StarSeries S6 is shaping up to be one of the most special and unique events of 2018. In many ways, the hype and storylines for this tournament are almost more abundant, pressing and compelling than those crafted at the major. This is, counter-intuitively, due to the lack of elite teams across the field. With a $300k prize pool, surprisingly, there is no Astralis, FaZe, Na`Vi, Liquid or even MIBR present. The major and its subsequent tournaments in ESL One New York 2018 and BLAST Istanbul have forced the finely tuned systems of CS:GO’s most dominate to rest and re-adjust. Unlike in seasons where we would see sides blitz at an opportunity for a $125k first place prize, many of the top dogs are favouring rest and time-off in the wake of Astralis’s success with such an approach. This is just the beginning of teams becoming more conscious and active in taking time off.
For the viewers, this represents a huge series of wins. First and foremost, with breaks in their high-pressure gauntlet of games, we’ll likely see increased longevity in line-ups and level of overall play, and variance in this play. Cloud9 won the Boston major, then immediately launched into full seasonal play without break, competing in 2-3 large international LANs a month until their roster fractured beyond repair. The North Americans never came themselves a chance to recoup or pivot and set themselves up to explode. Whether or not the roster moves that happened would’ve happened regardless is besides the point. Undoubtedly though, they suffered a series of damaging upsets in quick succession because of their inability to evolve and ready availability of demos.
In contrast, Astralis won the Major, participated soon-after at the one-day, more novel BLAST Istanbul, and will now take a full month long break. They will not be at StarSeries S6, or EPICENTRE at the end of the month and will give themselves, and importantly other teams, a chance to breathe.
The integral flip-side to top teams taking rest, and where it ties back into StarSeries S6 is not only will we see better play in the long-term from the top teams themselves, but will also give more of a platform to the contenders below. In the absence of apex predators, we will see - just as we are at StarSeries - a far wider set of teams and talent at a scale they aren’t normally given an opportunity to compete at. This will as a result, make those lower tiered teams better, putting more pressure on the top sides to evolve, driving the overall level of play and making for a far healthier competitive ecosystem.
At StarSeries S6 specifically, the number of rich, dense narratives is overwhelming. In the wake of the major which saw many of these teams like Complexity, Tyloo, Vega, BIG and Hellraisers perform at an above-average level, StarSeries is their chance at validation. With a Bo3 Swiss group, there is little in way of excuses for poor performances, and if a Complexity really is at that bottom of the top ten level, then StarSeries is a seminal chance to prove it.
This importance will be amplified more-so for Mousesports who will be one of the few teams not taking the rest-focussed approach of other top sides, looking to roll straight from Stockholm, to London, to New York and now to Kiev. They are, in-theory, the highest ranked team at the event and given their incredible win in New York over Liquid in a full Bo5, the ‘favourites’ to win. With a storm of rumours circling their roster, a lack of time to shift style, and potential over-reliance on individual form, their position may only serve as one to be subverted.
In-attendance will also be the new-look roster of Renegades decked-out with the hot domestic talents of Gratisfaction and Liazz. They will be looking to trial the two regional superstars on a big stage in likely more gruelling Bo3 group play than they’ve ever before seen. Similarly, North will be trialing their two new acquisitions in gade and Cadian, both attempting to hurriedly integrate and structure the ever volatile North core. While the majority of their Stockholm-winning roster remains in-tact, their style and in-game operations could look totally different with cadian at the helm. This represents the first time the likes of Kjaerbye, valde, and aizy - elite Danish riflers - have ever been under the command of a hungry, untested and ‘fresh’ IGL in cadian. They to, will either be looking forward to a honeymoon period or humbling learning experience in Kiev.
These aforementioned sides just begin to scratch at the surface of StarSeries’s team narratives, and are all foregrounded with the intensely low differential of overall skill on-paper. Many teams are unknown quantities on LAN and the Bo3 Swiss format will really seperate those that are on the rise and international contenders from the online specialist in-attendance. This filtering dynamic of a usually volatile, random bracket of play is invaluable for building a more stable ecosystem, giving experience to those that need it the most and creating a reference point for future endeavours. It also serves as a nice contrast to the usual participants who however elite they may be, also lack the novelty of a new side and can sometimes constrain curiosity for the more casual fan.
All of this makes StarSeries S6 one of the most hyped events of the year. We get to see a field of teams run amok in an excellent system and without the parents being home to stop them. While we obviously want elite teams at as many events as possible, StarSeries S6 seems to be a more realised variation of the popular Dreamhack opens, making for a more diverse, entertaining and healthy competitive system of play.