In many respects, this was the odd one out of the many events organized under the Intel Extreme Masters banner: the tournament in China didn’t attract any of the top teams in the scene, giving an opportunity for local hopefuls and second-tier Western rosters to pick up the kind of trophy they wouldn’t otherwise have a shot at. It was an interesting contrast with the titans of ELEAGUE Premier, and the event truly highlighted the gap between the pinnacle of CS:GO and the rest of the international field.
End of an era
This was the last tournament of the season and it’s safe to say that the player break’s arrival wasn’t marked with a bang, but rather with a whimper: despite the prize pool, this was decidedly a second-tier event with a corresponding quality of play In fact, it was technically already overlapping with the player break, which is why it wasn’t a part of the Intel Grand Slam contest.
That isn’t to say we didn’t have some interesting storylines to follow, at least on part of the five invited teams: the regional qualifiers were dead on arrival, even if BOOT-d[S] did manage to take a map off of Gambit before losing to them 2-0 in the decider. In fact, it really is a sign of how far the Asian scene still needs to go that the washed up have-beens of Gambit and Virtus.pro – teams widely maligned for their recent dysfunction and apocalyptic downturn in form – have made it out of the groups without any serious difficulty.
Evidently, one of the invited teams were destined to go out before the playoff stage, and HellRaisers’ surprising defeat to VP in the decider match was perhaps the only meaningful upset of the entire event. It would be a mistake to overestimate the importance of the defeat though: not only did they miss their best player in the form of woxic due to personal reasons, they are also still saddled with the absolute dead weight that is DeadFox. Ceterum censeo kick him from the team: now that they’ve opted for the CIS major qualifier instead of the European one, there really is no reason to keep the underwhelming Hungarian around in an otherwise fairly promising roster. When your stand-in produces better numbers than you over three matches and your rating has been under 1.0 for most of the last year and a half, one has to wonder whose naked pictures he may have on his phone.
To be fair, Virtus.pro certainly did better here than their recent performances and roster shake-ups would have suggested, though it’s a good question which team’s strength is put into context by their extremely close three-map semi-final series where they’ve lost two maps in double overtime against TyLoo. There’s definitely enough potential in the Polish team for a promising roster to form, and it’s fairly likely that VP is the organization with the clout and the money to hoover them up – the transfer of Snatchie from AGO is likely just the beginning.
Take my NRG
The international roster only dropped a single map throughout the event (and even that came in a best-of-three against Hellraisers which they’ve eventually won), clearly playing a level above their opposition in Shanghai. With an extra 125 000 reasons to keep this line-up together, they might be able to keep going despite missing out on the major. While the deterioration of Cloud9 will certainly keep North American orgs on their toes, the promising if somewhat fluky LAN performances of NRG in the last few months could mean that they will avoid the sort of split many have predicted after they’ve gone out against eUnited in the London minor. Their well-deserved win at this event serves to highlight the upward trajectory they’re on – there’s no question about their potential, even if their top ten position in the current HLTV rankings may be a tad bit premature. However, there’s no argument to be made about the fact that they are definitely one of the twenty-four best teams right now and that many other major participants will be serving up an inferior spectacle to what they could have offered.
In fact, this event was also a bit of a dress rehearsal for the New Challengers stage of the FACEIT Major as four of the teams that were competing in Shanghai will participate there – due to wildly different accomplishments, of course. VP are still riding on the dying embers of their long-past glory days, Gambit is barely hanging on thanks to a fluky major win in Krakow, TyLoo regularly dominate the weakest minor and HellRaisers also took an easier path this time around by ditching EU for the CIS region. Meanwhile, the winners at Shanghai will have to watch from the sidelines. No matter how many things change over the course of the player break, one thing remains set in stone: the structure of the marquee Valve-sponsored events need a change to better represent who’s really the best and brightest in Counter-Strike.