Five key storylines of DreamHack Masters Spring
DreamHack Masters Spring is just around the corner, kicking off on Thursday, April 29, with the group stage. Sixteen teams are ready to start their campaign in the stacked tournament, which features 11 out of the world's top 12 sides and promises to bring two extended weekends full of action and plenty of storylines following a string of massive moves at the top of the ladder.
Astralis are set to make their debut without Nicolai "device" Reedtz at the event after they dominated the headlines in recent days in the wake of the superstar's shocking departure to Ninjas in Pyjamas. The other two teams of 2020's "Big Three", Natus Vincere and Vitality, have made changes of their own after core members Egor "flamie" Vasilyev and Cédric "RpK" Guipouy were put on the sidelines.
Those are only the three biggest stories heading into DreamHack Masters Spring, where almost every team in attendance seems to have something to prove. The spotlight will also be on the likes of FaZe and MOUZ as the two international rosters look to make a deep run after having some time to adjust to new members, as well as on Virtus.pro and FURIA following recent dips in form.
Will Astralis survive the loss of 'Mr. Consistent'?
Astralis without device is a reality that everyone will undoubtedly need some time getting used to, but perhaps no one more so than the players on the Danish team, who for so long could count on 'Mr. Consistent' to show up almost without fail, whether it was when they were at the height of their power or when they were going through slumps. Not anymore. They can no longer lean on the superstar AWPer, who was named the MVP of 18 out of the 26 tournaments the core of the team won together.
Only time will tell how big of an impact device's departure will have, but it is difficult to imagine that Astralis will survive the loss of such an irreplaceable player unscathed, and it is even more unthinkable that they can solve that problem in a short amount of time. For now, the team looks set to have Lucas "Bubzkji" Andersen fill the gap, but his addition to the active roster raises more questions than answers, as he couldn't be further away from a one-to-one substitution for device.
The only feasible option the Danes have with this particular lineup is to have Bubzkji fill the entry role and Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen take over AWPing duties, but as much as the former looks like a sensible approach on paper (certainly more so than putting the 22-year-old in Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth's shoes like before), having your secondary sniper pick up the 'Big Green' gun on a consistent basis has rarely worked for anyone. There is no doubt that dupreeh can be flashy with the AWP, but he is no device when it comes to reliability or the efficiency with which he is able to use the weapon to its full potential. Then again, almost no one is.
And while it is the biggest issue, it is far from the only one Astralis are facing at the moment. The worst slump seems to be behind Emil "Magisk" Reif, but he still has ways to go before he puts up the same numbers he used to, and with Xyp9x and Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander also struggling for form, there is no one else to pick up the slack, let alone make up for the missing superstar. Bubzkji's shift into a more aggressive role should at least see his skillset utilized in a better way, and with some luck, the former MAD Lions star will regain some confidence after the difficult period following his arrival to the team. But is that going to be enough? And if not, how long will it take before he is put on the sidelines again?
We might not get answers to all the questions we have in DreamHack Masters Spring, but all eyes will be on Astralis: haters will be looking for any signs of problems, while fans will be hoping that this situation is not as awful as some make it out to be.
Extra Salt look to build on FunSpark ULTI success
Johnny "JT" Theodosiou's squad enter their fourth tournament since they made the trip over to Europe with wind in their sails. Their campaign in the Old Continent started off slowly after they were handed a beating by Spirit in their first match only two weeks ago, but they were recently able to impress with their run to second place in the FunSpark ULTI Europe Final.
Despite just missing out on the title in the end, Extra Salt have given the struggling North American scene a much-needed burst of hope after they took down BIG, FORZE, and Dignitas on the way to the tournament's final, outplacing a few big names like Virtus.pro, Complexity, and Evil Geniuses. Now they look to take it to the next level as they are heading into the biggest tournament since they crossed the Atlantic, and their chances of making another deep run don't look too bad.
Extra Salt are one team who might be particularly happy about Astralis losing device as they are slated to go up against the Danes in the first round of Group B on Thursday in likely the best possible opening matchup they could have hoped for in the group with the exception of paiN. On top of that, the rest of the teams in their group also look entirely beatable if you consider Complexity's inconsistency, FURIA's horrendous form in the latest matches, Vitality's recent roster change, or BIG's tough encounters with Extra Salt in FunSpark ULTI.
With the only group opponent that might just be too big a challenge for Josh "oSee" Ohm & co. being the dominant Heroic, who are placed on the opposite side of the double-elimination bracket, there couldn't be a better time for Extra Salt to make some waves amid opponents far above their stature on paper. Two weeks into their European sojourn, the North Americans have managed to stand their ground, with even the inexperienced Justin "FaNg" Coakley looking right at home as he claimed the FunSpark MVP award in the team's runner-up finish.
Can Virtus.pro and FURIA bounce back from sudden drops?
Virtus.pro looked like a contender for the title of the best team in the world early this year when they went on a massive winning streak, interrupted only by Gambit in the IEM Katowice grand final, but the CIS team has shown some warning signs as of late. Mareks "YEKINDAR" Gaļinskis' inconsistency hit Virtus.pro during the past couple of events, and the issues culminated with a last-place finish in the FunSpark ULTI Europe Final following defeats to FORZE and HAVU.
Meanwhile, FURIA find themselves in a similar spot ahead of DreamHack Masters Spring. The Brazilians have looked out of sorts lately, especially in the IEM Summer closed qualifier, with tough defeats in one-sided affairs against Movistar Riders and FaZe sounding alarm bells just two days before the start of their campaign in Group B of the $250,000 event.
It is a bit early to be concerned about the two teams, but it is worth keeping an eye on them to find out whether they can quickly bounce back from the uncharacteristic losses or if they are showing signs of slowing down after a good start to 2021. Virtus.pro could have a difficult road ahead of them, with a best-of-one affair against FaZe up first in Group A and a possible NAVI matchup immediately afterwards, and the same can be said for FURIA, who have an unfamiliar BIG matchup and a potential clash with Heroic in the following round.
NAVI, Vitality put youngsters to the test
DreamHack Masters Spring will see Natus Vincere use Valeriy "b1t" Vakhovskiy on all maps after the team decided to bench flamie following a run of poor results. The Russian player had been under pressure for his performances, leading coach Andrey "B1ad3" Gorodenskiy to believe that a break from competition could help the 24-year-old regain his confidence.
A product of NAVI’s academy, b1t broke through to the first team in December, in the BLAST Premier Fall Finals, and spent the next couple of months getting acclimated to the squad, though he only saw action when they had to play on Inferno. That situation changed in ESL Pro League 13, when he was utilized on Mirage and Overpass (the team didn’t play a single Inferno game in that tournament), which gave the impression that a transition to a more influential role was being prepared.
According to B1ad3, b1t is still "green" but is making "good progress" with the team, who have spent the last three weeks preparing for this event. The 18-year-old has not exactly been a model of consistency - though he has shown that he can pull off some quality plays -, but it will be interesting to see how he will acquit himself as a full team member after several months as a situational player.
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. With a combination of poor results and personal issues affecting the team, Vitality benched veteran RpK in an effort to kick-start their season. Replacing ‘Le Tank’ is 22-year-old Jayson "Kyojin" Nguyen Van, who will get his first taste of tier-one Counter-Strike after struggling to make it out of the French sub-top.
Kyojin will have a baptism of fire for Vitality against Complexity, who have just booked a spot in Flashpoint 3. Stepping into RpK’s shoes is no small matter, but the French team have proved in the past that they are able to quickly integrate newcomers and get them to hit the ground running.
The clock is ticking on FaZe
FaZe’s high-profile signings of Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken and Finn "karrigan" Andersen left fans salivating, but the jury is still out on the direction in which the international team is heading. Two months on from the Danish tactician’s return, FaZe are still nowhere near the top 10, and they head into DreamHack Masters Spring as only the 13th seed and with their confidence shattered by Wednesday’s failed qualification campaign for IEM Summer.
The 9th-12th place finish in IEM Katowice was shrugged off because the tournament came just days after karrigan’s arrival, but the team has since continued to stumble, raising serious doubts about their ability to challenge the top sides as the first Regional Major Ranking (RMR) event of the year looms.
FaZe’s low seed will see them begin their campaign with a tough best-of-one clash with Virtus.pro. It’s a less-than-ideal scenario that could put the team with their backs against the wall right on the first day of play. There is nothing that indicates that FaZe can beat the CIS teams in their group or even G2, whom they have not yet defeated since Nikola "NiKo" Kovač’s transfer to the French-Balkan side. If the struggles continue, fans will begin to wonder if the current roster really has what it takes to bring FaZe’s name back to the top of the pile.