BLAST Pro Series Miami key storylines
With BLAST Pro Series Miami fast approaching, we went through some of the key storylines that will define the event in Florida.
BLAST Pro Series is back with its two-day action-packed format that will see a best-of-one round-robin group stage lead to a best-of-three grand final. This time, the action will go down at the Watsco Center in Miami, Florida, where six teams will battle it out over the $250,000 prize pool that is on the line.
The best ranked team in the world, Astralis, will have Liquid and Natus Vincere trying to shake them down while FaZe and MIBR will be looking to bounce back from poor results and find better form. Meanwhile, Cloud9 will be giving yet another experiment a test drive in Florida.
Astralis, the sole favorites
Astralis will hope to make the event at the Watsco Center the third BLAST Pro Series event in a row where they lift silverware after tallying victories in Lisbon, in late 2018, and in São Paulo, earlier this year. The Danes, who are continually cementing their hegemony, have been on a rampage for almost a year, when they took first place in the rankings on April 23, 2018. Since winning the FACEIT Major in London, they have racked up nine first-place finishes counting online and LAN competitions, ending all but just two competitions on top: BLAST Pro Series Copenhagen, where they finished third, and BUYPOWER Masters, where they were runners-up to Liquid.
Astralis come into BLAST Pro Series Miami off of a Major victory in Katowice, a first-place finish in the first online ECS Cup, which grants them a spot in the finals, and a victory at the previous BLAST Pro Series stop, in São Paulo. Astralis will show up in Miami about to mark their first anniversary at the top ready to once again take it all against a field of teams who, with the exception of, perhaps, Liquid and Natus Vincere, are struggling to find their identity.
Since the beginning of the year, Astralis have lost four maps in official matches and are showing no signs of slowing down, with every bookkeeper putting them down as favorites no matter who’s in front of them. Like with anything else in the cyclical nature of the world, Astralis will have to come down sometime, but by all measurable factors that should not be anytime soon.
Can Liquid and Na`Vi challenge Astralis?
Two other teams who are considered contenders at BLAST Pro Series Miami are Liquid and Natus Vincere. After failing to make their mark at the Major, the duo have shown glimpses of promise here and there that could make one think that, if they have a particularly inspired couple of days, they could snatch the trophy and the $125,000 lion’s share of the prize pool that will be up for grabs in Miami.
The previous BLAST Pro Series in São Paulo saw Liquid make it all the way to the grand final, where they faced off against Astralis in the best-of-three grand final. They were reverse swept convincingly by the Danes after winning the opener, Dust2, but showed that they are nonetheless a worthy contender, or as worthy a contender anyone can be against Astralis, at least.
On the other hand, Natus Vincere come from taking first place at StarSeries i-League Season 7, one of the events where other teams not named Astralis had a chance to lift the trophy. In China, Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev and Denis "electronic" Sharipov showed the best versions of themselves, with the former winning the MVP medal with a 1.43 rating and the latter having the second best rating at 1.33. The biggest problem Natus Vincere face is going to be maintaining both star players firing on all cylinders at all times, especially if they do make it to the final and have to face the mighty Danes, who have a much stronger map pool.
Will Cloud9 stop the bleeding?
Cloud9 have been in turmoil ever since winning the ELEAGUE Boston Major in early 2018. Following the departures of Jake "Stewie2K" Yip and Tarik "tarik" Celik, the North American organization has been in a downward spiral, signing players on a temporary basis, trialing youngsters, and using stand-ins. That amount of instability ultimately resulted in the team dropping all the way down to 142nd in the world, a number that is not representative of the quality of the team but that highlights the need for a more controlled environment to spur growth. As it stands, the American-European team have made so many changes that they no longer hold on to their slot at the StarLadder Major, in Berlin, later this year.
Following the end of Jordan "Zellsis" Montemurro’s trial, Robin "flusha" Rönnquist’s decision to step down from the roster to take some personal time, and Fabien "kioShiMa" Fiey’s removal from the lineup, Cloud9 brought back in-game leader Maikil "Golden" Selim, who had been on medical leave, given a trial to another inexperienced player—at least at top level—, Daniel "vice" Kim, and signed ex-OpTic veteran René "cajunb" Borg, who had fallen out with his former team during the shuffle season. Unless magic has happened in practice, Cloud9 should be regarded as the weakest team of the lot.
The last time Cloud9 attended a BLAST Pro Series event was in Lisbon, where they managed to get a third-place finish with Ismail "refrezh" Ali standing in. Their previous results had been a fifth place in Copenhagen and a last place in Istanbul. Other than that, Cloud9 haven’t played since the IEM Katowice Major, where they scraped by the New Challengers Stage before going out of the last-16 stage with a 2-3 record. It's hard to see Cloud9 pulling off upsets in Miami, and it won't be the end of the world if they haven't found themselves yet, but being so deep in the mud they simply have to start showing at least a glimpse of hope soon.
Can MIBR and FaZe find Major form after StarSeries blunders?
Last but not least are two teams that should be contenders after showing certain potential at the IEM Katowice Major but that have since dipped way down in form. Ever since FaZe parted ways with Finn "karrigan" Andersen to bring in Dauren "AdreN" Kystaubayev, and MIBR brought the band back together with the additions of Epitacio "TACO" de Melo and João "felps" Vasconcellos, both teams have been having a hard time despite managing to defend Legend status in Katowice.
After a semi-final run that was ended by none other than the winners of the Major, Astralis, MIBR seemed to be on the right path, even adding Nuke to their map pool to become more fearsome before even jumping into the server. The disappointments came soon after, however, as the Brazilian squad went out in the quarter-finals at the WESG 2018 World Finals in Chongqing, where they were the heavy favorites to take it all, following a 1-2 loss to Windigo. They then flew home to play at BLAST Pro Series São Paulo, where they were humbled by every other team in attendance, leaving the arena without a single victory, before going out of StarSeries i-League Season 7 in 12th-14th place after losing to Renegades, NRG, and North.
FaZe also seemed to do OK at the Major, getting a discrete 5-8th place finish, which was something that could be expected from a relatively new team at such a high stakes event. Before that, the European team had flopped out of iBUYPOWER Masters in 5-6th place, although they had bounced back from that by winning the small ELEAGUE CS:GO Invitational as preparation ahead of IEM Katowice. After their quarter-final run at the Major, where they lost to Natus Vincere in the quarter-finals, FaZe traveled to São Paulo, where they only managed to end in fifth place. A 2-0 start at StarSeries looked auspicious, but the Europeans then lost three in a row at StarSeries, in similar fashion to MIBR, against Renegades, ENCE, and North.
BLAST Pro Series, an entertainment-heavy format with a lot of matches at once that conclude in the grand final being the only best-of-three of the event, could actually prove to be a point of inflection for several teams who are on the balance regarding form and results. From Cloud9’s umpteenth attempt at putting together a roster to FaZe's and MIBR’s inability to compete against the likes of Liquid and Natus Vincere, or these two teams continually lagging behind Astralis, every team will have stakes on the table at the Watsco Center.