ELEAGUE playoffs preview
With eight teams remaining in the $1.4 million ELEAGUE Season 1, the quarter-finals are set to kick off tomorrow. Here is our official preview.
ELEAGUE's first season was filled with memorable games, group stage mayhem, a new level of production displayed to the CS:GO community, televised Counter-Strike, lots of back-and-forth travel to the home of Magic City i.e. Atlanta, and of course, controversy.
After six weeks of group stage action and a week of the Last Chance Qualifier, we now have only eight teams left standing (with fourteen teams already having been eliminated and two disqualified) who will compete for the largest portion of the $1.4 million prize-pool in the coming two weeks.
Now that we know the actual match-ups for the quarter-finals, we can begin to dissect each match and examine the history of rivalry between the sparring teams, each team's recent performance histories, and the overall chances of which team has a chance to claim the first place prize of $390,000.
Looking a little wobbly lately, fnatic could make a stand in Atlanta
These are the quarter-finals match-ups for ELEAGUE Season 1: only the last game between Virtus.pro and Ninjas in Pyjamas will be broadcast on TBS, in keeping with Turner's Friday night television time slot for ELEAGUE.
|Thursday, July 21|
|Friday, July 22|
|04:00||Virtus.pro||vs.||Ninjas in Pyjamas|
The first quarter-final come tomorrow will be a match that may once have been considered a battle between monoliths, especially in 2015, but which is now reduced to an ashen state compared to its former glory: Envy vs. fnatic.
"Volatile" is the word that springs to mind when I think of the first ELEAGUE Season 1 quarter-final, as well as a feeling that we are either in for a treat as dying stars go supernova or a one way sweep as the second best team in the world reclaims their mantle.
Clearly fnatic are the better team of the two, on paper and in the server. They just made semifinals at the $1 million ESL One Cologne 2016 Major (and the ECS Season 1 Finals before that, and the ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals before that) whereas EnVyUs bombed out in 13-16th place at the bottom of their group. fnatic are ranked #2 in the world; EnVyUs are ranked #10.
If betting were not currently receiving its Last Rites, I might still tell you to throw in your Asiimovs on the Swedes.
KRIMZ was the second highest rated player in Cologne, putting on a redemption-worthy performance
And yet, one cannot help but shake the feeling that it is not only EnVyUs who are going through some severe struggles lately but fnatic as well. Clearly the French team are the worse off, as they will likely fall out of the Top 10 after August, and are one of the first teams that come to mind when considering the rumoured post-ELEAGUE roster shuffles.
But fnatic's three semifinals in a row, the muffled impact of star Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer, and a few late-tournament, crumbling upsets to the likes of Liquid and G2 are starting to raise the red flag on this elite team as well. Or rather, these results fall short of the name the fnatic brand built for itself earlier this year as a dominant, untouchable team.
It should also be mentioned that AWPer Jesper "JW" Wecksell, who was himself a breakout star in years past, has either been put in roles that are taking away from his impact or is slumping as he is the only fnatic player averaging under a 1.0 rating in the past three months.
I am sure the key talking points on the desk will thus be: the continued sustainability of olofmeister as a star player and whether fnatic can take advantage of SK's fortuitous (to the Swedes at least) disqualification from ELEAGUE, a decision which paves the way for the second best team in the world to try and win this elite league outright.
The last few head-to-head matches between nV and fnatic with total count above
And thus EnVyUs may be glossed over in this scenario, mentioned for their struggles as of late and for their downfall from an elite level team to a team that has bombed out of the groups of both Majors this year. However, if we take a look at the head-to-head matches for these lineups above, it is worth remembering that this used to be a gauntlet of epic proportions between these two teams (and one where nV have a slight lead at 14-11).
Should EnVyUs throw caution to the wind and play as if its the final event for the Frenchmen, there is a potential for a strong clash here.
Prestichtion: 2-1 fnatic
The timing for this match-up between Na`Vi and Cloud9 could not be any better, as it will no doubt carry echoes of the storied ESWC 2015 summer grand final between a resurgent Cloud9 team and a then-growing-in-strength Na`Vi lineup (as well as of Cloud9's 16-14 upset of Na`Vi at the FACEIT Stage 2 2015 Finals a week later).
Since those days, both teams have had their ups and downs: Na`Vi have made the finals of two Majors only to learn that choking is not only an Astralis phenomenon whereas Cloud9 at one point earlier this year would not have even been considered a Top 20 team, let alone the best team in North America.
Na`Vi had a quarter-finals run at ESL One Cologne 2016 as, despite a strong group stage at the Major where they dispatched of FlipSid3 and NiP, the Ukrainian-Russian-Slovak team were brought down by a rising North American team in the playoffs: Liquid.
Does this Na`Vi lineup have it in them to seize a title before the off season?
Cloud9 have meanwhile had to live in Liquid's shadow for much of this year, as Jordan "n0thing" Gilbert & co. went out in the groups at MLG Columbus and failed to qualify for ESL One Cologne. However, we have seen a few positive developments for this team, and they were displayed at ELEAGUE Group A and the ECS Season 1 Finals: the rise of Jake "Stewie2K" Yip to become a solid and well-rounded player and strong play from n0thing, Mike "shroud" Grzesiek, and Tyler "Skadoodle" Latham at various points.
The challenge for Cloud9 has always been integrating the fleeting skill boosts of the team into a cohesive structure and work has been put into that front by captain Alec "Slemmy" White. But this player's own problems with winning aim duels will also be an area where Cloud9 are sorely tested, particularly if some of Na`Vi's own guns go off (Ioann "Edward" Sukhariev is lately tearing through the maxim that older players cannot frag hard).
All of the Cloud9 vs. Na`Vi head-to-head matches
As we can see in the head-to-head match-ups, these two teams have played practically no games against each other since 2015. In fact, they only played one match in the group stages at the Columbus Major, back when Cloud9 still had Ryan "freakazoid" Abadir, and Na`Vi won 16-9 on Train (a map both teams are considered good at).
Despite Na`Vi's recent slipshod form and Cloud9's slight rise, the former team are still heavily favoured to take this by dint of being an elite level team (ranked #4 compared to Cloud9's #15) and by dint of skill and preparation.
And yet, with Cloud9 as the only North American team left standing in ELEAGUE (they serendipitously avoided playing in the Last Chance Qualifier due to SK's disqualification) to represent home turf and Na`Vi known for throwing away games when tempers flare, this is another match-up that could be a powderkeg.
Prestichtion: 2-1 Na`Vi
This statement might be somewhat off the beaten path, but I believe that this third match-up (which will happen on Friday) is actually the easiest to call and that Astralis should have an easy path to the semifinals of ELEAGUE.
mousesports certainly impressed many of us during the Last Chance Qualifier, as the Nikola "NiKo" Kovač-powered outfit had one of the toughest roads to making the playoffs, going up against a then #2 ranked G2 and a #16 ranked FaZe in the bracket.
And yet, despite numerous moments when they seemed out for the count (they played three overtime maps, one of those being triple overtime), mousesports somehow edged out both competitors and found a way into the playoffs of the $1.4 million league. NiKo was the glue that kept the team going, mad-fragging his way from start to finish last week in Atlanta.
Astralis will be back in fighting form come Friday
Unfortunately for mousesports, their previous outing at ESL One Cologne ended in a by now very similar storyline for the team as they lost their Major Group decider match to finish in 9-12th place (they have now done this three times in a row at the Majors).
Despite mouz's comeback to form, I still have to give this game to Astralis, and not just because the head-to-head record here is the most one-sided of the four quarter-finals matches (which can be seen below). Another reason is that Astralis' stand-in issue masked the continuing consistency of this team and (what I believe to be) their continuing potential to make a grand final despite the whole asphyxiation situation.
Some of the Astralis vs. mouz core head-to-head matches (total above)
On top of this, mousesports managed to win in the Last Chance Qualifier against two teams who are famously known to lose their steam if certain key elements are missing: Richard "shox" Papillon and Adil "ScreaM" Benrlitom in the case of G2 and a breakdown in synergy in the case of FaZe. I'm not saying their victories were flukes but it felt like mousesports had to bust out all the stops to make it happen and that they often won rounds due to errors from the other side.
In any case, should NiKo decide to bless the server with another inspired performance and/or should some of his teammates play extremely compactly, then we could have a series in our hands. But the most likely outcome is for Astralis to outclass mousesports 2-0 in this case.
Prestichtion: 2-0 Astralis
The actual televised quarter-final, perhaps the most storied rivalry in the entirey of Counter-Strike history (especially when the legendary duos on both teams are concerned), and the game with the most potential to deliver exceptional Counter-Strike: the fourth and last quarter-final will have it all for ELEAGUE.
Before we head into a long hibernating period of no large Counter-Strike tournaments, and before the inevitable dance of roster shuffles begins (although there is no evidence nor inclination for either of these two teams to be involved), we will be able to see these two world class teams (the Poles currently ranked #5 and the Swedes #6) duel it out in a best-of-three game.
Before ESL One Cologne, NiP could have been argued to be the superior team as they showed a number of promising results such as in ELEAGUE Group B, 3-4th place at the ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals, and second place at DreamHack Summer. Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg and Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund both continued to seem like the deadly pistons powering a dynamic and legendary team to further results.
VP were again able to contend in Cologne
Virtus.pro on the other hand looked iffy, only having won the SL i-League Invitational in Kiev back in May. Then all of a sudden, gold struck for the Poles as they secured yet another storied semifinals placing at the Cologne Major, off the back of wins agaisnt mousesports and Liquid in the group stage, and Astralis in the quarter-finals (admittedly with the Danish team on two stand-ins). VP grabbed the further distinction of being the only team to take a map off SK in Cologne (they had the same distinction at MLG Columbus).
As for NiP, their Major campaign ended in disaster as a team whose core had been Legends at every previous Major in history lost a tense decider match to FlipSid3 and were out in 9-12th place, no longer Legends. The Swedes were left looking broken and had to eventually reconcile with the idea that their next Major would have to be on that they qualified for.
Virtus.pro on the other hand continued their growth. At the ELEAGUE Last Chance Qualifier, Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas & co. breezed through Gambit and Renegades for the most part, looking like a much stronger team compared to the one who lost the Group F Final to EnVyUs.
The VP-NiP head-to-head lineup section stretches back to 2013
While I would not say the Virtus.pro look like the plow of yore, the team do look invigorated and able to contend for titles off the back of sheer confidence again. And thus, when we look at the head-to-head section above, we can easily imagine a scenario where things go the long mile and the Poles advance closer to equalising a fairly one-sided match-up courtesy of NiP's glory days.
I am going to predict a 2-1 verdict here with the full knowledge that this game is about as hard to call as the true ownership of CSGOWild. But something tells me that the Virtus.pro afterglow post-Major may give the Polish team the resilience and wiliness to pull this game out the hat.
Prestichtion: 2-1 VP
Regardless of the outcome, by the time the weekend rolls around, we will have our semifinalists decided for next week's showdown in the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in Atlanta, Georgia.
As always you will be able to catch all of the ELEAGUE action over at the league's Twitch channel, including the TBS broadcast match between Virtus.pro and NiP which will feature an Observer's Feed.
stich writes for HLTV.org and can be found on Twitter