Six key storylines of ESL Pro League S9 Finals
The LAN finals of the ninth season of the biggest and longest standing CS:GO league are ahead of us, with 16 teams, including Liquid and Astralis, traveling to Montpellier, France, to compete for the $600,000 prize pool.
With that in mind, we collected the key storylines of the event, the biggest of which being rooted in the fact that the top two teams of the world are present at a 16-team event for the first time since the Major. However, teams like FaZe and mousesports also have something to prove, as do certain squads below them. With heavyweights such as ENCE and Natus Vincere, as well as some squads that have recently risen to prominence, like Vitality and FURIA, not present in France, the ESL Pro League S9 Finals could be a tournament where we will we see a new team break out, or an established one make big strides forward.
The ESL Pro League Season 9 Finals will take place from June 18-23, utilizing ESL's tried-and-tested format with two double-elimination groups, and a single-elimination six-team playoff bracket that culminates with a BO5 grand final.
The two groups are as follows:
Below you can find EGB.com's betting odds for the event as of June 17th:
Team: Rate (Ratio)
Astralis: 3.928 (22.91%)
Liquid: 5.590 (16.10%)
FaZe: 6.787 (13.26%)
mousesports: 8.079 (11.14%)
fnatic: 10.949 (8.22%)
North: 14.754 (6.10%)
MIBR: 16.158 (5.57%)
G2: 19.956 (4.51%)
NRG: 23.302 (2.28%)
Other: 18.256 (4.93%)
Without further ado, let's go through the key storylines of ESL Pro League Season 9 Finals:
Astralis and Liquid at the same event once again
Endless matchups between Astralis and Liquid defined CS:GO in 2018, with the one-sidedness of the rivalry being key to Astralis building their era as one of the most dominant teams in the history of the game. With the turn of the year, Liquid managed to break their losing streak against the Danes, as well as add two Big Event trophies to their cabinet, but they did so without asserting dominance over Astralis directly. Since the start of 2019, the two teams have only met at three events, iBUYPOWER Masters in January (2-1 for Liquid), BLAST São Paulo in March (groups 16-13 for Astralis, grand final 2-1 for Astralis), and BLAST Miami in April (16-14 for Liquid).
The satisfaction of defeating your nemesis in a really meaningful match is something Liquid have not been able to taste yet, though. While claiming the No.1 spot in the rankings and winning IEM Sydney and DreamHack Masters Dallas were surely enjoyable feats, it is hard to imagine Liquid not wanting to beat Astralis directly, lift a trophy from a tournament where the Danes are also in attendance, and prove to even the most die-hard Astralis fans who the best team in the world is. And there has never been a better chance to do so than at the ESL Pro League S9 Finals.
There is no need to go into Astralis' scheduling and event prioritization over the last three months as it has been discussed in great depth and is now behind us; what happens next is what matters. Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander and co. arrive in France after their first group stage exit with this lineup in a tournament with best-of-threes (over 16 months), after losing a BO1 and a BO3 to FURIA at the ECS S7 Finals. Their image of an unbeatable squad, a perfectly-oiled machine, is now shattered, and with that, even teams lower in the rankings will be looking for ways to upset Astralis, especially with the Danes' apparent weakness against aggressive plays having been exposed and their unbeatable Nuke streak having turned into a losing one.
Astralis are still no pushovers, and considering the BO3-heavy format at ESL Pro League Finals and the fact that the level of the playing field is not the highest, the Danes should slowly build back their match fitness and show that they are better than what they displayed in the FURIA matches in London. In interviews, gla1ve commented that practice had not been ideal going into ECS, and Emil "Magisk" Reif's sickness surely didn't help there either, although he was still the team's best performer at the event alongside Nicolai "device" Reedtz. The rest of the team struggled individually, ring rust affected their firepower and that is backed in the stats as well. In the last three months, Astralis have averaged just 0.82 multikills per round on LAN —only FURIA have done worse among top 10 teams —, while they continue to excel in the utility department with a 30.3 ADR — their closest top 10 rival being Liquid at 24.4.
On the other side, Liquid's recent results have been almost impeccable - a second-place finish at cs_summit being sandwiched by two Big Event wins -, with the main trio of Keith "NAF" Markovic, Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken and Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski all in form. A win here would also be a big step towards the Intel Grand Slam, as Liquid would go up to three wins. Their time to make closing issues a thing of the past and reach greatness is now.
Is NEO viable long term?
What seemed like a desperate move when it was announced worked out fine initially. Under Filip "NEO" Kubski, FaZe showed improved form in Dallas, going toe to toe with the likes of Liquid and ENCE and placing 3-4th, a respectable result considering how long they had been playing under their new in-game leader.
The Polish veteran, expectedly, isn't lighting up the scoreboard himself, but, more importantly, he managed to activate the sleeping stars of FaZe. Håvard "rain" Nygaard was incredible in Texas, Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer continued his upward strides, and Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács was able to contribute with his AWPing. It is only Nikola "NiKo" Kovač whose form fell off a bit, but it goes to show how big the expectations from the Bosnian are since a "just 1.17" tournament rating is a talking point.
Firepower is where FaZe have found their success, as they lead in term of multikills per round on LAN among the top teams (0.89) over the last month, and also have a high percentage of rounds with the opening kill, 53.3%. The ESL Pro League S9 Finals will be a great opportunity for FaZe to show if they can continue their form after the honeymoon period ends, with taking down a top10 team also on their wishlist as well—they only beat one full roster in G2 as Windigo and NIP were both fielding stand-ins in Dallas.
Considering the issues the organization is having and their reluctance to go for big money buyouts, it seems like NEO will be sticking around for some time. With how things have gone so far, it might not be such a bad thing for the stars of CS:GO to be led by the superstar of 1.6.
mouz challenging the big dogs
Steady progression has been the name of the game for mousesports, who, similarly to Vitality last year, have had to work their way into the top tier. Finn "karrigan" Andersen's team has yet to stumble or make a big misstep, but they have not been properly tested either. The European mixture was dominant in the ESL Pro League group stage and in the Minor qualifiers, won DreamHack Tours, and looked great early on at IEM Sydney.
But when meeting top 10 teams, such as NIP in the ECS online cup or MIBR in the playoffs of IEM Sydney, mousesports have not been able to step up to the task, and so far, their biggest win was the one over North at the ESL Pro League groups. In total (online & LAN), the squad has played just 41 maps, winning 29 of them, and, interestingly enough, currently boast a 10-0 record on Train, their best map alongside Inferno and Mirage.
With teams such as FURIA and Vitality climbing up to the top5 of the rankings, this mousesports lineup, three months after being assembled, only sitting at 14th is a bit of a disappointment. That does not mean that the squad has underperformed or is struggling; what they have displayed so far has been very good. All five players have been stepping up to the task, with Özgür "woxic" Eker and Robin "ropz" Kool being at the forefront. However, mousesports are yet to prove themselves against the best or take a significant scalp.
The ESL Pro League Season 9 Finals are where mousesports will need to start showing the capabilities of this roster by making a deep run. Should they once again be stopped early, by the first big name they encounter, the pressure will start mounting for karrigan and co. ahead of the two biggest tournaments of the year: ESL One Cologne and the StarLadder Major.
Last chance saloon for Cloud9
New lows have been reached by Cloud9 ahead of the ESL Pro League Finals, which is not an understatement considering that the current lineup hasn't been impressing anyone. Since adding Daniel "vice" Kim and René "cajunb" Borg, the team has an 18W-27L map record overall, which includes the losses to the likes of INTZ and Luminosity in the ECS weekly cups that stopped them from qualifying for the LAN finals. Cloud9 have only played three LAN tournaments with this lineup and looked out of place against top teams, with their single victory from 12 games coming at the expense of Giants at BLAST Pro Series Madrid.
However, a lot could be tolerated in the rebuilding phase of the team, with the victory over Ghost at the end of May, which secured their spot at the ESL Pro League Finals, seemingly forecasting better days. But more heartbreak would follow for the fans as, last week, the team suffered defeats to New Identity and The Quest in the Americas Minor Closed Qualifier.
Going out to massive underdogs, neither of whom advanced to the Minor themselves, must have sounded the alarm in the Cloud9 headquarters. The ESL Pro League Finals are surely the last chance for this lineup to prove it can be competitive before roster changes come into place to try to salvage whatever is possible.
Individually, Timothy "autimatic" Ta is the shining star, still being able to put in impressive performances, with cajunb the only other player on the team averaging a rating above 1.00. William "RUSH" Wierzba's decline continues as he has looked like the shadow of the player he was in prime OpTic and Cloud9 days, while the addition of vice has not helped to solve the team's chronic lack of firepower either. As the in-game leader, Maikil "Golden" Selim shouldn't come under as much scrutiny in terms of individual performances, but he can be rightfully criticized for not being able to bring out more from the players, as that falls, at least to some degree, on his leadership, in and out of the game.
A miraculous turnaround is needed from Cloud9 for them to have a good showing in France and perhaps get a bit more time together. But to make things worse, they start the tournament by facing Astralis, who are looking to assert their dominance after recent struggles, and going down to the lower bracket early is exactly the opposite of what autimatic and co. need in Montpellier.
Breaking out of the mid-tier
fnatic, G2, and North are all in slightly different positions, but they are in the same group of mid-tier teams looking to climb up to the elite. fnatic were the closest to breaking through earlier this year when they finished second at both StarSeries i-League S7 and IEM Sydney, but the Swedes have lacked consistency, and going out early at DreamHack Masters Dallas hurt them significantly. G2 are also struggling for consistency, but their peaks, such as topping the ESL Pro League group and finishing 5-6th at Dallas, are much lower than those of fnatic.
Unlike fnatic and G2, who have had their lineups for months, North swapped Valdemar "valde" Bjørn Vangså to the IGL role and added Jakob "JUGi" Hansen a month-and-a-half ago, and have managed solid results since: 7-8th at DH Masters Dallas, 3-4th at ECS S7 Finals, and a successful Minor qualification. For the Danes, the next step will be polishing their game: their CT side and the individual form of their players have looked good, but their Terrorist side has not been solid enough for them to be a true top team.
With the mixed bag of teams in Montpellier, at least one of this trio will surely achieve a significant result and push themselves upwards while stopping the rest from making ground.
Outsiders and roster movers
The remainder of the field is wide open, with a number of teams coming to France with nothing to lose. NRG is the most dangerous of them all, with no imperative to have a good result as they are playing their last event with Damian "daps" Steele but still remain well drilled as a unit, with some fabulous individuals. Heroic is a team that is in the upper echelons of this group, bordering the mid-tier one but not proven enough to be put there yet. Benjamin "blameF" Bremer has a lot on his shoulders there, as he is in-game leading and doing most of the fragging, NiKo-style.
Grayhound will be representing Oceania looking to build on their solid IEM Sydney showing, but they are not expected to go deep either, with TYLOO having even lower expectations considering that they will be making their debut with WingHei "Freeman" Cheung. HellRaisers are practically forgotten in the top tier, having only attended the Pro League groups and the WePlay S1 Finals since the Major, and are also outsiders at the tournament.
Two Brazilian sides that will not be going to the Minor, Luminosity and DETONA, will also be aiming to upset someone, with the latter hoping that the two weeks spent bootcamping in Europe ahead of the ESL Pro League Finals were enough to elevate their level of play. With so many squads playing without any pressure, some of them are bound to pull off an impressive result that will put them on the radar internationally.