Ahead of ELEAGUE Premier 2018, which will see eight of the world's best teams compete for $1,000,000 in Atlanta, we look for the tournament's key storylines.
Hosted in Atlanta, Georgia, at the ELEAGUE Arena, which is a part of the Turner Studios, ELEAGUE Premier returns with another elite tournament. This time around we will see eight teams compete over a nine-day event, starting with fully-BO3 groups and finishing off with single-elimination, BO3 playoffs.
The competition at the tournament will be fierce as the field features seven out of the eight best teams in the world according to the current ranking, with only the Cologne heroes BIG missing, and, instead, domestic favorites and current Major champions Cloud9 having a spot at the event.
The participating teams have been split into the following groups:
The two favorites, Astralis and Natus Vincere, are looking to face off in the grand final if they get pass their group stage and playoff hurdles successfully, but the likes of FaZe and Liquid will be looking to spoil their plans and secure a big win—and a massive payout—for themselves.
A fantastic display in Germany was just a continuation of Natus Vincere's good performances, as the Ukrainian-Russian side has now won three consecutive tournaments: StarSeries i-League S5, the CS:GO Asia Championship, and ESL One Cologne. But Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev and co. will be looking to further add to their tally before the offseason, heading into ELEAGUE Premier 2018 as one of the favorites.
Natus Vincere are the longest-standing team at the event, and continuing their streak in Atlanta would send out a strong message that sticking together sometimes does indeed pay off. Even though perhaps the only reason they still have the current five is Egor "flamie" Vasilyev's obscene buyout, Natus Vincere was a team that needed time, and they have continually progressed to the point they are now. Perhaps key to their current level was changing Denis "electronic" Sharipov's role to allow him to have more freedom, which he has been using to put up almost MVP-worthy numbers.
Having s1mple doing s1mple things, an on-point electronic, and flamie as an X-factor seem to ensure Natus Vincere go far in every tournament, but to defeat Astralis they still needed something more—dragging them over the line there was Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko, who dropped a 30-bomb on LAN in regulation match for the first time since 2014. If they manage another win over the Danes at ELEAGUE Premier, Natus Vincere could go to the August player break with the psychological advantage over Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander's side - which could prove crucial to their Major title bid in London.
Looking at the bad side, apart from Zeus and Ioann "Edward" Sukhariev often struggling to hold their own, Natus Vincere's problem at ELEAGUE could be their Dust2 play, which has been significantly subpar in recent times when compared to the rest of their map pool. With Cache being their perma-ban, and all of the other teams in the group able to play both this map and Dust2, Natus Vincere could find themselves exposed in the veto process—if they have not managed to figure out the map in the meantime.
Excelling in all the key areas—teamplay, utility usage, and individual prowess—Astralis are no doubt the best team of 2018 so far. gla1ve, with the help of Danny "zonic" Sørensen, has created a great system in which every player can shine, even the in-game leader himself, who currently sits on a 1.20 rating for the last three months on LAN. But despite picking up three titles in dominant fashion and never placing outside of the top four, barring their first event with Emil "Magisk" Reif, it still feels like there is something missing before we can call this the Astralis era.
Losses to FaZe in Sydney and, more recently, to Natus Vincere in Cologne, combined with Astralis skipping quite a few $250,000+ tournaments that were then won by the aforementioned duo or by mousesports, make it hard to claim that gla1ve's squad is the absolute king of 2018. With only a couple of teams having ever truly asserted dominance on the whole scene, Astralis will surely want to add to what they have accomplished so far and convert their good run into a historic era, something a title in Atlanta will surely help achieve.
Even though the competition at the event is quite tough, it doesn't seem like Astralis can be really challenged by anyone except Natus Vincere, creating an interesting stylistic matchup. The Danes are stronger as CT, winning a whopping 70% of the rounds they play on the defensive side, and are brilliant with their utility usage, with BIG being the only top team that comes close in that department. While Natus Vincere have sub-par utility damage and flash assists, they are great on the Terrorist side, where they have the highest number of multikills per round out of any top team.
With the two teams in different groups, everything points towards a Astralis - Natus Vincere match in the playoffs, in which gla1ve's team will have to prove that their Immovable Object can halt the Unstoppable Force that is s1mple and co.
Looking at FaZe's recent event placings, which read,'six tournaments played, six playoffs reached and two trophies lifted', it is hard to process that all of that was achieved with a stand-in, or, to be exact, two different stand-ins. Yes, FaZe are a team with so much star power that plugging in anyone will work to a degree, but the consistency the team had, especially in the period with Jorgen "cromen" Robertsen, during which they admittedly didn't even practice, is something that cannot be underplayed. The loss to BIG in Cologne was disappointing, especially as they could've closed out the Intel Grand Slam right then and there, but keeping the status of an elite team throughout a four-month period without Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer is definitely praiseworthy.
The whole situation with the Swede's absence is a bit unclear, as it seemed that FaZe were set on finding a new fifth or attending ELEAGUE Premier with cromen just days before olofmeister announced his return from an undisclosed-personal-issues hiatus. If it is the case that olofmeister was, in a way, pressured to come back to keep his spot on the squad, it might just be the case that the team's spirits might not be the highest at this tournament. We also can't forget that the 26-year-old, all of his accolades and achievements aside, has not played CS competitively since March, which will surely be felt in his game. Even though he is the type of the player FaZe want, initially, the team might fare worse than they would with cromen.
Going back to the star power is what Finn "karrigan" Andersen can rely on, regardless of potential problems he will have, such as getting the team back in a system in which olofmeister fits, and the Swede's individual form. Nikola "NiKo" Kovač and Håvard "rain" Nygaard were brilliant in Cologne, with the former finishing the tournament without a single sub-1.0 rated map, and Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács is always capable of hitting that peak level that single-handedly wins maps for FaZe, which makes them dangerous no matter who they face in Atlanta.
The year started so well for North American Counter-Strike, as Cloud9 were able to bring the region their first Major trophy by beating FaZe in Boston. The team then began to struggle following the big win, which isn't rare to see after a Major victory, but Liquid were quick to jump in and show some good results, contesting the title of the region's best team. Slowly, though, things turned sour for North Americans.
Cloud9 was the first team to hit a bump in the road as Jake "Stewie2K" Yip decided to leave the Major-winning team to join up with Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo and Marcelo "coldzera" David. Cloud9 first went with Pujan "FNS" Mehta as a dedicated IGL, but it didn't work out, leaving them scrambling for a fifth as the end of the season neared. Martin "STYKO" Styk was the option they went for, trialing the Slovakian in Cologne, but losing to Astralis and Natus Vincere there, the two best teams at the event, wasn't really conclusive of the team's strength.
Nonetheless, Tarik "tarik" Celik decided to jump ship as well, following in Stewie2K's steps and leaving Cloud9 in an even worse position ahead of ELEAGUE Premier 2018. The North Americans turned to another European option, former fnatic in-game leader Maikil "Golden" Selim, who will be filling in for the event. The resulting lineup is surely not something that the team plans to go with long term, as the lack in fragging power is apparent, but more likely a trial for both STYKO and Golden. Cloud9 will be looking to see how the two will perform in Atlanta this week before deciding if they want to take one of the players, or splash the cash on some of the more exciting names available, such as Dan "apEX" Madesclaire and Nathan "NBK-" Schmitt.
When Cloud9 is on a downward trend we usually see Liquid rise, but Nick "nitr0" Cannella and co. haven't been that great since ECS S5, at the start of June. Playing too many events, combined with personal issues, resulted in limited practice time and saw Liquid's level drop off in Belo Horizonte and Cologne. Things should be in a better state for ELEAGUE Premier, but Liquid now have a new problem. Wilton "zews" Prado—their coach and the fatherly figure of the squad—will be absent from the tournament due to health issues, putting even more of a load on the makeshift in-game leader and AWPer nitr0.
Both North American teams are therefore in a tough position ahead of the Atlanta event, but at least Liquid have a stable roster and are looking for a good result—Cloud9 will have to focus on finding two more players before they can hope to achieve anything on the server.
After living on borrowed time for a couple of months, as his departure had been rumored to come alongside Epitacio "TACO" de Melo's when the acquisition of s1mple and flamie was on the cards, Ricardo "boltz" Prass was removed from MIBR. The 21-year-old had impressed initially, helping SK lift the EPICENTER 2017, the BLAST Pro Series and the Pro League trophies, but struggled more and more as the time went on, and not helping his cause was that he was reportedly one of the Brazilians struggling the most with English communication.
Changing a player was surely warranted, as FalleN and co. have been going through probably their deepest crisis as a team. At ESL One Cologne, where they finished 7th-8th after losing to BIG, MIBR had coldzera and Fernando "fer" Alvarenga delivering individually, and they were one of the teams that impressed in terms of opening kills, getting one in 54.9% of the rounds. But the team fell apart in 5v4 situations and had a low amount of traded deaths, both of which are not something we associate with the SK teams of the past. Bad mid-to-late round communication seems like a natural cause of their issues, so replacing boltz with a native English speaker in tarik, does make sense, at least in theory.
Looking at the roles, though, it doesn't seem like tarik is a player naturally fit to replace boltz, who practically took over TACO's positions. Even though tarik might be a better player individually, a Cloud9 player that would seemingly fit the role better would be Will "RUSH" Wierzba, with tarik's addition potentially only leading to more playstyle clashes for MIBR. Another headache for the team is FalleN's individual drop off. The 27-year-old dropped both main AWPing and calling for a short period of time earlier this year, and while he has taken back the reins of the team, he is still struggling to recover as an AWPer, passing on the weapon to the likes of coldzera when the going gets tough.
Despite a lot of problems, they are in a group featuring a struggling Cloud9 and a Liquid side they beat in Kiev, so MIBR could still make the playoffs, but they should stand little chance against the likes of Natus Vincere and Astralis. Their main objectives are to show team improvement, especially in terms of the late-round game, and to demonstrate that tarik can actually be implemented into an already aggro-heavy setup.