ESL Pro League S3 finals preview
The ESL Pro League Season 3 finals, taking place in Leicester and London in the United Kingdom, will serve up a whopping $512,000 to eight teams and in this article you will find a preview of the event.
With $512,000 up for grabs in its third season finals, ESL's marquee tournament is now the second largest prize-pot in CS:GO history for an offline event to date (though many contenders are in the offing).
Teams played out a lengthy season in both the European and North American divisions, ultimately playing 22 best-of-one games and in the end four from each region have made it to the offline finals in the UK.
Luminosity returned to form in Austin, but can they solidify their #1 rank with a win in London?
Three of these teams were just in action over the past weekend at the all-North American DreamHack Open Austin event while three of the European teams competed last at DreamHack Masters Malmö; one team was in attendance two weekends beforehand at the CEVO Gfinity Season 9 finals and finally we have fnatic, who will debut at their first event since the Columbus Major.
The order of the teams in this preview will be rank-based this time around, proceeding from the current world's best team Luminosity all the way down to North American team OpTic, who are currently ranked #23.
What a time to be alive—when the torporific domination of Scandinavian Counter-Strike teams has been slowly displaced and challenged, first from within the European continent by the likes of Envy and Natus Vincere and finally from the New World in the form of Luminosity.
The Brazilian dream to excel at Counter-Strike has its roots in the genesis of the game but it really took form at ESWC 2006 when mibr won that event (and a much younger fnx was part of the effort). Despite many bumps in the road since then (quite akin to Brazil's GDP), Brazilian CS has finally hit its apex this year.
Luminosity played damn good Counter-Strike at the MLG Columbus Major and won, becoming the first team outside of Europe to make the grand finals of a Major and to win a Major in CS:GO (that they also won the first $1 million Major was even more brownie points for FalleN and crew).
While not quite the Sistine Chapel, FalleN's hand divinely uplifts Brazilian CS
Afterwards, the team fell prey to the Icarus syndrome in Malmö and came to rue the drab streets and skies of Cache against mousesports as well as underestimating #CSGO2Asia in the form of TYLOO, and thus exited in 9-12th place.
However, with an extremely consistent form in their last 30 maps (only losing two although admittedly these were all games versus weaker North American competition) and with an even more convincing win at DreamHack Open Austin, Luminosity now look ready to make the final push and set their first place ranking in stone.
A group stage featuring the likes of OpTic, G2, and Astralis should be no problem for a minimum entry to the semifinals in the Indigo at the O2 venue (with only the Danes likely to challenge in the winners' match); in any case look for a Luminosity advance via two best-of-one games.
Sometimes giving chances to FPL gods does not pay off, as current #3 ranked team (and a team who have held dominion over CS:GO for months upon months before their recent slide) fnatic learned to their detriment during an experiment with trying out youngster Niclas "PlesseN" Plessen.
The downfall began of course with the hand injury of the game's best player, Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer, who was an engine for success to the late 2015-early 2016 fnatic lineup that won all five events it attended before a Majors quarter-finals flop in Columbus. That hand injury has benched olofmeister for an indefinite amount of time, ranging from either a couple more weeks to a career-ending finish (of which nothing is known).
Error 322: Carrymeister not found
After the PlesseN-experiment ended, fnatic continued the hunt for a replacement fifth and settled on wenton, a 23-year-old Swede who had before been plying his trade on Preparation and was also part of the Acer lineup that rocked a few boats during its 2015 days (and was famously led by Björn "THREAT" Pers).
The wenton addition has made the current fnatic lineup look "decent" in their online games, winning over the likes of Dignitas and Envy but losing to NIP, but we simply cannot tell how this lineup will fare in an offline setting until tomorrow.
Prospective punters should be warned however, as a group featuring the likes of NIP and North American upstarts Liquid and Cloud9 does spell the possibility for an upset exit in the group stage for this elite level team (and thus precipitates even more of a rankings slide in the future).
The current #4 ranked team in the world are—surprise surprise—Astralis, perhaps the world's most consistent team when it comes to braving the crests and troughs of events and always retaining a spot in the elite top five.
Not much has changed since the Danes' 9-12th place finish in Malmö, where karrigan and his team had the misfortune of losing to regional rivals Dignitas in the winners' match and then squaring off against red-hot NIP in the decider match.
"Maybe you should all get blond hair, à la nV?" - Excerpts from Astralis' Anti-Curse bootcamp
Generally, Astralis have appeared to be as strong as ever in their ECS games of late, only losing a best-of-three to the Ninjas, with the Swedish team lately on an absolute tear since winning DreamHack Masters Malmö.
As has been parroted about Astralis since the beginning of this year, they have a strong start in tournaments and should easily make it out of Group A (likely behind Luminosity as the runner-up via a decider match but possibly taking the group outright).
What happens afterwards is not the business of analysis but of Freudian psychoanalysis, as some of the players will have to contend with their inner demons that give rise to hesitation and uncertainty in important matches. Should these demons be conquered, Astralis are a definite candidate to stand on the first place podium on Sunday.
Easily the team with the brightest lodestar at this event, NIP were last seen winning the $250,000 DreamHack Masters in Malmö and thus bringing back whispers of NiP Magic.
Currently just sitting inside the elite clip of teams at rank #5 (#4 ranked team Na`Vi unfortunately stopped just short of qualifying for the finals), the Ninjas have looked extremely strong in their latest online games, notching victories over the likes of Astralis, dignitas, and fnatic.
NiP have lately been flexing harder than Popeye on spinach
As with a few of the other teams attending the ESL Pro League Season 3 finals, the Malmö finish and a few online results are all we have to go by aside from opening up the game, loading up some demos, and examining the new regimen of discipline and tactical acuity introduced by coach THREAT in an up close and personal manner.
What is clear in any case is that NiP are able to do serious damage at the event and can be considered alongside Luminosity and Astralis as a serious heavy hitter, though they will still probably be lightly underestimated due to past months of sluggishness.
What Columbus and Malmö have shown however is that there is a new ironclad at sail in European waters and it is certainly not a French nor a Polish vessel.
Liquid managed to re-enter our Top Ten this week, following a 3-4th place finish at DreamHack Austin which was a result that was to be expected of the team and a lesser finish would have likely sent them careening down the ranking ladder into the depths of a second tier existence.
However, for now the American team are holding the fort for their stream-loving, pug-playing brethren and it was mostly a Hiko and EliGE powered performance in Austin the brought Liquid as far they managed to place (1.19 and 1.15 ratings respectively) with the latter player's development of particular interest as he is only 18-years-old and continually improving.
It was also refreshing to see nitr0 in a decent form, as the purported entry-fragger had struggled at some events in 2016 (and in particular when the choleric Ukrainian Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev was on the team).
4Head s1mple was the problem 4Head
The former is likely still not fully in tune with the rest of the team, having been third wheeled at Malmö on a date featuring s1mple and the AWP whereas the latter is striving to achieve some of his "GODren" status that was unlocked at the Major and Major qualifier, but which has seemingly vanished with a return to a spot on the team, and thus a return to the world of having something to lose.
In any case, the prognosis for Liquid here looks quite bleak, as any group at an international event that features Swedish and American flags is bound to be a slaughter of merciless proportions. Liquid also were given the harder opening match compared to their Cloud9 brethren as they have to go against a formidable NiP team right off the bat.
Much like the lack of rain over Western Canada is aggravating forest fire conditions in North America, the ESL Pro League Season 3 finals will likely bring no repleneshing respite for North American teams.
Cloud9 have actually taken the biggest upwards step in our Top 20 this week as, following a long period of inactivity in offline tournaments, the Canadian-American boyband team finished in 3-4th place at DreamHack Austin and truthfully impressed many a spectator with their disciplined and formidable play.
To make it to the semifinals, Cloud9 were able to dispatch CLG in a decider match (a team who currently remain higher ranked at #12 due to past achievements) and even took Tempo Storm to an incredibly close semifinals game that could have gone n0thing and co.'s way.
shroud spotted drinking his famous "Instant Reddit Oddshot" pre-match elixir
Two things were most noticeable here: one was the particularly solid play of Stewie2K, who received a lot of flak in his early weeks of playing for Cloud9 and struggled to make an impact at the Major and who finished Austin with a 1.12 rating; the other object of interest was solid play from three more of Stewie2K's teammates at the event, as n0thing, shroud, and Skadoodle all posted green ratings: 1.09, 1.06, and 1.04 respectively.
Meanwhile Slemmy, the newest addition to the Cloud9 roster performed quite poorly (with the fourth lowest rating at the event), but what the ex-Obey.Alliance player lacked in fragging he made up for by sacrificing himself at the altar of Sean "seang@res" Gares and thus taking the role of worrying about the strategy of the game and giving his teammates space to focus only on fragging.
This kind of formula won't work forever, but it was the exact same type of mixture that allowed Cloud9 to shine so brilliantly in the summer of 2015. With an opening match-up against a shaky cipher in the form of fnatic, it is technically possible that we are at the advent of a new Cloud9 era.
If NiP are the fastest rising team to compete at the ESL Pro League Season 3 finals, G2 are easily the fastest falling team, having lost four spots in our latest Top 20 (now at #19) and overall failing to impress on any measure whatsoever since adding bodyy as their new fifth.
That feeling when the LDLC days are long gone
It feels weird to talk about a European team composed of veterans such as shox and ScreaM as being one that is likely to bomb out of this event, but that will happen to be the case unless G2 can enter this event with a fresh mindset and better team coordination.
It is indeed quite likely that G2 will not make it to the playoffs, but elite-level performances from shox, RpK (who has been on point lately), the two aforementioned struggling players, and especially bodyy (who will have to earn his newfound spot on the roster) could do serious damage if allowed to develop unchecked.
OpTic are currently outside of our Top 20, sitting at #23 in the rankings, and, much like a player who stays up all night to play pugs, they are a team who still seem a little dazed and confused in the wider scope of the CS:GO ecosystem.
If we brush aside the massive PR faux pas that was the team's dismissal of AWPer Shahzeb "ShahZaM" Khan in favour of Spaniard mixwell, OpTic still had a middling run at the CEVO Gfinity Season 9 finals where they finished in 5-6th place and recorded best-of-three losses to HellRaisers and Virtus.pro and only winning 2-1 over Splyce.
A Spanish-speaking man in North America will rebuild a wall, though it is Green and not of Trump's intent
Online, the team have looked surprisingly weak in their ECS Season 1 games, a fact which runs contrary to the strong form they exhibited in qualifying for the Pro League Season 3 finals.
While thankfully spared the 'Murica bashing that will be Group B, OpTic's chances of advancing to semifinals over the likes of Luminosity and Astralis look slim, though taking down G2 is certainly in the realm of possibility.
Should mixwell harness the abilities of oskar, s1mple, and NiKo in one event however, and possibly see some of his teammates not wilt under the pressure of a $512,000 limelight, then a huge upset is certainly possible.
And that is what makes the ESL Pro League Season 3 finals a crucial event for the month of May and for CS:GO in general: it features four of the top five teams fighting over dominion, a few North American teams looking to redeem their much maligned region, and a fading French-speaking outfit trying to shake off its death rattle. There are storylines galore.
The ESL Pro League Season 3 finals kick off tomorrow at 14:00 as OpTic will face off against Astralis in a Group A opening match. As was the case with DreamHack Austin, opening and winners' matches will be best-of-one whereas elimination matches will be best-of-three games. You can find the viewer's guide here.
In case you needed a quick refresher on the large sums of cash to be reaped at this event, the prize distribution can be found below:
stich writes for HLTV.org and can be found on Twitter