ECS the Proving Ground

The playoffs of FACEIT’s Esports Championship Series kicks off today. The tournament returns to Wembley Arena for its third season. There are eight teams in attendance, with the entire top four on show, three of them being in group A. This one has all the makings to be a tournament never to be forgotten as a number of storylines look to develop over the coming weekend. Here is a look at just a few of them.

SK needs to cement their number one spot

SK Gaming’s most recent win was at Dreamhack Summer against Fnatic. [Source: Dreamhack]

Although SK is currently ranked as the number one team and has won three out of their last four big tournaments, there are still many reservations to be had. The Brazilians took the spot from major champions Astralis despite not playing them in a best of three series on LAN this year. It’s a series that has been eagerly awaited and hopefully, ECS can oblige.

SK has had an easier ride than most after beating Gambit to win cs_summit and Fnatic, who was outside the top ten before the tournament, to win DreamHack Summer. Their only notable win was against FaZe at IEM Sydney, but have since lost to G2, so it is unknown how they will fare against that caliber of team this time. Their map pool has taken a hit with some of their best maps like Mirage and Overpass becoming some of their worst statistically.

However, map pool can mean very little if Marcelo “coldzera” David and/or Fernando “fer” Alvarenga shows up in form. The two have been running rampant when SK pick up victories, with Coldzera looking like the best player in the world again.

ECS will be the proving ground for Coldzera and company to prove that their victories weren’t a result of playing poorer opposition.

G2 could reach their monumental peak

G2 Esports have been on an upward trend for some time. They took a momentum boost after winning DreamHack Tours on home soil and used that to better their performance at the ESL Pro League Finals.

Kenny “kennyS” Schrub picked up another MVP award in Dallas boasting an ADR of eighty and overall rating of 1.20. It was an absolute pleasure to see the Frenchman in Titan form. However, the work could not be done without the immense fragging G2’s support players have been doing. Both Alexandre “bodyy” Pianaro and Nathan “NBK-” Schmitt have surprised fans by topping the board in a number of games.

If the trend is to continue how it should, G2 looks poised to take one of the most talent-packed tournaments of the year and net the lion’s share of the $660,000 on offer.

Astralis and FaZe’s chance to regain dominance

The former one-two punch can regain that title if they play against each other in another final. Astralis should have an easier time getting there since they have by far an easier group. Meanwhile, FaZe will have to take down either G2 or SK to reach the playoffs.

Astralis held the number one spot for a number of months. [Source: astralis.gg]

Their last LAN appearances, barring Clash for Cash, was IEM Sydney in which FaZe defeated Astralis in a closely fought semi-final. This might be one of the issues with the two heading into ECS, in that SK and G2 are in LAN form. Although skipping tournaments might be seen as a positive in order to prepare strategically, it could be argued that it might be hard for FaZe or Astralis to match the two in raw firepower. Particularly the former, whose game relies almost entirely on that aspect.

The only way to find out is to wait and see whether 2017 is heading in a new direction or if the old kings will return to reclaim their throne.

Finally, there’s Fnatic, oh and NA

At ECS, Fnatic will be out to prove that their DreamHack Summer finish wasn’t a one-off performance. The team looked revitalized with Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer Gustafsson playing close to his older self, while Jesper “JW” Wecksell was also a sharpshooter.

One of the problems with the Fnatic roster is that they are still unsettled on letting JW full-time AWP with both olofmeister and even Robin “flusha” Rönnquist picking it up at times during DreamHack.

There are also three NA teams in attendance with Cloud9, Liquid and OpTic making the trip to London. However, it is unlikely any of these teams will make the playoffs due not only to their issues but the sheer weight of their opposition.

OpTic have had to turn to coach Hazed for a second time. [Source: ESL]

OpTic is the least likely as they look to coach James “hazed” Cobb to stand in for the second time whilst also being stuck in a deathly group with SK, G2 and FaZe.

There is potential for Cloud9 or Liquid to make the playoffs by beating out Fnatic in group B. The latter seems more likely with Josh “jdm64” Marzano reaching a good level in Dallas, paired with the growth of Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken. On the flip-side, Cloud9 continue to make the same mistakes from tournament to tournament, so some serious work must’ve been put in to fix their problems. ECS, however, will be the place to air those changes if they have been made.

 

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Custom game modes in CS:GO and Valve’s involvement

Since its origin, Counter Strike has been a unique game which allows users to utilize the server variables and create custom game modes apart from the classic five vs five. Along with server variables, source mod plugins also help make some innovative custom games. A lot of players have enjoyed spending thousands of hours in KZ mod, Surf mod, gun game, jail break, zombie escape, and many other custom game mode servers. All of these mods were added to the game by players themselves and the popular ones became prominent in communities like AlliedModders. After all, Counter Strike in itself is a mod of Half Life 2.

Introduction of CS:GO and Custom Games

In the past iterations of the game, Valve never participated in exploring and promoting custom game modes. In 1.6, Condition Zero and Source, there was no notion of any game mode. People would browse community servers and join the one which has their favorite. Valve introduced their own servers and arranged matchmaking games along with the introduction of Counter Strike: Global Offensive. These competitive matchmaking games grouped you with nine other players at a similar skill level. This game mode is now the mainstay of this series, and the popularity of the game increased rapidly with this introduction.

Deathmatch, Casual, Arms Race and Demolition were the other game modes introduced. Players used these game modes to gain experience and learn how to play this game and become familiar with the intricate mechanics of the game. Valve introduced player profile ranks along with skill ranks and a player has to get up to at least profile rank two to be able to play the competitive game mode. Players are required to play the other game modes in order to reach a stage where they are able to play competitive game mode.

Valve’s Indifference Towards Custom Games Over the Years

Since 2012, these game modes have become stale as nothing has changed. Valve did not introduce any new game modes and players had to yet again depend on community servers to enjoy a few non-competitive, casual game modes. Operations were released, but the missions for those also contained objectives that were prominent in the already existing game modes.

We received new maps, new skins, even new weapons, but the game modes stayed the same. The community has always wanted a setting where they can play the game casually to just take a break from competitive. Requests for a casual five vs five game mode are extremely popular, but those requests were never heeded to. The restriction of being able to use only 1024 custom models thwarted the progress of custom game modes that require custom models. Out of these 1024 models, 400 of them were already being utilized by the already existing models for weapons, props and stickers. This gives new map creators a very limited scope to add new custom models and create innovative and unique maps. The game modes thus become extremely restricted. This number was upped to 4096 as of Feb. 24, 2016 after receiving this feedback from the community.

 

Server Browser needs an overhaul

 

Valve has also been indifferent to how the community servers are managed. Until July 2015, Valve had never released any sort of guidelines for community servers. Following the release of guidelines, inconsistent ban waves caused a lot of illegal content to stay running of a lot of community servers. The server browser has stayed the same since 1.6 due to which it has stayed buggy. A better and more bug-free server browser would make the community servers much more accessible.

Change on the Horizon?

Heavy Assault Suit game mode introduced in Operation Hydra | Image via Counter-Strike.net

A couple of months ago, Valve experimented with the R8 revolver and the Negev heavy machine gun. The Negev’s price was reduced to $2000 and the recoil pattern was completely changed. With the release of Operation Hydra, Valve introduced a new game mode, Heavy Assault Suit, where this change made perfect sense. The operation consists of eight new game modes. Two of them, Wingman and Weapons Expert, have a separate competitive skill rank, whereas the six other game modes were meant to be played in a more casual setting. These modes, grouped under War Games, are Heavy Assault Suit, Headshots Only, Hunters-Gatherers, Stab Stab Zap, The Flying Scoutsman and Trigger Discipline.

Game modes like Flying Scoutsman, Stab Stab Zap and Headshots Only are few of the older community custom game modes. It is invigorating to see them officially added to Valve’s servers. Having new content in the operation is a great change as well. CS:GO at its core is a very competitive game, but players always may not want to play the competitive mode. Having multiple game modes that help you learn the game casually is a fresh way get involved in the game. As these game modes are now available in the main menu, it makes CS:GO even more approachable. Valve can even use operations to test new custom game modes. The popular ones or the ones that receive good feedback can be included on a permanent basis.

A lot can be done to manage these custom game modes. It is a great first step to start giving recognition to them, but the viability of continuing active support for these game modes and if Valve plans to do so is yet to be seen.


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What if s1mple Actually Joined the Ninjas in Pyjamas?

On Wednesday NiP played their final ECS Season 3 matches with two stand-ins following Adam “friberg” Friberg and Patrik “f0rest” Lindberg’s absences. The Swedes managed to get hold of two Natus Vincere players in Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev and Egor “flamie” Vasilyev to cover them.

While qualification was near impossible, the move sparked discussion in the community with many saying that NiP shouldn’t have been allowed to use stand-ins from another top team with LAN qualification at stake. Although the team did not qualify, they looked good taking a game off of the ever-growing G2 Esports, which begs the question, what would happen if a player like s1mple actually joined NiP?

That Barrier

At face value many would argue that the language barrier would be too great of an issue to overcome to be a consistently top team. However, this stigma has been broken before. In fact, even both s1mple and NiP have been through this exact problem.

The latter was when Finnish AWPer Aleksi “allu” Jalli joined the Ninjas. The team stated that they used a mixture of Swedish and English to communicate which would work for s1mple as well. From NiP’s performances with allu, you can tell that the language barrier was no issue. The team still managed to make the major finals and the natural decline still occurred long after Aleksi had left.

Allu reached six LAN finals with NiP. [Source: nip.gl]

On the flip side, s1mple joined American side Team Liquid in January of 2016. The Ukrainian is responsible for some of NA’s greatest international results, such as reaching the final of ESL One Cologne and the semi-finals of MLG Columbus.

The move demonstrates what adding one fantastically skilled player to a roster can do. S1mple was a few rounds shy of taking down Luminosity, now SK Gaming, in the MLG Columbus semi-finals with Eric “adreN” Hoag on his team which speaks volumes about his level of performance. It is possible that if the Ninjas were to make a similar move their form could instantly increase.

Hybrid Players

Part of Liquid’s surge in success was because s1mple is one of few top draw hybrid players. These rarities are exceptional riflers who are also competent AWPers and are often found playing as the secondary AWP in double AWP setups. Other famous examples of hybrid players are Marcelo “coldzera” David and Richard “shox” Papillon. S1mple took on this role in Wednesday’s matches where you could see he felt comfortable.

S1mple took on rifling and AWPing while on Team Liquid. [Source: Dreamhack.]

Since NiP already has a primary AWPer in the form of William “draken” Sundin, s1mple would be the perfect fit as he could pick the sniper up when needed or when he’s feeling confident. This would mean that f0rest could focus on his rifling which is his greatest talent.

Potential Signings

The potential to actually sign s1mple is unclear. I don’t think s1mple himself would oppose the move if Na’Vi’s results don’t improve soon. In his Tweet regarding the drama surrounding his stand-in, he stated: “just want my favorite team that I always cheer for to win some points in @ecsleague.” It was well known in his rise to becoming one of the world’s best players that he held f0rest and GeT_RiGhT in high regard.

The greater issue would be between the organizations. It’s all speculation of course, but I would assume that Na’Vi has placed a very hefty buyout on the superstar which NiP may be unwilling to match despite having the resources.

Since they may not be able to overcome that issue, who else could the Ninjas pick up instead of s1mple? Oscar “mixwell” Cañellas of OpTic Gaming is another European who took the plunge to move to North American and garnered results. Similarly to s1mple, mixwell is a hybrid player who likes to switch between rifle and AWP depending on how he feels. He was the catalyst to OpTic’s success in their ELEAGUE win and their consistent playoff runs.

Mixwell plays a similar role to s1mple on OpTic Gaming. [Source: ESL]

Another highly publicized pick up would be Valdemar “valde” Bjørn Vangså. Although he could not contribute as a secondary AWPer, his rifling is one of the best in the upcoming ranks and NiP could make up for the absence by retaining f0rest as the secondary AWPer.

My final option would be to re-acquire Mikail “Maikelele” Bill from Red Reserve. Although the team and Maikelele may be less willing to team due to their history, Maikelele proved he could AWP at the top level back in 2014. However, in my opinion, he would benefit greatly from only having to do it on certain maps and in certain scenarios. Maikelele could definitely fill in the gaps left by Draken.

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Five Things We Learned From The ESL Pro League Season 5 Finals

With the ESL Pro League Season 5 Finals ending on Sunday, we saw G2 Esports take the title. This achievement is the first $250k+ tournament win for the team, and a huge one at that.

But with the tournament ending, we learned plenty of things about teams and the tournament itself. Here are five things that we learned over the course of the last week:

ESL have finally stepped up their game

Photo by: Helena K @ esportphoto.com

ESL have been under a lot of criticism lately, and fairly so. The company calling themselves industry leaders, have only led the company into a pile of mud. With that being said, with their last two tournaments, they’ve started digging themselves out of the pile.

With the conclusion of the tournament came a lot of players saying that the tournament happened to be the best by ESL. From a viewer’s perspective, the tournament wasn’t the greatest. With a couple hiccups here and there along with the organizer moving to YouTube, they weren’t at the top for production. But from the perspective of the players, the tournament was well hosted, and having the best intentions for the players is always a great thing to see.

North’s problems lie beyond inconsistent players

While you can say that making the finals of EPL is a step forward for the team, aside from newfound confidence in the team, they haven’t made much of a step forward.

Starting from the ELEAGUE Major in January, North have struggled in playoffs. Making quarterfinals, or semifinals in some cases, and bombing out. As a Bo3 team, they’re not the best. While they can be considered some of the best on maps such as Overpass or Nuke, one of which happens to be a permanent ban for many teams, they’re generally weaker than most teams on the rest of the map pool.

Tactically it seems that most teams are able to read into what Mathias “MSL” Lauridsen is planning for a match. Being called one of the best in-game leaders at one point, ended up being his downfall. Teams learned what he was doing pretty quickly, an issue that Jake “Stewie2k” Yip and his team faced when reaching their prime at the same time as the former Dignitas lineup did.

Photo by: hltv.org

While yes, you can say that inconsistency in their roster and having a heavily underperforming Philip “aizy” Aistrup is a huge issue, it doesn’t paint the full picture. The team seems to have issues outside and deep inside of the game that isn’t shown by statistics. Cockiness, shown by a trash talking Kristian “k0nfig” Wienecke, seems to be a huge issue in the team. Having your star player being overconfident doesn’t help anyone, especially not the team.

Another issue, highlighted here by Richard “shox” Papillon, is their behaviour in practice which shows that the team is only practicing to their strengths rather than to strengthen their weaknesses.

Timothy “autimatic” Ta as the IGL was not the solution

Since their win at EPL Season 4 finals, Cloud9 have been plagued with issues. Stemming from a very readable Stewie and two players in huge downfalls from what they once were. Cloud9 are only a shadow of themselves from last October. Fielding the same lineup, seemingly the same map pool, and the same style. Much like NiP, Cloud9 seem unwilling to change anything. Although changing IGLs from Stewie to autimatic was interesting, in the end they changed back.

Cloud9 don’t have the firepower they had back during their win at EPL. They had four reliable fraggers and a Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham finding his groove. Since then, Skadoodle and Mike “shroud” Grzesiek have been in slumps of their own. One, unfortunately, worse than the other. Skadoodle has found some sort of consistency although it’s consistent at a lower level than what we expect from him. On the other side, shroud, unfortunately, is unable to find an impact on an international level, and with the problems spreading to domestic competition.

Cloud9’s problems lie with the players and possibly management of the team. From the outside perspective, it’s quite obvious that it’s time to change the players. From an inside point of view, it could be very much different.

G2 are the superteam we expected

With the resurrection of a godlike Kenny “KennyS” Schrub, a returning Nathan “NBK” Schmitt, and a rising Alexandre “bodyy” Pianaro, G2 are finally the team they were expected to be. Going from 1-8 in the regular season to winning the finals, the rise in the team’s performance was well documented.

Photo by: Helena K @ esportphoto.com

Being put into the toughest group and possibly the hardest route in the playoffs, G2 still came out on top. Even while suffering bad losses against Cloud9 and Immortals, they were able to keep the confidence high and persevere. An impressive feat we don’t see from a lot of teams.

MR3 tiebreakers are not the way to go and need to go

In Group A we saw a tiebreaker between SK, EnVyUs, and fnatic battling for the second and third spot. Unfortunately, there were issues that were immediately visible from the start.

EnVyUs took the three-way tie-breaker 2-0, getting the second seed. Of course, it’s not an easy thing to do, but seeing a team such as nV come out on top over the likes of fnatic and SK raised eyebrows, but not in a good way. It showed a massive flaw in the system. Only needing to win at least four rounds to make the playoffs is a problem.

Photo by: Helena K @ esportphoto.com

Teams like SK Gaming aren’t teams that rely on brute force like fnatic and nV. They are a team that needs time to set up, and going against teams like the two against them doesn’t allow for them to do that. Pushes from Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom were very frequent on nV’s CT Side and allowed a very broken CT side to allow nV to take the tiebreaker.

You can make the argument that the teams know that this would happen if the matches leading up to it go the wrong way. With that being said, the fact that a situation like this is allowed to happen in the way that it does is very unfair for teams involved. Especially fnatic, who had an overall decent group stage.

 

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A Series of Unfortunate Events – Maikelele

Maikel “Maikelele” Bill is a long-time professional Counter-Strike player. The storied pro comes from one of the Esport’s many homes in Sweden, and has recently joined rising stars and fellow countrymen on Red Reserve. For newer viewers unfamiliar with Maikelele, he has had a number of ups and downs throughout his career, finding himself in tough situations on multiple occasions. This article retells the Maikelele story.

NiP Era

After strong performances both offline and online with Team Orbit in early 2014, the Swede landed himself on the world-famous Ninjas in Pyjamas team. With the legendary lineup, he would open up with second place finishes at the major Dreamhack Winter as well as the X-Games. The team would go on to win their next event at ASUS Rog Winter before bombing out of the Pantamera Challenge. However, it came as a shock to many when Maikelele was cut from the team despite being a top performer at many of the events they attended.

Kinguin Era

Kinguin earned top 8 at ESL One Cologne. [Source: ESL]

Maikelele had nowhere to go. With the other top Swedish side Fnatic starting to garner results, it looked as if it was back to square one, but he had other ideas.

Teaming up with fellow castaway Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom of Belgium, the two decided to form one of CS:GO’s first memorable international teams. Backed by the organization Kinguin, the team originally acquired Alexander “SKYTTEN” Carlsson, Ricardo “fox” Pacheco and Håvard “rain” Nygaard. Before quickly switching out SKYTTEN in favor of Dennis “Dennis” Edman for added firepower. The team saw instant results and earned legend status by reaching the quarter-finals of ESL One Cologne 2015.

Following the achievement, they won a tournament called Gaming Paradise. The irony is that the event turned out to be a total disaster. Plagued with player illnesses, delays and lack of funds to pay winning players. However, despite that, the international team still made a statement beating out Natus Vincere in the final. It was saddening for Maikelele that the win was rarely recognized due to the overshadowing issues.

 G2/FaZe Era

During their time together, the squad had accumulated a large following. This had caught the attention of the G2 owner who subsequently decided to pick the team up. They played the Dreamhack Cluj-Napoca major and had perhaps their best ever performance. The team was just a few rounds short of defeating eventual winners Team EnVyUs in the semi-finals. A heart-breaking loss but nonetheless a tournament to remember.

The continued rise to success attracted further attention, this time by Call of Duty titans FaZe Clan. It is rumored that the group of YouTubers paid big bucks for the CSGO team. The initial results weren’t great with the team finishing joint last at both IEM Katowice and MLG Columbus. This led to Maikelele’s second removal, this time from the team he had created from the ground up.

NiP/Dignitas

With his future uncertain, Maikelele decided to help out his former team NiP during their fifth, Jacob “pyth” Mourujärvi, absence. During this time the Ninjas gave Maikelele what they never could before. A premiere tournament win, they beat the French iteration of G2 convincingly in the grand final. He played three more events with the team and earned one more top four finish. However, the spot was only temporary and Pyth returned a month later.

After becoming a free agent again, Maikelele again created an international lineup, this time under Team Dignitas. Joining him for the second time would be Fox and Joakim “jkaem” Myrbostad, alongside former NiP coach Faruk “Pita” Pita, and North player Ruben “RUBINO” Villarroel. But thunder would strike twice. After just five competitive matches together, the team would drop him and Pita from the squad.

Current Stance

This brings us to the current moment in which Maikelele has found himself on up and coming Swedish lineup Red Reserve. The organization recently made its foray into esports with a European Call of Duty team. Originally signed as a substitute, Maikelele quickly improved results, winning them a small online tournament and helping them take second place at the GeForce Cup. Following the results, the team decided to sign him permanently.

Maikelele has had such a tumultuous career, however, I believe that he plays his best Counter-Strike when he’s having fun. Back in the loose style of NiP, he had the freedom to take the shots he wanted to play. He had fun making top eight at a major with the first successful international lineup in CSGO. And now he’ll have fun nurturing young Swedish stars.

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Space Soldiers’ Journey to ESL One Cologne

The Space Soldiers squad, hailing from Turkey, qualified for one of Counter-Strike’s most notorious tournaments by defeating Swedish side GODSENT in the closed qualifiers.

Space Soldiers sought redemption after faltering at the European minor, losing out on a spot at the PGL major. Despite that loss, they’ve been on a strong run of form. The team flew out to Lisbon to compete in the 4Gamers CS:GO Masters in which they took first place by defeating a number of Portuguese opposition. A confidence boost, no doubt, for the string of qualifiers that laid ahead.

European Minor

Unfortunately for the Turkish squad, they opened up their Major campaign with a close loss to Tricked and then a dominating defeat at the hands of Team Kinguin. Following those losses would be wins over North Academy and NiP. Although both sides had their flaws, Space Soldiers dictated the play leading to both victories. However, they would fall short to Dignitas in the next round, losing 16-2 on one of their worst maps, Inferno. Had the team not gotten off on the wrong foot, it’s likely we would have seen them pressing on to the main qualifier.

Cologne Qualifier

The ESL One Cologne qualifier was a chance at redemption for Space Soldiers. They easily defeated their first opponents, Bulgaria’s Outlaws, with score lines of 16-3 and 16-7 on Train and Cobblestone, respectively.

Their next series would be against Team EnVyUs, who as we know are a line up with potential thanks to the likes of Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom and Alexandre “xms” Forté. However, a strong team performance would earn Space Soldiers another 2-0 victory with Buğra “Calyx” Arkın performing in both games.

Engin “MAJ3R” Kupeli led the way in fragging against GODSENT. [Source: Liquipedia]

To secure their place at the infamous ESL One Cologne, Space Soldiers would have to defeat GODSENT, one of the many struggling Swedish teams. GODSENT got off to a bad start in the veto phase by allowing Space Soldiers to get their favorite map, Cobblestone, first. The Turkish were relentless in securing the victory (16-5).

In the second map, Space Soldiers would jump out to a commanding 14-4 lead before GODSENT started to build up an economy on the Counter-Terrorist side. However, in the twenty-fifth round, the Swedes would throw their chance away by losing to a TEC-9 force buy. Space Soldiers would win the map 16-10 and the prized tickets to ESL One Cologne.

It would be hard to pick a standout player for the qualifier. The entire team stepped up when needed, even stand in Engin “ngiN” Ko, however, Engin “MAJ3R” Kupeli led the way in terms of kills and damage across both maps in the final.

The Big Chance

Aside from their attendance at WESG in China, ESL One Cologne will be the first premiere LAN event for the Space Soldiers. The team has risen in popularity due to the incredibly skilled Can “XANTARES” Dörtkardeş and Buğra “Calyx” Arkın. Their journey to the top has been eagerly awaited and I’m sure many will be wanting them to upset the best of the best as they descend on the Lanxess Arena, Cologne in July.


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Rise Nation signs CS:GO team

Rise Nation is expanding their esports presence with the signing of the ex-EclipseGG Counter-Strike: Global Offensive roster.

According to ESEA.net, the new Rise Nation roster has four active members: -Ace, vSa, dazzLe, and moose. In Rise Nation’s announcment, their fifth player is Jonji.

Last season, the North American roster competed in the ESEA Premier division for the first time and finished the regular season with a 14-2 record. They will continue competing in the Premier division for Season 25 and will play in Philadelphia at Fragadelphia 11 in July.

Rise Nation entered esports with a Call of Duty roster in 2014. Still a top team in the game, Rise Nation has acquired players in Madden, Street Fighter, Overwatch and now CS:GO.

The team is owned by NFL player Rodger Saffold and Kahreem Horsley.


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Who will win Dreamhack Tours?

Despite SK’s win at IEM Sydney stealing the headlines, this weekend Dreamhack hosted one of their many open events in Tours, France. The tournament has provided some of the most entertaining Counter-Strike we’ve seen in some time. Na’Vi embarrassed themselves, Robin “ropz” Kool made his LAN debut, while Misfits have given North America some hope. There were eight teams in attendance with only four now remaining. Although we might have lost some big names, today’s semi-finals will be a real treat.

HellRaisers vs Misfits

Misfits caused one of the biggest upsets we’ve seen by defeating Na’Vi in a best of three in their decider game. The North American team lost the opener in a crushing defeat on Cobblestone before reverse sweeping their opposition in dominating fashion. The win largely came through primary AWPer Shahzeeb “ShahZaM” Khan, who outplayed his Na’Vi counterpart Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovács all series long. ShahZaM averaged more than a kill a round and was responsible for multiple clutch plays.

HellRaisers advanced straight to the semi-finals after two best of one wins in the group stage. The first was a crushing victory over home team EnVyUs. Their second game was against Danish squad Tricked, who they narrowly beat 16-13 on Train. HellRaisers’ two Slovakian players Patrik “Zero” Žúdel and Martin “STYKO” Styk were the defining players closing out rounds with an array of multi kills across both maps.

This semi-final is hard to predict for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is unknown whether ShahZaM will turn up in the same way for today’s games. The AWPer has shown flickers of this potential in the past although, it has never stuck, leading him to lose his spot on both Cloud9 and OpTic Gaming. In spite of that, Misfits’ usual star player Hunter “SicK” Mims was absent for the majority of the series, meaning he can bring firepower if he can find his footing.

However, HellRaisers will be a more formidable opponent than Na’Vi since they have a more structured style. Kirill “ANGE1” Karasiow stated that he has been working hard with his former In-Game Leader, now the HellRaisers coach, to further develop a tactical approach. Both Zero and STYKO have been consistently on point these past months, so it’s likely to continue into the semi-final. The key player for the CIS team will be their own AWPer Bence “DeadFox” Böröcz, who has been on the decline for some time now. If ShahZaM turns up in-form he will have a hard task trying to do what GuardiaN couldn’t.

In my opinion, HellRaisers will win the series, most likely in three maps. I think their tactical presence will feel completely different to Misfits’ previous game. The Americans will at least win one map if their players step up again, it’s also not completely out of reach that they take the series themselves. HellRaisers are the logical pick because they have consistently shown they are capable of beating the lower opposition.

G2 Esports vs mousesports

Hometown heroes G2 Esports easily has the most hyped roster we’ve seen in CSGO, however, they are yet to live up to that potential. A win at this event will put some of the critics on the backburner for a short time.

G2 stumbled early by losing 16-7 to Tricked on Inferno, one of their better maps, forcing them to play against fellow countrymen in Team EnVyUs. In that series, they were always in front thanks to Alexandre “bodyy” Pianaro, who finished the series +20 in kills.

Following the victory, G2 were to play Tricked again in a best of three. This time, all of the team performed to the level it should with Nathan “NBK-” Schmitt topping the board. It was refreshing to see the likes of Bodyy and NBK dishing out the damage and is a promising sign for G2’s title hopes since then they would only need one of their stars firing on all cylinders to win against just about anyone.

G2’s support player Bodyy contributed highly against Team EnVyUs. [Source: Dreamhack]

G2’s opponents are international team mousesports, who recently picked up Faceit Pro League star Ropz. They advanced straight to the semi-final after two wins over Heroic and the faltering Natus Vincere. It’s hard to gauge how strong the roster really is after these wins since both opponents underperformed at the event. One thing that is clear however is that there is more to come from this lineup and particularly from Ropz himself. However, even though mousesports has some dangerous players, G2 simply has too much individual firepower. That, combined with mousesports lack of time with Ropz, means I find it extremely unlikely that they drop the series.

Highly sought after, Ropz rose through the ranks by playing FPL. [Source: HLTV]

Grand Final

The safe and logical pick for the winner of Dreamhack Tours is, of course, G2 Esports. The Frenchmen have shown a willingness to improve from game to game and their individual prowess should be in full effect by the time the grand final comes around. HellRaisers have a small chance to take a map if they build some momentum following a pistol round win, but otherwise, I see G2 and the sixth man – the crowd – overwhelming the CIS team with raw skill.


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Romain Bigeard, manager of Unicorns of Love

Mascots in the LCS

As the world of esports grows, analysts, fans, and sponsors will be looking towards examples from traditional sports for inspiration. They will draw comparisons between the two to figure out where exactly esports are heading. Franchising in the LCS, for example, is one such move towards traditional sports, away from the relegation model League of Legends has become accustomed to.

A somewhat less important, yet interesting topic, is that of mascots. Do teams need mascots? Do mascots belong in the LCS? Will this be part of the scene in the near future? What would their purpose be?

Mascots in Traditional Sports

Philadelphia Phillies mascot, Phillie Phanatic

Philadelphia Phillies mascot, Phillie Phanatic

Mascots are generally symbolic representations of the teams they tout. From the Phillie Phanatic to Benny the Bull to Big Red, most sports teams have a mascot. These mascots are a physical representation of the team’s name or logo. They are responsible for hyping up the crowd throughout a competition, during slow times, scores, or wins.

It is commonplace for baseball, basketball, football, soccer, and hockey teams to have mascots. They are out in the crowd. Part of the live audience experience usually includes getting a hug from or pictures with the team mascot. They sign autographs, and they provide immense brand recognition.

Merchandising around mascots is prominent. Slapping the mascot’s picture or logo onto items makes them collectibles. For example, many NBA fans can recognize Boston Celtics merchandise if it features “Boston” in green letters, shamrocks, Lucky the Leprechaun, or some combination of the three.

Mascots in LCS

The closest example of a mascot in the LCS is Unicorns of Love’s manager, Romain Bigeard. He generally wears a unicorn costume and dyes his hair and beard bright pink to support the team as they compete. Romain is an iconic member of the Unicorns’ team and brand, instantly recognizable.

Romain Bigeard, manager of Unicorns of Love

courtesy of Riot esports

There are plenty of opportunities for other teams to create mascots. Between North America and Europe, there are Phoenixes (Phoenix1), Immortals, Foxes, Aliens (Dignitas), Horses (Team Liquid), Ninjas (G2), Rabbits, Cats (Roccat), Giants, and Snakes (Splyce). The other teams’ mascots would be less straightforward, but something like “TSM Titans,” or “Fnatic Falcons” could be a cool way to expand their brand. The mascot can also be incorporated into creating new logos, jerseys, champion skins, and collectible merchandise.

Mascots could also help solidify a team’s fanbase. Many LCS fans get attached to players, rather than the organizations they play for. And since so many players switch teams in between splits and in between seasons, organizations have a hard time keeping a consistent base. For example, Immortals probably gained some fans when they signed their most recent jungler, Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett, and probably lost some fans when Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin left. Introducing a mascot onto the scene may be a small way to retain a fanbase by providing a consistent symbol to rally behind, rather than just a simple logo.

What Could Go Wrong?

Individuals who do not closely follow specific sports or teams may find mascots to be cheesy. It may seem immature to grow an attachment to some guy in a costume who peps people up at sporting events, like a Disney World character. Does esports really want to go there?

G2 esports fan with ninja logo mask

courtesy of Riot esports

Another consideration is the fact that League of Legends is a game packed with fantasy characters anyway. Would it make sense to introduce a G2 Samurai mascot onto the scene when similar characters already exist in the game? This could create some awkwardness or show that it is unnecessary for the LCS scene.

Cosplay, where fans dress in elaborate costumes of their favorite characters, is already a huge part of the competitive League of Legends experience. Bringing in mascots could be confusing or over-doing it. Cosplayers already act as League of Legends mascots, in a way.

cosplayers at EU LCS

courtesy of Riot esports

These mascots could also need to span over several esports. For example, Cloud9 has teams in League of Legends, Counter Strike, Hearthstone, Overwatch, Call of Duty, DOTA 2, and a few others. How can they create a mascot that makes sense in all of those venues? What if the organization has competitions for different games at the same time? Traditional sports do not run into this issue. Los Angeles is home to several sports teams, but they all have different mascots.

Conclusion

Mascots may not help a team win, and introducing them to the LCS scene may present some complications. But, overall, it could be an interesting experiment. Romain and the Unicorns of Love have proven that it can be done. Other LCS teams have straightforward opportunities to bring on their respective hype men.

A mascot could greatly help organizations solidify their brands by opening up new merchandising opportunities and retaining fans that may otherwise leave the team with a traded or lost player. Possibly the greatest gain from a mascot, though, is pure fun. Imagine the broadcast cutting to a video of a fox mascot hyping up the Echo Fox fans after Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham secures a First Blood. That could be pretty cool.


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Tournament Preview: Cs_Summit

From April 20th – 23rd, Cs_Summit is being hosted by Beyond the Summit.

The Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament is set up as a quarter-final knockout stage with a loser’s bracket. Essentially it’s an eight-team double elimination tournament with best-of-three matches. The quarterfinal matchups are as follows:

  • SK Gaming vs. Team EnVyUs
  • Gambit E-Sports vs. GODSENT
  • OpTic Gaming Vs Cloud9
  • Ninjas in Pyjamas vs Team Liquid

Some of the strongest teams in the world will duke it out to see who walks away victorious. Here’s a look at some of the teams and match-ups.

Teams to Watch:

GODSENT

GODSENT

Courtesy of BeyondtheSummit.tv

GODSENT may not be the strongest roster coming into the tournament, but I think the legendary ex-Fnatic in-game Leader Markus “pronax” Wallsten has some tricks up his sleeve. After the Fnatic roster swap fiascos ended, pronax saw himself leading his team of riflers into the fray. Hopefully the Swedish international can make a strong appearance at Cs_Summit, and GODSENT can take home some prize money.

Many people may turn their heads at this pick, but I think GODSENT has what it takes to seriously win this tournament. They are playing Gambit in the first round and they are no pushover. It will be a tough fought game against the Russian side, but GODSENT could have what it takes.

Cloud9

Cloud 9

Courtesy of media.wwg.com

Cloud9 are among the stronger teams in North America, so it is no surprise I’m picking them to be one of the favorites. Unfortunately, Cloud9 will be short their world class AWPer Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham. However, their stand in is one of the best the game has ever seen. Braxton “swag” Pierce, having previously been banned for match-fixing, has served his time away from professional play as an analyst, now making a return. Recently, he has returned as a stand in for Cloud9, and will hopefully be able to show that he’s still got it in this tournament.

SK Gaming

SK_Gaming

Courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

SK has had a less than stellar season. They are struggling to find the dominant form they showed at MLG Columbus. After taking a sudden exit in the playoff stages to FaZe at Starladder, SK Gaming has really been missing out on deep tournament play. Cs_Summit might be the turn around they need.

They are facing off against Team EnVyUs in the first round and it will not be easy for Gabriel “fallen” Toledo’s team to take a victory. With the strong players that EnVyUs have, we will see if fallen has made the correct adjustments before gametime.

OpTic Gaming

Courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

OpTic Gaming has a mix-mash of good aimers and good shot callers that somehow became one of the best teams in the world in under a year. One of OpTic’s key players, Tarik “Tarik” Celik, fled the barebones CLG squad in hopes of a better future with OpTic and it has paid off for him.

However, Tarik and OpTic have been struggling to find their strong form in 2017. OpTic seems to be making a little bit of comeback, showing life at the IBuyPower Invitational just last weekend where they took home second place. I think that OpTic has turned a corner with their play, but they will be tested in their matchup against Cloud9.

Featured Matchup: Optic vs Cloud 9

OpTic and Cloud9 are two of the best teams in North America and this matchup has always been fiery. Cloud9 seems to have them on most CT sided maps, controlling the long areas with Skadoodle’s AWP. However, it will be very interesting to see how Cloud9 adapts to their new five man lineup.

OpTic has always displayed resilience in their match-ups, being able to persevere in the longer mental battles. They stand a good chance against C9 and this matchup, in particular, seems to be the most balanced and the one to watch. If you can only catch one series from these playoff stages, I would highly recommend this match up.


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