NBA eLeague

The NBA and Take-Two Are Changing esports

The NBA and Take-Two (Makers of NBA 2K) are teaming up to change esports in a major way starting in 2018. The NBA and Take-Two have partnered to create a professional, competitive NBA eLeague.

Traditional sports games have fallen behind in the world of esports. Games like League of Legends, Pokemon, Halo, Counter-Strike and Dota2 have had been dominating competitive gaming and are already paying gamers million of dollars.

The NBA is trying to take a piece of that pie. There is so much money to be made from gaming that traditional sports need to innovate before they get left behind.

The NBA and Take-Two are trying to set the trend for these traditional sports. This bold leap could change the gaming industry like never seen before.

So what exactly will this NBA eLeague be and how will it run?

How Will it work?

NBA eLeague

(Photo Credit: https://geekiversedotcom.com)

The eLeague, as Adam Silver has called it, will be a professional gaming league run by the NBA and its franchises. Each NBA team will be in control of their own 2K virtual basketball team.

For example, the Chicago Bulls will have the eBulls and the team will manage its roster just as they do for the on-court basketball team. There will be general managers and a salary cap.

All 30 NBA teams will be involved and this season will mirror the real season. Gamers will be paid a salary to practice, train and compete for their respective teams and the only difference is they will be training with a controller instead of their body.

These teams will be through a real draft, similar to the traditional NBA draft. Each team will have five professional gamers on its roster. They won’t be playing with LeBron James, Steph Curry or Kevin Durant but instead they will play with their custom created avatars that they work on to improve.

One area of concern most people come up with is how can they do this if everyone is going to just be a 99 overall player who can do everything? NBA2K has already fixed this issue in their latest version of the game.

archetypes and badges

NBA eLeague

(Photo Credit:https://www.youtube.com)

NBA 2K17 really wanted to make sure that each player had their own specialty. In previous years a player could make a point guard who could be 6-foot-7 and earn all badges to become the most unstoppable player of all-time.

There are three solutions they came up with to halt this.

The first is with archetypes. For all examples in how this works, we will stick to looking at point guards.

When you create your player you can pick a position. Once you select the position you wish to play, you must pick an archetype. The archetypes for point guard are the following: playmaker, sharpshooter, lockdown defender, shot creator and slasher.

Depending on the type of point guard you decide to become, you will have only five badges you can upgrade. That is the second part of the solution: the number of badges one can upgrade. In NBA 2K there are dozens of badges a player can get that makes them better.

One of those badges is the pickpocket badge. To unlock the pickpocket badge, a player must get a certain amount of steals within a season. The pickpocket badge makes a player more effective at stealing the ball.

As you can see in the picture with the sharpshooter, pickpocket is not one of these upgradeable badges for that archetype. What that means is that the pickpocket badge must stay at the bronze level.

NBA eLeague

(Photo Credit: YouTube)

If the sharpshooter archetype gamer unlocked the limitless range badge then they could upgrade it from bronze to silver then to gold. Once a player has a gold badge they can upgrade it to the hall of fame level. Hall of fame badges allow a player to be great at that skill.

By allowing gamers to only have five upgradeable badges, they have stopped people from becoming players that are great at everything and 99 overall.

The third way NBA 2K17 has made it difficult to become 99 overall is by including park reputation.

Park reputation is a tier system in which can only be aquired by playing at MyPark. There are five levels to each tier. The tiers are as follows: rookie, pro, all-star, superstar and legend.

A player can only get to 95 overall before the game will not let them upgrade anymore. To earn more upgrades, one must reach levels one, three and five of the superstar tier at MyPark. The amount of games and time it takes to reach those tiers is extremely straining and does not come easily.

These three additions have really helped NBA 2K level the playing field and made a game that requires multiple different skill sets, rather than just a bunch of players who can do all. This is something NBA teams will have to look at when constructing teams for their NBA eLeague.

2K HAS ALREADY TESTED THIS

There is a mode in NBA 2K called Pro-Am that allows all these different gamers to take their custom players play in five on five games similar to an NBA contest. These teams become really competitive and are an example of how an NBA eLeague team would look. NBA 2K have already held two major tournaments over the past two years to test how this would work in a legitimate format.

NBA eLeague

(Photo Credit:http://www.usatoday.com/sports/)

The first one was called the Road to the Finals which took place in 2016. This year NBA 2K held the All Star Tournament which would gave 250 thousand dollars to the winning team Still Trill.

Over two million people streamed the final game, according to NBA 2K, proving that there is a market for competitive traditional sports games. The tournament showed is that these skilled players are capable of drawing a lot of viewers.

There are over 110,000 teams on Xbox alone in the Pro-Am game mode. The teams and players are already around waiting to be picked up by NBA franchises.

Why This Will Change eSports

NBA eLeague

(Photo Credit: Matthew Hagan)

The potential of this idea is unlimited. Currently, getting the NBA to be involved is monumental for the growth of NBA 2K as an esport. The NBA is the first professional league in the United States to create their own esports league.

The success with the two tournaments that NBA 2K have already run proves that there is huge interest in this game. Eventually the NBA eLeague could expand to more teams than just 30. There could be hundreds of teams in each region of the world. Eventually there could be regional championships that lead to a world championship.

An eLeague allows people who could never play in the NBA a chance to become NBA stars. This includes people who have disabilities and are unable physically play the sport. It doesn’t matter your size, weight, or gender, anybody who is good enough on the sticks can end up being drafted to an NBA eLeague team. That is something that no other professional sport can offer.

This is just the beginning for the NBA and Take-Two. Once the money begins to flow they will realize they need to expand the field. Before you know it there will be an NBA2K Hall of Fame and a list of new NBA eChampions.

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ELEAGUE Announces Street Fighter V League; Ushering Fighting Games into the Future

Street Fighter V is getting another major league, with the announcement that ELEAGUE is picking it up. The Turner owned league has recently had tremendous success with the Counter-Strike division, and will now move back into Street Fighter. It adds another $250k prize pool and could become the most important tournament, next to the Capcom Cup.

On March 27-30, 32 of the world’s best Street Fighter players will be invited to compete at the preliminary rounds. The top 16 players from last year’s Capcom Cup have already received an invitation, and the rest will be selected from Capcom (most likely based off Capcom points). From there, the top 24 will advance to the regular season, which will be broadcasted all the way through May on TBS and Twitch.

ELEAGUE will be the first time a network has committed to a long-term Street Fighter league. It’s an experiment to see if this type of structure can work within fighting games. It will undoubtedly expose the fighting game community to a market that has most likely never seen a fighting game tournament. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all upside for the Street Fighter V scene.

After the invitational has completed, the regular season will have four live broadcasts, with groups of six battling to make it into the playoffs. Each broadcast will be on Friday throughout April, with the playoffs starting on May 26th.

The future of fighting game tournaments

ELEAGUE’s interest is the first sign that the next wave of esports events is coming. Instead of a weekend long tournament, leagues similar to this one could be the next phase in fighting game development. EL’s focus on top players is the first step into a spectator dominated structure.

Now, as a player who regularly attends and competes at events, this is a little scary. There’s no question that ELEAGUE’s presence is good for the entire scene in terms of growth and legitimacy, but it takes the emphasis off grass-root events. Luckily, Capcom is still committed to tournament organizers through the Capcom Cup. This could be the start to more spectator focused events though.

The upside is exposure. More eyes on Street Fighter means more potential investors, player acquisitions, and better overall experiences. This will be the third time SFV has made it into a national stage. Fighting games are no longer apart of the niche market. Companies have noticed the growth and strength and have decided to invest in its future.

Regardless of your opinion on spectator events, ELEAGUE is good for players, fans, and the game itself. It’s the fighting game communities chance to reach an even wider audience and to keep building this into something great.

You can ‘Like’ The Game Haus on Facebook and ‘Follow’ us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Blake!

Pokésports Crest

Pokésports: The Power of a Brand and One Fans Plea

The Year of eSports

One of the big showings this year at CES Conference is eSports. Being a relatively new phenomenon, eSports is experiencing a surge of growth. Reporting a 2016 revenue of 493 million dollars. On top of that analysts project annual revenue to surpass 1 billion dollars by 2019.

Customers enjoying food and eSports at Buffalo Wild Wings.

Image courtesy of youtube.com user sapphiRe

Furthermore, recent studies have shown eSports rise in popularity. Now they are rating as high as Baseball and Ice Hockey among American Millennial Males. Turner Broadcasting is even getting in on the action with ELEAGUE, a professional Counter-Strike: Global Offensive league. First being aired on TBS. Then picked up and shown in Buffalo Wild Wings throughout the United States.

Building a Brand

Half a billion dollars is still relatively small for a global industry. While poised for growth, eSports lacks a strong brand. That brings us to Pokémon. A 20 year old series revolving around Trainers capturing, raising, and battling monsters in the game world. Pokémon already has an existing competitive tournament series referred to as the Video Game Championships (VGC) with multiple tournaments each year culminating in a World Championship. However, Pokémon is generally not thought of as under the eSports umbrella. As an effect both Pokémon and eSports find themselves as somewhat of an odd couple. Both could benefit from being with the other, but neither will make a move.

The reason for the odd relationship between Pokémon and eSports comes down to marketing. The Pokémon Company International (TPCI) has not really worked to market the competitive aspect of the franchise. Even though Pokémon commands a massive following worldwide, competitive Pokémon still remains rather niche. While TPCI does little to nurture their growing competitive community.

Massive crowd cheering inside arena during Nintendo eSports tournament.

Image courtesy of Nintendo

Nintendo is showing signs of moving into eSports with the launch trailer debuting the new Nintendo Switch. The time has come for Nintendo, Game Freak, and TPCI to take a long and serious look at what they have with the Pokémon brand and its ability to translate into massive growth potential inside the eSports market. This would not only benefit the coffers of those companies, but serve as a springboard for the already fast growing eSport movement.

Perfect Match

The Pokémon brand carries a significant amount of weight. Generating 2.1 billion dollars annual revenue in 2015 and expected to report higher returns for 2016. Pokémon GO, an augmented reality game for Android and iPhone, launched in 2016. Going so far as to produce revenues of over 1 billion dollars in its first year. That’s right, a Free To Play app for smartphones generated double the revenue of the entire eSports industry, simply due to the Pokémon brand. Now consider an actual concerted effort to market Pokémon as the next big eSport.

I challenge you to imagine a world where Pokémon reaches its full potential as an eSport. A world where, just like football and basketball today, a kid can become a professional Trainer. Making a living mastering what is essentially a game of 3D chess, constructing teams out of 100’s of available Pokémon. The fanbase and brand power is undoubtedly there and I would hazard a guess that many corporations would get in bed with the Pokémon brand in the realm of sports. VGC Tournaments already look like what they show off in the Nintendo Switch trailer.

Large crowd gathers for competitive Pokémon tournament.

Image courtesy of Kotaku

This series I will dive into what it would take for Pokémon to become a respected eSports franchise, what that would look like, and the overall impact of such an event. Everything from the structure of the competitive community to the way matches are broadcast will be examined. With hope TPCI takes these points to heart and gifts the magic of Pokémon to future generations. A world of dreams and adventures with Pokémon awaits! Let’s go!

Opening scene from G1 Pokémon games.

Image courtesy of Game Freak

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America’s Top Farmer: Cloud9’s History of Counter-Strike Prospects

In professional baseball, each organization has a farm system where it trains up its draft picks before bringing them up to the big leagues. To make it into MLB play, a young recruit must first prove his chops against lesser opponents, working his way up through A, AA, and AAA, the 3 tiers of the minor leagues. It’s a logical and well-organized practice that trains rising stars, discovers role-players, and weeds out lesser performers.

North American Counter-Strike doesn’t have that system, though it could use it. Instead, it just has FPL, premier, and Cloud9.

The original coL lineup. Photo courtesy coLnews.

The original coL lineup, which would morph into C9 and that team’s many iterations. The only constant? n0thing. Photo courtesy coLnews.

Cloud9 occupies a unique position within the NA CS:GO scene. Since its inception, it has been a prestigious organization. And for just as long, it has been about the only top-level NA team to recruit unproven talents and introduce them to play among the upper echelons of CS:GO.  Starting with shroud and moving through ShahZaM, fREAKAZOID, Stewie2k, and Slemmy, whenever C9’s core needed a roster move, it almost always gambled on newcomers rather than old guard. In comparison, CLG in-bred players from within its clique, iBP took proven stars from compLexity/Cloud9, and Liquid played tap-dance with a string of otherwise-rejected pros.

This role of “elite farm team” has not been by choice for the most part. For such a deep scene, NA CS has been entrenched at its uppermost level for a long time. Veterans were skeptical of rising talents. I’m sure if circumstances permit, C9 would love to be the New York Yankees, letting stars prove themselves stars elsewhere and then buying them up. But such players are hard to come by, buy out, or otherwise persuade to leave a good team, as C9 has discovered time and time again. Instead, as history shows, C9 has foraged through the forests of tier 2 and 3 NA CS:GO and found young guns that are easier to snap up. And their track record in doing so is surprisingly, unwittingly good.

From coL to C9, swag to shroud

Cloud9’s first investment in little-known North American talent actually came from the compLexity lineup that would shortly become C9. CoL–seangares, SEMPHIS, Hiko, n0thing, and swag–was the best NA lineup of early CS:GO. They made it to the semifinals of the first major, Dreamhack Winter 2013, and then the quarterfinals of the second major, ESL One Katowice 2014. With a growing phenom like swag, top player like Hiko, and strat-caller like seangares, this established team seemed both powerful and full of room to grow.

Then swag left for iBuyPower, coL’s rivals in America. It was a spontaneous, strange, and fateful decision on swag’s part. (Imagine if he hadn’t left! At the least, he wouldn’t have had an opportunity to participate in the devestating iBP throw.) And it left coL with anger, an established player but one who wasn’t nearly as good as swag.

CoL struggled through the spring of 2014, and despite an impressive second-place finish at the ESEA finals, they pursued replacing anger. The team they looked at was named Manajuma, a lower-level invite team with promising potential and (to modern eyes) a surprisingly stacked lineup: Irukandji, dboorn, minikerr, desi, and a young Polish Canadian named shroud. At the beginning of July, coL kicked anger and brought in shroud and dboorn, an experienced player from 1.6 and Source, on a trial basis.

At this point in CS:GO history, NA’s scene looked closer to the scene of other countries, with one or two top teams and a sea of semi-pros floating beneath. It was a natural move for coL to cherry-pick the best players from another team not named iBP, even if that lineup was a promising one. Dboorn was a known entity, but it was shroud that was the untasted spice. Shroud was a true rookie, but he had been turning heads with his sick aim. Dustmoret had interviewed him for a show fittingly named The Hype, and famous fragmovie editor aThId had showcased a 1v5 clutch shroud won.

CoL in this instance could have been conservative and stuck with dboorn. But the coL players were impressed with shroud’s agreeable attitude and willingness to learn how to play with the team. They chose the young talent, and it was a good choice. Before the month of July had ended, Cloud9, a League of Legends organization that was branching out to other eSports, had arranged a deal with the lineup, whose contracts with compLexity were ending at the beginning of August.

Immediately, shroud played well (although not incredibly) at the major, ESL One Cologne, and at the FACEIT Season 2 finals. In Cologne, C9 pulled off dual upsets over Titan and dignitas to reach the quarters once again. All seemed on the up-and-up.

Between the lines, though, not all was well. SEMPHIS and seangares butted heads over shot-calling, n0thing regularly showed up late for or skipped practice, and shroud settled into a popular streaming personality that (some say) distracted from his competitive performance. The team began to tank in performance. In December, Hiko left C9 for the ill-fated superteam iBuyPower, criticizing his teammates’ commitment to winning and vowing never to return. Once again, the coL/C9 core would have to replace a star.

Looking back, the shroud pick-up introduced a new and convincing talent into top-level NA CS, and it was certainly a decent roster move. However, unlike similar CS:GO-only talents like device, coldzera, or flamie, shroud would never become the superstar rifler his aim and intelligence would seem to destine him for. The label “pug-star” will hang over shroud as long as he plays incredibly on Twitch and only decently on LAN.

ShahZaM: the move that didn’t work

The most obvious thing the coL/C9 roster lacked was a star sniper. Both SEMPHIS and seangares would take up the AWP as needed, but neither had sick skills with it; they were utilitarian with it at best. This led to perhaps the most logical and least successful of C9’s roster moves: picking up ShahZaM.

ShahZaM looked like he could become a good-to-great player. His AWP was quick, his rifles were decent, and as a part of his Denial lineup, he had put up good performances, including a star performance against C9 itself right before Hiko’s departure. Denial was an up-and-coming team, but once again, at this time in CS:GO, an offer from Cloud9 was too good to refuse. Perfect, right?

As it turned out, ShahZaM was inconsistent at best with Cloud9. He would make questionable decisions at times, and his jitters in big games were palpable, including a groan-inducing TK on SEMPHIS at the major, ESL One Katowice 2015. In part due to ShahZaM’s problems, in part due to the team’s accelerating implosion, the team failed to make it out of groups at that tournament. Steel, now banned and relegated to commentary, released a video that tore apart ShahZaM’s performance round by round. C9 couldn’t have been lower, and soon it would detonate its own lineup, kicking out both ShahZaM and SEMPHIS.

ShahZaM is a failed NA talent, failed in that he hasn’t ever shown us the ability to perform in big games like he does online or against lesser opponents. I think it is telling that ShahZaM left OpTic, his most recent team, and then OpTic (with successful Spanish talent mixwell) went from having the wheels fall off to driving to upsets over Tempo Storm (2 Bo3 wins), NiP (1 map), and Astralis (1 map). But let him prove me wrong with results. In any case, this is, surprisingly, the one roster gamble that never paid off for C9.

fREAKAZOID, Skadoodle, and the Glorious Run

With NA CS:GO at its lowest point ever, fielding no competitive international teams since the iBP ban, C9 rebuilt itself. Without SEMPHIS, seangares took total control of the team, and C9 made what must be considered its most intelligent and successful roster move ever. Picking up Skadoodle–teamless since the iBP ban–was a no-brainer. Skadoodle was clearly the best AWPer in NA, and looked to have the talent to challenge European AWPers if he could sort out his nagging communication issues and inconsistency. Under seangares, Ska would find an IGL who would provide him with some of the structure he had thrived under while playing with DaZeD. It was an obvious A+ acquisition.

The move that came out of left field, and which we now must call brilliant, was picking up fREAKAZOID as a pure entry-fragger.

The famous C9 lineup that went to three strait international finals. Freakazoid is 2nd from right. Photo courtesy fantasy esports.

The famous C9 lineup that went to three strait international finals. fREAKAZOID is 2nd from right. Photo courtesy fantasy esports.

Ska needed no introduction, but fREAKAZOID’s career in CS:GO was meager at best. A CS:Source player of some note, fREAKAZOID had been kicked from Team Dynamic (with adreN and AZK) way back in 2012 to make way for swag. He then played on Frost with moE, ry9n, and autimatic, which ultimately merged with a team called Homeless, with montE, frozt, and steel. When he and steel were kicked in March, steel went on to play with iBP, while freakazoid stepped away from the game. His resume was okay, but not particularly impressive; he as a player faded from our collective consciousness. Near when the C9 roster move was looming, rumors began going around that fREAKAZOID was training to play again; by this point, with all the updates and changes to the metagame, he would basically be a rookie all over again.

Several voices in the scene criticized C9 at first when they did acquire fREAKAZOID, including Thorin and DaZeD. FREAKAZOID was seen, to put it bluntly, as a washed-up nobody who would get swept under the rug by top-level pros. Thorin, though, noted that it would be a boon to seangares to have an entry fragger willing to obey his every command, something seangares had never had before. In a video review of the new roster’s early loss to EnVyUs on cache, DaZeD complimented fREAKAZOID’s timing with flashes while entering a bombsite, saying that he looked for this quality in an entry-fragger. Both were onto something.

During the famous three-tournament run of finals appearances for Cloud9, perhaps the most impressive accomplishment of any NA team, fREAKAZOID was the sole point of aggression on a team of naturally passive players. His entry-fragging for seangares made strategies work, despite the sometimes-atrocious scorelines freak would put up. And while seangares focused on tactics, fREAKAZOID became the spiritual leader of C9. A listen to his voice communications from the ESL ESEA finals, or to his interviews alongside n0thing, will convince anyone of this fact. His competitive smarts and energy motivated his lukewarm teammates to perform at their best level.

As C9’s level fell off, his teammates lost motivation, and seangares eventually left the team, fREAKAZOID continued to improve his play. Him leaving C9 was an inevitable move; with Stewie2k basically an entry-fragger himself, n0thing struggling to call strats, fREAKAZOID’s bullying controversy with s1mple, and the team clearly lacking both results and full dedication, the environment on C9 just wasn’t right for fREAKAZOID anymore. Standing-in for Splyce at DreamHack Austin, fREAKAZOID was the best player on the team by a mile, showing how much his gamesense and aim have developed from his experience on C9. Joining back with seangares in EchoFox, I can only presume he’ll continue to be a solid pro beyond what any observer would have expected a year and a quarter ago.

Freak was the true freaky roster move, the person snatched out of nowhere who was just right for the team. He was not a star, and probably never will be; but he was the perfect role-player for what C9 needed.

Stewie2k, disaster to star (feat. Slemmy on IGL)

Seangares quit C9 after devastating exits in groups at the majors in Cologne and Cluj-Napoca. The search for a replacement was a total mess. At this point, C9 was no longer clearly the team to be on. With CLG, Liquid, and a number of competitive tier 2 NA teams that were getting outsized sponsorship, there was more talent, but even more competition for that talent. And C9 would find the door closed to them wherever they looked for talent. The last person they were looking for was a barely-turned-18 pug-star with almost no pro experience.

As n0thing explained on his stream after Stewie2k joined the team, the team made its rounds almost everywhere. GeT_RiGhT was the first choice, but he turned the offer down; hiko and nitr0 both stuck with Liquid; gob b said no; and tarik and fugly were both considered and then rejected before young Stew. “All the veteran players we wanted to pick up from NA, we couldn’t really pick up,” n0thing complained. “Everyone had huge buyouts.” His exasperation is the quintessence of trying to assemble an internationally elite team in the current NA situation. It’s as frustrating as NA’s current international results.

Stewie2k was one from a laundry list of NA talents on the premier and FPL level that C9 investigated; the only other name n0thing mentioned was ryx. Thus far, the most notoriety Stewie2k had gotten was playing on a very suspect Splyce lineup (with Slemmy, please note) and a one-LAN Torqued mix with steel and moE. The team wanted an entry-fragger who could also throw smokes and be supportive, and Stewie2k’s knowledge of smokes and openness of criticism impressed n0thing. The team saw a foundation for better decision-making to build upon Stewie’s already impressive aim. “If he’s truly not fit for the role, we’ll find out,” n0thing concluded, somewhat defensively. We’ll strip some of the pug habits out of stewie and shroud, he promised.

Yet the idea that Stewie2k was the right man for the job was extremely questionable. Not only was he long down the list of C9’s candidates, and not only was he totally inexperienced, but he was not an in-game leader, leaving the shot-calling to the perpetual scatter-brain we know as n0thing. Many pounced on Stewie2k, whose overconfidence in himself didn’t aid matters.

Results were not good through the beginning of 2016, with C9 again failing to make the major playoffs (this time on home soil at Columbus). Freakazoid’s departure spelled yet another blow to C9; once again, they would have to scour the fallow fields premier to find a replacement for a veteran player. And this time, the name that they would turn up would be even more obscure: Slemmy.

Slemmy seems to have played CS:GO since its inception. He even has the least legit fragmovie ever, published by someone in June 2013! (Honestly: Who is he playing against? Is that a Negev? Is the person posting the video actually accusing him of cheating? But I had forgotten how sketchy early CS:GO spray technique was…and dat sensual jam soundtrack…8/8, no regets, best fragmovie ever! I kid, I kid.) From late 2014, he played on a revolving door of tier 4 and tier 3 NA teams, never staying long with one squad. Finally, he and his ex-Obey.Alliance teammates were beginning to make some waves under the name Without a Roof, when out of the blue, he receives an offer from Cloud9!

Slemmy’s skills hardly fit with an offer for a top NA org; even the generally generous moses was skeptical of the move. What was key to Cloud9’s decision, though, was Stewie2k’s enthusiasm for Slemmy. Stewie2k told his teammates that Slemmy was both a smart player and a good team player, and that he had the know-how to devote himself to the art of in-game leading. With Irukandji now coaching C9, this would make Slemmy’s burden less, and in theory, the firepower of the other four players ought to compensate for Slemmy dragging behind.

C9 once again struggled at first–at DreamHack Austin and at the ESL Pro League finals. And they may still struggle, as Slemmy’s scorelines are almost wholy dependent on his teammates and their performance. But ELEAGUE Group A has taught us that Slemmy’s inclusion has unlocked Stewie2k in the best way possible and allowed for n0thing to focus on fragging once again.

Picking up Slemmy was an investment in IGL development for North American Counter-Strike. But just like the Stewie2k deal, it was a near-unwilling investment, compelled by the circumstances of NA CS. That C9 has come out ahead as perhaps NA’s No. 1 team is a testament both to luck and to good scouting. But put within the history of C9, we see that time and again, C9 has opted to pursue the unproven potential over the known entity, whether by choice or not.

In the future, we may see organizations in NA conglomerate, with big NA orgs buying up smaller orgs and using them as farm teams. Until then, we’ll have to settle for risky acquisitions like those of Cloud9, the elite farm team of NA CS:GO.

The current C9 roster shake hands with Luminosity following their narrow defeat. Screenshot from ELEAGUE stream.

The current C9 roster shake hands with Luminosity following their narrow defeat. Screenshot from ELEAGUE stream.

Mixwell and the NA Clockwork: OpTic No. 1 NA in May

When OpTic, the most famous Call of Duty organization, entered CS:GO in January by picking up a bottom-feeding North American lineup spearheaded by ShahZaM, the choice was met with cries of derision. Duncan ‘Thorin’ Shields and Richard Lewis trashed their early performance at the first NA minor; even a month ago, they speculated that the team would break up with ShahZaM’s rumored departure—a departure that would become a reality, and a hole that would be plugged by an unproven Spanish prospect. 

OpTic has been the No. 1 NA team for the month of May thus far.

A rare smile from the Spaniard who has made OpTic the best of NA in the month of May. Photo courtesy MARCA.

A rare smile from the Spaniard who has made OpTic the best of NA in the month of May. Photo courtesy MARCA.

Don’t believe me? The results prove it. OpTic has achieved more in offline tournaments in the past month than any other NA team. They stomped Astralis, a classic elite lineup, in a Best of 1. They took 25 rounds over two maps off of Luminosity, the best team in the world. And they bested Tempo Storm, a team many consider top 10 material, in two consecutive Best of 3s. On a smaller note, won the recent NA Minor and only dropped 1 map while doing so (to Tempo Storm on dust2, 16-13 in the finals). 

What top teams did other NA teams beat? The only other result of significance is Cloud9 winning mirage from Luminosity in the Group A finals of ELEAGUE. That was impressive work, but also C9’s only international result in the month. Should OpTic manage to upset G2 or NiP in the Group B playoffs, I wouldn’t hesitate to call them the No. 1 NA team.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. OpTic are not a top 10 roster in the world, and I’m not sure they can be. They are merely the only NA team I have enjoyed watching this month besides C9. They’ve played with confidence, polish, and strength beyond the rag-tag look of their lineup. They are the first tier 2 NA team with a quality sponsor to repay their org with true improvement. That’s a notable feat in and of itself. 

What makes OpTic work? As it turns out, a Spanish AWP prospect who has picked up the rifle was the factor to unlock the skills and hard work of this lineup. Will it continue to work? That relies upon the team’s continued research, confidence, and self-understanding.

The Cog Spaniard

A Spanish AWPer who now prefers the rifle is by far the most important piece behind OpTic’s success. This is not the force of a s1mple bulldozer plowing over opposition despite the flaws of a team. This is the power of sliding a missing gear into a clock, winding it up, and listening to it chime for the first time. mixwell is not an incredible world-beating fragger like s1mple, but his game-sense and nose for a play is the unwitting cog that is sending OpTic ticking upward.

mixwell is not a good aimer. Well, okay, he CAN hit some good shots, but his highlight reels are often more quick-witted than they are sure-of-hand. I mean, how do you miss a layup shot like this

Or this? (Okay, it was a bit long range with that deagle. Okay, I miss them all the time. Gimme a break.)

What’s notable about those botched kills, though, is how mixwell in both instances took his opponents so by surprise that he had longer than most players normally do to land a frag. mixwell is an uncanny player. Even in his fledgling pro matches, he has an aggressive timing to his positioning and faces that takes opponents by surprise. He seems to have a good sense for where to find a frag, and he is constantly hunting for information. Watching his movements around the spectator minimap, I can almost imagine the mental cartography occurring in his head. 

His important frags come from unexpected opening duels, anticipation, and exploiting chaos in a defense or strung-out attack; rarely does mixwell pull off flashy he-shouldn’t-have-done-that headshots, bomb-site-opening entries, or multi-man spray-downs. His name isn’t often shouted by the casters, but by the end of the map, he’s always put up the second or third best stats in the server for OpTic. 

In a strange way, mixwell reminds me of some Spanish-flair inversion of Happy, the famous French lurker and IGL for LDLC/VeryGames. Both players find their best success when they exhibit their beautiful timing in their engagements. Both are at their best when they can play off of the positioning of their teammates. But mixwell is much more of an information gatherer than Happy. Happy is content to extreme lurk and let his teammates bait for him, while mixwell is aggressive, to the point of sometimes seeming reckless. Happy’s rifles are also much sharper than mixwell’s; but mixwell knows when and how to AWP much better than Happy does. 

Another player mixwell reminds me of is Ola “elemeNt” Moum, the Norwegian 1.6 player who relied on his ability to read a game, not his aim, to make himself and his teams successful. Based on what limited POVs I’ve seen of elemeNt, there’s a certain mind-before-mechanics that both their movements seem to indicate. This is not a fair comparison. elemeNt was an all-time great, and mixwell is a rookie. But the thought has flashed through my mind, fair or not. 

Mixwell does have a tendency to give up opening kills due to his greedy positioning. In OpTic’s first match at the MLG Minor against Tempo Storm, for instance, he gave up one less entry frag than daps, stanislaw, and NAF-FLY combined. This is currently mixwell’s main weakness, a product of a playing style that mixwell seems nevertheless assured of within the current setup of OpTic.

Sliding mixwell into gear 

OpTic started off by forcing mixwell to be a dedicated AWPer in the vein of ShahZaM and other NA snipers, to mediocre effect at best. mixwell struggled. 

At some point, daps and company recognized mixwell’s essential quality was not AWPing, but understanding his opponents and game situations. They relieved him of sole sniper duty and handed him an AK-47 or the green gun as suited the round. mixwell became not quite a lurker, but not quite an entry fragger; he assumed forward positions in rounds and struck at targets of opportunity, but let other players open up bombsites or anchor defenses. They began basing their understanding of how to play rounds off of the information that mixwell fed to the team (compliments to the youngster’s excellent English). 

What do we call this position mixwell now plays? Recon? I don’t think it neatly fits into typical CS:GO role definitions at the moment. Whatever the case, it has worked. As a review of the demo and of stanislaw’s post-match interview reveals, it is exactly this role that allowed OpTic to whip Astralis 16-7 on inferno, and a role that is typical of mixwell since.

Please admire my paint skills.

Please admire my paint skills.

On T side, mixwell played at the top of banana time after time.

Astralis failed to contest or punish this position effectively, especially early in the half. When allowed, mixwell would peek off of a flashbang into the site itself. Based off of what he saw, he would either call his team to come B or would turn around and walk back to mid. I actually laughed once when I saw NAF-FLY do a bit of a double-take at one of mixwell’s decisions to back off of banana—but he followed nevertheless. 

Bask in awe of my mouse handwriting.

Bask in awe of my mouse handwriting.

When OpTic pushed a site, mixwell (with the AK in hand) would often take a side route to the bombsite. On A, while his teammates run out past boiler towards the default plant, he would wrap around arch-side. On B, he would go out and around through the back of construction. 

In post-plants, he often moves to the outermost position reasonable while his teammates take more solid positions close to the bomb. He is eager to hunt retreating CTs when given the opportunity, and this game was no exception. I suppose this is the type of play stanislaw refers to when he says they used mixwell as an “aggressive rifler.”

mixwell often would advance to top mid when it was smoked. If he heard retreating footsteps, he would rotate to B.

mixwell often would advance to top mid when it was smoked. If he heard retreating footsteps, he would rotate to B.

 

As a Counter-terrorist, mixwell played close to mid from arch-side, a rotation position that suits mixwell’s intuitive play. From here, stanislaw said in his interview, mixwell could hear Astralis’s footsteps and convey where Astralis were moving. When stanislaw says that Astralis was “easy to read,” the reason for this confidence is mixwell. 

Since this victory, mixwell has gone back to a mixture of AWPing and rifling, but he only AWPs when he has a specific position or face in mind. In their first train match versus Tempo Storm, for example, after noticing felps pushing on close train, mixwell picked up the AWP and caught felps out on this maneuver again and again, despite the wily methods of approach that felps devised. Mixwell’s decisions on which weapon to use often seem to have real and specific logic behind it, which is a boon to both him and his team’s executions.

The Clockwork OpTic

When Hiko joined Team Liquid, his respected predefined role as a lurker forced his new teammates to realign their roles, bringing Liquid from a mediocre NA team to a top tier NA team, competing for No. 2 with CLG. mixwell’s impact for OpTic has been much the same, creating a better and more logical coordination of OpTic’s forces. What is more impressive, however, is that mixwell’s defining role within the team was conceived AFTER the team tried and failed to make him a ShahZaM-like AWPer. 

With mixwell the sometime AWPer and dedicated freelance recon (just roll with it…please…), NAF-FLY has become his foil, a conservative and rock-steady player who excels as an anchor on defense and in post-plants on offense. 

NAF-FLY has precise aim in contrast to mixwell’s witty aim, and for this reason had long been touted as an up-and-coming NA talent. But NAF-FLY has always hesitated to step out and be a play-maker, preferring to play supportive angles at the back of bombsites and pushes, and this has limited his in-game impact. Now, much like Krimz or boltz, this stiff, stoic quality in his play has become a virtue when playing next to a bolder co-star. The risk-taking of mixwell on both halves of play and the quick execution style of OpTic on T-side creates situations where NAF-FLY doesn’t have to seek plays, but plays naturally seek him. This is the “star support” role, as it were, and NAF-FLY is well-suited to it. Now he needs to show consistency in fulfilling it.

Furthermore, NAF is good with the AWP in a more static sense than mixwell, who uses it aggressively. This means that OpTic always has an appropriate AWPer for each situation. How convenient! The team also rarely uses double-AWP setups, perhaps for the polar styles of their AWPers and for the fact that one of them (NAF-FLY) is excellent with the rifles. 

RUSH is another long-touted NA talent with good aim who never quite delivered until now. He typically the entry-fragger for OpTic, though daps and stanislaw will also take that role depending on the round, and will also sometimes play on more forward CT positions than his other teammates. Whereas mixwell’s aggression is a curving split-finger fastball, RUSH’s is a straight-on two-seamer; the distraction that either causes during an attack can benefit the other, so that the defense doesn’t know exactly which they should look for. In addition, RUSH has cleaned up his old habits of over-peaking and taking unnecessary aim duels, much to the benefit of his team. 

OpTic’s success relies upon these three players—RUSH, mixwell, NAF-FLY—stepping up and playing well. When NAF-FLY is having an off game, the effect is immediately obvious, as defenses tend to fold easily and with few return frags.

daps is the IGL, and credit must be given to him for recognizing how mixwell is best employed in this lineup and for filling in the gaps his team needs. His shot calling is not brilliant, nor his executions unique, but he does a good job of mixing up both the pace and location of the team’s T-sides. stanislaw just seems like a good fragger to me, and has acquitted himself particularly well with the pistols; he doesn’t seem to me to have a special role within the team other than occasionally popping off and putting up big kills in a round.

The ghost in the machine

OpTic is not unique beyond this clockwork quality of play. They have a very traditional NA style of play: map control default at the beginning of a round, then attack a bombsite, no real fancy executions need apply. (The team has had some embarrassing smoke misses before, especially on overpass; I can’t even bring myself to link to the video.) Before mixwell, they relied on both star power and the hard work of their players; if they were unique, it was for the noticeable amount of work some of the players were putting into their positioning and decision-making.

As it turns out, the default-to-execution style of gameplay works much better with mixwell. mixwell is the wild-card, getting into unusual positions and feeding both off of and into his team’s larger decisions about rotations and executions. Since acquiring mixwell, the team seems to know what their opponents are doing in the server much better. 

It’s notable, though, that OpTic’s favorite maps have been cobblestone, train, and inferno. These maps have been considered tactical maps, requiring more coordination and understanding of teamplay than, say, dust2 or cache. OpTic is very good on these maps, which is very unlike any other NA team now–a big domestic advantage. It is unfortunate for them, though, that Valve rotated their best map, inferno, out of the map pool.

mixwell (left) with is usual dispassionate stare, while NAF-FLY (far right) bores holes into his monitor. The team rarely celebrates or shouts. Screenshot courtesy MLG.

mixwell (left) with is usual dispassionate stare, while NAF-FLY (far right) bores holes into his monitor. The team rarely celebrates or shouts. Screenshot courtesy MLG.

Also notable is the lack of strong emotions while playing. The OpTic players rarely shout, look at each other, high-five, or even crack a smile while they play. More than being a sign of focus, I think it’s good for OpTic not to fall into the trap of people’s expectations for NA CS:GO teams: that they have to be loud, emotional, fiery, and chaotic.

Grinding forward

Without NAF-FLY and RUSH performing at their highest level game in and game out, this team cannot do significant international damage. The two maps against NiP in ELEAGUE group B this week showed just how weak this team can look without those players stepping up. The positive is that mixwell is consistent even when the team is losing. The negative is that it hardly makes a difference when the NA clockwork falls apart against a truly elite team.

Part of what makes each gear in this clockwork team spin is how the pieces work together. What impressed me about the stanislaw interview was how self-aware of the source of the team’s success stanislaw seemed to be. The team needs to realize what makes them tick, and how, to exit the group stage in ELEAGUE this week. The team certainly needs more courage and self-confidence during the playoffs than we’ve seen thus far from them.

Nevertheless, I’ll be watching them, hoping to see OpTic continue to grind forward and give mixwell and his compatriots success. I hope I enjoy watching them.

Predications for ELeague: Adam Stevens (guest writer)

Courtesy of Eleague Twitter account.

Courtesy of Eleague Twitter account.

The $1.2million ELeague tournament hosted by Turner is set to kick off May 24th with a plethora of teams attending.

 

In this article I will break down who is attending the event, where I think they will place and who could potentially upset the pack.

 

Since Turner announced the ELeague there was an air of uncertainty around the teams with a small group of teams being announced initially which didn’t include any of the top tier names. After lengthy talks the full list of teams attending was announced, and didn’t disappoint.

 

 

Teams attending:

Astralis

Cloud9

CLG

compLexity

dignitas

Echo Fox

EnVyUs

FaZe

FlipSid3

fnatic

Gambit

G2

Liquid

Luminosity

mousesports

Natus Vincere

NiP

NRG

OpTic

Renegades

SK

TSM

Virtus.pro

TyLoo

 

For those of the more visual bent, or who just like pretty logos. Courtesy of liquidpedia.

For those of the more visual bent, or who just like pretty logos. Courtesy of liquidpedia.

 

The current CSGO competitive landscape is incredibly interesting, we’ve got Luminosity, the most recent Major champions, Na’Vi who consistently challenge for the top spot, and multiple teams that have recently made a roster swap which could potentially see them rocket to the top.

 

My top five looks like this:

Luminosity

Na’Vi

Astralis

Fnatic

NiP

 

Luminosity have shown that they’re an incredibly strong and tactical team that have so much to offer in the top tier CSGO scene. The big question about this line-up is if they can constantly stay at the top and make sure they don’t get figured out and completely antistratted by the other top tier teams.

 

 

Na`Vi have the issue of whether or not GuardiaN will be able to consistently play at the top of his game with the injury he has picked up in the past few months. He’s had to change his ingame sensitivity and has since not been the absolute dominant force he is known for. If Na`Vi can overcome this they will be consistently hitting top two.

Courtesy of Liquidpedia.

Courtesy of Liquidpedia.

 

Astralis have shown they’re a top tier team time and time again, but have never been able to close it out and win tournaments they play well at, they’re the team that keeps on choking. I have no doubt Astralis will be in the top 7 teams in this league, they have the potential to upset and break the top one and two places but it’s more likely they will finish in third to seventh in my opinion.

 

Courtesy of liquidpedia.

Courtesy of liquidpedia.

Fnatic have been constantly changing their roster to try and stay on top after Olofmeisters injury means that he will be unable to play for the coming months. They have tried Plessen, but recently cut him from the roster citing the team’s poor results as the reason for this. Now Fnatic have brought in Wenton, who hasn’t had the best start with Fnatic losing to Astralis but it’s still early days so we can’t read too much in to that. Fnatic have been dominant in the past but without their star player Olofmeister, the question is, can they continue to be dominant?

This last place in my top five could really be a mix of three teams, NiP, Virtus.Pro or EnVyUs. I have chosen NiP since they have been looking like they have transformed their playstyle from a puggy style to a more structured strategic play which worked really well for them at Dreamhack Malmo. I am really impressed with the work Threat has done with this team and I do believe that if they play like they did at Dreamhack Malmo they will be able to challenge the top three spot.

 

 

 

 

The upsetters, the teams I think could potentially bring in some great results against the top tier teams in this league.

 

My first pick in the upsetters category is Tyloo. They’ve shown they’re incredibly dedicated to the game and improving, and they’re bringing a whole new level of CSGO to the West. The top tier teams don’t have much experience against this team and they don’t have many demos to watch back to work out how they play. If they come in to the tournament strong they could bring some upsets. This team is also great to see if the Asian scene can compete with the Western scene, how they match up and how they will improve will be really interesting to watch.

 

Courtesy of liquidpedia.

Courtesy of liquidpedia.

 

A team that seems like it has a lot of potential is NRG, I would really like them to make a roster change to bring in one fragger in replacement of maybe Legija or gob b and move one of the Europeans to coach. They have the brain, I’m just not sure they have the aim.

 

My third and final team included in this upset category is mousesports, they’ve had some really good results lately and have been knocking on the door of the top tier teams constantly. They beat Luminosity and Liquid at Dreamhack Malmo and multiple top tier teams online since.

 

My final ranking prediction is this:

 

Luminosity

Na’Vi

Astralis

Fnatic

NiP

EnVyUs

Virtus.pro

mousesports

TyLoo

G2

CLG

FaZe

Gambit

dignitas

SK

FlipSid3

Cloud9

Liquid

NRG

compLexity

Echo Fox

Renegades

TSM

OpTic

 

 

 

AUTHOR BIO

 

Adam has been playing Counter Strike for a little over 10 years now and has set up http://bc-gb.com a CSGO news and opinion website and https://www.customesports.com a custom esports jersey and apparel supplier. You’ll normally find Adam on his websites, Reddit or https://www.twitter.com/admstevens.