Five key storylines of StarSeries i-League Season 7
Leading up to StarSeries i-League Season 7, we analyzed the five key storylines of the $500,000 tournament, which will be held in Shanghai.
The nine-day, 16-team, $500,000 StarSeries i-League Season 7 is set to kick off, with a BO3 Swiss stage starting the action in Shanghai. The eight best teams will advance to the single-elimination bracket, which will feature a best-of-three format with the exception of the grand final, which will be BO5.
With the two best-ranked teams in the world, Liquid and Astralis, deciding to skip the event, ENCE and Natus Vincere are favorites to take the title, with squads such as MIBR, FaZe on the prowl as well.
These 16 teams will compete at StarSeries i-League Season 7:
For more information about the tournament, its format, and the schedule, check out our StarSeries i-League S7 viewer's guide, with the key storylines following below.
Pressure mounting on MIBR and FaZe
The two titans that combined for 12 titles in 2017, FaZe and MIBR (then SK), are mere shadows of what they used to represent going into StarSeries i-League Season 7. Both teams looked like they were on a path of recovery at the start of 2019—FaZe taking the title at the ELEAGUE Invitational and finishing top eight at the Major, and MIBR placing 3-4th in Katowice after a decent showing against Astralis—, but things haven't been that promising recently.
Following the Major, MIBR had a bootcamp in Poland that should've set them up for success at WESG. But the Brazilians went out after just three matches played: a meaningless group stage win over AGO, a trivial playoff victory over Viva Algeria, and a shocking defeat to eventual winners Windigo. Finishing 5-8th at the tournament could've been overlooked had the Brazilians not followed it with another blunder, a shocking 0-5 run on their home soil at BLAST Pro Series São Paulo.
Spending a week in China followed by a week in Brazil, where practice options aren't as good as in North America and Europe, were a detriment to MIBR as FalleN outlined in our latest interview, but even he admits that it not a good enough excuse for their poor performances. The most troubling part for MIBR at the moment is that there are no glaring issues, which means there are no easy fixes. Marcelo "coldzera" David did play his by far worst LAN ever at BLAST (0.83 rating across five maps, while his second-worst LAN rating was 0.99), but it is hard to see the currently very uninspired MIBR contest for the title in Shanghai even if coldzera goes back to his normal level.
On the other hand, FaZe's issues are fairly obvious, but that doesn't mean they are any easier to fix. The void in the IGL role, as Janko "YNk" Paunović put it, is something that won't be filled any time soon, and the once superstar lineup lost much of its flair as players deteriorated individually. Nikola "NiKo" Kovač continues to deliver map in, map out, but Håvard "rain" Nygaard and Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács are looking like merely above-average players (sitting on a 1.03 and 1.05 three-month LAN rating respectively), Dauren "AdreN" Kystaubayev hasn't impressed during his trial, and Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer's form is at the lowest it has ever been in CS:GO (as visible in the graph here).
StarSeries i-League Season 7 will be a big test for both teams, with the results here potentially having far-reaching circumstances. Another bad display for MIBR and we could start looking at their Major result as just a honeymoon phase, while a disappointing run from FaZe should prompt them to reconsider AdreN's position in the team and at least look for a short-term fix, if a long-term option isn't on the table.
Na`Vi and ENCE with favourite tags
The two highest ranked teams going into the tournament are ENCE and Natus Vincere, sitting in third and fourth place respectively, with a sizeable number of points separating them from the teams placed fifth through to eighth. As so, they are the two teams that are expected to make the deepest run in Shanghai, where there will be no Astralis or Liquid to spoil their plans.
While ENCE partially proved that their Major run wasn't a fluke at BLAST Pro Series São Paulo—where they were a round-difference-tiebreaker away from playing in the grand final—, the Finns could really establish themselves as an elite team if do well at the tournament in China. The long and grueling format—BO3 Swiss leading into BO3 playoffs and finishing with a BO5 grand final—, will really test the composure, tenacity, and map pool of Aleksi "allu" Jalli and co., with another challenge being dealing with the fact that they are no longer the underdogs, which can add pressure that can be hard to cope with, something the team's veteran AWPer touched on during our interview in Brazil.
Natus Vincere are no strangers to being favorites and having big expectations put upon them by fans and experts, which is reasonable for a team that has Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev, as well as a solid supporting cast. At the IEM Katowice Major, the Ukrainian-Russian team was looking the best they had since ESL One Cologne, as Ioann "Edward" Sukhariev and Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko stepped up to cover for Denis "electronic" Sharipov not playing up to his usual level, but their expected title-fight against Astralis was canceled after ENCE landed a surprise uppercut in the semi-finals.
We haven't seen Natus Vincere in action since, which means that fatigue won't be an issue, but a lack of official game time will probably see them, once again, have a slow start to the tournament. However, with the very forgiving BO3 Swiss group stage, there should be no world in which they don't make it to the playoffs and do some serious damage in China. But will it be a 5-8th finish or another title for s1mple and co.? It all hinges on the continuation of solid form by Edward and Zeus, or electronic hitting peak form once again after becoming a father.
BIG, fnatic, NRG eager to recover after a false start
The German, Swedish, and North American teams all messed up at the start of 2019 and will have a shot at redemption in China. The biggest letdown is certainly fnatic, who finished 2018 on an upswing, only to crash out of the IEM Katowice Major in the New Challengers stage and finish merely fourth at WESG—following losses to AGO and G2. The two main stars, Freddy "KRIMZ" Johansson and Ludvig "Brollan" Brolin, have been showing up, but the supportive trio around them has seemingly lost its footing since the turn of the year, causing them to drop from #5 to #15 in the rankings in a bit under two months.
While the expectations for BIG were lower going into the Major as they had just shuffled their roster and changed up roles, finishing without a win in the New Legends Stage, which means they will have to go through the Minors if they want to reach the upcoming StarLadder Berlin Major, is still a massive blunder. With a good amount of practice under their belt and a few official matches, this event will show us if Fatih "gob b" Dayik has figured out how to utilize his newest star player, Ismailcan "XANTARES" Dörtkardeş, who has been blowing hot and cold so far.
Damian "daps" Steele's troops were expected to at least make the playoffs at the IEM Katowice Major, having gone into the event ranked fifth in the world, but, just like BIG, they finished the New Legends Stage without a single victory, falling closely to NiP, AVANGAR, and, ultimately, Complexity. To strengthen their cause, NRG brought in Tarik "tarik" Celik shortly after the event, and played 11 official maps online, qualifying for the ECS Season 7 Finals. Despite it not being a walk in the park as it was expected, the online experience will surely have helped the squad to fit in tarik, a very different player from Jacob "FugLy" Medina.
All three teams have a lot to prove at StarSeries i-League Season 7. While the bar is set at different heights for each one of them, they are all hoping to rebound in Shanghai and start ticking upwards as the busy tournament season kicks off.
Was North's London success a fluke?
North have been chronically underperforming since their inception, if it is to be understood they are a squad created to be a contender at Big Events. With the exception of DreamHack Masters Stockholm, where they lifted the trophy over their countrymen of Astralis, North have performed like a team who can only win when they are the largest fish in the pond. That changed at the GG.BET ICE Challenge in London before the Major.
At their first event of the year, where North were the second favorite team, they were able to take the trophy after a 2-0 victory over Natus Vincere in the final. The victory came with a caveat, however, as North weren’t going to attend the Major that was coming up right after due to a painful loss against ViCi in the last-chance Minor Play-In, while two of the other teams present were, which is something that could have played to the Danes’ advantage.
After that, North managed to qualify for the ECS Season 7 Finals on their second attempt after losing to AVANGAR in the first week of play. The Danes went on to beat the Kazakhstani side the following week before taking a 2-1 victory against Vitality in the grand final to secure a spot at the LAN event in London.
With Valdemar "valde" Bjørn Vangså consistently showing world-class talent, it will be necessary for the other two big names on the team—Philip "aizy" Aistrup and Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye—to show up if the team wants to try and keep the good performances going. A lot will also ride on Casper "cadiaN" Møller, who will have to perform with the AWP and make an impact on matches if they want to be able to go head-to-head with some of the top teams in the world in contention in Shanghai.
Renegades look to build on Major success
Renegades have taken 2019 by storm with an impressive run at the Major, where they managed to become Legends, propelling them to their best-ever placement in the ranking at No.7. To get to Katowice, the Australian side won the Asia Minor with four victories and only two maps dropped. Following that, Renegades did the unexpected, starting by winning three matches in a row, two best-of-ones against AVANGAR and NiP and a best-of-three against ENCE, to cleanly make it to the New Legends Stage.
During the second portion of the Major, Renegades kept showing they weren’t a team to be taken lightly, beating ENCE again and FaZe before losing their a match against none other than the world’s best team, Astralis. The Boys then beat Vitality and made it to the New Champions Stage with a 6-1 record, finally bowing out to a solid MIBR in the playoffs, but they had already surpassed everyone’s expectations by that point.
Since this iteration of the team was brought together late last year, they have come a long way in showing that they are a force to be reckoned with. Nothing has been seen from them since their run at the Major, so StarSeries —with its $500,000 prize pool—will be a great opportunity for them to make a stand and prove that they deserve to hang out with the best and can make deep runs on a consistent basis.