Each Major brings with it its own mixture of stories going into. For MLG Columbus the big one, outside of the teams, is that this is the first North American hosted Major. On top of that, the prize pool is absolutely insane: a total of one million dollars is on the line, with the top place taking $500,000, a whole five times the amount of previous Majors. It’s also the first Major of 2016, and with that arbitrary ‘break’ we find a kind of fresh slate for teams. Who will rise in 2016? Who will fall? While there’s still plenty of time for teams to prove one way or another, it’s always best to start off the year on your good foot.
While some teams look back on 2015 with admiration, others have a lot of explaining to do. While it’s to be expected that teams go through slumps, it’s one thing to go through one, and another to just seem stuck on one. In particular we’re looking at you, Ninjas in Pyjamas, Virtus.Pro, and EnVyUs. These were all top tier teams at one point, teams with Major trophy’s back at home, and others who always seemed to show up big when they needed to. Not so much anymore, and maybe Columbus will be that changing point for them. Or another page on their downward spiral.
NiP have been on a downward slide since their second place showing at ESL Katowice 2015. They’ve just looked… lack luster against their opponents. To this seeming stagnation, NiP teased at some roster changes, which turned out to be about as shocking as NiP’s steady decline: they kept every player except Allu, replacing him with Pyth, and bringing in a coach in Threat. The Ninjas have looked on the up and up though, but sadly we won’t really see the strength of the roster here in Columbus, as Pyth had VISA issues, so Threat, the aforementioned Coach, is acting as a stand-in. Still, if the Ninjas manage to make it out of groups going basically 4 vs 5, that’ll say something.
Virtus.Pro, on the other hand, never really had the ‘peak’ that NiP did. Still, they haven’t seemed like themselves at all. The team has just underperformed at almost every turn, and it’s a concerning feature, given how much of a whipping they received even on their home turf in Katowice. The buzzword of ‘confidence’ seems to come to mind. The team just doesn’t seem to have the ‘Vritus.Plow’ aspect they used to. They also haven’t made a roster change, and while I’m not one to jump on the ‘make roster shuffles at any sign of weakness,’ the team may want to consider that option. There are plenty of talented Polish players throughout the lower teams that they could potentially pull on. It’s possible that Columbus, if it goes poorly, will be the last time Virtus.Pro field their untouched roster.
What to make of French CS right now. If you had asked me who the scariest teams were in 2015, surely I would’ve said EnVyUs, maybe even throwing in ex-Titan (now G2) on a good day. But now I really wouldn’t say that either pose as big a threat as they used to to the top tier teams, because right now, neither are even top tier for me. “Frustrated” I think accurately describes the general atmosphere of a lot of the French squads, and it’s a concerning feature. The French Shuffle saw them gain some impressive talent in Apex and KennyS. But that hasn’t translated into dominance like one would imagine, and it seems that emotions are again running high in the squad. Furthermore, KennyS has looked like a monster, and yet the team still can’t seem to galvanize around him. It’s unlikely that the squad will win it all, but a good placement will be a sign towards brighter days for the team.
Hope of NA
I couldn’t think of a more perfect way for NA to start off 2016 than a Major on their home turf, and to have four teams representing them there. That’s the largest amount of NA teams ever at a Major, mostly because EU based Majors limited NA intake to two qualifying teams, and NA teams never really did well with making it out of groups. Still, that’s in the past, and 2016 (maybe) looks like a bright new era for NA CS. Or the continuation of the past.
The definite underdogs of NA (even more underdog than NA is in general…) are CLG and Splyce, in order of success. CLG have a kind of similar story to Flipside: they’re in a huge amount of the Majors, but they just can’t seem to ‘break out’ enough. They’ve taken some interesting maps off of top tier teams, but their biggest story is the fact that they almost always lose 14-16 against top teams. CLG will have a lot of proving to do if they want to shake that title of the ‘almost-there’ in Majors. Big plays out of Tarik and Cutler are certainly required for this to happen though, alongside solid awping out of scoping talent JDM64. The team needs to mesh a lot better than they have, while filling the gaps and holes in their armour, particularly on their CT side. Home soil might help bring the American side victory, as making it out of groups and into Legend status would be a huge win for the team. Not only would it make them guaranteed for the next Major, they’d be poised to possibly start their career as a top team in the world. Or one CLG fan could dream.
Splyce, on the other hand, are a relatively unknown force going into the Major. There are a couple of familiar faces to the NA CS scene, Professor Chaos, Arya, and abE, but outside of that, not much is known of the squad. They’ve got a lot to prove, particularly given nobody really thought they’d make it to the Major, let alone not dropping a single game in the qualifier. Still, in a lot of ways Splyce can take that as their victory and be happy with whatever results come. The team needs to prove that they’re a strong team in NA, but not so much internationally yet. Even an upset win against anyone in the group would be a good showing for them. The Major is largely a learning experience for the team, and while that’s a kind of buzz phrase often used to cover a team’s failure to live up to expectations against international talent, here it actually applies. Splyce is still a young team, a time to test their mettle against top tiers will not only give them good practice, but also possibly reveal weaker team mates who might need to be shuffled out.
The two ‘top’ teams for NA have to be Liquid and Cloud 9. Solid management from Team Liquid has edged them above Cloud 9, as Simple and Koosta seem like stronger pickups in the off season than Stewie2K, who has had underwhelming performances as of late. Liquid look almost like a dream team of NA, with strong players in all of their respective roles. Sadly, much like NiP, we can’t make a full judgement of them here. Koosta, who attempted to qualify with his previous team Enemy, now Selfless Gaming, will not be in attendance due to rules of the Major. Still, Liquid look in a strong position to make their second Major appearance one to remember, as they have a chance in their group to make it out. Given that this would be with their old teammate Adren, it’d be quite a statement for future showings: if they can make a strong impression lacking a player they’ve been practicing with, instead being forced to play with a player they kicked due to poor performance, then we can imagine they’d be even stronger with the upgrade in Koosta.
Cloud 9 are kind of the quintessential NA team in a lot of ways. They’ve got talented players, they’ve been to a majority of the Majors and many of the major tournaments, and they’ve almost made it big. They just never quite do. Shroud is easily one of the most skilled riflers in NA, Freakazoid has proven to be a monster of an entry fragger, N0thing has always been a strong player, and Skadoodle barely needs an introduction as a top, if not the best, awper in NA. But it just doesn’t seem to stick. They always fall short, either through it seems lacking in cohesion or tactics that the European sides seem to bring against them. Stewie2K also has yet to payoff as a pick up. He seems to not be able to make the brash plays he was known for now that he wears the blue and white jersery of Cloud 9. It’s hard to exactly pin point the Cloud 9 problem though, but they’ll need to fix it to see success against international teams. Cloud 9 is easily one of the top teams in NA, but they’ve yet to really prove to be a real contender on the international scene. Maybe, much like Virtus.Pro, the home turf advantage can catapult them to their first playoff showing in a long while.
Will the giants reign?
Outside of all the shakier story lines going into the Major, there are some bright points in the scene as solid top team contenders: Fnatic, Luminosity, Astralis and Na’Vi. While some of the top tier teams have dipped in form and in standings, there have been some solid teams that have risen to the occasion, either filling the void for top 5 teams, or continuing their dominance as the Kings of the Scene. Will Columbus be a repeat of recent history? Or will an upset in the Force cause one of these top teams to not take the trophy home?
First and foremost, we’ll talk about easily the best Counter Strike team in existence: Fnatic. The team is just disgustingly good at the game. After dropping Pronax for the talented Denis, Fnatic have seemed to just be on the ascent to greatness. They’ve won the past six tournaments they’ve been to. There’s not a whole lot to be said outside of the fact that Fnatic, when they’re alive and in the game, play probably the best CS:GO that’s currently out there. They’ve got good strats, good calls, great aimers and amazing anchors for sites. It’s an overall solid team, and there’s going to need to be some major work put in by any of the other teams who hope to challenge them. Luminosity have held their own against them, but so far nobody has been able to stop them. At least yet.
Speaking of the Brazilian side of Luminosity, they’ve also been probably the breakaway team of 2015. Brazil, prior to this, were a region that largely didn’t register on many minds as a strong one, let alone one that had a lot of showing internationally at Majors. That era is definitely done. The recent showings from Luminosity have been scary, and they’ve taken most, if not all, European sides to three maps in Best of 3’s. Even Tempo Storm seem to be a promising team from Brazil. Aggressive plays out of Fallen, and solid performances from Coldzera (ok, some of those performances were downright criminal…) and fer, taco, hell, any of the team members have placed them solidly as one of the strongest teams in the World. They’ve yet to claim a Major, so they’ll have their eyes set on that sweet prize to really cement their claim to the top of the heap.
I’ll be controversial here and include Astralis in my ‘giants.’ The Danish kings surely haven’t shown up like many of their fans have always hoped for. They’re known for their choking in semi-final positions, and sometimes even struggling in the group stages of tournaments. Still, there’s a reason that the team still ranks highly on anyone’s list: they’re just good when it all actually works. The team has all the points to work as a great team, it’s just about it all falling into place. And given the competition going into the first NA Major, they’ll have to hope those pieces are in place. Astralis, also, is gifted a relatively easy group for their group stage: CLG, EnVyUs, and Gambit. CLG and Gambit are unlikely contenders for the top of the group, but still have a shot depending on ailing French side, EnVyUs. Even then, EnVy don’t bring much threat to Astralis in their current state. But Astralis needs to look to their playoff run, however cocky this may be, for their true challenge. They’ve struggled to make real dents in a lot of the top tier team’s armor, or have yet to face those teams really. If they want to take their first Major victory, then the team will need to figure out how to take down those top teams just above them in rankings.
Na’Vi are also in a similar position to Luminosity. They’ve recently become a much stronger, more consistent contender for top four in the world, fixing a lot of their past inconsistencies that they seemed to suffer from. But like Luminosity, Na’Vi have been on the receiving end of Fnatic’s winning streak many a time, and have seen their tournament chances taken away from them by the Swedes. Still, they’ve barely dropped games in recent months to teams outside of Fnatic. Na’Vi really have the chance in this Major to maybe bring home their first trophy, but they will still likely have to overcome their nemesis’ in recent months of Luminosity and Fnatic. In a lot of ways, Na’Vi and Astralis have similar stories. They’re always at the cusp of greatness, always in the playoff section of tournaments, but always seem to be taken down before they can win it all. Whether Columbus will be any different for the CIS team or not only time will tell. But, as with any Major, anything can happen.