Five key storylines of StarSeries i-League S4
With 16 teams in attendance and a $300,000 prize pool, StarSeries i-League Season 4 is the first big event to be held after the Major. To get you warmed up for the action, we took a look at the tournament and outlined the five key storylines.
StarSeries i-League Season 4 will be the third consecutive 16-team StarLadder event to be held in Ukraine's capital, with the previous instalments having been won by NiP and FaZe. The Swedes lifted the trophy in 2016 while playing with Mikail "Maikelele" Bill as a stand-in, while in 2017 Finn "karrigan" Andersen and co. won their first trophy of the year in the Ukrainian capital, settings themselves up for a great year.
Teams hailing from all over the world will be present at StarSeries i-League Season 4 as North American, South American, European and Asian squads have been included in the competition. The tournament also features a very stacked team list, as out of the current top 10, only NiP are missing, with a notable squad in North, currently ranked 13th, also absent.
You can find all of the teams and the first round Swiss system draw below:
|SK||vs. MVP PK|
|Natus Vincere||vs. HellRaisers|
With a hefty break since the Major, as well as a lot of roster changes having taken place in the meantime, it's not simple to judge who will do well in Kiev.
SK and FaZe ended the year as the two best teams in the world, but recent results have called their dominance into question, and new challengers have risen up. Meanwhile, five teams will debut on LAN with new players aiming to impress.
Without further ado, let's take a look at the key storylines of the StarSeries i-League Season 4.
Will the old kings rule again?
The rivalry between SK and FaZe defined most of 2017 as the two teams faced each other ten times (three of them in finals) at big LAN tournaments and won a combined number of 12 events over the course of the year. With SK ending the year at the top of the world following a victory at the ESL Pro League Season 6 Finals, and FaZe claiming the title at the ECS Season 4 Finals, the two teams were miles ahead of the competition in the ranking as the year came to a close. But only two tournaments later, the situation has changed significantly.
FaZe were unable to capitalize on SK's misfortune at the Major, as they failed to close out the grand final against Cloud9—a team they had easily defeated multiple times throughout 2017—despite having several match points in hand.
A second-place finish was far from a bad result for FaZe, but the loss to Cloud9 revealed that they can lose to teams that are not called SK after all, and other teams will now be hunting for them as they sensed blood.
Considering they were playing with João "felps" Vasconcellos, SK's semi-final run at the Major was respectable, but they were expected to be back in prime form at cs_summit 2, which they attended with their full roster. However, the Brazilians only defeated Torqued and North there, and looked well off the pace against Cloud9 (16-9 Overpass, 16-9 Inferno) and Liquid (19-17 Cobblestone, 16-11 Train).
At the event in California, SK displayed a very slow and somewhat uninspired playstyle that resulted in them having pretty poor Terrorist sides, with Ricardo "boltz" Prass' individual struggles, perhaps the result of his previous LAN outing dating back to the start of December, not helping the cause.
There could be a chance that SK simply didn't want to show any of the things they have been working on recently, as they have three more important tournaments to attend in the next month (StarSeries S4, IEM Katowice and WESG 2017) and won't have a lot of time to innovate and add new things to their repertoire in the meantime. However, that only makes them a more exciting team to watch in Kiev, as they will be out to prove that cs_summit 2 was a one-off.
Can North American success continue?
So far, the teams who have impressed the most in 2018 are Cloud9 and Liquid. The North American sides have both pulled off impressive feats, giving North American fans back-to-back trophies of this calibre for the first time in CS:GO history.
Of course, Cloud9's victory in Boston was the bigger and more significant tournament win, as Tarik "tarik" Celik and co. defeated G2, SK and FaZe—whom they had a miserable record against up to that point—to secure the first Major for North America. However, Liquid's cs_summit 2 win can't be taken lightly either; it came just a few days after they had brought in Keith "NAF" Markovic, with whom they fought through the Lower Bracket all the way to the title after a slow start to the event.
Both teams are coming to StarSeries i-League Season 4 in hot form, with Cloud9 probably being the best team in the world judging on short-term results—their first place at the Major was followed up by a final appearance at cs_summit 2.
Interestingly, both teams have settled on a somewhat similar player dynamic, with star players turned into in-game leaders and strong rifling cores being the backbones of the team. Even though Cloud9 may have more confidence in Tyler "Skadoodle" Latham's AWP than Liquid have in Nick "nitr0" Cannella's, both snipers aren't the main instigators of action but rather a part of the supporting cast. This makes Cloud9 and Liquid stand out when compared to the likes of SK, FaZe and G2, who all set up their AWpers to shine.
After the two best North American teams started the year really well, now it's time for them to prove the ELEAGUE Major 2018 and cs_summit 2 weren't one-off events, but that their success will continue throughout the year. With highly competitive teams, a full BO3 format and a lot of eyes trained on them after the recent results, Cloud9 and Liquid will prove a lot if they can make a deep tournament run in Kiev.
Is changing one player enough to turn things around?
The Danes finished the year on a low, as their early-2017 form went missing after the player break, with Nicolai "device" Reedtz's illness only making things worse. The Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen AWPing experiment was scrapped after an unsuccessful Major, and then they were hit by an unexpected departure as Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye left for North.
In a way, that move may end up benefiting Astralis, who at times looked like they needed a shake-up to get things going once again. With Emil "Magisk" Reif coming in, Astralis have got a player with undeniable raw skill, but it remains to be seen if that potential will be utilized by Astralis. If they want to return to the top, the Danes will have to get long-term consistency from Magisk, not just bursts of form like the ones he showed at the end of 2016 with dignitas and in the second half of 2017 with OpTic.
After holding the roster together for more than four years, Virtus.pro finally made the change that seemed inevitable, replacing Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas with Michał "MICHU" Müller. Even though he didn't attend many top-tier events in 2017, which skews his rating, the 21-year-old will obviously be an upgrade for Virtus.pro in terms of firepower, something that was a grave issue for the Poles. It's hard to argue against the addition of MICHU being a step in the right direction; however, the question remains if just one change will be enough to get Virtus.pro back to winning ways.
The Poles will be hoping that Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski will go back to his best with the addition of his former teammate. Without the 24-year-old pulling off his signature high-impact plays, Virtus.pro still don't look on paper like a team capable of contending for titles.
Gambit also made a roster change, bringing in Denis "seized" Kostin to replace Bektiyar "fitch" Bahytov. Out of the three changes, this one had the smallest fanfare, but it was far from an uninteresting or unimportant one. Even though seized has been in poor form since he was forced into the in-game leader role in Natus Vincere, with him, Gambit get a seasoned player who is able to fill in the gaps and let the team's stars take the majority of the workload, giving the team more stability and reliability compared to when they had fitch.
However, unlike Virtus.pro and Astralis, Gambit didn't address their main issue with the roster change—the lack of leadership. After both Dauren "AdreN" Kystaubayev and Mihail "Dosia" Stolyarov took turns calling for the team—and neither excelled at the task—, the captainship has been passed on to Abay "Hobbit" Khasenov, the team's best player in 2017. It seems that an individual fall-off from Hobbit is inevitable, but StarSeries will give us an answer if it will at least improve the team's results.
Will fnatic extend their playoff streak?
fnatic have quietly been picking up solid placings under the leadership of their academy product Maikil "Golden" Selim. After debuting with the team at DreamHack Masters Malmö and finishing 9-12th, fnatic have secured five consecutive playoff spots.
The Swedes' streak started at ELEAGUE Premier in September and continued over WESG EU&CIS (where they used Ludvig "Brollan" Brolin as a stand-in), EPL S6 Finals, ECS S4 Finals and the ELEAGUE Major. And while fnatic were not able to achieve a big result along the way, they have been on a steady upward trend, with their world ranking peaking at #5 this week.
Even though their former teammate Dennis "dennis" Edman, considered a hot prospect by many, was on the market, fnatic didn't attempt to sign the now NiP member, skipping the roster shuffle entirely and showing faith in what they have built so far.
Overall, fnatic have been showing an impressive level of performance for a team that doesn't have a superstar player, and will be looking forward to the Kiev event in the hope of continuing their playoff streak.
Is it time for Natus Vincere to go big?
Natus Vincere welcomed Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko back into the team after the summer of 2017, but the legendary captain has not been able to turn them back into an elite team yet. The CIS squad seemingly struggle with the same issues they had during seized's tenure, as they either win confidently or lose flat out.
Under Zeus, and especially since the addition of Denis "electronic" Sharipov, Natus Vincere have become a better team overall, but they still lack big achievements. With their two newest members, they won the medium-sized DreamHack Open Winter and placed top four at the Major - where they blew hot and cold in the first two stages and got the luck of the draw in the quarter-finals.
It is apparent that Natus Vincere have a roster that is capable of winning big titles, but will they finally come through? A decent finish at their last tournament, Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev hitting great form, and a tournament on home soil are all things that will play in Natus Vincere's favour and that will make a poor run at StarSeries i-League Season 4 a big disappointment.