By Tomi “lurppis” Kovanen
With IEM Oakland in the rear-view mirror, the CS:GO season marched on to Jonkoping, Sweden and DreamHack Winter 2016 this past weekend. Gambit won the $100,000 tournament, but they weren’t the only story. Here’s what we learned.
The competition for the 2017 ELeague Major will be intense
Given the number of upsets that took place at ESL One Cologne, the next major qualifier was always going to have a ton of top talent competing simply to get a spot.
Teams such as NiP, FaZe, dignitas, G2, EnVyUs, mousesports, Cloud9, OpTic, TyLoo, Immortals, GODSENT, Renegades, HellRaisers and more will be competing for eight spots at the ELEAGUE major. For those who lost count at home, that list includes six of the currently top ten ranked teams in the world, per HLTV.org. To top it off, ranks 11-20 include six more teams from that list. How crazy is that?
The major qualifier has been mostly overlooked in the past months, given how busy the tournament schedule has been this year, with a number of them boasting prize pools in upwards of $200,000. But the $1,000,000 major remains every team’s goal, and each of the 13 teams above will need to survive the offline qualifier in Atlanta just to get to the event, let alone to make playoffs.
Events such as DreamHack Winter serve as a good reminder of how intense the competition will be. This time the major qualifier cannot be overlooked by any team, not even in the opening round.
One team’s Super Bowl is just another game for a different team
When Ninjas in Pyjamas won DreamHack Masters Malmo in April, besting a strong field of teams fresh off of MLG Columbus – the first major of 2016 – it was much more important to NiP than their competitors. The Swedes had to use their coach Bjorn “threat” Pers as a stand-in at MLG, making Malmo the more important event. That was the exact opposite of all the other participants, for whom the Swedish event was the cool-off event scheduled a bit too soon after a major.
Though there is no singular event that dominates DreamHack Winter in importance, tournaments such as ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals, IEM Oakland, Eleague Season 2, ECS Season 2 Finals and the ELEAGUE major qualifier top the DreamHack event in both prize money and prestige. This is no knock on DreamHack (who always put together great events) but simply a case of bad timing.
In Jonkoping, there were teams with everything to win – Gambit, Renegades, Kinguin and GODSENT, the four teams who made the playoffs – and teams who were such obvious and overwhelming favorites to make the grand final that it was hard to see how they could not disappoint. I am of course referring to Cloud9 and dignitas, two top-five teams in the world that both crashed out in the group stage of DreamHack Winter, losing to teams few considered serious threats.
This does not take anything away from Gambit or Renegades, but is merely something to keep in mind when assessing dignitas and Cloud9 for future tournaments. Lack of practice and having to prioritize events are not excuses, but real issues affecting teams. They lost fair and square, but it does not mean they cannot climb back into form. Give them some time to practice, and put up more than 27 hours on Steam, and they should be back. For Cloud9 and dignitas, this was the final week of an exhausting regular season, whereas Gambit went into it as their Super Bowl, and it paid off.
The pressure is on for Cloud9 and dignitas
While it’s understandable that Cloud9 and dignitas were not in top form in Jonkoping, that does not mean their performances wouldn’t have any implications going forward.
The rise of dignitas has been borderline meteoric since the addition of Emil “Magiskb0Y” Reif, but success can be fleeting. There are only so many disappointing finishes a top team can have before it’s indicative something is no longer clicking. This is not to say it has or will happen to either Cloud9 or dignitas, but any last place exit makes you look prior results in a new light.
Cloud9 is often lauded for their summer 2015 run, when they made the grand final of three tournaments within a month or so. They then disappeared from tournament contention for more than a year with only Jordan “n0thing” Gilbert and Mike “shroud” Grzesiek remaining from the roster of July 2015. Their run with Timothy “autimatic” Ta includes three meaningful top four finishes, but also group stage exits at ELeague, IEM Oakland and DreamHack Winter. I still side with strong play being the norm and these early exits being the outliers, but it is becoming harder to tell. And this could be eating at Cloud9 as well.
Similarly, dignitas now boast two group stage exits in their last three tournaments, with the win at EPICENTER: Moscow now five weeks removed. What if they lose their ELeague quarterfinal to SK, and then go out in the group stage of ECS Season 2 Finals? All of a sudden the vast majority of their recent results would be poor. The Danes are treading dangerous water; a few more mistakes and their losses could have a long-term impact on their future play. dignitas are still a young team, and having qualified for ECS Finals, will not be home until the major qualifier is over. They will not get a lot of practice, and must rely on routine instead. The pressure is on.
The ex-CIS region’s Legends spots are slowly becoming justified
Any time someone criticizes Valve’s qualifying format for the majors, the argument for a potential future group of death involves Gambit and FlipSid3 being put into what is called an easy group, thus stacking one of the other ones. While Dauren “AdreN” Kystaubayev’s team has yet to be truly tested by elite-level teams — aside from the series win over Cloud9 at DreamHack Winter — they have gotten this far with flying colors. With Danylo “Zeus” Teslenko and Abay “HObbit” Khasenov on board, the now-majority Kazakhstani team has won two tournaments and made top four at ESWC.
Likewise, FlipSid3 does not seem overly active outside of the majors, but a series win over dignitas is impressive in any context. There is a long way to go from a top six finish at DreamHack Winter to making the playoffs again at the ELeague major in January, but this served as a good reminder that one should not underestimate Andrey “B1ad3” Gorodenskiy’s team. They seem to be able to grind out results when it most matters, even if they cannot do it year round. Keep an eye on Gambit and FlipSid3 at the major.
GODSENT may not need personnel changes, but they do need change
When the all-time great Fnatic roster split in August, with Robin “flusha” Ronnquist, Jesper “JW” Wecksell and Freddy “KRiMZ” Johansson joining GODSENT with former Fnatic in-game leader Markus “pronax” Wallsten, most expected them to be a contender within weeks. Three months later, and not only have GODSENT yielded no impressive results to speak of, their early resume speaks more against the team than for it. It must be getting incredibly tiring for the likes of flusha and JW, both of whom have won three majors and been part of a consistent top three team for most of the last three years.
KRiMZ seemingly grew impatient in wanting to be traded back to Fnatic, where he took the core’s major spot with him. And in all seriousness, how much longer can flusha go on? He is one of the all-time great players, boasting a top-five career rating at the largest events, an MVP trophy from ESL One Cologne 2015, and three major titles. His play has suffered in GODSENT, but it is unclear which way the causality goes. GODSENT can still make the team work without roster moves, but they are in dire need of changes. The clock is ticking, and there is a real danger some players might want to move by year end.
Follow Tomi on Twitter @lurppis_