Blaze 'Draulon' Lengyel, July 4, 2016

Who could win ESL Cologne 2016?

Majors have always been the most important events in Counter Strike: Global Offensive. Even though the prize pool has stood at $250,000 for several years, the majors have remained the pinnacle of all events. The importance of the majors has only grown after Valve announced they raised the prize pool to $1,000,000 starting with MLG Columbus 2016. 

For some players winning a major is the utmost goal. For others achieving a Legendary status by getting out of the group stage is the main objective, while still other players simply wish to be able to play in a major.

Today we will take the first group under examination, and take a look at which teams could be considered candidates for winning ESL Cologne 2016.

The Favorite

SK Gaming:FalleN, coldzera, fer, fnx, TACO

Formerly known as Luminosity, this team has risen from obscurity in the past year and become the best team in the world following some roster changes. Today there is hardly a person who doesn’t know who they are and they have collected a huge following of fans during their ambitious rise to the top.

After winning the previous major (MLG Columbus 2016), this squad then won the ESL Pro League Season 3 finals with a nail biting win over G2 Esports in the BO5 grand final. They went on to meet the French team once again in the grand finals of the ECS Season 1 finals where they suffered a defeat.

When looking at statistics alone, there is no argument that SK Gaming is the most favored team to win this Major, however their durability will be put to test in the group stages. Joining them in group D is G2 Esports, Fnatic and FaZe – a group which has since been dubbed as the “Group of death”. Funnily enough, their first match in the event will be against G2 Esports. The outcome of that match might be what decides the fate of the two teams in the major. Unless something goes seriously wrong for them in the group stages, we will probably see SK Gaming flying home with another major trophy.

The Challengers

G2 Esports:shox, ScreaM, bodyy, RpK, SmithZz

Since the departure of their highly acclaimed ingame leader Kevin “Ex6TenZ” Droolans – G2 Esports has undergone an exciting revitalization.
Their star players, shox and ScreaM have been fragging lights out, leading to results such as reaching second place at the ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals and winning ECS Season 1. A prospect that would have been unimaginable for the team half a year ago.

Even though we see all the players performing on the team, the questions that many analysts ask is how long will their incredible form remain? How long will we be seeing ScreaM land unbelievable headshots, shox ripping teams apart, and RpK holding sites like no tomorrow? While some remain skeptical, I believe that we will still be seeing the Frenchmen in a godlike state this major.

Unfortunately, like Luminosity, G2 Esports is also included in the group of death which means that we will see either them, SK Gaming, FaZe, or Fnatic get knocked out in the group stages. Bodyy, the newest addition to the team has been instrumental to their victory over Luminosity at the ECS S1 Finals. Thus a lot will depend on this fresh recruit, who has never played in a major before.

Their consistency will be put to the test, but I can see them pulling through. If not to winning the major, then at least reaching the grand finals.

Under three months, G2 Esports rose from rank 19 to rank 2 on HLTV.

Natus Vincere:Zeus, seized, flamie, GuardiaN, Edward

Like Astralis is infamous for their semifinal exits at events,Na’VI has gained a notoriety for reaching the grand finals then falling short to the victors.This trend is especially relevant the past two majors, DreamHack Cluj Napoca, where EnVyUs whisked away the trophy, and MLG Columbus, where they received a thrashing from Luminosity.

Unfortunately ever since GuardiaN returned from his short break he took from competitive play due to his arm injury, Na’Vi just hasn’t quite been the same.
Even though the star awper has since recuperated, he alone won’t be enough to secure Na’Vi the trophy. Assuming that we will see flamie or seized in form, the X factor for Na’Vi will be Edward.

Their run at MLG Columbus could mainly be attributed to the performance of the Counter Strike veteran who had a rating of 1.24 for the entire event and consistently fragged in each match with the exception of the grand final.

With NiP, OpTic Gaming and Flipsid3 Tactics joining them in group B, Na’Vi has a much more favorable position than most contenders in this article as these are all teams they are able to beat any time. Their collective experience and frag power favors them by a large margin over their first matchup, Flipsid3. The other Legend in the group, Ninjas in Pyjamas, will be a more difficult ordeal since they have already lost to the Swedes at the DH Malmö grand finals. If both teams play in their best form, the outcome of the match might fall upon the coaches who assume the role of the ingame leader in both teams.

If the stars align for Na’Vi, they could be very well considered a contender to be the major champion.

The Dark Horse

Ninjas in Pyjamas: f0rest, friberg, pyth, GeT_RiGhT, Xizt

Originally I planned to have Astralis take this spot, however due to their form lately and the fact that they have to play with a stand-in replacing one of their best players, the situation looks grim for them and they might have to be content with a top eight finish. Things look dire for Fnatic as well, who were enlisted in the group of death and will have to fight tooth and nail to be able to get out of the group stage.

Much to the joy of fans all around the world, Ninjas in Pyjamas have also rose from the ashes in the past few months. Their success can be connected to the addition of Björn “THREAT” Pers who has single handedly fixed the tactical struggles the Ninjas have experienced in the past year.

Along with his addition, the team has also replaced their AWPer, Allu with pyth for a completely Swedish lineup. This move was heavily criticized by the community at first, but with time pyth has proven himself to be very valuable to the team. While his performance is still inconsistent, we can sometimes see incredible maps from him where he just forces aim duels with the enemy team and rips them apart. Due to Visa issues at Columbus, pyth had to sit out the major and watch THREAT stand in for him. Despite having to play with the coach as a fifth, the Ninjas somehow managed to scrape their way through the group stages and keep their status as Legends.

The core four of this team,  f0rest, friberg, GeT_RiGhT and Xizt, have participated in all majors so far and played in the grand finals of five of them. They have never gone out in the group stage yet and all signs show that it won’t happen in this major either, but can they maintain their composure?

They won DreamHack Malmö over Na’Vi and reached second place at DreamHack Summer against Immortals. However, their performance at the ECS Season 1 Finals has left much to be desired. The silver lining was however, that their group stage exit was due to playing against Luminosity and G2 Esports. This will not be any relief for them later in the tournament, as they may have to face these teams in the playoffs. A troubling sign for NiP is that we can sometimes see them drop a map in a very disastrous fashion. There will be no room for such errors in Cologne.

If the vetoes work out in their favor and they get the easier matchups in the playoffs, it is not impossible for them to reach the grand finals or possibly win the major in some miraculous run.

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