ELEAGUE Group E preview
The fifth week of the $1.4 million ELEAGUE Season 1 will feature Natus Vincere, mousesports, FlipSid3, and Echo Fox and kicks off in a few hours time. This is our official preview for Group E.
With four weeks of the regular season down in the books, ELEAGUE has so far seen all the group favourites advance to the playoffs (although Group B was a debatable result considering G2's superior group run). Going into Group E, we see another elite level European team having to face off against two top flight European opponents and a North American underdog.
Ranked #2 in the world currently, Natus Vincere are clearly the favourite of Group E but they will face fierce competition from #12 ranked team mousesports and #25 ranked FlipSid3, the latter team often sitting in our Top 20 when they make event appearances. Rounding out the group are the relatively untested Echo Fox, who are attending an offline event as their current five for the first time ever.
Two more groups remain in ELEAGUE's group stage; this week is Group E
Compared to ELEAGUE's Group D which transpired last week, we have no stand-ins or legendary players returning from a hiatus, so the storyline of this coming week of action will center much more on gameplay and tactical approaches.
Na`Vi will mainly be looking to regain lost grace and ground following an unexpected second place finish at their last offline event, the SL i-League Invitational #1. Both mousesports and FlipSid3 meanwhile are teams who emerged triumphant from the recent Major qualifier in Katowice, Poland for ESL One Cologne and have much to say about the recent state of their affairs.
As always we will now look a little more closely at the lineups, histories, and playstyles of the four teams competing in ELEAGUE's Group E.
Natus Vincere were last seen in offline action at the SL i-League Invitational #1, where the #2 ranked team in the world came in as heavy favourites to win the entire event against generally weaker competition.
There were early signs of trouble in Kiev, as the Ukrainian-Russian-Slovak team lost their opener to Dobry&Gaming (now Kinguin) and only then began to play seriously and made the final. However, Polish team Virtus.pro suddenly emerged from their months-long slump and yet again mounted a dominant offline grand finals performance to win the whole event.
Team captain Zeus joked about it flippantly on Twitter, but there really is a scientist-baffling ability in Na`Vi to choke away grand finals, making the team a sort of granddad to Liquid and a father to Astralis. Objectively speaking though, Na`Vi last won the Counter Pit Season 2 finals in March and have since then clocked in three straight second place finishes: MLG Columbus, DreamHack Masters Malmö, and the aforementioned SL i-League Invitational.
seized's role on Na`Vi thankfully does not include filing diplomatic paperwork
Luckily for Natus Vincere, this group stage has both plenty of opportunities for early slip-ups and even its televised final will decide between qualifying directly to ELEAGUE's playoffs or to the Last Chance Qualifier. In other words, any subconscious demons pertaining to grand finals pressure will be averted for now.
There is more good news: team star and heavy hitter GuardiaN has clearly been practicing a lot ahead of ELEAGUE (and of course by extension, the Cologne Major), apparently having the most practice hours he has ever had before an event in his career. Although GuardiaN was back in action far faster than fnatic's Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer (and even did well in Malmö and Kiev), a well-drilled star is always preferable to a demotivated star.
Dangers in ELEAGUE Group E lie in mostly bringing down the top-heavy approach of mousesports (i.e. "NiKo & co. shoot things") and the anti-strat heavy approach of FlipSid3 courtesy of Andrey "B1ad3" Gorodenskiy. Should Na`Vi successfully deal with those two issues, they will easily win this group and I expect them to brutalise Echo Fox in the opener today.
Currently ranked #12 in the world, mousesports continue to paint a frustrating picture as the team who can destroy similar level opposition but who falter when it comes to taking the big step and unseating some of the kings who share the throne atop the Counter-Strike pyramid.
Capable of taking a map or two off good teams, and sometimes out right stunning them (the best-of-one Cache demolition derby against Luminosity in Malmö comes to mind), mousesports have still shown us this year that they have issues in sustaining deep and impactful tournament runs, both due to individual players disappearing at times and due to overall communication breakdown.
mousesports' greatest asset, no matter how it may be downplayed or no matter how much the creed of friendship and teamwork may be harped, is NiKo: a single-minded Bosnian assassin with such raw skill that I can only think of a few players who could match him on a good day, and at least one of those is a case of hopeless toxicity.
"Just watch us somehow crumble"
Behind the 19-year-old stand highly capable players, although both Dutchman chrisJ and German nex have struggled in specific contexts at times, such as on big arenas for the latter player (something which he has admitted to).
All-in-all, mousesports represent a powerhouse of talent and coordination, though I'd argue the former overwhelms the latter. And the good news is that the team were on fire (admittedly not so much in the overtime game against FLuffy Gangsters) at the recent Cologne Major qualifier as they took three straight wins to be the first team to qualify for the Major, which included taking down Cloud9 and utterly wrecking G2.
Funnily enough the team's highest rated player from that qualifier was denis, who is often the subject of criticism for his less frag-heavy play and more support-oriented role. If it's true that all five of the mouz team can now step and deliver in formation, then I hope to not knock on wood and predict great things from them. They are however most likely to make the Last Chance Qualifier in the end, barring a SK-like meltdown in the Thursday semifinals.
Taking the mantle from Liquid at the last Major qualifier as the new Major qualifier "HellRaisers slayers," FlipSid3 enter into Atlanta, Georgia ranked #25 in our ranking and still known very much for their methodical, analytic approach to Counter-Strike.
We can thank veteran B1ad3 for that reputation, but it also seems that the addition of wayLander (who was only officially signed yesterday) represents a new direction for this Ukrainian-Russian-now Finnish team as the 22-year-old is clearly more of a volatile, momentum based fragger who will be hard to parcel into any sort of orderly system.
Although they were always known as a team who frequently attended events, FlipSid3 went a little off the radar after MLG Columbus and only showed up in offline action again at the SL i-League Invitational #1 for the first time with wayLander, where they clearly looked unsynchronised and went out in 7-8th place.
In school you were always taught to beware the tall Russian/Finnish kid, same with CS
The team clearly took some time to mesh out a new style for the Cologne Major qualifier in their post-Vladyslav "bondik" Nechyporchuk era, and although they lost clearly to FaZe and OpTic (after beating Renegades) in Katowice, FlipSid3 were personally responsible for once again eliminating the Brazilian Immortals team and then winning a grudge match against HellRaisers to qualify for the Major.
wayLander was of course the linchpin for his newfound team as the Finn had a 1.18 rating across the event and a megalithic 1.88 rating in the deciding match against HellRaisers. Lukewarm players markeloff and WorldEdit, both of whom have been known for turning up at some events only to go cold at the next one, also performed well (only Shara really struggled with a 0.73 rating at the event).
29-year-old B1ad3 knows that his team are coming into ELEAGUE as the perceived underdog to mousesports and will likely end up fighting over the third seed in the group. Since the first day only sees them play mousesports, they will have a unique chance to surprise us and possibly upset before they return for day two with some anti-strats prepared for Na`Vi.
After all, history has shown us incredible games between FlipSid3 and mousesports when the stakes are high.
Unfortunately for Echo Fox, muscle mass does not alchemise into in-game skill in CS:GO. If it did, then this motley mix of North American players would likely be considered an elite level team.
Instead, what we have is a very unproven team who were unable to qualify for the MLG Americas Regional Minor (although admittedly their roster had not yet stabilised), who went 11-5 in the last season of ESEA Premier, and who were unable to beat "Bee's Money Crew" at a local event as a three-man mix.
Echo Fox have either prepared the world's greatest long con going into ELEAGUE Group E and will debut with a strong performance against Na`Vi and their two other groupmates or the much more likely reality is that this is an arbitrarily patched together team with no proven record of excellence who will learn a harsh lesson at ELEAGUE.
seang@res has the unenviable job of keeping four NA goons focused in the server
People sometimes make note of the fact that seang@res is now reunited with two other former Cloud9 players, freakazoid and ShahZaM, and admittedly with the proper amount of application of strategy and supposed training, there is something to be said for this team's firepower.
However, since we've been made privy to mid-game gaffes of this team earlier this year, it is simply too easy to see how the Echo Fox machine could break down early on and crumble as a last seed.
For, in some way or other, all five of these players represent some inner core of NA CS. And I'm not sure if that's a good thing.
stich writes for HLTV.org and can be found on Twitter