The first day of one of the most prestigious Counter-Strike events is out of the way, and now that some of the smoke has been lifted and we’re no longer blinded by the flashbangs of hype, it’s pretty clear that there are already quite a few interesting storylines developing in the Lanxess-Arena. Want to know what you should be looking out for in order to figure out the lay of the land? Don’t worry: we’ve collected them for you!

Will Faze Clan clinch the Grand Slam title?

Oh, this is the big one. After over a year of slow build-up, we’ve finally reached a point where a team may finally pick up that million-dollar bonus for winning four of the larger ESL/DreamHack-branded tournaments. Faze Clan’s recent win at Belo Horizonte gave them a third title. They don’t have much time left: whenever a championship falls out of their previous ten events under this banner, it won’t count anymore – and unless Faze can win here or in Stockholm’s DreamHack Masters in September, they would stand to lose their win an New York last September.

ESL One Cologne Trophy

The clock is ticking, and this is perhaps the most stacked event out of them all with almost every high-rated team getting a direct invite to the “cathedral of Counter-Strike” for an event with a very decent and relatively low-variance format. There won’t be an undeserved victor here: this trophy won’t come as easily as the last one did at Belo Horizonte.

Is Astralis fallible?

At last, the LAN congestion is slightly less intensive in July than it was in June, meaning that we can finally see all of the top teams in the same offline event in a mouth-watering contest of titans. Astralis have been nothing short of dominant lately, and while their level of performance is excellent enough to stand on its own, it’s certainly worth mentioning that most of their potential rivals are going through an extended period of upheaval. The wider realignment in the scene may not be complete just yet, but it’s closer than it’s been for a long time: an Astralis win here would lay most of the remaining doubts about their potential “era” to rest.

Is the mibr move going to bring stability?

As storied as his career has been so far, fixing a broken machine on such a massive scale is a very new challenge for FalleN. It’s no secret that the move for Stewie2K and the subsequent swap away from Portuguese comms wasn’t their first choice and that their relationship with SK Gaming was strained at least, and completely dysfunctional at worst by the time they finally managed to jump ship. Who knows, if their new organization is actually willing to provide them with training facilities instead of predatory sponsorship deals made behind their backs, they might just be able to take a leap forward.

Can s1mple’s supporting cast step up?

The question is never whether s1mple is going to deliver: he has been the dictionary definition of consistency ever since he elevated his play to the stratosphere. What has sometimes been lacking – sometimes to title-losing effect – was the proper support from his teammates. They may not turn up or they may decide to reserve the only AK-47 for themselves on the force-buy. To be fair, this is something they have improved upon recently:

In a team game like Counter-Strike, it never seems like a good idea to fully build your team around a single godlike individual – except s1mple is actually so great that Na’Vi seem to get away with the concept. Can they make that final leap? That may yet require more than his greatness.

How well can mouz gel?

Another day, another roster change, at least that’s how it seems to go nowadays in the CS:GO scene – and now what seemed like the Moneyball-esque slow-and-steady and effective rebuilding project from mousesports after Niko’s departure is finally entering a new stage. The jury is still out on how Snax will fit in the line-up – it is a true support player they’ve replaced with him after all – but the roster move certainly highlights the fact that they are not going to settle with just being one of the best with the occasional tournament wins: they want to go for the number one spot.

STYKO’s chance for redemption

On the other side of the equation, this provides an excellent opportunity for their ex-player to make his case. Sunny has stated that his former Polish teammate was great, “the team had good chemistry and there’s no bad blood between anyone”, but that they have “reached our ceiling and wanted more”. Ouch! If you need a dictionary definition of damning by faint praise, there’s one right there.

As a dedicated support player, it might be easier for him to play to his strengths in a stand-in role, and there are likely going to be quite a few opportunities available to him, especially as he has already been an integral part of an international lineup. Of course, a strong showing in Cologne wouldn’t hurt his chances – and it would have been very nice if he had picked up that AK on Overpass.

Is it time to take the new-look G2 seriously?

Two impressive wins and a nice display of firepower marked the first day of the re-formed French roster at Cologne – and as impressive as their win over mousesports was, it’s worth remembering that this team was always capable of bringing out the big guns, albeit on an inconsistent basis. It’s looking good so far with this new iteration, but one swallow doesn’t make a summer: enjoy their performances for now, but don’t get too hyped just yet.

Another false dawn for NiP?

It wasn’t that unlikely that NiP would struggle to hold their ground in such a stacked field, but the way they bombed out on the first day was embarrassing even by their own reduced standards. Losing so heavily to ENCE may not be exactly like the nadir of that debacle in the minor qualifier, but no real ruthless competitor would be willing to sacrifice two slots for the veteran effect. As legendary as the old boys of NiP are, it should be clear that they unfortunately cannot keep up at this level – and putting up close to no resistance against Cloud9 with a stand-in and an up-and-coming Finnish roster was quite frankly just embarrassing.

Will Fnatic regret getting rid of Golden?

After basically wasting everyone’s time by playing their ex-IGL as the entry fragger for a few events, it seems like the Swedes have finally managed to make the roster moves they wanted to. For a core that failed to find rejuvenation for two years and only managed to take down a large event by a combination of godlike veteran performances and finally a bit of structure to their approach brought on by their former Academy player, picking up Xizt for such a crucial role that he didn’t seem to excel at for a while now doesn’t seem like a step forward, no matter how much respect they may have for him due to his previous accomplishments.

Still, whatever internal strife’s made the removal of Golden seem like a good idea, they should be gone now. Will that unlock some sort of hidden potential in the team? Most likely not, but it will be interesting to see what the players make from the situation they seemed to have been hell-bent on engineering for a long while.

It may not yet be the time for the young pretenders

With invites going out to basically all of the current top teams, it’s easy to forget about the few that have actually made it to Cologne via qualifying to the event – and with the continued roster changes and upheaval on the higher levels, it made sense to think that they might be able to make their mark right now. While we are guaranteed to have qualifier winners in the lower bracket finals and ENCE's performances have been very impressive so far, it still seems like those HLTV rankings are taken seriously for a reason.