The ELEAGUE Major Main Qualifier, or, as it was recently renamed, the New Challengers Stage, begins on Friday, and we have prepared a preview of sorts, picking the teams who have the best chance of advancing to the group stage.
The ELEAGUE Major Main Qualifier will take place from January 12-15 in the organizer's studio in Atlanta, with 16 teams set to battle for eight spots in the Major's New Legends Stage.
As we now know, the Main Qualifier will use the Swiss format, in which teams are paired based on their win-loss record, with the essence of it being that the more wins you get, the competition becomes harder, and the more losses you suffer, the competition gets easier.
|First round matchups|
|Natus Vincere||vs.||Quantum Bellator Fire|
That premise loses some of its merit due to the seeding that is in use for the first round, which is based on the teams' placing at the last Major — from nearly six months ago —, and at the Minors, creating a situation in which certain teams meet each other earlier than they should.
Nonetheless, we have done our best to ignore the randomness that often occurs in this system, in part due to imperfect seeding, and came up with eight teams we think have the best chance of advancing to the next stage, the group stage of the ELEAGUE Major itself:
It should come as no surprise to see FaZe at the tippy top of the list as an elite team that simply hit particularly poor form at the PGL Major Krakow — without Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács or Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer — to end up at this Main Qualifier.
We've all seen what Finn "karrigan" Andersen's team can do in the last few months. With three trophies and two more finals in their resumé from September to December, FaZe are far and away the most decorated team at the tournament and the ultimate favourite.
They have three maps (Mirage, Overpass, and Inferno) in their arsenal that nearly everyone plays but that few of the other 15 teams can challenge, giving them huge power in the vetoes. What's more — well, I'll just let FaZe's results against seven of the best teams at the qualifier speak for themselves:
While there are a few matchups that could get hairy for the European mixture, such as G2 and mousesports, FaZe are the most likely candidate to go 3-0 in the Swiss system and lock down a spot in the ELEAGUE Major's group stage.
Another team that looks like a safe bet are Cloud9, currently ranked fifth in the world following several high placings over the last four months of 2017, including semi-final finishes at ESL One New York, ELEAGUE Premier, and IEM Oakland, and two smaller wins at DreamHack Open Denver and iBUYPOWER Masters.
An interesting thing of note about the latest lineup of Cloud9 is that they have been quite effective in matchups against the other Main Qualifier teams, with the exception of FaZe, having played six of them since August: G2 (2W-0L in maps), mousesports (2W-1L), Natus Vincere (3W-0L), Envy (1W-1L), Renegades (3W-1L), and Liquid (4W-1L).
With their map pool also being quite a strong suit, Cloud9 will essentially be at least slightly favored against anyone other than FaZe, and so their fate lies in their own hands. Some of it will come down to the first match against Envy, but the American side should still be able to recover in case of a loss in the opening round.
Even though their results as of late haven't been too impressive, with one title and one top-three finish in the second half of 2017 among three earlier exits, G2 come in as a solid third choice to go through as one of the more experienced rosters at the Main Qualifier.
Two of their players have attended all 11 Majors — Nathan "NBK-" Schmitt and Richard "shox" Papillon — while Dan "apEX" Madesclaire and Kenny "kennyS" Schrub only missed one event because their team was disqualified prior to DreamHack Winter 2014. It's frankly hard to imagine a world in which the Frenchmen don't make the main part of the ELEAGUE Major.
Yes, G2 can be inconsistent and their core has been disappointing in Major group stages since 2016, but there has been one constant amidst all of that; their ability to qualify. The core has done so three consecutive times ever since dropping out of the company of Legends at MLG Columbus, and it is looking to make it four in a row.
There certainly are obstacles shox & co. will have to overcome, like facing some teams they know little about (such as Flash in the first round) and potentially two they've had trouble with recently, Renegades and Cloud9, but, all in all, G2 will be favored in most of the matchups and thus in the entire qualifier.
The fourth and last top-10 team in the world at the Main Qualifier, mousesports, have earned their spot as one of the favored teams to make it through following a steady rise with the two newest additions, Miikka "suNny" Kemppi and Martin "STYKO" Styk.
The biggest tournaments in their first month together didn't go their way, but mouz clinched a title at one of the medium-sized events, ESG Tour Mykonos, in between and finished the year with two final appearances, at DreamHack Open Winter and, more importantly, at ECS Season 4 Finals, losing to FaZe in an incredibly close grand final.
Although the teams below mousesports don't even come close to such results, mouz should be careful facing some of them as they still haven't reached the consistency required to beat everyone they should on paper. Still, Chris "chrisJ" de Jong's roster should be fancying their chances against just about everyone.
As possibly the best Nuke team out of all 16, perhaps tied for that title with G2, mousesports will go into every veto with that significant advantage, one not many teams have, and so they should always be able to play a map they're very comfortable on. A warmup against AVANGAR — one of the hard underdogs — will also be of help in mousesports' journey through the Swiss format.
Na`Vi are certainly a perplexing team, one that was not able to do much damage at the biggest tournaments throughout the entirety of last year in spite of the efforts of Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev, who continued to prove himself as one of the best players in the world.
We have yet to see just how much Denis "electronic" Sharipov can help Natus Vincere turn their luck around, as he has only been part of the team since November, though some of what he has brought to the fold was apparent in the squad's run for their first and only title of last year, at DreamHack Open Winter.
That run helps us see just where the team stands. In Sweden, Na`Vi faced a level of competition very similar to the one that will be present at the qualifier, and they seemed comfortable for the most part.
What about the remaining teams?
This is where things begin to get tricky. The first five teams would probably show up in most people's picks, but now we delve into five more teams who are on a similar level, Envy, Renegades, Liquid, Misfits, and FlipSid3.
Liquid will be handicapped in Atlanta by playing with Wilton "zews" Prado instead of Lucas "steel" Lopes, who wasn't allowed to take part in the Major cycle with another team after having played an online qualifier with Immortals. In my eyes, Liquid deserve to be among the top eight teams anyway, even if it's most likely going to get close. After all, at the ESL Pro League Season 6 Finals they showed they can compete even with the coach, under the right circumstances.
Envy should also have a good chance due to their experience. The results of Vincent "Happy" Schopenhauer's team haven't been particularly encouraging, but they have attended several high-profile tournaments and competed against the best, grabbing a few upsets along the way — unlike most teams below them.
I believe Renegades have the best chance out of the remainder as a team that has risen up the ranks lately with a win at the SL i-League Invitational, in November, and an all-in-all good showing at IEM Oakland despite their early elimination.
Barely missing out on our eight picks are thus Misfits — who have shown improvement but not enough to warrant a place above the aforementioned teams — and FlipSid3, a team that is simply hard to assess since they haven't shown up at any notable lans in months. Being a team that somehow always scrapes by in the qualifiers, Andrey "B1ad3" Gorodenskiy & co. could be somewhat of a dark horse at the qualifier, though this time they might just end up missing out after losing their best player, electronic, a couple of months ago.