Five talking points from StarSeries i-League Season 8
Ethan finally starting to live up to his promise
Ethan "Ethan" Arnold stole the show in Belek as he picked up his very first MVP award after inspiring Evil Geniuses to win the tournament with a team-high 1.24 rating, the third-highest of his career at Big Events.
The 19-year-old has often come under criticism for his lack of consistency, something coach Chet "ImAPet" Singh admitted that he and Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz had been trying to address. And while he has not been as flashy as Vincent "Brehze" Cayonte or Tsvetelin "CeRq" Dimitrov, he has remained a vital cog in the team, with his 1.12 Big Event rating in 2019 putting him on par with the Bulgarian as the squad's second-best performer.
The carry performances that he put in at StarSeries will certainly boost his confidence and help him to take some of the load off the shoulders of Brehze. With Ethan having finally found his role in the squad, Evil Geniuses boast an excellent supporting cast assembled around their main star, which makes for a terrifying prospect for opponents as the North American high-flyers battle to cement a standing among the elite.
Worrying signs for Na`Vi
Natus Vincere were the biggest loser of the Turkish event as they went out 13th-16th following losses to G2 and Heroic, teams who were five and 13 places below them in the rankings, respectively, when the tournament started.
As if finishing alongside minnows 5POWER, Invictus and Imperial was not bad enough, Na`Vi also saw internal problems laid bare when a StarLadder referee revealed in a Telegram channel that Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev was lashing out at his teammates, team coach Andrey "B1ad3" Gorodenskiy was calling out Kirill "Boombl4" Mikhailov for not acting like a captain, and Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács appeared to be tilting.
Not that any of that was particularly surprising. s1mple is known to have a difficult temperament, Boombl4 was just playing his second tournament as an in-game leader for Na`Vi, and GuardiaN was having the second-worst tournament of his career, his empty stare as he missed every shot in a 1v1 against nexa on Overpass the epitome of how poorly he played in Belek.
Add that all together and it's not so complicated to see why Na`Vi came crashing down so hard in Turkey after showing some promise at DreamHack Masters Malmö. Pressure is mounting on the Russian team as they prepare for BLAST Pro Series Copenhagen - the only event that they will attend in November. With their chances of qualifying for the BLAST Grand Final looking extremely slim, they will use this tournament as a measuring stick - and another disappointing campaign will certainly set off alarm bells in the Na`Vi camp.
FURIA look more versatile with HEN1
FURIA surpassed all expectations as they finished in third place in Belek in what was their best international performance since reaching the title decider at the ECS Season 7 Finals. The Brazilian team got off on the wrong foot in Belek, with a 0-2 defeat to NiP, but made spectacular runs in the lower brackets, beating teams like AVANGAR, Vitality, G2 and Renegades before taking fnatic the full distance, even letting three match points slip against the Swedes.
Those results may seem surprising at first, but FURIA had already shown in Malmö that they were a team on the up after taking down ENCE and pushing eventual champions fnatic to their limit on Overpass. Three weeks on, they confirmed that they are a more mature and well-rounded side and not the one-dimensional team that heavily relied on aggression to catch opponents off-guard.
As many had predicted, FURIA would need to reinvent themselves to keep pushing the boundaries, and they did so by picking up Luminosity outcast Henrique "HEN1" Teles. The former Immortals talent has added an extra layer of depth to the team, allowing Andrei "arT" Piovezan to prioritize the Krieg over the AWP, while establishing himself as a valuable sidekick to Kaike "KSCERATO" Cerato, who has averaged an impressive 1.20 rating on LAN in the last three months.
"I have been trying to pass on some of my experience so that we have more variation, so that we can play slowly and hold down rounds when needed," HEN1 said in a recent interview with HLTV.org. FURIA are now a different machine than the one that caught everyone by surprise at the beginning of the summer season, and that change was for the better. With a more reliable and experienced AWPer and two solid riflers who can light up the server on any given day, the Brazilians will certainly be one of the most interesting sides to watch during the last stretch of the season as they look to climb back to the top five in the rankings.
AVANGAR continue to experience growing pains
Gone are the days when AVANGAR looked to be a serious contender. After defying the odds by reaching the StarLadder Major final and bouncing back from a 0-2 start to win BLAST Pro Series Moscow, the Kazakhstani team decided to take a break from LAN action as the players were starting to experience the effects of physical and mental fatigue.
AVANGAR's return to a LAN setting went sour as the team crashed out of DreamHack Open Rotterdam in the semi-finals after losing to a CR4ZY side fresh off major roster changes. At StarSeries, they were able to repeat their Rotterdam victory against Heroic but then lost to G2 and FURIA, with the Overpass defeat to the Brazilians, after they had famously beaten Liquid on it during the Major, coming as a bitter pill for Dzhami "Jame" Ali's troops to swallow.
The CIS side will have plenty more chances to make up ground on the top teams in the rankings before the end of the year, but they will need to make some drastic improvements to be able to replicate the results from the Major. It would be simplistic to rate AVANGAR's Berlin campaign as a fluke, but the fact is that the team have done very little since then to justify that they deserve a place among the elite.
New format is interesting, but the absence of a crowd made for a poor show
One thing that makes StarSeries events unique is the organizer's willingness to test out new formats and push the boundaries of what a competitive format looks like. Although often times this means very long days due to the exceptional amount of maps played, it also creates a tournament environment that is very effective at not only finding the best team but also ranking the participating teams top-to-bottom, which gives us a more accurate result of the competition.
The eighth season was no exception. After running best-of-three Swiss group stages for the past few editions, StarLadder took a page out of ESL's book and pushed their standard group format one step further, playing best-of-threes in the opening round and extending the lower bracket by an extra series — the consolidation final. On top of that, the tournament was the first "Big Event" to feature a double-elimination bracket in the playoffs since the ESEA Invite Global Finals days back in 2013-2015, with each group's top two teams starting their journey in the upper bracket and the third and fourth in the lower. The only competitive issue with it was that the lower bracket final of each group was essentially meaningless on its own, as the winning side had to win another series in the consolidation final to gain positions.
Coupled with the above-average $500,000 on offer, this made the event extra prestigious and tough to win, as showcased in fnatic's route, with the Swedes playing a total of nine best-of-three series over the course of six days and having to win six of them to earn a spot in the grand final. However, it also created an awkward juxtaposition with the event being held at a holiday resort, which breeds laziness and a lack of focus — not the sort of vibe you would want to have at a tournament this competitive. At the same time, the fact that a double-elimination bracket fed into another double-elimination bracket meant that the two phases felt repetitive, which was further exaggerated by the setup remaining exactly the same and by the lack of a crowd in the late stages of the tournament, resulting in a rather dull atmosphere.