Cloud 9

The Lack of Competition in North American CS:GO

Disappointment

Counter-Strike at the highest level of play is consistently dominated by European teams. Looking at the top 10 teams, it is difficult to make an argument that any North American teams deserve to be on that list. The only names that come to mind are Cloud 9, Team Liquid, and SK Gaming. While Immortals and Optic are both looking strong domestically, they always seem to fall short in international play.

Look comparatively at just the ESL Pro-League tables, for example. When you look at the European table, the team skill differential between teams in NA and EU is immense. Teams such as Astralis, Virtus Pro (VP), Ninjas in Pajamas (NiP), and NA’VI, to name a few, show which region is on a higher level of play. Even the lower teams in EU can beat out the competition in NA on occasion.

Pasha

Pasha raising his trophy, courtesy of Reddit (/u/JustCallMeEric)]

This is painfully obvious whenever North American teams are obliterated during international competition. It took until ESL One: Cologne 2016 for North America to even have a first place finish. Cloud 9’s Mike “Shroud” Grzesiek comments on the dominance of European teams, saying that Virtus Pro are especially notorious as being the NA killer. He later explains that VP are extremely strong at exploiting the weaknesses of NA teams.

What’s the Problem?

Aside from individual skill, strong tempo shifts seem to stun and disrupt a lot of North American teams. Whereas with European teams, they seem to be more comfortable with odd plays and are much harder to throw off. Teams such as VP and Astralis are notorious for being extremely good at controlling momentum shifts.

EU teams seem to hold onto their composure more. After losing big rounds, they don’t let it get in their heads and they continue to play at the top level. Astralis have been especially strong at this and showcase their amazing ability to control buy rounds and even take back crucial eco rounds.

Astralis did so masterfully in the E-League Major 2017 Grand Finals against VP. If you have not checked out that series yet, I highly recommend it. It has to be one of the best grand finals of all-time.

The Future Looks Bright

nV's "happy"

nV’s “Happy” looking sad after a devastating loss, courtesy of esports-edition

Even though, historically, North American Teams perform poorly on the intercontinental stage, NA still has hope. Looking back at SK gaming and Cloud 9, they both have a fair amount of skill between the two of them. Cloud 9 was able to secure a huge win at the ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals, beating out SK Gaming in the grand finals. While Fnatic (the tournament favorite) was not able to make it to the tournament due to their roster difficulties, it was still impressive nonetheless for an NA team to take the tournament.

SK Gaming is a particularly strong hope for NA in Professional Counter-Strike. SK took their first major trophy back at ESL cologne 2017, and are hoping to add to the collection this year. They recently swapped Lincoln “Fnx” Lau for João “Felps” Vasconcellos with another Brazilian outfit, Immortals, back in January. The change is still new and unfolding, but could be very beneficial for both teams. 

These changes and accomplishments may not be indicative of actual change in quality of play. However, I believe if any teams are ready to show up the European CS scene, it’s these two.

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FaZe Clan and Their Newest Pickup: NiKo

 

FaZe Clan at a recent tournament, Courtesy of Gamurs.com

FaZe Before NiKo

FaZe Clan is historically known as one of the oldest esports organizations out there. They were originally one of the first clans to emerge from the Call of Duty competitive scene back in 2010. FaZe Clan expanded into CS:GO when they picked up the remainder of the G2 squad back in early 2016. Ever since, FaZe have been trying to break into European competition in a meaningful way.

Most of 2016, FaZe found themselves at the mercy of teams like Virtus Pro and Astralis. The only noteworthy achievement was their 3rd-4th place finish at IEM Oakland. Even then they found themselves falling to NIP (Ninjas in Pajamas).

FaZe began looking for a change, with their hopes continually being crushed tournament after tournament with poor finishes. Last month, FaZe Clan decided to depart ways with Philip “aizy” Aistrup, and shortly after announced their pickup of Nikola “NiKo” Kovač from Mousesports. NiKo said he would be switching from Mousesports after Dreamhack Las Vegas. Sadly, NiKo’s time at Mousesports was filled with woes of bad teammates.

It was not so much that Mousesports was a bad team, but more so that NiKo had incredible ability and he was being held back by a weaker team. NiKo especially impressed during ESEA season 18, showing off his impressive skills at the young age of 17. He seemingly single-handedly carried Mousesports to a top four position.

NiKo back on Mousesports, courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

FaZe After NiKo

NiKo has been praised by many as being one of the most skilled CS players in all of Europe. The young Bosnian was named #11 on HLTV’s top CS:GO players in the world in 2016. With any luck, FaZe could successfully integrate this powerhouse into their squad and put themselves into more serious contention.

Whenever roster changes happen, it’s always interesting to see the changes in squad play. Introducing a new player into the team dynamics will always take time for teams to adjust to. NiKo is no exception. He is an incredibly strong rifler, and the players on FaZe were very aware of it after having played against him for years.

With NiKo finally on the squad, FaZe find themselves in the early stages of their transition. NiKo seems to be taking it great. His demeanor has noticeably improved, and he actually looks happy compared to when he was on Mousesports. The pressure on him before was huge, with Mousesports relying very heavily on the crucial frags Niko brought. He showed off at IEM Katowice, helping to bring FaZe to the Grand Finals in his first appearance with them. Unfortunately, they lost to Astralis 3-1 in the best of five series.

NiKo on FaZe clan at IEM katowice, courtesy of HLTV.org

NiKo’s performance was strong in the Grand Final, showing he is still capable of playing with the best. Hopefully this is a sign of the future potential FaZe have with him. They haven’t won a tournament yet, but there are still plenty of opportunities for NiKo to prove himself in this new lineup.

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Astralis’ Semi-Final Curse Broken?

Astralis winning the 2017 E-League Major, courtesy of Astralis.gg

Everyone remembers the many failed clutches and catastrophes of Astralis’ 2016 CS:GO major runs. It’s no secret that they are notorious for competing strongly in majors and still falling short of the Grand Final. 

Throughout the duration of 2016, they reached the semi-finals of both majors. They took dramatic exits to NA’VI and Virtus Pro, respectively. However, it seems as though Astralis’ woes are becoming a thing of the past. With their recent first place victory at the 2017 E-League Major, Astralis hope to put the semi-final curse behind them. On top of winning their first major, they just won IEM Katowice. They beat out Faze clan for the trophy.

Karrigan goes off to the Faze clan so Gla1ve could step in, Courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

They have looked like a new team ever since Finn “Karrigan” Anderson left, and Lukas “Gla1ve” Rossander joined. He became the shot caller of the squad in October. Gla1ve’s transition into the squad seemed almost seamless. Their form noticeably improved with the better shot calling. Karrigan was one of the original five 2014 Dignitas players to form Astralis, and he will be missed. Unfortunately, the transition seemed necessary after their 10th place finish in the ESL Pro league.

The team has been loving the new environment under Gla1ve. It seems to be revitalizing them. After having so many years under the same shot caller in Karrigan, it must be refreshing for the players to have new ideas and strategies to go around.

Andreas “Xyp9x” Hojsleth said in a recent interview: “I think what we had achieved with both cajunb and karrigan was what we could achieve. We couldn’t progress and it was really hard to progress as a team at that time. But now that we have gla1ve, it feels like we can always improve.”

Xyp9x has been part of the Danish core of Astralis since its beginning. These players have been trying to win a major since 2014 on team Dignitas. While the change may have been heart wrenching to long time fans, it is good to know it was for the best.

The original Dignitas squad back in 2014, courtesy of the dot esports

Astralis’ recent success may have a lot to do with their recent addition of an E-sports psychologist, Mia Steelberg. Xyp9x in that same interview said Mia was saying, “Within two to three months, you can probably make the best team in the world.” The players said they laughed at the time they heard it. As they worked with her though, their minds began to change.

In less than a few months, their play has noticeably improved. Not necessarily in skill, but in mental fortitude. They would go down a few rounds, and their economy would be weak, but they wouldn’t lose their grip on the game.

What is allowing them to be so dominant currently is sticking with the competition and playing with more adaptability. No doubt, with a lot of help from their E-sports psychologist.

There were many moments in the Grand Finals of the 2017 E-League Major, where you could really notice the difference in their play. When they went down they didn’t panic. They played cool and calculated. In Game 3 of the Finals, they found themselves dangerously down 12-14 after losing to a partial eco round from Virtus Pro; but they didn’t let it phase them. They kept up the pressure enough to take it back 16-14. Whether it was their E-sports psych grab, or the Gla1ve pickup, Astralis are looking like the team to beat in 2017. 

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A Happy Game Haus Thankgiving

We decided a couple of weeks ago that we wanted to do a Thanksgiving piece and give our readers a chance to get to know us a little better! Below are some of the staff members of TGH telling you all what they are thankful for this holiday season. From Our Haus to Yours, have a very happy Game Haus Thanksgiving!

Jared MacAdam- Head of Esports: Well, I’ll go first, being the only Canadian and my Thanksgiving has passed quite some time ago. I’m thankful for the way this site has grown since its inception, how many great writers we’ve had and all the awesome content we’ve produced. I’m also immensely thankful for the way esports has matured in the past year; we’re seeing leaps and strides in key areas like players well being and stability. It’s an exciting thing to experience and to have a little part in. I’m also thankful for all the weirdos in the Front Office who lovingly mock my Canadianisms.

Josh Burris – Editor: I am thankful for sports. I am a proud Cleveland fan and with the exception of the Browns, good things are happening with our teams. I’m thankful I got to see a Cleveland team win a title. I am also thankful for my family and friendships I have at home, school, and from this site.

Ryan Moran – CFO: I am thankful for family, friends, and football. I am also thankful to be working for TGH and to belong to such an exciting community of sports and esports. I am also thankful of the unifying power of sports and their ability to bring anybody together win or lose.

Tim Miller – Vice President: Of course, when talking about being thankful, I have to be thankful for the opportunity to help lead The Game Haus. I’m also thankful to root for the mighty Ohio State Buckeye football team, and that Marvin Lewis should get fired after this year. I’m also thankful for a loving family and loving girlfriend. Finally, I’m thankful to live in a great country with freedoms like no other (no matter how you feel currently), and to go to a solid, christian university in Cedarville University.

Robert Hanes- President: While these last 365 days have been some of the most challenging times in my life, I can say that I have so many things to be grateful for. To start, everyone here at The Game Haus. These people are incredible, as you can read in their paragraphs of what they are thankful for. They have all gone through many things and have worked their butts off while working here. So thank you to all of the Front Office Members, Writers, Podcasters, and League Team Members! I am also very thankful for my friends. They have helped me through some tough times throughout the last year and I do not know where I would be without them. The same can be said for my Father, Mother and Sister. They have been my rocks as I have struggled many times this year. Lastly I am thankful to God and his son, while it sounds cheesy I know they have been with me every step of the way. From Our Haus to Yours, thank you and have a wonderful holiday season!

Terrance Singleton- Social Media Director: I am thankful for the life God has given me. Every time the holiday season comes around I think about how easily I couldn’t be here. My grandfather died on November 19, 2010 right before Thanksgiving. And I was in a pretty bad car accident on December 27, 2012 that broke my neck and cut my scalp open. So every time the holiday season rolls around I always think about how precious life, family, friends, and faith are important in my life and everyone’s life. So on this Thanksgiving when you are watching NFL football games and eating food until you can’t move, tell your loved ones how much you love them because tomorrow is not promised.

Dylan Streibig- NFL Writer: Whether we realize it or not, we all have a lot to be thankful for.  I am no exception this Thanksgiving or any other year. I am thankful to have a roof over my head and a family that loves me. I am grateful for the fantastic sporting events that go on all around the world. They provide me a momentary escape from my life with a physical disability. I am also thankful for my dog and the fact that I am now a published sports writer thanks to The Game Haus. Most of all, I am thankful for the loyalty of my close friends who do not give up on me, even when I give up on myself.

Matthew Hagan- Columnist: I’m thankful for the opportunity The Game Haus has presented me with. Writing about my favorite sport, football, and offering me a column has been one of the best things in my life. I am thankful to have parents, family and friends support while trying to get a degree in college. My mom has been the biggest reason I have made it this far and I am so thankful that I get to fly back to Vegas to spend Thanksgiving with her. I am also thankful I got to see the Cubs win a World Series and attend the victory parade in Chicago. It was one of the most memorable moments of my life. I am thankful for all the opportunities I have had in this amazing country. I am proud to be an American and this Thanksgiving is going to be one of the best ever. Thank you to everyone who reads my articles, weather you agree or disagree with them. I want to wish anyone who reads this, and anyone who may not, a safe, fun and amazing Thanksgiving.

Alex Keller- Recruitment and Retention: What am I thankful for? Where can I even begin… I guess it would have to be with my family and friends. I wouldn’t be in the position I am today if not for their love and support. But it’s so much more than that… the opportunity to even attend an institution like Georgia Tech, let alone graduate from it is an experience I’m incredibly thankful for. And of course, I have to thank everyone who’s been a part of making my experience with TGH so awesome. So, from our haus to yours, have a Happy Game Haus Thanksgiving everybody.