SL i-League StarSeries S2 preview
After over a month of online play and a few smaller offline events, we're back to top-tier offline competition as SL i-League StarSeries Season 2 Finals is quickly approaching. Here is our in-depth preview of the 16-team, $300,000 event.
The groups will feature best-of-one's in the upper side and elimination matches, while best-of-three's will decide second-placed teams. The playoffs will be a standard single-elimination, best-of-three bracket.
The groups are once again:
|Group A||Group B||Group C||Group D|
|Ninjas in Pyjamas||G2||Natus Vincere||Virtus.pro|
For all information about the event, such as the schedule, prize distribution, talent lineup and more head over to the viewer's guide.
Without further ado, let's get into our preview where we're going over some of the most important storylines, post-off-season results, the numerous LAN debuts everyone has been waiting for and more:
|Ninjas in Pyjamas|
|Mikail "Maikelele" Bill||25||1.24|
|Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund||26||1.05|
|Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg||28||1.02|
|Adam "friberg" Friberg||24||0.95|
|Richard "Xizt" Landström||25||0.92|
|Björn "THREAT" Pers (coach)|
* Ratings used in this article are from the last three months
The Ninjas in Pyjamas are heading to Kiev with much to prove, having entered the off-season with three disappointing events behind them, including a last place at ECS Season 1 Finals, their first group stage exit at a Major at the hands of FlipSid3 and a quarter-final finish at ELEAGUE following a beatdown by eventual champions Virtus.pro.
They won't be able to travel with their full team however, as Jacob "pyth" Mourujärvi has been battling a hand injury for about a month now and still hasn't fully recovered. Joakim "disco doplan" Gidetun stood in for Ninjas in Pyjamas most of their Pro League matches and helped them to seven wins in ten maps, but he couldn't travel to Kiev due to his commitments to Epsilon.
The Swedish side revealed Maikelele will attend StarSeries instead, so we'll witness the temporary return of the NiP of late 2014 to early 2015 that earned second place at DreamHack Winter, 2014's last Major, and their only title in 2015 at ASUS ROG Winter.
Maikelele will put on the NiP jersey one more time
The AWPer had been without a team since his departure from FaZe in early April but recently made his return with a mixture called mixbanan, consisting of numerous free agents such as Fredrik "slap" Junbrant and Frej "kHRYSTAL" Sjöström.
Even if it's only online, a good sign for the Swedes is friberg's performance so far in Pro League. The entry fragger continued to disappoint this year despite Ninjas in Pyjamas's massive change in style which should have allowed him to utilize his role better, but he seems to have got his second wind after the month-long break.
Barring surprises, Ninjas in Pyjamas will ultimately fight a so far unknown force in GODSENT for first place in the group, which is certainly one of the many matches CS:GO fans are eager to see in Kiev. If GeT_RiGhT's squad don't pass that test, it'll likely come down to the decider between them and Dignitas, who exchanged maps in ESL's league two weeks ago.
|Emil "Magisk" Reif||18||1.15|
|Kristian "k0nfig" Wienecke||19||1.13|
|René "cajunb" Borg||26||1.09|
|Ruben "RUBINO" Villarroel||22||0.96|
|Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen||21||0.84|
|Casper "ruggah" Due (coach)|
To be fair, they haven't had a real chance to prove themselves again in international competition, at least not offline, as their last prestigious event was the ESL One Cologne Major, where they fell to Astralis who fielded two stand-ins.
A case could be made for dignitas advancing from groups
They have played four teams so far in Pro League and exchanged maps with MOUZ, Virtus.pro and Ninjas in Pyjamas, while defeating bottom team FlipSid3 twice. Dignitas are currently sitting in the top half of the league, having mostly played less maps than teams above them.
Since Cologne, Power-LAN was their only offline showing, a domestic event featuring all of the biggest suspects from Denmark, though Philip "aizy" Aistrup stood in for RUBINO as the Danes grabbed silver following narrow series with Rogue and Heroic.
The biggest difference between today's Dignitas and the previous version is their map pool. They've given up on Train completely and scaled back on Cache, which were and continue to be two of their worst maps. Meanwhile, Dust2 was introduced to their pool upon the joining of cajunb, and they also became a solid contender on Nuke. That could help them in the very likely encounter with Ninjas in Pyjamas, who haven't been great on Dust2 lately.
|Robin "flusha" Rönnquist||23||1.14|
|Andreas "znajder" Lindberg||23||1.11|
|Jesper "JW" Wecksell||21||1.09|
|Freddy "KRIMZ" Johansson||22||1.03|
|Markus "pronax" Wallsten||25||0.90|
|Alexander "rdl" Redl (coach)|
Surely one of the most anticipated matches at StarSeries are any showdowns including GODSENT, who stunned the scene by bringing back together 80% of the original fnatic roster that won the first Major, DreamHack Winter 2013.
The huge shift in two of the top three Swedish teams came after fnatic couldn't return to their former glory as tension arose within the squad.
In the meantime, GODSENT had issues of their own, having shown promise at DreamHack Masters Malmö but failing to live up to it in the next trimester.
It might take GODSENT a while before they reach their true potential
As the core lost their ESL Pro League spot and couldn't overcome Virtus.pro in the wild card match only hours after the announcement, they have only taken part in various qualifiers thus far.
GODSENT demolished Heroic in one of them, the EPICENTER: Moscow closed qualifier, and fought off MOUZ for first place in the group. ELEAGUE's first open qualifier was mostly a walk in the park for them, although Shadows took them to their limit in the final best-of-one. ESL One New York's Europe qualifier saw pronax's team getting crushed by FaZe on two out of three maps of the quarter-final series.
Just looking at the roster, I have no doubt in my mind the new GODSENT squad will become a serious contender almost instantly, the key word being almost. Even if they all know each other well, it's possible it'll take them a bit of time before they figure out some of the roles, specifically znajder's, who admitted to holding new spots on nearly every map.
|Kirill "ANGE1" Karasiow||26||1.11|
|Martin "STYKO" Styk||20||1.08|
|Patrik "Zero" Žúdel||17||1.06|
|Sergey "smike" Sklyarenko||18||1.04|
|Vladyslav "bondik" Nechyporchuk||23||0.98|
|Ivan "Johnta" Shevtsov (coach)|
Last in Group A are underdogs HellRaisers, who have fallen off the radar slightly since the departure of their star sniper Tomáš "oskar" Šťastný. 18-year-old smike, who caught people's attention under eXplosive, entered the roster instead and is supposedly still trying out.
HR have been playing without the Czech since DreamHack Summer, when oskar lost motivation as he was promised a spot in MOUZ. In the last month they attempted to qualify for the ECS Development league but failed to do so, losing to HOMELESS early.
How will HellRaisers fare without oskar?
While HellRaisers are by no means favoured to win any of their matches, I could see them having a real chance against one other team in their group, Dignitas. Since they'll most likely end up meeting in a best-of-one elimination, they should end up on a very good map for both teams, and if it's Nuke, all bets are off.
|Richard "shox" Papillon||24||1.14|
|Adil "ScreaM" Benrlitom||22||1.14|
|Cédric "RpK" Guipouy||27||1.05|
|Alexandre "bodyy" Pianaro||19||0.93|
|Edouard "SmithZz" Dubourdeaux||27||0.90|
Much like Ninjas in Pyjamas, G2 have a lot to prove as well, even if for slightly different reasons. They stormed through May and June establishing themselves as one of the elite-level teams, falling just short to Luminosity in ESL Pro League Season 3's grand final and taking their revenge at ECS Season 1 Finals.
ELEAGUE's Last-Chance qualifier followed, but G2 faced a significant handicap in the form of RpK missing the event as he fell ill and Simon "Fuks" Florysiak attended the event instead. Even with a stand-in the French-Belgian team took MOUZ to a close result but ended up missing out on the playoffs in the end.
FaZe will be a tough nut to crack for shox and co.
They can't be blamed too much for their loss in Cologne, Group D was nasty but G2 were well within chances to advance, and the same goes for ELEAGUE where they were missing a key player.
In Kiev, the seemingly unavoidable FaZe winners' match shouldn't be an easy battle, considering G2 dropped both Overpass and Cache in their Pro League encounter and the European mixture have obviously improved since swapping Ricardo "fox" Pacheco for Aleksi "allu" Jalli.
The stakes are high. A loss to FaZe would mean a deadly match-up in the quarter-finals: Natus Vincere in the worst case scenario, Ninjas in Pyjamas in the best (disregarding huge upsets). And G2 are one of the teams with more pressure on them to perform, as StarSeries will be a LAN debut for many of the big names.
|Aleksi "allu" Jalli||24||1.10|
|Håvard "rain" Nygaard||22||1.08|
|Joakim "jkaem" Myrbostad||22||1.01|
|Philip "aizy" Aistrup||20||1.01|
|Fabien "kioShiMa" Fiey||22||0.98|
|Robert "RobbaN" Dahlström (coach)|
Speaking of LAN debuts, we've already covered Ninjas in Pyjamas (who technically don't count, but let's say they do for the purposes of this point) and GODSENT, and another team who have recently swapped a player are FaZe.
The roster change experts and community alike have been caling for for ages finally arrived. Frankly, FaZe were held back by a wildly inconsistent AWPer in fox, who had his moments but wasn't anywhere near reliable in his role.
allu didn't exactly become the star of the team, at least not yet. Individually he's been quite inconsistent as well, though it's undeniable FaZe's results have improved upon his arrival despite the initial blowout against X (now Heroic).
StarSeries will be an event of multiple debuts
FaZe took over the first few weeks of ESL Pro League, winning seven out of eight first matches, including two against group opponents G2 as mentioned above. They have dropped since, losing both maps to Ninjas in Pyjamas and tying Astralis, but are currently holding second place with an 8-4 score.
RobbaN's team are also locked in for EPICENTER: Moscow closed qualifier playoffs, where they suffered a loss to Astralis. The Danes also defeated them yesterday in ESL One New York's qualifier, where FaZe dominated GODSENT and MOUZ beforehand.
Overall this is a better resumé than for a team currently sitting at 16th place in our Team Ranking, but they have to prove their worth offline before they can get closer to the top10 again.
|Georgi "WorldEdit" Yaskin||24||1.07|
|Yegor "markeloff" Markelov||28||0.92|
|Jan "wayLander" Rahkonen||22||0.91|
|Oleksandr "Shara" Hordieyev||24||0.85|
|Andrey "B1ad3" Gorodenskiy||29||0.81|
FlipSid3 then attempted to qualify for the event previewed in this article, but once again failed to pass the first round, this time putting up a fight against Dignitas. The Ukrainian-Russian-Finnish mixture made it to the finals anyway, receiving a direct invite after multiple teams dropped out.
FlipSid3 have grown used to uphill battles by now
So far their Pro League attendance hasn't come to any fruition, resulting in a 0-8 win-loss difference with losses to Astralis, Dignitas, G2 and Natus Vincere, only reaching double digits in three out of the eight cases.
I see this group as the most uneven of all four, though that's due to the high expectations I have of FaZe. FlipSid3 might be marginally worse individually, but they have a strategical edge over the team that had just recently made a lineup change.
|Hyun-Pyo "XigN" Lee||19||1.15|
|Soon-Woo "Argency" Kwon||24||1.07|
|Hyung-Ju "Sound" Nam||20||1.05|
|Hae-Sung "HSK" Kim||22||1.03|
|Jung-Hyeon "rindA" Jeon||23||0.97|
Last in Group D we have the biggest underdog of all, the largely inexperienced squad that is MVP Project. StarSeries marks the very first time we'll see a South Korean team in attendance, but it was a well-earned spot.
Back in April, PGL and KeSPA were heavily criticized for allowing South Korea two spots at the Asian Minor prior to Cologne, and for good reason, as the country hadn't deserved it.
MVP project are looking to gain some much-needed experience
Times have changed since then however, MVP Project began rising up the ranks in Asia and could currently be seen as the third-best team after TYLOO and VG.CyberZen, with results such as second place in ImbaTV's H-Cup.
As we've learned from an interview with Sound, the South Korean squad practices quite heavily, about 11 hours a day, and looked to up the hours even further prior to StarSeries so that they can show their best.
I still can't see them winning a map against either of the three very experienced and established teams, let alone a series, but what's important is the pedigree gained by attending an event with world-class teams.
|Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács||25||1.19|
|Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev||18||1.12|
|Ioann "Edward" Sukhariev||28||1.09|
|Denis "seized" Kostin||21||1.08|
|Egor "flamie" Vasilyev||19||1.06|
|Sergey "starix" Ischuk (coach)|
Heading over to Group C, we have another exciting prospect in Natus Vincere, who were one of the first to announce their roster change out of the big teams. That roster change is, of course, none other than s1mple replacing Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko.
Like I highlighted in the "Off-season changes: Who will be next?" article, it made sense to replace the former in-game leader with a more skilled player, at least before the coaching limits were revealed.
Later on we learned that s1mple won't be taking over the AWPing role, primary or secondary, as the team will stick to their previous arrangement between GuardiaN and seized. We'll find out soon enough whether that was the right call, and it's definitely one of the things that will be in focus when it comes to the Ukraine-based team.
Many questions will be answered come Sunday
Doubts of s1mple fitting in have also been somewhat dispelled, though the starix-led squad have yet to suffer a real loss, which is often when disagreements arise. They've won all three match-ups in ESL Pro League, including G2, Astralis and FlipSid3, and that's pretty much all they've done this past month, barring the stake-less showmatches versus SK.
The 18-year-old quickly took over the reins in those six maps, recording a 1.36 rating with GuardiaN trailing ever so slightly at 1.30, so thus far I don't think there's a problem at all with the former giving up the AWP. After all, s1mple has shown he can do it all before, so as long as there's another world-class AWPer beside him, there shouldn't be any issues.
Group C at StarSeries is not without its dangers for Na`Vi, though Astralis haven't bested the current number four on LAN for nearly a year and Heroic still have a long way to go before they can become a tier one team.
|Nicolai "device" Reedtz||20||1.20|
|Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen||23||1.10|
|Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye||18||1.08|
|Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth||20||0.99|
|Finn "karrigan" Andersen||26||0.93|
|Danny "zonic" Sørensen (coach)|
Despite the initially praised roster change, when Kjaerbye took cajunb's place, Astralis have disappointed time and time again, placing outside of the top four at three events prior to the off-season.
The quarter-final finish in Cologne was quite expected, even surprisingly good considering Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander stood in for Kjaerbye and zonic was forced to fill in for an injured dupreeh, still giving Virtus.pro a run for their money and more. What was not expected was another 5th-8th place at ELEAGUE, where MOUZ decimated karrigan's five.
Astralis need to gain the upper hand on Heroic again
Normally I wouldn't give Power-LAN too much credit, it's only a domestic event, but since they were given Heroic in their group, this takes an interesting turn. Astralis lost four out of five maps versus Andreas "MODDII" Fridh and company in the past two weeks, which surely won't help their confidence going up against them at the $300,000 event.
I'd have given the Danes a chance against Natus Vincere despite the crushing loss in Pro League, but it's more than possible we won't even get to see them play each other if Astralis lose the initial round on Wednesday.
First and foremost, device's team need to figure out the domestic match-up. If they do that, it's all they need to advance from groups, unless a much better version of TYLOO than the one we saw at the Cologne Main Qualifier shows up.
|Valdemar "valde" Bjørn Vangså||21||1.14|
|Andreas "MODDII" Fridh||27||1.09|
|Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander||21||1.05|
|Michael "Friis" Jørgensen||27||1.02|
|Marco "Snappi" Pfeiffer||26||0.99|
Over the course of the last two months, Heroic (previously Team X) placed second to Epsilon at Pro Gamer League and won Power-LAN, with a few online triumphs in between: in Operation: Kinguin #3 and qualifiers for ECS Development league, StarSeries and DreamHack Open Bucharest.
During the aforementioned LANs, they defeated two of their Group C opponents, TYLOO in Wuhan and Astralis at the Danish event. Combine that with their two-map win against Denmark's long-standing number one in Pro League and you have a solid case for Heroic advancing from the group already, whether they meet Natus Vincere or not.
valde has been pivotal during Heroic's rise
During August Heroic made a jump from 21st place to 11th in the rankings, which to me is a fair assessment of their recent improvement, even if they reached that high of a position largely thanks to other teams staying at home.
With all that in mind, their two Astralis encounters weren't decisive enough to pick a clear winner of the initial round or the decider. We just have to wait for the epic battle we've been building towards for the past month.
|YuLun "Summer" Cai||19||1.17|
|Hui "DD" Wu||22||1.12|
|Ke "captainMo" Liu||27||1.10|
|HaoWen "somebody" Xu||21||1.06|
|YuanZhang "Attacker" Sheng||19||1.04|
|QiFang "Karsa" Su (coach)|
Much like most of the year, these past three months in Asia have been simply TYLOO-dominated. Summer and company are rarely contested by anyone other than VG.CyberZen and even Bin "Savage" Liu's roster have trouble winning maps against Asia's crystal clear number one.
In fact, TYLOO have a ridiculous track record against their biggest rivals, 30-6 in maps across a 13-match win streak that dates back to the Chinese qualifier for the Asia Minor, which is the last time VG.CyberZen celebrated a win against captainMo's five.
TyLoo have to bring composure to their play to overcome the Europeans
However, dominance in Asia doesn't seem to be enough for TYLOO to be seen as a serious contender against European teams, as we saw during ESL One Cologne's Main Qualifier and the Pro Gamer League Finals, and their group is all Europe.
They do have undeniable skill and a highly aggressive style that is exciting to watch, but they're lacking breaks, a certain level of composure needed to consistently grind out higher-tier teams.
|Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski||23||1.12|
|Paweł "byali" Bieliński||22||1.04|
|Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas||30||1.03|
|Filip "NEO" Kubski||29||1.01|
|Jarosław "pashaBiceps" Jarząbkowski||28||1.01|
|Jakub "kuben" Gurczynski (coach)|
Virtus.pro entered the off-season fresh off their first big win in what feels like ages. What's more, ELEAGUE playoffs seemed like a walk in the park for the plow that re-emerged in the humid weather of Atlanta, crushing Ninjas in Pyjamas, MOUZ and fnatic on its way to a huge title.
Winning the wild card match against GODSENT, Virtus.pro entered Pro League splitting maps with Ninjas in Pyjamas and losing to FaZe in the first week. Over the next six matches, they garnered four more wins, leading to a 6th place in the league thus far.
VP are in a good position to take first place in Group D
Outside of one of the biggest leagues, the Poles didn't take part in any events and so they should be more than ready for what's to come in Group D of SL i-League StarSeries Season 2 Finals.
Still, this group has a few traps laid here and there, especially due to Cloud9's recent uprise, although VP have always had a good track record against North American teams. I wouldn't be too worried about Envy, who might have good history against the Poles but are coming in with Christophe "SIXER" Xia instead of Nathan "NBK-" Schmitt, and even less so about VG.CyberZen.
|Kenny "kennyS" Schrub||21||1.15|
|Vincent "Happy" Schopenhauer||24||1.05|
|Dan "apEX" Madesclaire||23||1.03|
|Christophe "SIXER" Xia||25||1.00|
|Timothée "DEVIL" Démolon||21||0.94|
Envy announced NBK- wouldn't be travelling to Kiev already when they secured a place at StarSeries via the European qualifier. Millenium's SIXER, who also stood in for DEVIL during ESL Pro League, was later on revealed as the temporary replacement.
After a largely unsuccessful five months filled with roles changing, mainly switching leadership from Happy to NBK- to DEVIL, the team decided to go back to their roots and let the original in-game leader call the shots. Alongside it, other roles have shifted as well.
EnVyUs came up with a plan to fix their playstyle
|Jake "Stewie2K" Yip||18||1.15|
|Mike "shroud" Grzesiek||22||1.11|
|Timothy "autimatic" Ta||19||1.10|
|Tyler "Skadoodle" Latham||23||1.10|
|Jordan "n0thing" Gilbert||25||1.08|
Thanks to their online run they were favoured to do well at Northern Arena and lived up to the expectations, most notably defeating Heroic in the semi-finals. In an issue-filled grand final, Cloud9 fell short to Immortals after three double-digit maps.
Cloud9 aren't untouchable even in NA, but they've shown real progress
Everyone on the team in blue seems to be pulling his own weight, but Stewie2K shines above all. He has certainly grown as a player by getting rid of some of the recklessness and turning the rest of it into calculated risks. The whole squad is quite aggressive nowadays, which I believe is in part why the 18-year-old feels at home, he is often the one taking initiative but also has a few people around him, ready to strike as well.
Cloud9 are somewhat past the point of being a real underdog in the group, but they still are one in the bigger picture because of how vastly different the competition will be in Kiev. However, with Envy fielding a stand-in, n0thing's roster could very well have a shot at playoffs and perhaps some of the bigger names later on.
|WeiJie "zhokiNg" Zhong||22||1.19|
|Bin "Savage" Liu||27||1.13|
|KunHua "LOVEYY" Bai||27||1.12|
|BingYuan "tb" Li||25||1.11|
|Zhuo "advent" Liang||24||0.95|
As I highlighted above when talking about TYLOO, VG.CyberZen have been wildly ineffective against their biggest rivals for quite a long time now, even after adding LOVEYY at the expense of ZhiHong "aumaN" Liu.
While others like MVP Project have grown in the past months, Savage's squad came to a standstill. They're still the second-best team in Asia, but they haven't gotten any closer to TYLOO lately and others are creeping in to take their place.
The last time we saw VG play in Europe was all the way back in January
StarSeries could be their chance to prove otherwise as well as find out what needs to be changed in order to take the next step, but they're facing an elite-level team first.
They'll also face at least one of Envy and Cloud9, but it's hard to say who would be the better match-up for them. I picture C9's playstyle as a toned down, North American version of TYLOO's, which might work for VG.CyberZen as it's the evil they know.
China's number two are very unlikely to pass a best-of-three against either of them, but it'll still be interesting to watch how Asia will fare against the rest of the world this time.
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