Michael Moriarty, January 23, 2017

The Returning Champions of the ELEAGUE Major

The most prestigious event in the CS:GO calendar kicks off once again. After a six-month wait, we have ourselves a Valve Major once againThe ELEAGUE Major. There are sixteen teams in all, trying to keep their heads against the rest, all varying in competitiveness. But only eight have not had to fight for their place in Atlanta this week, earning their stripes at ESL One Cologne last July.

These are the Legends, but do they have what it takes to retain their titles?

The Reigning Champions: SK Gaming

The Brazilians played a storm throughout 2016, and ESL One Cologne was no different. They went in as favorites after coming seemingly out of nowhere to steamroll the preceding tournaments. SK found themselves shuffled into the tournament's “group of death” alongside Fnatic, FaZe, and G2 Esports.

However, the Brazilians easily secured their group's top slot in spectacular 2-0 fashion. The play-offs saw close clashes with FlipSid3 and Virtus.pro, before the final against Team Liquid. Destroying Liquid 2-0, in a more convincing repeat of their MLG Columbus semi-final, SK had their second Major.

Even though most of the two-time Major side stayed together, losing coach Wilton “Zews” Prado appeared to take its toll through the rest of 2016. Not winning a single offline event post-Cologne, SK had two second place finishes at IEM Oakland and the ESL Pro League finals. Only making top four at ELEAGUE Season 2 led Gabriel “Fallen” Toledo's side to cut Lincoln “fnx” Lau, citing internal issues, replacing him with Ricardo “fox” Pacheco.

SK came into the tournament looking disheveled, hoping to keep their Legend spot and make a new start with their latest roster.

America's Golden-Boys: Team Liquid

Liquid had a successful ESL One Cologne, and bringing Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev back for one last hurrah under the North American organization seemed to be a winning recipe for the team. Granted a difficult group alongside Virtus.pro, mousesports, and EnVyUs, Liquid picked up the second place spot, behind the Poles. The playoffs worked to their favor, but after taking out Na`Vi and Fnatic the final against SK saw the squad get dismantled by the Brazilians.

S1mple’s replacement, Jacob “Pimp” Winneche was already set to join the American side before the tournament began. The writing was on the wall for Spencer “Hiko” Martin's team, as many knew that the post-s1mple Liquid wasn't going to be as successful. The tournaments following proved this, only achieving one top four placing at an offline event in the second half of 2016. A great deal of work's needed to get them into shape, something picked up on by a European

A great deal of work's needed to get them into shape, something picked up on by a European bootcamp. But is that enough for the Americans to bounce back into Legendary safety?

Can Fnatic's Olofmeister pull his team back from the brink?

The Fallen Kings: Fnatic

Fnatic managed top four of the last Major in Cologne, even amongst heavy rumors of changes beforehand. Coming second out of their group, behind champions SK Gaming, they had a mixed run during the playoffs. A swift destruction of Gambit was followed by their own at the hands of Liquid. From that moment, change was inevitable.

Post-Cologne appeared like a return to form for the Swedes, finishing second at the ELEAGUE Season one finals. But two weeks later, the storm arrived. The Swedish shuffle went into full force, as Fnatic and GODSENT swapped players with a split of the dominating side of the past three years.

This saw Robin “flusha” Rönnquist, Freddy “KRiMZ” Johansson and Jesper “JW” Wecksell leaving what was once the greatest team in the world. Though KRiMZ has recently returned to Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer's side after poor performances with GODSENT, this will be the first time Fnatic play offline with this roster. Have they found the right mix this time, and how far can this roster go?

Polish Powerhouse: Virtus.pro

The ever-present force of the international CS:GO scene lives deep within this immutable Polish line-up. VP took their group easily against EnVyUs and Liquid, but their playoffs weren't as simple, winning overtimes against a depleted Astralis before being broken in a semi-final against SK. A strong performance was shown, but were they content with this?

They apparently were, as they signed long-term contracts with their organization until 2020 in December. Coming into the Major they have two tournament wins under their belt, taking the first season of ELEAGUE and DreamHack Bucharest. Second places at ESL One New York and EPICENTER Moscow alongside third place finishes at the WESG Finals show the Polish side are still very close to the top of their game. Many have their chips placed on this squad to take it, for very good reason.

The Unlucky Danes: Astralis

The unluckiest team from the previous Major, Astralis entered the tournament without their new signing, Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye, due to roster locks. This meant playing with Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander in their group games. They were handed a fairly simple set, with Gambit Esports, Dignitas, and CLG alongside them. Finishing second, they had another issue as Peter “dupreeh” Rothmann was taken ill, leaving their coach to step up and finish the tournament. Despite some incredible battles, elimination to Virtus.pro in a close fashion was what followed.

The change after Cologne was slow for Astralis. Not making any major moves in their first two tournaments, and disappointing in a lot more, they changed it up again. Letting Finn "karrigan" Andersen go to see gla1ve return to IGL the team had major teething problems before success.

Top four at IEM Oakland was the start, before a second-place finish at the ELEAGUE Season 2 finals, followed by revenge against OpTic at ECS Season 2 finals. Astralis have been on hot form coming into this Major, but do they have one more push left in them to take a top spot on the only stage that matters?

Talent and FlipSid3 Tactics

The plucky CIS team that could. FlipSid3 were placed in a no-hope group against Na`Vi, NiP, and OpTic at Cologne. They managed to slip through to the playoffs behind their fellow CIS side, taking out NiP in a simple Bo3 and ending the Swedish team’s 100% Legend status since Majors began. But coming up against SK in the quarters wasn't going to help F3's further ambitions, losing in two maps.

The CIS squad hasn't had a particularly explosive run up to the Major, but there are solid results. Two top four finishes before this include a win at DreamHack Leipzig and running up at the ACL finals. However, alongside that are disappointing finishes at DreamHack Winter and the iBUYPOWER Masters, so they'll be hoping their tactical play is up to speed this week.

The Switch: Gambit Esports

One of the surprises in Cologne, Gambit topped their group against Astralis, Dignitas and CLG. Their surprise game was their destruction of an albeit weakened Astralis, but were placed back on their level by Fnatic in their quarter-final game.

Gambit's been busy before the Major, bringing in Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko after his unceremonious dumping from long-term squad Na’Vi, and Abay "HObbit" Khasenov on loan from unknown Kazakh side Tengri to shore up their play style. These were winning moves, it seems, as they led to victories at the ACL Finals, APM Finals, and DreamHack Winter, as well as a qualification spot to DreamHack Las Vegas.

Even though they're not one of the strongest teams at the Major, they're an almost unknown quantity coming in hot, looking to cause as many upsets as possible.

Sleeping Giants: Natus Vincere

Na`Vi finished top eight in Cologne after getting through their group comfortably. With NiP and F3 being no match for them, only for Liquid to narrowly take them out in the quarter-finals sending them home. After the Major, Na`Vi made swift changes to their roster. Bringing on Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev seemed to be a no-brainer, leading to a rash of top finishes.

Top four at ELEAGUE Season 1 and winning ESL One New York followed to justify their decision to drop Zeus. However, after that results were light on the ground. A top four finish at EPICENTER and a disappointing finish at IEM Oakland was how they ended the year. The team has taken a break since Oakland, perhaps in order to consolidate their skill ready to mount a challenge for the top spot at the ELEAGUE Major this week.

There are a few names being touted for the title, but one stands out strongestAstralis. Safe to say we’re not counting out the ever-strong Virtus.pro or a rejuvenated Na`Vi for this title. The Swiss-style format leaves a lot open for upsets, so nobody's safe. If you think you have what it takes to predict the ELEAGUE Major, give CS:GO betting your best shot.

Michael Moriarty

Michael is an esports freelancer who, despite his namesake, is not the eternal foil of one Sherlock Holmes. However, in true British fashion, he will endlessly apologise for the state of UK CS:GO. You can see these apologies and more CS ephemera at twitter.com/DuckMoriarty.