With the player break ending this week, fans of Counter-Strike will get their first taste of action starting this Saturday. The iBUYPOWER Masters 2019 is the first big event of the year, and will give us a look at some of the contenders for IEM Katowice 2019. Today, we’ll preview the event to see which teams have the best chance to snag top honors at the start if 2019.
Astralis is the obvious favorite to win the iBUYPOWER Masters 2019. They had an extremely dominant 2018 that saw them win a whopping thirteen tournaments, and rack up a 27 map LAN win streak on Nuke. Furthermore, Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth, Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander and Emil “Magisk” Reif have made HLTV’s currently incomplete top 10 players of 2018 list. With their tactical depth, strong map pool and talent-packed roster Astralis should have no issue getting out of the group stage.
That being said, Astralis occasionally have off-weekends, such as when they failed to make the finals at BLAST Pro Series Copenhagen last year. With fnatic looking strong, they may have their work cut out for them if they don’t show up with their A-game. All things considered, it would hard not to pick the Danish squad as the early tournament favorite.
Fnatic is a team on the rise. They have a strong roster that has a good mix of experience and youth. They also had a strong showing at PLG Grand Slam 2018, which was their final event of the previous year. As strong a team as they are, they should make it out of the group phase with Astralis.
However, their map pool isn’t currently that impressive, so their success will come down to their preparation over the player break. If they’ve managed to gel as a team, then they could have an outside chance of winning this event. Unfortunately for them, they’re in the same group as Astralis, and getting past them is going to be a monumental task.
Cloud9 was the Cinderella story of 2018 when they won the ELEAGUE Major in Boston. However, that was with a very different roster, and the organization has failed to achieve much else since then. Their chances also aren’t helped by the fact that in-game leader Maikil “Golden” Selim will be missing the event. Golden’s replacement Jordan ‘Zellsis’ Montemurro has decent numbers, but is ultimately unproven against top teams so far.
Cloud9 will likely find it difficult to make it out of the group stage at this event. With Astralis in their group, it will likely be a battle between them and Fnatic for the second spot. Fnatic has the stronger roster, and even has more success on most of the maps compared to the American team. Given their lackluster performances against top teams, it will be a very long road to the finals for Cloud9.
compLexity is the weakest of all the teams in the iBUYPOWER Masters 2019 Group A bracket. They have an aging roster, with the youngest player being Peter ‘stanislaw’ Jarguz at 24 years old. Furthermore, this roster will be playing together for the first time as the team has brought in Ricardo ‘Rickeh’ Mulholland from Vitality and Jordan ‘n0thing’ Gilbert from Old Guy’s Club. Finally, no one on this roster has played much against the level of competition that they will be facing this weekend in the past three months, meaning they may not be prepared to face Astralis, Fnatic and Cloud9.
Alongside their potential roster issues is a very weak map pool. In the past three months, compLexity only has a win-rate greater than 50 percent on Mirage, with all other maps at or under 50 percent. Overall, compLexity seems like a team in the middle of a roster rebuild, and with the strength of the teams in their group, they will likely struggle for results.
At one point, FaZe Clan were the best team in the world. An international power house comprised of some of the biggest stars in the game, FaZe was almost always a safe pick to contend at big events. The end of 2018 could not have ended more differently. Starting from the ELEAGUE Major in September, FaZe really struggled for results,making the finals in only one event.
Besides having difficulty winning, there were also issues within the team. The role of in-game leader was traded back and forth between then IGL Finn ‘karrigan’ Andersen, and team superstar Nikola ‘NiKo’ Kovač, ultimately leading to karrigan being benched over the player break. Considering their success in 2017 and early 2018, it is surprising to see how the team tailed off over the course of last year.
There is some hope for them, however. They are still a squad that packs a considerable amount of firepower. The recent acquisition of Dauren ‘AdreN’ Kystaubayev over karrigan should mean that their roster compliments itself other better. If NiKo can continue to play at at the level he’s been at recently and the team can get more production out of some of their players, namely Håvard ‘rain’ Nygaard and Ladislav ‘GuardiaN’ Kovács, then they could pose a serious threat at this event.
Team Liquid is by far the strongest out of the four teams in this group. They managed to consistently make grand finals at events throughout 2018. One area that they also were consistent in was falling short in many of those same grand finals. The question for this team heading into 2019 will be whether or not they can finally have the breakthrough that such a talented roster is expected to eventually have.
The one issue that they may have at the iBUYPOWER Masters 2019, is that their roster has changed over the player break. This occurred when the team traded Epitacio ‘TACO’ de Melo, and coach Wilton “zews” Prado to mibr in exchange for Jake ‘Stewie2K’ Yip. This move does seem geared more towards the upcoming major than this event. However, Stewie has looked very solid recently, and with the rest of the roster unchanged team Liquid should expect to have a strong event.
Ghost is a team that could potentially be a surprise team in this group. There is talent on this roster, as evidenced by their 2nd place finish in the ESL Proleague regular season. While they’ve fared significantly worse in LAN events, this shows that they can hang with strong teams. Furthermore, their map pool over the past three months has looked solid. With the exception of Nuke, they do have a 50 percent and above win-rate on all their other maps including a 83.3 percent win-rate on Cache, which few teams play these days.
While they certainly aren’t the obvious pick to win the tournament, Ghost could surprise us. If FaZe continues to struggle, then they could jump them to grab one of their spots in the playoffs. Furthermore, they are playing with far less pressure then Liquid or FaZe are and, with both liked focused on the upcoming major, may have the mental upper hand on their stronger opponents.
The final team attending the iBUYPOWER Masters 2019, Luminosity will likely not be a factor in this event. Over the past three months, they’ve gone 16-34, and have lost eight of their last ten maps. They also suffer from an underwhelming map pool, as they have a sub 50 percent win-rate on all of their maps in that same period of time. Finally, their roster doesn’t look particularly strong, three of their players have negative K/Ds in the past three months including two, Lucas ‘LUCAS1’ Teles and Gabriel ‘NEKIZ’ Schenato who have negative K/Ds over 100.
However, there is some hope for Luminosity. Henrique ‘HEN1’ Teles has looked very good at the end of 2018 going +45. Furthermore, recent addition Ricardo ‘boltz’ Prass has posted over 20 kills in four out of his last eight maps. Finally, Luminosity did place 2nd at DreamHack Open Atlanta 2018 in November, so they do have some pedigree heading into this event. Overall, unless the other teams in group B have a major meltdown, Luminosity will likely exit this event in the group stage.
The iBUYPOWER Masters 2019 should provide some exciting Counter-Strike. It will also give us a chance to see some of the top teams’ new rosters, and get an idea of their relative strength heading into Katowice in February. While we could likely see Liquid and Astralis in the finals, the fact that this event comes right after the player break means that we could be in for some surprise results as teams try to shake off the rust.
You can catch the action starting at Saturday with Astralis vs. Complexity.
Featured Image courtesy of HLTV.org