Rolling back the months - a final 2017 round-up
As 2017 is coming to a close, we take a look back at what happened in the second part of the year, recapping the most important events since the player break.
The first part of 2017 was long and busy, with regular seasons of ESL Pro League and ECS, as well as many other big tournaments, fit in between the year's two Majors. The ELEAGUE Atlanta Major kicked off the season in January, while the PGL Krakow Major closed it off, in June.
August saw the first summer CS:GO player break, which also served as a big transfer period in the scene, giving us some exciting roster moves. The action technically resumed at the end of the month, but it was already in September that DreamHack Masters Malmö, the first post-break tournament, was brought to an end. G2 lifted the trophy, but the Frenchmen wouldn't go on to build upon that success, with the rivalry of SK and FaZe ending up as the main story of the final quarter of 2017.
August: FaZe sign GuardiaN and olofmeister in blockbuster move
For many teams, the mid-season break wasn't a very relaxing one. The end of a Major cycle is when a lot of roster moves come into play, and FaZe wasted no time in adding new pieces after their disappointing Krakow group stage exit.
The North American organization's signing of Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács and Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer, both superstar players in their own right, overshadowed their acquisition of arguably the best European player Nikola "NiKo" Kovač earlier in the year in the eyes of many, with the scene almost unanimously crowning the addition of the Swede and the Slovakian as the best roster move of the year.
With some of the strongest individual players in the world united under Finn "karrigan" Andersen's leadership and the FaZe banner, the team was dubbed "The Galácticos of CS". The name referred to the 2000-2007 Real Madrid football team that was also known for record-breaking signings and a roster filled with star players.
The announcement of FaZe's new roster was met with a lot of excitement, but also quite a bit of scepticism. Could the two new additions get back in shape and reach a level close to their 2015 form, when they were the #1 and #2 player in the world? And even if they did, how would karrigan set up the team to allow the two of them, as well as NiKo and Håvard "rain" Nygaard, to shine? To get the answers to those questions, the CS community had to wait for the player break to finish, with other exciting moves in the scene helping to fill the void in the meantime.
Zeus departs Gambit after Major win
The biggest Major underdog story of CS:GO wasn't enough to keep Gambit's roster together, and the team was left without an in-game leader shortly after the historic victory in Krakow. According to comments from the team, differences between the core of the squad and Mikhaylo "Kane" Blagin were the reason for the departure of Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko—who sided with the coach.
With Zeus's former team struggling to do much ever since he was removed from the squad in 2016 to make way for Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev, a return to Natus Vincere wasn't a surprise to anyone. The 30-year-old ended up slotting into GuardiaN's spot, with Denis "seized" Kostin rejoining from the bench to finalize the roster—after the team's attempts to add Denis "electroNic" Sharipov fell through.
September: The 'Galácticos' dominate on LAN
FaZe sceptics were left smirking after the team's debut at DreamHack Masters Malmő ended up being an underwhelming one, with the team exiting the tournament in the group stage following losses to Gambit and Ninjas in Pyjamas.
"After a disappointing start in September, failing the group stage in Malmö, we went back to the bootcamp place and we found out what our issues were. After that, we knew that we could become way better than we were, and that we had performed at a level that should never be our own" - Finn "karrigan" Andersen
And it wouldn't take long for karrigan's troops to click. FaZe's run started with the ELEAGUE Premier group stage, in which they picked up comfortable wins over Renegades and Natus Vincere, but the next big event, ESL One New York, was where they displayed their true strength.
Breezing past the opposition and picking up the trophy without a single map dropped sent out a strong signal and marked the start of FaZe's climb toward the top of the rankings.
"We went through the month of September unbeaten on LAN versus top teams from the whole world, eventually going 17-0 before we finally lost a map at EPICENTER in October. But in September, we were able to win ESL One New York without losing a map, and later on we won ELEAGUE, showing that, at that time, we were the best team in the world." - Finn "karrigan" Andersen
Even though this FaZe roster's #1 ranking only came in October, after their ELEAGUE Premier win, the 17-0 run started in September and that is when they proved that this roster could work, which makes it the biggest story of the month.
Major finalists Immortals fall apart
Not that long after the PGL Major winner Gambit lost one of its key members, the other finalist of the Major, Immortals, practically imploded and dissolved. The story of the Brazilians' demise is a long and complicated one, but issues started when the management signed João "horvy" Horvath as a backup player, which a part of the team felt was a disrespectful move.
Things only got worse when at DreamHack Open Montreal, Immortals didn't show up to the final match on time, resulting in a one-map advantage for North. After losing the series 2-0, Vito "kNgV-" Giuseppe took to Twitter, with his comments earning him an "internal suspension" and ultimately leading to his removal from the team.
With kNgV- out and the twins Henrique "HEN1" Teles and Lucas "LUCAS1" Teles set to follow in his footsteps, Immortals lost the core trio that held their Legends spot, and, more importantly, were left scrambling for players to represent them in leagues and tournaments.
G2 peak at DreamHack Malmö
September started with G2 picking up a big win, triumphing at DreamHack Masters Malmö. The French team showed a good level overall, their main players were on point, and they received a lot of praise for the way they handled their economy, something that had not been their forte in the past.
In the end, the Malmö win was the best run Richard "shox" Papillon and co. had in the second part of the year, making it more of an outlier than a sign of what was to come in the rest of 2017.
October: SK reinvigorated by boltz's addition
Following a couple of mediocre-to-underwhelming LAN events after the player break, SK and João "felps" Vasconcellos decided to part ways. The youngster and the team had tried their best to adapt to each other, and it worked for a good period of time leading up to the PGL Krakow Major. However, with the post-break results not looking too good, felps decided that he doesn't want to continue with the team, and SK were left to find a player more suitable for the role they needed.
With Immortals's last-minute additions (Lucas "DeStiNy" Bullo, Caio "zqkS" Fonseca, horvy) not being enough to keep the ship from sinking, the team's best remaining player Ricardo "boltz" Prass was the obvious pick for SK. The 20-year-old was loaned out to Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo and co. just a couple of days before they attended their first LAN together, EPICENTER.
"At first, we were not sure if boltz was the correct player to pick to play with us, but, to be honest, we didn't have many choices. boltz was the best one available and he is a great player. In fact, in terms of roles, we knew that boltz should be way easier to play with than felps because felps was playing a role he wasn't used to. So he had to change a lot of his own game.
"With boltz, things went pretty well very quickly. We didn't have much time to practice for EPICENTER, but we won the tournament there pretty convincingly, despite having an awesome grand final against VP. That went to the fifth map, sick final, one of the best we have ever played." - Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo
The opposition at the event in Moscow was no joke, SK had to defeat FaZe and Astralis, the #1 and #2 teams at the time, in in BO3 series, as well as a reinvigorated Virtus.pro to take the title. A victory at EPICENTER lead to boltz being added as a permanent member of SK, with more great showings set to follow.
"EPICENTER was very important, it gave us the confidence that we made the right choice by bringing in boltz and that he was the player we needed. What I felt was that boltz was able to get some kills, have the sort of impact in some rounds that, in the past, with felps, we were missing. It is not a question of which player is better, it's just a question of the role and the kind of an impact we were lacking on SK. Having boltz really made everyone feel that we could do even better." - Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo
Virtus.pro show signs of life in St. Petersburg
Since their 3rd-4th finish at the Major in Poland, another couple of months of underwhelming results followed for Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas and co. during which they finished last at DreamHack Masters Malmő, ESL One New York, and ELEAGUE Premier. But Virtus.pro once again sprung to life at a big event, this time being EPICENTER.
The $500,000 event with all of the top teams in attendance and a full BO3 format suited Virtus.pro, and they eliminated Gambit, FaZe and G2 on their way to the final—where they put up a strong fight against SK.
However, it was telling that, despite their second-place finish, none of their players ended up amongst the ten highest-rated players at the event, with veteran Filip "NEO" Kubski topping the charts for his side with a 1.08 rating. EPICENTER was just a flash in the pan in the end, and, after failing to seize the title at the SL i-League Invitational Shanghai at the beginning of the next month, Virtus.pro reverted back to their underwhelming form, finishing the year on the edge of the top ten in the ranking.
November: NiP defend Oakland title
With just a couple of events left to be played out before the end of the year, Ninjas in Pyjamas's 2017 resume wasn't looking too good. Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg and co. had made two player changes, adding William "draken" Sundin in March and Fredrik "REZ" Sterner in June, but still failed to qualify for both of the European Minors, leaving them far away from the Majors, where the team used to be a mainstay.
Despite their flaky form, Ninjas in Pyjamas's victory at last year's edition of the event earned them an invite to IEM Oakland 2017, their first LAN in over a month.
"When we went into IEM Oakland in 2017, we were the reigning champions of the tournament from last year, of course we had big expectations for ourselves because we had not been playing too many LAN tournaments before that. We had had pretty good results online, we had started to become more stable, we had worked our asses off by playing more CS, exercising, eating well, having a good sleeping schedule etc. It was kind of a headache period and going into the tournament we felt very prepared and ready, but we really weren't seeing it as "Hey, we are going to come here and win the tournament" or something like that." - Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund
However, Ninjas in Pyjamas managed to exceed the expectations of the public and their own, topping their group before taking down the two best ranked teams at the time, SK and FaZe, in the playoffs. The last match, the BO5 against FaZe, was another memorable grand final of 2017, with the win giving Ninjas in Pyjamas their first big title of the year.
"We are one of those teams that just take it one step at a time and if we have a hiccup here and there, we try to learn more and more about it. I think it was a little bit surprising that we won IEM Oakland, but not really that much, because we felt very prepared, we felt very prepared for anyone that we played against in the tournament. They didn't know that much about us so we had a little bit of an advantage in that situation. I think that our map pool, in general, had become much better before that tournament. I think that we caught a lot of teams off-guard."
"I mean, winning a big tournament is a really satisfying feeling, I don't think you can really describe how it feels. It was just amazing, all the blood, sweat and tears, whatever it is, we got something back for all the things we've been doing this year. It was just a happy moment, I almost started crying like I had done last year." - Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund
Renegades become a threat with Nifty and NAF
November also saw the rise of Renegades, who started the month with a win at the SL i-League Invitational Shanghai. The tournament in China looked perfect for Virtus.pro to build upon their solid EPICENTER showing, but it was the Australians, who also picked up the Asia Minor trophy at the end of October, who were triumphant in Shanghai.
Before the end of the month, Renegades added a few more good LAN showings, finishing second to Cloud9 at the iBUYPOWER Masters and narrowly missing out on a playoff spot at IEM Oakland. By the end of the month, Justin "jks" Savage and co. had climbed to the #14 spot in our rankings, their highest placing ever.
device struggles with health issues; Astralis field stand-ins
Just a few hours prior to the start of IEM Oakland, Astralis revealed that Nicolai "device" Reedtz was struggling with health issues and that he wouldn't be playing in their first game at the tournament due to a late flight from Denmark. The Danes ended up going out in the groups, with device having a below average rated event for the first time since the Fragbite Masters S5 Finals, in December 2015, but that would end up being the least of Astralis' concerns.
The situation with device only worsened after the event in California, as he was hospitalized and then held for tests, unable to play for what was then described as an indefinite amount of time. As we now know, IEM Oakland would end up being device's last event of the year, with Astralis fielding Dennis "dennis" Edman and Ruben "RUBINO" Villarroel as stand-ins at their next events, with various degrees of success.
It seems that Astralis are putting hope into the 22-year-old recovering for the Major, but if that doesn't happen, they will suffer another tough blow as the rules would force them to play with coach Danny "zonic" Sørensen in Atlanta and Boston.
December: SK win EPL to finish the year as number one
As the end of the 2017 neared, it was clearer and clearer that it was the rivalry between SK and FaZe that would define the year. And what a way to end it, the two best teams outclassed the opposition at the ESL Pro League S6 Finals, topping their respective groups and breezing through their semi-final matches to set up the dream grand final.
The matchup had historically leaned heavily towards the Brazilians, and it ended up going the same way in Odense. FaZe were able to get off to a good start by taking Inferno, but losing their own map pick, Mirage, with NiKo having an abysmal first half, ended up being their demise. SK took the EPL crown, and the title of the best team of 2017, with a 3-1 reverse sweep.
FaZe's #2 solidified at ECS
With no SK at the last event of the year, the ECS S4 Finals, and a portion of the top 8 missing as well, the event in Cancun was FaZe's to lose. karrigan's team still had a rocky event, though, with an early defeat to Astralis complicating things in the group stage, and MOUZ giving them a run for their money in the grand final, which FaZe barely edged out 2-1 as both of their map victories came in overtime.
Even though their win wasn't as dominant as the early ones at ESL One New York and ELEAGUE Premier had been, rain felt that taking it the hard way made it special:
"It felt really good, it felt a lot better than winning both ELEAGUE and [ESL One] New York, because both were fairly easy. When you fight for something like this, you get more energy, you feel it more. SK not being here means we will not be number one and we won't be number one until we beat them, so I'm looking forward to 2018." - Håvard "rain" Nygaard
Even though FaZe ended the year behind SK, they are within reach of the Brazilian squad, with the rest of the competition far behind their solidified second place. As the first event of 2018 is the Major, which SK can't play with boltz, FaZe are still finishing 2017 in a very good position.
ex-Immortals sign for 100 Thieves
CS:GO's worst kept secret of 2018 was that the ex-Immortals trio kNgV-, LUCAS1 and HEN1 would join up with Lincoln "fnx" Lau and Bruno "BIT" Fukuda Lima to play the upcoming Major. Immortals' reported asking price of a million dollars seemed to be a stumbling block, but an agreement between the side and 100 Thieves, a North American organisation founded by founded by Call of Duty legend Matthew "Nadeshot" Haag, was reached in the end, with the actual fee the organization paid for the players and the Legends spot remaining undisclosed.