What we learned from Pro League
With ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals coming to a close, we take a look at what we've learned over the prolonged weekend which saw Cloud9 getting their first big trophy.
Before we address what we learned from the event taking place in São Paulo, we should go over what happened in the following recap of the results and most exciting matches.
The Pro League Finals featured a round-robin, best-of-one format in groups, where 11 teams fought for a place in the playoffs. Group A, which only featured five teams due to fnatic dropping out at the last minute, was quite straightforward from beginning to end.
Envy grabbed three convincing victories but finished second to mousesports, who defeated the Frenchmen at the end of groups and advanced directly to semi-finals despite losing to Immortals on the way. The third spot went to OpTic due to big wins over their two competitors in North America, Liquid and Immortals.
What did we learn from ESL Pro League Finals?
Group B was wide open the whole way through. SK began with a loss to NiP but ended the groups with a 4-1 record, defeating the other four teams without too much trouble. Cloud9 finished the round-robin with the same amount of wins, advancing to quarter-finals from second place in the group due to the loss to the Brazilians.
The quarter-finals saw NiP defeat Envy in two maps, with Dust2 going to overtime, while Cloud9 passed North American rivals OpTic in comfortable fashion. The Swedes then went on to face SK, who dropped Nuke despite a 7-1 lead but made the grand final after two comfortable maps.
Cloud9 continued to dominate the bracket by defeating mousesports 2-0 to join the Brazilians in the final. With only two rounds as Terrorists on Overpass, SK clinched the first map after overtime. However, it was the American-Canadian team who emerged victorious in commanding fashion, only losing 11 rounds in total over Mirage and Dust2 for their first big international title.
Cloud9 enter the fray
After their success following the change from Alec "Slemmy" White to Timothy "autimatic" Ta, placing in the semi-finals at StarSeries and second at Northern Arena and DreamHack Bucharest, Cloud9 were already considered one of the teams approaching the elite level status.
They finally unlocked the next level in São Paulo, besting established teams such as NiP and Dignitas in groups and passing SK, an elite-level team, in the grand final. Their comfortable series against OpTic and mousesports were also encouraging, as Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz's team threatened Cloud9 online while mousesports were looking better than ever with Christian "loWel" Garcia Antoran playing well.
The grand final was an impressive showing of what Cloud9 can do when they fire on all cylinders. It could have been even more one-sided, had Jordan "n0thing" Gilbert's team won the second pistol round on Overpass after gaining the 13-2 lead as Counter-Terrorists.
Cloud9 took it to the next level
However, that allowed for the series to go to Dust2, where we saw that it's not just the individual players that make the team. After a crushing loss on the same map in groups, Jake "Stewie2K" Yip and company adjusted their play on it and turned it around in the final's decider, as SK elected to leave it in instead of Cobblestone, supposedly due to the group result.
Cloud9's two best players, autimatic and Stewie2K, played a pivotal part in Cloud9's success, especially the former who also received an MVP award with an astounding 1.31 rating and unrivaled consistency. Mike "shroud" Grzesiek was also a difference maker, as he played well in some of the close matches and much more consistently than he did at the previous three events.
Immortals and Liquid didn't show up
While one North American team rose to the occasion, two others failed to show up in a fairly even group. Both Liquid and Immortals faced crushing defeats at the hands of OpTic and Envy, two teams both should at least be able to take to close scorelines.
Luis "peacemaker" Tadeu had to step down from in-game leading prior to ESL One New York due to the coaching changes, which forced Liquid to readdress in-game leadership. Nick "nitr0" Cannella tried it out — again — for New York and when it wasn't working, Spencer "Hiko" Martin took over — again.
Liquid are in dire need of a good coach or an experienced in-game leader
In New York, Liquid were the only ones who were using the new timeouts' full potential from the get go, as they had the Brazilian coach to call them when he noticed something was wrong.
In Brazil they didn't have that luxury, as peacemaker had left the team altogether, and Liquid seemed completely lost in the first two matches. There was no adaptation and little to no improvisation, mostly just default play that clearly wasn't working.
Unless the coaching rules change and Liquid get a good coach, it's hard to see them avoiding lineup changes, as they need an experienced in-game leader. The problem is, they'd most likely have to get someone from Europe again, as North America lacks strong leaders.
It's hard to tell where Immortals' issue lies. Their coach, Rafael "zakk" Fernandes, mentioned the team lacks in communication when they don't get emotional, but it was more than that. With Wilton "zews" Prado playing as poorly as he was, it's hard to get anywhere without the stars putting up numbers, but Henrique "HEN1" Teles and João "felps" Vasconcellos were nowhere to be seen either.
dignitas have to go back to the drawing board
Placing top four at two consecutive events before winning WESG Regional Finals and EPICENTER: Moscow, Dignitas headed into ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals as one of the biggest favourites.
Their strong Mirage and Cobblestone were one of the main reasons of Dignitas' success in Russia, but the same maps were their downfall in Brazil. FaZe and SK crushed the Danes on each map and the deciding Mirage with Cloud9 was even more baffing, as Dignitas had a 12-6 lead as Terrorists but lost 10 out of the last 11 rounds to exit the tournament.
dignitas have some troubleshooting to do
Dignitas have yet to learn that trade, maybe because the team consists of young players aside from René "cajunb" Borg; they're the youngest team in top-tier competition with an average age of a little over 21.
A good sign going forward was that Emil "Magisk" Reif carried his form over from EPICENTER and was the event's best-rated player, although Kristian "k0nfig" Wienecke dropped off significantly from his MVP-worthy performance in Moscow.
The off-season effects are still in place
The first official off-season in CS:GO resulted in many changes, and with the extra long break between top-tier events, it was inevitable some of the new teams couldn't maintain good results.
In fact, two teams who managed to place in the top four consistently throughout the past three months while champions differed are those who had not changed players: Virtus.pro and SK, incidentally the current top two in our Team Ranking.
The off-season is at the root of the instability we're now seeing in CS:GO, but it's no longer the cause, as three months should be more than enough for the teams to find their form and make the playstyle changes necessary.
While Cloud9 and dignitas improved with the off-season changes, others are struggling
In some cases that isn't quite as possible with the current volume of events. Even the established teams such as the aforementioned two are unlikely to win consecutive events due to the limited practice they can get in between tournaments. For example, Virtus.pro attended five events in the past one and a half months, while SK played three in October.
That means teams have to go from event to event and the tournaments become more about the basics, the teams' form and on-the-fly adjustments rather than good preparation. Those are necessary skills to have, but it doesn't provide the best Counter-Strike.
Only two teams took advantage of the situation by improving steadily following lineup changes: Dignitas and Cloud9. Both have managed to keep up the pace with the two best teams in the world and even take titles off the bigger names, while others such as fnatic, GODSENT and Liquid are struggling.
Fortunately the craziness will end with the ELEAGUE Major Main Qualifier in mid-December. There probably won't be more than one other tournament in January, which should make the Major itself worthwhile.
The round robin format has big downsides
We've now seen the round robin format in use twice in a row, at EPICENTER: Moscow and at ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals.
One of the biggest downsides is that teams often depend on others to determine their fate. That much we saw at Pro League, as in the last match of Group B Cloud9 came back against Dignitas to secure NiP a place in the playoffs.
That example leads us to another flaw of the system — teams can exit the tournament in groups despite a positive record (NiP had three wins and two losses).
NiP needed Cloud9 to win against dignitas at the end of groups
When teams already know they've been eliminated but still have matches left to play, they have next to no incentive to win. The difference in prizemoney is usually insignificant ($5,000 to $10,000 difference between 4th and 6th place in Pro League groups), which makes those matches important for none or only one of the teams.
Lastly, the tiebreakers after head-to-head results are far from ideal. At EPICENTER it came down to round difference, while ESL came up with their own system, where the tied teams would have to play overtime-like deciding matches in mr3 settings.
None of those flaws exist in the GSL or the Swiss format, which is why tournament organizers began using them in the first place. As long as teams are still in the tournament, they always have a chance to advance, their fate never depends on the other results and there are no ties.
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