Photo: By Helena Kristiansson for ESL
The IEM Katowice Challengers Stage has ended. The Major can now begin in earnest as there are only 16 teams left remaining to contend for the crown. The Major kicks off tomorrow, so here is a primer for the 16 teams that will be competing.
Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz
Peter “Dupreeh” Rasumussen
Andreas “Xyp9x” Hojsleth
Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander
Emil “Magisk” Reif
Danny “zonic” Sorensen
Astralis are the presumptive favorites to win the Major. They dominated CS:GO in 2018 as they won multiple international tournaments including the Major and the IEM Grand Slam. They have ushered in an age of structured Counter-Strike. Inside the server, their innovative utility usage has become the standard in the game. Outside of the server, their infrastructure and approach has continually let them stay one step ahead of their competitors.
Upon coming back from the break, Astralis only attended one event at IBP Masters. That event was a disaster as it had multiple problems ranging from security to tech delays to sound issues. Astralis were still able to make it to the finals, but lost to Team Liquid. Due to the circumstances surrounding that event, Astralis likely don’t take the loss too seriously.
In terms of overall strength, Astralis have no weaknesses. Their Nuke is still undefeated at 0-27. They have the best win rate on Inferno with a 38-10 record. They have winning records on all maps in the map pool and have started to bring Cache back into the pool to use as a wild card against teams like Na`Vi.
In the past, the core of the Astralis players could choke under high pressure moments, however that seems to have largely been mitigated after gla1ve came into this lineup. In the last quarter of their 2018 campaign, Astralis completely reversed that narrative as they proved themselves to be clutch under the pressure. If there are any holes in Astralis at all, it is that dev1ce can still go missing in big maps and that Dupreeh may have a hard time playing in this AUG meta.
Ioann “Edward’ Sukhariev
Ego “flamie” Vasilyev
Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev
Danylo “Zeus” Teslenko
Denis “electronic” Sharipov
Myhailo “kane” Blagin
Na`Vi is a team of extremes. They have the highest skilled duo in CS:GO with the combination of s1mple and electronic. They also have the lowest skilled dudo in CS:GO with Zeus and Edward. These polar extremes are often displayed in their results as well. At IEM Chicago they were eliminated from the group stages in 13-16th. At BLAST Lisbon, they made it to second place.
Their most recent outing was at GG.Bet where they lost to North in the Finals. It was a bad event for the team and rumors of discontent are swirling around the team. Recent Na`Vi vlogs have the players internally fighting each other. Most recently Zeus has come out saying that he plans to retire in 2019 and that he is done with trying to help fix these issues.
As that’s the case, Na`Vi’s chances of making it out in the group stages all rely on s1mple. If this was any other player, I’d be out, but this is s1mple. A man who has consistently put on the hardest carry performances of any individual player in CS:GO history. For that fact alone, I believe that Na`Vi will get to the Champions Stage.
Gabriel ‘FalleN’ Toleddo
Fernando “Fer” Alvarenga
Marcelo “Coldzera” David
Epitacio “TACO” de Melo
Joao “felps” Vasconcellos
Wilton “zews” Prado
The Legends Stage will be the unveiling of the reunion of the SK lineup from 2017. While the community’s reactions have been muted, I personally expect this team to be instant Championship contenders. The painful losses and frustrations each of the players experienced in 2018 should point them in the right direction in 2019.
FalleN, fer, and coldzera should have renewed respect for TACO and what he brings into the team. Felps was in-game leading on INTZ, so he should have a renewed hunger to play on the big stages. Zews has proven himself as one of the great CS:GO coaches on Liquid and will likely come into this project as a leading voice.
The biggest thing to look out for are the roles of fer and felps. Both players have a similar style of play. Given fer’s level of form in 2018, I suspect that fer and felps’ roles will have switched with felps being the polarizing player while fer becomes more of a role player like he was back in 2016.
Nicholas “nitr0” Cannella
Jonathan “EliGE” Jablonowski
Russel “Twistzz” Van Ddulken
Keith “NAF” Markovic
Jake “Stewie2K” Yip
Eric “adreN” Hoag
Liquid were the second best team of 2018, but TACO and zews decidded to rejoin their Brazilian brethren in MIBR. This left Liquid looking for new players to join the team. They settled on Stewie2K as their fifth player and adreN as their coach.
We’ve only seen this lineup play once at IBP Masters, which was a LAN that had multiple issues. While the LAN had huge problems, it is still a fact that Liquid were able to beat Astralis in the finals. For Liquid, that could be a big psychological boost going into the Major, similar to when VeryGames finally beat NiP in an online qualifier back in 2013.
As for the team itself, this is the most stacked lineup in NA history and pound-for-pound is arguably the most skilled lineup in CS:GO right now. The biggest problem for Liquid is how well they will perform in the big stages. Another contender to win the title and a team I expect to easily clear through the Legends Stage.
Rory “dephh” Jackson
Peter “stanislaw” Jarguz
Shahzeeb “ShahZaM” Khan
Ricardo “Rickeh” Mulholland
Jordan “n0thing” Gilbert (stand-in)
CompLexity shocked the world at the FACEIT Major where they made it to the playoffs. It was a miracle run that was predicated on their individual performances and their great play on inferno. Since then, the team has regressed and been unable to build on top of that performance.
Forced with the likelihood of being eliminated from the Major without a fight, compLexity pulled the trigger on their lineup as they benched Brad “ANDROID” Fodor and Jaccob “yay” Whiteaker. They recruited Rickeh in their place and currently have n0thing standing-in for them.
While coL look to make another miracle run, the chances are low. Their performances at the ELeague Invitational didn’t give much hope and the format forces teams to win at least one bo3 to make it to the Legends stage.
Fatih “gob b” Dayik
Johannes “tabseN” Wodarz
Johannes “nex” Maget
Tizian “tiziaN” Feldbusch
Can “XANTARES” Dortkardes
Alexander “kakafu” Szymancyk
Coming into 2019, the BIG Clan were hyped up as they had made a huge signing in attaining the services of XANTARES. It looked to be a match made in heaven. BIG were a team that made their runs through the system and structure of gob b. Their big weakness was firepower as the only world class player they had was tabseN. With XANTARES joining the mix, BIG looked to have everything they needed to contend for titles.
The team the competed at ELeague Invitational where they showed some promise. Soon after however, Owen “smooya” Butterfield benched himself from the roster which has forced the team to bring back nex, who had been sitting out due to injury. With so little time, it’s hard for me to believe that gob b can get his entire system set into place.
Even with BIG forced to use a kind of makeshift roster, nex is a player that all of the BIG players know how to work with. BIG should be a team that can make the Champions Stage here as well.
Kirill “ANGE1” Karasiow
Bence “DeadFox” Borocz
Ozgur “woxic” Eker
Issa “ISSAA” Murad
Abay “Hobbit” Khasenov
Amiran “ami” Rekhviashvili
On paper, this team looks fantastic. Woxic and ISSAA have proven themselves to be talented players that can compete on the world stage. ANGE1 is a world class leader who can have huge impact on the game. Deadfox is a bad role player, but an incredible clutcher. Hobbit is the newest member of the squad, but was once one of the biggest talents of the CIS scene.
Their initial debut at ESL Proleague Season 8 Finals looked great as they fought Astralis close in the first two maps in their bo3. The team then subsequently disintegrated on Dust2 and were eliminated in the lower bracket by G2. Since then, the team hasn’t made much progress up the food chain. While this team has incredible potential, that’s all there is until they prove otherwise.
Havard “rain” Nygaard
Nikola “NiKo” Kovac
Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovacs
Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer
Dauren “AdreN” Kystaubayev (stand-in)
Janko “YNk” Paunovic
In terms of raw firepower, FaZe is arguably the best in the world. All of their players have either been stars or superstars of their respective teams. Their style of play rocked the world back when the team was initially formed at the end of 2017 when Finn “karrigan” Andersen took over.
The team was never able to become the de-facto best team in the world as they were consistently upset in their highest pressure moments. They struggled through the 2018 season to find consistency and that was only exacerbated when olofmeister took a personal leave of absence.
It is a credit to the FaZe clan that they were still able to win events with stand-ins. At the end of 2018, FaZe had an internal crisis of leadership as NiKo took the role from Karrigan. FaZe then benched Karrigan and made two acquisitions in preparation for the Major.
They got AdreN to stand-in as their fifth player and hired YNk as their coach. For now, the win conditions for FaZe are the same as they ever were. If their players pop off, they can beat anyone in the world and if they can’t, they can lose to some of the lesser teams.
Given the amount of raw talent alone though, FaZe should be a lock for the Legends Stage.
Jacob “FugLy” Medina
Damian “daps” Steele
Vincent “Brehze” Cayonte
Cvetelin “CeRq” Dimitrov
Ethan “Ethan” Arnold
Chet “ImAPet” Singh
One of the biggest surprises of the 2018 season was NRG. Daps was able to take a bunch of players and lead them to international acclaim as they became regulars in the international circuit. The biggest surprises of this team has been it’s trio of young stars: Brehze, CeRq, and Ethan.
CeRq was initially the most hyped as he was a mobile AWPer who looked like he could duel any player in the world. Ethan and Brehze have proven themselves to be star riflers that can compete with any of the international players on an individual level. Brehzhe in particular looked spectacular in the IEM Katowice Challengers Stage.
The biggest question for NRG is how well they will perform under the pressure. None of their players have ever reached these competitive heights in their careers. This is also one of the rare teams where I can say they still have room to grow despite being together for longer than a year. Daps continues to impress me with his tactics, and the trio of stars have grown into some of the most exciting prospects in years. One final thing to note is that ImAPet has consistently found a way to antistrat the Brazilian core of MIBR, so watch out for that should NRG and MIBR meet in this tournament.
They are my 7th pick to make it to the Legends Stage.
Aaron “AZR” Ward
Justin “jks” Savage
Joakim “jkaem” Myrbostad
Jay “liazz” Tregillgas
Sean “Gratisfaction” Kaiwai
Aleksandar “kassad” Trifunovic
The boys have made it to the Major. This line is arguably the best that Renegades has ever assembled. The overall skill across the team is the most balanced as all of their players can do their roles to a high level of execution.
When watching this team in the Challengers Stage they showed an increased level of performance across all areas. AZR and kassad have constructed a solid T-side and CT-side for the team. Gratisfaction and liazz both showed great performances as rookies. Jks seems to have become the star of the team. In terms of overall mentality, the team seemed largely composed throughout their Challengers run as well.
While I can’t pick them as favorites to make it to the Legends stage, I also wouldn’t be surprised to see them make it either. One of my teams to watch in this stage.
Aleksi “allu” Jalli
Aleksi “Aleksib” Virolainen
Jere “sergej” Salo
Jani “Aerial” Jussila
Sami “xseveN” Laasanen
Slaava “Twista” Rasanen
The Finnish sensation that has swept the Counter-Strike world. No matter what opponents they face or what tournaments they attend, it all seems too easy for these professional gamers. Memes aside though, they are one of the most solid teams in this event.
In teams of team structure and leadership I’d rank them above a vast majority of teams here. If this was any tournament outside of the Major, they’d be a lock in my top 8. However this is the Major and four of their players are rookies to this stage: Aleksib, sergej, Aerial, and xseveN. This team can fall to the pressure at times (their last map against Winstrike comes to mind), but the fact that they play such team focused and disciplined Counter-Strike makes me think that they can counteract those problems. As that’s the case, they are my eight and final pick to make it to the Legends Stage.
Nathan “NBK” Schmitt
Dan “apEX’ Madesclaire
Cedric “RpK” Guipouy
Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut
Alex “ALEX” McMeekin
Remy “XTQZZZ” Quoniam
This French team has started to come into its own as they have gone through each step of the Major circuit. Overall, the team’s win conditions seem to be: ZywOo plus one (usually either apEX or NBK).
While they finished the Challengers Stage with a 3-1 record, the opponents they played didn’t fill me with confidence. They beat Grayhound, Vega, and ViCi Gaming to make it to this stage. When I look at their team structure, they aren’t as tactically sound as ENCE.
In terms of their three main players, the only one I have confidence in performing is NBK. ZywOo is a rookie to the Majors, so I don’t know how well he can do and if he falls, the tactical system sort of falls apart for Vitality. As for apEX, he’s a legendary entry-fragger who can pop off, but we’re in the AUG meta which makes it even harder for him to get something done.
While they have a chance, their odds are lower than a majority of the other teams I’ve outlined thus far.
Timur “buster” Tulepov
Aidyn “KrizzeN” Yurlybekob
Alexey “qikert” Golubev
Ali “Jame” DDjami
Bektiyar “fitch” Bahytov
Dastan “dastan” Akbaev
One of the nicest surprises to come out of the CIS region. AVANGAR has a largely Khazhakistanian core of players with Jame as their AWPer. Jame has been a fantastic player in this event.
Overall the team play a fairly structured style of CS that relies on a lot of passive defaults. While it’s worked this far, I don’t think they have the personnel or experience to make that style of play work against this level of competition. On top of that, they have rookies in this team as well, so it’s hard for me to see them making it out of this stage.
Patrik “f0rest” Linddberg
Christopher “GeT_RiGhT” Alesund
Fredrik “REZ” Sterner
Dennis “dennis” Edman
Jonas “Lekr0” Olofsson
Faruk “pita” Pita
NiP have a historical name that everyone wants to see do well in CS:GO. In terms of lineup, this NiP squad is one of the better ones that NiP has had since their fall from grace in 2016. They have slowly removed the old NiP elements and have replaced them with younger talent.
The squad’s performance in the Challengers stage was worrying to me. In terms of individual players, f0rest stepped up huge as the superstar player of the team and carried NiP across to the Legends Stage. I’ve seen f0rest play for years now and that level of play rarely persists, especially once it reaches the highest levels of play.
That is what worries me. The entire conceit of removing the old NiP players and getting younger ones is so that they can start building towards their future. As it stands right now though, the highest performing player for NiP’s side is f0rest. NiP will need both REZ and lekr0 to step up individually if this team wants to get any further. While they have the skill to do it, it took nearly everything out of them to survive the Challengers Stage and the Legends Stage has even fiercer competition.
Timothy “autimatic” Ta
Will “RUSH” Wierzba
Robin “flusha” Ronnquist
Fabien “kioShiMa’ Fiey
Jordan “Zellsis” Montemumrro (stand-in)
Maikil “Golden” Selim
Golden as coach explains the entire Cloud9 situation. Cloud9 have had roster issues and have been forced to do with a makeshift roster at this Major. Golden is on the bench due to his health. Flusha has temporarily taken on the role of in-game leader. Zelssis is now standing-in.
Despite the makeshift roster, Cloud9 has serious underdog potential. Autimatic and kioShiMa are world class players who can compete with anyone in the world. Autimatic’s role change to AWPer has helped stabilize the team on the CT-side. KioShima has been fantastic at finding entry kills on the CT-side and winning late round scenarios.
The biggest problem with this roster though is that they are slowly being figured out. Teams are figuring out their playstyle, tendencies, and map pool. Zellsis for instance plays an aggressive lurker style, so teams should expect him to push up water on Overpass at certain timings for instance. In the case of Autimatic, the more he plays, the more time teams have to study his tendencies and positions as an AWPer and abuse them.
If Cloud9 want to make it to the legends stage, I think they will need a third player to show up big for them. I know I can count on Autimatic and kioShiMa. I think their X-factor will be flusha, who seems to be revitalizing his career under Cloud9.
Richard “shox” Papillon
Alexandre “boddyy” Pianaro
Kenny “kennyS” Schrub
Lucas “Lucky” Chastang
Audric “JaCkz” Jug
Damien “MaLeK” Marcel
When the IEM Katowice Challengers Stage started, G2 looked to be in shambles. They barely survived their encounter with Vega before being taken out by ENCE and AVANGAR. They were able to make a last minute rally as they beat Fnatic and TyLoo in two bo3s to make it to the Legends Stage.
While both series were well played by G2, they still have the same essential problem they have always had. Their tactics and structure alone isn’t enough for them to grind out wins. They are also prone to falling under emotional pressure.
Basically, G2’s win conditions are the same they have always been. If Shox and KennyS go off, they can win. If they don’t go off, they will likely lose. Their win condition is extremely volatile, but should it happen, it’s exhilarating to watch.