Five key storylines of ESL One New York
The packed schedule of September continues as ESL One New York is drawing near, kicking off on Thursday with several big names in attendance. Previewing the $200,000 event taking place in Brooklyn, here are our five key storylines going into the tournament.
ESL One New York returns for the fourth year in a row, as always housing some of the best teams in the world. This time, the No. 1 and No. 2 teams, Liquid and Astralis, headline the eight-team tournament alongside several other big names coming in as direct invites, including NRG, ENCE, G2, and FaZe, and two worthy challengers who came from regional qualifiers: eUnited and OpTic.
The event will begin with a best-of-three GSL group stage, featuring double-streamed matches for the most part on Thursday and Friday, before the competition moves on to the iconic Barclays Center in the heart of Brooklyn, New York, for the weekend. For a more detailed schedule and anything else you might need to know to watch ESL One New York, refer to our viewer's guide.
A new FaZe saga begins
If you didn't even after this, or this, you've probably been living under a rock for a while because the move was one of the worst-kept secrets as of late, so let me get you up to speed with the latest news. After multiple reports over the last few weeks suggested the European side were trying to buy the Brazilian out of his contract, the deal finally went through on Wednesday following a month-long negotiation with the Immortals-owned MIBR. The 2016 and 2017 best player in the world joined FaZe alongside Latvian up-and-comer Helvijs "broky" Saukants to fill the vacant spots left by Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács, who left the team for Na`Vi, and Filip "NEO" Kubski.
The fact that coldzera, who has stayed in great form despite a lengthy period of struggles with MIBR, is back within three months from his benching is amazing news considering he, as a huge brand and player, must have been locked behind a substantial buyout. It should really come as no surprise that it was FaZe who made that happen, both because they were one of the few good fits for the superstar, especially looking at the well-documented friendship between him and Nikola "NiKo" Kovač, and because they are one of the few organizations with a history of splashing the cash on players with such a status, as proven by the moves they made back in 2016-2017 to make their CS:GO division world-class.
The most obvious observation when looking at this new constellation of players is that NiKo will once again in-game lead, which we should all know by now isn't a long-term solution unless the team has completely given up on the idea that they will ever find a leader that will work. Another one is that even though four people can pick up the AWP (and probably will from time to time), broky should be the primary sniper as the only player who has experience in that role from before his time with Epsilon — albeit very little internationally.
On paper, there is a lot of star power on this new FaZe roster, especially if Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer keeps playing like he did at the Major, but will it work in practice? We should get some answers in the rather tough Group B of ESL One New York, where Janko "YNk" Paunović's team will make their debut come Thursday. The presence of NRG and Astralis makes a deep run for a fresh lineup unlikely, but there is always a chance if NiKo and coldzera turn up.
Liquid defending No. 1 status against Astralis
After Liquid earned the right to call themselves No. 1, dominating the competition before the break, a fight is brewing for the title of the best team in the world again for the first time since June, with Astralis now hot on the North American side's heels following the record-breaking triumph at the StarLadder Major.
After what was quite a troubling period between 2019's Majors, the Danes looked like their terrifying selves once more, going on another undefeated run in the Berlin tournament's playoffs, during which they beat their North American rivals in the quarter-finals. Meanwhile, Liquid were nowhere near the amazing form they had showcased before the break, barely making it to the bracket stage at the StarLadder Major following losses to NRG, AVANGAR, and a close call against mousesports in the deciding series. What's more, they haven't improved if their online form is any indication, as they lost a map to eUnited and a best-of-three series to Sharks in the first week of ECS.
At this point it's too early to panic when all we've seen is a post-break tournament, which can be an awkward time for teams who couldn't recover from rustiness quickly enough, and a competition in an infamously random online environment, but there's definitely cause for worry if you're a fan of Liquid. There's blood in the water and Astralis can smell it, and it's up to Nick "nitr0" Cannella's team to fight back in New York because as far as they're concerned, this could be the tournament that sets the tone for the rest of the year.
Is suNny going to turn up?
Miikka "suNny" Kemppi's return to the scene after his long hiatus on mouz's bench was met with some controversy when he replaced ENCE's in-game leader, Aleksi "Aleksib" Virolainen, and so far it hasn't gone very well for the 25-year-old, who put in an underwhelming showing at BLAST Pro Series Moscow. In his first tournament back in an active playing position since January, the former mousesports star only recorded one above-average map in five while finishing the event with a poor 0.85 rating, his lowest in nearly two years.
It's difficult to judge him or ENCE, who actually did decently as a whole outside of an opening blowout against forZe, earning five points from a win against NiP and ties with Natus Vincere and MIBR before a close loss to AVANGAR put them out of a race for a spot in the grand final. It was only their first tournament together and suNny's first time playing at a top level in close to eight months, after all. It is bound to take some getting used to, both individually and as a team, which is something the Finn has acknowledged himself.
However, it could start affecting his confidence if another performance like that follows at ESL One New York, which will be tricky to recover from when the team has to travel overseas to Malmö immediately afterward, preventing him and the team from improving on their mistakes. All eyes should be on suNny, coincidentally the only defending champion, when the Finns play Group A, where they are in a good position to at least place second with a Fabien "kioShiMa" Fiey-infused G2 and eUnited in the same group, if not even in first place ahead of a seemingly out-of-form Liquid.
NRG's chance to step out of Liquid's shadow
Liquid seem to be at the center of everything when it comes to New York. A lot relies on whether they will return to form, including NRG's chances to finally step out of their local rivals' shadow after being the second-best North American team for well over a year, maintaining top-ten status throughout most of that journey but never looking like a title contender with their consistent top-four exits at Big Events.
That hasn't changed so far with the arrival of Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz, as NRG have retained the same quality, adding some more deep runs but always missing the extra flare to fight for big titles. At one point it looked like they might finally break through that barrier at the StarLadder Major when they powered through the competition, including Liquid, Astralis, and Natus Vincere, three of the biggest names at the tournament, but they were once again stopped in the semi-finals in a rematch with the Danes.
It was only a fantastic Astralis who looked at peak form that stopped them, however. What if it was anyone else on the other side of that semi-final? Would NRG have reached the title decider? We might find out the answer to that this time, with Tarik "tarik" Celik & co. looking favorable for a spot in the playoffs at ESL One New York with a new FaZe in their group alongside one of the two sub-top-20 teams in OpTic. There is even a decent chance that the North American side will meet Liquid in the semi-finals, which would make for a mouth-watering clash and a chance for NRG to outplace their rivals for the second time in a row.
OpTic out to impress
There is a lot riding on this tournament for one other team: OpTic. Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen & co. have been searching for a different organization to represent for months ever since the Immortals Gaming Club, the parent company of MIBR, acquired OpTic and with that found themselves owning two competing CS:GO rosters, creating a conflict of interest amidst the organization.
With over three months having passed since the acquisition and no news on their new home, the Danish team are in dire need of a good result to attract potential backers, who would have to buy three players out of their contracts. OpTic are a part of ESL Pro League and have been able to qualify for some big tournaments such as ESL One New York and DreamHack Masters Malmö, but the lack of direct invites due to their low ranking makes the few opportunities MSL's team get extremely important at a time when they are unsure about a sustainable future.
A solid placing doesn't look entirely out of the realm of possibilities with such an unknown force in the new FaZe in the same group, but it would still take at least one massive upset for OpTic to turn some heads and potentially advance to the playoffs. Unfortunately, first up for them are Astralis, who were hardly ever on the receiving end of an upset in their prime, and they looked just as scary in Berlin.