As the dust has settled in Dallas, we took a look back at ESL Pro League Season 7 Finals and found its winners and losers.
The group stage of the tournament, played in the GSL-like group stage format in which eight teams play a double-elimination setting, saw a few surprises, mainly the early elimination of NiP, who placed last, and Cloud9, who finished 9th-12th. Otherwise, the groups went quite as expected, as all of the other top-ten teams made it to the playoffs, with Astralis and Natus Vincere skipping the quarter-finals after topping their respective groups.
The playoffs saw Liquid, who played their second tournament with Epitacio "TACO" de Melo, beat mousesports and Natus Vincere on the way to the grand final without dropping a map. Repeating a dominant performance not unlike the one at DreamHack Masters Marseille, Astralis took their revenge on FaZe in stunning fashion before claiming their second title this year, taking down the North American side for the second time at the tournament after a close final.
Astralis & dupreeh
Naturally, the talk of the town are the Pro League Season 7 champions, Astralis, who have shown that they play the best Counter-Strike in the world, securing their third grand final appearance in a row as well as their second title with Emil "Magisk" Reif.
The Danes looked stunningly dominant up until the grand final once again, just like they had at IEM Sydney, although this time they came out victorious from another close final series, against Liquid.
Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen gets some extra recognition not only as the MVP — his first ever award for being the best player of a tournament —, but also because he showed up in the big matches - in which he usually disappears -, especially in comparison with his performances throughout the earlier stages.
There is no question that Astralis are the best team in the world. With every single one of their players at their peak, or at least close to it, it's looking like it will stay that way for a while, unless some more contenders start showing up.
Liquid were somewhat of a question mark ahead of the Dallas event, as their first showing with TACO at DreamHack Masters Marseille had gone quite poorly, but they had also had plenty of time to prepare as they had skipped IEM Sydney, a tournament many of the other top-ten teams had attended.
That definitely paid off. Admittedly, the North American side had quite an easy route to playoffs, as only Grayhound and a Buğra "Calyx" Arkın-less Space Soldiers stood in their way to quarter-finals, while Astralis beat them with ease in the match for first place in the group. However, Liquid certainly showed their worth in the bracket stage, beating mousesports and Natus Vincere without suffering a single map loss despite playing their opponents' best maps.
Although it looked like they were going to get blown out by the Danish powerhouse again in the grand final after a landslide loss on Dust2, Liquid persevered and managed to make the best-of-five a very close affair; a feat that few teams have been able to achieve since Astralis returned to the throne.
With a very busy schedule ahead, which continues at StarSeries in just a few days, it'll be interesting to see where Liquid end up by the end of the road. Right now, it's looking like they'll be back in the top-five in no time.
After SK had bombed out of DreamHack Masters Marseille in April and IEM Sydney at the beginning of May, most notably losing to Grayhound at the latter tournament, our expectations for the Brazilians had hit their lowest point ahead of ESL Pro League Season 7 Finals.
Even though the Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo we know still has not shown up after handing the leadership over to Marcelo "coldzera" David — or partially, anyway, as Inferno and Cache have stayed under his reign —, SK made playoffs for the first time with Jake "Stewie2K" Yip, and that has to be seen as an improvement over their first two showings.
There is still a lot of lost ground to make up if you're SK, though. On the way to playoffs, they beat one top-ten team in NiP, lost to Astralis, and fought through the lower bracket by passing Renegades and OpTic before eventually losing their first ever series to FaZe.
In other words, coldzera & co. have to show more than that before we consider them an elite team again. They've got plenty of tournaments ahead of them to do so, but the question is whether a packed schedule will do the trick once more; it has worked out for them in the past, when they were adjusting to João "felps" Vasconcellos.
As a team that had just lost one of their best players and their in-game leader in Jakob "JUGi" Hansen and Marco "Snappi" Pfeiffer, and ended up playing with a stand-in in Dallas, Heroic were hardly expected to get within touching distance of a playoffs finish.
They did, however, nearly defeat Natus Vincere in a grueling match for a place in the quarter-finals, in which Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev & co. prevailed after overtime on the deciding map, Mirage, with Heroic pulling off a comeback from a 3-12 deficit.
To top it off, Adam "friberg" Friberg's new team eliminated Cloud9 from the tournament with Jorgen "cromen" Robertsen, the stand-in, leading the way. Although the Scandinavian squad didn't make it to playoffs in the end, they were still competitive on mousesports' best map, Mirage, in the lower bracket final.
All in all, this was a promising result for Heroic, whose next event will be a much smaller challenge, as they're heading to DreamHack Open Austin in a week's time.
Expectations for Cloud9 had already been quite low, given that they had just come home from IEM Sydney, where they had placed 7th-8th, beforethe ESL Pro League Season 7 Finals began.
Their Dallas result might be their lowest point, though. Cloud9 once again suffered a big defeat at the hands of FaZe, had to come back from a map down against one of the biggest underdogs in Sharks, and were eliminated by Heroic after a one-sided series.
The North American team clearly needs more time with Pujan "FNS" Mehta, who is in the process of adapting Cloud9's playstyle and seems to be having issues with it thus far, and it doesn't help that some of the players have been off form.
With a fairly relaxed schedule — two weeks before ECS Season 5 Finals begin and another month afterwards prior to ESL One Cologne —, they have enough amount of time to sort things out. But will they?
NiP were one of the three top-ten teams who didn't attend IEM Sydney, but that definitely didn't work in their favor as it did for Liquid. The Swedes finished dead last, alongside all of the biggest underdogs, MVP PK, Grayhound, and Sharks. Like Cloud9, NiP seem to be declining rather than improving with time, as their third offline tournament with Dennis "dennis" Edman came to a quick end after losses to SK and the new OpTic roster.
After Marseille had seen William "draken" Sundin dip way below his usual form, no one played well in Dallas; particularly the trio of Fredrik "REZ" Sterner, Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund, and dennis showed up in poor shape, which is a worrying sign for a team that will soon begin their journey of the next Major cycle.
The closed qualifier for the European Minor, for which NiP will likely be invited, will come in a month's time, so there is still time left for them to get back on their feet. As Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg said in our interview from Dallas, StarSeries should give us an idea of where NiP's chances stand. Another early exit one week closer to the aforementioned qualifier would deal a massive blow to the team's confidence, which may already be weakened.
After IEM Sydney, the Australian teams looked to be on their way to bigger heights. Renegades had made the playoffs on home turf after beating FaZe in groups and barely lost to mousesports in the quarter-finals, while Grayhound had eliminated SK and looked more than competitive against FaZe as well.
But the Pro League Finals put them both back where they had been before the Australian tournament. Renegades only beat their compatriots in Dallas while losing to Space Soldiers and SK, and Grayhound exited the tournament one round earlier.
For Renegades, this isn't too much of a setback. They will still compete at big events in the near future — StarSeries at the very least —, but Grayhound will now return to their region and will find very limited opportunities to play on an international level again, especially if they don't qualify for the Asia Minor, on May 26.