Six key storylines of StarSeries i-League Season 6
With StarSeries i-League Season 6 set to kick off on Sunday, we have taken a look at the storylines of the $300,000 event, and here are the six biggest.
The sixth season of StarSeries is about to begin, with 16 teams in contention in Kiev, Ukraine. The tournament will begin with a best-of-one Swiss group stage, from which eight teams will advance to the single-elimination playoffs, which will culminate with a best-of-five grand final come next Sunday.
After previous seasons in which most of the top teams were in attendance, there will only be one top-five team playing this time around, mousesports. However, there is no shortage of storylines going into the tournament, as a number of promising teams are set to play the role of dark horses, while some of the more experienced sides will test new lineups.
In case you missed it, here are the 16 teams and their first-round matchups:
For the full schedule and everything else you might need to know about the tournament, make sure to check out our viewer's guide. Without further ado, let's look at our six biggest storylines of StarSeries i-League Season 6:
mousesports in new territory as the clear favorites
When you look at the team list, one thing is quite clear — mousesports are the obvious favorites of the tournament. That may not have looked like the case after the Major, but now that they've gone back to winning ways with an important title at ESL One New York, there is no question.
You could make the case that some of the elite teams did not show up in New York and that even mousesports struggled in their matches, as they had to come back from big deficits in three of their four series. But even then, you can't deny the European squad the triumph and how that will affect their confidence going into a tournament that, on paper, looks significantly easier, with Chris "chrisJ" de Jong's squad being the only top-five team in it.
As such, this is new territory for mousesports, who have never been in this position before, so it'll be interesting to see how that affects their mentality. From what we've seen from the team, they work well under pressure, it even seems to inspire them, but this is a different sort of pressure that they have rarely (if ever) gone up against.
With that in mind, anything but a trophy should come as a disappointment to Miikka "suNny" Kemppi & co. With the New York win, they're on the right path to becoming a stable contender again, but they need to add this one to hold their ground.
NRG return to where they were once happy
Another team who should be feeling quite confident ahead of the Ukrainian event are NRG, who have already tasted success at StarSeries in the past, when they made second place in the fifth season.
This time, they go into the event from a stronger position, after they overcame the odds and made it out of their group at ESL One New York, which included Liquid and FaZe, giving the former team a good run for their money before taking down Finn "karrigan" Andersen's squad, as well as G2, to make the playoffs.
Ethan "Ethan" Arnold was somewhat average in New York instead of being the standout player he had been in the last few months, such as at ECS Season 5 Finals and the previous StarSeries season. Vincent "Brehze" Cayonte stepped up to the plate to make up for the gap, but that may not happen again, so all eyes should be on the 18-year-old to find out whether New York was just a one-off or whether it will become a trend.
If the three stars — the aforementioned duo and Tsvetelin "CeRq" Dimitrov — show up in form, NRG should be fancying their chances to make a deep run as one of the more accomplished teams in recent months. However, about half of the list is made up of names that Damian "daps" Steele's team aren't very familiar with, including Vega Squadron, whom they're set to meet in the first round. That could shake things up if NRG get caught off-guard by some of the dark horses of the event, who can be difficult to prepare for.
compLexity and HellRaisers look to build on Major heroics
The FACEIT Major brought us several surprises, the most notable of which were Complexity and HellRaisers, who fought their way through the first two stages to make their first Major playoffs appearance.
The North American squad weren't even expected to make it past the first phase of the London tournament, so it was all the more shocking that Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz's team went 6-1 over the two stages, only losing their very first match to Astralis before beating the likes of BIG, Vega Squadron, and fnatic. Meanwhile, HellRaisers fought tooth and nail for their place in the playoffs, overcoming several very close affairs to earn their Legends status.
Both sides will be looking to build on their heroics in London, which often came at the expense of the same teams who will also be in action in Kiev, and that should put both teams in a good position to at least make the playoffs again.
However, Complexity attended the MSI MGA Finals last weekend and struggled against lower-tier opposition in best-of-ones, with Movistar Riders and eUnited taking stanislaw & co. to overtimes before AVANGAR beat them in the grand final. So, the question we're seeking an answer to in Kiev is: did Complexity overperform at the Major?
North and OpTic set out on a new journey
Naturally, the Major also saw some teams fail, as North couldn't build on their triumph in Stockholm, while OpTic continued their run of poor form, with both teams going 2-3 in the first stage to drop out of the Major cycle.
In the aftermath of the tournament, the Danes kicked off post-Major changes as Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen was moved to the bench and Nikolaj "niko" Kristensen's loan period was discontinued. To complete their new lineup, North found their new in-game leader and AWPer in Rogue's Casper "cadiaN" Møller and pulled Nicklas "gade" Gade back from his loan to OpTic. Meanwhile, Marco "Snappi" Pfeiffer's team used the opportunity to get their hands on niko to fill the gap left by the former North Academy member.
The change should see North shift their style according to cadiaN's fresh perspective, which is something the team needed after a long period of inconsistency with MSL. Given the change in leadership, it's more of a long-term solution, though, so don't expect the Danes to be at their best at StarSeries with just a week of preparation behind them.
For OpTic, it's more of a cosmetic adjustment. niko will likely step into the shoes of gade and the roles will be no different, at least for the time being, but it should be an upgrade in firepower if the 20-year-old returns to form with his new team.
A clean start for Renegades
Renegades followed suit with Noah "Nifty" Francis and Karlo "USTILO" Pivac leaving the team following a debacle in the first stage of the FACEIT Major, in which the roster went out with one overtime win to their name from their match against Space Soldiers, who played with their coach instead of Engin "ngiN" Kor.
The Australian side dug into Oceania and brought Grayhound's Sean "Gratisfaction" Kaiwai as well as ORDER's Jay "Liazz" Tregillgas, two of the most promising players from the region, to North America, securing a new AWPer and a strong rifler to complete the new roster.
That also means someone with little experience as a leader had to start calling the shots, and it is Aaron "AZR" Ward who took up the role. With the new duo and a different leader, it'll be interesting to see how the dynamic of the team changes.
So far, it has been working out online, as Renegades won all six of their matches in ESL Pro League in the first week. We have to take that with a grain of salt, as with all online matches, but it is a promising start; we will find out more as StarSeries progresses.
Tough competition in the sub-top
The tournament has its clear favorites and a few more teams who should make playoffs on paper, such as BIG, HellRaisers, and NRG, but when you look further, the competition gets very tough. Who else will make the playoffs come Wednesday is anyone's guess, especially considering some of the aforementioned changes.
Almost every team on the list holds a certain promise, perhaps with the exception of CyberZen, who have rarely had the chance to attend international tournaments. Even the likes of Fragsters, one of the least experienced teams on the list, could grab some important wins and have a reasonable shot at the playoffs.
Just look at Complexity, TYLOO, Gambit, and Vega Squadron, who are ranked towards the top half of the pack after some recent successes, but none of them have shown enough to be in prime position to secure three wins in the best-of-one Swiss stage due to their inconsistency. That should make the fight for the top-eight unpredictable and very exciting to watch.