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On a mission: can America defend home ground at the ESL ESEA Pro League finals?

Sören Vendsahm's picture
Sören Vendsahm
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For a long time, the CS:GO scene was focused on Europe. The best teams came from there, the big LANs and majors were held there - but now North America is on the rise. After Intel Extreme Masters San Jose, another massive event is crossing the Atlantic to take place in Burbank, California, where four elite North American teams will try to protect their houses. Canadians, Americans and Brazilians are all pulling towards that same goal - to break the dominance of the European teams and bring a title to the other side of the Atlantic ocean. Is the wait finally over?

Coming in hot

The biggest hope of the struggling American region is Brazilian team Luminosity Gaming as well as the American Team Liquid. For both squads, the past couple of weeks have been more than good - and with the results to show for it.

Over every other recent accomplishment of the North American divisional teams, the DreamHack Winter 2015 run of Luminosity has been the most spectacular. This was not only because the Brazilians traveled to Sweden to become the runner-up in Jönköping, but also because of the circumstances surrounding this run. At this stage, no one knew what LG was capable of. After a disappointing 0-2 sweep by Na’Vi in San Jose, the Brazilian team from North American organization Luminosity Gaming was prompted to swap their roster around. The team that had struck fear into opponents’ hearts since MLG Aspen rotated members around for the first time. Usually the squad around legendary CS player FalleN was known only to switch team names, remaining with the same group of players while trying to represent Brazil and the entire South American community with grace and power.

Now it was time for a change, and with fnx, TACO and new coach zews, more success was hoped for. However, no one expected it to happen that quickly. Merely six days after officially announcing the roster rotation, the South American heroes were hoisting a US$50,000 check in front of a packed audience in Sweden. More to note is the fact that they’ve showed resilience and poise in the run, not faltering and collapsing after early setbacks. Not every good team in the scene would have continued to believe and play lights out after taking a beating in their first match since the roster swap. A 0-16 thumping by Fnatic was followed up by plenty of wins against the best of the best teams that CS:GO has to offer. A 2-1 triumph over EnVyUs, Ninjas in Pyjamas and Team SoloMid furthered the DreamHack Winter storyline, giving them the spotlight they deserved. Sadly, the story didn’t quite have a happy end as Fnatic ultimately took them out in the grand finals. However, the legacy was still made and the hopes and dreams of all of America were rekindled once more.

Hopes and dreams that are also resting on the shoulders of Team Liquid. Granted DreamHack Winter 2015 didn’t quite go as successfully as the team might have planned, but their recent stretch in and against North American squads is a sign of good things to come. Second at the iBUYPOWER Cup, third at the RNG Pro Series LAN event, a sweep over Virtus.pro to start off Intel Extreme Masters San Jose - it has been going well for the North American squad around star player Hiko.

The issue with Team Liquid in the past was always consistency and performance at crunch time, both of which they seem to have a handle on by now. If anything, their run through the regular season of the ESL ESEA Pro League Season 2 North American division shows their improvement in terms of consistency. Throughout the eight weeks and 22 games, Team Liquid didn’t drop the ball significantly once. Their four losses only came against their direct rivals in North America - teams like Conquest, Cloud9 and CLG. The only really pitiful loss came against Winterfox back in week seven. At that time, Team Liquid had basically already confirmed their post-season berth with a sensational start, taking their opponents a tad too lightly on Mirage. Against the top teams of the world, especially with Fnatic and Team EnVyUs in their group, taking opponents lightly will most likely not be an issue. They know what they are capable off, and the team as well as the fans know that a good outing at the ESL studios in Burbank, California is definitely not out of the question. Team Liquid has been hot lately, and even more so when playing on their home turf - anything could happen.

The new kids and the wildcard

The other two teams that come out of the North American division couldn’t be more different on paper. On one side, we have Counter Logic Gaming, a veteran team with plenty of major experience getting ready for their second ESL ESEA Pro League finals weekend. On the other, we have the new and rising team Conquest. Obviously only the brand and team name is new in the case of the latter, as the team members of the squad include veterans like ShahZaM, NAF and stanislaw.

Now the question for both teams will be simple: who is going to show up? For CLG, it has been a mixed bag of emotions over the last couple of weeks, ranging from the incredible agony of defeat to the highs and hype of victory. After a narrow defeat in the group stage decider at the last major in Cluj, CLG was focused on the regional scene once more. Just like every North American team, they played both big LAN events in Santa Ana, California - mostly to get warmed up for the festivities in San Jose. Unfortunately for them, neither of the events really turned into a big success. At the iBUYPOWER Cup, third/fourth place is all they could get. A few days later, a group stage out at the RNG Pro Series dampened the mood even further, followed by a narrow,yet decisive 0-2 first-round loss at the SAP Arena to end their Intel Extreme Masters San Jose dream.

Nothing was going right for the CLG squad - except their play in online competitions such as the ESL ESEA Pro League Season 2. The team was getting out of their slump, chaining together two of the more important victories in week eight and nine to give them enough of a cushion to survive the final charge of compLexity Gaming and Cloud9 at a playoff berth. Holding on to that slot means that CLG is now one of only two teams getting to back-to-back ESL ESEA Pro League finals, alongside none other than Brazilian squad Luminosity. Given the latter’s recent roster changes, CLG sticking to their five from last season makes them the only squad to make it back to the final event without tinkering around with their lineup.

Conquest’s ShahZaM was almost one of those elite players to make it to back-to-back finals as well, having played a decent chunk of the ESL ESEA Pro League Season 1 campaign as designated AWPer for Cloud9. However, mid-way through the season he got replaced by Skadoodle, leaving him stranded and searching for a new team. Now his new home in Conquest has been putting together plenty of wins, ascending to the upper echelon of North American powerhouse teams.

The struggle they have to fix before being an elite team, though, is consistency on LAN. While the good third place in the North American standings after nine weeks of ESL ESEA competition proves their worth in the comfort of their own homes, the results of their LAN outings have been widely different. First they were the shockers and upset kids in Columbus, Ohio for the Cevo Season 8 Professional Finals, coming out of nowhere to place third/fourth against stiff competition. At that tournament they outshone all of their North American brothers with ease, and were the only non-European squad to make it to the semifinals. Wins over Liquid and Dignitas got them there, followed by a close and tightly contested 1-2 loss to major participants mousesports ending their run.

For a while it seemed like Conquest could be even more than just another good team in the race for the North American throne - until one fateful weekend in Santa Ana shattered those illusions. A poor 0-2 outing during the iBUYPOWER Cup, getting obliterated by Cloud9 and defeated by compLexity Gaming - all the hype and buzz from the Cevo Finals vanished in a hurry. Now the question is which Conquest will show up in Burbank? Is it the Cevo team, hellbent on taking names and destroying the hopes and dreams of everyone involved? Or is it going to be the iBUYPOWER Cup version of the team, less intimidating than a box full of kittens? Only time and their play this weekend will tell.

The finals kick off this Thursday!

The ESL ESEA Pro League Season 2 finals kick off this Thursday at 10:00 PST - be sure to check out the schedule and our list of Twitch streams to make sure you don’t miss out on any of the upcoming action!

Also remember to follow ESL CS on Twitter and Facebook to receive all the latest updates about the CS:GO Pro League.