WESG World Finals key storylines
We take a look at some of the key storylines heading into this year's WESG World Finals, set to kick off in Chongqing, China, with $890,000 on the line.
After last year's WESG 2017 World Finals in Haikou, Hainan, it is now the turn for one of the four municipalities under direct administration of the Chinese central government, Chongqing, to host the WESG 2018 World Finals. Boasting an $890,000 prize pool, the tournament is slated to take place from March 11-17, with the winner to be crowned Chongqing Olympic Sports Center, where they playoffs will be held.
Following the withdrawal of Major Legends NIP and ENCE, two of the three favorite teams to take it all in China, the World Finals have opened up the possibility for smaller teams to make deeper runs and has tightened the race for the $500,000 grand prize between the few top teams in attendance.
Big fish in a small pond
March 14th, 2018. Haikou, Hainan, China. SK were coming from a semi-final run at the first event of the year, the ELEAGUE Major in Boston, followed by a third-place finish at cs_summit 3, a quarter-final run at SL i-League Season 4, and a group stage exit at IEM Katowice 2018. That day, the Brazilians lost two best-of-twos to Russia and BIG, meaning they were knocked out of competition at the WESG 2017 World Finals, their second group stage exit in a row. Having finished in 17-22nd place, outside of the lowest bracket that could claim a piece of the prize pool, SK left China one player short as Epitacio "TACO" de Melo stepped down from the roster. Following his departure, the direction of that team changed completely, as they brought in Jake "Stewie2K" Yip, breaking the Brazilian five-man block.
One year later, in Chongqing, China, MIBR are returning to their roots with TACO, João "felps" Vasconcellos, and Wilton "zews" Prado back on the team. MIBR debuted the reunited team at the IEM Katowice Major, where they had a run that saw them knocked out in the semi-finals by the indomitable Astralis. Despite the loss to the Danes, MIBR left a good impression at their first event since bringing the gang back together, climbing back into the top 5 with particularly strong showings by star players Fernando "fer" Alvarenga and Marcelo "coldzera" David, both of whom among the EVPs for the event. When ENCE and NIP, the other two Major Legends slated to play at the WESG 2018 World Finals, pulled out, MIBR instantly became by far and large the favorite team to take it all. Furthermore, the Brazilians will only play one match during the group stage, against AGO, and are automatically through to the playoffs as the other two teams in the group, Isurus and K23, have pulled out of the tournament.
As with every tournament in which one comes as the undisputed favorite team to take it all, the WESG 2018 World Finals will be a double-edged sword for MIBR, who have the pressure of winning no matter what, as anything other than bagging the $500,000 grand prize will be a letdown. The Brazilians are no strangers to first-place finishes at smaller events, however, as the team’s core lifted silverware at events like Adrenaline Cyber League 2018, Moche XL Esports, or the ZOTAC Cup Masters, setting enough of a precedent to be expected to once again be able to close against lesser opposition.
The other favorites
fnatic and G2, 14th and 16th in the world ranking, respectively, are the two other main title contenders at the WESG 2018 World Finals, although they are decidedly a step below MIBR. The Swedes and the Frenchmen come from disappointing runs at IEM Katowice, where G2 floundered in the New Legends Stage after eliminating fnatic in the New Challengers Stage. The lackluster results for G2 ended up with François "AmaNEk" Delaunay being brought onto the team, but the inability to make the changes in time for the event in Chongqing means the WESG 2018 World Finals will be Alexandre "bodyy" Pianaro’s last ride before hanging his G2 jersey.
Although the event in China will mark an end for the current G2 roster, the French squad should make a deep run into the playoffs as they have directly benefited from NIP’s withdrawal, with whom they shared a group. Facing Singularity and Revolution, G2 should have little problem securing the first seed in their group, thus assuring a favorable path down the brackets. Crucial to their success will be the form of their star players, who will have the chance to regain their confidence against lower opposition before having to step it up in the playoffs. With Lucas "Lucky" Chastang and Audric "JaCkz" Jug showing promise, G2 will have to power through the restructuring that has been going on since coach Damien "maLeK" Marcel joined the team late last year as nothing other than securing one of the top places is expected at a tournament with such a lack of top competition.
As far as the Swedes go, fnatic won last year’s WESG 2017 World Finals, although it can’t be attributed to this team as only two players remain from that lineup, Jesper "JW" Wecksell and Freddy "KRIMZ" Johansson—the latter of whom was named MVP in Haikou. Back then, fnatic were coming from a first place finish at IEM Katowice, while this time around they come off of the back of a Major flop. Having shown some promise late last year with a semi-final run at IEM Chicago 2018 and a victory at the PLG Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi, fnatic will be looking to use the WESG World Finals as a talisman to get the team back on track. The Swedes were cast into the group of death with ENCE, Movistar Riders, and Windigo, but with the Finns dropping out of the tournament, Richard "Xizt" Landström's side are now the firm favorites to make it out of their group in first place and secure a good seeding in the Round of 16.
Alone in no man’s land
Having only played one LAN since Ismail "refrezh" Ali joined the team, the tournament in China will be crucial for OpTic to show they can revert their current situation and stop the bleeding that has seen them drop all the way down to #33 in the rankings after failing to make it through the Europe Minor, where they went out in 7-8th place following losses to Vitality and MOUZ. With teams like ENCE and NIP pulling out, OpTic could easily find themselves in a position to come out of left field and pull an upset late in the tournament. On the other hand, if they get off to a slow start, it could go the complete opposite way as two potential dark horses join them in Group B.
Having gone down in weight class, OpTic are in a position to bully around a lot of the lighter teams that will be playing at the WESG finals, but it remains to be seen if they can still take punches from stiff opposition. Despite being the favorites in their group, OpTic won’t be able to rest on their laurels, as they will be pressed early on by Valiance and Denial, although the Serbs will field two stand-ins and the South Africans will be playing their first LAN with the current roster. OpTic will want to make sure they can secure a top seed in the Round of 16 to avoid running into any of the better-ranked teams before the late rounds of the playoffs, as a strong opponent could have the Danes down for the count.
MDL teams form the tournament’s backbone
The event in Chongqing will have a myriad MDL teams from all three regions where the tournament is played: Europe, North America, and Australia. Group A has the North American MDL squad Singularity, who will be fighting Revolution and G2 for a spot in the playoffs, while Group B will feature MDL Europe’s first placed team, Valiance—albeit a heavily modified version since Otto "ottoNd" Sihvo and Rokas "EspiranTo" Milasauskas will have to watch their teammates play with coach Luka "emi" Vuković and Aleksa "Impulse" Stankić due to the roster restrictions—, as well as the South Africans of Denial, who will be playing their first LAN since bringing on Dominic "Domsterr" Sampaio and Robby "blackpoisoN" Da Loca to take over the spots left on the roster by Dimitri "Detrony" Hadjipaschali and Ruan "ELUSIVE" van Wyk.
Group C has EU MDL team AGO, who have already secured a playoff berth and will only have to face MIBR during the group stage to determine seeding, while Group E, considered the group of death before ENCE’s withdrawal, features Movistar Riders—whose core played these finals last year under the Wololos tag. Currently sitting second in the European standings, the Spaniards will be trying to punch over their weight class as they will face ESL Pro League teams fnatic and Windigo. Last but not least are Chiefs, from MDL Australia, who will have the team’s core in attendance despite Ryan "zewsy" Palmer and Chris "ofnu" Hanley not being able to play due to roster restrictions, and Altima, who will field four members of NA MDL squad Forty Six and 2, including the core that represented Mexico under the QuetzaL banner at the WESG 2016 World Finals.
Can Russia repeat without electronic?
Due to WESG’s nationality rule, a field of mix teams ends up at the Chinese event every year. This year the most prominent of the mixes that will be playing in Chongqing are Russia, Ukraine, and Canada’s WARDELL N Friends. Featuring four out of the five players that managed to take third place at this event last year is Russia, who will be fielding Kirill "Boombl4" Mikhailov instead of Denis "electronic" Sharipov this time around and will hope to repeat last year’s podium finish.
The squad featuring Dmitry "hooch" Bogdanov, Denis "seized" Kostin, Mihail "Dosia" Stolyarov, and Georgi "WorldEdit" Yaskin will face another one of the mix teams, WARDELL N Friends, a rag-tag group including Yassine "Subroza" Taoufik, Bradley "ANDROID" Fodor and the team’s namesake, star AWPer Matthew "WARDELL" Yu, in Group F, where Imperial and Panda will also be fighting for spots in the playoffs. Another mix team with a shot at the playoffs is Ukraine, a shadow of the star-studded team that qualified but didn’t attend the event last year, as they drew one of the easier groups in the tournament, Group G, where 5POWER, TNC, and WingHei "Freeman" Cheung’s ENZO are slotted.
A chance on the world stage, if the teams can make it
As happens every year, the WESG World Finals will offer teams from all over the world the opportunity to show themselves on the world stage for all to watch. In 2016 it was Kinguin who took local rivals Virtus.pro out in the semifinals to steal a second-place finish, while in 2017 it was TeamOne who upset Cloud9 before being knocked out in the semis by the eventual champions, fnatic. But beneath those big upsets and deep runs, layers of teams will be trying to make a name for themselves, and many players will be putting their talent on display to try and extend their 15 minutes of fame.
Sadly, some of these teams and players will be unable to make it to the event in China, as the tournament has an ongoing problem with getting all of them to attend, for one reason or another. Five teams have pulled out this year, two of them Major Legends, ENCE and NIP, as well as the Kazakhstani mix of K23, Korean side MVP PK, and Isurus from Argentina. This means three groups will have three teams and one will have only two, something we already saw last year when Envy and Bravado were given automatic access to the following stage and only had to play for seeding because the other two teams in their group, Ukraine and Viva Algeria, didn’t attend.
Last but not least is the fact that the WESG World Finals have randomly seeded groups. Coming straight after the IEM Katowice Major, which managed to match teams fairly and adjusted their ELO as they progressed through the tournament, it may be hard for some to digest the disparity between groups. To give an example, Group E will feature fnatic (#14), Windigo (#30), and Movistar Riders (#37), and was supposed to also have ENCE (#4) before they backed out of the tournament, while Group G features 5POWER (#110) and three unranked teams: Ukraine, ENZO, and TNC. While this may not be the fairest way to get a real sense of the best teams and how strong they are compared to all of the other competitors present, a gladiatorial “only the best survive” event should make for an entertaining week of Counter-Strike.