What we learned from ELEAGUE
ELEAGUE came to a close with OpTic lifting the trophy following a five-week long Season 2. Here's a quick recap, some of the best matches, and several lessons we should take away from the $1.1 million event going forward.
The GSL group stage spanned four weeks. Each week four teams travelled to Atlanta, starting with Group A featuring mousesports, Cloud9, FaZe and Immortals. That was perhaps the closest group of all, as after the initial round, several maps went past 30 rounds.
mousesports ended up clinching first place there, while Cloud9 missed out on the opportunity to advance, losing to both European squads in narrow fashion. It was the first event for FaZe with Finn "karrigan" Andersen - back then the team still played with Joakim "jkaem" Myrbostad, not Fabien "kioShiMa" Fiey - and they managed to secure their first playoffs finish at a big event this year.
Group B went more or less expectedly; Virtus.pro finished first with two quick wins and NiP got second place after they defeated G2 on three different maps, leaving Echo Fox in last place with a total of six rounds won in three maps.
In Group C, Astralis debuted with Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander and managed a great win over SK for first place. The Brazilians then faced Natus Vincere in the decider, which saw them getting two 16-8 wins for the other spot in playoffs.
OpTic got their first huge title at ELEAGUE
fnatic had to play with Jimmy "Jumpy" Berndtsson instead of Dennis "dennis" Edman due to personal reasons, but still defeated OpTic in the first match of Group D before they dropped the winners' match to Dignitas. Envy lost to the Danes and OpTic, who then took revenge on fnatic on their way to playoffs.
The quarter-final match-ups were all exciting beforehand, and three of them delivered great Counter-Strike; each went to all three maps, aside from OpTic and mousesports where the former got a comfortable 2-0 victory. SK defeated Dignitas after a great turnaround on Overpass late in the match, while Astralis broke their 14 months-long streak of losses on LAN to NiP on the same side of the bracket. On the other side, FaZe bested Virtus.pro despite an awful start on Nuke, winning Overpass 16-10 and Cache 16-14.
Both semi-finals also delivered their own storylines. Astralis broke SK's seven-months long winning streak on Train on their way to the grand final, and OpTic exceeded all expectations against FaZe by crushing them on Train and taking Overpass narrowly.
The North American squad didn't stop there. Most had Astralis winning the grand final, but it was OpTic who surprised again. The Danes won Train convincingly but dropped Cobblestone after letting it through instead of Cache, and Keith "NAF" Markovic then put up a massive performance on Overpass (34-14 K-D, 1.85 rating, 113.3 ADR) for OpTic's first title at a big event.
|mousesports||19-16||Cloud9||Dust2||Group A initial round|
|Immortals||19-17||FaZe||Train||Group A elimination (M2)|
|FaZe||22-20||Cloud9||Mirage||Group A decider (M1)|
|Cloud9||19-17||FaZe||Train||Group A decider (M2)|
|Astralis||16-13||SK||Overpass||Group C winners' match|
|fnatic||19-17||OpTic||Cache||Group D initial round|
What did we learn from ELEAGUE?
ECS and ELEAGUE Major's Main Qualifier got one level harder
The North American squad defied all odds at ELEAGUE. The most impressive part of their victory was the fact that their main stars, Oscar "mixwell" Cañellas and Tarik "tarik" Celik, weren't their best players in the semi-final and grand final.
Both of them played well at different times in the playoffs, but two other players were in the limelight this time: William "RUSH" Wierzba earned the MVP for his great showing at the entire tournament, while NAF's superb performance in the grand final, especially on the decider, gave OpTic the title.
With OpTic joining the extraordinarily big pool of teams who have recently won a significant event, ECS Season 2 Finals and the next Major's Main Qualifier, which are taking place on the next two weekends, have got even harder.
At ECS, Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz's team will face FaZe and Astralis again in the groups. Given the result at ELEAGUE, that group will become highly unpredictable, especially when we have Cloud9 thrown in there, who have had a lot of success against OpTic in the past few months.
With OpTic winning ELEAGUE, the unpredictability will continue
ECS Season 2 Finals will give us a good idea of who can maintain their form during all the travel, as multiple attending teams have been on the road for a while now and will have to endure for another week.
The Main Qualifier became an even bigger question mark now. The next Major's last stepping stone will see six of the top ten teams of our ranking in play, plus three more who are sitting between 10th and 15th place.
It will feature NiP, two-time champions since the off-season, Dignitas, Cloud9, and OpTic, and those are just the recent winners. There will also be a few more improving teams as of late, such as FaZe and Immortals, and other heavy-hitters like G2. That's one formidable list of participants. Given the recent results and the scene's instability, we can't predict who will go through to the Major; no one is safe.
ELEAGUE can't afford to choose the wrong format for their Major qualifier. The best option is the Swiss system, where improper seeding inherited from the previous Major cycle and qualifiers doesn't hurt much, compared to other options.
Astralis are still rising
Astralis' rise actually began at ELEAGUE, their first showing with gla1ve, where they bested SK on the way to first place in their group. However, they attended IEM Oakland before playoffs and got a solid semi-final finish there, losing to the Brazilians in narrow fashion.
With those two results, Astralis have already shown promise with the new in-game leader. The team then travelled back to Atlanta for ELEAGUE playoffs, where they broke their losing streak on LAN to NiP in quarter-finals, which was another sign of their improvement.
Astralis are getting closer and closer to a big title
Somehow gla1ve's team ended up on the same side of the bracket with SK despite facing them in the group stage, but this time they finished Train off to break another long streak of wins and took the victory after another win on Overpass against the Brazilians.
After the disappointing grand final with OpTic, where the Danes were heavily favored, it seems they still have some kinks to work out before they get their first big victory in nearly a year and a half. However, it's not about the if anymore, it's about when. And the answer to that could come very soon, at ECS Season 2 Finals where Astralis will be facing similar competition to the one at ELEAGUE.
(Post) off-season lineup changes keep paying off
OpTic are yet another team who clinched a big title soon after making a significant lineup change. tarik was brought into the team and OpTic decided to bring back stanislaw instead of Damian "daps" Steele at the beginning of September.
Since then they've got an important win over G2 to win Northern Arena Montreal, and now a big title at ELEAGUE. That's very similar to most other teams who have clinched trophies or improved significantly at events following the off-season.
The list of teams who have won an event following recent changes grows bigger and bigger. Natus Vincere, Dignitas, Cloud9, Gambit, and now OpTic, each of them brought in a player who was pivotal in their victory.
NiKo continues to struggle with form
Since ESL One Cologne, where Nikola "NiKo" Kovač put up his worst ever performance statistically, the Bosnian player has not been himself. He had a great showing at Gfinity CS:GO Invitational, an event no elite teams attended, but his form since has been average at best.
Average at best. Those are words we've never used before when talking about the 19-year-old. His performances in the losses in São Paulo (to Cloud9) and Atlanta (to OpTic) were far below average, and at IEM Oakland he pushed his worst rating at a LAN event to a 0.91 when mousesports finished 0-5 in their group.
With NiKo unable to carry mousesports to greater heights, changes could be coming
It seems the European mixture can no longer rely on NiKo to be the amazing player we've known him to be. If mouz fail at the Main Qualifier, which is not an unreasonable assumption given the competition there, we'll likely see more lineup changes from them.
Unless they want to bring Tomáš "oskar" Šťastný back and the Czech is open to the idea, they have a few other options due to jkaem leaving FaZe and ALTERNATE aTTaX and PENTA breaking down. A player like Kevin "keev" Bartholomäus, who was the MVP at ESWC and played well at the PGL European Minor, is a possibility, even though he would have to take over AWP duties and we've seen that fail before with Chris "chrisJ" de Jong taking a step back.
The five-week schedule is still too long
ELEAGUE's first season spanned ten weeks, which the organizers decided to cut in half for season two. However, even the five weeks are too much given the current volume of events.
Each group week collided with at least one other event, a small one in the better scenarios, a big one in the worse (EPICENTER: Moscow ending during Group A). That drew a lot of attention away from the group stage of one of the biggest tournaments we've had this year.
As the teams haven't started prioritizing much yet, it forced some of them to travel back and forth between Atlanta and other events, which also disrupted storylines within ELEAGUE.
While it makes a lot of sense for the organizers to have as much televized action as possible exposure-wise, the format doesn't seem to be working as the Counter-Strike scene currently stands. Things could change in 2017, when teams realize they'll have to start declining invites to make the biggest events a priority, though ELEAGUE should consider making their next season a few weeks shorter once more.
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