ESL One Cologne Group B preview
The upcoming major, ESL One Cologne, starts in less than four days (July 5-10), which means it's time for our official preview of Group B, featuring Natus Vincere, NiP, OpTic and FlipSid3.
ESL One Cologne 2016 will be held in the ~18,000-seater LANXESS arena, which hosted last year's edition of the tournament and brought many exciting, memorable moments.
The $1 million tournament's remains unchanged compared to MLG Columbus 2016 - GSL groups, best-of-one in the upper part, best-of-three in elimination and decider matches into best-of-three single elimination playoffs.
ESL One Cologne is upon us yet again
The entire group stage will be played off-stage however, and so the fans who plan to watch the Major live will have to wait until playoffs roll around, which is on day four, July 8th.
Everything you need to know about the event is shown in the event page, including prizemoney, latest news and format. That will also be updated regularly during the event.
|Ninjas in Pyjamas|
|Natus Vincere||vs. FlipSid3|
|Ninjas in Pyjamas||vs. OpTic|
Without further ado let's get into Group B, which features the aforementioned quartet. This time the format of the preview will be slightly different, as we want to highlight as much as possible about all teams going to the ninth Major.
Natus Vincere (Ranked 3rd)
|Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács||24||7||45||1.08||2nd place (2x)|
|Ioann "Edward" Sukhariev||28||7||45||1.06||2nd place (2x)|
|Denis "seized" Kostin||21||8||47||1.04||2nd place (2x)|
|Egor "flamie" Vasilyev||19||5||28||1.03||2nd place (2x)|
|Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko||28||8||47||0.95||2nd place (2x)|
|Sergey "starix" Ischuk (coach)|
Initially, Natus Vincere were reluctant to switch to CS:GO following their immensely successful journey through the last two-and-a-half years of Counter-Strike 1.6's life, and when they did, it wasn't quite the same Na`Vi many were hoping for.
From the legendary quintet, which also featured Yegor "markeloff" Markelov, only two remain in the starting roster, with the third being the coach, starix. It took multiple lineup changes for the team to get their first title at SLTV StarSeries IX, almost two years after CS:GO took over in the FPS franchise.
A major part of their road to international success was the late 2013 addition of CS:S superstar GuardiaN, but it wasn't until the team brought in young talent in the form of a then-inexperienced flamie, moving starix to the coach role, when Natus Vincere took a peek into the true elite in mid-2015.
Since November 2015, Zeus's squad never dipped below the top five in our World Ranking and for the most part of 2016 stayed in the top three, even reaching first for a short period of time in late April.
Previous Major cycle
At the first North American Major, they were even considered one of the big favourites and confirmed that position by taking first place in their group (also inhabited by Virtus.pro, G2 and Cloud9) convincingly and reaching the grand final through NiP and Astralis without losing a single map.
However, Luminosity's excitingly, even insanely, quick rise to prominence proved to be too much to handle and Natus Vincere had to settle for second place once more, losing map two, Overpass, very one-sidedly yet again.
That second place is still very impressive, as Columbus was GuardiaN's worst event to date, as he was dealing with an unhealed injury and reportedly even had to multiply his sensitivity during the grand final.
Luminosity have been a thorn in Na`Vi's side
Most of Na`Vi's lineup was to at least seven out of eight Majors, with the exception of the late addition of flamie, who had only attended two prior to his tenure with starix and company - with dAT Team at ESL One Cologne 2014 and HellRaisers at ESL One Katowice 2015.
seized and Zeus attended all eight Majors under the current banner, but Edward and GuardiaN did not. Both are only missing the very first one, DreamHack Winter 2013, as the former had just been released from what was supposed to be the all-star lineup of the CIS region, Astana Dragons.
Both of them were a map away from qualifying for it as well, as interestingly, they played the BYOC qualifier together under a mix-team composed by Alexey "OverDrive" Birukov, Nostalgie.
Overall, Na`Vi's core's run throughout the eight Majors has somewhat of a correlation to their rise as a team, as they have two last places, three quarter-final finishes (with a semi-final run in between at DHW 2014) and two silver medals under their belt.
Achievements since Columbus
Compared to most top teams, Natus Vincere have attended fewer LAN events since the last major also due to GuardiaN recovering from an injury. Three, in fact, the first of which being DreamHack Masters Malmö, where they managed to avoid big rivals Luminosity (who famously went out in groups).
Surprisingly bringing in GuardiaN after fielding the coach in groups, they still couldn't reach the top and added another second place at a big event, as despite advancing to the grand final in six maps (the playoffs' ones vs. TyLoo and EnVyUs in a very convincing manner), they fell to home-crowd supported NiP in two 16-14's.
The second one was the SL i-League Invitational. There, the silver trend continued, though this time their journey to the grand finale was not as straight-forward.
Na`Vi are looking to get revenge for Malmö
Na`Vi fell short to the tournament's surprise, Dobry&Gaming (now Kinguin), in the upper bracket quarter-finals, and had to fight their way through domestic competition in FlipSid3, HellRaisers, GODSENT and the Poles again.
None of the aforementioned series were confident, especially not the ones with FlipSid3, where GuardiaN and company were two rounds away from going home in last place, and GODSENT. Those were also signs of the team not being in their early 2016 shape, which was confirmed by the fact that they eventually ended up going down to Virtus.pro at the very end.
ELEAGUE was Na`Vi's latest stop, and while the start was shaky, tying series with Echo Fox and MOUZ, the Group E playoffs were a show of the good old team many love, as they grabbed first place after three comfortable maps and one where Georgi "WorldEdit" Yaskin single-handedly carried FlipSid3 to 13 rounds on Train.
What to expect in Cologne
Ever since GuardiaN's injury came to light, Natus Vincere weren't quite the same team as in the first quarter of 2016, but as he's coming back to his old self, so is the squad.
MLG Columbus was likely his worst event to date, but after a fairly slow start in Malmö, prior to which he barely played as he was still recovering, we are beginning to see again how impactful he can be. At the latest two events he went back to topping the scoreboard for Na`Vi, though admittedly the competition wasn't even nearly as fierce as it will be in Cologne.
There are definitely doubts whether the Ukraine-based lineup are worthy of another grand final finish at a Major, especially considering SK's consistency, G2's rise and Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer coming back into play. If they end up meeting any one of them, all bets are off — their rivalry with the Brazilians is undeniable, they've always had problems with this fnatic roster and their last and only encounter with the Frenchmen was unconvincing to say the least, albeit online.
Na`Vi's map statistics over the past three months
Before they do though, they have to fight through a reasonably dangerous group stage. Luckily, their last two ELEAGUE matches with FlipSid3, who they'll meet first, were straight-forward. They have yet to play OpTic, who will probably be better prepared for the potential match-up, and a very likely encounter with Ninjas in Pyjamas is always a toss-up on one map.
When looking at the maps, Train, Overpass, Dust2 and Cobblestone have, over the last three months, been their best. Natus Vincere also interestingly pulled out Nuke at ELEAGUE, which could potentially give them an edge over teams that don't seem to play it at all, although it's possible they just did it to play with those teams' minds.
Cache has been their instant ban for a very long time, which plays well into Ninjas in Pyjamas, who were undefeated on it on LAN up until DreamHack Summer's grand final. Should it happen, the rendezvous with the Swedes should still be very exciting. It's almost a shame that it's most likely not going to be in a best-of-three, because playstyle-wise they are very similar nowadays, and apart from Cache they are also both strong on the same four maps.
Ninjas in Pyjamas (Ranked 5th)
|Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund||26||8||73||1.12||Winner (Col 2014)|
|Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg||28||8||73||1.09||Winner (Col 2014)|
|Adam "friberg" Friberg||24||8||73||1.02||Winner (Col 2014)|
|Richard "Xizt" Landström||25||8||73||1.00||Winner (Col 2014)|
|Jacob "pyth" Mourujärvi||22||0|
|Björn "THREAT" Pers (coach)|
Even the newest fans of CS:GO probably know the Ninjas' stories of old and their 87-0 record in LAN tournaments across 2012 and the first quarter of 2013. That level of world domination is of course long gone, not just for Ninjas in Pyjamas but also for any other team since then.
When the Swedes hit rock bottom, funnily enough quite soon after surprisingly winning the third major, ESL One Cologne 2014, the heavily-criticized Robin "Fifflaren" Johansson stepped down and made way for Mikail "Maikelele" Bill.
He would not stay in NiP for long however, as after four months, Ninjas in Pyjamas weren't satisfied despite another second-place finish at the next Major, DreamHack Winter 2014.
Aleksi "allu" Jalli came in to take over the AWPing duties, and with the change the Swedes had to turn to English due to obvious communicational issues. Despite making semi-finals and grand finals at countless events throughout 2015, Ninjas in Pyjamas haven't won a single event with that lineup.
It would become apparent allu won't be staying either, and many believed Ninjas in Pyjamas would make a massive overhaul, as GeT_RiGhT was rumored to join up with Cloud9. However, the longest standing four-man core stayed to the surprise of the world, while pyth came in alongside THREAT at the brink of 2015 and 2016.
While the lineup changes weren't substantial at first glance, the Swedish in-game leading, brain-storming coach turned a purely individual and teamplay-based style into an extremely tactical, strategical one.
Previous Major cycle
Placing 3rd-4th at DreamHack Open Cluj-Napoca, Ninjas in Pyjamas earned a Legends spot at the first $1 million Major and also the first North American one, MLG Columbus 2016.
Last-minute trouble with acquiring a visa for the newest addition, pyth, forced them to use the coach for the entirity of the tournament due to rules not allowing changes in starting rosters mid-tournament outside of illness or injury.
pyth will play his first Major in Cologne
That effectively made Ninjas in Pyjamas wish for a top-eight finish to retain the Legends status and not have to qualify, which they managed to do following close wins over FlipSid3 and MOUZ while falling to eventual winners Luminosity.
They put up a reasonable fight in the quarter-finals against Na`Vi given the circumstances, but it wasn't enough to push them further.
No matter what form Ninjas in Pyjamas was in during the first couple of years of Majors, they always showed up for the most prestigious tournaments, making the grand final a whopping five times in a row.
Four of those times they famously finished second, but at the one where they weren't close to being considered favourites, they grabbed the trophy — at ESL One Cologne 2014.
Their last grand-final run at a Major was in Katowice in 2015, shortly after bringing in the Finnish AWPer, who was a rookie at that tournament, when it comes to the biggest events.
After three events in a row where Ninjas in Pyjamas made playoffs but couldn't reach the last-two stage, pyth will have the chance to show himself as a Major rookie at ESL One Cologne due to being denied entry to the United States for Columbus.
Achievements since Columbus
It took a while before Ninjas in Pyjamas saw the substantial playstyle changes come to fruition, placing outside of the top eight at IEM Katowice and exiting Columbus in quarter-finals, but success finally came on home turf, at DreamHack Masters Malmö.
Ninjas in Pyjamas looked shaky in groups, having lost to Dignitas 2-16 on Overpass in the initial round, but they passed Astralis' test in the decider and went on to 2-0 Virtus.pro in a quarter-final showdown.
The semi-final with GODSENT proved how excitingly all-Swedish big matches play out, whether there is a clear underdog or not, but the favourites prevailed. Facing Na`Vi in the grand final, Ninjas in Pyjamas had another hard quest ahead of them, but they finally put another trophy to their cabinet which had stayed unaltered for more than a year.
ELEAGUE partially showed the power of G2 that would go on and present itself further on, but despite losing to them in the round-robin, Ninjas in Pyjamas had next to no trouble winning the group, apart from a loss to OpTic on Cobble.
GeT_RiGhT's form hit an all-time low at ECS
The Swedes would travel to the United Kingdom for ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals, kicked it off by inflicting another huge comeback wound on Liquid and took first place in the group defeating fnatic. Tournament favourites Luminosity were waiting in the semi-final after placing second in the other group, and that was too tall of a task.
Ninjas in Pyjamas's latest two events have been especially underwhelming, as DreamHack Summer showcased again the power of Swedish match-ups in groups (losing to GODSENT, followed by a close encounter with Epsilon). The supposed premature grand final with Astralis went their way, but then Ninjas in Pyjamas faltered in the grand final and finished second to Immortals.
What to expect in Cologne
Ninjas in Pyjamas definitely have a tough road ahead of them, though that really is the case for just about every team going to ESL One Cologne 2016. Their initial match-up is OpTic, whom they met at ELEAGUE and won four out of five maps against them.
As mentioned above, their almost unavoidable meeting with Natus Vincere is pretty much a toss-up, as they have almost the same success on the four maps they have in common.
As for FlipSid3, these two lineups have never met on LAN. Of course there is the overtime battle at Columbus, but you have to give Ninjas in Pyjamas the benefit of the doubt considering THREAT had to step in.
NiP's map statistics over the last three months
While groups feature two teams Ninjas in Pyjamas is heavily favoured over, playoffs will be a different story entirely. One of the first two playoff rounds could mean anyone from the trio of Luminosity, fnatic and G2, none of whom are good news.
Thankfully for the Ninjas, and I say that understanding how sarcastic that is, all of them are in the same group, and so the chance is about 33% in quarter-finals, whether they place first or second. I imagine Ninjas in Pyjamas will be quite happy with anyone but those three and I would favor them over any other team.
All that is made under the assumption that GeT_RiGhT will shake it off and find his form in time for the Major. The same could be said for his long-time sidekick f0rest, but with him it was really only ECS where he was underperforming significantly.
OpTic (Ranked 17th)
|Keith "NAF" Markovic||18||0|
|Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz||22||0|
|Damian "daps" Steele||22||0|
|Oscar "mixwell" Cañellas||20||0|
|William "RUSH" Wierzba||22||0|
|Jonatan "Devilwalk" Lundberg (coach) *|
* Devilwalk won't be allowed to stand behind OpTic during matches due to not being registered in time
The history of OpTic as an organization only spans back to the beginning of 2016, when the famous Call of Duty brand decided to take on the ex-Conquest lineup, which had four players of the current roster.
If we go back further, NAF and daps were on the same Liquid roster alongside Nick "nitr0" Cannella and Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski until the beginning of 2015, at which point they went their separate ways before joining forces yet again in eLevate in mid-2015, together with RUSH.
That was really the start of the core of what we now know as OpTic. The aforementioned trio plus Shahzeb "ShahZaM" Khan was acquired by Conquest in September, before the last piece Ronnie "ryx" Bylicki was replaced by stanislaw shortly afterwards.
Some of OpTic's (or Conquest's) biggest results up until this Major cycle have to be winning RGN Freedom Cup over CLG, and ELEAGUE Road to Vegas after qualifying through fierce regional competition in NA and defeating CSGL at the finals.
OpTic's core of daps, NAF and RUSH have been together for almost a year now
Previous Major cycle
Already as OpTic, they were invited for the Americas Minor Championship prior to MLG Columbus 2016, and they only had to win versus Winterfox to top their group as invited side compLexity didn't attend and the event only featured seven teams.
ESL One Cologne will be all five players' first ever Major, as shown in the table above. In fact, they're the only team who will have five rookies in Germany and mixwell will be the first Spaniard to ever attend a Major event.
Achievements since Columbus
In the past three months, OpTic got quite the taste of international competition, beginning with the CEVO Gfinity Professional Season 9 Finals and ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals.
At the former, the daps-led team went out in groups following two losses to HellRaisers, while at the latter they upset Astralis in groups, lost to G2 one-sidedly and took Luminosity to two double-digit maps.
Defeating TSM in the upper semi-finals, they were set on a collision course with the improving Tempo Storm, whom OpTic surprised in two very comfortable maps. At that point they had already secured a place at the offline qualifier, but they managed to come out on top of an extremely close three-map grand final in a re-match with the Brazilians which finished on Nuke.
mixwell will be the first Spaniard to attend a Major
Before attending the offline qualifier, ELEAGUE's Group B was ahead of them, but there they only managed to win two maps over Selfless before falling short to G2 and Ninjas in Pyjamas in the round-robin. In playoffs they took revenge on the Swedes on Cobblestone and Train ended up going down to the wire, leaving them in third place but outside of points needed for the last-chance qualifier.
Onto the offline qualifier they went as arguably one of the borderline teams who had a chance but weren't favoured to advance. The Swiss system matched them up to Gambit in the first round, whom they took to 14 rounds on one of their favourite maps, Cobblestone.
What to expect in Cologne
For Major rookies, OpTic have a surprising amount of upset wins and close matches (or maps) under their belt, and maybe most importantly, a solid amount of experience from big tournaments.
Whether getting to play Ninjas in Pyjamas at ELEAGUE is a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen, the maps aren't too bad for them in that regard, as they like to play Train, Cobble, Cache and Overpass, all maps Ninjas in Pyjamas play a solid amount of as well.
The small edge they could get over the Swedes in the initial round is throwing Nuke into play a couple of times in the past, although one of those is a damning loss to G2 at ELEAGUE.
OpTic's map statistics over the last three months
They almost never play Dust2, which is a must-ban versus Ninjas in Pyjamas, though it'll help in a potential match-up with FlipSid3, who haven't even tried going for it in the past three months and will probably ban it for them.
I could potentially see OpTic upsetting Ninjas in Pyjamas in a best-of-one scenario where they get to either Cobble or Train, both of which they played well at ELEAGUE, but I still don't see them having a chance at going through a best-of-three decider if it goes to that.
A big player to watch out for here is unsurprisingly the Spaniard, mixwell, who has been OpTic's best player from the get go. Something that peaked my interest was also daps's performance at the qualifier, which was his best one on LAN to date.
FlipSid3 (Ranked 21st)
|Oleksandr "Shara" Hordieyev||23||1||2||1.19||Group stage (Colum 16)|
|Jan "wayLander" Rahkonen||22||1||5||0.97||Group stage (Colum 16)|
|Yegor "markeloff" Markelov||28||8||27||0,94||Quarter-final (3x)|
|Georgi "WorldEdit" Yaskin||24||5||11||0.79||Group stage (5x)|
|Andrey "B1ad3" Gorodenskiy||29||5||11||0.78||Group stage (5x)|
FlipSid3's core of players, B1ad3, WorldEdit and markeloff dates back to January 2015, when the latest mentioned joined dAT Team who would go on to become FlipSid3 Tactics shortly afterwards. Back then, Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev and Vladyslav "bondik" Nechyporchuk were in the roster as well.
Previous Major cycle
Due to attending DreamHack Open Cluj-Napoca and exiting in groups, FlipSid3 had reserved a spot for MLG Columbus' offline qualifier. That still featured the previous format, where teams were split into four groups and top two teams from each one made it to the Major.
Securing victories over Selfless and Tempo Storm in their group, FlipSid3 were on their way to MLG Columbus. The draw matched them up to NiP, Luminosity and mousesports.
After a valiant effort on Cache (losing in overtime) against the pyth-less Ninjas in Pyjamas, B1ad3's comrades fell to the elimination match to meet MOUZ. It went down to a quintuple overtime before a winner was found, but it was the Nikola "NiKo" Kovač-led squad who advanced further.
In Columbus FlipSid3 played six overtimes in two matches
FlipSid3 features one of the 25 players who have attended all eight majors so far, and that is markeloff. With his current team, he only attended four of them, while the others were under the Astana Dragons banner (DreamHack Winter 2013) and HellRaisers (all three majors in 2014).
He is also the only one from the lineup to have advanced from a Major's group stage with three quarter-final finishes with his previous teams.
FlipSid3 have always been able to qualify for Majors, though as previously established, they never made it past the group stage. A big storyline and possibly even a cause of that is of course WorldEdit, whose average rating over five majors (11 maps overall) is excruciatingly low at 0.79.
Achievements since Columbus
The lowest-seeded team in Group B has only participated in three LAN events in the past three months.
F3 earned a spot at SL i-League Invitational #1 thanks to qualifying online through Escape and SK, but the road in Kiev itself ended up in flames after losses to GODSENT and Natus Vincere in the double-elimination bracket.
They still made a good account of themselves in the latter series, taking Train 16-4 and being a solid contender on Overpass, which went to a full 30 rounds.
WorldEdit had a few amazing showings lately, but he needs to step up at Majors
Their next stop was in Katowice for the offline qualifier, and FlipSid3 were one of the six teams who got to play all five rounds of the Swiss system. Winning over Renegades put them in a pit with FaZe and then OpTic, both of whom were too tough to handle.
Many believed their Major-attending streak would be over once they met Immortals, but the Ukraine-based team powered through the Brazilians as well as HellRaisers in the very last match to make it for the fifth time in a row in the American organization.
The final destination prior to Cologne was Atlanta, Group E of ELEAGUE two weeks ago. In the round robin, FlipSid3 tied the series with MOUZ and Echo Fox, but lost to Na`Vi. The mouz semi-final was surprisingly convincing, and even more surprisingly it wasn't WorldEdit or wayLander carrying them through, as Shara stepped into the spotlight alongside markeloff and B1ad3.
What to expect in Cologne
History says we can't expect much from FlipSid3, result-wise, but they rarely went out without putting up a fight, which was showcased best in Columbus, where F3 played six overtimes in a span of two matches.
Their CIS overlords Natus Vincere await them in the initial round. The results at ELEAGUE will not help their confidence, as it took an amazing showing from WorldEdit to even get them close to a map win.
FlipSid3's map statistics over the last three months
Ninjas in Pyjamas might be a bit easier on them, though they very rarely fall to clear underdogs, best-of-one or not. OpTic only played a single map against them at the offline qualifier, which really doesn't say much, especially when markeloff admitted they might have over-analyzed their opponents in that match.
While they play Train the most, FlipSid3's Mirage has had the most success by far, though most of them were against inferior competition. Their Nuke likely won't sound any alarms, as they were hammered by Echo Fox on it in their single attempt at playing it.
All eyes are obviously on WorldEdit, who needs to overcome his nerves, or whatever it is that makes him play poorly at Majors. To be fair, his stats were marginally better in Cluj and slightly below average in Columbus, which, compared to the total average, is an upside.
If you missed it, make sure to give the Group A preview a read. You can look forward to more content connected to ESL One Cologne 2016 in the coming days, including interviews and previews of the remaining two groups. Michal "stich" Malachowski's Group C preview is scheduled to be released tomorrow.
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