2019 marked a massive change of the CS:GO leagues, with the revamped ECS format providing an interesting experiment alongside the Pro League’s brutally skill-testing LAN group stage. Four of the eight teams in the ECS finals made it through the other gauntlet as well, suggesting they’re perhaps the best-equipped challengers to take down this title. Of course, the big story here is Astralis finally getting back into the fray, their first real taste of competitive action in a bid to defend their Season 6 title. Can they do it? Are they worth betting against? All will be revealed in due course…

The moment of truth for gla1ve and co.

Apart from the ESL Pro League groups stage, this is going to be the Danes’ first real competitive test since the Katowice major. With little to no context about their levels or preparation and “ring rust” apart from the glorified BLAST Pro Series matches played over the last few months, their performance here will shape expectations going forward.

In a field where Vitality are the closest contenders, nothing but a dominant win is acceptable for Astralis after basically relinquishing their #1 HLTV spot through inactivity. There are way too many questions swirling around about their conduct in 2019 and whether they can maintain their incredible levels of play after spending so much time away from proper competition. If they can’t thrash this comparatively weak field, we could truly be looking at the end of their dominant period at the upcoming tournaments they decided to grace with their presence.

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Playoff derbies galore?

While the group stages kept every potential domestic rival apart, we’ve got some really tantalizing opportunities for derby matches in the semi-finals. The most exciting one would be a clash between MiBR and FURIA, with the contrasting fortunes of the different Brazilian sides thrown in ultra-sharp relief in a head-to-head match. Astralis and North would also provide a very interesting snapshot, especially seeing how the persistently underperforming siblings have shown the capacity to throw a wrench in the big boys’ plans at DreamHack Masters Stockholm last year. Also, while it’s the most unlikely out of the three, NRG could end up meeting compLexity in the playoffs for a North American mini-derby of sorts.

It’s become quite clear by now that none of the unexpected top eight finishers at the London major managed to capitalize on their fortunes, with compLexity getting perhaps the least out of the windfall. Now aligned closer to the Dallas Cowboys than ever and fresh off the back of an unexpected roster move, they need to make a statement at some point. That said, this is basically a bonus round for them: if not for Rogue’s dissolution, they wouldn’t even have a spot at these finals.

Vitality and FURIA: the proving grounds

While the Frenchmen’s fourth place in the latest HLTV rankings feels a tad reactionary, there’s no denying the fact that they’re on a very impressive trajectory since the turn of the year. No longer just the zywOo show, Vitality are very much capable of sticking it to the big boys, something FURIA can’t quite say about themselves just yet. Both teams are growing steadily and making waves in the scene – and this kind of attention tends to attract tougher opposition and anti-strats. The ECS Season 7 finals could mark the first time when these two teams are no longer treated as mere dark horses, and it will be fascinating to see how the Brazilians’ ultra-explosive style matches up with Astralis’ dominant tactical approach.