After countless hours of online competitive play, 16 of the best CS:GO teams on the planet will descend upon a little Danish town called Odense to compete for the ESL Pro League title and a $750,000 prize pool on December 7-9. On top of that, the odds of seeing an Intel Grand Slam winner have never been greater – who can stop Astralis from netting an additional $1,000,000? Check out five of the main storylines to follow when the flashbangs start flying & the headshots start dinking in Denmark!
Cementing the Astralis era
After winning three of the previous eight Intel Grand Slam tournaments (DreamHack Marseilles 2018, Pro League S7 Finals, IEM Chicago), the Danes have two more shots (EPL Finals Odense 2018, IEM Katowice Major 2019) at becoming the first team to complete the most difficult feat in all of CS:GO. Now, 2018 has been defined by a domineering Astralis. With seven trophies and a staggering $2,000,000 in prize money won, dev1ce & Co. have ruled over the CS-verse in a manner few could have predicted. It’s their era, and with the Intel Grand Slam, Astralis could elevate their legacy into hitherto unforeseen heights.
But, and there always is one, gla1ve and his boys have seemingly lost their air of invincibility. A group stage exit at BLAST Copenhagen and a too-close-for-comfort series against a newly formed Fnatic at IEM Chicago, leave at least a little hope for all other challengers. Should Astralis make it into the finals, they have a $100,000 bounty on their heads – a spoils bonus that goes to whichever side prevents zonic’s boys from completion of the Intel Grand Slam. It’s Astralis versus the world with a chance to make history in their own backyard. Fireworks guaranteed!
Again, it’s Astralis in the role of Danish Liquidator and merciless soul destroyer. 2018 has been Liquid’s strongest year to date, and if it weren’t for the Danes, nitr0 might be leading the world’s strongest side. But device & Co. seem like a hurdle too big to overcome for the talented NA squad. The two teams met in the playoffs of five LANs this year (EPL S7, ECS S5, ELEAGUE CS:GO Premier, London Major, IEM Chicago) and Liquid managed to win only a single map out of the 13 played.
What effect does such utter domination have on the psyche of a team that wants to become number one? Should they risk everything and consider making a roster move if things keep going in favor of the Danes, or is accepting a spot amongst the top three the right thing to do? That solely depends on the team’s character, which isn’t unlikely to undergo another Danish test in Odense, and reveal what kind of cloth Team Liquid is cut from.
Canaries in Viking-land
Exotic birds don’t usually feel at home in cold countries. And in Denmark, it’s freezing this time of year. Not a good sign for ORDER, ViCi Gaming and Sharks Esports, our representatives from Australia, Asia and South America respectively. And indeed, if we prohibit our imagination from running rampant, we can only reach one conclusion: death by a cold quiver.
Now, Brazil already provided several top teams and Australia’s Renegades have breached the top ten too. Asia remains the only Counter-Strike relevant region that still lags behind significantly. It’s not due to a lack of individual skill, as we often see the flashiest moves from players like BnTeT or ViCi’s very own zhokiNg. Rather, discipline and tactical flaws combined with worse training conditions seem to be the limiting factors. Still, as Brazil and Australia have demonstrated, anything’s possible with the right attitude. It will be tough, but in Denmark all eyes are on ViCi Gaming to put Asia back on the map.
A last stand… on wobbly legs
Odense could very well be G2’s last hurrah. The French team’s high expectations, after bringing in Ex6TenZ for a more tactical approach and SmithZz’ reinstatement as support, are nowhere near to being met. The move was divisive from the get-go. Some said that Ex6TenZ tactical ability, paired with shox and kennyS individual class, would be enough to challenge the status quo of top-tier Counter-Strike. Others wagered that a simple lack of firepower would eventually cause the team’s demise. A few months into the experiment and it seems like the latter is true.
Somehow, G2 managed to place seventh in Pro League Season 8 to qualify for the LAN finals. But, if we let the French’s past results on LAN guide our predictions for the future, well, it’s not looking too good. bodyy and his boys haven’t been able to reach a top four placing at any event they attended, including some lower tier tournaments where a place on the ppdium was mandatory. From what we can gather as outsiders, morale is low and even a roster move isn’t out of the question. Nonetheless, G2 will have another shot at redeeming themselves in Odense. Sometimes a single good tournament is all it takes to ignite a fire.
EU vs. NA – Round 8
In the eighth clash of continents, EU is leading with four Pro League winners (2x Fnatic, G2, Astralis) compared to NA’s three (Luminosity, Cloud9, SK Gaming). Of course, due to the team whose name I shall not mention anymore, EU is favored to pull ahead further in Odense. And the balance of power amongst the world’s top teams clearly tips towards Europe too. Only MiBR, Liquid and NRG are currently ranked in the top ten. Some things never change. Maybe the Euros are just better at video games…
We may witness the birth of a new NA star in Denmark. It will be Ghost Gaming’s first big international LAN, and as Joshua “steel” Nissan himself recently stated, the team’s long-term goal is to become a top five contender. So who knows, maybe Ghost is the answer to NA’s prayers. Maybe Ghost can reverse the continental drift. Their performance over the online season was easily the biggest surprise of the semester and we've all seen before how some teams can ride a wave of momentum to reach dizzying height.
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