What did we learn in January?
In this article we take a look at some of the most important lessons we took away from the three CS:GO tournaments that took place in January.
Since three events featuring multiple top ten teams, and therefore events that affected the future world rankings, took place in January, we have combined them all into a single article.
Normally we release the "What did we learn from" -series articles after each event, but this time around it seemed more fitting to wait out all three events, and write down the lessons here.
MLG kick-started 2015 for CS:GO
Cloud9 have potential, but is that all?
Since those wins over Titan and dignitas, and a close series loss to NiP at ESL One Cologne, we have all overestimated Cloud9, resulting in unrealistically high expectations. They've disappointed us with incredible consistency, failing to get out of groups at FACEIT League Season 2 Finals, ESWC and DreamHack Winter. However, none of those results suggested Cloud9 were a bad team - just not one of the very best.
At ESEA Finals they hit a low point, losing to Denial, whose Shahzeb "ShahZaM" Khan they recruited to replace Spencer "Hiko" Martin earlier this month. At MLG they actually overcame NiP convincingly on de_nuke, but became the first victims to KaBuM.TD's de_mirage, and were demolished by dignitas, now known as Team SoloMid. At ClutchCon they beat all North Americans they faced, but again were absolutely destroyed by fnatic in the grand final.
To be fair, Cloud9 haven't had enough time to practice with ShahZaM - they have not even bootcamped, or gotten to practice against European teams in general - to be in top shape yet. In other words, it is too early to guess where this new iteration's ceiling will be. However, it's inconceivable to me that ShahZaM will be a big enough upgrade over Hiko - if he is one at all - to make the difference. The change must come elsewhere.
It seems Sean "seang@res" Gares is back to calling the shots for the team, which I find a welcome change. ShahZaM also is an upgrade to AWPing in their team. If given a bootcamp in Europe and Mike "shroud" Grzesiek can finally unlock the next level in his individual game, it's possible Cloud9 will become a threat to podium finishes again. Until then, they have a lot of work to do, and it starts at the ESL One Katowice qualifiers in two weeks.
Will Cloud9 ever realize their potential?
MLG did great, especially for their first event
It's safe to say MLG did great in their first venture into Counter-Strike. It may have taken them far too many years to finally hop onboard, but we are all glad they are finally here. There were seemingly no delays or issues at the event, the analyst duo of Duncan "Thorin" Shields and Robin "Fifflaren" Johansson was great, and the event itself was a pleasure to watch.
Hopefully this is simply the tip of the iceberg in terms of MLG's involvement with Counter-Strike, and we will get to witness many more events by the North American side later on in 2015.
Fifflaren & Thorin were a good combo in the analysis booth
New challengers rise up, old ones improve
At MLG the biggest surprise was probably Counter Logic Gaming, or to be more exact, Peter "ptR" Probst. The fact an unproved North American side could take map off of ex-LDLC, the eventual champions of MLG, is very impressive. Yes, it's only a single group stage best-of-one victory, but it's a victory you wouldn't expect ex-iBUYPOWER or Cloud9 to get, much less the former mouseSpaz squad. Unfortunately their showing a week later at ClutchCon was disappointing with a quarter-final loss to eLevate, so it's possible they aren't quite consistent enough yet.
In Helsinki the biggest surprise was probably that 3DMAX, the Finns who gathered crazy support from fans at the event, took down Titan in their opener on de_mirage. The match was all Aleksi "allu" Jalli from start to finish, and likely made mousesports regret their poor decision to let their best player go at the end of 2014. The Finnish side led by Joona "natu" Leppänen wasn't even far away from knocking Titan out - they held a 9-3 lead as terrorists on de_cache before a key two-on-one loss - so it was a very solid showing for them.
Another team who impressed at ASUS ROG was PENTA, who defeated both HellRaisers and Virtus.pro in the group stage, and took Titan to their limit on the series opener in the semi-final. What followed was a more than disappointing 0-16 loss and two straight map losses to HellRaisers in the third place decider, but their result still exceeded expectations, and proved that adding - "nex" and Hendrik "strux1" Goetzendorff was the right decision. This team has potential going into Katowice.
ptr had an impressive game against ex-LDLC
KaBuM.TD can play
It was unclear how good KaBuM.TD would be, because this version of the roster had not yet attended an international tournament before. At ESWC Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo's team - with only two players from today's roster - crashed out in groups. Therefore getting to two tournaments in Colorado - and making noise at both - was a good start to 2015 for FalleN and company, and a promising one at that.
It seems obvious KaBuM.TD are not yet a threat to compete for top finishes at tournaments, but their stellar play on de_mirage - dominant wins over Cloud9 and fnatic, with top players at home asking for demos to see their tactics - shows they have what it takes to defeat anyone, under optimal conditions. They were invited for the offline qualifier to ESL One Katowice, and hopefully - for the global scene's sake - they will make it to the major as well.
The scene is more fun with teams from all around the world competing in tournaments, and getting a Brazilian team to represent the South American region is a start. We're still missing competitive teams from countries like China and South Korea, but this is a sign that we may get there in the future, even if CS:GO lacks in popularity far east.
KaBuM are good - at least on de_mirage
New Titan is pretty good, but...
Titan have yet to prove they are a favorite going into any event - such as IOS Pantamera Challenge this coming weekend - but their base level of play at ASUS ROG Winter, despite Cédric "RpK" Guipouy only having made a comeback a mere month ago, was high enough to safely say they are a good team. What's more, RpK actually had a fairly solid event, finishing third in statistics for his team behind its two stars.
The second part of the sentence comes from the fact that Titan is still far too reliant on their superstar, and currently the world's best player, Kenny "kennyS" Schrub. The young Frenchman is simply incredible individually, and Kévin "Ex6TenZ" Droolans does a good job of letting him play to his advantages at all times. However, despite the Belgian's solid leadership, Titan still struggle as a team. The reason? Lack of firepower.
Despite Dan "apEX" Madesclaire actually showing up in Helsinki - him and kennyS combined for 49 kills in their 16-0 victory against PENTA on de_inferno in the semi-finals - he is still too inconsistent for Titan to be a constant threat against the world's very best teams. If RpK continues improving he will take some of the load away from the top performer of ESL One Cologne, but until then, too much of the burden is on kennyS.
Can Titan become good enough to win titles?
Did TSM (ex-dignitas) finally get over the hump?
It has become almost a joke how bad the former dignitas team, now playing under the banners of Team SoloMid, have been in important games since breaking through as one of the top tier teams in early 2014. For a span of six months they made the semi-final at every important event that they attended, including two majors and Copenhagen Games, which might have been the most stacked event in 2014 without a $250,000 prize purse.
An avid follower would now point out that TSM still did not make the grand final - in fact, they only made it back to that semi-final exit-stage they were stuck at for most of 2014. Still, that is an upgrade after months of quarter-final exits, and it came at their first event with Finn "karrigan" Andersen calling the shots, which could be a plausible explanation to the Danes actually finally improving after seemingly becoming stagnant, at best, in 2014.
The big factor for TSM was, however, the fact they took down fnatic in a best-of-three series. Granted it was in a third place decider where teams often don't show their best game, but this could be a situation similar to how VeryGames finally got the better of NiP -- they first beat them in a mostly meaningless online match, but sometimes that game with nothing on the line (NiP were planning on skipping MSI Beat It regardless, per Fifflaren) can make the biggest difference.
We must point out that Nicolai "device" Reedtz was his usual semi-final-self in their semi-final loss to LDLC earlier, though. However, the third place decider marked the first time both device and Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen showed up to a big match - both finished with a +19 K-D difference ratings of 1.44 and 1.26, respectively - and it could mean the two stars of Team SoloMid are finally getting over their nerves.
If, or rather once that happens, TSM will be a team to fear deep into the playoffs as well, not just group stages. Time will tell if this was when TSM finally got over the hump.
This victory could be a turning point in device's career
Happy MVP in Aspen, Maikelele in Helsinki
Before you ask, we aren't going to name an MVP for ClutchCon because the event was so one-sided in fnatic's favor. It simply wouldn't be very interesting. However, you can find the statistics for the event here, if you wish to find some data to support your own conclusions before we process the statistics.
In Aspen however, the reigning major event MVP Vincent "Happy" Schopenhauer reigned supreme. Although he was outperformed in the grand final, Happy put up such a great performance across the entire event that you simply cannot argue with the fact he was by far the Most Valuable Player at MLG X-Games Aspen. In nine maps, the Frenchman finished with a +63 K-D difference, a 1.33 rating (0.16 better than his next best teammate), and a 0.88 KPR.
At ASUS ROG Winter 2015 it was time to shine for Mikail "Maikelele" Bill, who had not yet truly performed like one of the world's best players since joining NiP. He had some solid matches at DreamHack, and has played well online, but this is the first time he simply carried NiP in a series - let alone an entire event -- which he did.
The former LGB member finished the tournament with a 1.39 rating, a +49 K-D difference in just six maps, and a 0.91 KPR. He also scored nearly half of his kills (61 of 129) with an AWP, and didn't let kennyS push him around in the grand final of ASUS ROG. If he hadn't before, now Maikelele has clearly proven he's the man for the job for NiP.
fnatic's dominance is over, for now
fnatic came into MLG with a streak that rivaled NiP's legendary 87-0 run in terms of level of difficulty - the competition is much tougher now, and fnatic had been largely unbeatable since late August, a five month period leading up to MLG. They had lost to LDLC in the quarter-finals of DreamHack Winter of course, but many still held an asterisk next to that loss due to fnatic actually winning the deciding game on de_overpass after abusing the now infamous boost, and then forfeiting later on.
In Aspen fnatic lost convincingly to rivals LDLC, and were taken out by both NiP and dignitas in the playoffs. Fourth place doesn't sound bad and those are all top-tier teams, but here's the catch - the only teams Markus "pronax" Wallsten's team managed to beat at MLG were Liquid and CLG. Hardly an impressive resume. Another thing to consider is that fnatic had been very dominant in their head-to-head match-ups against all those three teams. This opens up a possibility for a reversal in the future.
Three of the Black and Orange team's four stars played reasonably well in Aspen - considering they lost more games than they won - but the black sheep last week was definitely Robin "flusha" Rönnquist, who finished 2014 with a second place in our Top 20 players of 2014 ranking. pronax played to his usual level, and it's possible their star's poor play is what dragged them down, but it's still a big change from the past. We'll take a deeper look at flusha's play later on.
Despite winning ClutchCon easily with a dominant 2-0 thrashing of Cloud9 in the grand final, fnatic still dropped a map there against a team most would have expected them to top. Of course we know that team was KaBuM.TD on de_mirage - a map they also scored a very impressive win over Cloud9 at MLG - but still, that was yet another loss that you would have never expected to happen to the fnatic squad of Q4 2014.
It's far too early to forget about fnatic or assume they will not be one of the favorites at every event they attend from now on. However, it's obvious that the kind of dominant run they put together in the fourth quarter of 2014 is finished. It was great while it lasted - especially for viewers - but now the competition is catching up. fnatic will have to start 2015 as they started last year, with a lot to prove.
pronax's fnatic are no longer a dominant force
NiP are back among the elite teams
It is true NiP had not done enough after DreamHack Winter to truly warrant a spot among the world's elite teams, but now that the Ninjas have three events under their belt with Maikelele on the team, it's safe to say this team belongs to the world's elite, possibly even in the top three together with EnVyUs and fnatic, though it's still somewhat wide open for the time being.
Since Maikelele's addition, NiP have finished second at DreamHack, second at MLG, and first at ASUS ROG Winter. In fact, so far this new iteration of NiP has only lost four games total -- three of which have come against the Frenchmen previously playing under the LDLC flag, now representing EnVyUs, and the group stage loss against Cloud9 at MLG. That's a strong track record, even if the sample size is still relatively small.
Going into Inferno Online's Pantamera Challenge and ESL One Katowice, NiP are definitely one of the favorites to find themselves in the semi-finals. Realistically it's all you can hope for going into these tournaments with how competitive CS:GO is nowadays, and I have few doubts NiP would not be satisfied with this outcome, had we been able to offer it to them after ESWC in early November.
NiP are back among the world's elite
What the flusha?
Perhaps the biggest reason why fnatic struggled at MLG X-Games was the absence of flusha, their biggest star and the number two ranked player on our Top 20 players of 2014 list. In 2014 flusha averaged a 1.19 rating, 0.80 KPR, the best overall rating as a counter-terrorist, and many more impressive numbers that you can all find in the article linked above.
It's unclear what went wrong for flusha in Aspen. Or, to put it another way, it's unclear what did not go wrong for him. In eight maps he finished only three with a positive K-D difference (and a plus-1.00 rating) -- two of which came against significantly weaker North American teams his fnatic team devoured with a combined round differential of 32-10.
Statistically flusha was the worst player on fnatic - weaker than in-game leader pronax who normally holds the spot, naturally - complete opposite of his finishes in 2014, which averaged out to a 1.6th place across the entire year. Only at one event did he finish with a sub-1.00 rating, and only at two out of thirteen events did he finish worse than second in statistics for his team.
Five days later at ClutchCon flusha was much better, and played more or less to his normal standard. Obviously the opposition was much weaker, too, and we have no idea if his actual in-game shape varied between those two events, or whether only the opponents changing made the difference. Either way, the pressure is on for flusha to perform at Inferno Online Pantamera Challenge this weekend, and in the future, if fnatic wish to win tournaments again.
flusha had a terrible showing at MLG
EnVyUs (ex-LDLC) officially take the reign
No arguments against this can be taken seriously any longer - the Frenchmen of LDLC, now known as EnVyUs, are the world's best Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team. The way they overcame fnatic at DreamHack took something off their major championship in November, and even the grand final against NiP was literally one round away from being lost, but a second title in a row is now enough that we can, with certainty, say that EnVy are currently the world's best.
At MLG they first beat fnatic in the group stage after oddly dropping a map to ptR - I mean CLG of course - and then went on to defeat both dignitas and NiP in the playoffs to get a chance to hoist another trophy. Both of their best-of-three series went three maps, but in each they had a convincing victory at the end - a 16-5 slaughter over the Danes, and a 11-0 defensive half to clinch the X-Games gold medals against NiP.
A bright spark for LDLC was Richard "shox" Papillon, who showcased vintage form in the grand final, racking up a +23 K-D difference, contributing to 76% of LDLC's round wins, putting up 0.87 kills per round, and winning multiple clutch rounds. It had been a while since shox put forth that kind of effort, especially in a big match, so it's a promising sign to see that he can still be one of the world's absolute best players at times after months of being 'just another' top ten player.
Obviously the brightest star on LDLC was once again Happy, but that's something already discussed earlier. Currently nV are clearly the world's best team, in terms of their resume, though their wins have been narrow at times - and they missed both ASUS ROG and ClutchCon. Next big events - IOS Pantamera Challenge and ESL One Katowice - will both feature EnVy, who now have an even bigger target on their backs.
EnVy are the world's best at CS:GO
With three tournaments in the bag for January 2015, the scene will stay active with Inferno Online Pantamera Challenge this weekend, followed up by ESL One Katowice qualifier on February 13-15.
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