Seven key storylines of the ELEAGUE Major
ELEAGUE Major Boston begins in a little over two days, on January 19, and with it come countless storylines connected to the 16 teams. Here are seven of the biggest storylines and questions that will be answered by the time the first Major of 2018 finishes, at the end of the month.
NiKo or olofmeister — a streak is bound to come to an end
Nikola "NiKo" Kovač has yet to pass the group stage of a Major, with five attempts behind him (four with mousesports and one with FaZe), while Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer's name is written down in the history books as one of only five players to have made playoffs at all CS:GO Majors thus far. One of those streaks will come to an end by Monday, when the ELEAGUE Major's group stage finishes and we find out which eight teams become the new Legends.
The Bosnian superstar should certainly fancy his chances with FaZe, who are by all accounts a top two team in the world, making them one of the favorites of the entire tournament, not just the group stage — especially given the situation SK find themselves in. There is, however, that nagging voice that says "But that has been the case before". FaZe's status within the scene now is not dissimilar to their situation prior to the PGL Major Krakow, and the European mixture was still eliminated in last place some six months ago. The lineup is, of course, different now, so the circumstances change.
At the Main Qualifier, FaZe barely survived a Lucas "steel" Lopes-less Liquid and lost to Vega Squadron on two of their signature maps. That is a sign of either Finn "karrigan" Andersen's team not being in their best shape or of their overconfidence in a qualifier for which they were the biggest favorites by some margin. If the latter is the case, those two matches serve as a wake-up call for the FaZe Clan, who should then have little trouble making it into the playoffs to break NiKo's streak. Even if the former scenario is true, the likelihood of FaZe going out early is still low, but the list of players who have made the playoffs at every single Major may be cut short.
device comes in last-minute to save the day
The last three tournaments of 2017 saw Astralis stuck playing without Nicolai "device" Reedtz, who took time off to recover from his persistent health issues. The Danes managed to hold their own at two of the three tournaments, even surpassing all expectations at BLAST Pro Series with Dennis "dennis" Edman standing in throughout their runner-up campaign, but it was clear that the main star of the team was missing.
What was not clear until a little over a week ago was whether device would be able to make it to the Major, but the good news of his return was announced after all — Astralis will be able to field their full lineup from Friday on. The interesting part about device's reappearance is that the team have not reverted to their normal setup, in which the 22-year-old played as the main AWPer. Instead, Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen will continue to use the 'Big Green' primarily like he did during his sidekick's medical leave at BLAST, Pro League and ECS.
Only time will tell whether the move will pay off. There are no questions about device's abilities as a rifler, and the option of having him AWP secondarily when it fits Astralis will surely only help, but dupreeh still has, in his own words, a lot to learn with the gun, and the change comes with certain playstyle differences that the Danes will have to tackle.
Can SK and Liquid overcome their handicaps?
One thing connecting SK and Liquid is that both come into the ELEAGUE Major without their full lineup. The Brazilian side see the return of João "felps" Vasconcellos, who steps in for Ricardo "boltz" Prass due to the Major cycle's roster rules, with the same applying for the Brazilian duo's former teammate steel, as Liquid will continue to field Wilton "zews" Prado instead.
And yet their stories are very different. Despite the fact that the Brazilian squad had no practice with felps ahead of the Major, no one should count them out simply because their stand-in is still a very good player who also has considerable experience playing with the team, having been part of the roster from February to October last year.
On the other hand, Liquid are forced to play with a coach who has fairly little experience at a high level and has been out of action for nearly a year. We saw during the Major Qualifier (and before that, at the Pro League Season 6 Finals) how much of an effect that has on the North American squad, who barely barely scraped by in the Main Qualifier to even earn their place at the Major, only doing so thanks to a ninth spot suddenly becoming available due to 100 Thieves pulling out.
Naturally, SK will not be at 100%, having changed their playstyle since felps' departure, which will cause issues with roles that they probably haven't had enough time to fix completely. Nonetheless, the Brazilians have a good chance of making a deep run, or at the very least keeping their Legends status; the same cannot be said for Liquid, given what we know.
G2 and North turn to the Major for salvation
North had a disappointing 2017 aside from a few tournaments in which they had a favorable route. The Danes are consistent at winning matches for which they are favored, but they could never take it to the next level by beating some of the best teams in the world in series.
G2 are quite the opposite in the sense that they have proven they can beat great teams on the big stage but have done so with such inconsistency that the end result is similar to North's. Even though the Frenchmen clinched a few titles in 2017, they are sitting on the edge of the world's elite following up-and-down periods throughout the year.
North's troubles already led to two roster changes last year, at the beginning and at the half-way point, and that cycle now resets again as the Danes turn to the ELEAGUE Major for the salvation of their roster. G2 have managed to avoid changes thus far, but with some talent potentially available in Envy and Misfits, it's possible that a poor showing at the Major will break the roster, which was unveiled in February 2017.
With Richard "shox" Papillon returning to his comfort lurking zone, G2 might just have a better chance of staying intact compared to the Danish side, who may not have taken significant steps towards improvement. To be completely fair, we have yet to see North in action this year, but we'll find out whether they will bring something new soon enough.
Will Virtus.pro pull off a deep run again?
We once again find ourselves at a point contemplating Virtus.pro's chances with the ELEAGUE Major around the corner, and once again it's impossible to analyze which side of VP we're about to see. Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas's men somehow rose from the ashes last time around, at the PGL Major Krakow, to battle their way into the semi-finals, in which they were no match for Immortals.
Since then, we've seen a similar occurrence once more, at EPICENTER — where the Polish legends barely missed out on the title after a grueling series with SK in the final —, only to take a massive fall again soon afterwards, at the WESG Europe Finals.
Perhaps even the Poles themselves are unable to fully comprehend what it is that makes them play amazingly once and bomb out in spectacular fashion the next tournament; otherwise they would have likely been able to do something about it by now. But that is the gist of the longest standing roster in CS:GO. As always, we will simply have to wait until they actually play, but it goes without saying that Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski — as one of the very best Major players — will need to step his game up for Virtus.pro to pull off a deep run once more.
The ultimate dark horse Gambit look to defend Major title
In one form or another, Gambit have always been a threat to some of the top teams under the right circumstances, and over time they evolved into a better team capable of eliminating bigger sides more consistently, after the additions of Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko and Abay "Hobbit" Khasenov in late 2016. That led to the Kazakhstani side clinching the latest Major title in Krakow in stunning fashion, beating teams such as G2, Virtus.pro, and Astralis in their campaign.
Even without Zeus, who returned to Natus Vincere shortly after the PGL Major, Gambit retained their status of a dark horse following the arrival of one of Kazakhstan's top talents, Bektiyar "fitch" Bahytov. With a fairly unremarkable finish to 2017, during which in-game leadership was transferred from one of the main stars, Dauren "AdreN" Kystaubayev, to Mihail "Dosia" Stolyarov, Gambit look to the Major for another opportunity to surprise the scene.
Can electronic help Na`Vi unlock the 'born to win' mentality?
There is no denying that Natus Vincere haven't been able to live up to their name for a very long time. In 2017, Na`Vi ended up making two lineup changes, with Zeus returning to the squad after Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács had joined FaZe, and Denis "seized" Kostin making room for Denis "electronic" Sharipov, as they looked to establish themselves as an elite side once again.
Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev was clearly born to win, but the team continue to miss something. With electronic on the roster, things looked up for Na`Vi late last year following their DreamHack Open Winter win, but their ELEAGUE Major Main Qualifier showing wasn't convincing, mainly because of the huge losses to mousesports and FaZe.
Those losses may have been down to lack of preparation due to Natus Vincere spending the previous week in New York for EPL Relegation matches that, apart from one series, never happened. If that is the case, it's something Na`Vi will have partially been able to catch up on on the few off-days between the qualifier and the Major itself.
In any case, it's time to see whether electronic is the key to success for Natus Vincere. He certainly provides a boost in firepower over seized, but it's also possible that that was never the main issue in the first place.