ESL Barcelona Invitational preview
The ESL Barcelona CS:GO Invitational presented by Mobile World Congress kicks off this weekend and we present an official preview for the eight-team CS:GO event.
The ESL Barcelona CS:GO Invitational has on offer €75,000 for eight teams that will travel to Barcelona, Spain for the tournament, which will take place from February 19-21 in Hall 2 of Fira Barcelona Montjuic.
Four teams were directly invited to the event, i.e. fnatic, EnVyUs, Astralis, and G2. The other four advanced via qualifiers with two apiece for Spain and the wider expanses of Europe; in the end dignitas, Vexed, gBots, and x6tence successfully qualified.
fnatic with dennis have won all their offline events up until now
Perhaps the biggest asterisk (or exclamation mark, depending on how you look at it) for the event is its format, which is similar to the one last seen at IEM Gamescom. This time however, following a community vote for the first match-up, the winning team will choose the next two teams to play and playing teams will themselves veto maps rather than the community.
As at IEM Gamescom, all teams will have three lives and every defeat will cost one life; the winner will be the last team standing.
Now let us take a closer look at the eight teams involved in the ESL Barcelona CS:GO Invitational.
Since the venatic dennis filled out fnatic's roster late last year, the Swedish team have taken first place in every event they've attended: FACEIT Stage 3 Finals, Fragbite Masters Season 5 Finals, EEPL Season 2 Finals, and StarSeries XIV Finals.
In addition, the team are currently a commanding 5-1 in the third season of the ESL Pro League, with wins over Virtus.pro, G2, and EnVyUs (although the final team did utterly trounce them 16-5 on de_cache).
Jumpman, jumpman, jumpman, he don't need no introduction
Classic mythology warns us about the fate of Icarus: if you fly too close to the sun you will end up getting burnt and plummet back down to earth. Such is the nature of humankind (and even more so when it comes to competitive gaming communities) that people come to eagerly await the fall more so than enjoy the dominion.
However, there are no indicators of any potential weaknesses in this lineup as it currently stands; where they've lacked in mid-round calling they've made up for in extreme firepower and brash confidence. And with other teams all going through their own existential qualms, this event may be yet another for fnatic to pocket.
EnVyUs remain a high octane team in 2016, able to compete with the best and only able to begrudge the fact that they have lost ground to Na`Vi as the Eastern European team now stand as the world's second best in CS:GO.
Most recently, nV won the GEC Game Show finals in Vilnius where the only other top five competition were the Danes of Astralis (who themselves are struggling with their own issues, which can be read about below).
And despite a strong start at StarSeries XIV back in January, Happy and his crew were taken down by Na`Vi in the semifinals with a 0-2 scoreline for the Frenchmen. It was this defeat that cemented Na`Vi as EnVyUs' rivals and we can only lament the lack of Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko & co. in Barcelona as that would help settle a crucial ranking question.
Not your average toxic Gallic matchmaking premade
kennyS's MVP performance at the Game Show finals is a promising portent for EnVyUs if they want to make a deep run in Barcelona and keep hold of their lives. And the team have excelled in this format before, as they won IEM Gamescom after defeating TSM (now Astralis) in three straight best-of-one's by the event's end.
Speaking of the Danes, the best possible outcome for EnVyUs outside of being able to take down fnatic and thus gain supermacy over the Swedes would be an early match-up against Astralis that would go in nV's favour and thus further drive a wedge between the Danish team and the top three.
All things considered, EnVyUs are no arrivistes in Barcelona but are rather one of the teams who can feasibly take home the trophy.
Of all the teams currently pegged as elite (aside from Virtus.pro whose recent form may even remove this distinction from the Poles entirely), Astralis have had the most growing pains as a transition to a new organisaiton which the players co-own has not reaped equivalent dividends in event results.
If the Danes had finished 3-4th and not in 5-6th place at StarSeries XIV (where they were still playing under the ? name), there would actually have been something quite rhythmic and poetic to their current 2016 season.
Like an iambic pentameter, karrigan and his team have achieved semifinals placings (in Leipzig and Vilnius) at recent events in a style which hearkens back to the infamous Danish lineup runs of yore. Having the skill to make deep runs and yet a lack of panache to seize titles seems to be an inherited cultural trait for the people of Jutland.
About as predictable as an unruly teenager
Part of these failures at first hinged on device's tendency to act like a submarine during StarSeries XIV and DreamHack Open Leipzig, as the player submerged beneath murky waters and failed to show up when needed.
However, in Game Show, both device and dupreeh (another player whose consistency is crucial to Astralis playing well) had extremely strong events overall (1.20 and 1.18 ratings respectively), aside from the little matter of not showing up to assist teammate cajunb in his valiant struggles against EnVyUs in the semifinals.
Regardless, these light issues are still by no means an indication of trouble for the team as many outfits in the top ten would certainly not be able to rack up semifinals finishes as Astralis have been able to do so on a consistent basis. Many still remember the string of events these Danes won in 2015 and raise the bar, perhaps too highly at times.
That "other" French team, who at first appeared consigned to oblivion following a paltry 7-8th place run at the StarSeries XIV finals, received a notable boost in motivation and pay after being signed by G2 eSports in early February.
Although they have recently fallen back out of the top ten in our latest ranking, G2 showed potential at first at the Game Show GEC finals by taking down North American team Cloud9 in two separate best-of-three's. However, CLG stepped up to the plate in the quarter-final and managed to edge out G2 to give them a 5-6th place finish in the end.
"I'm installing onetap.exe for you but it could take a few weeks to come online."
In the ESL Pro League, G2 were able to defeat Astralis 16-8 on de_cache but lost the other game to the Danes and lost both of their match-ups against fnatic despite some promising moments from their players.
This team (formerly of Titan) are one of those lineups whose talking points have been exhausted ad nauseum by analysts, e.g. "if shox does not show up, they have no chance" or "Ex6TenZ's strategies are no longer effective in the current meta."
The longer G2 go without at least a semifinals run, the longer these talking points will sound more like absolute truths than flavour-of-the-month adages.
Of the four qualified teams for the event in Barcelona, dignitas are realistically the only one with a chance of reaching the grand final barring a freak accident or an unhealthy supply of sangria for all the elite tier competitors.
The Danish-Norwegian team's successes as of late (a 3-4th place finish at DreamHack Open Leipzig alongside Astralis and a 2nd place finish at GameShow GEC) have boosted them to seventh place in the world.
For these former teammates of Philip "aizy" Aistrup in 2015, the irony of currently being situated above FaZe (who are currently at ninth) cannot come without a small sense of satisfaction.
A spread of younger Danish talent has been filtering through the scene lately
Leipzig and Game Show provided chances for two different players to have monstrous performances, with Kjaerbye doing so at the former (second highest at the event with a 1.21 rating) and k0nfig doing so at the latter.
Following behind these strong performances have been dignitas' teammates, who clearly have learned by now how to play solid, team-based Counter-Strike, a lesson which could be exported by the bushel to North America and bring in a fortune.
Despite a few chinks in their armour (dignitas were for the most part flattened by EnVyUs in the Game Show final), the team have continued on an upward streak in the ESL Pro League by defeating Virtus.pro in their opening games (though at this point the Polish team's failings are becoming something of a red flag, as already mentioned).
dignitas have ahead of themselves an event with a quirky format and a smattering of elite teams whom can they can challenge outside of a single elimination system: Mardi Gras may have come and gone but dignitas have another feast to look forward to.
Things look no bueno for Vexed Gaming overall, as the Polish lineup has now fallen out of our Top 20 due to the recent success of teams such as HellRaisers and Tempo Storm.
The Poles dropped out of attending Assembly Winter 2016 in order to prepare for the Acer Predator Masters Season 2 finals as well as for ESL Barcelona Expo.
repo was not able to make an impact for his newfound team at APM S2
Unfortunately for Vexed, they were taken apart at the APM Season 2 finals, first by HellRaisers and then by rival Polish team CSGL to finish at the bottom of the event in 7-8th place.
Vexed are very similar to their Easterly neighbours FlipSid3 Tactics in more ways than one: they are a second tier European team who can qualify for the Majors and who also win occasional other offline games but who generally fall short. Except this time even FlipSid3 recently made a grand final.
In the classic Spanish novel Don Quixote, which has by now become part of the Western canon, an idealistic member of lesser Spanish nobility is intoxicated with bringing justice to the world and sets out on a series of hapless adventures with his companion Sancho Panza while continuously failing to acknowledge the grittiness of reality.
From the main character of this novel the adjective "quixotic" was born, meaning one who is idealistic without regard to practicality or reality.
"We're not in Barcelona to just engage in botellón"
It is similarly quixotic to believe that the two Spanish teams can achieve much in ESL Barcelona, despite many of the players having long and storied histories in the Iberian scene. But hopefully, the teams' travels across the Spanish land will allow them to make a statement and perhaps snatch a best-of-one from an unprepared European team.
gBots are arguably the better of the two teams, as their new reformation in the beginning of 2016 was meant to bring together some of the best that España has to offer.
An earlier shell of this team won the Spanish LVP 9 in late 2015 but have since been generally quiet. Perhaps most notably, gBots are currently 5-1 in ESEA Main but that sort of record is not enough to beat fnatic in your home country.
Easily the biggest question mark at this event, x6tence feature players such as 18-year-old Blastinho, who has been turning heads with his AWPing ability and overall in-game finesse. EasTor and enanoks have also received accolades for their up-and-coming skill.
On the other hand, nmt is a complete cypher and has yet to even feature in our database in terms of in-game play.
Showing up to such a high profile event with a cadre of young hotheads almost seems like a Hollywood script for an underdog story, filled with dramatic comebacks and punchy one-liners, however life has proven time and time again that it accedes to provable skill rather than hopes and dreams and as such x6tence can mostly seek to gain experience from this showing.
The ESL Barcelona CS:GO Invitational goes live on February 19th. Don't forget that you can vote for the first game's match-up over at ESL's page here.
As a reminder, the prize-pool distribution for the ESL Barcelona Invitational is:
* + €1,000 for every life left and every victory achieved
stich writes for HLTV.org and can be found on Twitter