Winners and Losers of StarSeries i-League S4 and IEM Katowice 2018
With February's big events, StarSeries i-League Season 4 and IEM Katowice, now behind us, it's time to assess the results and figure out which teams came out on top.
The post-Major season had a busy start, as in just three weeks, we had ESL Pro League kicking off, bringing down a roster lock, and two $250,000+, 16-team tournaments taking place. The first one was in Kiev, StarLadder's StarSeries i-League Season 4, which debuted the Swiss system BO3 group stage format. Eight days packed with CS:GO action were concluded with MOUZ beating Natus Vincere in the grand final, and, coincidentally, both teams didn't make it to the event that kicked off just two days later in Poland—IEM Katowice.
One of ESL's biggest events of the year also debuted a new group stage format, an eight-team GSL, with BO1s in opening matches and BO3s for the rest of the rounds. The group stage resulted in Astralis and fnatic advancing directly to the semi-final, while FaZe, Cloud9, Liquid and NIP battled to make it there in the round-of-six. In the end, FaZe, who were the overwhelming favorites, fell to fnatic in a BO5 grand final series, and the Swedes lifted their first trophy in two years.
However, there is more to what happened in CS:GO in the last two weeks, so let's take a look at the teams that made the biggest step forward and those who struggled the most.
MOUZ were seemingly set do undergo a roster change following their first Major playoff outing in January, as rumours regarding Dennis "dennis" Edman replacing Martin "STYKO" Styk were running rampant in the transfer season. The move fell through in the end, and MOUZ continued with the lineup they assembled in August of last year.
So far, it seems like not making a change was the right move, as the squad brought MOUZ their first big tournament trophy in CS:GO, reaching new heights in the HLTV world ranking as well, where they are currently in fourth place. Their run in Kiev started with two wins, over Virtus.pro and SK, and they were within touching distance of taking down G2 2-0, which would see them have a perfect group stage, but the Frenchmen were able to mount a big comeback and take the series. MOUZ then lost to Liquid and were on the edge of elimination as the final draw paired them with potentially the toughest opponent they could get—Cloud9.
The Europeans managed to edge the series on two maps and started their run of straight victories there, defeating G2, Liquid and finally Natus Vincere in the playoffs. Even though it was the usual suspects, Tomáš "oskar" Šťastný and Miikka "suNny" Kemppi, who were spearheading MOUZ, their teammates also stepped up massively at different times to make the StarSeries i-League Season 4 victory possible.
What MOUZ built on to grab the StarSeries title was their world-class Mirage, on which they only lost once over the course of the tournament, and, expanding even further, have a 12W-3L record since the start of 2018. Chris "chrisJ" de Jong and co. seem extremely comfortable and flexible on the map, which, if they are able to keep it up, gives them a shot at winning any BO3 matchup. Currently, no top 10 team has Mirage as their permanent ban (NIP and G2 used to avoid it), which means MOUZ should always be able to pick it and be favored to at least take one map.
We still can't call MOUZ an elite team, but when you add up this result, the second place at ECS and a solid Major, it's hard to deny that they have become a contender to win events. In the coming weeks, which will be packed with mainly online CS, Sergey "lmbt" Bezhanov's squad will travel to the V4 Future Sports Festival, where they could make further strides forward as only FaZe look capable of competing with them.
The Swedes were slowly building some hype around themselves coming into StarSeries, as they had reached the playoffs at five consecutive events up to that point. The event in Kiev proved to be an underwhelming one, though, as fnatic bombed out of the BO3 Swiss group stage 0-3, losing to teams that are far from worldbeaters: Gambit, TYLOO and Renegades.
After being eliminated, fnatic went home and just played on their own, trying to get their individual level back up—and it worked. They were undefeated in the group stage in Katowice, beating Heroic despite playing their first match only hours after landing in Poland, coming back to take down G2 on three maps after losing Cache 16-7, and earning a semi-final place by cruising past FaZe 2-0.
The playoffs were where it really got interesting, as fnatic dealt with a rising Liquid fairly comfortably and then managed to take down FaZe in a five-map thriller, even though the Swedes were looking down and out half way through the second map. The championship run was made possible by Freddy "KRIMZ" Johansson, who continued playing on his crazy-high 2018 level, as well as by Robin "flusha" Rönnquist who elevated his performance as the tournament went on. The final map, Train, came down to his two ace-clutches that happened in a five-round span, ultimately yielding him a well-deserved MVP medal.
Even though KRIMZ and flusha, the duo that lifted plenty of trophies together in the past, were on the forefront of the action, the efforts of Maikil "Golden" Selim and Jonas "Lekr0" Olofsson, who were playing their first big tournament grand final, can't be understated. They both played integral parts in fnatic's win, which was the first for the organization since the fnatic - GODSENT shuffle in 2016.
Roster lock rules resulted in a couple of rough months for Liquid, who had to use Wilton "zews" Prado as a stand-in both at the Major and at the ESL Pro League Season 6 Finals, making them unable to really test their new roster after replacing Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz with Lucas "steel" Lopes. Liquid still decided to go for another change right after the Major, securing the services of Keith "NAF" Markovic.
As Josh "jdm64" Marzano made way, the team moved away from a heavy AWPing presence and had Nick "nitr0" Cannella take over as the main sniper of the team, but in a flexible, hybrid style. The system worked wonders right from the start, and, inspired by NAF's stunning performance, Liquid took the title at their first LAN event with the new roster, cs_summit 2.
Liquid arrived in Kiev with a bit of hype surrounding them, despite still being a very fresh roster, and lived up to the expectations. They finished top four in the $300,000 tournament, defeating the likes of SK and MOUZ on their way to a solid finish. The North Americans managed the same placing the following week, at IEM Katowice, getting another series win over Cloud9—after beating them in a BO5 at cs_summit 2—, and later on picking up an on-stage victory over NIP in the round-of-six.
Besides NAF, who has been in great form even before joining this team, Liquid also have Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski playing well, while their star of 2017, Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken, has been having some issues in recent times. Twistzz's rating has dropped off significantly this year; however, his performances in the last two series in Poland, against fnatic and NIP, were impressive and potentially a sign of the youngster returning to form.
With a win at summit and two top-four finishes at big events, Liquid are one of the hottest teams right now, still very early in their lifespan. As their next event is more than a month away, zews now have a lot of time to dig deep and make Liquid a even more dangerous team for the following tournaments.
Since adding Denis "electronic" Sharipov to their squad in November, Natus Vincere have quietly secured some respectable placings. The Ukrainian organization have only attended three LAN events since then, though, as their bad starts in EPL and ECS hindered them in that regard, but achieved solid results at all of them. At DreamHack Open Winter, their last event of 2017, Natus Vincere were victorious, and they achieved a respectable 3rd-4th place finish at the ELEAGUE Major 2018, losing to FaZe in the semi-final after a hot-and-cold group stage.
Most recently, Natus Vincere got close to winning their first big event since ESL One New York 2016, but Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko and co. were eventually denied the joy of lifting a trophy in Ukraine by MOUZ. The main reason they even got that close to winning is Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev, who has been playing at an incredible level ever since electronic was added to the squad, a level only seen a couple of times in CS:GO thus far. The 20-year-old was the frontrunner in almost all of the relevant statistics at StarSeries, even in two that are on opposite ends of the spectrum: entry frags and clutches.
Alongside him, it's the former FlipSid3 member electronic and Egor "flamie" Vasilyev who are capable of big performances , but both seem to go missing way too often, leaving s1mple to do the heavy lifting on his own. electronic is far from the fragger he was under Andrey "B1ad3" Gorodenskiy, which might be solved by utilizing him in a different way, while flamie has certain off-maps—such as the decider in the grand final against MOUZ—that end up costing Natus Vincere dearly.
As long as they have s1mple playing the way he is at the moment, Natus Vincere can do big things. Some LAN-free time that Zeus and co. will use for a bootcamp after the WESG adventure may be just what they need to figure things out and unlock the full potential of this roster in the coming months.
The Frenchmen are stuck in an unenviable position, with underwhelming results at the opening tournaments of the year that will be followed by Richard "shox" Papillon taking a break to undergo wrist surgery and post-op recovery.
Since DreamHack Masters Malmö, which they won in September of last year, G2 are yet to win a playoff series. They replicated their 5-8th finish from the Major at StarSeries and went even lower in Katowice, where they were eliminated in the group stage. Had the Frenchmen been able to at least finish this span of events on a high, the period of shox's absence would be easier to overcome. Now, G2 will be using Edouard "SmithZz" Dubourdeaux in online leagues, which not only makes it almost impossible to fix their problems but also lowers their chances of qualifying for upcoming LANs.
What are G2's problems? The squad has seemingly already tried out everything, shuffling roles, changing styles, but nothing has worked in the long run. At StarSeries, they still picked up some decent results, going 3-0 in the groups but losing to MOUZ in the playoffs. However, their success in Kiev was mainly down to Dan "apEX" Madesclaire playing extremely well and making space for the rest. Kenny "kennyS" Schrub was subdued, shox was uninspired—with their two main stars being off the pace, G2 can't hope to raise their level and get back to winning ways.
Whatever they plan to do to improve their results will have to wait a bit, as their in-game leader is about to step down the lineup until the start of April. In the meantime, expect G2 to be overtaken by even more teams that are getting into the groove of the competitive season.
Considering the status Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo's teams have reached in the last few years, anything less than consistently winning titles will seem like an underachievement from SK. After finishing 2017 on a high and playing fairly well with João "felps" Vasconcellos at the ELEAGUE Major, SK have been struggling to get back into form with Ricardo "boltz" Prass. The first warning sign was placing third at cs_summit 2 after losing to Cloud9 and Liquid, with a similar story repeating in Kiev, where FalleN and co. lost to MOUZ in the group stage and later on to Liquid in the quarter-finals.
The second loss to Liquid, the one at StarSeries, was a 2-1 series in which SK won Liquid's map pick, Mirage, and then lost their own, Cobblestone, and the decider map, Inferno. That match is just one example of SK having a map pool issue, as in Katowice, the Brazilians lost their "home map", Overpass, to Gambit, despite being 14-4 up on the CT side. They have also been losing deciders on Inferno for some time now, but are still taking the map head-on, preferring it over Train.
In the end, IEM Katowice 2018 was even more disappointing than StarSeries i-League Season 4, as SK couldn't even make it out of the groups there, losing to Cloud9 in the deciding game. Surely not helping their case is boltz's individual game, which has plummeted since the break from official matches he had after the EPL S6 Finals. The 20-year-old currently sits on a 0.94 rating for LAN matches in 2018, and SK need him to do better—and to figure out their map pool—to get back to winning ways.
Cloud9's victory in Boston elevated them to an elite team status, but, so far, they are failing to live up to it.
At StarSeries, Jake "Stewie2K" Yip and co. went out in the groups following defeats to three very strong opponents: FaZe, SK and MOUZ. This could be forgiven before, put down to an unlucky draw, but the reigning Major champion and current No3.team in the world are expected to do better. In Katowice, they lost to their regional rival Liquid, who look like the stronger North American team at the moment, but still achieved a better placing than in Kiev as they made the playoffs by beating TYLOO, Renegades, and, most importantly, SK.
Tarik "tarik" Celik's team went on to pick Overpass against FaZe and got smashed on it in the round-of-six, but they still rallied back on Cache and Inferno and were actually a Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács-wallbang away from eliminating the European superteam and reaching the semi-final.
Overall, one could say that Cloud9 didn't perform poorly as they only lost to very good teams, but they weren't able to replicate the form they had at the Major and simply did not look like the elite team they had been in Boston and Atlanta.
How the Polish Powerhouse was going to do at StarSeries i-League Season 4 and IEM Katowice 2018, with the addition of Michał "MICHU" Müller, was one of the big talking points coming into this span of events. Could the youngster, who had played with Paweł "byali" Bieliński and Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski in the past, reinvigorate the squad and help them reach their old heights?
The answer, at least with the limited preparation they have had so far, is no. A few well-played halves aside, Virtus.pro have looked like the same harmless, lifeless squad they were with Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas, with no player stepping up or standing out particularly.
The Poles lost to MOUZ, Liquid and Cloud9 at StarSeries, with their only series win coming against MVP PK, which they could've lost as well had the Koreans not thrown away a 4v2 advantage on match point. Playing on home soil didn't help Virtus.pro either, as a week later they lost to G2 and Heroic, ending up as one of the first teams to be eliminated from IEM Katowice.
Virtus.pro aren't the only team that crashed out in groups at both events, but what separates them from someone like Gambit is that the Poles, for the largest part, weren't even close to winning games. At the two events, Filip "NEO" Kubski and co. took only three maps—one in overtime against MOUZ and two against MVP PK—, while losing ten in which they picked up merely 8.3 rounds on average.
The failures at these two events shouldn't be on MICHU's shoulders, though: he did bring in more fragging than TaZ provided, but he simply didn't prove to be the missing part that would kick-start "the plow". The squad will get more time to practice with this roster before the V4 Future Sports Festival, where they must show more than they did in the last two weeks or they will be in trouble despite the competition in Hungary not being the toughest.