ELEAGUE Group A preview
This week will see Group A of the $1.2 million ELEAGUE Season 1 kick off with Luminosity, Liquid, Cloud9, and the Renegades competing for a spot in the Week 8 playoffs. Below is our official preview for Group A.
With $1.2 million in prize money for its debut season, ELEAGUE Season 1 will be CS:GO's largest tournament to date (since it is still unclear how the ECS prize-pool will be proportionally paid out).
After some early doubts, the ELEAGUE now packs 24 top flight teams, including 17 of the current Top 20 ranked teams in the world. These teams have been split into six groups of four, all of which will play out over the course of the next six weeks.
The format of ELEAGUE is a little bit distinct and different so you should now pay attention. Every Tuesday and Wednesday during the week, teams will play round-robin best-of-one games in their group in order to determine seeding for the group playoffs. All of this action will be broadcast on ELEAGUE's Twitch channel.
Starting every Thursday, the group playoffs will begin and they will be in a single elimination, best-of-three bracket. Judging by the schedule, the semifinals will take place on Thursday and then the finale of each group will play on Fridays at 04:00. The finale will be broadcast on Twitch and even more importantly on TBS, a TV channel that is part of basic American cable.
The world's best team Luminosity will take part in the first week of ELEAGUE action
The team to win the finale will advance to the Week 8 single elimination, best-of-three ELEAGUE playoffs. However, the runner-up in each group will also have a chance to play in Week 7 during the Last Chance Qualifier, where the six runner-ups and two additional teams (apparently determined by points during the regular season) will meet to determine two final spots to the Week 8 playoffs.
With the actual format out of the way, we can now look into the recent histories, playstyles, and trends affecting the four teams competing in Group A, while also lightly indulging in a humorous, eye-enticing caption or two.
The first week of ELEAGUE also happens to be a mini-North American division of the recent ESL Pro League’s third season, with three of the top four finishers of that online league (and with the fourth finishing in seventh place) competing in Group A.
As such, although two of the teams in the group are not from North America, this group can be considered the unofficial North American group since all four of the teams do live and play there.
Atop the hill of global Counter-Strike are Luminosity. The Brazilian super team are currently ranked best in the world and are also only the second team ever to max out the possible points in our system, meaning that they have truly carved out the spot for themselves.
Following the MLG Columbus Major win and the 9-12th place snafu in Malmö 2016, FalleN and his men put doubters aside and won two tournaments in a row: the regional DreamHack Open Austin event and the premier ESL Pro League Season 3 finals.
Much of these two achievements have been driven by the ongoing maturation of coldzera into a first-rate superstar, with the 21-year-old player posting 1.52 and 1.18 ratings at the respective events (his 1.52 rating in Austin made him the MVP performer there).
Fans of good CS should pledge allegiance to Lancaster, California and its Brazilian kingpin
When Luminosity do well, captain FalleN is never hard behind his coldzera-led avant-garde (exemplifying him for his stellar and stable play despite also leading) and he was the team's second best player in Columbus, Austin, and London.
Behind these two titans are of course three very stable players in their own right and all of them have the potential to put on MVP performances during a tournament, a truly frightening prospect when this team is on fire. And on fire they have been since MLG Columbus, with Luminosity having won the last 13 of their 17 offline matches (counting both best-of-ones and best-of-threes).
Luminosity played both Cloud9 and Liquid at DreamHack Austin (they flattened the former and cleanly defeated the latter) and also have soundly taken down Renegades in online matches this year; they are as such heavily favoured to top this group come Friday evening. Anything less would truly be an upset.
The second best team in Group A are Liquid, currently ranked #9 in the world and still riding the wave of their semifinal Major finish despite the lingering shadow of the menace that is Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev and the tremendous ruptures he caused internally for the team.
Like a traumatised survivor of hellish trench warfare, Liquid have been left in the wake of s1mple and all his outbursts and oddities with a fairly capable team on their hands, but with an unsure game plan about how to utilise it. The move to bring in Luis "peacemaker" Tadeu as coach is clearly an attempt to combat this post-Major malaise and give the team direction and discipline.
After Columbus, we of course saw Liquid bomb out of DreamHack Masters Malmö (although then still with s1mple in tow) and then make 3-4th at DreamHack Austin (losing to Luminosity in the semifinals) and 5-6th at the ESL Pro League Season 3 finals (losing to fnatic in the Group B decider match).
To hug it out as friends or build a championship level team, that is the question
Unfortunately for Liquid, they have begun to develop a reputation for letting games slip that should have easily been in their pocket, a trend which brings up the dreaded "C-word" that relates to an inability to breathe. This happened yet again in the team's opener in Leicester where they were well poised to beat NiP (going up as far as 15-6 before losing in double overtime) and ultimately crumbled.
I still have a lingering sense that koosta feels uncomfortable on the team, whether with his role or with the way the AWPer is utilised (and this sense was not helped by POV videos such as these). If Liquid cannot bring all five of their players into line and ready to function as a unit, then they are definitely in danger of falling out of the ELEAGUE early.
However, with a bevy of young stars and veterans on their team and plenty of offline experience by now, the likeliest outcome sees Liquid finishing runner-up in their group and thus returning in Week 7 for the Last Chance Qualifier.
Currently ranked 19th in the world, Cloud9 have endured months of trial and tribulation and have long tried to rebuild the magic and the pizzazz of their summer 2015 days.
The latest spell saw Ryan "freakazoid" Abadir leave the team (following their dismal 13-16th place run at MLG Columbus) and Premier-level player Slemmy brought in to take on the role of in-game leader and thus work alongside the team's newfound coach Andrew "Irukandji" Timmerman.
And slowly but surely Cloud9 have started to rebuild their form, first with a 3-4th place finish at DreamHack Open Austin (beating CLG twice and nearly beating Tempo Storm in the semifinal) and then at the ESL Pro League Season 3 finals, where they played decently against fnatic and Liquid despite a 7-8th place finish.
Young stew coming into focus on his team
Recently, Cloud9 revenged against Liquid in an online ECS series for the Austin loss and overall they have looked reinvigorated and I would consider them the most likely dark horse for this group.
Part of this assessment hinges on the continuing development of Stewie2K, who is going from a smoke-pushing pug god to a smoke-pushing match god with each passing week. Since the 18-year-old combines the confidence of previous entry-fragger freakazoid with the aim of a young talents such as EliGE or TACO, he could truly come into his own over the next few months and be a force to be reckoned with.
If shroud and n0thing can hold their own, and if Skadoodle can muster the willpower to dispense with his usually stoic demeanor and compete with vigour, then this marks the beginning of a skill-saturated lineup. However, Slemmy remains something of a question mark and although his strategies immediately benefited the team, his in-game form clearly has not.
The final team in the fore of ELEAGUE's Group A are coincidentally one of the first teams to vocally declare and advertise their involvement in ELEAGUE in the late months of last year.
But pedigree has not equaled success lately for Renegades, nor has it really it really equaled many events attended. With just two Asia Minors under their belts (second place at each, losing the grand final to TheMongolz and TyLoo respectively) and a failed Major qualification bid at the Columbus qualifier in 2016, the team from down under have gone underground this year.
However, we did see SPUNJ and his team play in the ESL Pro League Season 3 North American division, where they finished in 7th place at 13-9: a fair showing but not enough to reach the top four and fight at the finals in Leicester/London.
Renegades collectively debate deleting their Twitters in a moment of anguish
Although the element of surprise is a factor thrown around when teams who have been to a paucity of tournaments show up to big events, it is hard to try and find an avenue for analysis for Renegades based on these results alone, let alone when analysing some of the simple gameplay mistakes they occassion under pressure.
USTILO has generally proven to be a solid pickup, and yam, AZR, and jks all have their moments of high-powered maps (particularly the last player), but something was still not clicking during those games in the Columbus Main Qualifier and the Asia Minor loss to TyLoo in the grand final in Seoul. Finding the right solution might almost be as hard as finding a good picture with a quokka.
Regardless, with nothing to lose and everything to gain, Renegades this week will be in a similar situation to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull: having surged to prominence they now find themselves on a slippery slope that grows ever steeper.
Group A of ELEAGUE Season 1 gets underway on Tuesday at 18:00 with the first round-robin matches of the group stage. The action can of course be caught over at ELEAGUE's Twitch channel.
stich writes for HLTV.org and can be found on Twitter