Rolling back the months - a mid-season recap
As the off-season is slowly coming to a close, we take a look back at the first seven months of 2017. Read on as we roll back to the start of the year and turn the calendar, delving into the biggest stories from January to July.
January - Astralis become ELEAGUE Major champions
2017 was set to start with a bang at the Major in Atlanta, which was this year's first event featuring most of the big names. Astralis returned to action on the back of their first victory with Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander at ECS Season 2 Finals, and looked like the favorite to claim the title.
The Danes' triumphant journey was a tough one. A 3-2 record in the group stage, in which Nicolai "device" Reedtz's men notably got off on the wrong foot with a shocking loss to GODSENT, earned Astralis a tough quarter-final tie in the form of Natus Vincere, who had cruised through the groups without breaking a sweat.
After each team grabbed one narrow map to their name, the Poles enjoyed a 13-7 lead on the Counter-Terrorist side of Train, but the Danes mounted a near-impossible comeback to clinch their first Major title, with Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye picking up the MVP award.
BIG come to life
While most of the focus in January was on the Major, BIG's creation at the start of the year flew under the radar. Little did we know then that Fatih "gob b" Dayik's squad would go on to qualify for the next Major and reach the playoffs within six months of existence.
February - NiKo joins FaZe
The $450,000 DreamHack Masters Las Vegas, where Virtus.pro triumphed over the João "felps" Vasconcellos-infused SK in the grand final, was the biggest event of February. However, Nikola "NiKo" Kovač joining up with FaZe was the prevalent story in hindsight, seeing as he would proceed to elevate the European mixture to new heights.
Throughout the next four months, the Finn "karrigan" Andersen-led team reached four grand finals in a row. The first, IEM Katowice, went Astralis' way, but then FaZe had the edge over the Danish powerhouse and took revenge in the next final, clinching their very first trophy at StarSeries.
G2 form French superteam
Another significant shift in the scene came when the results of the third French shuffle came to light after months in the works as G2 announced their lineup, featuring a trio of EnVyUs players. Their beginnings were slow, but the Frenchmen seized the opportunity at one of the big event of the year so far, the ESL Pro League Season 5 Finals.
fnatic roll back mid-2016 changes
In 2016's off-season, fnatic went through a rather unfriendly split, when Jesper "JW" Wecksell, Robin "flusha" Rönnquist, and Freddy "KRIMZ" Johansson left Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer and Dennis "dennis" Edman behind to join GODSENT. The changes came to no fruition for either team, and KRIMZ returned in October, before the remaining duo followed suit in February of this year, bringing back the roster that had won six tournaments in a row in late 2015 to early 2016.
March - SK's struggling period begins
felps' addition to SK looked seamless in February, when the Brazilians grabbed a runners-up finish at their offline debut in Las Vegas and came within rounds of the trophy, which was snatched by Virtus.pro in the end.
That was one of the reasons why it came as a surprise that SK went out in last place at IEM Katowice, for which they had been considered one of the favorites. Struggling for form, Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo went searching for the right play style with the immensely aggressive felps, which he was unable to do ahead of the next event, StarSeries.
In Kiev, the AWPer and in-game leader hit his lowest point, as did the team, who once again went out in the group stage, after facing tough opposition in G2, Astralis, and FaZe in the last three rounds of the Swiss format.
April - "Virtus.pro show up on big stages" comes into question
Alongside SK, Filip "NEO" Kubski's side also hit rock bottom at the beginning of April. It started with a rough exit in Katowice, at the start of March, where the Poles lost Nuke (their best map) to Heroic in the last round of the round-robin, which cost them a spot in the playoffs.
While the Katowice disappointment could have been swept under the rug on its own, StarSeries proved that VP were in trouble. Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas's squad beat only Korean side MVP Project in Kiev while conceding extremely one-sided matches to three struggling teams, SK, NiP, and fnatic.
Combined with the ELEAGUE Clash for Cash two months later, where things quickly took a turn for the worse for Virtus.pro after winning Nuke 16-7 over Astralis, and ESL One Cologne in July, when VP went 0-3, the Poles' future was unclear.
Of course, now we know that talks of changes being necessary may have been premature, as TaZ's squad proceeded to clinch a semi-final finish at the PGL Major just before the off-season began.
May - FalleN recovers, SK are back to winning ways
By May, FalleN had been able to come up with a recipe for success, not only for himself as an individual player but for SK as a team, who decided to play at some smaller events, like cs_summit, to get used to their new system.
On their path back to greatness, cs_summit at the end of April marked the new SK's first victory, which they would follow up with another success at IEM Sydney, where they beat two of the world's best teams, Astralis (in groups) and FaZe (3-1 in the grand final) en route to the title.
Marcelo "coldzera" David hit a bump on the road with a conspicuously below-average performance at Pro League Finals, which perhaps cost SK a chance to win another event, but the Brazilians bounced back by winning DreamHack Open Summer, ECS Season 3 Finals, and ESL One Cologne. As you can see from the graphic above, FalleN was back to his old self throughout that period, which ended with him holding an MVP award from Cologne.
North hit long-time low
North had clearly lost their mojo from the final months of 2016, when they won EPICENTER: Moscow under dignitas, but in the first four months of 2017 they were always able to advance from the groups, even after letting go of Ruben "RUBINO" Villarroel to make way for Philip "aizy" Aistrup.
After a couple of early playoff exits despite favorable draws, IEM Sydney saw Denmark's second-best team go out in groups with losses to SK, FaZe, and Chiefs, which further fueled talks surrounding North's issues when they're in the position of a favorite.
June - NiP's freefall leads to core changes
NiP had been in trouble since their infamous exit at the ELEAGUE Major Main Qualifier, which eventually led to Jacob "pyth" Mourujärvi's departure shortly after the Swedes bombed out in groups at IEM Katowice, in March.
William "draken" Sundin's addition didn't seem to be enough to fix the issues. His debut at StarSeries ended with the squad going 2-3 in the groups, and NiP would also fail to impress at the lower-tier cs_summit, conceding series to Liquid and Cloud9 to finish 5th-6th.
Faced with another blow in the form of a failure in the Europe Minor's closed qualifier, the legendary team decided to disrupt the four-man core that had stood since the organization's reincarnation for nearly five years, relieving Adam "friberg" Friberg of his duties to bring in another Epsilon player, the up-and-coming Fredrik "REZ" Sterner.
Since then, the fresh NiP showed promise at ESL One Cologne, winning Cache three times in the groups to go 3-0 before falling short to Cloud9 in the quarter-finals (which included their fourth Cache win), and clinching a small title at DreamHack Open Valencia in July.
July - Gambit triumph at PGL Major Krakow
What better way to finish the season than with a Major?
PGL Major Krakow was perhaps the craziest of them all. Looking at just the groups, the likelihood of all of these predictions coming true equals the chances of there being zero trolls in HLTV forums for a whole day: BIG and Gambit went 3-0, FaZe bombed out 0-3, and neither Na`Vi nor G2 made it through. And we had yet to see the biggest surprises.
Immortals had changed their lineup only two months prior to the Major, adding Vito "kNgV-" Giuseppe to fill the gap left by Lincoln "fnx" Lau, and had just came off a group stage exit at ESL One Cologne. Gambit had looked awful online, with their players admitting that practice had gone awry. And yet, both of them made the grand final in Krakow.
Admittedly, the Brazilians' route to the final was favorable, as the best teams they had to beat throughout the event were Natus Vincere (in groups) and Virtus.pro (in the semi-finals), in part thanks to Astralis and SK meeting each other in the quarter-finals on the other side of the bracket.
That's where Gambit had been drawn as well, facing fnatic in the quarters before meeting Astralis in the semis. Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko' quintet passed their toughest challenge, Astralis, and went on to grab the Major title with another 2-1 win over Immortals, a series that began with Cobblestone going the way of the Brazilians, 16-4.
Astralis keep their top four streak with gla1ve
Astralis defeating SK in the quarter-finals of PGL Major Krakow also meant that they kept their record of deep finishes since gla1ve took the reins. Excluding ELEAGUE Clash for Cash for obvious reasons, the Danes have reached the top four at 10 events in a row, seven of which have taken place this year.
Thanks to their achievements, which include two titles and a runner-up finish in 2017, Astralis were able to keep their first place in the ranking for 162 days in a row, earlier this year.