IEM Oakland preview
The Battle of the Bay is set to start as IEM Oakland will kick-off tomorrow with 12 teams fighting for their share of the $300,000 prize pool. Here is the preview for the event, which will take place in the Golden State between tomorrow and Sunday.
Not far from last year’s IEM stop in San Jose, the chosen venue this time around is the home of the Golden State Warriors, the Oracle Arena, in the city of Oakland on San Francisco’s East Bay.
Our modern day forty-niners will carry mouse, keyboard, and pad instead of axe, shovel, and pan as they fight for the bulk of $300,000 in Northern California. Starting with two days of round-robin group stages, six teams will move on to the playoffs. The second and third finishers in each group will play a quarterfinal on Saturday while the two group winners will take BYEs and move on straight to Sunday’s semifinals.
|Group A||Group B|
|Liquid||Ninjas in Pyjamas|
With one top 5 and two top 10 teams missing due to ELEAGUE and Virtus.pro deciding not to fly out citing a busy schedule, IEM Oakland has ended up with an amalgam of teams spanning the whole range of our top 20 ranking—from some of the best teams in the world to teams fallen out of grace, passing through up-and-comers and a few stragglers.
*all player ratings are from the past 3 months on LAN
|Natus Vincere (#4)|
|Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev||19||1.22|
|Egor "flamie" Vasilyev||19||1.01|
|Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács||25||0.99|
|Ioann "Edward" Sukhariev||28||0.93|
|Denis "seized" Kostin||22||0.89|
Natus Vincere are the highest ranked team in Group A and the favorites to make it straight to the semifinals. Despite having shown some irregular up-and-down performances over the past months, the CIS side has proven it can go all the way. For those more superstitious, Natus Vincere’s core won IEM San Jose last year and this same lineup won ESL One New York just over a month ago, making ESL events in North America some of their most fruitful.
Natus Vincere come into Oakland with the strange feeling of having been knocked out of ELEAGUE Season 2 early, but it has to be noted that they lost to none other than the world’s best ranked team at the moment, SK. Natus Vincere have had a bumpy road since s1mple came on, with two group stage exits (SL i-League StarSeries Season 2 and ELEAGUE Season 2), the aforementioned victory in New York, and a 3-4 place finish at EPICENTER: Moscow.
While the team has been struggling to find their form, Natus Vincere have hands down the biggest potential out of any of the teams in Group A, and it is hard to see them not being able to pull their weight on the way to the playoffs, and quite possibly with a quarterfinal BYE.
|Richard "shox" Papillon||24||1.13|
|Adil "ScreaM" Benrlitom||22||1.10|
|Alexandre "bodyy" Pianaro||19||0.97|
|Cédric "RpK" Guipouy||27||0.93|
|Edouard "SmithZz" Dubourdeaux||27||0.86|
G2 are coming out of a disappointing second place finish at Northern Arena. While a second place is not the best possible outcome, being a finalist is usually deemed a good result. This time, however, seeing as Northern Arena didn’t have much top tier competition and G2 were the favored side against OpTic in the final, it is safe to say the French squad aren’t going through their best moment.
They do seem to be doing well enough and have been steady enough to hold their own in the early rounds of the tournament, especially against equally shaky opposition, but they don’t seem to be doing the same damage they did when they won ECS's first season in London.
An early exit at ELEAGUE Season 2 after losing three maps to Ninjas in Pyjamas doesn’t do much for their case, either. G2 have shown they can have the grit to play at the top level when both its superstars, shox and ScreaM, are playing well—meaning they should have enough chances to shine in getting out of groups—but may run into some trouble when the whole team needs to step up against stiffer opposition (especially in a series) as they go deeper into the tournament.
|Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski||19||1.20|
|Jacob "Pimp" Winneche||21||0.95|
|Nick "nitr0" Cannella||21||0.92|
|Spencer "Hiko" Martin||26||0.88|
|Josh "jdm64" Marzano||26||0.88|
Liquid still hold on to a decent rank, but could be categorized as possible dark horse at this point. They started their season very decently getting a 3-4 place finish at ESL One New York, but have been in a downward spiral ever since with a group stage exit at the Pro League finals in Brazil, and another group stage exit after losing the decider match IEM Oakland group rivals G2 at Northern Arena in Montreal.
With morale likely at an all-time low and with no real solution to the in-game leader situation, Liquid actually seem to have been one of the hardest hit teams by Valve’s coaching decision. Having let go of Luis "peacemaker" Tadeu, Liquid now rely on outlying factors to get them through the night, like EliGE going off and winning them maps.
How long will the horse continue to bleed in the rankings?
That, however, is no solution to Liquid’s pressing identity issues or something that will get them out of the hole in the long term. Perhaps the inclusion of Wilton "zews" Prado will help the team get back on track, and it could well be exactly what they need, but it may also still be too soon to see real change.
With Liquid still trying to adjust to life after s1mple, the American-Danish side will have to show a lot of character if they want to get out of the group stage at IEM Oakland, and with the looming threat of a revamped Astralis or the Brazilian squad of Immortals looking to draw some more North American blood, Liquid may possibly have to face another early exit unless they have an ace up their sleeve.
|Henrique "HEN1" Teles||21||1.12|
|Ricardo "boltz" Prass||19||1.11|
|João "felps" Vasconcellos||19||1.02|
|Lucas "LUCAS1" Teles||21||0.99|
|Lucas "steel" Lopes||22||0.97|
Immortals are another one of those teams on a rollercoaster, but overall they can be taken as a success story despite several spurts of instability—including several players and a coach being sacked—and what seems like an ongoing hotheadedness that can easily be attributed to the team’s extreme youth (the team’s age averages in at 20,4 years with the inclusion of steel).
Under zews’ leadership, Immortals won the first tournament in North America coming out of the off-season at Northern Arena in Toronto. That came after a big win late in last season at DreamHack Summer while still with Gustavo "SHOOWTiME" Gonçalves, right after the team changed peacemaker for their current coach, Rafael "zakk" Fernandes.
Immortals’ initial honeymoon period with zews came to an end as the good online results didn’t translate to good LAN results and the team bombed out of groups in both ELEAGUE Season 2 and perhaps more painfully at the Pro League finals on home soil.
Coming back to the present, the Brazilian squad is heading into IEM Oakland with a big win at the iBP Masters final over the red hot Cloud9 team who have been captivating the hearts of the North American audience. While it will surely be a boost to Immortals’ confidence, the iBP Masters itself is a bit of a mirage as Immortals only needed to win two best-of-ones to get into the final—in which both teams were already qualified for Oakland—, and therefore their tournament run wasn’t one full of tribulations ending in an intense climax. That, however, doesn’t mean that if Immortals can find a groove with steel leading in California they couldn’t very well find a way to sneak into the playoffs. It seems with them nothing is really written in stone.
The player to watch here will be felps, who was absolutely astounding at the iBP Masters final, and then put the cherry on top dropping a highlight reel worthy all headshot deagle ace online against Luminosity yesterday that has been making the rounds on twitter and reddit.
|Nicolai "device" Reedtz||21||1.21|
|Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander||21||1.08|
|Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth||21||1.03|
|Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye||18||1.02|
|Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen||23||1.01|
Astralis have been a team completely marred and consumed by problems—many of their own making—since their fall from grace. The Danes are, like Envy, a team that couldn’t adapt to the times as Counter Strike changed around them, or perhaps just a young Icarian team that needs a taste of the depressive-low before the pendulum can swing back to the ecstatic-high.
Now, gla1ve has come on to lead the team in Finn "karrigan" Andersen’s stead and if the team can hit their stride a new era could unfold. After all, it was removing Henrik "FeTiSh" Christensen for karrigan that launched Astralis into the elite club in the first place, perhaps another change in leadership could catapult the Danes back into that group.
And so the slow climb back to the top begins
Their first test with the new lineup came at ELEAGUE last weekend, where Astralis beat ALTERNATE aTTaX and more impressively SK to secure a spot in the playoffs. The most important task for Astralis in Oakland will be to get out of groups and show they still have what it takes to be a top tier contender, if not winning a series at least being able to keep face on their way out.
After watching their ELEAGUE matches, the keys to the new lineup’s success will lie—other than in the leadership—in Kjaerbye’s explosive early round play and device being able to find his top form consistently during the round robin. Astralis are a team many people aren’t quite sure what to make of, but similarly to Envy, this ghost of its former self could be finding its old shell once again. Oakland will be an important test in the road to the Major for Astralis, and that extra motivation could be just enough to put them through the groups.
|Hui "DD" Wu||22||1.19|
|Ke "captainMo" Liu||27||1.15|
|HaoWen "somebody" Xu||21||1.11|
|YuLun "Summer" Cai||19||1.09|
|YuanZhang "Attacker" Sheng||19||1.06|
If this were six months ago, I would maybe say TYLOO could pull some upsets from teams not knowing what to expect, making the group even messier. Now, though, the Chinese team have shown they don’t quite have what it takes yet to compete at the top level.
TYLOO have been bootcamping in Europe and North America, getting some time to scrim against Western opposition in a bid to move away from the simple-strat high-sens nutty-aim based style they displayed earlier in the year, taking a series against SK and maps off the likes of Natus Vincere and Liquid. This shift hasn’t really panned out, though, as TYLOO scraped through the iBP Masters by the skin of their teeth beating a mediocre Echo Fox 2-1, with both of their maps won by 16-14. For the team to be effective, Summer will have to go the extra mile and work to fulfill his star player potential while the team figures out how they want to play.
The Chinese team seem to not be in top form at home, either, as even there they have dropped maps and series to teams like VG.CyberZen, who historically knelt to TYLOO’s regional dominance. Trying to learn new ways, TYLOO will just have to keep on keepin’ on, but it’s going to take some time before they can find and hone their style.
|Marcelo "coldzera" David||22||1.13|
|Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo||25||1.09|
|Fernando "fer" Alvarenga||25||0.99|
|Epitacio "TACO" de Melo||21||0.97|
|Lincoln "fnx" Lau||26||0.97|
The top team to take Group B is SK. They have proven that even at their lowest they are a team that can take on anyone, and while they haven’t been as dominant as we have become accustomed to since their rise to prominence, SK still have solid results this season (two semi-final finishes at ESL One New York and EPICENTER: Moscow, and a bitter second place at the Pro League finals in Brazil) despite a tournament victory having proven elusive to date.
Now would be a good time for SK to start winning again
For instance, SK fell to Astralis in the ELEAGUE Group C winners’ match, but were able to rein it back in winning a series against a conceivably stronger opponent in the form of Natus Vincere for a spot in the playoffs. The round robin should fare quite well for SK, and saying they’re favorite to make it through directly to the semifinals isn’t much of a stretch. If they don’t show up, though, plenty of teams will be at the ready waiting to jump on that spot.
Late in the tournament will be when we’ll see if SK still have what it takes to lift the trophy or if they’ll hit another wall in the quarter or semifinals. At some point some team is bound to end the streak of different teams winning every big tournament, and SK is as good a contendender as any.
|Timothy "autimatic" Ta||20||1.18|
|Jordan "n0thing" Gilbert||26||1.09|
|Jake "Stewie2K" Yip||18||1.07|
|Mike "shroud" Grzesiek||22||1.02|
|Tyler "Skadoodle" Latham||23||1.01|
Cloud9 have somewhat become the pride of North America, winning the first big CS:GO tournament for the region after defeating the hometown favorites SK in Brazil. It was, however, a Brazilian team—this time Immortals—who took The North American team's heads out of the clouds and put their feet back on the ground by beating them in the iBP Masters final.
Since Cloud9 signed autimatic, Cloud9 have experienced a surge equal in both height and beauty to that of a bunhead leaping into a grand jeté. However, not all that shines is gold and Cloud9 will have a lot to prove in Oakland. They have already taken series’ off of SK and MOUZ at the Pro League finals, sure, but now they will have to prove their shoes aren’t made of glass—a much harder task.
If shroud can keep showing up, Stewie2K keeps playing smart on both the micro and macro levels, and autimatic keeps displaying the level of play he has shown to be capable of, Cloud9 will be a serious contender to the title.
|Ninjas in Pyjamas (#7)|
|Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund||26||1.13|
|Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg||28||1.04|
|Adam "friberg" Friberg||25||0.98|
|Richard "Xizt" Landström||25||0.94|
|Jacob "pyth" Mourujärvi||23||N/A|
The last time we saw Ninjas in Pyjamas on LAN they were knocking G2 out of ELEAGUE. Before that, they lost to SK in the semis of the Pro League finals. Before that, they were the unlucky last place in a four-way tie, and before that they won a tournament: SL i-League StarSeries Season 2. All of that, however, was with Mikail "Maikelele" Bill playing as the team’s dedicated AWPer. Now pyth will be back after a lengthy injury dating all the way back to the off-season.
How smooth will the re-transition to pyth go for the Ninjas?
If Ninjas in Pyjamas will be able to maintain these somewhat good results with pyth back on the team remains to be seen. Before Maikelele’s tenure, Ninjas in Pyjamas were going through some turmoil, bombing out of a Major for the first time and not playing up to snuff. With Cloud9 in great form and revamped teams like MOUZ with Christian "loWel" Garcia Antoran and FaZe with karrigan, the Ninjas are going to have to bring their A game or they could be going home early, this time not due to bad luck in a poor system.
Ninjas in Pyjamas’s biggest hope is to have f0rest and GeT_RiGhT in good form (f0rest was the MVP of StarSeries Season 2, while GeT_RiGhT was an EVP at both StarSeries and the Pro League finals) as they have been the ones to make the difference in Ninjas in Pyjamas’s deeper runs.
|Christian "loWel" Garcia Antoran||19||1.19|
|Chris "chrisJ" de Jong||26||1.15|
|Nikola "NiKo" Kovač||19||1.09|
|Timo "Spiidi" Richter||21||1.00|
|Denis "denis" Howell||22||0.88|
The European combine of MOUZ has become, after the inclusion of loWel, a team to be reckoned with. MOUZ went from the 17th place in our ranking on October 17 to the 10th place as of today thanks to topping their group at ELEAGUE and making the semifinals of ESL’s Pro League where they lost to Cloud9, the eventual champions.
After the honeymoon period, now lies the real challenge for MOUZ. Will they be able to handle the pressure of becoming consistently good? For that to happen, chrisJ—who has been a massive force with the AWP—will have to keep his peak form going, and loWel and NiKo will have to make up for the lack of firepower in the rest of the team. With a possibly unstable Ninjas in Pyjamas, and if Cloud9 dip in form, MOUZ could have a chance of scooping up a place in the playoffs if they play their cards right.
|Håvard "rain" Nygaard||22||1.11|
|Fabien "kioShiMa" Fiey||22||1.11|
|Aleksi "allu" Jalli||24||1.09|
|Philip "aizy" Aistrup||20||1.04|
|Finn "karrigan" Andersen||26||0.93|
FaZe signed karrigan and instantly got out of groups for the first time since they’re FaZe. Immediately after that they bombed out of Pro League in groups and replaced Joakim "jkaem" Myrbostad with kioShiMa. FaZe don’t seem like a team that have it all quite figured out yet, and while they still have their trademark excess firepower, I still don’t think they have what it takes to be an elite contender.
Things will have to go wrong for the rest of the fielded teams in Oakland for FaZe to be able to out-aim their way into the playoffs. I’m personally skeptical about karrigan’s abilities to rework the system in the short term—if at all—, but if I’m wrong and he can indeed give his team more traction à la karrigan replacing FeTiSh in dignitas, that would make one more team looking to steal a playoff spot.
|Valdemar "valde" Bjørn Vangså||21||1.13|
|Nikolaj "niko" Kristensen||18||1.11|
|Andreas "MODDII" Fridh||27||1.04|
|Michael "Friis" Jørgensen||27||0.96|
|Marco "Snappi" Pfeiffer||26||0.88|
Heroic were invited into IEM Oakland due to Virtus.pro renouncing their spot. The Danish team have been around quietly for a while now with some changes here and there. Losing Emil "Magisk" Reif to Dignitas was supposed to be a big blow, but at the time valde stepped up and made it less painful. Now it’s gla1ve to Astralis, leaving niko with big shoes to fill. Heroic have slowly been drained of talent, but at the same time have been able to maintain decent results such as topping their Northern Arena group.
While it feels IEM Oakland could be a bit too much for Heroic to handle, the group stage being best-of-ones could work in favor of the Danes as they did prove just last weekend that they can take maps off of the likes of Liquid and G2. If they can consistently do it in a six team round robin remains to be seen, and while chances are slim, stranger things have happened.
VP's substitute will have nothing to lose and everything to play for
With CS in a strange mid-season period during which teams are making changes and looking for solutions to problems ahead of the Major in January, tournament runs seem to be coming down to who can find a hot streak that will take them to victory more than what team can prove to be the most consistent. This means IEM Oakland has its favorites, like any tournament, but with best-of-one round robin groups we may be in for a surprise-filled ride, so make sure to check out the viewer’s guide to know when all the action will be going down in the Bay.
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