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Inside of group B of the ESL Pro League finals

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The $1,000,000 ESL Pro League Season 5 Finals bring Counter-Strike back to the most iconic city in esports history. After an incredibly tense online stage – on the very last day of play, eight European teams battled for two playoff spots, and in North America, C9 clinched their finals berth with an OT victory over NRG - the six best teams of both regions gather in Dallas to fight for glory and a first place worth $225,000.

The twelve teams are split into two round-robin groups. The winner of each group advances straight to the semi-finals, the second and third placed teams play quarterfinals first. The Verizon Theatre plays host to the playoffs on June 3rd – 4th.

The first, third and fifth seeded teams of both regions are joined by the second, fourth and sixth seeds, which leaves us with the following groups:

  • Group A: SK Gaming, G2 Esports, Immortals, fnatic, Cloud9, Team EnVyUs
  • Group B: North, Team Liquid, mousesports, NRG eSports, Natus Vincere, OpTic Gaming

Here’s our group B preview.

North

MSL’s team finished a very dominant online stage of EPL with 19 wins, compared to only 7 losses, in first place, which is quite impressive, when we consider how stacked the league in EU is - 11 out of the 14 teams in EPL are currently ranked among the top 20 teams world-wide.

But if we look at North’s recent LAN performances, their online success doesn’t translate very well to offline environment, which is not a good sign regarding the finals in Dallas.

Their last good showing on LAN dates back all the way to February at DreamHack Maters Las Vegas, where they fell to SK in the semis. This was also the first tournament they played with aizy, who was brought in from FaZe to replace RUBINO.

Next was IEM Katowice, where they didn’t get past Immortals in the quarters. At SL i-League they again were sent packing in the quarter-finals, this time by HellRaisers. And finally, the number six ranked team in the world lost to the Chiefs in an elimination match at IEM Sydney. Something that should never happen against an, at the time unranked, Australian team.

There is no reason for North to panic though, as they have skill and a capable leader in MSL. Magisk, a player with superstar carry potential, showed what he can do last year, but over the last three months he struggled to put up the same numbers (only 1.05 HLTV rating). They need him to return to form. k0nfig seems to unlock his full potential finally, but they need both of them. The integration of aizy, who showed in FaZe how skilled he is, isn’t working out the way it should. He struggles to adapt to North’s system, and his form is suffering because of it. MSL receives a lot of criticism for not fragging adequately, but this is mainly caused by the positions he puts himself in, and it was his smart leadership that got the Danes to where they are now in the first place.

Their two strongest maps are cobble and overpass. The former is tricky, since almost all teams in their group are at least decent on it. The latter we don’t see played a lot in the current meta, as many teams don’t like it. They don’t play train, and have a win-rate of ~50% on the remaining maps.

Despite struggling recently, I see North as the favorites for the group win here, as the only team that can outskill them is Na’Vi, and we all know how they’ve been playing lately.

Team Liquid

Despite going through a stretched out period of upheaval ever since ELEAGUE’s Major, Liquid finished EPL’s fifth season in a strong second place.

First, Stanislaw joined to replace Hiko, then Pimp requested a transfer and was replaced by Twistzz, who was brought in from Misftis.

Their results outside of EPL have suffered tremendously as a result. They only attended two lower tier LANs so far, and disappointed at both, failing in the group stage of DH Austin and suffering elimination at the hands of OpTic at cs_summit.


Photo courtesy of DreamHack

On paper, Liquid should be the best team in NA. Stanislaw is hailed as NA’s best IGL, which is probably true, as OpTic had enormous success under his leadership. So far his players still struggle though to buy into his system.

EliGE is often regarded as the best player in North America (either him or Stewie2k), and he does play well individually. Twistzz proved and proves to be highly skilled. jdm64, while struggling somewhat lately, is a solid AWPer and nitr0 does a good job as entry fragger. They need to find a way to make their strength on paper show on the server, if they want to find more success. Sure, they are good enough to stay in the top five in NA, but they surely want more.

Cobble, train and overpass are their home maps (~75% win-rate on each). It’ll still get uncomfortable against some of the Euros on the first two, but on overpass, they should have a chance to beat anyone. They are weak on inferno, nuke and mirage, and decent on cache. Come BO3 time, if they get overpass, and some luck they have some upset potential.

With zews they have a very experienced coach who knows how to win. If they finally manage to get on the same page tactically, I can see them reaching European T1 level. Not in Dallas though, as they need more time. They have a chance of getting out of groups, but they will need to beat mouz and OpTic to do so, and maybe even Na’Vi. Not an easy task at all.

mousesports

What an exciting season the Berlin-based team had! When they lost NiKo early into the EPL season, everybody counted them out. How should they be able to replace their superstar, IGL and top 3 player in the world? But everybody should err. NiKo’s departure freed up more space for the other players, and they are improving ever since. mouz had to concede their second place to G2 only on the last day of EPL and finished a strong third.

denis seems to profit the most from NiKo’s absence. He’s elevated his play drastically. oskar’s AWP is on point. With the help of their coach lmbt, chrisJ learns the ins and outs of IGLing, and bringing in 17-year-old wunderkind ropz, pays dividends so far.


Photo courtesy of DreamHack

But we shouldn’t over-hype them either. The reality is, that this roster has attended only one offline event so far, DH Tours. They took a map off G2 in France in the semis, and performed as more or less as expected. It was ropz first LAN event, and while his level dropped off from his online play, he still knew how to deal with his nervousness. But Dallas will be a different beast entirely. It will be exciting to see what he can do on an international stage, when the world watches.

mouz has a long history of playing well online and then not delivering on LAN, in all its different roster iterations. It’s high time to counter that trend. Luckily they have the opportunity to do just that in Dallas. If not now, even the most hard-core fans will give in to their doubt.

mouz prefer to play on mirage and cache, but I don’t think they will get a chance to play on those maps during the group stage. They are decent on the remaining five maps.

Again, group B is without a doubt the weaker of the two groups. Form on game day will play a decisive factor, as the group is so balanced. I still give mouz a slight edge over Liquid, NRG and Optic, thus making it out of the group in third place.

NRG eSports

In NA’s EPL, the five teams favored to make it to Dallas, all qualified. The question was who would be the sixth and final team? That team is NRG. They played solid CS during the online stage of Pro League, and surprised everybody by finishing in fourth place with a record of 15-9.


Photo courtesy of HLTV

Outside of EPL their performances weren’t as great though. They mainly played some qualifiers, but didn’t get into a single LAN event, meaning we don’t have any data to evaluate their offline play.

In the past three months, they won 35 out of 62 played maps online. Their strongest player is Brehze, and newest addition LILMAN seems to fit in with the team. ptr is back from a slump, and is rocking the big green like he used to again. And with daps, they have one of the better IGLs in NA, which means that tactically they will be sound in Dallas.

But as we all know, online play can be very misleading. When NRG have to face well-prepared top teams in Dallas, things will get a little rougher compared to NA online play. Dallas will be a learning experience for the team, as I believe out of all twelve participating teams, they are the least like to make it out of groups.

Natus Vincere

What a disappointment the Ukrainian powerhouse has been in 2017. Right after s1mple joined last year, they won their first CS:GO Tier 1 event, ESL One New York. Things could have been flowery for them. And as it turned out, they were. But, they were withered flowers.

They barely qualified for Dallas by beating Heroic on the very last map of the EPL season in triple OT. Watching them play, it feels like they lack proper communication, motivation and team play. It almost seems like they want things to go south, to get out of a bad situation. In Las Vegas, Guardian already hinted at internal issues in a weird interview, and it seems those issues still prevail.

Even though we have no intel on what’s going on in the team, some say s1mple is to blame, as he has a history of being a destructive force within teams, due to his difficult personality. All the skill in the world doesn’t help, if your teammates don’t want to play with you.

Na’Vi tried to fix their problems by firing long-term member and coach, starix, but to no avail. Whatever the reasons for their slump, they need to find solutions. It is a shame to see a team with so much potential and firepower, play so poor.

Na’Vi had a top four finish at a single event this year, at SL i-League. At DH Las Vegas, IEM Katowice and DH Tours they went out in groups. For a team that should aspire to be number one, that’s not enough. The internal destructive forces that arise whenever something is not going their way on the server seem simply to powerful.

On train and inferno they seem quite strong, but are underperforming on all the remaining maps. They continue to ban cache.

There’s no doubt, that individually Na’Vi is up there on a level with the SKs, FaZes and G2s of the world, but what good does it do, when the players don’t want to play together anymore? That’s at least the impression that I get watching them play.

The Ukrainians should be the clear favorites in this group, but the way things have been going, a scenario is imaginable, where they get eliminated before the playoffs. I don’t think that will happen, but simply entertaining that possibility would have been deemed crazy just half a year ago.

OpTic Gaming

tarik’s team had to wait for the last week of EPL to clinch their finals berth, finishing in sixth place with a record of 14-10.

Their performance during the season was up and down, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, as they have played without an IGL since February, when Stanislaw left and they are still on the lookout for replacement.

They tried out jasonR at cs_summit, and he was playing surprisingly well, taking into consideration that he also had to IGL. In Sydney they used hazed, who has more experience IGLing, but less individual skill. And in Dallas they will employ jasonR’s services again.

mixwell and tarik stated in an interview that this situation is tiring, and that they want to find a fifth player asap to finally be able to prepare for the upcoming months.

OpTic feel at home on nuke and mirage (win-rate of ~75% on both). They seem to be willing to play on any map, albeit with moderate success.

We don’t know how much they have been preparing for this event with the uncertainty of who their new fifth will be. That’s why they have to be regarded as underdogs in this group. They certainly have a chance to advance, especially if mixwell continues his strong form, but are underdogs in every matchup, except maybe versus NRG.

The ESL Pro League Season 5 Finals in Dallas, Texas

Group stage play in Dallas kicks off on the 29th of May. Don’t miss your favorite teams fighting for glory in a city so integral to esports, and be sure to follow ESL’S CS:GO YouTube channel.

The Verizon Theatre plays host to the playoffs from June 3rd – 4th. You can secure your tickets here, while they are still available (selling out quickly). For live coverage of the event and all of the latest updates on the ESL Pro League, be sure to follow ESL Counter-Strike on Twitter and Facebook.