CEVO Gfinity S9 finals preview
This is our official preview for the CEVO Gfinity Season 9 finals taking place from April 28-May 1 with eight teams competing for $125,000 in prize money.
Lately, tournament organisers have learned to their detriment that the approaching advent of million dollar leagues and extreme roster instability following a Major can directly impact the attendance of what would have once been considered a premier event.
Despite the $100,000+ tournament having now gone the way of the $50,000 tournament in 2015, the scene's expansion should not preclude the importance of developing storylines, rivalries, and damn good Counter-Strike that occur at any event, big or small.
The Gfinity Arena will be host to the $125k brawl
And thus the CEVO Gfinity Season 9 finals, which are running from April 28th to May 1st, will allow us to take a look at the fortunes of four high calibre European teams (two of whom are top ten outfits) and the four fledgling North American contenders who will take them on.
The format of the event is four teams in two groups, with best-of-three matches and GSL elimination. The top two teams from both groups then move on to a best-of-five, single elimination bracket, i.e. best-of-five semifinals and a best-of-five grand final.
The group draw is once again:
|Group A||Group B|
Let us now take a closer look at the eight teams who will be competing in the CEVO Gfinity Season 9 finals.
Following a quarter-finals finish at MLG Columbus where the Poles nearly defeated the Major champions of Luminosity, Virtus.pro yet again proved that their new moniker is "LANtus.pro" at DreamHack Masters Malmö with a 5-8th place finish after once again losing to the event champions, this time NiP.
In a VP-NiP rivalry that could always go either way, it was refreshing to see Snax in strong form for his team, as well pashaBiceps with the second best rating as the latter player has suffered accusations about his recent form in the past months. Overall, it was Snax who was actually the best player in Malmö, sporting a 1.33 rating and +28 kdd.
Virtus' struggle to regain form and be an elite team is starting to pay off as the team moved up to sixth place this week while overtaking a wilting Envy. They come into the CEVO Gfinity Season 9 finals as heavy favourites to win: sharks among the minnows of lesser teams.
Here to Slavic squat the opposition into oblivion
Two potential dangers here are Dignitas and Tempo Storm. The former team are likely the closest contenders to win aside from the Poles and did defeat TaZ & co. in a best-of-three at DreamHack Open Leipzig. Tempo Storm meanwhile are currently 1-1 in maps against Virtus.pro in an offline setting and if Henrique "HEN1" Teles goes off, then only the Black Madonna of Częstochowa will be able to provide the Polish team any succour.
Virtus also lately returned to winning their online matches (something of a turnaround following a dismal ESL Pro League season) and scored crucial wins against NiP and fnatic in the ECS. Team elders TaZ and NEO may yet be proving that age is merely a number to their (on the whole) younger rivals.
As champions of CEVO Season 7 and Season 8, experts in the long-grind tournament format (especially in a grueling best-of-five playoffs), and simply the most confident team at the event in London, Virtus.pro are clear favourites to take home the gold.
There is a proverb that goes: "treat failure as practice shots." Perhaps no current team in our Top 20 exemplifies this attitude as much as the Danish-Norwegian Dignitas have done in 2016.
Currently sitting pretty at eighth best in the world, dignitas were last seen finishing in 5-8th place at DreamHack Masters Malmö. This placing included obliterating event winners NiP 16-2 in the group stages and bringing down the elite Astralis team in the groups as well; in addition, Kjaerbye was the sixth best player at the whole tournament, boasting a 1.20 rating.
However, before the strong finish were the practice shots in weeks prior. Although DreamHack ZOWIE Leipzig and Game Show finals were the parties that began the whole affair of talking of dignitas as a potential elite contender, pretensions to that effect came crashing down in the wake of the team's spectacular implosion at the MLG Columbus Main Qualifier (and a little less so with a 5-8th place finish at Copenhagen Games, where MSL were outright favoured to win).
Standing closer in formation than Scandinavian people at a bus stop ever will
Of course, we can't dismiss the sneaking suspicion that dignitas are the sort of team that function as a ticking time-bomb in terms of morale: they may start strong in an event if all the conditions for a comfortable setting arise, but more stressful environments could lead to their crumbling.
Thankfully, some of the factors that threw up roadblocks in the past for dignitas will be missing, such as Envy, a team who have an affinity for shutting down Danish-Norwegian dreams (such as in the Malmö quarter-finals and in the Game Show finals).
With that being said, dignitas did lose 13-16 to a very weak Cloud9 team in the Main Qualifier, and with a few of C9's NA brethren present on UK soil this weekend, one should be weary for another Danish meltdown. But overall, a second place is easily within the team's grasp, and a first place is very much possible.
Our next highest ranked team attending the CEVO Gfinity Season 9 finals are Tempo Storm, who currently hold fifteenth place in our ranking, and who made an explosive debut on the Counter-Strike scene in 2016.
Unfortunately, DreamHack Masters Malmö played out differently than IEM Katowice had for the Brazilians, as the Polish Virtus.pro squad this time defeated boltz and his team in the Group D winners' match and Tempo Storm then lost to Envy in the decider match and thus finished in 9-12th place and were unable to advance to the playoffs.
The tournament overall was a sad time for the "we smart, we loyal, we from Brazil" lifestyle as Luminosity went out in 13-16th place and no teams from the Americas overall made it into the playoffs.
Darth Henius will need to call on the Lado Sombrio to vanquish his opponents at CEVO
Some of Tempo's issues also came down to the team's dissipation during the Group D decider match and in a game where HEN1 went unusually quiet; although overall the team's best players in Malmö were HEN1 and his twin brother LUCAS1, who posted 1.07 and 1.04 ratings respectively.
The fact of the matter is that Tempo Storm are still a young and hungry team looking to prove themselves at all costs. The month of May may be a dangerous time for the team, as following the CEVO finals they will still have to attend DreamHack Open Austin, ESEA Premier Season 21 finals, and the Americas Minor all in the same month.
The optimist in your writer believes that nothing will prepare the team better than a run all the way to the finals of this event, and Tempo just might be the best prepared team as they have taken eight days in Stockholm to bootcamp ahead of a busy month. Expect the Brazil army to surprise in Fulham.
As the other team to have qualified for the CEVO Gfinity finals via a European qualifier, HellRaisers are coming into this offline event with a lot to gain and little to lose.
Following some roster instability after the departure of Emil "kUcheR" Akhundov earlier this year, HellRaisers made use of Slovakian Richard "queztone" Strnátko for some time and it was with this lineup that the team won Copenhagen Games over E-frag.net.
oskar will look to avoid any further PTSD from losing to American teams on LAN
Seeking to bolster their firepower even further, the team recently picked up bondik (who had left FlipSid3) and will now be debuting with the Ukrainian aimer at these finals. Online results since the pick-up have been promising, as HR were of the four European teams (alongside dignitas and SK who are attending CEVO Gfinity as well) to qualify for the European Minor in the first closed qualifier.
For now, HellRaisers are currently at nineteenth place in our ranking and will need to show us a fully-fledged playstyle that does not only depend on oskar carrying the game, as is often the lazy habit of some second and third tier CS:GO teams. Winning an event such as this goes beyond Copenhagen Games; it will require a full team effort.
The last of the teams in our Top 20 ranking, Selfless are like the little engine that could in the North American scene, putting teamwork and cohesion above arrogance, the deeply cultural desire for self-glorifying highlight plays, and petty squabbles that often amount to little more than virtual ego measurement simulations.
Or rather, so we would like to think. Like all teams, Selfless undoubtedly fall prey to the tensions and contradictions that human cooperation naturally entails, and yet the philosophy of "team>" is in some sense a welcome breather to a North American scene saturated with pug-stars and highlight heroes.
Although the last time we saw Selfless in an offline setting, they were getting promptly escorted out the door at the MLG Columbus Main Qualifier, Selfless were then playing with Kenneth "koosta" Suen, whom the team already knew was on his way out the lineup, and Richard "Lucky" Vasconcelos, who left shortly afterwards and has retired from CS:GO.
If Selfless' Canadian talent goes off, it might be a case of Uber Everywhere
The Selfless organisation never gave up soul-searching and took a leap of faith on two Premier-level players in the forms of Nifty and mitch and such a high-stakes gamble is looking to have paid off recently, with the team holding a formidable 13-9 record in the ESL Pro League, having just fallen short of qualifying for the $512,000 finals.
Like fellow regional team Splyce, Selfless qualified for the finals thanks to the forfeits of a few teams in their bracket, however speculators would be warned to not use such facts to assume this team are not prepared for their more highly-rated opponents.
Watching a few of their matches, your writer has noticed a curious amount of discipline among the team's ranks, and their grind to #20 in the world has clearly stemmed from something.
With a pretty solid streak of wins since their inception, we will see if all the boaster and bombast of the team's mission can thrive in an offline environment, where some players notoriously crumble and others shine.
2016 morphed into a tough year for the OpTic Gaming team after ELEAGUE Road to Vegas (which the Canadian-American squad won with Shahzeb "ShahZaM" Khan) as the ensuing weeks saw crushing losses at the Americas Minor and during the Last Chance Qualifier to the Major Qualifier.
Although OpTic finished in third place in the ESL Pro League and will now attend the $512,000 finals, internal schisms were already taking place throughout the past few months that ultimately saw ShahZaM thrown out of the team and Spanish hotshot mixwell brought in.
mixwell will finally get a new picture (PogChamp)
In a tale that reads "In a land where Rank S pugs till 7 AM and passive-aggressive behaviour ruled supreme," it seems as if the team were unable to work out those internal tensions and they ultimately blew up in the face of the public and led to a very unhappy team owner having to do some soul-searching with his players.
Since bringing in mixwell however, the #GreenWall has done something of a volte-face and begun demolishing their North American rivals in recent games (aside from the ever-ephemeral Cloud9). Their Spanish import, who is currently living with team leader daps, has looked particularly dominant.
Although OpTic are outside of our Top 20 currently, the new holstering of firepower that this team has undergone is a true danger factor and this is very likely the dark horse of the tournament.
Like OpTic, SK are a team whose trials and tribulations in 2016 have largely lacked the trade winds, with the Danish-Swedish team falling out of our Top 20 at the end of March following a 5-8th place finish at Copenhagen Games.
Receiving a last second invite to the CEVO Gfinity Season 9 finals will therefore be a boon to this team as they seek to regain a Top 20 spot and prove that they are not a team with a big divide between online and offline performance.
Portrait of a CS:GO Player as an Online Man
If we look at SK's recent matches, the team clearly have an edge above some of the competition at their level, but it might be that the clear skill of the likes of Magisk or the experience of Pimp is not being harnessed correctly when the team are put in the foundry of LAN play.
One thing is for sure, longtime veteran Friis has proven to be a beacon of play when the team sit down to play in the arena and could be a lynchpin for SK's efforts to reclaim their right of being talked about as a Tier 2 team ahead of their upcoming campaigns in the European Minor (for which SK qualified) and ELEAGUE Season 1 (to which SK were invited).
Splyce came through the third North American bracket following a spate of forfeits and will be seeking to display a better storefront window than the Canadian-American team were able to show at the MLG Columbus Major.
Although in Columbus they were admittedly a step below much of the competition, the current Splyce lineup have proven that they can indeed fight against European competition, as evinced by their 16-7 win against Vexed (now AGG) at the Main Qualifier.
arya spotted reading Splyce match threads
However, with an overall poor track record in regional games lately (and with rumours swirling for weeks of a possible roster change in the works), Splyce will need to mount a superhuman enfilade on the server if they wish to do damage here.
The CEVO Gfinity Season 9 finals go live on April 28th. You will be able to catch the action over at CEVO's official Twitch channel here. HLTV.org will have a photographer on site who will help provide the latest pictures and we will also do match coverage from off-site.
As a final reminder, the prize-pool distribution for the CEVO Gfinity Season 9 finals is:
stich writes for HLTV.org and can be found on Twitter