After an incredibly action-packed September, the action in the CS:GO circuit was fairly low-key so far in comparison, with mostly roster news making waves in the community since the end of StarSeries Season 6. Now it’s time for the action to really return to the servers allowing you to bet on EPICENTER 2018, an eight-team Moscow rumble featuring three of the current top five and a series of exciting pretenders.

Wo ist der Kommandant?

The winner of this event can certainly be proud of making it through this stacked field but their triumph will be marked by a red asterisk nonetheless: Astralis’ recusal means that EPICENTER 2018 will be a textbook case of “the best of the rest”. The battle for the second-in-command spot is in full swing as FaZe, Na’Vi and Liquid get to duke it out once again after ESL One New York. In retrospect, that particular tournament turned out to be an oddity in more ways than one: not only did Mousesports snatch an improbable victory from the jaws of defeat, the other three “big names” actually didn’t meet at any point throughout the event. The shock early eliminations of Na’Vi and FaZe technically place Liquid in pole position for the time being, and it’s clear that the other two squads are struggling with serious internal strife: it remains to be seen how much the rest of the CIS roster is able to keep up with s1mple’s genius and the coup d’etat inside the star-studded international roster is the sort of rebellion that has essentially never worked out in the history of Counter-Strike, at least definitely not in the long run.

Make no mistake, there’s a reason why CS:GO teams accommodate subpar aimers for their tactical prowess, especially when you consider the weight of the IGL role placed upon your star player: the current FaZe setup takes no advantage of karrigan’s capabilities while also limiting NiKo’s impact: it’s  a recipe for disaster in the long run. Say what you will about Zeus’ shooting, he’s certainly been excellent at getting the most out of his teams over the course of his career. While their double defeat to Gambit in New York was quite the upset, this tournament will give us a better idea as to whether we can chalk that one up to the quirks of domestic rivalries.

FaZe at ESL One New York

Pushing forward

Personally, I’ve tagged NiP as the perennial dark horse of the Astralis era: in terms of head-to-head results, they’ve been surprisingly effective in giving a game to the dominant Danes, both their performances and placings rapidly improving since Lekr0’s shift to the IGL role. The Ninjas were unfortunate to miss out on the playoffs in London and were also incredibly close to making the cutoff in Istanbul as they were denied by a resurgent MIBR both times by the finest of margins. Still, you can’t look past their recent disappointments in the online leagues: those kinds of performances will not be enough to make a mark here, even if they are currently nailed-on favorites to make it out of Group B in one of the top spots behind Team Liquid.

Similarly. ENCE can take another major step towards making good on their undeniable promise after their win at StarSeries: clinching a top two spot in Group A may very well prove to be the tougher part of the challenge this time around, even if ESL One New York has clearly shown that both FaZe and Na’Vi are fairly vulnerable. It’s an important goal in terms of progression but not one that’s necessary to make it to the playoffs: the quirks of the format used at EPICENTER 2018 mean that only the last-placed teams are eliminated from the group stage while the winners get a bye in the quarterfinals.

ENCE Win StarLadder i-League

The rest of the rest

It still remains to be seen where HellRaisers belong in the circuit: they finished top eight at the major without beating a single top ten side before making a mess of things at the StarSeries Season 6 finals, failing to make it to the playoffs in a soft field. AVANGAR – incidentally, the last team HellRaisers have managed to beat in a best-of-three series, going back all the way to the CIS minor – can also prove a point here, always being the bridesmaid but never the bride since the Boston major, cutting it close but never quite managing to make a mark. They certainly seem to be ready to break the curse after qualifying for IEM Chicago and picking up a small LAN win as part of the side event in New York under the MSI MGA banner: a top three spot in a four-team group is certainly not out of the question for them, especially with only Liquid representing the big guns on this side of the bracket.

Similarly, this tournament could mark the first step towards redemption for or Swole Patrol, two underwhelming teams that didn’t even manage to live up to their limited potential as of late. The Poles seem to be stuck in permanent limbo, bringing back perennial temporary player morelz after byali’s departure, seemingly making no use of the windfall generated by Snax’s high-profile sale. You can’t help but feel that both of these teams are in transition and it would be very surprising if either of them managed to make a serious impression on the field in Moscow.

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