Four key storylines of ECS Season 5 Finals
The eight best teams from the online portion of ECS are gathered in London for the season finals, boasting a $660,000 prize pool. We take a look at the storylines to follow at the event.
The ECS Season 5 Finals will see five top ten teams compete for the trophy in London, with Astralis, FaZe, Liquid, fnatic and Cloud9 all showing up. Four of them have been placed in the same group, making up for a stacked fight to get into the playoffs.
The two groups are as follows:
Group stage action will use the GSL format, a double-elimination bracket consisting of best-of-one matches in the upper part, and best-of-three series in the elimination and decider stages. The playoffs will see the top two teams from each group compete in a single-elimination bracket to clinch the title.
Astralis look to dominate yet again...
It's no secret that the current No.1 team in the world have looked frighteningly strong on LAN these recent months, with victories at DreamHack Masters Marseille and at the ESL Pro League Finals, and a second place at IEM Sydney. They're also coming in hot at the ECS Finals with a staggering 17-1 record in league play, only losing a single map to mousesports.
Astralis decided to sit out the StarSeries i-League Season 5 event, which took place in Kiev last week, taking a break from a busy schedule. Now they're back in action and will look to keep their top ranking spot going into a similarly packed summer.
The question is whether any of the other teams in Group A can really threaten Astralis, even though it features three other top-10 sides. Liquid were the latest to match up against the Danes, but they only managed to win one map against them at the EPL Finals in Dallas while also losing 2-0 to them in the group stages. A similar pictures emerges when we take a look at Astralis' recent record against fnatic, whom they 2-0'd twice on LAN in the last three months, at IEM Sydney and DreamHack Masters Marseille.
The Danes haven't met Cloud9 since being eliminated by them at the ELEAGUE Major in January, a tournament the North American side ended up winning. The current iteration and form of Cloud9 are in no way the same as they were, though, with recents result under Pujan "FNS" Mehta's tutelage being far from impressive. The 26-year old Canadian has been moved to the transfer list, and the ECS Finals will be his last event one the Cloud9 roster.
... can FaZe challenge them without Olof?
If Astralis manage to get out of their group, FaZe will most likely be waiting for them on the other side of the bracket. Paired with NRG, Luminosity and a newly-reformed G2 in Group B, Finn "karrigan" Andersen and his men are looking at a less challenging trip to the playoffs.
One of those men is missing, though. The London finals were originally set to mark the return of Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer, after he had taken a leave of absence in April, citing personal reasons. But it seems that the Swedish star needs more time before he is ready to return, with FaZe confirming on Tuesday that Jorgen "cromen" Robertsen will be standing in for FaZe this weekend.
While the 23-year old Norwegian may not be regarded as a player of the same caliber as olofmeister, the former Dignitas member showed his worth while standing in for Heroic at the ESL Pro League Finals in Dallas, managing a 1.14 rating, the highest of the team. Looking at their results with Richard "Xizt" Landström, the former stand-in for olofmeister, FaZe have shown that they can quickly incorporate stand-ins and utilize their strengths. It's unlikely, however, that this very short time frame leading up to the ECS Finals will be enough for FaZe to reach the same level that they did with Xizt.
To go the distance at this event, the trio of Håvard "rain" Nygaard, Nikola "NiKo" Kovač and Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács will obviously have to show up big. This especially applies to the prospect of another round of the increasingly intense FaZe-Astralis rivalry, which is currently tied 2-2 this year on LAN.
New faces in fnatic and G2
While olofmeister won't be back just yet, the ECS Finals will see the return of another missed veteran of the scene. After undergoing extensive surgery on his wrist and being out since March, Richard "shox" Papillon is ready to play again, and he has brought a new iteration of G2 with him to London. Earlier this week, G2 revealed that their new lineup will feature shox along with Alexandre "bodyy" Pianaro, Kenny "kennyS" Schrub, former coach Edouard "SmithZz" Dubourdeaux and Kévin "Ex6TenZ" Droolans, with the latter being named captain even though he is listed as a stand-in.
The unveiling of a new lineup comes after several months of disappointing results from the French side. The team placed 13th-16th at DreamHack Masters Marseille and 7th-8th at IEM Sydney, dropping out of the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time in over a year.
With kennyS and bodyy being the only two players with actual competitive experience in the last months, a deep G2 run in London looks to be a questionable prospect at best. When the new roster was assembled, the more recently experienced players Dan "apEX" Madesclaire and Nathan "NBK-" Schmitt were left out, with the latter having been a vital part of the French team's ECS league play to qualify for the offline finals.
While it will take more than a single event to show the true level of the new G2, it should be interesting to see the current individual skill of shox, SmithZz and Ex6TenZ, players who have been out of action for a while.
Also sporting a new lineup are fnatic, who dropped Jonas "Lekr0" Olofsson for Xizt a few weeks back. After doing well as a stand-in for FaZe, the 27-year old was picked up by the Swedish side to become their in-game leader, replacing Maikil "Golden" Selim in the role.
Even though fnatic haven't played a LAN tournament since being eliminated by FaZe in the quarter finals of IEM Sydney a month ago, the team have only had a few weeks to work in Xizt as their caller. Consequently, Group A should prove quite the challenge for the Swedes as they will be going up against well-oiled teams such as Astralis and Liquid.
NRG are on the up and up
The biggest surprise of the recently concluded StarSeries i-League Season 5 in Kiev was NRG. After beating Liquid and North in the playoffs, the North American squad reached the final, which they lost to a dominating Natus Vincere.
All five players on NRG showed up at the the event, with Ethan "Ethan" Arnold being their highest rated player at 1.16. Even more promising, though, was the skill shown by the young Bulgarian talent Tsvetelin "CeRq" Dimitrov. The 18-year old had never played in a big-stage tournament before, but still managed a 1.23 rating in the quarter-finals against Liquid and a whopping 1.39 in the semi-final series against North.
If CeRq can reach that same level in London and the team's more experienced players, like Damian "daps" Steele and Jacob "FugLy" Medina, maintain their current form, NRG look like a contender to reach the playoffs, especially since they're situated in the easier Group B alongside G2, Luminosity and FaZe.
NRG are closer to the Top 10 in the HLTV.org rankings than ever before, currently sitting 11th after their impressive run in Kiev. Assuming they can reach the playoffs in London as well, a spot in the Top 10 is looking likely for daps and the rest of NRG.