ESL One Belo Horizonte key storylines
With ESL One Belo Horizonte set to begin on Wednesday, we take a look at the biggest storylines surrounding the Brazilian tournament.
The $200,000 event is set to begin on Wednesday, June 13, with the best-of-three, GSL group stage, whose first round will see two matches being played at the same time.
After the top two teams are found by Friday, the competition will move on to the Mineirinho Arena on the weekend with the best-of-three semi-finals and the best-of-five culmination of the tournament.
ESL One Belo Horizonte features a variety of teams, with Astralis as the No. 1 team notably missing, giving the other top-ten teams — FaZe, MOUZ (who will have Jordan "n0thing" Gilbert standing in for Tomáš "oskar" Šťastný), Liquid, and SK — a chance to claim silverware.
On the other side of the coin, we have the underdogs, Space Soldiers, Ghost, BIG, and Não Tem Como, who will be looking to upset the aforementioned favorites and gain some extra experience playing against some of the world's best.
Without further ado, let's take a look at the biggest storylines of ESL One Belo Horizonte:
FaZe’s Grand Slam dream could land foul amid roster instability
FaZe have been after the Intel Grand Slam ever since they won ESL One New York last year, an event in which the then newly minted European superteam decimated all opposition without dropping a map—and only let one team win more than ten rounds in a map (Liquid in the BO5 grand final). Much has changed since then, however, as FaZe have only been able to bag one of the six following Intel Grand Slam events and now need to win two out of the next three to cash out. This makes Belo Horizonte a crucial tournament for FaZe, who will have their last shots at the million dollars at two bigger and more competitive 16-team tournaments, ESL One Cologne 2018 and DreamHack Masters Stockholm 2018.
The European team’s biggest hurdle in Belo Horizonte will be themselves, traveling to Brazil as the top ranked team.. On the bright side, FaZe caught a break as neither Astralis—the team that has been reigning supreme and knocked Finn "karrigan" Andersen’s side out contention for the ECS Season 5 and ESL Pro League Season 7 trophies in the semi-finals of both tournaments—nor Natus Vincere, who recently took the #2 spot on the ranking from FaZe, will be in contention in Brazil. On top of that, MOUZ, one of their direct rivals, will also be fielding a stand-in.
If FaZe cannot make Jorgen "cromen" Robertsen work for them in Brazil, the dream of winning the Intel Grand Slam could quickly slip out of reach, but there is much for them to look forward to as no other team in the Belo Horizonte lineup is a clear favourite to take the trophy, and good performances by their star players could easily tip the scales in their favour. With Richard "Xizt" Landström, FaZe were able to beat both MOUZ and SK without dropping a map in best-of-threes at the ESL Pro League Season 7 Finals in Dallas. If they can mimic these results with cromen—who already got a feel for the team in FaZe’s semi-final run at ECS Season 5—and take the trophy, they could give themselves some time to get their roster issues in order, be it before ESL One Cologne or during the summer break prior to DreamHack Masters Stockholm, where the real battle for the Intel Grand Slam will play out for them. Were they to be unable to do that, FaZe’s real chances of taking home the $1,000,000 would be extremely diminished.
Reaching the top, a game of cat and mouz
MOUZ steadily rose through the ranks during the end of 2017 and through the first quarter of 2018, but after peaking at #2 in April, MOUZ have been struggling to play their A game. Currently ranked #4 in the world, the team lead by Chris "chrisJ" de Jong has been unable to make it past the semi-finals in the past four events, with two quarter-final finishes at DreamHack Masters Marseille and ESL Pro League Season 7, and two 3rd-4th finishes at IEM Sydney and StarSeries i-League Season 5.
ESL One Belo Horizonte could be the perfect chance for MOUZ to show they are a team still capable of lifting a trophy, something they have been unable to do since they won back-to-back tournaments at StarSeries i-League Season 4 and the V4 Future Sports Festival, but while MOUZ will have the advantage of being one of the top teams at the Mineirinho Arena, they will surely resent not having their highest rated player with them, oskar—who has a 1.15 LAN rating in 2018 with no event rating below 1. In turn, the fans will be able to see the return of n0thing, who will be back in action for the first time since August of last year, which in turn means chrisJ should once again be the main man behind the big green.
The other favourite in Group B is Liquid, who maintain their #5 spot in the ranking after the June 11th update, but cut the distances with MOUZ from 135 to 27 points. A good showing at the Mineirinho could eventually propel Liquid over their European rivals in the next update were MOUZ to slip. Kicking off against BIG, an underdog in the match-up, Liquid could find themselves facing Robin "ropz" Kool's side in the Group B winners’ match were the Europeans to beat Não Tem Como, which is the most likely scenario. Having proven themselves on Inferno and Train, and with MOUZ showing weakness on Mirage, Liquid could find themselves playing the role of the cat were the two teams to meet.
Liquid, who have been working their way up the ladder since Epitacio "TACO" de Melo’s acquisition with two finals in the last three tournaments—both lost to Astralis—, could find themselves once again in the same position, but this time with the exception of their bête noire not being in the server with them. Were this the case, Liquid could raise the trophy for the first time since February, when they won cs_summit 2.
The local heroes will look to strike gold in Minas Gerais
SK fly home on the back of a very minor win at Moche XL Esports, where they beat Winstrike and HellRaisers, both 2-0, to bag the $50,000 tournament. The event in Lisbon was reminiscent of their win at Adrenaline Cyber League, where they only had to make it past Gambit and AVANGAR to raise the trophy. After two group-stage exits at the bigger tournaments following Jake "Stewie2K" Yip’s acquisition, SK have been rising back up by making it to the first round of the playoffs on two occasions, at ESL Pro League Season 7 and StarSeries i-League Season 5. Belo Horizonte will provide SK an opportunity to keep the momentum going into the end of the season, especially not having to deal with the likes of Natus Vincere or Astralis.
Chances are, however, that Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo & co. will have to face FaZe at some point, be it in the group stage, most likely, or the playoffs. Were that to happen, it will be a good indicator of the state of SK, who will be looking to take revenge from Dallas where they lost 0-2 in the quarter-final to the Europeans. Playing on home soil, SK will have an extra motivation to play well and lift the trophy in front of their loyal fans, as rumours of this roster picking up the baton in what has been Brazil’s most decorated brand in the Counter-Strike franchise, mibr, abound.
Group B will see the international LAN debut of Lincoln "fnx" Lau’s Não Tem Como and the return of one of the most lethal AWPs in CS:GO, Vito "kNgV-" Giuseppe. The Brazilian squad has been growing too large for the Brazilian scene, where they won 12 of the 13 matches they played in the month of May, and will truly put their lineup to the test when they open against MOUZ on Wednesday. Back in April, with Henrique "HEN1" Teles and Lucas "LUCAS1" Teles still in the lineup, Não Tem Como posted an underwhelming 9-12th place in the online GG:Origin IEM Sydney Qualifier, and although much may have changed in two months, the likes of Liquid and MOUZ may prove to be be too big of a bite for a group of players that has been away from top-flight competition for months.
Can Space Soldiers nail the landing or will they keep orbiting around the world’s best?
After their second place finish at WESG in March where they lost a close final to fnatic, Space Soldiers hit two walls in the form of a 13-16th place finish at DreamHack Masters Marseille and a 9-12th at ESL Pro League Season 7—although were there forced to play with Çağatay "DESPE" Sedef instead of Buğra "Calyx" Arkın due to visa issues. The Turkish team has been slowly falling in the rankings after peaking at #12 in March. Currently twentieth, Space Soldiers showed they can still compete against Top 20-30 teams at DreamHack Open Austin, where they were crowned champions after wins over the likes of Rogue, Heroic, and OpTic.
The tournament in Belo Horizonte will be a great opportunity for Space Soldiers to bring the good form they found in Texas to a larger stage—albeit one that is not so big as to be overwhelming—, especially with the aforementioned stand-ins in FaZe and MOUZ. Facing SK in their first match, Space Soldiers will then go on to play Ghost or FaZe, giving them ample chances of making it to the decider if they win, or if they lose and the North American side doesn’t upset Nikola "NiKo" Kovač & co. With rumours of bad blood between the team and the organization of the longest tenured roster currently playing CS:GO, most notably seen when the lineup blackened out their profile pictures and banners on Twitter, it is good to see the turmoil not getting in the way of their game as Engin "MAJ3R" Küpeli’s side will need to play their best if they want to upset in Brazil.
Will BIG be rewarded for their big risk?
After Niels "luckeRRR" Jasiek and BIG parted ways on not great terms, the best in Germany decided to expand their horizons and looked to the UK for a new AWPer in the form of Owen "smooya" Butterfield. Similar to the changes in teams like SK, this means BIG will have to go through severe growing pains. This could already be seen in their first tournament with the Brit, the Qi Invitational, where BIG lost a map to Eclipse and two to TYLOO, going home in last place despite strong showings from the team’s shiny new acquisition. In a group with Liquid and MOUZ, BIG are heavy underdogs—especially with BO3s being played all around—, but a good performance in the group stage could go a long way in smoothing out smooya's adaptation to the German team, even if they were to not make the playoffs.
A haunting presence
Ghost are, with Não Tem Como (#58), by far the lowest ranked team having made it to ESL One Belo Horizonte, coming it at #61. Of the Torqued team that made it through the qualifier, Braxton "swag" Pierce and Keven "AZK" Lariviere are now gone, leaving Joshua "steel" Nissan, Kenneth "koosta" Suen, and Matt "Pollo" Wilson as the team’s core. Joined by the Canadians Matthew "WARDELL" Yu and Yassine "Subroza" Taoufik, Ghost will have a tall order as they go up against FaZe in their opening BO3. With the odds against them, Ghost will most likely have to go through the GSL group stage through the lower bracket, where they will go up against Space Soldiers or SK. Having confirmed their roster last weekend, it is hard to imagine the North American squad will have much to do in Brazil, but to be able to have LAN experience against some of the world’s best when they head back home and prepare for the upcoming season of ESL Pro League could prove of great use.