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An in-depth look into ESL One Cologne group A

Peter Stewart
Contributing Editor
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ESL One Cologne is the second Counter-Strike: Global Offensive major to feature a US$1,000,000 prize pool, whilst also featuring teams from across Europe and the Americas, 9 of which are the top 10 ranked teams in the world. With a grand US$500,000 up for grabs for first place, the ever growing community will be glued to the action to see which team prevails over the rest of the competition.

The format for ESL One Cologne has seen no changes since the last major tournament, MLG Columbus, earlier in the year. During the group stages, teams will play in best-of-one matches, two wins sending you to the playoffs, and two losses sending you home. However, the decider group matches will be played in a best-of-three format.

By Thursday next week, we will know which eight teams, from the four groups, will be heading to the famous LANXESS Arena, that hosted the incredible finals of ESL One Cologne 2015, for the playoffs. The playoffs are to be played with a single elimination, best-of-three bracket.

Leading up to ESL One Cologne, we will look at all of the sixteen competing teams descending into Cologne as they look for success at the ninth ever major tournament for CS:GO. In our first preview, Group A.

Astralis

Almost two months ago, the players within Astralis came to a mutual decision that, for the better of the team, they needed to make a change. After close consideration, the team decided to trade René “cajunb” Borg with on-form player, Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjærbye. The change came in light of recent struggles from the player owned side as they were unable to get passed the group stage of two large events: DreamHack Masters Malmö and ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals.

As the change came into reality, you could see that the Danish side were a lot more confident, precise and impactful in their individual play and team coordination. If I’m being honest, I could rattle off a plethora of other adjectives to describe the improvements that Astralis have made, but I think you get the jist of it. Backing this up, in ELEAGUE’s Group C, the Danish side finished at the top of their group with a total of 15 points, and a record of five wins and one loss, only losing to their fellow Danish countrymen, SK Gaming.

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This is all well and good, but unfortunately for Astralis, they will be missing their new key player at ESL One Cologne as Kjærbye has already attended the EU minor with his former side, Team Dignitas. Due to these rules set for the major tournament, Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander will play as Kjærbye’s stand-in, and for obvious reasons, the Danish lineups IGL, Finn “karrigan” Andersen has said that their main goal for the major is to finish within the top eight, allowing them to retain their Legends invite for the next major, later this year. Looking at the group they are in, it is unlikely that we will not see Astralis achieve this goal, especially with a few days of bootcamping to allow Rossander to settle in his new role.

Counter Logic Gaming

At the first major tournament of the year, MLG Columbus 2016, CLG finally achieved their goal of getting passed the group stages, securing a Legends invite to the next major, but then falling short of a better placement after a relatively close 2-0 series loss to North American rivals, Team Liquid. Regardless of that positive result, the team went back to the good ol’ North American way with another group stage exit at DreamHack Austin after back-to-back losses to Cloud9, including a 1-16 battering. Unhappy with their performance, the team decided to release Jacob “FugLy” Medina.

Still in search of the steady roster that every successful team requires, they decided to bring in sniper, Kenneth “koosta” Suen, who, without a doubt, has the ability to change the pace of any game if the In-game Leader allows him to do his own thing, get the picks that are required, and not being cemented into a preset, mundane role. With better opportunity coming up, CLG lost one of their star players, Josh “jdm64” Marzano to Team Liquid, and due to a lack of player availability, the North American side have again taken the decision to use Faruk “pita” Pita as their fifth, who previously acted as a stand-in during ELEAGUE as the search continued for their official fifth player.

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If we go back in time, to before the Marzano and Suen exchange took place, we find ourself in ELEAGUE’s Group C, which wasn’t the best of weeks for CLG. Right from the off, we knew it was going to be a slow week for NA’s hope in the third week of Turner’s $1.4 million ELEAGUE competition as they were taken down by SK Gaming and Astralis with 16-3 and 16-2 defeats, respectively. The Americans did put a couple wins together, but no convincing defeats that are worth a mention, and therefore, finished their week with a 2-4 record.

Looking to Cologne, if this CLG side are wanting to make it out of the groups, it will have to be a complete team-effort with neither of the five players slacking behind. However, if we want to pin point a player that needs to be playing their best for the team, we will have to look at the new recruit, Suen, who, as previously mentioned, can change the game if given the opportunity to do so. If anything but this is done, then we won’t be seeing CLG out of the groups this time around.

Gambit

Following their surprising 9th-12th finish at MLG Columbus, where they just missed out on a Legends invite after a close 2-1 series to loss to CLG, we have not heard much from  the predominantly Russian side in terms of LAN appearances. The only time that we have seen Gambit on the world stage since then was at the ESL One Cologne Main Qualifier.

Similar to mousesports, in Group C, Gambit have the potential to take down teams that feature within the top 10 of the world rankings, as we saw in Katowice for the major qualifier. During their time in Poland, Gambit’s only defeat came from FaZe, whilst barely beating OpTic Gaming, overcoming the Boys in Blue, Team EnVyUs, and taking down G2 Esports to qualify for the world renowned event, ESL One Cologne.

Alongside Team EnVyUs, Virtus.pro and compLexity, Gambit compted in ELEAGUE’s Group F, the final week of group play before the Last Chance Qualifier and Playoffs. Going into their week of matches, nobody had much expectation for the Russian side with limited LAN experience since MLG Columbus, and two European giants also featuring in their group. Although they did finish with a 2-5 record, this side has again shown us that they have the ability to push top teams to their limits with narrow defeats to Envy, 16-13 and 16-0, and a win against Virtus.pro, 16-12.

If these five players can perform anything like they did at MLG Columbus, and can make some minor improvements from ELEAGUE before their first matches of ESL One Cologne, I see no reason as to why Gambit can’t progress out of the group stage, even if it is by the skin of their teeth

Team Dignitas

When the high profile exchange of Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjærbye and René “cajunb” Borg took place between Astralis and Team Dignitas, Dignitas were looking rather lacklustre, to say the least. However, that judgement had solely been gauged from some disappointing online results during the first season of the Esports Championship Series, and little time playing with their new roster.

With that being said, once they had officially qualified for ESL One Cologne from the main qualifier, which Kjærbye had previously helped them qualify for after a flawless performance at the DreamHack EU Minor, you could instantaneously tell that a great weight on their shoulders had been relieved from them. It is definitely worth mentioning that, throughout the event, the Danish side were only ever up against equally skilled competition, or teams that they should easily conquer without any issue, but qualification was no easy task for the Danes.

At the ESL One Cologne Main Qualifier, it was FaZe and HellRaisers who would take down Dignitas, where the Danes would then be met with tight matchups against Empire and Australian side, Renegades, before finally getting into their own rhythm against TyLoo, comfortably winning 16-3.

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Most recently, Team Dignitas competed in ELEAGUE’s Group D, and unsurprisingly, after their major qualifier performance, you could tell that they were back to their sloppy ways. By the end of the week, the Danes had put together a record of two wins and four losses, finishing them in 15th-18th place for the ELEAGUE campaign. Granted, that is still $30,000 in winning for an unconvincing performance.

If I am being completely honest with you, I have little faith in this Danish side performing well at a major competition, considering their performance in an offline environment as of late. Although, if Team Dignitas do make it out of the groups, which is highly possible with the experience that these players have, especially Borg, then I would be more than happy to bet that they wouldn’t win their next match.

We’ll see you in Cologne!

If you haven’t been able to grab yourself a ticket for ESL One Cologne, you can tune into the livestream, but it that’s not possible, be sure to follow ESL CS on Twitter and Facebook to make sure you don’t miss any updates.

This year, we are again, hosting our very own fantasy competition with some great prizes, including, a Maxnomic ESL Pro 2.0 Gaming Chair, ESEA Premium, ESL shop vouchers, and more! Click here to to join the official league or create your own league to compete against friends.