FACEIT Major's new Challengers: What now?
The New Challengers stage is over and that gives us the eight teams who have advanced to the New Legends stage, where they'll join the returning Legends from ELEAGUE Major Boston. We have looked back at the previous stage to explore the new challengers' chances of making it further at the Major.
The big dogs
There was no question ahead of the tournament that Astralis and Liquid would make it to the next stage. Ranked No. 1 and No. 3 in the world, respectively, they were the two obvious favorites of the first stage and they delivered by making it through.
The Danes' route was, however, not as straightforward as many had thought it would be. Astralis had few issues with Complexity, but, in the second round, they had to come back from an 11-5 deficit on the Terrorist side of Inferno against the second team coming from the North American Minor, Rogue. Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander's side then lost a quadruple-overtime match on Mirage to Ninjas in Pyjamas after once again encountering issues on the CT side — where they had dominated before the player break —, before locking down a spot in the next stage with a convincing win over Spirit.
When we look at Astralis' shaky showings at DreamHack Masters Stockholm and in the New Challengers stage, we have to start questioning their position of the main favorite of the tournament. A significant part of their strength lies in being able to update themselves and having time to adjust in between tournaments, which has not been easy for them in this case due to the busy schedule, as they travelled directly from Stockholm to London. Some of their shaky CT sides are also worrying, although they've been able to make up for that on the offense in large part.
Don't get us wrong, Astralis should still be considered one of the favorites. There are few other teams who have a realistic chance of winning the Major, and the Danish squad have been the most consistent out of them, but they seem to be decelerating at the worst possible moment; when they're a Major win away from ultimate greatness.
Liquid, on the other hand, have looked quite comfortable. They passed OpTic and HellRaisers with flying colors, and even though Vega Squadron surprised them with a strong performance on Cache, the North American side have had nothing to worry about so far. They have shown no signs of rustiness and looked just as good, if not better, doing the same things that they did before the break.
Following the lead of Chad "SPUNJ" Burchill, some are starting to believe that Liquid will win this Major. Given their history and the glaring lack of big titles — or almost any titles, for that matter —, that statement might be a bit too optimistic, but there's no denying that Nick "nitr0" Cannella's team are among the biggest favorites to make a deep run at the Major, just as they had been at most big events throughout the last several months. And with Astralis looking a little deflated, this might just be the best chance Liquid have ever had of taking their first win in the rivalry, which could very well lead to more than that.
The second tier consist of teams that we had expected to have a good chance of going through, and the majority of them delivered. Ninjas in Pyjamas were at the forefront of that list, of course, as a team that had just come back from DreamHack Masters Stockholm as semi-finalists, and they even surpassed our expectations by going 3-0, defeating Astralis at the end of the New Challengers stage following a Mirage marathon.
Things are looking promising for the Swedes, who are passing Major milestones one after another after having to go through the online phase of the cycle. Naturally, things will get harder in the New Legends stage, where Ninjas in Pyjamas will join the likes of FaZe and Natus Vincere, but even then they will have a reasonable chance of reaching the playoffs, as they'll be favored against around half of the teams in attendance.
For BIG, this second stage will be a tall task. They struggled throughout the first with losses to Vega Squadron and Complexity, two teams who made it through but who will also go up against much more experienced competition in this upcoming week, and so Fatih "gob b" Dayik's team should belong in the bottom eight. What they do have compared to a large part of those bottom eight teams, however, is a well-rounded playstyle that largely relies on team play rather than individuals going off, as well as a capable leader whose strengths lie in preparation.
TYLOO also belong in that bottom category, and what they are missing in map pool depth and communication, they try to make up for with unpredictable individual plays. But that has historically not gone well for Hansel "BnTeT" Ferdinand's men against this level of competition. The only map teams should really be worried about against the Chinese-Indonesian side is Mirage, and most will immediately veto that just to be safe. And given TYLOO's issues on the T side of Inferno, there is very little else to be encouraged about when it comes to the Asian squad, as they'll have a hard time facing the favourites.
HellRaisers should be in a better position than that as a team that went 3-1 in the New Challengers stage after defeating North, Gambit, and OpTic. They did not look that convincing as all of their wins were incredibly close and none of the teams they defeated ended up making it through, so it would be hard to give them a good chance of making the playoffs at the Major. HellRaisers could at least give some of the top dogs a good run for their money and beat the teams on the lower end of the scale, but, ultimately, the odds are stacked against them.
The last group of teams features two underdogs, Complexity and Vega Squadron. The North American squad made it to the New Legends Stage with a 3-1 score, opening up the tournament with a heavy defeat to Astralis before beating Space Soldiers and BIG, and edging past Vega Squadron in overtime. During the first stage of the tournament, Complexity played only one map, Inferno, which sets up an interesting storyline for the Legends Stage. They are obviously confident on the map and have perhaps been able to make it even stronger after going over the demos, but those same demos will be analysed by the teams they will face —making them an easy target for anti-stratting—, or Inferno could simply be banned out.
Aside from Complexity not having assured us that they can play any other map well, it is also worrying that the only two players on the team with a positive rating from this event are Shahzeb "ShahZaM" Khan and Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz, the most experienced names on the roster. Jaccob "yay" Whiteaker has managed a highlight moment or two, but he and Bradley "ANDROID" Fodor will have to provide much more to their squad if they wish to stand up against the level of opposition that is ahead of them in the New Legends Stage.
On the other hand, Vega Squadron have lived up to the legacy of FlipSid3, a CIS sleeper team who always delivered at Majors. Vega Squadron's unconventional approach to the game once again shook teams, seeing them go 2-0 quickly. After that, the team under Dmitriy "jR" Chervak's leadership struggled to make the final step and ended up playing North for the final spot in the next stage. But even then, when everyone seemed to be aware of the threat posed by Vega Squadron, they beat Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen's side convincingly, showing they are in no way easy to contain.
The aggression that is hard to comprehend will work the best against teams who rely more on tactics than on pure firepower. Vega Squadron beating BIG and forcing overtime against one of the favorites for the event, Liquid, backs that up, and they will be facing Cloud9 in the first round, a team we still don't know much about but who seem to be leaning in that direction, based on their roster. Overall, even though both Complexity and Vega Squadron have a low chance of making it to the playoffs, the CIS side, especially if they get a good start, shouldn't be completely counted out.