a more worrysome fact is they've always done better against clear top teams, and struggled against underdog challengers they aren't as well prepared for. In Cologne their group B is basically filled with teams they would've likely prefered to change for teams most of us would consider stronger. They face some tough competition, though this time they should be much better prepared.
The biggest problem Na`Vi have going into ESL One is the map rotation. They've never played de_nuke - not since the team was founded in 2010 - and that means they had to prepare both de_cobblestone and de_overpass. Additionally they never liked de_cache, so instead of simply keeping their form from earlier in the summer, they've had to get good on three new maps. That's a tall order, and likely too much for any team. Na`Vi therefore would have to be godly good on the standard maps to win in Cologne.
Copenhagen Wolves aren't going to be well prepared, and London Conspiracy will regress in Cologne. LDLC are a real threat and in great shape, so Na`Vi will have a tall talk going through them for a top finish in group C. The team led by Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko should be well enough prepared to do just that, and are favored to make the final four, but they are by no means guaranteed advancement. Na`Vi are a good team at grinding out wins, and the work will start for them tomorrow.
Can Na`Vi return to the podium this Sunday?
dignitas (aizy, device, dupreeh, FeTiSh, Xyp9x)
Though I expected dignitas not to have weakened too much over their summer vacation due to their counter-terrorist heavy playing style being easy to maintain with individual skill, their level of play surpassed all of my expectations at G3. Until the final two maps of the Virtus series they looked untouchable, but ultimately they fell short just at the wrong time - in the semi-finals - as so many times before, including their previous two international tournaments in the spring before adding Philip "aizy" Aistrup.
The Danes have emerged as favorites in a group where months ago you could have talked me into them going out early, as their stellar play combined with Titan and Cloud9's struggles have seen their ranking skyrocket ahead of the two. dignitas is known for very consistent play, and that should be enough for them to get out of this, admittedly very tough, group. Assuming they defeat Vox Eminor first, a single win over either Titan or Cloud9 will do it for the Danes.
Finally taking down NiP, albeit a wounded one, at G3 showed dignitas no longer have an opponent they can't beat. It's questionable whether this team still has enough to get past the semi-finals -- the individual skills of Nicolai "device" Reedtz and Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen can only get you so far. The team lacks unique terrorist side play, and if they aren't hitting their shots, they can run into a brick wall against a strong defensive team.
That being said, dignitas are one of the four best teams attending ESL One Cologne, and therefore should be treated as a favorite to go into the semi-finals. They have also been the most consistent team of all the favorites in 2014, which certainly helps their case. Results will be somewhat random overall due to the new map selection process, and it remains to be seen whether that is enough to knock dignitas' consistency out before the top four.
device is dignitas' most important player
The second tier
Titan (Ex6TenZ, kennyS, NBK, ScreaM, SmithZz)
Before G3 Titan likely would have belonged in the next group of teams, but a strong performance in London has seemingly reinvigorated the team. Though they were one of the better prepared teams going into the event, together with fnatic, they've always had the capacity to achieve deep playoff runs and beat any team in the world, so simply gaining the confidence of getting to the finals, and beating NiP online before, means the world to them.
ESL One Cologne will truly show us how good Titan now is -- another poor performance would obviously make us forget about G3, and should make the team question its personnel once more. Add in the fact they share a group with two teams they've historically struggled with, and Titan face a ton of early pressure just to get to the playoff portion of the $250,000 tournament. Another group stage exit simply isn't an option for Kévin "Ex6TenZ" Droolans and company.
In the opening round Titan will face off with Cloud9, who should be underdogs considering their poor preparation and recent roster change. dignitas rocked Nathan "NBK-" Schmitt's team in London, but this time the French-Belgians will have the new maps on their side. Having bootcamped for so long must mean Titan benefit from the new maps being added, and it should help them get out of this group. Especially Cloud9 are at a huge disadvantage with the maps.
I fully expect to see Titan playing come Saturday, though from there on out it depends a lot on just how well the other teams are playing, and what kind of bracket draw they get. They came very, very close to beating NiP at DreamHack Summer, so the potential has always been there -- it just remains to be seen if kennyS can carry Titan once more, and the rest of the team can execute well enough to return to the podium, or the grand final, once more.
Titan should return to the playoffs in Cologne
fnatic (flusha, jw, KRiMZ, olofm, pronax)
fnatic were good at G3. That's both a compliment and a negative. They bootcamped before the event and were one of the most active teams in the time leading up to the $45,000 tournament at the Olympic Park. Having just recruited Freddy "KRIMZ" Johansson and Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer forced them to do that, and it will have made them more prepared in general, but most of that advantage is now gone with other teams having also bootcamped before ESL One.
For the black and orange team to return to the grand finals of a major, olofmeister would have to show up as himself, and not the player we saw in London, and both JW and Robin "flusha" Rönnquist would have to once again have events of their lives, as they did at DreamHack Winter. The team's advantage in their unorthodox, at times, playing style is now long gone, and Markus "pronax" Wallsten will have to figure out other ways to gain advantages over other teams.
In group B fnatic will face iBUYPOWER in the opening round. They played each other in London, and tied. This time it is the North Americans who will be better prepared, ceteris paribus, as they will be fresh off a bootcamp and precious practice against European teams. The Swedes should get out of that match-up alive, and to the playoffs, especially seeing as their main opponents aren't well prepared on the new maps -- something pronax should have made fnatic.
We won't know until ESL One is over just how good this team really is, but it's clear their likeliest destination would be a quarter-final exit. Virtus.pro should be able to take care of business against fnatic, who should be better than both dAT and iBUYPOWER. This team could peak on Saturday and even make the final four, but for now, their goal is to secure a spot in the quarter-finals.
olofm struggled in his fnatic debut at G3
HellRaisers (AdreN, ANGE1, Dosia, kucher, markeloff)
If not for the new map system and de_cobblestone and de_overpass, I probably would have expected HellRaisers to crash out in the group stage this time around. Instead, they've publicly expressed their happiness with the new maps, and considering their style as a team, new maps seem like a good fit. HR aren't well coordinated, but they have tons of firepower -- a recipe for success on maps no one is very well prepared on.
Mihail "Dosia" Stolyarov hasn't been the superstar HR needs him to be in ages, and if they were to ever win a tournament, he'd have to return to his 2013 peak of powers level of play. He was the NiP killer then, and he needs to be that once more. Yegor "markeloff" Markelov has continued improving as a player, and Emil "kUcheR" Akhundov has been a pleasant surprise, as he had an amazing tournament at DreamHack Summer, where HellRaisers came within a few missed shots of taking down NiP in the semi-finals.
HellRaisers' big problem has always been inconsistency. I assume the new maps will give them a big enough advantage over Epsilon to get out of group A, and they're actually a good match-up to potentially even upset NiP for the top seed. HR should have beat Epsilon in Valencia, and if they still can't do it, it probably means we will never see their considerable potential unleashed. They will continue to be around, but how many disappointing finishes can they really take?
Playoffs will come down to how well HR have prepared, and whether they'll get to play the new maps. They're a huge dark horse candidate if they're in shape and get to play the new maps, but you could just as easily talk me into seeing HR exit their third major in a row in quarter-finals. I sense this time will be different, powered by the new maps, but they already have to overcome a sizable obstacle in the group stage, first.
Dosia has been good, but not nearly a superstar, in 2014
LDLC (apEX, Happy, KQLY, Maniac, Uzzziii)
LDLC are probably one of the most underrated teams in the scene. They aren't very flashy, they're generally consistent, and nothing about them screams for attention -- save for maybe Hovik "KQLY" Tovmassian's AWP highlights. They're one of the world's best teams, but in a weird sense they probably also have one of the lower ceilings out of all the top ten or so teams. That, and their group, should put them in the quarter-finals yet again, but probably not much further.
The Frenchmen are in group B together with Na`Vi, London Conspiracy and Copenhagen Wolves. This is an ideal group for LDLC who are capable of beating Na`Vi, and whose consistency should be enough to push them over the top against both LC and the Wolves; two weaker teams with massive upset potential. LDLC also skipped G3, which allowed them to better prepare for ESL One, despite KQLY and Dan "apEX" Madesclaire going to ASUS ROG Summer on the same weekend.
As mentioned in the Na`Vi section I expect LC to regress in Cologne, and LDLC should pick up their opening win in that match. They aren't favored to beat Na`Vi, but their consistency, and strong play by their two stars apEX and KQLY should power them to the playoffs. From there though, the going really does get rough for the recent DreamHack Valencia winners.
There are certain teams LDLC could very well beat for a top four finish -- teams like dignitas and fnatic, for example. For Happy's team their final finish at ESL One will largely come down to good old dumb luck, thanks to the random draw that will determine playoff match-ups. I expect them to go out in the quarter-finals -- no matter how tired Happy is of it.
KQLY shoulders a lot of weight in LDLC
Cloud9 (Hiko, n0thing, Semphis, sgares, shroud)
Cloud9 come into the event with high hopes, having just acquired the services of Mike "shroud" Grzesiek as their fifth player, and secured backing from the Cloud9 organization. They most recently upset NiP, Na`Vi and Virtus.pro at ESEA Invite Season 16 Global Finals in Dallas, but that was with a different fifth in Todd "anger" Williams, and all those teams less prepared than they should be now.
I expect the North Americans to be disappointed with their showing in Germany, but only because they've put in a very tough group with two top teams in dignitas and Titan. Both have more individual skill than Cloud9 does, and both should also be better prepared on the new maps, which could make a huge difference in the best-of-one group stage, combined with the random map selection system.
For Cloud9 to make the playoffs, shroud must play like he does online, and both Jordan "n0thing" Gilbert and Hiko need to be in top shape. They also need Kory "SEMPHIS" Friesen to prove to be a good in-game leader in the long run -- so far we only know his on-the-fly calling worked in Dallas. That's a lot of if's, but on the other hand, they're all as likely to pan out, as they are not to.
Playing the odds I have to guess Cloud9 won't make the playoffs here -- there are just too many obstacles to overcome. Their bootcamp wasn't great due to poor PCs, their roster is new, they had to switch gear with their new sponsorship, and there's two world class teams in their group. Don't be surprised if they go out in groups, and don't be surprised if they make the playoffs.
Everyone talks about shroud but n0thing is the key to Cloud's performance
iBUYPOWER (AZK, DaZeD, Skadoodle, steel, swag)
I wrote in my post-G3 article that I think iBUYPOWER's window for a top four placing has closed with the event in London ending. I stand by it. Though Sam "DaZeD" Marine's team weren't prepared as well as possible before G3, and were able to bootcamp for ten or so days after the event ended, neither were their opposition. Now everyone is in top shape, and it will be much harder to cause upsets.
Pending the performances of Tyler "Skadoodle" Latham and Braxton "swag" Pierce the team has the potential to go through to the playoffs and potentially even upset someone there, but as we all know there's a huge gap between potential and reality. And the reality is that they have two teams in their group - namely fnatic and Virtus.pro - who are better than them, and favored against them. Even dAT could cause them issues.
Expect iBUYPOWER to be knocked out in the decider game in their group, after putting up a decent fight. They are a very good team, but they've been put in a group with two better ones. iBP is certainly capable of beating fnatic - as proven by their tie at G3 - but they also showed their indecisiveness in close games, and that's a problem that will eat teams alive at the majors -- even if fnatic shares it, too.
iBP face a tall task of getting out of their group
Epsilon (fxy0, GMX, kioShiMa, Sf, shox)
Epsilon have the best chance out of all four teams in the challengers group to advance to the playoffs. They have two legitimate top players in shox and Joey "fxy0" Schlosser - including arguably a top two player in the whole world - and solid players around them. They share a group with NiP, HR and Wolf, but have beaten NiP two weeks ago, and HR the week before at DreamHack Valencia.
shox showcased his ridiculous abilities in that already legendary 30/3 performance against HellRaisers on the deciding map in Valencia, and fxy0 proved to be a top level performer at G3. They were robbed of a playoff spot in London, and shox was ill, playing his worst tournament in his career. Epsilon will be better - but so will both HellRaisers and NiP.
Working against Epsilon is the map rotation, which favors the skill-heavy teams they go up against. Wolf shouldn't be a factor, but getting wins over HellRaisers and NiP is no easy task. I expect Epsilon to miss the playoffs by a hair, only because they recently beat both teams -- they'd be better served coming in as a pure underdog. Still, don't count shox out just yet - it's never a good idea.
Epsilon could wind up sending NiP or HR home
London Conspiracy (Polly, prb, rain, RUBINO, Skurk)
If you read through all of our pre-event interviews, you must have noticed one thing - close to everyone named these Norwegians as the potential surprise performer at ESL One. That means their performance wouldn't actually be a surprise anymore, and likely is the reason we won't be hearing much of LC in Germany, where they share a group with Na`Vi, LDLC and Copenhagen Wolves.
They surprised everyone in the ESL One qualifier by beating Na`Vi, and even at G3 not many took them seriously. Now everyone will, and that's going to be the death of this team, I think. LDLC are far too consistent to lose to LC, who would then have to get two wins against Copenhagen Wolves, Na`Vi and LDLC. It's a tall task for a team reliant on team work - without much individual skill aside from Håvard "rain" Nygaard - who will have been scouted.
I expect London Conspiracy to regress slightly, though they could still easily beat the much more skilled Copenhagen Wolves squad. Na`Vi and LDLC are too good to fall for them now that they're a known threat, and that should mean an early exit -- though one consistent with their place among the world rankings. If they were to make the final eight, it'd be a huge surprise, again.
London Conspiracy are no longer in the shadows
Wolf (Ace, aStarrrr, RiTz, RiX, sMx)
We know next to nothing about Wolf, aside from the fact they won the Indian ESL One qualifier, have some long-standing top Indian players from the Counter-Strike 1.6 ATE days, and recently hired Aleksandar "kassad" Trifunović as their coach to get them ready for ESL One Cologne.
They were one of the two teams not to get back to us on an interview to give us more information to go by, but our job was made easier by their group draw. Wolf face NiP in the opening round, and either HellRaisers or Epsilon in round two. Those are two unwinnable matches for an unknown quantity like Wolf, even with kassad helping them out.
Had Wolf bootcamped extensively in Europe and had they had kassad working with them for a longer time, and had they been placed in an easier group, something could have been possible. For now, I think they will gladly settle for the experience of being at a major, and hopefully improving for a second go-around in the future.
kassad is coaching Wolf at ESL One Cologne
Vox Eminor (AZR, havoc, jks, SPUNJ, topguN)
Vox Eminor come into their third major event now, though they only attended the BYOC qualifier at the first one. In Katowice they came close to upsetting LDLC in their group, but were ultimately knocked out by the Danes of 3DMAX. Since then they've played in Australia, where they remain number one, as proven by their qualifier win.
Since Katowice the team has added Justin "jks" Savage, who has in domestic competition proven to be a valuable addition, and was praised by SPUNJ in our interview for seemingly adjusting well to playing against the world's best in Europe. They face a tall task in a super tough group D though, which likely means they will once again leave Europe disappointed.
Expect Vox to put up a better fight than the average fan expects -- I wouldn't be surprised if they took Cloud9 to their limit. Still, they have three of the world's ten or so best teams in their group, and that's a death sentence to a team from Australia, who can't get the kind of preparation that's needed to overcome such an obstacle.
Vox hope to finally beat a top team in Cologne
Copenhagen Wolves (cajunb, gla1ve, karrigan, Nico, Pimp)
Clearly the best team in the underdogs group, Copenhagen Wolves have a monstrous task ahead of them due to lack of preparation going into ESL One. They've only practiced for about a week due to various vacations, and the playing style Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander's teams are so famous for - and successful due to - takes a lot more time to implement properly.
What the Danes do have going for them is their firepower. Nico has carried teams like this before, and comparing to Western Wolves rosters with the same trio in Nico, gla1ve and Jacob "Pimp" Winneche, René "cajunb" Borg is a huge upgrade over either of the final two players. Even Finn "karrigan" Andersen has recently started improving in CS:GO and could be valuable asset in Germany.
It's possible the Wolves may gel quickly and knock out LDLC or Na`Vi, and I'm inclined to bet they will because I have so much faith on gla1ve, but smart money says they won't -- those are two of the world's best six teams after all. Nevertheless, Copenhagen Wolves will be one of the most entertaining teams to watch during the group stage of ESL One Cologne.
The mastermind behind Copenhagen Wolves
dAT (B1ad3, bondik, flamie, ub1que, WorldEdit)
dAT could really mess up the entire group C. They are huge underdogs in the group with Virtus.pro, fnatic and iBUYPOWER, yet if they can replicate the kind of success they had in the online qualifier, they could potentially take down one of them. I don't expect Egor "flamie" Vasilyev to be the kind of overnight success to help dAT advance, but don't rule out ruining someone else's day.
Virtus.pro should be untouchable - they're too consistent, too deep in their roster, and too good. Both fnatic, and especially iBUYPOWER though, are beatable teams for dAT. I don't think Andrey "B1ad3" Gorodenskiy and company can take down two of them to advance, but even a single win would make this trip a success for a team who had to crowd-fund just to make it to Cologne.
B1ad3 has had success abroad before with teams such as A-gaming, UNiTED and KerchNet, and it's not inconceivable that his leadership skills could help dAT become a strong team in the future. However, now is too early for the team, even if flamie is every bit as good on LAN as online, to crack the final eight.
B1ad3 is one of the most experienced Ukrainian players in CS history
ESL One Cologne 2014 will begin tomorrow at 09:00. You can find the rest of the schedule on our official viewer's guide, which also features information such as prize distribution, and more.
We will be releasing a second preview for the playoffs at the end of Friday, when the group stages are done and playoff pairs have been drawn. We may also release a day three preview on Saturday.
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