It’s an interesting mix of favorites and plucky underdogs that have made it to Wembley for the final stage of the FACEIT Major: Liquid are living up to the hype, responsible the only real blemish on Astralis’ sterling showing so far, Na’Vi seem to have risen beyond their internal strife and FaZe Clan made it all the way back from the brink. While the many upsets of the New Legends Stage meant that not even the Buchholz system could rescue the event from an early titanic clash, there are tons of interesting stories to look into here if you're looking to bet on the FACEIT Major Champions Stage.
Just like in Krakow, the two sides of the bracket are not made equal, though none of the supposed minnows are to be discounted after their impressive showings during the Swiss portion of the tournament. Still, the whole point of the Buchholz system’s introduction was to avoid the kind of “early finals” the FaZe-Astralis matchup will grant us as early as the quarters, which is further exacerbated by the fact that Team Liquid are also stuck on this particular branch.
It’s a sign of changing times that the presence of MiBR and Na’Vi isn’t enough to mark the other half of it as a similarly competitive one, but it can’t be argued that the draw has massively increased the chances of s1mple and co. to finally take down a major. Despite all the rumors of internal strifes and additional concerns, the CIS-based roster has actually done very well in the New Legends Stage, only losing to Astralis in the closest possible fashion: they could easily take advantage of their main rivals’ pile-up.
No matter how the games unfold, we’re guaranteed to see a massive derby on the first three day of the playoffs – keep in mind that the BIG-Na’Vi game is a rematch of the Cologne final – unless Liquid somehow fails to make it past HellRaisers. Credit where credit’s due: “moving” to the CIS region was a masterstroke that finally got them to return to the major stage and the inspired performances of woxic and ISSA make them deserving participants of the New Champions Stage even if they haven’t shown anything against top-tier opposition just yet. Again, it’s an indictment of the format that they could make it to the last eight without defeating any team from the top ten of the world – bombing out 16-9 against both Liquid and BIG –, but it’s nowhere near a Winstrike-level travesty and they definitely have the players to do some damage if the Americans underestimate them on Friday. (Still waiting for DeadFox to post a positive K/D at a meaningful event, by the way…)
The fall of Sweden
The FACEIT London Major marked the first time in the competition’s history that Fnatic failed to make the playoffs – ending KRIMZ’s faultless record as well in this department –, a result which we may look back on in the future as the symbol of a seismic shifdt in the domestic landscape. Even though NiP also failed to make it past the 2-2 hurdle, their results and performances have greatly improved since Lekr0’s initiation as an IGL and you can’t help but feel that the three-time major winners have saddled themselves with reject ninjas while ditching the in-game leader that led them to back-to-back titles after a two-year drought. Their performances since the player break were insipid, and while their return to Katowice is not in doubt, it would be very surprising if this roster survived intact until next February.
It’s tough to envision what new Swedish blood could reinvigorate Fnatic: many of the Red Reserve (ex-GODSENT) side have already had a rodeo or two with those players with limited success, including the recently benched twist, and with all due respect to Digital Chaos, they couldn’t even beat RR in their meetings a few weeks ago. Many have theorized that Fnatic might have to consider international options to get back on track: whatever the case may be, the current iteration is deservedly out of the top ten on the HLTV rankings.
The pluckiest of underdogs
It’s arguable that BIG’s qualification no longer counts as an incredible upset, but there’s another team beyond them and HellRaisers who were not pegged to be in the last eight whatsoever: compLexity have completed their Cinderella run to the New Champions Stage with impressive performances, showing they are not just a one-trick pony by taking down G2 and BIG on Cache and Nuke in the latter rounds of the second Swiss bracket. It will be really interesting to see whether they can go one step further – and this iteration of MiBR, promising as it is, still has many targetable weaknesses as evidenced by the NSFW things Astralis did to them on Dust 2 – and they will be a welcome addition to the regular tournament circuit if they can do a better job capitalizing on their major result than some of the other unexpected playoff participants did previously.
With so many of the top dogs stuck on one side of the bracket, it’s also quite possible that we could see the third upset winner in a row at the major – out of the four tournaments of its ilk that featured a best-of-one Swiss system, lest we forget – which would not exactly bolster the tournament’s role as the pinnacle of competitive Counter-Strike. Then again, no one will have such an easy path to the final as Immortals have in Krakow: this will be a real trial by fire in London to cap off the thirteenth major.
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