ESL One New York key storylines
ESL One New York, the $250,000 tournament set to take place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, is ready to kick off, so we took a look at some of the key storylines going into the event in the Empire State.
The first two post-Major events are about to kick off as a fork in the road, with some of the best teams in the world heading in two different directions. On the one hand, Major winners Astralis and Brazilian semi-finalists MIBR will be heading to Turkey to compete at the BLAST Pro Series, while the Big Apple will welcome other big names, including Natus Vincere, Liquid, and FaZe.
New York has twice hosted ESL One events in the past, and both former champions will be in contention this year. In 2016, Na`Vi, featuring the core of the current squad, won the title after beating Virtus.pro in the final, while last year it was the same FaZe team of today that lifted the trophy, following a perfect run in which they did not drop a single map. The tournament in the Empire State this year will miss Counter-Strike’s darlings, Astralis, but will see the No.2 and No.3 teams in the world go all out in a bid to destroy FaZe's defense of their title, while a struggling MOUZ will be desperate to get back in shape.
The two groups for the tournament have been drawn, with the two highest seeds, Natus Vincere and Liquid headlining Group A and Group B, respectively, with MOUZ and FaZe coming in right behind. Filling out Group A are fnatic and Gambit, while G2 and NRG complete the other group. The $250,000 tournament in New York will also count towards the Intel Grand Slam, a race Astralis and FaZe are leading with two victories apiece, so it is the perfect opportunity for the European mixture to get ahead of the absent Danes.
Away from the stars, Na`Vi and Liquid have the chance to shine
Liquid and Natus Vincere have one thing in common coming into ESL One New York, and that is that they both got run over by Astralis in the playoffs of the Major. Luckily for them, Astralis will be in Istanbul playing at RFRSH’s Blast Pro Series against the likes of MIBR, NIP, and Cloud9, and while there may be some stiff competition from teams such as MOUZ and FaZe, Natus Vincere and Liquid are the two favorites to win their groups and make it to the final on opposite sides of the playoff bracket.
Natus Vincere played Astralis in their Major opener, going all the way to 30 rounds despite losing the match in the end, while Liquid were able to beat the the Danes in overtime, but when the tournament reached its latter stages, neither of them could even pull off double digits on any of the maps they played against the Danes. The rough endings at the Major against the most dominant team in the current CS meta do not take away the fact that both Natus Vincere and Liquid have been showing since well before the player break that they are two teams to take into consideration at any event they attend as they have proven to be regular semi-finalists, finalists, and, in the case of Natus Vincere, champions.
If the two favorite teams are to face off in the final, Natus Vincere’s pedigree and history of bringing home trophies—including ESL One New York 2016, where Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev won his first MVP award—could give them the edge. On the contrary, Liquid’s good run of form could finally crystalize in New York, where they will be playing in front of their home crowd and hoping to finally be able to break their duck and start winning trophies at big events.
Open field in the Grand Slam race
After FaZe failed to win the Intel Grand Slam’s million dollar prize for the first time in history due to a semi-final loss to BIG in Cologne and a quarter-final exit in Stockholm to MOUZ, Håvard "rain" Nygaard & co. will look to get back on track in the race with a victory in New York to bring their title count back up to three. Right now, FaZe and Astralis are the only two teams with more than one Grand Slam victory, and with five and four attempts left, respectively, the tournament in the United States could prove of great value to the European team’s hopes of claiming the big prize.
The only other teams in the field at ESL One New York with Grand Slam titles still active are Natus Vincere and fnatic with one apiece, the Ukrainians from their victory at ESL One Cologne 2018, and the Swedes from their victory all the way back in February at IEM Katowice. The fact that fnatic's title came so long ago means they have to win three tournaments in a row as their Katowice triumph is about to expire. On the other hand, Natus Vincere’s win at ESL One Cologne makes it that they still have eight events to play before their victory falls off the charts, and a second trophy in New York would take them a long way in terms of competing with Astralis and FaZe for the coveted prize.
ESL One New York also provides a good opportunity for Liquid, who, despite having been unable to win a Big Event so far, have proven that they have the firepower and the ability to be an elite side, so much so that analysts had them as one of the top contenders to win the FACEIT Major in London. If they are able to open the can and get their first big trophy, in front of their home crowd, Liquid could possibly go on to become one more contender in the fight for the Grand Slam prize as they are already slated to play IEM Chicago, will be a top Pro League contender in the North American division, and will attend IEM Katowice next year.
A ScreaM passing through fnatic
Ever since getting rid of Maikil "Golden" Selim, at a time when fnatic were commonly placing top four and even won titles at IEM Katowice and WESG, the Swedish side has been on a downward spiral. Bringing on Richard "Xizt" Landström and William "draken" Sundin in lieu of Golden and Jonas "Lekr0" Olofsson doesn’t seem to have helped the team to get back on course, and with an early exit at the Major after losses to Complexity, Natus Vincere, and HellRaisers, Jesper "JW" Wecksell & co. decided to bring in a breath of fresh air to the team after Robin "flusha" Rönnquist decided to cut his ties with the team to reinvent himself in Cloud9.
Looking more like a Munch painting than a top contender, fnatic have enlisted the Belgian rifler Adil "ScreaM" Benrlitom as a stand-in for the New York event, thus opening up one of the most hermetically sealed teams from one of the most hermetically sealed scenes to a non-Swedish player, even if just for one event. Making a move similar to those of other teams, like MIBR changing their language to English or North using Oscar "mixwell" Cañellas as a stand-in in Valencia, fnatic will field a non-Nordic player for the first time in the CS:GO squad’s career, and at an event with teams of the caliber of Natus Vincere and Liquid, it is hard to imagine the team being prepared enough to make a dent.
fnatic’s two events since the beginning of the season saw them go out in groups after two losses in Stockholm and two wins and three defeats in the Major's New Legends Stage. Despite fnatic having shaken things up, Natus Vincere and MOUZ may prove the be too much for the Swedish side to handle, even though Chris "chrisJ" de Jong's side have been underperforming since acquiring Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski from Virtus.pro. It’s also hard to believe that ScreaM, who has been out of action since LeftOut called it quits in July, with the exception of a few online matches with 3DMAX in August, will be able to have enough impact to get fnatic into gear after such a big change to an already struggling structure.
mousesports' chance to stop the snowball
Since bringing on Snax after their second place finish at ESL One Belo Horizonte, MOUZ have been unable to find a solid groove, falling in the group stage at ESL One Cologne, and, more recently, in the New Legends Stage of the Major with a 0-3 record. It hasn’t been all bad for the European team, however, as two semi-final runs at ELEAGUE Premier and DreamHack Masters Stockholm show that the team may just be going through some growing pains before they are able to find their way with the new addition, although an all-time low rating by the Polish rifler in London can be seen as a cause for concern.
ESL One New York, where MOUZ will have a fnatic side with a stand-in and a struggling Gambit in their group, could prove to be a good place for them to make it out of the groups and go on a deep run at the Barclays Center. It is also worth noting that MOUZ had some unfortunate pairings at the Major, where they faced two top 10 teams and a top 5 team, and while that is no excuse considering they themselves had a higher ranking, their group stage matches in New York could prove to be easier bouts and confidence boosters.
It will be very important for chrisJ & co. to get a good start and find their mojo early on in New York, as another failed event for the European side could start to sow real doubt into a team that was expecting to become a top contender after trading what they perceived to be their weakest link for a stronger fragger. Another bad performance in New York could also create a snowball effect as MOUZ have just been confirmed at StarSeries i-League Season 6, which will take place right after the event in America. This means that MOUZ will not have time to reset or to work on their mistakes before they travel to Kiev.
Can FaZe summon the same form they showed last year?
Last year around this time, FaZe acquired Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer and Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács after the PGL Major in Krakow. The star-studded lineup flopped out of groups at their first event, DreamHack Masters Malmö, but quickly recovered and pounded the table at their next event, ESL One New York, where they won every single map—only allowing one of their rivals, Liquid, to even get to double digits. After that event, FaZe went on to win a second trophy at ELEAGUE Premier, once again without dropping a single map.
It looked like FaZe were going to go on a roll and become a team that could define an era, but crucial losses at IEM Oakland, at the ESL Pro League Season 6 Finals and at ELEAGUE Major Boston made their confidence dwindle. Soon after that, olofmeister took a leave of absence, and although the team wasn’t in the most stable situation with Xizt and Jorgen "cromen" Robertsen standing in for several events, FaZe still managed to remain a threat, even going on to win IEM Sydney and ESL One Belo Horizonte with the two aforementioned players.
Ever since olofmeister came back, FaZe have failed to make a splash, falling in Cologne to BIG in the semi-finals, crashing out of ELEAGUE Premier in the groups and dipping out of the playoffs in the quarter-finals at the two first events of this season, DreamHack Masters Stockholm and the FACEIT Major. If FaZe are able to use New York as a talisman to get back on their feet, they could once again aim to be one of the regular title contenders at events, as they were exactly one year ago. The other side of the coin is much more grim, however, as the super team will surely start to have serious doubts about their current plan, especially after the desperate changes to their in-game leading structure while in London.
A rough city for underdogs
Last, but not least, is the question of the underdogs, teams like NRG, G2 and Gambit. In the case of the North American roster, they were last seen at DreamHack Masters Stockholm, where they could not make it out of the groups after losing to a then-struggling Na`Vi. Having to kick things off against Liquid, one of the two favorites of the group, NRG will already go into the tournament facing an uphill battle. G2’s Edouard "SmithZz" Dubourdeaux admitted before the Major that his team was not ready for what was ahead in London, which was confirmed after they exited the tournament without even retaining Legend status. Now, Richard "shox" Papillon & co. have brought on Damien "maLeK" Marcel to coach the team, but the team’s issues seem to go deep enough that a last-minute coaching addition may not solve all of their problems in New York.
Gambit, who have just transfer listed Abay "Hobbit" Khasenov, have been on a freefall since peaking at No.3 one year ago, after winning PGL Major Krakow. Unable to stop the bleeding despite trying to bring in fresh blood in the shape of Nikolay "mir" Bityukov and a hardened veteran in coach Andrey "B1ad3" Gorodenskiy, the Kazakh side doesn’t look like a team to be feared by any of the competitors looking to make a deep run in New York, and with internal issues abounding, it looks like Gambit will have to go through some more changes before they can go back to being a competitive team at events of this caliber.