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Inside of group A of the ESL Pro League Season 5 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 A preview.

SK Gaming

After the addition of felps, SK initially struggled to find their new identity. They still finished the online stage of EPL in first place in rather dominant fashion though, mainly due to coldzera and fer wrecking the opposing teams.

The first event the new formed team attended was DreamHack Masters Las Vegas, where they placed second behind Virtus.Pro. It seemed as though the team immediately clicked, but unfortunately for them, that wasn’t the case, as they were eliminated in the group stage of the following two LAN events, IEM Katowice and SL i-League.

During that period, felps’ overly aggressive style was way too predictable, resulting in him dying too easily or gifting away advantageous situations. FalleN also still searched for the form that made him the second best player of 2016; he had a sub 1.00 HLTV rating at those three events.

But FalleN wouldn’t be the best IGL in the world, if he didn’t know how to solve problems. He adjusted SK’s system to mimic more how they played when fnx was still part of the team. felps has dialed down his aggression, and with FalleN’s resurgence to form, the Brazilians come fresh off of two tournament wins. Granted, cs_summit was a lower tier event and a must win for coldzera & Co. But IEM Sydney featured the number one and two ranked teams in the world, Astralis and FaZe. SK bested Astralis in group stage play, and beat FaZe comfortably with a map score of three to one in a BO5 final.

The Brazilians have also revamped their map pool, which makes them quite scary to veto against in BO3s. mirage, cache and cobble are their favorite battle grounds (>75% win rate on each). They are decent on inferno and overpass, and with FalleN hitting his AWP shots again, they should also be lethal on train, especially if fer and felps continue their impressive outer yard play. nuke remains their perma-ban.

fer has been playing lights out ever since fnx left. TACO continues to be a reliable and smart support player. And I’m at a loss for words when it comes to coldzera, clearly the best player in the world and somehow still improving. To demonstrate how sick he is, we just have to look at the HLTV player rankings. coldzera is ranked second with a rating of 1.29. The next best players from Tier 1 teams are fer, kennyS and NiKo coming in at positions 33, 35 and 36 respectively.

I think SK are the favorites coming into this tournament. The only team in this group that could be a threat is G2, because they can match the Brazilians’ individual skill. But I presume coldzera doesn’t care, coldzera crushes, and SK goes straight through to the semis.

G2 Esports

When G2 lost eight of their first nine EPL matches this season, they found themselves at the bottom of the table with no hope of making it to the finals in Dallas. Yet, here they are. They completed an epic comeback by winning 15 of the remaining 17 matches, and clawed their way back to a second place finish.

The Superteam still struggles to live up to the expectations surrounding them. They do show flashes of greatness occasionally, like during the group stage of SL i-League, but not consistently enough. They won DH Tours two weeks ago, but lost to Gambit in the semis of DH Austin one week earlier. As NBK pointed out in an interview with Thorin, both of these lower tier events were must-wins for a star-studded team like G2.


Photo courtesy of DreamHack

kennyS has been performing on a superstar level for months now. apEX embraces the role of entry fragger like none other, but with his emotional approach to the game, his impact will invariably vary. He can single-handedly take over matches when he “feels” it, but especially on the CT side he can be a liability when he plays overly aggressive. NBK and bodyy are rock solid as role players. What’s missing right now is consistency out of shox. G2 has been running the double AWP set-up for a while now with little success. According to experts like launders and moses, it hurts shox’s play, as he’s considered one of the best riflers in CS:GO history.

Looking at the maps, G2 currently seem unbeatable on nuke, with kennyS locking down outer yard on the CT side with his AWP. I don’t think G2 will get a chance to play the map however, since most teams will simply opt to ban it against them. They share strengths with SK on cobble and cache, which won’t leave them with a lot of wiggle room if it comes to a BO3 veto phase against the Brazilians. mirage remains their perma ban, and they are decent on the remaining three maps.

G2 is currently one of the most exciting teams to watch, as I believe their breakthrough to unlocking their full potential is imminent. Maybe it happens in Dallas, and if it does, razor sharp baguettes will come raining down from the skies and pierce through heads left, right and center.

I think G2 will finish group stage play in second place, and come playoff time, anything’s possible. They are probably the second strongest team in attendance after SK.

Immortals

The Brazilians played a strong EPL season and finished third, with a record of 17-7. After the ELEAGUE Major, IMT brought in fnx, the most distinguished Counter-Strike player in Brazilian history (three-time Major Champion), from SK. The move sparked a fire within the team right away, as they reached the semi-finals of IEM Katowice, which had all the world’s best teams in attendance.

After such a strong showing, hopes for the next tournament they attended, SL i-League, were high. The Brazilians are famous for thriving and faltering on emotions. And in Kiev, the latter happened. They got knocked out by CLG in group stage play, and had to leave empty handed.

The next stop was DH Austin, where they exceeded expectations again, and finished in second place, behind Gambit. If the trend of alternating performances were any indication for how Immortals will perform in Dallas, well, that would be bad news. And the fact, that fnx got removed from their active roster this week due to internal issues, doesn’t help. IMT are currently looking for a replacement. Nothing is confirmed yet, but the most likely candidate is João “horvy” Horvath, a relatively unknown player currently playing for k1ck in Portugal. On such short notice, it will be impossible to replace a player like fnx adequately. He is known for having a difficult personality, but is undoubtedly a highly gifted player, who brings heaps of experience to any team he plays in. Due to these circumstances, it’s difficult to evaluate the Brazilian squad.

Immortals look like one of the few teams that have a good understanding of how to play the new inferno. Their T-side executes are well coordinated, and they have good positioning on the defensive side. This is great news for IMT, as many teams don’t shy away from playing the map. Their cobble play is strong as well, nuke remains their perma-ban.

How successful IMT can be in Dallas mainly depends on hen1. They have always relied on him going off, and if he does, they have some upset potential. Unfortunately, hen1 is quite inconsistent, so that’s not a very reliable approach, and therefore IMT won’t make it out of this group.

Fnatic

The former Swedish powerhouse and world’s best team, finished this EPL season slightly above expectations in fourth place, with a record of 15 wins and 11 losses. They are one of the many teams, that underwent roster changes after ELEAGUE’s last major, bringing back together the squad that in late 2015/early 2016 won six tournaments in a row – a feat unmatched to this day.

Still, it was clear from the start, that the swedes won’t reunite and right away start to dominate like they did during their heyday. That intangible magic that often surrounds the world’s best teams is volatile and not something you get on demand. When that magic goes away, it might never return. We all certainly hope it does. Who wouldn’t want to see the Fnatic of old compete again at that highest level against the world’s best?

Recent offline results for Fnatic haven’t been up to par, only making it out of groups once, in Kiev at SL i-League, where they lost to Na’Vi in the quarter finals. At both, DH Las Vegas, and IEM Katowice, they didn’t get past the group stage, leaving a lot to be desired still.

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Close to four months have now passed since the reunification of the team, which means they are now right in the middle of the make-or-break zone. Dallas will give us a better idea which of the two it is going to be.

Historically, inferno has been Fnatic’s strongest playing field, and it continues to be, since the reintroduction of the new version into the pool. Similar to IMT, Fnatic will likely get a chance to play the map, and should be favoured on it against most opponents. Their second best map is cache, which they probably want to avoid only against SK. They don’t play nuke, and have a fighting chance against anyone on the remaining maps.

My guess is, that Fnatic will battle for third place in the group with Cloud9. The swedes need to step up their offline play. Their best-rated player on LAN is olofmeister with a rating of 1.05 in the past three months (during his tenure as the world’s best player, he was rocking 1.20 LAN stats). If they don’t start hitting their shots, it will be difficult against Stewie2k & Co., who are hitting theirs!

Cloud9

Last season’s EPL winner, Cloud9, had a tough time qualifying for Dallas. It went all the way down the wire, to the last day of play, where they had to win at least one map against NRG, if they wanted to control their own fate (a tie with LG and CLG was possible). They did so in OT of the second map.

Cloud9 will be the only team in Dallas that wasn’t struck by roster changes since last season. autimatic recently took over the role of IGL. The move makes sense. He is C9’s most cerebral and hardworking player, and therefore best equipped for the job. Hopefully it doesn’t affect his individual performance, since C9 depend on his fragging power. Stewie2k’s rise to the top continues to impress. Time and again he delivers. Who would have thought, that the player once deemed solely a pug-star, would impress with stellar, intelligent play? n0thing is on fire right now, and Skadoodle has had health issues, but it doesn’t seem to affect his play. shroud had to endure a lot of criticism lately, due to his offline performances at cs_summit and DH Austin. C9 need his production if they want to succeed in Dallas.

Talking about offline performances: to be frank, C9 has been underwhelming this year. They were eliminated in the group stages of all three higher tier events they attended, DH Las Vegas, IEM Katowice and DH Austin.

Looking at their maps, they are strong on cache, cobble and train. A nightmare if they have to go up against SK in a BO3 veto phase. Against the other teams in their group, they should have a strong map pool, with good chances of getting to play on their favored maps.

Cloud9’s steps to success in Dallas: find a way to translate their online performances onto a LAN environment. Get shroud going. Autimatic needs to unlock the secrets to IGLing, to give them more tactical depth. If they can do all that, and I believe they will, I see them getting out of the group in third place, ahead of Fnatic.

EnVyUs

EnVyUs have been flying under the radar for almost the entirety of EPL’S fifth season, always staying within touching distance of the sixth spot. The Frenchmen waited for the last match day to secure a spot at the finals in Dallas, by stunning Astralis with a two to zero victory.

Currently, nV are bootcamping in preparation for Dallas, and they are desperately in need of a bootcamp. They only attended two lower tier events in 2017, cs_summit and DH Tours, and were eliminated in group stage play at both.


Photo courtesy of DreamHack

Their players are not performing on LAN. Their best-rated player is ScreaM, with an offline rating of 1.01. The others are all below 0.90! That won’t cut it for Dallas.

According to NBK, one of the main problems for nV is Happy’s leadership, as he’s unwilling to change his playing style, which by now has been figured out.

But it’s not all bad in EnVy-land. SIXER shows prowess in the role of primary AWPer, reminding us of what he was capable of with the big green gun in CS 1.6.

nV’s strongest map is de_train (~75% win-rate). It is unlikely though, that they will get a chance to play it, since this isn’t a secret. On the other maps, things look worse (below 50% win-rate on each).

Based on numbers alone, I don’t see EnVyUs making it out of this group. Unless something miraculous happens during their bootcamp, they will struggle to even win a single map.

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.