ELEAGUE Group D preview
The fourth week of the $1.4 million ELEAGUE Season 1 will see fnatic, FaZe, dignitas, and TSM spar. This is our official preview for Group D.
Three weeks have now gone by in ELEAGUE Season 1, with three of the six round robin groups having played out. We've seen three group winners (Luminosity, Ninjas in Pyjamas, and Astralis) advance to the final playoffs and three runners-up (Cloud9, G2, and CLG) advance to the last chance qualifier. Renegades and SK meanwhile await the final group results to see if they will be the two teams to make the last chance qualifier.
The next three groups will get progressively less North American, with three European teams per group involved in the competition. Group D is up this week and it is perhaps the most stacked group of the three remaining: it features fnatic, FaZe, Dignitas, and TSM.
Each ELEAGUE group has so far had a favourite, fnatic are that for Group D
There are a number of interesting storylines for this upcoming group. The predominant one, which will receive much airtime and coverage during the stream, will be #4 ranked team in the world fnatic bringing back their star player Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer after a long hiatus due to an injury.
In addition, both FaZe and dignitas are on an upswing in form, as both European teams had successful Major qualification campaigns in Katowice this past weekend and are now ranked #13 and #15 in our ranking respectively. Finally, we have TSM, a mysterious and cryptic North American team who qualified for the ECS Season 1 finals recently and who are an underrated sleeper team.
Since we missed out on a Group C preview (your author takes the blame for that one due to other commitments), the Group D preview will go all-out when it comes to analysis, rhetoric, and texts under the pictures.
fnatic will play in Atlanta with olofmeister, in a much ballyhooed return for 2015's best player, while the hat-doffing stand-in John "wenton" Eriksson is instead with the superstar team as an analyst in Atlanta.
This news broke at the time of this preview's composition (which required some backtracking), however the overall supposition that fnatic will win their group continues to stand, with or without olofmeister.
In our interview with dennis from the ESL Pro League Season 3 finals, the 25-year-old mentioned that they had changed a lot of their gameplan for wenton while also trying to keep the stand-in comfortable in his newfound role. Those changes netted fnatic a 3-4th place finish (losing to G2 in the semifinals) but it remains to be seen if the Swedes will be able to reverse a gear and go back to the old order of things.
olofCackle emote incoming
If things return to the way they were, then even olofmeister's pas de deux partner KRIMZ might pick up some of the team's recent slack (he had a rare tournament nearly all in the red at EPL Season 3) and a dominant group phase in the first two days of ELEAGUE will no doubt work wonders for the team's morale.
Hazards lurk however. Both FaZe and dignitas will be extremely dangerous rivals for fnatic, with the former relying on firepower and dynamic entries to get rolling and the latter more likely to break an opponent down with counter-strats and set pieces. Both have likely had their fair share of time to study what was once CS:GO's best team for months on end.
One deciding factor for fnatic may be a plain psychological one, as olofmeister might start rusty but still inspre his teammates to display the brash confidence which once made them the most feared team in the world.
In a game where confidence is paramount, that will be a deciding factor. In addition, a final boon for the Swedish team is flusha, the part-IGL, part-CS demon who has continued to play well and has even improved lately (a 1.25 rating at EPL Season 3 compared to MLG Columbus' 1.02 and IEM Katowice's 1.11).
With all teams banking on claiming the first seed in the group so that they can presumably take on TSM in the semifinals, fnatic has little room for error and will likely have a ferocious debut.
In my May ranking article, I wrote that dignitas had been left looking rather deflated since taking part in the high profile exchange that saw Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye head to Danish elite team Astralis and cajunb come on down to the level of one of the best second tier teams.
That assessment was based off of a few sloppy online ECS Season 1 matches since the Danish-Norwegian dignitas team had yet to play in an offline event after acquiring cajunb, although an overall protracted decline has long been in the works for the core of this team with many middling finishes in 2016 (they did win the EU Minor as a counter-point).
dignitas' successful qualification for ESL One Cologne this past weekend in Katowice, Poland will therefore come as a sweet relief to this beleaguered team, as memories of their infamous implosion at the MLG Columbus qualifier in a group they were favoured to win still no doubt linger in the team's minds.
When I say cajun, you say beast
A closer inspection of the Cologne qualifier shows that it was not easy going for dignitas however as they were conclusively beaten by two opponents of a similar skill level (FaZe and HellRaisers) and had close games with inferior opposition (Empire and Renegades) before finally coming into their own against TyLoo, whom dignitas wiped the floor with.
dignitas are currently higher ranked than FaZe in our latest weekly ranking (#13 to #15) as they have a more consistent middle-ground of event finishes and a wider portfolio of competition. However, the 16-8 loss in Katowice to FaZe shows to me that the fight between these two teams for a good seed may just be the most important crossroads for dignitas at ELEAGUE (and they are likely to meet again in the semifinal).
The loss of Kjaerbye has taken out a firepower pillar from under the foundation of this team, although we still know that k0nfig can go off and cajunb is the definition of a consistent and disciplined player. RUBINO's strong form in Katowice is also to be noted (especially against TyLoo), and these factors combined may just make dignitas a likely candidate for second place in the group.
Compared to dignitas' staid consistency (a kind of Counter-Strike Jante's Law), their near rivals FaZe are certainly a more volatile team who display high ups and low bottoms.
Outside of their Katowice appearance this past weekend, the pan-European team were last seen quite some time ago at DreamHack Masters Malmö where they finished in 13-16th place, although this was just after they had added kioShiMa and generally seemed to have not much idea how they should play as a five.
The long hiatus from offline events has clearly reaped its dividends, as FaZe were one of the first two teams to qualify for the Major out of the 16 attending: they dismantled dignitas 16-8 on Mirage, destroyed FlipSid3 16-5 on Cobblestone, and edged out Gambit 16-11 on Train.
FaZe had the highest cumulative rating at the event as a team (1.23) and the highest ranked player in Norwegian rifle wunderkind rain (1.46 and +30 kdd).
I spy with my little eye a dropped Glock
In fact, with such a strong showing, all five of the FaZe Clan had positive performances in Katowice, with former EnVyUs player kioShiMa in particular proving that he was not the problem with a 1.27 rating and +23 kdd.
This kind of confident, firepower-heavy, and assertive FaZe reminds me of the old Kinguin lineup in 2015 that became this team (although only rain and fox remain from those days) and teams like this burn bright when they're on point although they almost always sputter out in the end.
It remains to be seen how well FaZe can contain and channel this heat going into ELEAGUE. rain and kioShiMa going off seems to be enough to power them to victories, as both jkaem and aizy have been somewhat hit-and-miss in recent outings. 29-year-old fox will meanwhile continue his role as AWPer and support and doubtlessly will receive criticism regardless of the outcome.
All things considered, FaZe have the tools necessary to beat both dignitas and TSM with ease and could even upset fnatic in the group stage; this is a team to keep your eye on in Atlanta.
Often in Counter-Strike, groups at tournaments will have a mystery team or what is often called a wildcard team. Team SoloMid are a wildcard team in every possible sense of the word.
The Canadian-American team, who at best can be described as a recycled hodgepodge of old compLexity and CLG players and two unproven pugstars, actually surprised lately with a third place finish at the MLG Americas Minor that nearly saw SEMPHIS and his team qualify for the Major qualifier.
Their offline debut certainly had elements of inexperience from the team's two teenage players, SicK and Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken, both of whom are considered up-and-coming aimers in the same vein as Cloud9's Jake "Stewie2K" Yip (although whether they can step up like Stewie2K has yet to be seen).
Notorious vlogger, bulker, and prankster SEMPHIS must now lead his team through a tough group
Unfortunately for TSM, Georgia's laws got the better of 16-year-old Twistzz and the team have thus enlisted Danish player cadiaN (who also moonlights as an analyst and infamous loser of 1 v. 1 games) to stand-in for them in Atlanta.
cadiaN's outside reputation as a joke man aside, the Dane's addition will bolster TSM with much needed experience and calm-headedness, which may be a huge benefit when SEMPHIS's notorious obstinacy in tactics breaks down during a tense game.
Overall, TSM have certainly been quietly marching up in the NA hierarchy and June will be an interesting time for the team as, aside from competing at ELEAGUE, they have qualified for the high profile ECS Season 1 finals.
ELEAGUE may thus be a perfect platform from which to launch a new bid for respect and ranking for an organisation which once hosted an elite level team and was then made a laughing stock for picking up an unproven North American mixture. Should players such as autimatic and SicK rifle well and the experience of the likes of FNS and cadiaN shine through, then TSM could very well do some unexpected damage. That said, they are still very likely to finish as the fourth seed.
stich writes for HLTV.org and can be found on Twitter