Off-season changes: Who will be next?
As we've reached the halfway point of the off-season and we're likely on the verge of lineup changes in some of the top-ten teams, one of which has already come to light, we decided to take a look at teams most likely to make changes and some of their potential additions.
As we now know, teams have decided to create an off-season in the first two weeks of August and there are no big LAN events until early September, which makes it an ideal time to make roster changes and have enough time to get comfortable with the new lineup.
SL i-League StarSeries Season 2 Finals, taking place from September 7-11, could turn out to be a tournament of multiple debuts, as rumours about historically some of the most successful teams in the world are flying around in the community.
Na`Vi already went ahead with their transfer, who else will follow?
We're standing at a point where multiple current or former elite-level teams found themselves in their worst form in months. With some it only looks like a bump on the road, with others the drop is massive and changes seem to be unavoidable, so it makes perfect sense to use the off-season to make necessary adjustments.
What led us to this point in time where half of the top-ten teams are possibly discussing whether there's room for improvement in terms of individual players? And who are the biggest candidates to help the recent strugglers? Let's start at the top and work our way down the ranking while we go over some of the most talked-about teams to see if we can get some answers:
The current number two started the year half-way through their six tournaments long streak, which earned them $456,000 in prizemoney across four $250,000 events and two smaller ones, coincidentally a similar amount to what champions receive at Majors.
No team seemed to be able to stop fnatic's four months of sheer dominance, but bad luck struck before MLG Columbus, as Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer was forced to take a break after the Major to make sure his injury is treated properly, and the biggest title eluded the Dennis "dennis" Edman-infused roster as the then best player in the world couldn't bring his A game.
fnatic tried their luck with Niclas "PlesseN" Plessen before swapping him for John "wenton" Eriksson and finished 3rd-4th at ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals while olofmeister took the time off. After his return the Swedes couldn't continue where they left off at IEM Katowice, their last title, as they stopped at the uprising G2 and garnered another semi-final run at ECS Season 1 Finals.
At ESL One Cologne — almost a month after they got the full roster again — fnatic showed signs of their old form once they shook off an initial loss to FaZe, but fell short in semi-finals again, that time to Liquid in a fashion quite unlike themselves, having led late into the maps to end up losing both.
A resumé consisting of three semi-final finishes and a second place wouldn't seem bad, but this isn't just any team, this is a team that started the year with three wins in a row and went on to double that in the next three months. In terms of consistency they are better than anyone except for SK at the moment, but fnatic haven't won anything since March, which has always been their number one priority.
Semi-finals are simply not good enough for fnatic
Whether or not Ninjas in Pyjamas themselves want to change things up, I do not believe fnatic will reach into their biggest domestic rivals. The two reasonable possibilities would be stars Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund and Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg, but if one of them were to leave their team, Ninjas in Pyjamas would probably go through a complete revamp rather than a slight adjustment.
Before we go into the options, we should take a look at who could be the one leaving fnatic. While Freddy "KRIMZ" Johansson had his off period at ESL Pro League and ECS Season 1 Finals, he seems to be back in form, especially his Cologne performance was one worth of a superstar. He did however have an outburst on Twitter shortly after the loss in Cologne, for which he later on apologized.
The one name that keeps popping up nowadays when talking about possible fnatic changes is Jesper "JW" Wecksell, who has allegedly always wanted to play alongside f0rest and GeT_RiGhT. Such a move would make a lot of sense from Ninjas in Pyjamas's standpoint, as they're missing a dedicated AWP player, but we'll get into that later.
The biggest contender for a spot in fnatic right now has to be znajder for multiple reasons. Upon the creation of Ancient (now GODSENT) he became the star of Markus "pronax" Wallsten's new team almost instantly.
Overall he has been GODSENT's best and most consistent player despite Simon "twist" Eliasson's early dominance, thanks to solid showings at all events he attended, most notably at DreamHack Masters Malmö and the SL i-League Invitational.
Could we see znajder back in the fnatic camp?
My second choice is twist, who was huge part of GODSENT's success during their biggest event so far, DreamHack Masters Malmö. He was the driving force behind most of their wins in Sweden and had a few details gone differently, GODSENT would have been in the final because of him.
To play devil's advocate, his SL i-League Invitational #1 and DreamHack Summer performances were average at best, while znajder was consistently good throughout all of their events.
In a way he would be the better option for the number two team in the world, especially if JW ends up being the one leaving. Statistically znajder is the better player, but would he be as good in a team where he isn't set up to be the star rifler?
Meanwhile, the 21-year-old is quite a dedicated sniper, which is something fnatic never really needed historically, but things might be different now that they hit a few bumps on the road.
There are a few wild cards who could be considered as well, particularly from Epsilon, though most of their players are simply not proven and experienced enough just yet, as they only emerged earlier this year.
Natus Vincere (#4)
Late last year and in early 2016, Sergey "starix" Ischuk and company stood in the shadow of fnatic, to whom they lost two consecutive grand finals. They managed to gather a couple of wins at lesser events, DreamHack Leipzig and CounterPit Season 2 Finals, but their curriculum vitae mostly consists of semi-final finishes and second places.
At IEM Katowice Luminosity (now SK) started getting the upper hand in one of the most exciting rivalries at the time and that continued at the first Major in 2016, MLG Columbus, where Natus Vincere lost in the final.
In Malmö they finally avoided both fnatic (who weren't present) and Luminosity (went out in groups) and made another final, but that time it was Ninjas in Pyjamas taking the glory away from Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács's squad.
Dropping ECS Season 1 and finishing just behind the top four in ESL Pro League, Natus Vincere attended another smaller event, SL i-League Invitational, and reached yet another final after barely scraping through the lower bracket. The final boss, the only other top-ten team present at the event, Virtus.pro, proved to be too much to handle as Na`Vi grabbed silver once more.
At ESL One Cologne they dropped below their standards and couldn't get past Liquid, as s1mple put in a great performance on Nuke and Cobblestone. Much like most top-ten teams, Na`Vi's last event prior to the off-season was ELEAGUE's playoffs, where their eternal nemesis fnatic destroyed them in semi-finals.
Only one founding member left in Na`Vi's starting roster
In the meantime, s1mple was off in North America having a go at living abroad playing for Liquid. The disagreements within the team were no secret, but Liquid finished top four at MLG Columbus with the Ukrainian putting in great individual displays.
After a disappointing last place in Malmö, he went back to Ukraine to realize he didn't want to return to the United States. s1mple decided to give a local team a try and almost single-handedly carried Worst Players during SL i-League Invitational.
He then got a call to play for Liquid at two more events before his tenure would come to a definitive close, ECS Season 1 Finals and ESL One Cologne. His own performance in London rivaled the one at Malmö in his worst ever, and according to Spencer "Hiko" Martin the two weeks afterwards were tough to deal with when it came to s1mple at the bootcamp in Netherlands.
Liquid managed to overcome their previous differences in Cologne however and once again showed up at the Major. s1mple was miles away from the underwhelming version at ECS, as he played out of his mind, especially in the playoffs series versus Natus Vincere and fnatic to put Liquid on a pedestal as the first North American team in a Major grand final.
Replacing Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko, who was far below his teammates skill-wise, was an obvious choice for Na`Vi, as he hasn't led the team for a long time now. Nowadays teams need to have five players who are all able to step up to the task to succeed, so the move makes perfect sense on paper. The question is, will s1mple behave?
With G2 we should start at a point where they already made a lineup change, swapping Kévin "Ex6TenZ" Droolans for Alexandre "bodyy" Pianaro shortly after two group stage exits, at MLG Columbus and DreamHack Masters Malmö.
Since then the French-Belgian squad has actually done well, grabbing silver at ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals following a nail-biting best-of-five with then Luminosity. They escaped the Cologne offline qualifier with a 3-2 record and found out that they were placed in the Death group at the Major itself, among FaZe, fnatic and the Brazilians.
Their chances at the Major skyrocketed when they took revenge on Luminosity in ECS Season 1 grand final, but their journey there ended with another group stage finish at a Major, as they lost two straight maps to Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo and company and fnatic in close scorelines.
Is EnVyUs trying to figure out how to make another favorable swap happen?
Shortly afterwards they learned they'd have to attend ELEAGUE's Last Chance Qualifier with Simon "Fuks" Florysiak instead of Cédric "RpK" Guipouy who took ill. Despite a close series that included four overtimes overall G2 couldn't overcome MOUZ and headed into the off-season early.
In the meantime Envy added another LDLC White player, Timothée "DEVIL" Démolon, in Fabien "kioShiMa" Fiey's place upon two horrible finishes at ESL Expo Barcelona and IEM Katowice. They would go on to extend their awful streak at CounterPit Season 2 Finals with a quarter-finals loss to NRG and at MLG Columbus, where they exited in groups.
A solid semi-finals finish at Malmö turned out to be a one-off, as they entered Cologne and added another last place at a Major, as well as a 5th-8th at ELEAGUE Season 1, losing to fnatic in a convincing manner.
Swaps are unlikely but possible
Including G2 here might be a bit of a stretch, as they shouldn't see their Cologne and ELEAGUE performance as failures. In Germany they simply had the hardest group we've ever seen in CS:GO, while at ELEAGUE they were missing a key piece in RpK.
It's highly unlikely Richard "shox" Papillon and company want to change as a team due to being by far the better squad from France, but it's possible Envy will attempt to poach some of their players to create a superstar lineup and try to de-throne SK as the best team in the world.
A big part of G2's success lately was the hard-hitting duo, shox and Adil "ScreaM" Benrlitom, and like my former colleague, Tomi "lurppis" Kovanen, pointed out, it's doubtful their success is sustainable considering how reliant their style is on the two players. Also, you can't become the best team in the world with an extremely unstable sniper in Edouard "SmithZz" Dubourdeaux.
If certain players of both teams were to think the same way and wanted to have another go at creating a French-speaking lineup that could take over the world, we could see some changes after all. The big problem however are the politics between some of the players, such as shox and SmithZz being a package deal.
For that reason I could see Envy trying to get their hands on ScreaM and possibly RpK, who is G2's third-best player and could fit in well as a more passive player to fill in blanks in the aggressive Envy lineup.
My money is on ScreaM and RpK if a swap happens
The absolutely obvious choice to cut is DEVIL, who now has way too much pressure on his shoulders. Not only has he received a lot of backlash due to his underwhelming form, he was put into the leadership position and seemingly nothing has changed.
The other player who already seems to be divorced from the remainder of the squad, both in and out of the game, is Vincent "Happy" Schopenhauer. Envy have gotten predictable when it comes to the lurks and it results in them playing basically 4v5 a lot of the time, as Happy takes next to no initiative and ends up having zero positive impact on how the rounds unfold.
If Envy were to make these changes, they would be left with a very strong aggressive trio in Dan "apEX" Madesclaire, ScreaM and Kenny "kennyS" Schrub, while also having a couple of great, stable passive players to fall back on and fill in the blanks, Nathan "NBK-" Schmitt and RpK.
That would leave the remainder of G2 with a tough choice. I assume they'd take Happy if he was to rethink his playstyle, but I don't see DEVIL making it back into the top two teams in France. For the last spot shox and company would have to reach into LDLC or Millenium, neither of whom have clear answers.
Ninjas in Pyjamas (#7)
Ninjas in Pyjamas started the year around the seventh place in our Team Ranking, as they omitted all events in the first two months to adjust to the new lineup with Jacob "pyth" Mourujärvi and Björn "THREAT" Pers.
Their first attempt at clawing back into the elite came at IEM Katowice, where they showed promise, taking Na`Vi and fnatic to close matches, and more importantly the revamped playstyle inducted by the new coach.
Success finally came at an event on home turf, DreamHack Masters Malmö. The stacked $250,000 tournament ended up being their first title in over a year, with wins over three elite-level teams, Astralis, Virtus.pro and Natus Vincere. With the victory Ninjas in Pyjamas jumped to fifth place in the ranking and improved even further with a semi-finals finish at ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals, where they lost to the world's best team, Luminosity.
The first signs of trouble came at DreamHack Summer 2016, as Ninjas in Pyjamas were unable to win an event mostly against inferior competition, having faced issues versus domestic competition in GODSENT and Epsilon, and eventually conceding the title to Immortals.
ECS Season 1 Finals saw them finish in last place following losses to finalists Luminosity and G2, but worst of all Ninjas in Pyjamas suffered a stunning defeat at the hands of FlipSid3 to give up their Legends status for the first time in nine Majors.
The Swedes' last series prior to the off-season was a quarter-final match with Virtus.pro at ELEAGUE, where Ninjas in Pyjamas bid an early farewell to another playoffs after a convincing victory from the Poles.
NiP can't settle for disappointment
None of Ninjas in Pyjamas's players have been doing particularly well lately. f0rest joined GeT_RiGhT in a rock-bottom performance at ECS Season 1 Finals and overall the star duo have not been themselves this year.
As I mentioned when talking about fnatic, I assume neither of them are on their way out, so we're down to three options. It's true that if there was ever a time when Ninjas in Pyjamas could do a huge overhaul, it would be now, at a point where they don't have a Legends status, though they would still likely lose their spots in the big leagues, ESL Pro League and ECS.
If there is a change coming, it's most likely a maximum of two players, one of which is bound to be Adam "friberg" Friberg, who got another chance after a disappointing 2015 but didn't deliver in the first half of 2016.
The other is somewhat 50/50 between pyth and Richard "Xizt" Landström. I expected the latter to start playing better once he had the leadership off his shoulders, but he didn't and I don't see a reason why he would anymore. pyth could still have room to grow, but that's the only thing going for him at the moment.
JW would be able to take over those duties to let f0rest go back to prioritizing rifles more or less fully, depending on whether pyth stays or not. He would also give Ninjas in Pyjamas a new approach, having been part of the most successful team of all time, and a playstyle that's too crazy to predict sometimes, which could balance their strat-heavy approach.
As another strong rifler to help out f0rest and GeT_RiGhT with the workload, the GODSENT player would be a significant improvement over all of the three players mentioned above. He's obviously in form and definitely isn't missing experience.
twist has been offered a spot on NiP before
Once again we have a player I've already mentioned, as these two seem to be the only reasonable choices outside of Ninjas in Pyjamas and fnatic at the moment, at least until Epsilon's individuals get some more experience and stabilize.
twist has previously been approached by Ninjas in Pyjamas at some point in time and declined the offer, stating he's "not going to leave people behind", but now that his team could be in shambles as both Swedish teams are on the verge of taking a player away from them, his views might be different.
That also answers if Ninjas in Pyjamas would even consider him if they were looking at their options. He's always been talented and seemed like a good fit for Ninjas in Pyjamas, who were looking for a sniper every time they wanted to change the roster.
Who do you see as the biggest candidates to make a roster change? Are there any other players that you see as a contender for a spot in some of the four teams? Let us know in the comments section below.
You can follow HLTV.org's Milan "Striker" Švejda on Twitter