Biggest storylines for DreamHack
With DreamHack Winter 2014 set to kick off tomorrow, we quickly go over the biggest storylines surrounding the fourth CS:GO major.
Obviously there are a million things to look out for when the matches go live on Thursday afternoon, but here are some of the most important things to keep in mind.
This year's DreamHack final will be played in an even grander setting
How will the new NiP roster fare?
With so many blaming Robin "Fifflaren" Johansson for NiP's recent struggles, there is obviously an immense amount of pressure currently riding on the new and improved Ninja roster, which added Mikail "Maikelele" Bill on a trial basis earlier this month. The fact that he is on a trial basis can not help Maikelele either, as it makes it even more important that the Swedish AWPer perform well in Jönköping, as it's possible he may not be given another chance.
NiP had a favorable group draw with two - on paper - clearly weaker teams in the form of ESC, and their first round opponents Planetkey Dynamics. Neither team should be overlooked, but there's no question in anyone's mind that Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg's team are the heavy favorites going into either match-up. Richard "Xizt" Landström hasn't led his team to much success against LDLC, and the Swedes are likely to finish second in their group - which is going to make the quarter-finals even harder for them.
Realistically anything but a top four finish would be disappointment for NiP, and even a semi-finals exit wouldn't please all the fans, especially not after the team's strategy advisor Faruk "pita" Pita said he "is sure of NiP's DreamHack win" after the roster change. Still, this team is no stranger to pressure, and should be expected to perform well in Jönköping, despite only having a couple of weeks to practice with its newest addition.
Key player is obviously going to be the formerly world's best player Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund, who has been in somewhat of a slump in recent months. Another factor to consider is that f0rest has a long history of having incredible tournaments on an individual level following roster changes in his teams, so it's likely his motivation has been boosted once again, and we may see a vintage-f0rest performance at DreamHack this week.
Will we see vintage f0rest in action this week?
Can the favorites win it all for the first time?
A year ago VeryGames were favorites with NiP a close second when DreamHack Winter kicked off, yet it was fnatic who came out from the left field to take the first major championship. Four months later the Polish squad of Virtus.pro surprised everyone on their homesoil with a victory in Katowice, and in August it was NiP's turn to win a major, though there was no real favorite going into ESL One Cologne due to results being so mixed in the months leading up to it.
This time fnatic are clear favorites going into the tournament, showing such dominant play at recent events that it almost rivals the 87-0 NiP team in terms of their consistency and how they've at times ridiculed their opponents. In fact, in last night's Counter-Points episode with Duncan "Thorin" Shields, I made the comparison that fnatic to NiP are in CS:GO are the 2008 mTw to 2003 SK.swe in Counter-Strike 1.6. That's how good they are.
Obviously being the favorites means you have the most pressure, everyone eyeing the title will be focusing on you, and you are the most likely to be anti-stratted in key games, especially if you haven't changed your game plan. Further hurting fnatic are the cheating accusations that Robin "flusha" Rönnquist - and even some of his teammates - are facing, which could mess with their concentration leading up to the event. fnatic are currently the best in the world, but will they remain so after DreamHack?
Will flusha's fnatic prevail in Jönköping again?
Was practice all the Americans were missing?
For years lack of practice has been to go-to excuse, or explanation for lack of performance, for nearly every North American team, and neither iBUYPOWER or Cloud9 has been an exception. It also doesn't help their case that every fan has been saying the same thing for years. Well, now Cloud9 has been in Europe for nearly a month straight, bootcamping for majority of it, and it's time to see how much truth that statement holds.
A case has been made in the past that the NA teams' strong performance at ESEA Finals events is linked to the tournaments being much more important to them than their European counterparts, but that argument will now also be removed with everyone surely being at the top of their game for the major. If Cloud9 truly have potential to one day win a major championship, you would expect them to at least make a glorious return to the semi-finals stage, as they did at the inaugural CS:GO major.
For iBUYPOWER the same statement hardly holds as they recently swapped in-game leader Sam "DaZeD" Marine and a versatile player Joshua "steel" Nissan for two youngsters in Derek "desi" Branchen and Nick "nitr0" Cannella, which means they won't truly be ready for this event. Still, they have also been at Inferno Online in Stockholm, and what's more, have apparently done very well in practice, based on our pre-DreamHack interviews. Only time will tell if the North Americans can make a difference this weekend.
Was practice all the North Americans were missing?
Can HellRaisers finally bring it with B1ad3?
HellRaisers have been arguably the most frustrating team to watch since the late Astana Dragons days, following the roster change that brought in Emil "kUcheR" Akhundov in the place of Ioann "Edward" Sukhariev in November last year. They have an incredible amount of individual skill, and therefore clearly visible potential, yet nothing in them is as consistent as their inability to capitalize on it.
Their only impressive result in 2014 has been a top four finish at DreamHack Summer, and even that happened thanks to a best-of-one win over Titan, which resulted in an easy quarter-final match-up against SK. Granted, they put up a very close fight with NiP in the semi-finals - which is why we remember that run in the first place - but once again fell short in the end, as they also did at the previous major where they exited in groups.
Adding youngster Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev has increased the team's skill even more, but most notable has been the team's decision to integrate former dAT in-game leader Andrey "B1ad3" Gorodenskiy as their coach. Based on what I am hearing and the pictures others have posted from the bootcamp, he will be in a very active role on the team, which promises good things for HellRaisers. If he can add some strategy and tactics to their game, we could very well see HR finally live up to its hype - which is only further enlarged by other players in our interviews.
Can B1ad3 make HellRaisers go?
Will new stars emerge?
At the first major a year ago it was the fnatic combination of Jesper "JW" Wecksell and flusha who truly emerged as competitors of the highest caliber. In Katowice the Virtus.pro duo of Paweł "byali" Bieliński and Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski came out of virtually nowhere. Though NiP won in the end, at Cologne fnatic's new members and LDLC proved they can be among the world's best.
As there are once again a number of newcomers and players who haven't yet broken through as stars, it's very likely new stars will emerge at DreamHack Winter this week. Though it's much harder to guess who the stars our, the most obvious suggestions would be Copenhagen Wolves' Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye, one of iBUYPOWER's new members, or one of the players from the teams who are expected to head home early.
It's also possible some players whose ceiling we thought we'd have already seen could elevate their level of play to an even higher ground. Such examples could be Tyler "Skadoodle" Latham, Mike "shroud" Grzesiek or even Nicolai "device" Reedtz, if he were to get over his nerves in big games - pending dignitas' advancement that far. Keep an eye out on new players, as some will almost certainly prove their worth in Jönköping.
Could desi be one of the breakout players of DH Winter?
Will cheating affect this DreamHack?
No story has received as much coverage in the week leading up to DreamHack as the cheating scandal, which started with the VAC ban of Robert "sMN" Fredriksson, and then the bans of Hovik "KQLY" Tovmassian and Gordon "Sf" Giry that ultimately forced their teams, Titan and Epsilon, removed from the tournament due to no longer fielding three players from the team who placed in the top eight at ESL One Cologne.
Since then a so called witch hunt has found a number of potential cheaters in the scene, many self-identified experts have commented on other players, and 99Damage interviewed a supposed expert on cheating. At this point it's hard to know what to believe, but one thing is certain - cheating has been a real problem, and now that we're all aware of it, it's time we figure out a way to battle it, if not put a stop to it.
I mentioned a number of things in my recent article "The lack of supervision at events", and DreamHack's CS:GO admin Robert "LillRobbaN" Jonasson has made sure to implement a number of them, including removing the players' internet access, banning USB memory devices, and forcing players to submit their configs and preferred drivers earlier this week.
Jonasson also told HLTV.org that DreamHack will be taking on a number of other security measures such as not allowing players to have their smartphones with them in the tournament area, as well as others they were not willing to publicly disclose to avoid giving potential cheaters a heads-up. Safe to say the Swedes in charge are doing everything in their power to live up to Tomas "greykarn" Lyckedal's statement, and as a result cheating should not play a part in Jönköping.
Can DreamHack eliminate hacking this week?
DreamHack Winter will kick off tomorrow afternoon with groups A and B starting at 12:00, followed up by groups C and D at 18:30. Playoffs will begin on Friday.