The Counter-Strike circus is well and truly back on now with top-tier events coming hard and fast. New York dovetails into Malmö, followed by the first matchdays of the ESL Pro League: a great time to be a CS fan. Though many of the rumored huge roster moves are still waiting to be finalized, the fact that Astralis, Liquid and NRG will all be looking to make a brand new start of it against one another makes this one required viewing. After all, if they can make it there, they could very well make it anywhere…
While we don’t have a particularly large sample size so far, everything about ENCE’s surprise roster move is looking like a mistake right now. Aleksib performed quite well at the Berlin major and the entire team disappointed at the BLAST Pro Series Moscow event after that. The joint PR catastrophes of the Aerial interview and the inconsistent statements made by the rest of the team also mean that the Finns are limping into the event, having lost most of the goodwill in the community which powered them to the everyone’s-second-favorite-team-or-meme status. Realistically, the second qualification spot in Group A will either go to them or G2 behind Liquid, and since the Frenchmen are also playing with a re-jigged lineup, allu and co. should be able to ease the tension somewhat with a playoff finish.
Love or hate tarik’s cocky statement from Berlin, NRG did make a mark on the scene at the major, and so far it’s looking like the high-risk IGL swap executed in the summer is finally paying dividends for the side. They’ve now catapulted to fourth place in the HLTV rankings – though the fact that AVANGAR are third should tell you everything you need to know about its temporary nature –, and it will be fascinating to see how they’ll match up with Liquid going forward, especially off the back of their 16-9 win over the ELiGE and co. at the major on Dust 2. They have to get out of the groups first to get a chance to clash with them again – all but guaranteeing a showdown with Astralis in Group B along the way – and it would be a mouth-watering derby in front of a home crowd.
The Danes were massively hit by the Immortals Gaming Group’s acquisition of their employers as the joint ownership rules in the CS scene meant that they’d likely be released as they continue to focus on the sputtering MiBR project instead. Nevertheless, they’ve kept putting on impressive performances since the news broke, with the Brazilians so much less so that many began to question the choice of roster on IGG’s part. The OpTic side remain in limbo for now, with an additional roster change to deal with, having shipped out refrezh for cajunb. It’s been an extended period in the shop window and they have all the incentives to put in a good showing again in New York.
Things keep getting worse before they get better for FaZe, and yet another proof of the ongoing chaos in the high-powered organization is that their lineup hasn’t been finalized with less than a day to go until the event, with rumors of coldzera’s arrival ceaselessly swirling in the media. The inclusion of broky certainly doesn’t signify the same sort of ambition as that move would, and the continued confusion seems somewhat fitting considering how rudderless the side seemed to be ever since karrigan’s removal. The lineups, the strats and the entire setup remain temporary. New York is their first chance to stop the bleeding, but there are asterisks all across their performance before the event even started – regardless of whether the Brazilian superstar joins them in time or not.
Back-to-back-to-back major wins, the first core to take down four overall. And yet, questions remain. The fact that a major title comes with an asterisk is a testament to the insane standards Astralis have set for themselves in the past, and the now-infamous Vertigo curveball they threw to defeat Liquid in the quarter-finals showed that gla1ve and co. can still innovate in a way which leaves the rest of the field behind. Whatever was behind their motivation issues and BLASTed schedule in the middle of the year seems to be a thing of the past. Still, only the blindest of fans would suggest that they were back to their very best in Berlin, and it’d be fascinating to finally get a glimpse of what it’s like when both the Danes and the stars of North America are playing close to their respective ceilings.
Photo credit: HLTV