DH Open Cluj preview: 'Challengers'
With CS:GO's seventh major nearly here, we present part one of our two-part preview series for DreamHack Open Cluj-Napoca: in this first part we examine the 'Challengers.'
DreamHack Open Cluj-Napoca, running from October 28-November 1 and with $250,000 on offer as CS:GO's seventh major, has been fingered by many as likely to be the most competitive major to date.
With 14 out of 16 teams also being previous attendees of ESL One Cologne 2015, Cluj is also a fairly conservative major in terms of its composition and it will be a chance to revisit story-lines and rivalries that have been brewing in the two months since the last major.
Another CS:GO major is upon us
Cluj-Napoca will also introduce a fair amount of reforms to the major system: the veto process has been changed, the decider match in each group will be a best-of-three, and spectators can now play a new Fantasy Team Game.
Regardless, the major will offer us five days of galvanic CS:GO action, with groups that could possibly be the most competitive in the game's history.
|Group A||Group B||Group C||Group D|
As such, it is time to take a look at the 'Challengers,' the eight teams who emerged triumphant at DreamHack Open Stockholm in September and received third and fourth seeds into the groups.
Fourth Seed Teams
In the Greek epic The Odyssey, when Odysseus finally arrives to his home island of Ithaca, Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom has the land covered in a thick mist so that Odysseus will not recognise it.
Athena approaches Odysseys disguised as a country bumpkin, and slowly reveals to him that the island is Ithaca, prompting our hero to ask her whether she is mocking him. Athena finally clears the mist and Odysseus is able to see he has come home, to which he kneels and kisses the ground.
The fourth seeded teams are in a similar liminal state of uncertainty and yet a feeling that they've somehow made it to the promised land. But whether they will have not-so-divine assistance in clearing the final hurdle of the group stage and ultimately becoming Legends is far more uncertain than Odysseus' chances were.
The Vexed lineup's tenacity in qualifying for majors against all odds twice in a row now should give room for pause when pundits attempt to dismiss this team. However, there are certainly red flags for Vexed in terms of what we can expect from them.
In recent online games Bartosz "Hyper" Wolny and his men have seemed prone to error, often losing against eco rounds and often winning rounds via their own desperate eco buys (the sign of a volatile playstyle), however the largest sign of Vexed's struggles has been the team's loss to rival Poles of CSGOLounge at the ESL Polish Championships.
It's a bear market for GruBy & co.
To top it off, Vexed once again have a major opener against fnatic, the previous major winner. Last time, the results were not so pretty.
In the previous preview, the match-up against fnatic was dismissed as a no-brainer. Despite Vexed's chance to gain experience and mesh as a team, that will probably be the case this time around as well. The Poles may have to concede a loss against the Swedes and look to anti-strat the notoriously unpredictable lineups of Cloud9 and Luminosity if they wish to advance.
|Bartosz "Hyper" Wolny||25||1||2||0.97||Group stage (Cologne 2015)|
|Piotr "peet" Ćwikliński||24||1||2||0.95||Group stage (Cologne 2015)|
|Karol "rallen" Rodowicz||21||2||5||0.89||Group stage (2x)|
|Dominik "GruBy" Swiderski||20||1||2||0.84||Group stage (Cologne 2015)|
|Damian "Furlan" Kislowski||20||1||2||0.43||Group stage (Cologne 2015)|
FlipSid3 are in quite the similar predicament as Vexed, both in terms of historical background, ambiguous results since qualification for Cluj, and an opener against an elite-tier opponent.
On the other hand, the CIS-region team is more seasoned, higher ranked in our worldwide team ranking list (14th compared to Vexed's 18th), and also a little more disciplined in overall tactical execution and in-game mental fortitude.
Less editing, more fragging
A noticeable issue when we glance at the stats is Georgi "WorldEdit" Yaskin, who for years now has been flirting with the role of being a star player via his consistent AWPing and rifling, and yet who is a strong non-entity at the majors so far.
FlipSid3 also seem to do well against teams of similar caliber due to their disciplined play, but seem far more easy to dismantle when top ten level teams face them. This issue will certainly not be helpful in the opener against TSM, the world's best team.
|Yegor "markeloff" Markelov||27||6||23||0.93||1/4 final (3x)|
|Vladyslav "bondik" Nechyporchuk||22||3||7||0.84||Group stage (3x)|
|Vadim "DavCost" Vasilyev||19||2||5||0.79||Group stage (2x)|
|Andrey "B1ad3" Gorodenskiy||28||3||7||0.77||Group stage (3x)|
|Georgi "WorldEdit" Yaskin||24||3||7||0.59||Group stage (3x)|
Team Liquid are the most interesting fourth seed in terms of novelty and unpredictability. The team also recently happened to be in Romania, for the PGL Season 1 finals, where they played Virtus.pro to a close map on de_overpass and took a map off of fnatic in a best-of-three.
But perhaps most telling of all is the team's impressive winning streak as of late (although these matches are all online, they speak to a jump in skill ceiling for the American team).
It's Hiko s1mplovic really, we kill the other players
In a recent interview, Jacob "FugLy" Medina, who is perhaps the team's unsung hero in terms of his ability to hold down bombsites as a CT and lurk successfully as a T, spoke of structural changes that have recently benefitted the team.
The largest change, getting veteran Eric "adreN" Hoag to relinquish his reliance on execute-based strategies (perhaps a holdover from his Source days) and go with a looser playstyle that allows explosive fraggers such as Nick "nitr0" Cannella and Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski to shine, will also bring the largest benefits: Virtus.pro, against whom Liquid open, are a team that is notoriously disrespectful to dog-eared, moseying outfits that rely on old fashioned set-ups.
However, the team will really need all five players to have the games of their lives if they want to even think about surviving Group C, which is possibly the most heavily contested of the major's four groups.
|Spencer "Hiko" Martin||25||4||21||1.06||1/2 final (DH Winter 2013)|
|Nick "nitr0" Cannella||20||1||3||0.98||Group stage (DHW 2014)|
|Eric "adreN" Hoag||25||2||4||0.81||Group stage (2x)|
|Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski||18||-||-||-||-|
|Jacob "FugLy" Medina||20||-||-||-||-|
dignitas seem to enjoy living life on the edge, seeing as how the team changed a player in their roster a week before this major, replacing Swede Andreas "znajder" Lindberg with Dane Jesper "TENZKI" Plougmann.
The change is a decrease in firepower but an increase in synchronicity, allowing the team to speak solely in Danish. And even with its previous lineup, dignitas were able to make the semifinals at DreamHack Open London, although the team suffered big losses to EnVyUs and TSM.
Kjaerbye will have to call on elven magic to elevate his team in Group D
Even after this tough opener, dignitas will have to make a run against CLG (feasible) and then the Eastern European powerhouse that is Na`Vi (less likely). Perhaps reaching the island of Ithaca in CS:GO terms will be enough for the organisation itself, who have not been in a major since 2014.
|Philip "aizy" Aistrup||19||3||12||0.94||1/2 final (Cologne 2014)|
|Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen||20||3||8||0.86||Group stage (3x)|
|Jacob "Pimp" Winneche||20||4||11||0.82||Group stage (4x)|
|Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye||17||1||2||0.80||Group stage (DHW 2014)|
|Jesper "TENZKI" Plougmann||21||1||2||0.68||Group stage (DHW 2014)|
Third Seed Teams
There is no rest and there is no respite at this major, even for the teams who managed to qualify for Cluj more convincingly at DreamHack Open Stockholm.
And there is a certain thread connecting all four of these teams (Cloud9, mousesports, Titan, and CLG) with how they fell at the previous major. In one way or another, all four teams had a chance to seize glory but faltered.
If we are to run with the theme of The Odyssey for a little while longer, the true mark of the champion is the fact he does not falter at the height of his performance. Odysseus is able to string the bow of Apollo unlike the suitors and then unflinchingly murders them down to the last man, taking his revenge to its fullest limit.
Similarly for these teams, they will have to pursue revenge to the apex if they wish to become Legends. No rounds lost to greedy plays, every weakness must be exploited in the other team, every execute must be flawless: otherwise these four teams will be written about when the next major comes around as being stuck in an endless cycle.
Cloud9 has drawn a lot of attention recently, and a lot of it has been scrutinising. The North American team looked ready to enter top-five status around the middle of the summer, only to begin an offline losing streak at the CEVO Season 7 finals which accelerated after ESL ESEA Dubai and which has carried on to this day.
While we should chalk up Cloud9's recent loss to Immunity at the Crown's Invitational more to the Australians' excellent level of play, the downturn in form suffered by Sean "seang@res" Gares and his team is undeniable.
Skadoodle's inability to leave groups at majors has a touch of tragedy to it
Perhaps it came down to other teams learning how to play against Cloud9 and in turn anti-stratting them, but it also has to do with some of Cloud9's poor decision making in offline games, such as relying on de_dust2 where the team often buckle or not allowing Tyler "Skadoodle" Latham to AWP at every possible opportunity.
This major, and the group in which Cloud9 are placed, will be the team's best chance to regain some of their past glory. Vexed should be no issue, and even the opener favours Cloud9 seeing as how Luminosity are suffering from their own performance issues as of late.
|Mike "shroud" Grzesiek||21||4||14||0.96||1/4 final (Cologne 2014)|
|Jordan "n0thing" Gilbert||25||6||27||0.92||1/2 final (DH Winter 2013)|
|Tyler "Skadoodle" Latham||22||5||13||0.88||Group stage (5x)|
|Ryan "freakazoid" Abadir||22||1||3||0.84||Group stage (Cologne 2015)|
|Sean "seang@res" Gares||27||6||27||0.82||1/2 final (DH Winter 2013)|
When mousesports lost to FlipSid3 in a 14-16 thriller at the last major, the team did what many had already been beseeching it to do earlier, and brought-in star Nikola "NiKo" Kovač onto the active lineup whereas he had previously been riding the bench.
In addition to this, the team have recently brought in 1.6 legend Navid "Kapio" Javadi to help direct the squad, in addition to the plenty of direction Fatih "gob b" Dayik has provided since he joined in early 2015.
NiKo knows what he must do if mouz are to advance
The team had a poor run at Gaming Paradise 2015, their only offline attendance since Cologne, however it is quite hard to judge results from an event plagued by poor PC performance and actual uncertainty as to payout.
As such, mousesports share a level of uncertainty to them which will make them a dangerous opponent against G2 in the opener. Things are looking up for the predominantly German team this time around.
|Denis "denis" Howell||21||3||12||0.99||1/4 final (2x)|
|Fatih "gob b" Dayik||28||1||2||0.88||Group stage (Cologne 2015)|
|Johannes "nex" Maget||23||3||9||0.87||1/4 final (Katowice 2015)|
|Chris "chrisJ" de Jong||25||2||4||0.83||Group stage (2x)|
|Nikola "NiKo" Kovač||18||-||-||-||-|
As such, Titan's middle-of-the-line performances at Gaming Paradise and the ESL ESEA Dubai Invitational are less relevant than before, although they do still speak to this team having a fragging deficit across the board which ScreaM can hopefully make up for.
"We brought in ScreaM for le edshot"
If Richard "shox" Papillon wants Titan to go down in the annals of history, he will have to place a tremendous burden on his shoulders as easily the highest-rated player on this lineup and go into full hard-carry mode.
However, Group C is no laughing matter at this major and an equal amount of onus will have to fall on leader Kévin "Ex6TenZ" Droolans.
If Ex6TenZ wants to finally leave the groups at a major and end a streak of disappointment and woe, there will be no more fitting opener than the one against NiP.
If Titan have their way, it will be both a revenge for the years of NiP's domination and a way to return to top ten status (Titan currently sit at 13th place on our ranking).
|Richard "shox" Papillon||23||6||34||1.10||Winner (DHW 2014)|
|Edouard "SmithZz" Dubourdeaux||26||6||33||0.99||Winner (DHW 2014)|
|Adil "ScreaM" Benrlitom||21||4||20||0.97||1/2 final (DHW 2013)|
|Kévin "Ex6TenZ" Droolans||25||5||19||0.86||1/2 final (DHW 2013)|
|Cédric "RpK" Guipouy||26||2||4||0.81||Group stage (2x)|
While many teams from among the Challengers have a clear and visible upward climb or downward slide in recent performances, CLG are one of the few where recent results have been all over the place.
Since most of these are online results, they do not speak to much, especially since the team have apparently suffered from DDOS attacks at the CLG gaming house in California. The one noteworthy offline attendance and victory is CLG's first place finish at the WinOut Championships, which included defeating Luminosity in the grand final.
I'm not just here to make faces at the afterparty
On an individual story, the real hero of the majors has actually been Josh "jdm64" Marzano, the AWPer whom many remember as nearly carrying CLG to a victory over Natus Vincere in the deciding match at Cologne.
Tarik "tarik" Celik continues to perform well at majors as well, a healthy sign for a young player with a lot of aim talent and who has made a lot of personal growth in the game sense department this year.
CLG have an actual strong case for making it out of groups this time around, but they will have to revisit the demons of their 14-16 loss to Na`Vi in the last major and emerge triumphant. If this team's been doing their homework, that could be a likely outcome.
|Josh "jdm64" Marzano||25||1||3||1.13||Group stage (Cologne 2015)|
|Tarik "tarik" Celik||19||2||6||1.04||Group stage (2x)|
|James "hazed" Cobb||26||2||6||0.90||Group stage (2x)|
|Pujan "FNS" Mehta||23||2||6||0.85||Group stage (2x)|
|Stephen "reltuC" Cutler||26||2||6||0.78||Group stage (2x)|
We will return tomorrow with a preview for the eight 'Legends' just ahead of the action in Cluj kicking off.
stich writes for HLTV.org and can be found on Twitter