What has changed since the ELEAGUE Major?
With almost half a year having passed since the last Major—that was hosted by ELEAGUE in Atlanta—we decided to take a look at the CS:GO scene and figure out what will be different at the second Major of the year.
The PGL Krakow Major is just around the corner, with 16 teams already in Poland and ready to kick off the tournament tomorrow. But before the action begins, let's take a step back and take a look at how the field looks now, compared to what we had going into the ELEAGUE Major.
In this article, we will examine four topics that have changed quite a bit since the start of the year to see how this major will differ from the one held in January.
SK is, once again, the team to beat
Obviously, the biggest change has been SK's return to the top. After establishing a period of dominance early in 2016, winning both Majors, the Brazilian side went on to do a roster swap, removing Lincoln "fnx" Lau. Due to Valve's rules, the team wasn't able to bring in an Immortals player for the Major, so SK decided to use Ricardo "fox" Pacheco as a stand-in.
The combination of their late-2016 slump and the addition of the Portuguese AWPer—who is past his prime and also didn't really fit into the team role-wise—, made SK fall out of the favorite category for the ELEAGUE Major, with the likes of Astralis and Virtus.pro being the teams that people expected to go far. With fox, SK exceeded expectations by getting to the semi-finals and playing Virtus.pro close on both maps of a series they lost 2-0, but it's hard to say that they made much of a mark on the 10th CS:GO Major.
When the roster lock ended, SK announced the signing of João "felps" Vasconcellos, whose adaptation took some time. However, since cs_summit Spring 2017 at the end of April, SK have been rising through the ranks, slowly but surely earning themselves the title of the #1 team once again.
Their win in Australia, at IEM Sydney 2017, was the first big one, as they defeated FaZe in the grand final to win their first large-scale event since ESL One Cologne 2016. The ESL Pro League Season 5 Finals didn't pan out for the Brazilians, as they were taken out by eventual winners G2 in the semi-final, but the run after that made up for the 3rd-4th place finish in Dallas.
SK started their 45-day European campaign at DreamHack Open Summer, a mid-tier tournament where they picked up a trophy by taking down fnatic in the grand final. Not a big win, considering there were noFaZe, G2 or Astralis at the event, but the Brazilians were just warming up. The ECS S3 Finals followed, and that event featured all of the aforementioned teams. Not only did SK win that event, but they did so by taking the hardest route possible, defeating all of the other teams in the top four.
Even a mediocre result at ESL One Cologne would have been enough to keep SK as the main favorite going into the Major, but Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo's side outdid that. Defeating FaZe in the semi-final—the third series win over the European mixture—and Cloud9 in the grand final secured them their third trophy in a row. That, combined with the achievements from the last three months, earned SK the tag of the "team to beat" in Krakow.
FaZe, an international team, has earned its place amongst the elite
The team of misfits, rejects and misfiring stars that was put together in 2015 took quite some time and a bunch of roster changes to finally work—but it happened this year.
The first step was the addition of Finn "karrigan" Andersen, whose leadership has got FaZe to the playoffs of every event they have attended since he joined except DreamHack Masters Las Vegas, where they were forced to use Joakim "jkaem" Myrbostad as a stand-in while waiting for their newest addition to come in.
That addition was Nikola "NiKo" Kovač, who was bought out of his contract with mousesports after a long and frustrating run with the German organization. Following the addition of the Bosnian superstar, the European side made the finals of four straight big LAN events, winning one, the SL i-League StarSeries Season 3. The only event where FaZe didn't make it to the grand final was the most recent one, ESL One Cologne 2017, where they were once again taken out by SK, the eventual winners.
Despite not being able to handle the Brazilians, FaZe have had a good record against Astralis. They did lose to them in their first meeting in Katowice, but that was just a few days after NiKo had joined the team. Since then, karrigan have been triumphant in series against his former team, taking wins in Kiev and Sydney.
With FaZe's level of consistency earning them a #2 spot in our rankings, PGL Krakow will be the first Major at which we will have an international team as one of the favorites going in. And their success has certainly had an impact on the whole scene, as we see more and more organizations take the same route. PENTA, who made the Major four months after assembling the team, is an example of it.
Both the French and the Swedish "superteams" are set
Coming into the ELEAGUE Major, it was pretty much known that the two French teams—G2 and Envy—would be shuffling their rosters after the tournament. With the likes of Richard "shox" Papillon and Kenny "kennyS" Schrub in dying teams and a similar situation happening in the Swedish camp with fnatic and GODSENT, the Major lacked a bit of its charm. We have been accustomed to watching phenomenal Counter-Strike at the Majors, but it's hard to expect that from teams who are set to split up in a few weeks.
Shortly after the ELEAGUE Atlanta Major, we saw both the French and the Swedish "superteam" come together, one under the G2 and one under the fnatic banner. Markus "pronax" Wallsten and Vincent "Happy" Schopenhauer, two in-game leaders that were on top of the world in 2014-2015, were both left out of the best team in their country, set to build new GODSENT and Envy teams with leftover players.
The two shuffles didn't bring instant success, which was somewhat weird considering the honeymoon period usually works out great for firepower packed teams such as G2 and fnatic. The Swedes had a bit of a better start, though, as they were able to qualify for the first big post-shuffle tournament, IEM Katowice 2017, but they didn't impress on the LAN itself. Over the course of seven LANs they have attended with this five, they have only managed to get out of the groups twice—at SL i-League StarSeries S3 and the lower-tier DreamHack Open Summer 2017—leaving the fnatic reunion looking like an unsuccessful project so far.
G2 had a tougher start to their campaign, as their poor online form saw them drop to the bottom of the ESL Pro League table and miss out on Katowice. The French side then had a solid LAN debut at StarSeries S3, and have been slowly improving in results ever since, picking up titles at DreamHack Open Tours 2017 and at the ESL Pro League Finals shortly afterwards. With a fired-up kennyS and with Alexandre "bodyy" Pianaro proving that the decision to have him on the team was a correct one, G2 have recently found themselves in competition with the "big three" of SK, FaZe and Astralis.
However, their results after Pro League, a 5-6th place at ECS Season 3, where they didn't look threatening to either FalleN's or karrigan's team, combined with a 2-0 defeat to Natus Vincere in the quarter-finals of ESL One Cologne, don't justify putting them in the same category as the "big three". They are still a team to watch out for, though, and a much tougher opponent than either of the French teams who were in Atlanta.
The two leftover teams, GODSENT and Envy, haven't been able to do much post-shuffle, with the Frenchmen's biggest achievement being a 5-6th place at the ESL Pro League S5 finals, and the Swedes "boasting" a 3rd-4th place at the ESEA S24 Global Challenge Finals. Both teams didn't make it to Krakow, with Happy's side failing at the European Minor and pronax and co. going out 12-14th at the Main Qualifier.
That leaves the two "superteams" as the only representatives France and Sweden will have at the 11th CS:GO Major. In Atlanta, both the Swedes and the French had two teams in contention, but in the past, the two nations had been even stronger. For example, at DreamHack Winter 2013, Sweden was represented by four teams: NiP, fnatic, LGB and SK, while France was represented by three: VeryGames, Clan-Mystik and Recursive. Maybe quality should be valued over quantity, but these are still worrying signs for two once-great CS nations.
The "Virtus.pro always bounce back" theory is seriously in question
Coming into Atlanta, Virtus.pro weren't in the greatest of shapes. A lot of inactivity, coupled with some mediocre results preceded the last Major, but the fans, the analysts and the players themselves weren't concerned. Everyone had seen the Poles go through awful periods, only to bounce back for the big tournaments, and especially the Majors.
And that is what happened at the ELEAGUE Major, in January, where Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski and co. were very close to lifting the trophy, but Astralis were the ones that proved victorious in the end. The Polish side managed to get revenge on the Danes in the following tournament, beating Astralis and taking the DreamHack Masters Las Vegas title. Following the grand final, Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas tweeted the now famous "we are number one" tweet, but things were destined to take a turn for the worse soon.
Group stage exits at three consecutive big tournaments, IEM Katowice, StarSeries S3 and ESL One Cologne, combined with relegation from ESL Pro League to ESEA Premier, mark the lowest Virtus.pro have dipped—ever. The Poles have tried changing positions on maps to get out of the slump, and have allegedly been putting in more hours and taking online games and practice more seriously, but it might be too late for them now.
With five months having passed since their last good event, the "bounce back theory" will be put to the final test in Krakow, where they really need to have a positive showing if they want to keep this five together.