It was an all-Danish final in DreamHack Masters Stockholm 2018, and it ended with an upset, the final event before the highly anticipated London major providing many surprises and interesting discussion points. It seems like the player break has once again shuffled things around, and with only a few days to go until the New Challengers Stage kicks off in the Twickenham Stadium, it’s time to assess the lay of the land before we head into the biggest CS:GO event of the year.
A Scandinavian shuffle?
While the main story of this event is the depth of the Danish scene and the sudden and unexpected improvement of North to levels never previously seen by this roster – and trust me, we’ll get back to that one in a bit –, it’s worth sparing a thought or two to what’s going on on the other side of the border: the Swedish teams seem to be undergoing quite the internal power shift in the meantime, part of which may very well be due to the “ring rust” experienced by the recently ended player break, but there are good reasons to suggest that we might be looking at something that’s a bit more permanent in nature.
Perhaps the only potential silver lining of Fnatic’s dismal showing is that they’ve already established their capability of turning everything upside down between two events, going out 0-3 in the groups at StarSeries Season 4 before winning IEM Katowice shortly thereafter. Of course, that triumph was what borrowed some additional time for Golden, a player widely credited for imposing a bit of structure on the famously loose Swedes after they’ve spent two years in the wilderness. They’ve forced him out nonetheless, supposedly due to personal differences, but it’s difficult to call Xizt’s arrival into the IGL role anything beyond a side-grade at best. Fnatic have not been threatening in any events since their roster shuffle, failing to make it to the semis of any events they’ve attended since the veteran ex-Ninja’s arrival. Their defeats against supposedly lower-quality opposition were completely well-deserved here, showing very little of note against either of their opponents on the four maps.
On the other hand, this was a very impressive performance by NiP, who have been quietly improving since they’ve given Lekr0 the IGL mantle. This event has also marked an impressive resurgence by both GeT_RiGhT and f0rest, and they’ve correctly identified (in my mind) Mirage as a map to fight on against Astralis, which seems to imply a decent understanding on a strategic level as well – of course, map vetoes won’t come into play at the major until the last eight. Still, the Ninjas’ recent performances seem promising enough as they are heading into the major, and it seems like their willingness to finally cut some of the old guard has yielded dividends – the exact opposite of Fnatic’s story where the three-man core seems to hold a bit too much power on the proceedings without the results to show for it.
An energetic cross-section
Despite their early and unceremonious exit here, NRG will be sorely missed from the major – even if you think their top ten rating is a bit premature, there’s no arguing that they are one of the twenty-four best teams in the world. It seems like the harsh lessons keep coming, but thankfully the whispers about a potential roster shakeup don’t seem to have any basis in reality just yet. This is a promising team that needs some more experience on the big stage before they can make a mark.
It feels odd to say the same about two of the powerhouses in the scene: FaZe Clan and mousesports have clashed in the quarter-finals in memorable fashion as the Intel Grand Slam dream has gone up in flames, setting the competition into disarray for the time being. Both teams seem to struggle with making the most out of their undoubted potential and have definite issues when playing as the favorites – though mouz have certainly proved their mental fortitude after coming back from a 16-1 thrashing by karrigan’s men, even if that feat was clearly overshadowed by North’s reversal in the next round.
Meanwhile, FaZe is becoming harder and harder to categorize: their regular deep runs and an impressive haul of titles make it pretty difficult to dismiss them as disappointments, and yet you can’t help but feel that they should be doing more, performing even better with this star-studded roster. Perhaps the biggest indictment of this lineup is how ordinary they can look sometimes – which should never be the case when you’ve got Niko, olofmeister, rain and GuardiaN to call upon.
Trouble on the CIS front?
Just as a quick aside: if there’s one region that is looking surprisingly brittle as we’re heading into the major, it’s this one. HellRaisers and Gambit are clearly just making up the numbers at this point – even if woxic is a very exciting talent, the dead wood that is DeadFox will not allow this team to make a deep run anytime soon – and Na’Vi were nowhere near their best either, a disappointing run marred by rumors over flamie’s situation in the team. There’s no doubt that we’ll see a lot of roster shakeups after the major, but the quality of play on showcase here will not be enough for s1mple and co. if they want to make it to Wembley.
The dastardly Danish depth
Of course, the real story here is the sudden and meteoric rise of North, a team that many have written off already as a textbook case of wasted potential. Their victory was entirely deserved, an impressive run that showcased many facets of their gameplay from obliterating Na’Vi to making a very special comeback against mousesports after failing to take a single round on the first map of the match.
Beating Astralis in two best-of-threes in a single event is quite the calling card to have before the major begins, and while it did feel like gla1ve’s team have an extra gear to kick into for the major, their level of play certainly dropped a bit over the course of the player break. Still, it’s perhaps a sign of their stranglehold on the scene that “only” finishing second at a prestigious tournament already counts as an upset: this doesn’t really change the expectations for the major, but if there’s ever a time to peak, it’s just before the major.
Beyond everything else that’s going on – the potential renaissance of MiBR, the tussle of Astralis, FaZe and Na’vi, the return of NiP et cetera – we now also have a new contender to look out for. They went 0-3 in the New Legends Stage in Boston – based on what we’ve seen here, North will very likely go beyond that performance.
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