IOS Pantamera Challenge preview
Here is our official preview for Inferno Online Pantamera Challenge, which will bring six of the world's best teams to Stockholm this Saturday.
As things stand following the final events of 2014 and the three events that took place in January, the clear tier one teams in the world are EnVyUs, fnatic and NiP, with Virtus.pro just slightly behind.
As such, Virtus.pro have the most pressure to perform at IOS Pantamera Challenge, while it's basically an open invitation for Titan and LGB to surprise everyone, as not much is expected of them.
The Norwegians are clear underdogs, and getting to play five guaranteed best-of-one games is the ideal situation for them. Likewise, Titan have five opportunities to score some big wins for them.
In this preview we will take a look at all six teams traveling to Stockholm for this weekend's tournament, and try to figure out where each may stand at the end of the day.
* Update: Only three teams advance to the playoffs. Winner goes directly to grand final, semi-final is played between second and third place finishers.
Inferno Online plays host to Pantamera Challenge
LGB eSports (jkaem, Polly, rain, RUBINO, zEVES)
The Norwegians joined LGB at the end of December, and have since only participated in online tournaments. Roughly a week ago they chose to cut ties with Sebastian "ensa" Aas, and recruited back their old partner in crime Pål "Polly" Kammen. According to their own statement, this time with Polly will be different because he will not be the in-game leader on top of his AWPing duties, as that task has been moved over to Morten "zeves" Christensen.
Online LGB have been fairly promising, though still inconsistent. They have taken down teams such as the Swedish ex-FlipSid3, new HellRaisers, and a Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander-led No Problem! team. Those are all solid stepping stone –type victories, and tomorrow will be another important chance for LGB to try to move up the ladder in the world of über competitive European Counter-Strike.
Obviously LGB are hugely outmatched in Stockholm as the only team who made it through the online qualifier. All other five teams are in the top eight or so in the entire world, and four of them are in the top four. That also is LGB’s single biggest strength. Everyone expects them to place last in the group – and rightfully so – so even playing competitive games could be seen as a good result. There is zero pressure to perform.
PTW: Dominik "raiN" Dettelbacher had his breakout performances last summer at Gfinity 3 and ESL One Cologne with London Conspiracy. However, simply looking at his stats page quickly shows his biggest issue – he is incredibly inconsistent. He has a very high ceiling, but also a very low basement. He must shine tomorrow if LGB want to score some Ws.
rain's LGB are giant underdogs
Titan (apEX, Ex6TenZ, kennyS, Maniac, RpK)
The central Europeans – that’s right, this team now has three Frenchmen, a Belgian, and a Swiss player – had their tournament debut with Cédric "RpK" Guipouy just a week ago, and many would argue it went better than expected. RpK seemed to be in decent shape, and he seems extremely motivated to continue putting in crazy hours while playing catch-up to his competitors who did not take a two year pause from Counter-Strike at a professional level.
Since ASUS ROG ended in Helsinki – in an incredible disappointing way, if you saw map two of the grand final – Titan have been bootcamping at Inferno Online Stockholm, the venue for tomorrow’s Pantamera Challenge. It’s clear Titan needs more time to reach their full potential, but who is to say their current level isn’t good to make the playoffs here, and then take down another top team in the semi-final with Kenny "kennyS" Schrub – the world’s currently best player – and Dan "apEX" Madesclaire playing their hearts out.
Titan are probably an underdog, together with LGB, to make the playoffs. However, they have already shown strong enough play that no one will take them half-heartedly, and it wouldn’t really surprise anyone if they made the playoffs. Making the grand final would be exceeding expectations, but given the firepower packed in their two stars, anything is possible. For Titan it will also be a great chance to gain experience playing all these top teams, as they also have little pressure on them to make a deep run.
PTW: Dan "apEX" Madesclaire is my player to watch in Stockholm. We all know kennyS will be the team’s best player and its carrying force, but apEX is who can really make a difference. The other players will do their thing, whereas apEX is a huge swing-vote who can be the difference between a group stage exit, and another top two finish. What kind of shape will he show up in?
apEX could take Titan to the promiseland
Virtus.pro (byali, Neo, pasha, Snax, TaZ)
I reserve a right to hold judgment on Virtus.pro until this tournament is over. At ASUS ROG they did not look like the team who were clearly one of the top three teams in the world for most of 2014, and disappointing losses to both PENTA and HellRaisers in Helsinki prove that. The Poles should be better than those two, and I believe the decision to bring back Jakub "kuben" Gurczynski as a coach can be interpreted as admittance of needing more help.
The Poles lost their claim to a top three spot in the world due to a weak showing at ASUS ROG and NiP having now done so well at three different events since their roster change, including a narrow semi-final win over Virtus at DreamHack Winter. Realistically Jarosław "pashaBiceps" Jarząbkowski’s team is favored to make the playoffs in Stockholm – and once there, it’s any of these four teams’ tournament – but given their poor showing in Helsinki, it’s by no means guaranteed that they will defeat both LGB and Titan.
What Filip "NEO" Kubski and company do have going for them though, is that none of the teams here want to play them. They have two of world’s top four players, per our Top 20 players of 2014 ranking, and their playing style always causes issues to other teams. They haven’t been as good as NiP, fnatic or EnVyUs lately, but that doesn’t mean they cannot, or will not, beat those teams. When Virtus.pro is rolling, they are one of the hardest teams in the entire world to stop.
PTW: Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski is one of the two big swing-players in the Polish team. Whereas pashaBiceps usually plays well, it’s Snax and Paweł "byali" Bieliński whose level of play determine which Virtus.pro team shows up at each event. If they all heat up at the same time – as happened at EMS One Katowice – they are practically unbeatable.
Snax must perform for Virtus to do well
NiP (f0rest, friberg, GeT_RiGhT, Maikelele, Xizt)
As pointed out in the article "What did we learn in January?", the Ninjas are back to being an elite team. Their track record with Mikail "Maikelele" Bill on the team is two grand final losses to EnVyUs (under the name of LDLC both times) and a victory over Titan in the grand final of ASUS ROG. In other words, they have yet to not reach the grand final of a tournament since the roster change – showing remarkable consistency. Only teams to beat them in a match so far are EnVyUs and Cloud9.
Though only six team will take part at Inferno Online Pantamera Challenge, and the prize money isn’t mind-blowing at $29,000, this is nevertheless a tournament each team will want to win badly because the level of competition is so high, and whoever comes out on top probably is the world’s best team at that very moment – though it won’t be enough to knock EnVyUs down for good. As such, I expect NiP to be super motivated to win this tournament, especially because it is in Stockholm, backyard for some of their players.
I can’t imagine how NiP would not make the semi-finals tomorrow, as they are simply far too consistent to go out in the group stage. I suppose a crazy three-way tie for places 3-5 could end badly for a favored team, but that team will not be NiP. I think they have the numbers of Virtus.pro, Titan, LGB, and maybe even fnatic. As a result, if I were Richard "Xizt" Landström, I’d have spent this week figuring out how to beat EnVyUs. I assume that’s what they have been doing with Faruk "pita" Pita, and as a result I actually have NiP winning this tournament.
PTW: Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg is known for his flashy plays, and a vintage-f0rest performance can at any point turn a match around. We saw Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund revert to his old lurking style in Helsinki, and Maikelele engage in hard-carry mode. What we haven’t seen in a while is f0rest absolutely dominating a game, and yet we all now he is capable of doing just that. It could be on the menu tomorrow.
f0rest's NiP have been in great form since Maikelele joined
fnatic (flusha, JW, KRiMZ, pronax, olofm)
The Black and Orange team that dominated the fourth quarter of 2014 has seemingly lost a step. They should not have lost the MLG semi-final to NiP, and I fail to see how staying in the US for an extra week to win some easy money and beat on teams that are no match for fnatic – though KaBuM.TD still managed a map – would have helped them perform better this weekend. Markus "pronax" Wallsten and company actually must be feeling some pressure right about now, as their top two ranking in the world has come under scrutiny with NiP approaching fast.
It’s too easy to overreact to one semi-final loss, as well as the group stage loss to now-EnVy – but if we were to graph fnatic’s level of play, I think anyone would agree they’re on a downward trajectory right now. All it takes is one good tournament to change that, and it’s not like they are doing badly to begin with – but when you’re competing for the title of the world’s best, you must be analyzed using different criteria than we would use on just another borderline top ten team. fnatic is most definitely not a borderline top ten team.
Perhaps fnatic’s struggles were all due to poor individual play – after all, Robin "flusha" Rönnquist had a terrible showing at MLG and even Jesper "JW" Wecksell tweeted his sorries following their losses in Aspen. Apparently some of the fnatic players caught the flu in the US, and both of their additions from the last summer - Freddy "KRIMZ" Johansson and Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer – had to miss out on a few key-online matches this week, knocking fnatic out of contention for this SLTV StarSeries season. The question then is, can fnatic still play at their best tomorrow? I doubt it.
PTW: Jesper "JW" Wecksell has been overshadowed by flusha, who is a much more consistent player. When the Epsilon team broke through at DreamHack Summer 2013 it was however JW leading the way, and he was long considered the true star of this team. He is likely the most explosive and aggressive player in the world, and can always shift matches around when he has good games.
JW gets overshadowed but is incredible explosive
EnVyUs (Happy, kioShiMa, NBK, shox, SmithZz)
What can you really say about Vincent "Happy" Schopenhauer’s team that hasn't been said before? They won DreamHack Winter, took a break, and then won MLG Aspen. They are the favorites going into this tournament, and will definitely have some extra motivation to perform well as it will be their first showing under the EnVyUs brand. Whereas it’s impossible to say who else will make the grand final in Stockholm, I think it would be a shock if EnVy would not be playing in it come Saturday evening.
In fact, I think the hardest competition for Richard "shox" Papillon and company is not fnatic, NiP or Virtus.pro, but rather Titan. They have lost against Kévin "Ex6TenZ" Droolans’s team at DreamHack Stockholm and ESWC France – though it’s unclear what kind of part Hovik "KQLY" Tovmassian played in those matches – and seemingly aren’t exactly in love with that match-up. Their styles are very different, and it’s likely that Ex6TenZ has figured out some solid counters to the players he used to play with, and has competed against for years and years.
EnVyUs will make the playoffs, and in a best-of-three setting they are favored to win against anyone. Those are the facts as the tournament begins tomorrow morning, and it can be hard to escape them. That’s not a guarantee that the Frenchmen will hoist another trophy when the dust settles in Stockholm, but they are the safest bet – especially given the fact this just happens to be their first tournament after switching organizations. Get ready to enjoy the show.
PTW: Richard "shox" Papillon has fallen in the shadows in the ex-LDLC team with Happy’s leadership style allowing him the most chances to shine in their system. It’s not a problem as they are winning everything and Happy continues racking up MVP-awards, but when shox dominated the MLG grand final, you realized just how long it had been since that last happened. Maybe shox will step up again in Stockholm.
Will shox step up in Stockholm?
Inferno Online Pantamera Challenge will be held tomorrow in Stockholm, Sweden, and HLTV.org will provide you with full coverage of the $29,000 tournament.
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