EL Major preview: The Mid-tier
We continue counting down the days before the ELEAGUE Major kicks off - three days are left until 16 teams lock horns in Atlanta in the Swiss group stage. In the second part of our series of previews, we take a look at the Mid-tier, ranked from #7 to #14: FaZe, EnVyUs, G2, Natus Vincere, mousesports, and Gambit.
The ELEAGUE Major will take place at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia, from January 22-29, with a $1 million prize pool up for grabs once again, as has been the case since MLG Columbus 2016.
This Major will be the first to use the Swiss format in the group stage, which we saw in play at several Main Qualifiers as well as ESL One New York. Teams with the same win-loss record will be randomly matched in each round before they reach three wins (at which point they advance to playoffs) or three losses (and exit the tournament in groups).
The first round match-ups are the following:
|Sunday, January 22nd|
|21:00||Natus Vincere||vs. mousesports|
As always, the upcoming Major will be one of the most stacked tournaments of the year, featuring 16 of the top 20 teams according to our ranking.
* Ratings used are from the past three months on LAN
|Philip "aizy" Aistrup||20||1.06|
|Håvard "rain" Nygaard||22||1.05|
|Aleksi "allu" Jalli||24||1.04|
|Fabien "kioShiMa" Fiey||22||1.00|
|Finn "karrigan" Andersen||26||0.88|
|Robert "RobbaN" Dahlström (coach)|
Their first two were iBUYPOWER Masters and IEM Oakland in California. At the former, which served as a qualifier for the IEM stop, they started slowly but still managed to secure their spot for Oakland with a close win over Renegades. The main event saw karrigan's squad cruising through a tough group including the likes of NiP, SK, and Cloud9, but they were stopped by Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund and company in semi-finals, barely missing out on the final.
aizy and company showed their best result in ELEAGUE Season 2 playoffs, defeating Virtus.pro in quarter-finals in a three-map nail-biter, but this time OpTic were the ones to stop them before the final stage. FaZe continued to struggle against the North American team at ECS Season 2 finals, as they missed out on playoffs for the first time following another loss to OpTic.
FaZe stand out from the Mid-tier crowd
Before karrigan's arrival, FaZe's fate lied in individual form; most of the players playing well. In the last two months of 2016, the Danish in-game leader turned chaos into order and made FaZe a stable roster which went on to do well at four out of five events they attended.
With how many events the team attended shortly after karrigan's addition and how quickly they rose to success, sufficient time to prepare should do them even more good. The competition is extremely stiff, but FaZe are definitely looking like a lock for playoffs, and perhaps even another semi-final. Whether they can take the next step and make their first final is another question, but it wouldn't be a massive surprise anymore.
|Kenny "kennyS" Schrub||21||1.15|
|Dan "apEX" Madesclaire||23||1.08|
|Nathan "NBK-" Schmitt||22||1.04|
|Vincent "Happy" Schopenhauer||25||0.98|
|Christophe "SIXER" Xia||25||0.97|
Not too much has changed in the Envy camp since the addition of SIXER, although the beginnings were quite hopeful. After releasing Timothée "DEVIL" Démolon, the Frenchmen qualified for WESG with a quarter-final finish at the Regional Finals, taking Virtus.pro to a narrow series.
They added a playoffs finish at ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals and a 3rd-4th place at Northern Arena Montreal, losing to NiP in quarters and compatriots G2 in semis, respectively. nV's ELEAGUE journey ended quickly with losses to Dignitas and OpTic in groups, but they made up for it at ECS Season 2 with a semi-finals finish, taking down the aforementioned Danes and Immortals.
Expect Happy to lurk about as usual
As a team who exited ESL One Cologne in groups, Envy ended 2016 with a successful run at the Main Qualifier, although not easily by any means. Falling short to Immortals and G2 at the beginning, Happy's team had to come back with three wins in a row and did, taking down Spirit and TYLOO comfortably and surviving a surprisingly tough battle with Vega Squadron.
EnVy's victory at WESG comes with an asterisk, as they only met one other top-ten team during the entire event, but it'll still provide them with some confidence before the Major begins.
Their story changes significantly with the rumors of another episode of the French shuffle, of course. If they're true, the team is pretty much over and two of their players don't have much to play for (Happy and SIXER), even if the other three will surely play their best to secure a Major spot for their new team. That makes it tough to see Envy qualifying for playoffs, let alone making a deeper playoffs run.
|Richard "shox" Papillon||24||1.12|
|Adil "ScreaM" Benrlitom||22||1.08|
|Alexandre "bodyy" Pianaro||20||0.94|
|Cédric "RpK" Guipouy||27||0.91|
|Edouard "SmithZz" Dubourdeaux||28||0.88|
Since G2's second place right after the off-season at SL i-League StarSeries Season 2 Finals, shox's team have never passed quarter-finals apart from a lower-tier tournament Northern Arena - Montreal, where OpTic defeated the French-Belgian squad in the final.
In two cases they finished outside of playoffs, at ESL One New York and in ELEAGUE Season 2, and also failed to make it to the finals of both leagues - ESL Pro League Season 4 and ECS Season 2.
G2 barely made it to the Major
However, despite the unsuccessful couple of months, they managed to squeeze through the offline qualifier, although just barely with an overtime win against Immortals in the very last round.
Similarly to Envy, G2 are in a bit of a predicament, as the rumors suggest the team will break down after the Major and two of their players, shox and bodyy, are to join up with nV's trio. A playoffs finish isn't entirely out of the question, but that is as true for several other teams, G2 will have to fight for it.
|Natus Vincere (#11)||Age||Rating|
|Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev||19||1.22|
|Egor "flamie" Vasilyev||19||0.96|
|Ioann "Edward" Sukhariev||29||0.95|
|Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács||25||0.94|
|Denis "seized" Kostin||22||0.86|
|Sergey "starix" Ischuk (coach)|
s1mple's addition has not paid off in the big picture, as since their fantastic victory at ESL One New York, Natus Vincere only passed the group stage once, at EPICENTER: Moscow with only a 3-3 record which earned them the first place in their group due to a four-way tie.
Na`Vi seem to be hungrier than ever
However, IEM Oakland sticks out like a sore thumb. Natus Vincere only defeated TYLOO and G2 in the six-team group, while losing to Liquid and Astralis one-sidedly, as well as to Immortals in overtime.
Na`Vi's biggest issue was clearly their map pool, as they were only able to win consistently on a single map, Overpass, which they're yet to lose with this lineup. With a two-month break from offline events, starix must have been able to fix that, so we should see the true form of Natus Vincere at the Major.
It's also clear they're extremely hungry to do well, they have all played insane amounts of Counter-Strike in the past two weeks, most importantly the three stars, and should be in great form. Expect big things from the Ukraine-based squad.
|Chris "chrisJ" de Jong||26||1.12|
|Christian "loWel" Garcia Antoran||20||1.07|
|Nikola "NiKo" Kovač||19||1.05|
|Timo "Spiidi" Richter||21||0.92|
|Denis "denis" Howell||22||0.75|
|Sergey "lmbt" Bezhanov (coach)|
Afterwards, they bombed out of IEM Oakland with five losses in the groups, including one against Heroic, and exited ELEAGUE Season 2 in quarter-finals with another big series loss, that time to OpTic.
At the Main Qualifier mousesports started out poorly as well, barely making a dent in their initial match against HellRaisers on Train. However, from the second round on, NiKo's team decimated each opponent, Spirit, TYLOO, and Immortals to secure a Major spot with a 3-1 record.
NiKo was back on form at the qualifier
You'd be right to object that two of those three teams are no match to most of the Major's competition, but it was good to see NiKo back in form, which is something that was missing during mousesports' bad streak.
What that means for the Major isn't quite clear. As usual, mouz's showing will stand on the shoulders of NiKo, chrisJ and loWel, but even if they all play well, it's not a given they will advance to playoffs given the competition. They'll need superstar performances from at least the Bosnian to go through the Swiss group.
|Rustem "mou" Telepov||25||1.29|
|Dauren "AdreN" Kystaubayev||26||1.21|
|Abay "Hobbit" Khasenov||22||1.16|
|Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko||29||0.99|
|Mihail "Dosia" Stolyarov||28||0.99|
|Mikhaylo "Kane" Blagin (coach)|
The addition of Hobbit and Zeus has been a godsent for Gambit, who didn't start out too well right after the change, finishing 5th-8th at ESWC due to a loss to Space Soldiers, but they progressed quickly.
In November, Dosia and co. attended Predator Masters Season 3, where the competition was admittedly quite low. Only losing one map throughout the playoffs, to Rogue, Gambit triumphed at the $50,000 event in Krefeld, most importantly beating Kinguin 2-0 and 3-0 in the last two stages.
At the end of the month, they added another title to their resumé at DreamHack ZOWIE Open Winter. That victory was a much more significant one, most of their wins were against other Major attendees (OpTic in groups, GODSENT in semi-finals) or a top-ten team in Cloud9.
HObbit will play at a Major very early on in his career, and for good reason
One of the biggest stories to come out of their success is, of course, Kazakhstan's Hobbit, who quickly became one of Gambit's best players despite being completely new to the top-tier scene, and even grabbed his first MVP title in Jönköping.
Now Hobbit will get his chance to prove his worth further at a Major, and there doesn't seem to be even a hint of the pressure getting under his skin. If he and the other two players of the hard-hitting Kazakhstani trio show up, we could see Gambit keeping their Legends status and upsetting some of the teams above them.
You can follow HLTV.org's Milan "Striker" Švejda on Twitter