Draulon's Draft: What to expect from the ECS Season 2 Finals
Perhaps belittled by the grandeur of ELEAGUE, the second season of the Esports Championship Series organized by FACEIT will come to a conclusion in the Anaheim Arena this week. With $750,000 up for grabs between four European and four American teams and some big roster tweaks in play, there's a lot on the line. The big question is... who can win it?
FalleN, coldzera, fer, f0x, TACO
When I interviewed Janko “YNk” Paunović in August, I suggested that fer taking a break from competitive play due to an injury might be the “the start of the end”for SK Gaming. Teams such as Fnatic and Natus Vincere have suffered in the past when one of their players has had to step down temporarily due to health issues and then things haven't worked as well on his return. Sure enough, SK Gaming is no different, and their position as the best team in the world has been challenged by multiple contenders. Their first places and tournament victories have been replaced by semifinal and quarterfinal finishes. While rumors of roster changes have been lingering for months, the Brazilian squad finally took action a few days ago, removing one of their key players - Lincoln "fnx" Lau—and temporarily substituting him with former G2 Esports/FaZe Clan player Ricardo "fox" Pacheco.
So what does this mean for SK Gaming at ECS?
While the CS: GO community is quite polarized on fox, I think he's a downgrade from fnx in terms of all-around skill. All the same, the situation is hardly dire for SK. We don’t know what the chemistry is like between the players right now, but if fox could reproduce the “Maikelele effect," bringing in a gust of fresh air, we could see the Brazilians firing on all cylinders. Certainly knowing FalleN, he will be able to overcome the issue of having multiple capable awpers on the team and find the best way to utilize the skillset of fox.
There will be a lot of question marks for SK Gaming coming into ECS, but if a fresh roster can find their team dynamic right away and if they get favorable matchups, it isn’t impossible that the Brazilians can make the top four.
If SK are in some sort of decline, the Danes of Astralis are most certainly in the ascendant. Taking up the mantle of their previous in-game leader Finn "karrigan" Andersen is former Heroic player Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander, and despite a rough start, the Danes have found a lot of success offline with him, topping their group and making the semifinals at IEM Oakland and reaching the grand finals of ELEAGUE Season 2 after confidently beating Ninjas in Pyjamas and SK Gaming in the playoffs.
While dev1ce will certainly keep his incredible form, what of the other three fraggers? Xyp9x and Kjaerbye seem to have regained their confidence alongside gla1ve, with the former finishing the EL playoffs with a rating of 1.13 - a serious improvement over other recent results. On the other hand, we have entryfraggerdupreeh falling off a bit, but that can be excused considering the role he has to fill.
Hopes and expectations are high for Astralis, with some considering them the favorites to win the upcoming Major as well. They are certainly a good bet to win this tournament.
Happy, kennyS, apEX, SIXER, NBK-
The boys in blue are in a curious spot. While the team seems to be in better form after adding Christophe "SIXER" Xia, there's still a long way to go before they regain their former glory. With the exception of ELEAGUE, most of their tournament results are reaching semi- or quarterfinals. While in best-of-ones they have victories over teams such as Immortals, OpTic, Liquid and Karrigan’sAstralis, they are yet to secure a BO3 victory over a world-class team. Their closest series was a 2-1 loss against Virtus.pro at the WESG 2016 Europe finals, winning Cobblestone 16-14 over the Poles, then receiving two consecutive losses on Nuke and Mirage.
How far can they go at ECS? My expectations aren’t high, but I believe we are going to see an improved EnVyUs, as the team will remain in the US for the Major qualifiers as well and I imagine they have prepared extensively for both events. I suggest watching what they have worked on for the past few weeks. Assuming kennyS continues his great performance, all eyes will be on apEX and NBK to back up that firepower. If the latter can find his comfort spot again, it isn’t crazy to believe that they could take a complete series against most teams at ECS.
Joining Astralis to represent the firepower of the Danish scene is Dignitas, albeit without their star player Magiskb0Y. Fortunately for their fans, his replacement is the more than capable Valdemar "valde" Bjørn Vangså - the star player of Heroic.
Since winning EPICENTER 2016, Dignitas have been on a world tour, flying around to multiple tournaments with near no rest between. Sure enough, this has taken its toll on their results, going out in groups at events such as the ESL Pro League finals and DreamHack Winter 2016.
As their coach Casper “ruggah” Due put it when we spoke to him, it's hard for them to stay unpredictable while traveling, which allows lesser teams to push them to the limit or even secure upsets. The bright side, though, is that these losses highlight what is wrong with the team and what they have to change. Playing without Magiskb0Y for the duration of the event will stretch them even further, but valde is an ample replacement. His recent offline results include 32 frags against Cloud9 and 31 against SK Gaming, showing he is capable of going big against the best teams.
Valde’s role is very similar to Magiskb0Y—showing his fangs towards the later part of the round, lining up multi-kills and effectively cleaning up the enemy team. As he is no stranger to lurking or even entry fragging, I believe Dignitas will quickly find a way to fit him into their team and make him a force to be reckoned with. If they aren’t worn down due to endless traveling, the Danes have very good chances of making the playoffs and even winning the tournament.
Karrigan, allu, kioShiMa, aizy, rain
The European mix team has massively profited from the Astralis shuffle, receiving their former in-game leader Karrigan, who finally gave FaZe the tactical structure they have lacked for so long. The upward trend is clear from their recent offline results, including a semifinal finish losing out to NiP at IEM Oakland after winning all five matches in their group against the likes SK, NiP, and Cloud9. They also impressed at the ELEAGUE Season 2 playoffs, where they beat Virtus.pro in the semifinals, finishing top four.
It is still a fresh roster considering their tactical overhaul and the benching seesaw they have played around with, but they are capable of beating all the teams in their group. I would not be surprised if—inspired by OpTic—FaZe has a lucky tournament and blitz their way to the grand finals. They certainly have the parts required, so whether or not they play them correctly will depend on Karrigan. There is also pride at stake here for FaZe, considering they could have the opportunity to take revenge on OpTic for knocking them out of ELEAGUE. Knowing the historic rivalry between the two organizations, we could possibly see both teams giving it their all should it come to a match between them.
Like Dignitas, Cloud9 also rocked the world by winning a large-scale international event (ESL Pro League Season 4), then came to a halt and racked up several lesser results. At IEM Oakland they had to be content with a group stage exit, followed up by yet another group stage finish at DreamHack Winter 2016. The dynamic duo of Stewie2k and autimatic was firing on all cylinders at the latter, but their awper Skadoodle was less successful. If he could reproduce the form he had at IEM Oakland, Cloud9 would have a great chance of topping their group, but if he continues to struggle then the Americans will have a tough time, considering they could be matched up against awpers such as allu, mixwell and potentially kennyS and FalleN.
Will they capitalize on the home ground advantage or will they go out in groups again? It is hard to say for sure as there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding this team, but either way, a lot depends on Skadoodle and if he can regain his form again.
mixwell, RUSH, NAF, stanislaw, tarik
OpTic has become the new hope of the North American scene after shocking everyone with their fairytale run at ELEAGUE. This is not the first international victory for OpTic, though, as they won Northern Arena: Montreal earlier in November, beating Heroic and G2 Esports.
What is special in the ELEAGUE victory, though, is that it wasn’t only the mixwell/tarik show, but the best players on the team were NAF and RUSH, with the latter named MVP of the event. Some analysts think it could pay off betting against OpTic at ECS, considering their odds will be inflated due to their ELEAGUE victory, a run which will be hard to repeat, and I agree. While OpTic is capable of making the playoffs, I don’t believe we will see a performance like that out of them again—at least not in the near future.
Be smart and play the odds here. If they are favored over a team who could beat them (each team in their group is capable of this feat), you might be better off betting against them. This tournament will be a good showing how OpTic will land on their feet after their ELEAGUE run and where they are in the overall scheme of things.
After replacing Wilton "zews" Prado with Lucas "steel" Lopes, Immortals have also been in a slow but upwards trend. Their debut with steel at iBUYPOWER Masters was a success, defeating Cloud9 to win the grand finals and $20,000. That triumph was followed by a respectable finish at IEM Oakland, beating Na’Vi, G2, Liquid and Tyloo in the groups before losing the playoffs to NiP. More recently, they shook some local opposition at the Americas Minor, convincingly beating Team SoloMid and Cloud9 to reach the Major qualifiers.
Their awper HEN1 was their best player at all these events, followed by either felps or boltz. We have no reason to assume this beastly trio won’t show up at ECS, as their team dynamic is working well and even steel occasionally chips in with a great showing. While Immortals has been thrown into a tough group with Dignitas and their Brazilian brothers SK Gaming, they have a better chance than usual against both considering both have to play with a standin.
I don’t think it is crazy to think they can make the playoffs, but to achieve that, the burden is on the aforementioned trio to tough it out with the other big guns in the group.
Blaze 'Draulon' Lengyel
Blaze is a student who currently lives in Europe and has a great interest in Counter Strike and competitive games. He spends his time hitting the gym or working on various game dev projects where he has a role in management or 3D graphics. You can follow him on twitter @draulon
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