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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Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’s Greatest Dynasties

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive first released August 21st, 2012, and since then the competitive scene has went from strength to strength. The game followed on from the already popular Counter-Strike series and the newest release sparked even more interest than its predecessors.

Despite a few controversies along the way, the esports scene for CS:GO has boomed, with ELEAGUE’s season 1 and 2 having a combined prize pool of over $2.5m.

With such prizes out there, it is no surprise to see many teams competing and training hard to slug it out over these massive cash rewards, not to mention the sponsorships and contracts that come into play in modern day Counter-Strike.

Some teams, however, have went above and beyond the competition experiencing an extended period of time at the top. Many of these teams went months in domination, others went a lot longer with long unbeaten streaks still lauded over rival teams to this day.

The following list will break down just some of the teams who dominated Counter-Strike for a period of time following the game’s release:

[This list is in no particular order]

5. Fnatic – November 2013-June 2014

photo by AftonBladet.se


Fnatic were the first team to ever win a major in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, something that places them in the history books. This lineup consisted of JW, Flusha, Schneider, Pronax and Devilwalk, and they put their stamp on the scene by beating the odds and coming from nowhere to placing second at MSI Beat IT.

This was just the beginning as the team continued to place high in tournaments consistently before the lineup burned out in the summer of 2014 after failing to progress from the DreamHack Summer groups.

4. Virtus Pro – October 2013-February 2017

Virtus Pro are a team that traditionally blow hot and cold, the terms Virtus Plow and Virtus Throw go hand in hand depending on how the team performs. It is, however, undeniable that they have been one of the most consistent long term teams the game has seen.

The team has featured the charismatic lineup of TaZ, NEO, Pasha, Byali and Snax, and have been a thorn in the side for nearly every team attempting to establish a tier one dominance since October 2013. With one Major win and seven international titles, they are without a doubt one of Counter-Strike’s most successful dynasties.

photo by GINX eSports TV

Virtus Pro are one of the teams that have been able to forge a legacy that will out last this iteration of the game as their longevity at the top remains admirable to even the biggest rivals of the Poles.

 

3. Ninjas in Pyjamas – August 2012-November 2014

Ninjas in Pyjamas are another team that will forever hold a legacy within Counter-Strike. Their run to the fabled 87:0 winning streak is still talked about to this day, a feat that will likely never be replicated.

The line up is still largely the core of modern day NiP, featuring GeT_RighT, F0rest, Friberg, Xizt and Fifflaren. That team has amassed one Major win amongst 18 international tournament wins. This coupled with the fact that they reached the last eight in 31 of their 32 tournaments in this time frame cements them as one of Counter-Strike’s best teams ever.

photo by Liquipedia

Their success can be attributed to the clear nature of each of their roles, every player knew what they had to do and executed it with lethal precision for over two years. It seemed as though no team could touch them before Fifflaren’s retirement, which NiP could not recover from, replacing their fifth member consistently over the years until Friberg left in June 2017. Only time will tell if this will help NiP get back to where they once were.

2. LDLC/EnVyUs – September 2014-July 2015

photo by Liquipedia

Shox, KioShiMa, NBK, Happy and SmithZz came together in September 2014 to create a team that worked wonders. They emerged in the shadow of a deflating Fnatic team whose era was coming to a close. They won one Major and six international titles in a run enviable to many teams today.

One of the main reasons for this team’s success was the expressive nature players were allowed. Rather than focusing on a highly tactical game, they focused on allowing players’ decision making and individual skill to find the openings in games.

One of the cruxes of many teams throughout competitive Counters-Strike has been the sacrifice of skill in lieu of an IGL’s tactical ability. This was a notion that this team grabbed by the scruff of the neck and disobeyed, Happy was arguably the team’s best player despite being their IGL, which allowed for the team’s firepower to exceed that of other teams. This run is typified by the run of 17 top four finishes from 19 tournaments, which is to this day unchallenged.

1. SK Gaming – August 2016-Present

This is a team that needs no introduction even to the most casual Counter-Strike fan. SK are the hot topic within professional CS:GO at the moment; there doesn’t seem to be a tournament that goes by that SK don’t make the finals. Since August 2016 they have made seven finals, winning four of them. A recent poor showing in the ESL Pro-League is the only blip on the scorecard for the Brazilians, which has seen them pick up almost $1m in prize money in 10 months.

Coldzera in particular has gained a lot of attention, gaining a majority of tournament MVP’s for 2017 so far. This has lead to claims that he could be one of Counter-Strike’s greatest players ever. With this level of success it’s hard to debate the legitimacy of these claims.

Fallen, Coldzera, Fer, Taco and Felps have all been writing history over the past year and will likely place themselves high in the history books of Counter-Strike. Only time will tell how long this period of success will go on for, but they will have at least secured a dynasty to be fondly remembered.

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Feature image courtesy of Game Skinny

Bittersweet signs Supreme Team after they qualified for CWL

The day before CWL Anaheim, eight teams were at the venue early for a special event. Four of them had played in Stage One of the Global Pro League and the other four, previously considered amateur teams on the circuit, earned their right to be there after online qualifiers. They were playing in a double elimination relegation tournament, and only half would qualify for to compete in Stage Two and a spot in pool play for CWL Anaheim.

The first round of the bracket paired a Stage One team with a challenger looking to take their place. Cloud9 looked weak in Stage One and were the only North American team to be relegated, but after replacing Andres “Lacefield” and “Ricky” Stacy with Preston “Priest” Greiner and John “Xotic” Bruno, they managed to start strong with a quick 3-0 of European challenger Supremacy. Meeting them in the second round were Tainted Minds, the sole APAC team in the bracket who upset Millenium in the first round. To reclaim their spot in the Global Pro League, Cloud9 defeated Tainted Minds, who were then sent to the loser’s bracket for one last shot.

On the other side of the bracket, Red Reserve, a top European team who were surprisingly relegated in Stage One, faced challengers eRa Eternity. Red Reserve made a roster change several weeks earlier, bringing Rhys “Rated” Price back in place of “Niall” Sunderland. Red managed to requalify for the Global Pro League without dropping a map, defeating both eRa and FNATIC 3-0. FNATIC, another European roster, had defeated Supreme Team in round one.

CWL Stage 2 Relegation Playoffs bracket [CoD World League]

In the end, only one challenger team managed to qualify for Stage Two. The North American roster Supreme Team, now acquired by esports organization Bittersweet, will be making their debut in the CWL Global Pro League fielding a roster consisting of Michael “SpaceLy” Schmale, Chance “Maux” Moncivaez, Andres “Lacefield”, and Devin “LlamaGod” Tran. Of these players, only Lacefield played in Stage One. Both Bittersweet and FNATIC made it through the loser’s bracket to qualify and will also be playing in pool play tomorrow for CWL Anaheim.

Bittersweet team owner Alex Gonzalez told The Game Haus, “Our team felt very confident in qualifying – with the experience of a veteran player like Mike [SpaceLy] leading the team of newer players, I didn’t expect anything else.”

As an organization, Bittersweet has been involved in Call of Duty esports since 2015. They briefly fielded rosters throughout Advanced Warfare and in Black Ops III.

The new Bittersweet roster is their best yet. Each of the four players has had successful competitive careers and are not strangers to the level of competition the Global Pro League has to offer.

“I expect our team to perform well in stage two of the CWL, they’re fresh into the league and obviously want to prove they can compete at the highest level,” said Gonzalez.

Catch Bittersweet and the rest of the action from CWL Anaheim tomorrow on MLG.tv.


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Dreamhack Summer 2017 Preview

Dreamhack returns for their first event back in Jönköping, Sweden this weekend. With several top teams and even a newcomer to the top tier, Dreamhack Summer 2017 is going to be a platform for teams to prove themselves.

 

Group A

SK Gaming

SK Gaming coming into Dreamhack Summer are the favourites to take the title in Sweden. Recent wins at cs_summit and IEM Sydney can back this up, as well as a semifinal finish at the ESL Pro League finals last weekend.

Photo by: hltv.org

Since adding João “felps” Vasconcellos in February, SK Gaming have had a resurgence in performance. While they had two disappointing finishes at IEM Katowice and Starladder i-League Season 3 in Kiev, the team has made three finals and one semifinal. Along with this journey, a slumping Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo has been able to rise up once again and become one of the top AWPers and IGLs in the world.

With Fernando “fer” Alvarenga looking at his best recently, SK Gaming are looking to take the title in Jönköping this weekend.

mousesports

Looking their best in a very long time, mousesports could be considered one of the favourites for the event. Having star level performances from Tomáš “oskar” Šťastný and a constantly improving Robin “ropz” Kool, mouz look to be taking the title or at least a top 2 finish.

When Nikola “NiKo” Kovač left the team in February, a lot of people thought that the team would be in the dumps. After adding in oskar in the place of NiKo, mouz looked impressive. Stealing the third seed in the EU division of ESL Pro League, and then one semifinal place at DH Tours, topping that off with a quarterfinal finish at the EPL Finals in Dallas; mouz have left people with mouths wide open.

A new and improved mousesports might be the recipe for success, and could possibly lead Chris “chrisJ” de Jong and his boys to the trophy this weekend.

Immortals

Photo by: hltv.org

After two events with their new pickup, Vito “kNg” Giuseppe, Immortals look sort of lost in game. With no clear or proper leadership, and the need for constant double AWP setups, Immortals might leave Sweden with a bucket full of disappointment.

Recently, Immortals with their new lineup have attended two LAN tournaments. Getting an upset win against G2 and a win against Cloud9 at the EPL Finals, they left without a chance at playoffs. A week later they went over to the Americas Minor and ended in 2nd place, losing out to a very confident Cloud9 in the Grand Finals. You can definitely make the argument that Immortals need more time, and I personally agree that they do need more time. But in terms of form, mousesports and SK Gaming are a mile above the Immortals.

Immortals are looking to come into Dreamhack Summer to prove themselves, and to prove kNg as a player. If the team come in their top form they can easily make playoffs, and unless they do, it will be a struggle.

Singularity

Coming in as the Danish underdogs, Singularity are going into this event looking to prove themselves and show the world what they got. In a group with two out of four of the toughest teams at the event, Singularity have a long road ahead of them coming into the group stage.

Battling their way through the European qualifier, Singularity faced the rising Team123, as well as the Polish Pride Gaming. Holstering their star Allan “AnJ” Jensen, Singularity essentially out-skilled most of their opponents throughout the qualifier.

With very little experience at a high level, Singularity will have plenty of issues coming into this event. With more experience, this team could make their way to the top of tier 2, and this event could be the boost they need.

 

Group B

Gambit

The Kazakhstani powerhouse have been the best team coming out of the CIS region in 2017. With the leadership of Daniil “Zeus” Teslenko and firepower of Dauren “AdreN” Kystaubayev and Abay “HObbit” Khasenov, Gambit have soared in the rankings coming into the second half of the year.

Photo by: gambit.gg

With a win at DH Austin and a second place finish at cs_summit, Gambit have shown that they are able to go far in tournaments. Something which they struggled with at the beginning of the year. With that as well, their recent form coming into the event is probably enough to get them to second place or even a win at Dreamhack Summer.

In the group stage, Gambit should have no problems. They’ve shown they’re well above Cloud9 and CLG in terms of skill, although they did lose to CLG at Starladder. Fnatic may be the only team to give them problems, and even then they’re a favourite in that matchup.

Fnatic

With the home field advantage, Fnatic are looking to come in swinging when they show up on stage. After narrowly going out in groups at EPL Dallas, fnatic are going to come back and they’ll surely be ready to attack.

With a legendary lineup, arguably the best in all of CS:GO, Fnatic reformed after the ELEAGUE Major. Since then, they’ve had some pretty disappointing results. Only making playoffs at one out of four of the $250k+ tournaments they attended. While Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer has made a comeback in his performance, Fnatic as a whole have been a let down. Many looked to them as possible contenders for the number one spot, but they seem to be barely breaking in to the top 10.

With all that being said, Fnatic are in their own country. They’ll have the crowd and confidence on their side. While they should make playoffs, it’s hard to say if they could go any further.

Cloud9

Cloud9 have been the face of disappointment since their win at the ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals in October of last year. They’ve failed to make it out of groups at any big tournament, as well as failing to qualify for the ELEAGUE Major.

Carrying the same lineup, Cloud9 have refused to make any much needed changes. Mike “shroud” Grzesiek has been under-performing immensely since the EPL Finals. With a recently rising Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham, Cloud9 have failed to do anything significant other than winning the Americas Minor this past weekend. While many still say that Cloud9 are the best team in North America, they’re still very far from any meaningful ranking worldwide.

Although coming off steaming hot from their performance at the minor, Cloud9 have very little to show for what they can do at Dreamhack Summer. There is a small chance that Cloud9 could make it to the playoffs, but it’s a very slim one.

Counter Logic Gaming

CLG have been steadily rising since bringing back Pujan “FNS” Mehta into their lineup. With much needed leadership, the team was able to make their mark on the international scene and make their name something to talk positive about again.

Photo by: hltv.org

Bringing in Ricky “Rickeh” Mulholland brought in some much needed firepower. With Rickeh being one of the most consistent players on the team, Kenneth “Koosta” Suen slowly rose up as the team’s star player, finally living up to his potential as a top tier AWPer. While not having much experience aside from Starladder, he showed at the tournament why he can be considered one of the best AWPers in NA, if not the best.

CLG have nothing to lose and everything to win coming into Dreamhack Summer. If the right cards are played, we could definitely see CLG in the playoffs.

Featured image by: Dreamhack

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The Evolution of CS:GO’s Metagame

As the years have gone on, the way we play CS:GO has changed drastically. Different changes to guns, along with an ever-changing map pool, has caused teams to adapt. Here are the major turning points within the fluid metagame.

The Hard Lurk

via http://wiki.teamliquid.net

The style first brought to fame by the Ninjas in Pyjamas includes having a lurker on one side of the map as the rest of the team pushes the opposite bombsite. Christopher “GeT_RiGhT” Alesund, with his famous backstabs, won the Ninjas many a Terrorist round. Another key detail is that in the early part of his CS:GO career, GeT_RiGhT had a 50% win rate in 1v2 scenarios, an absolutely bonkers figure that helped the Ninjas soar to 87-0 on LAN.

The success of the Ninjas early on led other teams to adapt this style. Vincent “Happy” Cervoni Schopenhauer’s EnVyUs was one such team. However, Happy was not able to achieve the level of perfection GeT_RiGhT had at playing the lurker role. This caused a lot of scenarios in which his timing was off, leading to lost rounds. No top level teams in the current era of Counter-Strike play with this style, but for the first few years, it was highly effective.

Molotovs

via https://www.HLTV.org

It took a long time before people adapted to the new grenade after CS:GO’s release, but as teams started to realize all the different uses on both sides, the Molotov quickly caught fire. The Molotov is now widely considered to be an extremely important grenade.

In terms of its early adopters, surprisingly the NA scene saw some of the first; Kory “SEMPHIS” Friesen was one specific praiser of the Molotov very early on. North American Counter-Strike is most famous for loading up with aimers and ignoring tactics, but made a big breakthrough with the Molotov. However, the top European teams were the first to get the most out of it. The Molotov has forever changed the metagame on the offensive side, and will most likely be used throughout all of CS:GO unless Valve should decide to weaken its effect.

Force-Buy

via http://www.counterstrikeblog.com

The second round force-buy happens in almost every single professional match you watch in the current state of the game. The Frenchmen, more specifically Titan and LDLC, were the early adopters of this idea. With such little risk, and a high potential reward, the CZ-75 buys effectively broke the CS:GO metagame. Team LDLC and Fnatic, who were most known for these CZ and armor buys in 2014, dominated all other teams. No round was safe when facing against these two star-studded teams. The rise of guns such as the Tec-9, Five Seven, and P250 have filled the void left by the nerfed CZ; in the current era with all of these insanely talented teams, it has become almost uncommon to see a second round won by the team who won the pistol.

Submachine Guns

via https://wesg.starladder.com

On the 31st of March 2015, CS:GO received an update that changed the anti-eco metagame forever. The submachine guns became relevant, and teams such as EnVyUs started abusing the guns right away.

Submachine guns are perfect for anti-eco scenarios, with good damage output, fire rate, movement speed, and accuracy. The SMGs used early on were mostly the Mac-10 and MP9, although, the recent discovery of the UMP-45’s power has led to the metagame breaking yet again. The gun was shown to be so good, teams like SK, would use the UMP on gun rounds. Teams such as Ninjas in Pyjamas pushed for an MP7 revolution in 2015, but this never came to life, due to the high cost of the weapon.

Tactics trump Skill

via http://luminosity.gg

In SK Gaming’s era, we finally saw a team with a tactical system dominate for an extended period of time. SK won two majors, in a weakened era albeit, but back to back majors is no joke. Following the SK Gaming era, and flying past the uncertainty era to what is now referred to as the parity era, the Danish powerhouse who have found a way to dominate, Astralis, also has a proper tactical system. Skill based teams like Fnatic dominated for two years, the tactical teams now have their chance to dominate.


 

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Buying LCS Spots: Ninjas Make Their Return

Players and fans alike have mixed opinions around the recent announcement of Ninjas in Pyjamas (NIP) purchasing the Fnatic Academy spot in the EU LCS.

The Fnatic Academy roster consists of Mateusz “Kikis” Szkudlarek at top lane, Maurice “Amazing” Stückenschneider as the jungler, Yasin “Nisqy” Dincer at mid, Rasmus “MrRalleZ” Skinneholm as ADC and Johan “Klaj” Olsson at support. This team worked their way through the EU Challenger circuit only to be bought out earlier this week. This was all done without consent from the players and the bulk of them have tweeted their dismay after the announcement.

With NIP offering spots to three of the five “brothers” of EU’s Fnatic Academy, each being declined due to a desire to stay together as a team, the future of each of these players is still largely up in the air. For now they are choosing to stay with the Fnatic organization, however, they are also available for contracting.

Ninjas move in

The roster looking to replace Fnatic Academy under the NIP brand, consists of ex-SKT top laner, Kim “Profit” Jun-hyung, Ilyas “Shook” Hartsema in the jungle, former KT Rolster mid laner Kim “Nagne” Sang-moon, Martin “HeaQ” Kordmaa at ADC, and Hampus “sprattel” Mikael Abrahamsson in support. This is an exceptionally confusing roster as only a few of these players carry the esteem and praise that the original Fnatic Academy line up achieved throughout their play in the Challenger scene. What is in question is whether or not this new line up would have made it through the EU Challenger series. If so, then the spot is deserved. However, if in this hypothetical they would not perform up to the par set by other EU teams, then a serious strike towards the integrity of competitive League of Legends has been made. 

What is especially worrying is that NIP sought to take three of the five Fnatic Academy players, implying that three players in their current line up are not as valued as those they are replacing. As to who those three are, we do not know. What is more likely than not is that NIP sought to replace both solo laners with imports, despite the solo laners of Fnatic Academy performing relatively well this past split.

How NIP performs in the upcoming split will either leave the ex-Fnatic Academy players vindicated or disdained. It will be hard to watch someone take over your role and flounder after being given a spot on an LCS squad. That being said, it may be more difficult to watch the same team triumph in the spot you worked so hard to carve out for them.

Gold Coin United leaves the stage after a close loss in a best of five against TL. Courtesy of lolesports flickr

This has happened before

Fans in an uproar must check themselves. Buying LCS spots is nothing new. 

Just a few months ago, the NA LCS Summer Promotion tournament held a fierce competition between four teams. These four teams, eUnited, Gold Coin United, Team Envy and Team Liquid, competed for only two LCS spots. While Team Envy secured their LCS spot with their original roster intact, Team Liquid made two temporary purchases during the season’s final weeks with both Adrian Ma and Peng “Doublelift” Yilang. These purchases were never meant to be long-term investments towards their permanent roster, but instead, they were made to prevent Team Liquid from being relegated.

Even with the “rental” of one of NA’s greatest ADC players, Team Liquid was pushed to all five games of a best of five against Gold Coin United. While Gold Coin United made some serious misplays in this best of five, fans of Team Liquid and competitive League of Legends alike must question the integrity of this “rental”. Is Team Liquid more deserving of this LCS spot than Gold Coin United? With DoubleLift in their roster, the obvious answer is yes, however without DoubleLift the picture shows a more skilled team, Gold Coin United, cheated out of an entire season of hard work. 

It must be exceptionally devastating to field a team through the Challenger series only to get to the final match and have the enemy team sub out their weakest link for one of the best players in the league.

League of meritocracy no longer

Amazing meditates after a hard fought victory. Courtesy of lolesports flickr

There is a lot of money in esports nowadays. And sadly, this can act as a corrupting agent for the integrity of the meritocracy competitive League of Legends once created. The times of five friends coming together to win a world championship is long expired, and I for one miss those times. Now the competitive League scene has too much money in it to allow a roster deserving of an LCS spot actually keep their LCS spot. Whether they win the promotion tournament and get bought out, or they lose due to a relegated team renting a roster that would have never been relegated, the sanctity of the LCS is a myth of the past.


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Featured image courtesy of lolesports flickr

FaZe Clan clutch up, Fnatic fall short: CWL GPL Week Two Recap

Throw your predictions out of the window – the CWL Global Pro League is living up to the hype. A few days ago it was all but certain that FaZe would coast through this weekend while Evil Geniuses, Fnatic, and Rise Nation would battle it out for the second seed. This was not the case, as EG would end up taking 1st seed after a 0-2 start to the weekend.

Saturday, we saw FaZe go 0-2, losing to both EG and Fnatic, before clutching up on Sunday versus Rise Nation. Rise would have to settle for 3rd, while Fnatic is now headed for Relegation.

1st Place – Evil Geniuses

Win/Loss – 4-2

Map Count – 12-9

Arguably the biggest upset of the weekend came from the Evil Geniuses camp. Having barely qualified for Stage One of the GPL and taking the last NA spot, the expectations for EG weren’t high. After an abysmal start on Friday, losing to both Fnatic and FaZe 0-3, EG looked like they would place 4th in Week Two.

Saturday we would see a newly invigorated EG take the series from FaZe 3-0 and Rise 3-2, surprising everyone except guest analyst Patrick “ACHES” Price who predicted their victories. After Anthony “NAMELESS” Wheeler switched weapons from the NV4 to the KBAR, the tides turned for EG.

EG would continue their reign of terror Sunday with a 3-1 victory over Faze and a dominant 3-0 win over Fnatic. These wins cemented EG’s place in the Stage One Playoffs, proving their doubters wrong along the way.

ACHES’s prediction for the second EG v FaZe match

2nd Place – FaZe Clan

Win/Loss – 3-3

Map Count – 12-13

FaZe did not make the run for Playoffs easy for themselves this weekend. With a hot start on Friday, Faze was the only team to come out 2-0 with victories over Fnatic 3-1 and EG 3-0. They looked poised to take the first seed heading into Saturday.

Unfortunately for FaZe, Saturday would turn out to be a nightmare. After such a hot start, they did not win a series all day. Their day began with a huge upset, as they were dominated by EG, losing 0-3. Later in the day, they lost to Fnatic in round 11 of the Game 5 S&D after almost completing the reverse sweep.

Sunday was do or die time for FaZe as they, like everyone in their group, were sitting at 2-2. They would lose their first series of the day 1-3 against EG, putting them in a situation where they needed to win their next series to qualify for Stage One Playoffs.

Their final series of the weekend would be one to remember against Rise. After going down 0-2, FaZe began a miraculous reverse-sweep. After a dominant win in the Uplink, FaZe would eventually win the Game 4 Hardpoint 250-249. They would carry that energy for a 6-0 win in the Game 5 S&D, completely outclassing Rise.

FaZe qualify for S1 Playoffs after reverse-sweeping Rise

3rd Place – Rise Nation

Win/Loss – 3-3

Map Count – 14-11

After a disappointing 17th-20th finish at CWL Dallas, many had their doubts about Rise Nation heading into Week Two. However, this weekend we were treated to a reinvigorated Rise squad who were able to stay consistent in every game mode.

On Friday Rise was able to take an easy 3-0 victory over EG, before falling 1-3 to FaZe. Rise started off Saturday well with a 3-1 victory over Fnatic, but was unable to stop EG from their dominant performance. They would eventually lose 2-3, putting them at 2-2 heading into Sunday.

Sunday we would see Rise take an easy victory over Fnatic 3-1 before they would face FaZe in the final match on the weekend. Rise would come out of the gates hot, taking an early 2-0 advantage in the series. However, FaZe was able to dash their dreams of making it into the Playoffs by pulling out a reverse-sweep to remember. The series would end 3-2 in FaZe’s favor.

4th Place – Fnatic

Win/Loss – 2-4

Map Count – 9-14

Fnatic was the only team representing Europe in Week Two. They carried the entire region’s hopes with them.

Fnatic, like every other team this weekend, traded series back and forth Friday and Saturday. They kicked off this weekend battling FaZe Clan. After losing the first Hardpoint by a few seconds they would end up falling 3-1 against the NA giants, managing to take the Uplink.

Later in the day, they would take swift 3-0 over a struggling Evil Geniuses. On Saturday Fnatic lost a close series to Rise Nation 3-1, again, keeping the maps close throughout. Their next series, a rematch against FaZe, would be one to remember. Fnatic would take a 2-0 lead in the series before securing the win in a nail-biting round 11 in the Game 5 Search & Destroy.

Unfortunately for Fnatic, they could not keep the dream alive; they would end Sunday with a 1-3 loss to Rise and a 0-3 loss to Evil Geniuses. Fnatic will now join Cloud9 in the Relegation tournament for Stage Two of the GPL.

Tommey after a close Hardpoint loss to FaZe

Looking forward

Next week we will see eUnited, Luminosity Gaming, Millenium, and Epsilon Esports battle it out at the MLG Arena to see who will advance to the Stage One Playoffs and beyond.


Jack Waters is an avid Call of Duty Esports fan and wants to hear from YOU! Find him on Twitter.

Images: CoD World League Twitter

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A New Scope – The AWP Nerf Years On

Over two years ago, Valve released one of the most memorable updates for seasoned players, the AWP nerf. The patch, released in early April of 2015, reduced the speed at which players could move while scoped in with the sniper. The aim was to make AWPing on the terrorist side less impactful which it definitely achieved.

By making the change, terrorists were unable to use many of the long-time opening pick spots since the slower movement speed means that they could not peek angles already scoped in. This made T side AWPing more difficult because for an AWPer to be able to use these angles, they would have to quickscope and sometimes even prefire common CT spots, in order to try and gain an advantage.

An example would be long on dust2. It is not uncommon for an AWPer with a good spawn to peek long doors in an attempt to catch a player crossing to pit. However, post nerf, terrorists would move too slowly to attain the kill without peeking before scoping in. This gives Counter-Terrorists a god like advantage since not only is it already harder for the T to kill them but the slower movement means that the CT can Molotov deep and deal a substantial amount of damage as the AWPer exits the doorway.

Although the changes impacted a lot of AWPers in a negative way, the patch has allowed certain players to come to fruition. So in this article, I’ll be taking a look at some of the most affected players and where they are now.

Troubling Times

In spite of his return to form in the latter stages of 2016. Fan favorite Kenny “KennyS” Schrub fell from grace a little when the AWP nerf hit years ago. The Frenchman’s ratings dropped from his usual highs to unusual lows from April onwards in 2015. Overall his HLTV rating dropped by 0.14 despite playing with a better line up in Team EnvyUs. He openly admitted in an interview with Aftonbladet that it took a huge toll on him emotionally, when he could feel his confidence slipping away. KennyS will undoubtedly always be a household name in Global Offensive, gifting the community with an array of highlights and montages to watch and love. It will be interesting to see if he continues his rise back to number one and maybe even surpass his 2014 form.

KennyS playing for Team EnvyUs at the Cluj-Napoca major. [Photo Dreamhack]

Similarly, to Kenny players, such Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovács and Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham are world-class AWPers that have struggled with consistency ever since the nerf. Both of these players still show us glimpses of their past performances, however, have a higher tendency to go missing. This has led to the world where a lot of AWPers are no longer the star players of their teams. Back in 2014 teams would be built around the likes of KennyS and GuardiaN, however, nowadays they play second fiddle to daring impact players such as Richard “shox” Papillon and Alexander “s1mple” Kostylev. With fantastic skill, s1mple and Shox can utilize not only rifles and pistols but also AWPs just as effectively as their main AWPers.

As I just alluded to the AWP nerf didn’t necessarily make our most famous AWPers play worse. It simply closed the gap between being a good AWPer or an extraordinary AWPer. The niche skill was effectively, no longer niche. Teams would sometimes overly push double AWP setups because they would have their long time god-tier AWPer, for example, Jesper “JW” Wecksell in Fnatic, and their star player, Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer, who on his day, could out AWP his counterpart. This is a situation that occurred in many teams. To name a few s1mple and GuardiaN in Natus Vincere, Nikola “NiKo” Kovač and Chris “chrisJ” de Jong in mousesports as well as Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo and Marcelo “coldzera” David in SK amongst many more.

Despite being one of the world’s best GuardiaN has struggled with consistency. [Photo ESL]

Who Blossomed?

Since the patch, the AWP is seemingly more effective on the Counter-Terrorist side. This has led to the rise of defensive AWPers, for example, Aleksi “allu” Jalli. Allu is a player who anchors critical spots on the map by dominating with strong positioning. An instance would be long on Inferno which he locked down throughout his tenure on the Ninjas and carried through into FaZe. In the clip below you can see he gets the opening pick mid. Following that Allu uses the advantage to aggressively hold second mid gifting himself another kill. However, the last three kills demonstrate his positional knowledge. He uses the corner of the wall to slightly peek out eliminating much of the risk of re-peeking.

Another player who has perhaps benefited from the changes is FalleN. Known as the brain behind Brazilian beasts SK Gaming, FalleN was a star AWPer in the first iteration of Counter-Strike yet didn’t take on the role in Global Offensive. Not until the removal of Caio “zqkS” Fonseca from his roster in favor of Coldzera. As aforementioned, the changes led to the ascension of strong all-around players taking star player spots. This allowed FalleN to settle back into AWPing more easily and play as the second star who supports Coldzera. Being the second star allowed him to take on the leading role more effectively as it meant the team didn’t rely as heavily on him allowing FalleN to focus more on the other four players.

In spite of previously arguing having two great AWPers as a negative, the change cites a reason for some of the greatest teams in Counter-Strike history. Fnatic and SK, who have both had periods of total domination, were built on JW/Olofmeister and FalleN/Coldzera. The fact that the teams could switch between the two added depth to their team play and allowed an individual player to take over if needed, rather than force the AWP into a players hands if he is having an off game.

Olofmeister (Center) and JW (Far Right) were a force to be reckoned with during the Fnatic Era of CS:GO. [Photo ESL]

Conclusion

As I learned in my previous article on Lurking in CS:GO, though not quite to the same extent, AWPing is becoming less of a defined role within certain teams and more of a situational pickup. Gradual changes to the game are placing a greater emphasis on increased movement speed and the use of pistols and SMGs. Thus giving us a rise in incredibly skilled line-ups. This, Combined with the changes to the AWP some teams have up to three players capable of AWPing at the pro level.

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Call of Duty Global Pro League Week Two Preview

Stage One of the Call of Duty Global Pro League is in full swing as it heads into Week Two. Last week, we saw Team EnVyUs and Splyce move onto playoffs, with Mindfreak clinching 3rd and Cloud9 heading to Relegation. This weekend, we will see Faze Clan, Rise Nation, Fnatic, and Evil Geniuses clash at the MLG Arena in Columbus, Ohio.

Like last week, each team will face one another in a double round-robin format. The top two placing teams will advance to Playoffs as well as qualify for Stage Two of the Global Pro League, Pool Play at CWL Anaheim, and Call of Duty World Championship later this year. The 3rd place team will also qualify for Stage Two of the Global Pro League, Pool Play at CWL Anaheim, and Call of Duty World Championship. The team that places last will face Relegation in order to qualify for Stage Two.

Week Two is unique in that it consists of three teams from North America, with EG entering as the 9th seeded team in the region, along with Fnatic from Europe.

FaZe Clan

The FaZe CoD team was assembled during Advanced Warfare to do one thing: defeat OpTic Gaming (OG). They were semi-successful in doing so, however in Infinite Warfare, the tables have turned as they have not been able to defeat OG or eUnited and are currently ranked as the 3rd best team in NA.

FaZe is led by CoD veteran James “Clayster” Eubanks, who is joined by Ian “Enable” Wyatt, Dillon “Attach” Price, and Tommey “ZooMaa” Paparatto. FaZe is hungry for a LAN championship win, having the last one come 19 months ago at the MLG Pro League CoD AW Season 3 Playoffs back in AW. The good news for FaZe is that they are the heavy favorites to take the 1st place seed in Week Two. Only time will tell if they are capable of returning to their dominant form last seen in 2015.

Left to right: Clayster, Enable, Attach, ZooMaa

Rise Nation

Having made a huge roster at the beginning of Infinite Warfare, Rise Nation is now made up of Daniel “Loony” Loza, Ulysses “Aqua” Silva. Brice “Faccento” Faccento, and Tyler “FeLonY” Johnson. After winning the first major tournament of the year, MLG Las Vegas, Rise has yet to repeat their success.

Rise would go on to place 9th-12th at CWL Atlanta, 3rd at CWL Paris, and 17th-20th at CWL Dallas. Earlier this month, Rise brought on CoD veteran Jon “Pacman” Tucker as their team manager and coach. This weekend will show if their newest addition has paid off.

Rise Nation after winning MLG Las Vegas

Evil Geniuses

After leaving the competitive CoD scene at the end of Ghosts, Evil Geniuses has reentered the scene with a new team for IW. Led by another CoD veteran in Anthony “Nameless” Wheeler, EG is rounded out by his Duo Jeremy “Study” Astacio, Colt “Havok” McLendon, and Jared “Nagafen” Harrell.

EG did not have the greatest of start to IW and struggled to clinch the last NA spot in the GPL. Throughout the season, they have placed 7th-8th at every International LAN event excluding a 17th-20th finish at CWL Atlanta.

At MLG Dallas, EG went head-to-head against The Gosu Crew to decide who would make it into the GPL. After a close series, EG would ultimately prevail, but many believe this team will struggle in the GPL.

Evil Geniuses’ 2017 CoD Team

Fnatic

Rounding out Week Two is the European team, Fnatic, led by Tommey “Tommey” Trewren. He is joined by Gurdip “SunnyB” Bains, and twins Brad “wuskin” and Matt “Skrapz” Marshall. Coming off an impressive 3rd place finish at CWL Birmingham, Fnatic is poised to cause a few upsets this weekend.

Touted as the most improved team since the beginning of IW, Fnatic still seems to have not hit their skill ceiling yet. What makes this team dangerous is the explosive play of Skrapz and wuskin paired with their Search & Destroy prowess. The Europeans should not be taken lightly by their NA competition.

Fnatic at ESWC Paris

Predictions

Outside from FaZe taking first seed in this group, there are no other easy predictions. Casters, analysts, and professional players alike are struggling to predict where the other three teams in this group will place. When the race is this tight, it all comes down to which team will show up this weekend and play their best, which perfectly describes CoD Esports.


Jack Waters is an avid Call of Duty Esports fan and wants to hear from YOU! Find him on Twitter.

Images: MLG.tv and CallofDuty.com

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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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