The big FACEIT Finals storylines
As the summer's best tournament, in terms of level of competition, kicks off tomorrow, we take a look at the most important storylines heading into the event.
In early June we saw TSM score so far their last international success by taking out fnatic in the grand final of fragbite Masters Finals, only to go inactive for rest of the month due to school.
Shortly after the Black and Orange rebounded by winning DreamHack Summer over Na`Vi, who placed second, and defeated EnVyUs in the SLTV StarSeries XIII grand final next week.
To round up June, EnVy thrashed NiP in the Gfinity Summer Masters I grand final, only to get knocked out by the surprise of July so far, Cloud9, in the group stage of ESL ESEA Pro League Season 1 Finals.
Another team knocked out early in Cologne was TSM - who lost to Keyd Stars and fnatic, whose kryptonite they had been all spring - who are now looking to bounce back in Valencia.
Biggest surprise of EEPL was Cloud9, who took fnatic to their limit in a best-of-five grand final, and then came within rounds of winning ESWC a week later in Montreal, versus Na`Vi.
In Montreal, NiP fell short against FlipSid3, who had to use Spencer "Hiko" Martin as a stand-in. EnVyUs imploded - with their roster change plans ruining their semi-final against Cloud9.
Now the Frenchmen have had to skip Valencia due to contractual issues, and were replaced by Kinguin. Six of the world's ten best teams remain competing for $150,000 in Valencia.
Hiko's FlipSid3 put NiP under some extra pressure to perform here
Where did Virtus.pro go?
Fair question towards the team who are the last one to take down fnatic in a best-of-three or best-of-five series not called TSM. It's been a long time - a few days short of three full months - but the Virtus plow mode probably still exists within the Polish team, though it seems harder and harder to engage these days. Though Filip "NEO" Kubski has sparked up in 2015, it hasn't been enough to offset the relatively weaker play of Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski, or Jarosław "pashaBiceps" Jarząbkowski's struggles to stay above a 1.00 rating.
The low point for this roster in 2015 came in late June, when they were knocked out of Gfinity Summer Masters I by mousesports in a best-of-three series. They had to miss ESWC due to Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas's wedding - which likely affected their preparation as well - and are now looking to get back on top in Valencia. Unfortunately, the field this week is likely tougher than at any non-major event in 2015, and it is going to take some work for Virtus to even get out of the group stage. Luckily, they can still easily do so.
The opener versus Na`Vi will be tough - but they have always matched up well against the ex-CIS powerhouse, and you can't rule them out ina best-of-one - or best-of-three, for that matter - setting. Virtus have a loss versus Kinguin in their record, but overall you probably still should favor Snax's team. Finally, there's Cloud9. Virtus have a good record versus them, but it's likely this is the match that will decide their fate. Lately the North Americans have been better, but it's definitely within reach.
Snax hasn't been his dominant self in 2015
Can NiP outperform our expectations?
Frankly this shouldn't be too hard these days because even the most vocal NiP fans have become oddly quiet in recent weeks and there simply isn't a case to be made that favors NiP going through to the semi-finals from group B. While there's no doubt they are huge favorites over Liquid - who aren't pushovers, by the way - they haven't beaten fnatic in a meaningful series in forever, and their record versus TSM isn't much better, if any.
NiP will take on Team SoloMid in their opener tomorrow. Now, hear me out. This is a winnable game for the Ninjas. We're talking about a best-of-one against a team that lost to Keyd Stars two weeks ago. Granted, NiP also went out versus FlipSid3 a few days ago in a best-of-three, but that doesn't mean they can't pull one good map out of themselves. Or two. Especially given the inactivity of TSM and their poor showing at ESL ESEA, you could talk me into NiP taking them down in a best-of-one.
The Ninjas are one of the teams who are still, I think, able to take down any team at any given point if their game gets going. The problem is their play style is outdated, Richard "Xizt" Landström seemingly offers no strategic input - and neither does Joona "natu" Leppänen, as far as a spectator can tell - and this team has been playing in a similar way since the Robin "Fifflaren" Johansson days. NiP has to perform, or change. We'll see which comes first.
f0rest's NiP are facing an uphill battle
Are international teams the future?
Among the shameful losses to teams the some of our readers have never even heard of, Kinguin have also scored some impressive wins -- over Na`Vi and Virtus.pro in best-of-three series, and taken a map from TSM. This team has some potential. In addition to that, with Nikola "NiKo" Kovač as a stand-in the team also won the Gaming Paradise qualifier over FlipSid3. Since then they've removed Alexander "SKYTTEN" Carlsson - who seemed like a bad fit to begin with - and added Dennis "dennis" Edman as a replacement.
International teams are going to become more and more popular, but the popularity will ultimately be decided by teams like Kinguin. If they succeed, more funding will come. If not, not many will be willing to fly players like Jonatan "Devilwalk" Lundberg overseas simply to be an overqualified role player on an average team. FlipSid3 succeeded with Hiko at ESWC, even if that showing will never be replicated.
As Xizt tweeted, an international team could be really dangerous, if done right. If Kinguin were to figure out a way to add Richard "shox" Papillon to its already talented roster, we could be talking about a real dark horse team. For now, we'll see if Kinguin can be one of the teams to really reap the benefits of early best-of-one games in the group stage and score some upsets. If not, given how late they got a spot, that's fine too. They are underdogs without expectations this time around.
Could Kinguin become the trailblazers for other international teams?
Can anyone take advantage of the format?
All matches on day one are going to be played in best-of-one mode. That means the first match for every team, and the winner's match for each group, will see the winner decided in one map. As a result, a team could win two best-of-one matches and go through as the winner of the group, facing likely an easier opponent in the semi-finals from the other group. Unless upsets take place.
With the two elimination games from each group played in best-of-three, it's actually likely that if major upsets were to take place, they would take place on day one. As a result, I would wager that if one of the underdogs were to go through, it'd be likely they would advance as the winners of the group, as opposed to the second seed, the usual way an underdog can manage to find their way into the playoffs in a tournament like this.
For underdog teams it provides a great chance if they start the tournament hot. Realistically a team like Kinguin, or NiP could probably play good enough Counter-Strike for two hours - with one of those hours being the first time the players touch the game for a day - and escape unscathed in a group they were supposed to get knocked out of. We'll see if any underdogs can gain from the unusual format -- which, it has to be noted, is still better than simply using best-of-one all the way.
fnatic may be the only team who shouldn't like the best-of-one group stage
Which TSM will we see in Valencia?
Again, fnatic has only lost to TSM since April 19. Unfortunately for the Danish team's fans, that SoloMid team may not currently exist, depending on how well they have used the time to prepare since ESL ESEA Pro League Season 1 Finals. They went into the event saying they were unprepared, and it showed -- as they got knocked out in dead last place by Keyd Stars, and fnatic.
TSM had to miss ESWC due to a player having other plans on the weekend. Since ESL ESEA, they've had maybe five or six days one might expect them to be able to find good practice, especially with ESWC hogging up the weekend. Unless their problems were more of the kind that simply required them to go over tactics together in an empty server, it's possible they haven't yet had enough time to fix whatever issues they had in Cologne.
With the Danes led by Finn "karrigan" Andersen seemingly the only team capable of taking down fnatic, the Black and Orange must hope the Danes falter before an expected grand final showdown. TSM matches up far worse versus other teams than fnatic, and frankly, it'd be hard to expect them to be in the shape that saw them run through the Counter-Strike scene in the spring, but we'll be much smarter about this on Friday evening.
Will TSM regain their spring form in time for FACEIT Finals?
Can Cloud9 make it to another grand final?
Following two straight grand final appearances at big international tournaments, it's clear Cloud9 are now a legitimate top team, even if the big win is still missing from their resumes. Still, with a tournament this stacked, it's not even clear if they are actually favored to advance from the group stage and make it to the playoffs, let alone appear in a third consectuvie grand final, in three weeks' time.
This time Cloud9 won't be able to fly under the radar as the perennial underdogs and underachievers they had become known in the past ten to eleven months, following the solid showing at ESL One Cologne 2014. Teams should absolutely take them seriously, and will likely consider the fact their success so far has largely been attributed to Sean "seang@res" Gares's leadership and ability to read other teams and prepare anti-tactics against them.
Jordan "n0thing" Gilbert played great in Montreal, but Mike "shroud" Grzesiek was mostly missing. Regardless of issues with his resolution of choice, he should have done better - and that's likely what would have pushed Cloud9 over Na`Vi in the grand final. This time it will be harder, and it will only get harder from here. They say the easy thing is getting to the top, and the hard part is staying there. I find that to be true. Getting into the semi-finals here would prove Cloud9 are here to stay.
Cloud9 need shroud to make the grand final again
Will Na`Vi bag another title?
After completing the Cinderella story at ESWC - winning the event despite thinking a day before it began that they'd have to play with two stand-ins - Na`Vi have now won two straight titles. In Kiev they upset EnVyUs in the grand final, and in ESWC they mostly rolled over teams they were favored to beat -- though it shouldn't undermine the fact they still went there and got the job done, something many teams fail to accomplish.
This time around Na`Vi are not considered favorites - that title belongs to fnatic, possibly the greatest CS:GO team ever - but they must nonetheless be expected to be battling for a grand final spot. Na`Vi haven't had much success over fnatic - with two online wins in April to their name - but also haven't played them often. On the other hand, they are considered to be a good match-up versus TSM, the second favorite - if any team can be called one in Valencia - to reach the grand final.
If Na`Vi outplace TSM here and make it to the grand final, you probably have to consider them a top two team in the world. If they lose to TSM, that probably means they still belong on the podium in third place. However, if no major upsets happen in terms of who wins the event and Na`Vi reaches playoffs, they must be considered the third best team in the world. This event will be one of the tests to determine whether Na`Vi are a true elite team, or simply a very good team on a hot streak.
Are Na`Vi a true elite team?
FACEIT League 2015 Stage 2 Finals will kick off tomorrow on Thursday in Valencia, Spain, where HLTV.org is already on-site to provide you with full coverage of the $150,000 event.
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