DreamHack Masters goes to Dallas for their first event of 2019. In a world oversaturated by best-of-one BLAST events, DreamHack Masters offers a breath of fresh air for the hardcore CS:GO fan. The event has adopted the comprehensive ESL double-elimination format which offers best-of-three matches throughout the tournament. Here are the key storylines headed into the event.
2018 was the worst year of competitive Swedish Counter-Strike. Both NiP and Fnatic had their worst years in competitive CS:GO. Both teams had roster and identity issues that weren’t resolved until the latter half of 2018.. In 2019, both teams have seen a resurgence of form.
NiP have polarized their team around Patrik “f0rest” Lindberg as their star player and have filled out the roster with fairly skilled players all across the board. In addition to f0rest, Fredrik “REZ” Sterner has stepped up as a consistent secondary star for the team and Jonas “Lekr0” Oloffson has taken on in-game leadership. With Christopher “GeT_RiGhT” Alesund and Dennis “dennis” Edman filling out the roles, this NiP squad is the most consistent squad we’ve seen in the last year.
Fnatic have built their success off of three star players. The first is Freddy “KRIMZ” Johansson. He was one of the best players in 2018 and continues to be a consistent rock for the team. The second star is Jesper “JW” Wecksell. JW has found his form and style of play once again. While the stats aren’t spectacular, the impact and flair has been incredible. We haven’t seen this level of form from JW since Fnatic 2015. The third star to step up for Fnatic is Ludvig “Brollan” Brolin. The 16 year old phenom has acquitted himself well on the big stage and represents the future of Sweden and Fnatic. Simon “twist” Eliasson fills out whatever roles the others need while Richard “Xizt” Landstrom leads the team.
The contrast between the two Swedish squads is compelling. NiP are a structured squad with set tactics and roles. Fnatic are a loose squad that allow for more individual plays across the board. While their approaches are different, their strengths are similar. Both teams rely on individual skill and teamplay to carry the day. NiP have solidified themselves as a consistent playoffs team. Fnatic got second place at their last two big events: StarSeries i-League Season 7 and IEM Sydney. Fnatic look to finally win a big international event, while NiP look to get a semi finals berth.
What is exciting about both of these teams attending the same event is that even though Fnatic is clearly the better team, in the head-to-head matchup either side can win. At IEM Sydney, the two teams played in quarterfinals of the tournament in an explosive series where their individual brilliance and teamplay was on full display. Both teams seem to be catalyst for great matches in today’s CS:GO.
Jani “Aerial” Jussila had a breakout performance at BLAST Madrid. In that tournament, he carried ENCE through the tournament and was one of the primary reasons why ENCE beat Astralis in the grand finals. In that event, Aerial’s aggressive style either broke open a site, got them the opening pick on the CT-side or got them the info they needed to make the correct rotations. Due to his impact, Aerial won the MVP at BLAST Madrid.
While it was a fantastic performance for Aerial, the question is whether he can do it consistently for a longer event. BLAST Madrid was a two day event where he only played 5 bo1s and 1 bo3. At DreamHack Dallas, he will have to play at least 1 bo1, 3-5 bo3s, and 1 bo5. If he is able to manage that, then he could empower ENCE to contend against the likes of Na`Vi and Liquid. ENCE’s primary strengths as a squad has been their teamplay and tactics. If Aerial can join Jere “sergej” Salo and Aleksi “allu” Jalli as consistent fraggers, then ENCE could add a new dimension to their play.
One of the biggest matches that the community wants to see is Liquid vs ENCE. At IEM Katowice Major, ENCE beat Liquid in the quarterfinals of the playoffs 2-0. Since then, the two teams have only faced off one more time on LAN at BLAST São Paulo. That bo1 match was looking to be the best match at the event. The two sides battled it out tooth and nail. Just as ENCE were about to close it out, Liquid battled back and forced a 15-15 score. In any other tournament, the match would go to overtime, but it was BLAST.
Luckily, DreamHack Dallas allows for overtime matches in the group stage, so should ENCE and Liquid meet here, we will finally get to see the rematch between the two sides to see who wins the head-to-head matchup.
A part of me never forgave Wiktor “TaZ” Wojtas or Filip “NEO” Kubski for allowing Janusz “Snax” Pogorzelski to become the in-game leader of Virtus.Pro in 2017. In retrospect, Snax becoming the in-game leader of Virtus.Pro was the death of his career as a top five player in the world. He has never recovered his form and has only been a shell of his former self.
So when North announced on May 2nd that they were having Valdemar “valde” Bjorn become the in-game leader, the alarm bells started to ring in my head. While it’s possible for a player to keep their form while in-game leading, it generally doesn’t happen. It has only been a few weeks since valde has become an in-game leader, so we can’t make any concrete judgements on how good of a leader he could become. Instead the storyline is whether Valde can continue being one of the best players in the world now that he is the leader of North.
DreamHack Dallas will be the LAN debut of a FaZe lineup with NEO as the in-game leader. This was a surprising move from the squad, but it shows that the lineup understands that they lack an in-game leader that can make them greater than the sum of their parts.
As an individual player, NEO isn’t close to where he needs to be to compete at the highest level of Counter-Strike. However that shouldn’t be a concern in this FaZe squad as they already have the requisite firepower to be a top squad. NEO will be graded on his leadership: how he implements structure, tactics, and teamplay into the squad. As an analyst, it’s probably unlikely as we’ve never seen NEO succeed leading players outside of original five-man lineup of Virtus.Pro. As a fan, the scene is enriched when NEO can have a competitive impact on the game. The eyes of the community will be on NEO at this event to see how he does.
NRG is one of those teams I have high expectations for. I consider Damian “daps” Steele to be one of the better in-game leaders in the world. The rest of the roster has great firepower across the board as they have: Vincent “Brehze” Cayonte, Cvetelin “CeRq” Dimitrov, Ethan “Ethan” Arnold, and Tarik “tarik” Celik.
This team has built up one of the stronger map pools in the world. They’ve integrated tarik into the system and play a more loose style of Counter-Strike compared to when Jacob “FugLy” Medina was in the squad. While the firepower has been boosted, the story around the team is similar to 2018. The team hasn’t been able to get past the semifinals at large international LAN events with top teams in attendance.
This could be NRG’s chance as they should feel competitive against the entire field coming into this event. This will be a good benchmark to see how far they’ve come as a squad and whether or not their young star players can deliver under high stakes matches.
With Astralis skipping out on multiple big events in favor for BLAST events, this has created an opening that other teams can exploit. If another team can rack up enough results in Astralis’ absence, they can create a resume where the community would have to crown them as the best team of 2019. For reference, In 2019 Astralis have played at five events: IBP Masters, IEM Katowice Major, BLAST Sao Paulo, BLAST Miami, and BLAST Madrid. They won the Major. Outside of that, it has all been small events. IBP Masters was fairly meaningless, they won a BLAST event, lost one, and got second in the third.
In contrast to that, Liquid’s results thus far include: Top 8 at Katowice Major, 1st at IBP Masters, 2nd at Sao Paulo, 2nd at BLAST Miami, and 1st at IEM Sydney. For Liquid, DreamHack Dallas is another big event where if they win, they will start being in contention to overtake Astralis through sheer dint of results. It is also likely that Astralis will continue to miss bigger events for BLAST and if that’s the case, Liquid can try to surpass Astralis by just showing up and winning the big events that Astralis don’t go to.
One final thing to note for Liquid is that they are the clear favorites for DreamHack Dallas. At IEM Sydney, they proved to themselves that they can win finals at big LAN events. They can do it again here and should they succeed, that will put them at two wins in the IEM Grand Slam.