After a long wait – both since the last major and during the many technical breaks – the thirteenth major has finally begun, delivering quite the crazy experience so far: if not for the many issues marring the venue and the broadcast, it would be a realistic contender for the most exciting group stage to date. The dust has settled, we’ve got our sixteen Legend teams ready to lock horns in the second round – but what exactly have we learned from the opening salvos?
The usual suspects have all made it safely past the first hurdle, with perhaps NiP’s triumph over Astralis being the biggest upset of the stage. As it turns out, gla1ve and co. are clearly mortal, one gear below where they were before the player break, Mirage marking a concerning hole in their map pool over the course of their last two events: they’ve posted three losses and a sole win on it, and even that was a narrow 16-14 over NiP in Stockholm, the lessons of which were clearly learned by the Swedes heading into the major. They’ve been fairly impressive so far, similarly to Team Liquid who have simply breezed past the competition in this stage. We’ve seen in Boston that the Legends entering in the second stage sometimes take a bit too long to get up to speed: it would not be a surprise if the top three qualifiers here would cause some serious damage early on as the major progresses.
Congratulations and a warm welcome are in order for compLexity and TyLoo and, marking the first time they’ve achieved Legend status – unless they end up 0-3 in the next round, of course. An underappreciated aspect of the Americans’ performance is that they’ve only played one map throughout their four games – Inferno, which also featured prominently over the course of their win in the minor – granting them a Legend spot nobody predicted. While the New Legends Stage features almost the exact same format as this one, it’s quite likely that the more experienced opponents over there will be able to exploit such a narrow map pool a lot more than Space Soldiers, BIG or Vega Squadron could.
TyLoo certainly cut it close. Most of their performances were actually quite lackluster in the New Challengers Stage: they’ve only managed to beat out a collapsing Gambit and their regional rivals in the form of Renegades (a team that has failed to make it to the last 16 seven times in a row), and even though they’ve pushed OpTic to the brink on Inferno, it told us more about the Danes’ inability to close out the game than anything else. It also took triple overtime to overcome newcomers Team Spirit on the same map, which is rapidly shaping up as their comfort pick whenever Mirage is unavailable. Question marks remain but history is made: they are now guaranteed to return at Katowice, and this will create an interesting subplot for the Asia minor where they’ve had an eternal stranglehold on the two qualification spots with Renegades: a great opportunity has opened up for the other teams of the region.
The Danish depth question
It’s safe to say that the land of Hamlet hasn’t lived up to expectations: Astralis didn’t go 3-0 and the rest of the Danish contingent also underwhelmed as both OpTic and North failed to make it past the New Challengers Stage. Upon closer inspection, k0nfig and co. were flattered even by their 2-3 record. Losing to a clearly superior Team Liquid is no major concern, but only managing four rounds against them is. Similarly, scoring a win against the ailing Virtus.pro is the least you would expect, but giving them thirteen rounds when NiP and North only offered up five and six respectively is also not a good sign. Beating TyLoo is the least you would expect with the firepower available to you, letting it stretch into quadruple overtime after establishing a 10-2 lead early on in the game is anything but. In the end, they limp home without any serious accomplishments of note against reasonable opposition, losing a close game to HellRaisers and getting demolished by BIG on Dust 2. The team’s frustrating inconsistency continues: at some point one has to wonder whether it’s about more work to do or just the limitations of the project.
North have also spectacularly failed to follow up their surprise win at Stockholm, though it’s worth mentioning that their DreamHack Masters win was very much an outlier – in fact, they’ve gone 0-3 alongside Virtus.pro at the last major in the round of sixteen. They could have been one of the few teams that managed to run up the score from 0-2 down but it wasn’t to be: Vega Squadron, despite their distinct lack of competitive play, pulled off a very impressive performance, especially when you consider how incredibly grueling their run through the New Challengers Stage has been. Apart from today’s match, they have played at least thirty rounds in every single match so far, winning 16-14 against Team Spirit before playing three overtime games in a row – and lest we forget, they were “rewarded” for their superior tiebreaker score by running into the strongest team on paper for the decider match. Another well-deserved return to the New Legends Stage.
An interesting trend among the teams that failed to make the cut is the complete freefall of those who were reasonably strong competitors early on, with newcomers superseding them at least in terms of performance even if they also haven’t made it past the New Challengers Stage: Virtus.pro is clearly an ex-parrot by now, Renegades are now firmly established as perennial also-rans at this stage, Gambit have continued their disappointing run of form that now stretches back beyond time immemorial and North’s brief moment in the spotlight has already faded away. Meanwhile, Team Spirit cut it extremely close, capping off an impressive run with a choke against TyLoo, Rogue has done much better than their eventual 1-3 scoreline would indicate and OpTic, like we’ve discussed before, were really quite unimpressive despite making it to the last round before falling flat on their face against BIG.
Since none of these teams will get an automatic re-invite for Katowice, these dynamics matter a lot. Even with the two extra slots up for grabs through the minor system, it still remains an incredible grind, especially if you hail from Europe (which, for the record, only applies to three of the teams that have gone out in this stage, making that minor even more stacked than before). For now, it seems like the up-and-coming teams like Team Spirit and Rogue are much hungrier and hold a lot more promise than the ailing former Legends who have finally ran out of safety nets. With the many overtimes and the much-appreciated best-of-three deciders in the third round, the usual variance of the Swiss stages were seriously reduced (tech issues and silent footsteps notwithstanding). The strong have survived, the rest were sent packing – now it’s time for the real deal, the New Legends Stage. It should be a cracker.
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