FORZE send NAVI down to EPL Group D lower bracket
Aleksandr "shalfey" Marenov's 1.30 rating in the series was enough to ensure the Russian team picked up their first win in Malta.
FORZE have enjoyed an ideal start to their run through ESL Pro League Season 17 Group D after getting the better of Natus Vincere in their opening matchup, 2-1. Andrey "Jerry" Mekhryakov and company dropped Overpass (11-16), but then responded with a 30-round Ancient (16-14) before wrapping things up on Inferno (16-11).
The win will be a major boon for FORZE, who have also suffered from a flurry of mixed results across numerous online competitions in the run-up to their ESL Pro League campaign.
Regardless, the side appears to have ironed out their wrinkles in time for their campaign through the $850,000 LAN event by taking down the group's second-highest-rated side, due in large part to a sublime 1.30-rated performance from shalfey, who was a perfect counterweight to Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev's perpetual brilliance.
Natus Vincere will undoubtedly be disappointed by the loss, with the team looking shaky and unprepared in the server despite having four weeks between their 3-4th place finish at IEM Katowice and their opening series in Malta. The Ukrainian ensemble now need three victories on the trot if they're to secure a playoff berth and avoid a trip to the do-or-die last chance stage, with their next matchup being versus Astralis on Thursday at 12:30 .
Overpass kicked off the ESL Pro League Season 17 Group D opener, where FORZE stole away the momentum in round three thanks to a double-kill entry from Vladislav "Krad" Kravchenko in Bathrooms to build a 4-2 lead on the T-side. Denis "electroNic" Sharipov downed two with his Desert Eagle in the seventh round to get Natus Vincere back on track, and the Ukrainian-majority lineup didn't look back from this point. A sublime 20-6 performance from s1mple carried the squad to an overwhelming 10-5 lead by the swap, with FORZE being able to add just one round following their initial burst of success.
FORZE whittled down the deficit once on the defense, getting to within one round of double digits after stellar holds and consistent impact from Evgeny "r3salt" Frolov, who was having a quiet game up until the second half. Alas, the remainder of the match was reminiscent of the opening 15 rounds; Natus Vincere conceded just two rounds once they found their footing, often losing rounds to FORZE's pistols but answering right back with their own mishmash buys to steal away their opponents' map pick, 16-11.
FORZE slowly launched their comeback attempt once Ancient rolled around, as shalfey and Aleksandr "zorte" Zagodyrenko combined for 17 kills to guide the Russians to a slender 4-3 lead on the CT-side. This neck-and-neck affair continued to be front and center as the first half progressed, but it was Jerry's men who narrowly took the lead by the interval. Natus Vincere succeeded in posting sporadic round wins on the board to keep nipping at FORZE's heels, but were otherwise no match for shalfey, who went 22-7 by the switch to gift his side a three-round buffer.
Valeriy "b1t" Vakhovskiy more than doubled his kills from two to five on the second pistol round, the Ukrainian outfit using their new-found economic freedom to retake the lead and reach double digits first, 10-9. A 1vs2 clutch from shalfey in round 22 got FORZE back in the driver's seat, and the Russian's heroics — including a 33-15 K-D by the map's end — were enough to carry his team to a laborious 16-14 victory and force an Inferno decider.
A myriad of missed shots from Natus Vincere gifted FORZE the first Inferno pistol round on a silver platter, and the Russians capitalized fully by posting five rounds in a row without a single shred of resistance from their counterparts. Natus Vincere finally got on the scoresheet after winning round six due to time, and it didn't take long for the team's world-class players to start chiming in en masse. The Ukrainian lineup went on to muster eight rounds by the side swap, losing just two additional rounds — both of which came down to 1vs1s — after the less-than-ideal start to sit up 8-7.
FORZE kept the world's No. 5 team honest at the outset of their CT-side, winning four rounds to NAVI's three to keep the two teams level pegging at 11 rounds apiece. The Russian side benefited from an all-or-nothing 3k from Krad on the B bombsite in round 23, with the play beginning a period of a late-series dominance for Jerry's troops. The squad's gamble-heavy CT-side forced Natus Vincere to walk into deathtraps round after round, and it didn't take long for FORZE to waltz up to a 16-11 victory to snatch away the series, 2-1.
|FORZE||K - D||+/-||ADR||Rating 2.0|
|70 - 51||+19||90.7||1.30|
|62 - 47||+15||73.5||1.17|
|60 - 61||-1||80.1||1.07|
|53 - 62||-9||75.6||0.90|
|39 - 62||-23||54.6||0.72|
|Natus Vincere||K - D||+/-||ADR||Rating 2.0|
|76 - 48||+28||89.8||1.39|
|55 - 54||+1||77.7||1.08|
|56 - 61||-5||77.0||1.04|
|49 - 62||-13||62.9||0.82|
|46 - 62||-16||65.5||0.81|