Though the Pro League finals were undoubtedly the biggest event of December, the race between tournament organizers for the coveted year-ending spot led to a car crash of a schedule with quite a few more events coming up in rapid succession. From a fan perspective, this is all good – but what to make of the prospects of the different teams, scattered across the wind and continents playing at very different events after going up against one another in Odense? Here’s all you need to know going into the two tournaments starting later today.
What a mess this year has been for RFRSH. A slate of poor PR, tone-deaf decisions, a catastrophic event in LA, an outright cancelled one in Lisbon, plus having to cut Astralis loose, at least on the baseline level. With this, they limp into the global final after a circuit of six overall events, a double-elimination best-of-three bracket where the seeding gifted us yet another Astralis-Liquid match in the semis.
It’s pretty much an open secret at this point that f0rest is slated to join the Dignitas project alongside his old partner in crime GeT_RiGhT, and the continued uncertainties about the roster clearly had its effect on the side. There’s no getting around the fact that Ninjas have been woefully inconsistent since the player break. Crashing out of the Berlin Major, failing to qualify for the Pro League finals, not even making top four amongst the minnows at the V4 event: singularly awful results. Their spot at the ECS Season 8 finals came off the back of wins over Heretics, BIG and m1x, with a solitary win over AVANGAR all they had to show for their efforts.
And yet, they made it to the playoffs of back-to-back big LANs, losing to Fnatic in Malmö and scoring a best-of-three win against Evil Geniuses at StarSeries & i-League Season 8 Finals before somehow finding a way to lose to MIBR. The holding pattern can’t last much longer, and they are clearly by far the weakest team at the event. Though FaZe are there for the taking, the realistic goal has to be an early elimination without humiliation.
Prediction: 4th place
Weirdly, it already almost feels appropriate to talk about this FaZe lineup in the past tense. What have they accomplished together since the arrival of coldzera? Not much. What are the chances they can conjure some sort of team spirit or line up behind a real IGL? Again, not much. What are their chances at the BLAST Pro Series global finals? I’ll leave this one up to you, dear reader.
Boy oh boy would it be hilarious if they found a way to lose to NiP though.
Prediction: 3rd place
What to make of Liquid as a whole? Say what you will about their Scrödinger’s era which seems to change its state based on observation, they did go on an incredible run of LAN series wins while Astralis was mostly dormant. And yet, with the Danes winning both majors of the year, once again racking up a dominant overall scoreline against them by the end of 2019, you have to wonder whether their accomplishments will be treated as a mere intermezzo. Worse yet, there’s the real possibility they might be thinking the same way themselves. NAF pretty much hints at this in his wide-ranging interview with HLTV, all but handing over the crown to Astralis in their direct matchup. Liquid’s rise and fall seems to closely match their confidence levels, and one has to wonder whether they can find their mojo again. Going out in the quarterfinals in Odense won’t help that. No matter what, it will be fun to watch them go up against the Danes again. Those games are always exciting.
Prediction: 2nd place
In some ways, it’s just another sign of greatness that a semi-final finish is treated as a huge disappointment. Besides, gla1ve and co. have a historically bad record on home soil, and the way they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory had a lot to do with the fact that they ran up against their ex-IGL who completely got into their head at the tail end of the series.
In the final analysis, Astralis’ performance here will determine whether all this is just spin or a realistic assessment of their showing at the Pro League finals. They are not back to their pristine best, but in most cases, it was more than enough. With a great individual matchup against Liquid and two vastly inferior teams on the other side of the bracket, this is their event to lose.
Prediction: 1st place
Though it’s much more of a fun, laid-back event with a fun atmosphere and a lot of best-of-one matches, it’s worth keeping an eye on this one as well. Last time around, Vitality pretty much announced their arrival to the top tier with a win over Liquid, and this outing is made all the more interesting by OG’s debut and mousesports’ massive increase in stature off the back of their title run at Odense.
It’s tough to gauge the overall potential of the OG side. An undeniably great in-game leader and a reliable support player, both with a lot to prove: it seemed like a start of a top-tier setup when the rumors began to pile up after the Berlin Major.
Then the rest of the names came in.
This is not meant to be a diss on valde and ISSAA, players brimming with potential but not exactly bolstering a cabinet full of top-tier performances, let alone trophies. And then there’s mantuu, the unknown unknown of the side, who clearly wasn’t their first choice to round out the quintet. An odd international mix that took a lot longer to assemble than expected and isn’t exactly what they planned from the start – in some ways, this would be reason enough to dismiss this enterprise. However, Aleksib has a proven track record of making something out of nothing, and it will be fascinating to see what he managed to assemble from these parts. A strong showing here would be a sign of real intent – and the opposite would kill pretty much all the hype.
Prediction: 2nd place
It doesn’t look like the gamble is working out: G2’s move to an international roster, swooping in for the best players of the overperforming CR4ZY lineup was so crazy it might just have worked. The results, however, are just not there, with the team being less than a sum of its parts. Like so many post-2015 French sides, it’s tough to pinpoint why it’s not coming together, but the results and the performances are simply not there. Losing to ATK at the Pro League finals was just embarrassing, especially the way they collapsed on Inferno. Even with a strong showing here, ocelote might just pull the trigger and try something new in 2020.
Prediction: 3rd place
Looks like MIBR couldn’t get their hands on any of these players, so that has to be considered a plus from the organization’s side. Still, you can’t shake the feeling that these exciting young Brazilians have been found out, even with their decent StarSeries showing in mind. They couldn’t even make the playoffs at DreamHack Open Winter and failed to qualify for either the ECS or the EPL league finals, losing out to Sharks in both cases. They will have to compete with their coach as a stand-in due to HEN1’s visa issues, which pretty much makes this a non-event for them. Normally, you’d expect them to upset MIBR, where FalleN is no doubt busy incorporating his new Argentinian toy, but under these circumstances, this one might just be a write-off.
Prediction: 5th place
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It feels like FalleN’s losing control. The most optimistic reading of the Brazilian legend’s recent travails is that he lacks the kind of total authority he used to enjoy with his previous projects, chopping and changing lineups whenever he deemed necessary and having the full domestic talent pool to choose from. Now, we had two Cloud9 expats who didn’t work out (and are thriving elsewhere), rumors of failed moves for superstars like s1mple and NiKo, a likely failure to secure the signatures of FURIA players and a gamble on a 17-year-old youngster from Sharks. Ignoring the obvious irony of an Argentinian playing under the Made in Brazil banner, one has to wonder whether he’ll be the one eaten alive as this team tries to establish a new identity.
Prediction: 4th place
Winning the Pro League pretty much means that mouz will consider the job done for the year, and with good reason. It was a monstrous run through the hardest possible bracket, and though they did bend, karrigan’s young side didn’t break under the pressure. Now, with a post-victory high and a stand-in for one of their star players, no one would fault them for taking their foot off the gas. However, karrigan clearly puts a premium on teaching his players how to win, and considering he has done it in the past with stand-ins, they are still to be considered favorites in this somewhat diminished field.
Prediction: 1st place
Why are they here? We’re all just waiting for Godot, or rather, the AVANGAR players to sign. Before winning the V4 event, this team was 90th in the world rankings. Let that sink in. Clearly, they themselves will sink without a trace as well – the only question is how embarrassing the process will be.
Prediction: 6th place
Photo credit: HLTV