What we learned from ESL One NY
One of the most prestigious events of the second half of 2016, ESL One New York, has come to a close and Natus Vincere have lifted the trophy. Here's what we learned from the $250,000 event.
As usual, we'll begin by recapping what happened over the last weekend for those of you who couldn't catch all the action.
ESL One New York began with a Swiss group stage, a format which had only been used once before, at the 16-team ESL One Cologne Main Qualifier back in June. This time the event only featured eight names, so it was significantly easier to keep track of the groups.
Meanwhile, the Brazilians had a fair share of trouble against Astralis, but managed to secure second place over Virtus.pro comfortably after their loss to Na`Vi. At that point the Poles had a 2-2 record and faced OpTic for the semi-finals spot, which Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas and company just barely clinched after a very scary match on Cobblestone.
What can we take away from New York?
The last semi-finalist was Liquid, who had arguably the hardest route of all teams. After defeating G2 and losing to both eventual finalists, Spencer "Hiko" Martin's team disposed of fnatic twice in a row on Dust2 in the match of two debutants.
While Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz's team, who also debuted in New York, exceeded expectations despite finishing just outside of playoffs, G2 shockingly went out in last place and were closely followed by Astralis, who only managed one win.
The semi-finals saw Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev facing his old team in a narrow series. Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski, in great form throughout the group stage, put up another fantastic performance to help Liquid clinch Cobblestone. Egor "flamie" Vasilyev and Na`Vi's newest addition then took over Train and Dust2 to advance to the final.
SK and Virtus.pro on the other side provided yet another amazing series to go with their two close playoffs series at MLG Columbus and ESL One Cologne. There were a total of four overtimes on the first two maps, Mirage and Overpass, before the match was decided on Nuke. The Poles surprised with a great Terrorist side and made the final after a comfortable 16-7 scoreline.
The final itself began in extremely one-sided fashion. VP executed the plow on Cobblestone, where we witnessed multiple amazing clutches, including one of the most memorable plays of 2016, a 1v4 pistol-round triumph from Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski. Natus Vincere quickly shook off that stunning loss and dominated the Terrorist side on Train before grabbing the title after an overtime on Mirage.
Here are some of ESL One New York's best maps with links to VODs:
|Swiss group stage|
|Virtus.pro||16-3||Natus Vincere||Cobblestone (M1)||Grand final|
|Virtus.pro||17-19||Natus Vincere||Mirage (M3)||Grand final|
We took the liberty of grading the teams according to their performance and expectations we had for them prior to the event:
With that in mind, what have we learned from the prestigious event?
The Na`Vi we had expected finally arrived
However, their total failure, and the newest addition's underwhelming display, at their debut event, SL i-League StarSeries Season 2 Finals, made us rethink Na`Vi's position in the scene.
s1mple became the secondary AWPer afterwards and Denis "seized" Kostin was forced to start calling the shots due to the new coaching rules being enforced for the first time at ESL One New York. Those adjustments made an accurate judgement of Natus Vincere's level quite difficult.
Imagine if this is what Na`Vi's future looks like
s1mple's fantastic MVP-worthy performance showed us what a formidable lineup Na`Vi can be when he is on. They didn't even need all three of their main stars playing at their best at the same time to win a huge title, a combination of just two of them was enough in the playoffs.
Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács undeperformed in the semi-final against Liquid as flamie and s1mple carried Natus Vincere through, while the two snipers took over the grand final when the Russian fell below his average level.
In the group stage we saw what can happen when all three go off all at once — Natus Vincere didn't let Virtus.pro, SK and Liquid even reach double digits. Imagine if that's what we can expect in the future.
There is no clear number one right now
Prior to ESL One New York, I called Virtus.pro the "interim number one". The Poles had been the most successful team in the past three months, winning ELEAGUE and DreamHack ZOWIE Open Bucharest, but during all that time SK had been absent from all LAN events.
As such, VP would have earned the number one position had they managed to win ESL One New York, SK's first event since the Cologne Major. That would have been backed up by our ranking, as the two are now separated by only 26 points.
Another army arrived to the battle for number one
Would've, could've, should've... With Natus Vincere taking the title, there are now three teams in contention for that all-important number one in the nearest future.
Some could say the argument that VP have been the most successful lately still holds, and they'd be right. However, to be called the best team in the world, you need a big title over the other contenders.
Whichever of the aforementioned three teams wins the next big event, which is the $500,000 EPICENTER: Moscow running from October 17-23, will reserve that right.
NA is taking advantage of post off-season instability
During the past few events it was Cloud9 who took advantage of the instability in North America as well as in Europe, securing two second places at smaller events and a semi-final finish at StarSeries.
North America's stance is better than ever
Aside from OpTic' blowout against fnatic on day one, their showing was well above expectations. They eliminated G2 and Astralis and came extremely close to making semi-finals in the very last group stage match against Virtus.pro.
These North American teams couldn't have picked a better timing to improve. The effects of the off-season are still there, even if they're a bit less prevalent as the scene begins to stabilize. The region's stance is now better than ever with two teams in the top six and another just below the top ten of our Team Ranking.
We still have no answer to who won the Swedish swap
After Markus "pronax" Wallsten's team has failed to meet expectations, it was time for fnatic to show how they've progressed over the past two months, as ESL One New York was their debut with the completely new lineup.
I gave them a "C" in the grading sheet above. That basically means fnatic's showing wasn't bad in relation to what had been expected from them, but it could have been significantly better considering the circumstances.
We got no answers from fnatic's debut
Before the event, Dennis "dennis" Edman said his team "has five stars but the world doesn't know it yet", but in New York we didn't see it. All players had their ups at some point, but none of them could be considered a star. Even fnatic's best performer Simon "twist" Eliasson played two great maps while the remaining three were average or below.
Their result could have been much better due the first encounter with Liquid, where the Swedes were up 14-8 but missed a big opportunity to advance to semi-finals. The second time was even worse. Liquid were in control for the entirety of the match and fnatic's plan to play Dust2 again fell apart, as they couldn't find a solution to the Americans' Terrorist side.
The fact that dennis led the team instead of John "wenton" Eriksson implies that they've still not figured the roles out completely and it'll take more time for fnatic to become a real contender. That puts them in a similar spot to GODSENT, so we still don't have a clear answer to who got the better of the swap. Maybe it's NiP, who chose to stay out of it and have since won a big event, admittedly with a stand-in.
New timeout rules break the fluidity of matches
From a spectator's point of view, I wasn't a fan of the new timeout rules. With each team having four 30-second timeouts to use per match, there can be a pause every three to four rounds on average.
In New York there were times when we had three timeouts within five rounds, which made the matches annoying to watch, especially when combined with small technical issues here and there.
That's pretty much what it felt like at times: as if there were technical issues over and over, so we had to wait an extended period of time for a new round to start way too often.
Changes to tactical timeouts affect the viewers
From an analyst's point of view, it was interesting to see how teams made use of the timeouts, who adapted the most quickly (Liquid comes to mind) and how teams began using them more strategically as the event progressed.
The timeout changes were clearly a tradeoff for the coaching limitations, but do we really need one that affects the viewers this way? Why not simply allow coaches to speak during the freezetime and have the old 2-minute timeouts per match? That wouldn't eliminate the need for a playing in-game leader, so all parties (Valve, teams and viewers) should be at least reasonably happy about the result.
The Swiss format would be amazing for the Majors
For the first time we got to see how the Swiss format works in a normal tournament rather than a qualifier and it was once again proved that it is the ideal way to find the best teams at an event.
First of all, it eliminates the need for a very accurate seeding outside of the first round, as the teams are re-seeded naturally over and over after each round.
Disregarding big upsets, which can't be avoided, teams will keep meeting better and better teams the more they win, and worse teams the more they lose. That's the perfect format if you want the four (or eight) best teams to advance to playoffs.
One area which this format would improve the most are the Majors, infamous for their highly inaccurate seeding and thus imbalanced groups, as we saw very recently at ESL One Cologne.
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