Only two days remain before the ELEAGUE Major kicks off with the first round of the Swiss group stage on Sunday, January 22. Here is our third and last part of our preview series, featuring five teams from the top six: Astralis, OpTic, SK, Virtus.pro, and North.
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.
We've already taken a look at the Underdogs, ranked #16 to #20, as well as the Mid-tier, which features teams from #7 to #14 in our ranking. Now it's time for the top five teams, the Favourites: Astralis, OpTic, SK, Virtus.pro, and North.
* Ratings used are from the past three months on LAN
|Nicolai "device" Reedtz||21||1.24|
|Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth||21||1.13|
|Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye||18||1.13|
|Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen||23||1.07|
|Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander||21||1.00|
|Danny "zonic" Sørensen (coach)|
Astralis rise after the release of Finn "karrigan" Andersen and gla1ve's addition was one of the biggest stories of 2016's last months, as the new in-game leader quickly re-structured the squad that had been struggling during the year.
Under the 21-year-old's leadership, the Danes qualified for ELEAGUE playoffs from first place with a win over SK and proceeded to do well in Oakland. Astralis placed first in their group with four wins in five matches and met the Brazilians again in the semi-finals, but this time Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo's squad had the upper hand in a close series and left Astralis with a 3rd-4th finish.
Only two weeks afterward at ELEAGUE Season 2 playoffs, gla1ve's team took revenge on SK, ending the Brazilians' winning streak on Train in the process. Astralis fell at the hands of OpTic in the final, but it was clear they were improving.
Finally, device and company traveled to Anaheim for ECS Season 2 Finals. They went on to go on one of the most dominating title runs of the year, decimating their group as well as the Lincoln "fnx" Lau-less SK and OpTic in playoffs for their first title in over a year.
Xyp9x started finding a lot more success in his role, similarly to when the original TSM were at the top mid-2015. Kjaerbye was putting more numbers on the board as well, while device continued to be his usual self.
Astralis' trajectory at the end of 2016 puts them in the position of the favorite, in which they haven't been for a very long time. That also means some of the other heavy-hitters will have paid extra attention to how Astralis play, which will put the Danes to a test.
Being the world's best team on Train, one of the very best on Overpass and Dust2, and solid on Cache and Mirage, Astralis will virtually have no bad match-ups at the Major. They also seem to be working on the remaining two maps, which will help them in series against teams who play both well, such as Virtus.pro.
|Óscar "mixwell" Cañellas||21||1.11|
|Will "RUSH" Wierzba||22||1.08|
|Tarik "tarik" Celik||20||1.07|
|Keith "NAF" Markovic||19||1.06|
|Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz||22||1.03|
OpTic is another big story of the last quarter of 2016. Their rise began at ESL One New York, where they showed a lot of promise by beating G2 and Astralis as well as taking Virtus.pro to 30 rounds, although it wasn't enough to advance to playoffs.
The stanislaw-led squad then added another 5th-6th finish at Pro League Finals after a quarter-finals loss to Cloud9, and grabbed their first title at a smaller event, Northern Arena Montreal, once again defeating G2.
With a last-place finish at DreamHack Winter, their chances in ELEAGUE playoffs didn't seem very good, but that's when OpTic proved everyone wrong. Passing mousesports and FaZe in comfortable fashion, the GreenWall set their sights on Astralis and beat the odds, taking home a big title alongside $400,000.
The Main Qualifier at the end of the year saw them keeping the Major spot with a 3-1 record, only losing to FaZe in the second round.
NAF's massive performance in the final gave OpTic the big title at ELEAGUE, while mixwell and tarik were considered the team's stars since the two came together, but it was RUSH who deserved the most attention over the last three months. His consistent play over the last three months raised more than a few eyebrows and earned him an MVP at ELEAGUE.
Similarly to Astralis, OpTic have five maps they play very often and are able to play Nuke, while Mirage is their no-go map. With that, they'll be able to alternate their veto depending on the opponents in the best-of-one's and also have good options in series.
|Marcelo "coldzera" David||22||1.16|
|Ricardo "fox" Pacheco||30||1.11|
|Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo||25||1.11|
|Fernando "fer" Alvarenga||25||1.01|
|Epitacio "TACO" de Melo||21||0.99|
Since the off-season, SK have been the most stable team of all, placing in the top four at all six tournaments they attended, but titles eluded them in the last three months.
Falling short to Virtus.pro twice in a row, the Brazilians finished 3rd-4th at ESL One New York and EPICENTER: Moscow. When SK reached the final, they were bested by Cloud9 (ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals) and NiP (IEM Oakland).
Two series losses to Astralis gave them two more semi-final finishes at the end of the year, at ELEAGUE Season 2 and ECS Season 2 Finals. The latter was, of course, with fox, as fnx had been relieved of his duties prior to the Anaheim event.
Technically, SK are the only team who will attend the Major with a stand-in, although it's clear more teams are looking at changes after the $1 million tournament.
They have had about a month with the Portuguese veteran, which should be more than enough for both sides to adjust, but it's unlikely SK have made bigger changes to their setups and overall playstyle for it to fit fox. After all, it is only a temporary solution.
With that in mind, it's hard to assess how well SK will be able to do in Atlanta. They're more than likely to advance from groups, but anything beyond that should be considered a bonus, depending on whom they meet in the playoffs. They'll have a tough time against any of the other favourites and some of the Mid-tier teams.
|Paweł "byali" Bieliński||22||1.16|
|Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski||23||1.13|
|Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas||30||1.11|
|Filip "NEO" Kubski||29||1.03|
|Jarosław "pashaBiceps" Jarząbkowski||28||1.03|
|Jakub "kuben" Gurczynski (coach)|
Virtus.pro were almost as consistent as SK after the off-season, with only one significant misstep at SL i-League StarSeries Season 2 Finals. In the following two months, the Poles garnered a title at DreamHack ZOWIE Open Bucharest, second places at ESL One New York and EPICENTER: Moscow, as well as a rather unimportant third place at WESG Regional Finals.
After the New Year, the Poles disappointed at the WESG World Finals, where they had trouble with the lower-tier teams in their group and lost to compatriots Kinguin in semi-finals.
Normally, that would be cause for a lot of concern right before the Major. However, we've grown used to Virtus.pro doing poorly at one event following a break, and coming back to show their true form at the next.
I expect that will be the same in this case; WESG shouldn't be a reason for us to expect any less from the Poles, who remain to be one of the favourites at the Major.
|Emil "Magisk" Reif||18||1.16|
|Kristian "k0nfig" Wienecke||19||1.10|
|René "cajunb" Borg||27||1.03|
|Ruben "RUBINO" Villarroel||22||0.97|
|Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen||22||0.81|
|Casper "ruggah" Due (coach)|
Lastly, we have the ex-dignitas team who were recently signed by F.C. Copenhagen and now represent the North banner. They have earned their place as one of the Favourites with several good results following the off-season, starting with SL i-League StarSeries Season 2 Finals and DreamHack Bucharest, where they finished in the top four.
Following a triumph at the WESG Regional Finals, a fairly small event, the Danes went to Moscow for EPICENTER and advanced from a tough group including Na`Vi, G2, and NiP. Passing fnatic, Natus Vincere, and Virtus.pro in playoffs, the change from Jesper "TENZKI" Plougmann to "" reaped rich dividends, a title at one of the big events towards the end of the year.
The remainder of the year wasn't quite as successful for the Danish side, however, as they exited Pro League Finals in groups and went on to place last at DreamHack ZOWIE Open Winter. ELEAGUE Season 2 playoffs saw them losing to SK in the tight quarter-finals, while at ECS Season 2 they added another group stage exit, admittedly without Magisk who went back home to finish his exams.
MSL's squad earned their place at the Major through the Main Qualifier, where they only lost to GODSENT on their way to a 3-1 record at their last event under the dignitas banner, defeating Spirit, CLG and G2.
North's last month of 2016 is a bit worrying, although they were one of the busiest teams at the end of last year and barely had any time to evaluate their play. They will have had nearly a full month of practice as well as a bootcamp prior to the Major, so they should be back on form. The focus is on none other than Magisk, who was one of the most consistent players in the past several months and dignitas' best player, as well as k0nfig and cajunb, the remainder of the hard-hitting trio.
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