Who would have expected such an explosive end to the year with all the BLAST-related controversies earlier in 2019? Astralis entered a slump, the top teams kept avoiding each other like a plague, and all but the top four seemed to have fallen off. Instead, we’re getting a spectacularly stacked month to send off the decade that made CS so huge, starting with a barnburner in Arlington as the ECS Season 8 Finals serves as the curtain-raiser for the derbies in December. Here’s what we’ll be looking out for:

There can be only one

For an event that seemed to have lost the prestige wars against ESL’s Pro League, this iteration of the Esports Championship Series is shaping up to be a pretty relevant chapter in the battle for the #1 spot. With Astralis, Team Liquid and Evil Geniuses all in attendance (with a healthy dose of Fnatic added), meaning the top four of the current HLTV rankings are ready to fight it out for the title. With two of them placed in each of the groups, there’s a realistic possibility we’ll see the top four teams in the world in the top four of the playoff bracket – which would be pretty awesome, even if the fact that the opening games are best-of-one could throw a wrench into the works.

Have MIBR turned a corner?

FalleN’s side has not been able to live up to the lofty expectations since the beginning of the MIBR project, and losing coldzera is a body blow that’s tough to recover from no matter who you are. Their recent displays were somewhat promising – then again, that is not exactly saying much, and with the team languishing in 14th place in the HLTV rankings (behind FURIA!), a semi-final finish at CS:GO Asia Championships 2019 and a playoff spot at StarSeries in October has to serve as the beginning of the process, with better showings and finishes in the month of December, or else serious questions need to be asked about the project as a whole. To this day, ZOTAC Cup Masters remains their only event win under the MIBR banner, back in August 2018 against vastly inferior teams.

The sliding doors of Swedish CS

Is it me or NiP and Fnatic always seem to tend in opposite directions? When one finally gets ready to bring in young blood, the other turns to old veterans of the scene. When one shoots up the rankings, the other begins to slide. This time, it seems to be Fnatic’s turn, making back-to-back grand finals (and winning the one in Malmö) off the back of what has to be classified as an admission of error. Golden’s back in the IGL role and Flusha’s presence has also been restored for that long-missing X-factor. Though they’ve only clinched their spot at the ECS Season 8 finals at the last time of asking, they didn’t miss a beat against the minnows, taking down BIG, Tricked and Virtus.pro without dropping a single map. Now they had more time to work out their strategies, but their opponents also have two deep tournament runs’ worth of demos to scrutinize. Have they found a way to beef up their CT sides? If that’s the case, they can be a real threat in Arlington – but it’s tough to see them threatening the top sides if they keep dropping the ball on the defense.

What’s the worth of AVANGAR?

It’s not exactly a controversial statement that AVANGAR’s second-place finish at the Berlin Major was somewhat of a fluke, though the CIS side clearly showed their staying power since with a win at Blast Pro Series Moscow, even if finishing in the semis at DreamHack Open Rotterdam and only beating Heroic at StarSeries i-League Season 8 also proved that they’re not quite ready to mix it with the big boys, even with the qualification to the offline finals of this very event in question. Getting past EG, Liquid and NiP would arguably be an even bigger accomplishment than their major run, especially now that it’s clear looking back that ENCE, Vitality, G2 and (at least on an org level) Renegades were all on the precipice of changes when they ran into them in Berlin.

Photo credit: HLTV

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