The finals of the newly revamped ESL Pro League will be taking place at Montpellier, France this year. Moving the group stages to LAN made this the most comprehensive tournament in the circuit and therefore one of the most prestigious to win. This event also comes during a period of transition for CS:GO as old legends are falling and new teams are rising in their place.

Liquid are the favorites

Liquid are the best team in the world. They have the best results of any team in 2019. In their last three tournaments they have won IEM Sydney, got second at cs_summit 4 and won DreamHack Masters Dallas. While people were hesitant to give them the crown, Astralis’ dismal showing at ECS Season 7 Finals has solidified Liquid’s spot as the world’s best team rather than a placeholder until Astralis came back. They have the best individuals in the world, good-to-great teamplay, and a great map pool. Their strength on Overpass, Dust2, and Nuke in particular have pushed them to the top of the CS:GO world.

Astralis' last chance to prove they still belong

Astralis made the decision to take it easy for three months after the Katowice Major. They looked stronger than they ever had before at that event and people believed that they could potentially extend their era to two or even three years. Instead, the Danes took their foot off the pedal. They stopped working out, metaphorically speaking, and ate at the fast food of tournaments, the BLAST Pro Series. They have slowly disintegrated before our eyes. ENCE broke their Nuke streak at BLAST Madrid. They then went to ECS Season 7 where FURIA beat them in a best-of-one and a best-of-three. In both encounters, they lost to the Brazilians on Nuke. After reviewing the games, it’s clear that ring rust has settled in. Strategically and tactically, Astralis are using the correct ideas or plays. However, their skills as individuals and as a team is nowhere close to where they once were.

Luckily for Astralis, some of the bigger teams in CS:GO aren’t in attendance. ENCE and Vitality (who I rank as second and third best right now) are not playing a part and FURIA isn’t here either so they can’t get upset by them again. Astralis must at least make the finals if they want to prove that they are still an elite CS:GO team.

Fnatic: a flawed gem

Fnatic have been up and down. They got to two finals at StarSeries i-League Season 7 and IEM Sydney. Meanwhile, FURIA and Renegades eliminated them at DreamHack Dallas and the Swedes netted a 9-12th placing. While the sample size is smaller, the problem that Fnatic faces is their lack of consistenc, which stems from their lack of structure or tactics. They rely on individual players and their teamwork to win. When it’s working, they look fantastic. When it isn’t, they get bounced out of the tournament early on. As of now, Fnatic are looking for a baseline of level of consistency. As this isn’t a deep tactical team, that consistency must come from the players. Freddy “KRIMZ” Johansson is a rock, so we know he will deliver. As that’s the case, it must come down to players like Jesper “JW” Wecksell and Ludvig “Brollan” Brolin to step up. If they can, then Fnatic can give any team a run for their money.

swedish cs

NRG repeat history as stanislaw replaces daps

It has been three months singe NRG replaced Jacob “FugLy” Medina with Tarik “tarik” Celik. After the move, the team hit a ceiling which they were unable to get past. They got top four at StarSeries i-League Season 7, top four at IEM Sydney, top four at IEM Sydney, 9-12th at DreamHack Dallas, and top four at ECS Season 7 Finals.

The team then decided to repeat history as they removed daps and recruited Peter “stanislaw” Jarguz in his stead. This situation is almost exactly what happened when his old OpTic lineup recruited tarik into the roster,which eventually removed daps as the in-game leader and had stanislaw take over his role. While that move worked in the past, I think this is a large gamble.

Stanislaw is an upgrade in firepower, but that wasn’t NRG’s problem. Their inherent issuess were how their lack of unity in small-man or power play situations. I don’t know how stanislaw coming in fixes that as he prefers a loose style of calling. That works when all five players have aligned CS principles and strong communication. Unfortunately, the latter has been the Achilles heel of this NRG squad. The potential benefit of making this move though is that stanislaw’s tactical style could give NRG a new look that can surprise other teams and perhaps a reshuffling of the system might be the answer they are looking for. We’ll have to see how things play out at this tournament and in the months to come.

Teams with new leaders: North and FaZe

Both North and FaZe have implemented new leadership into their teams. North removed Casper “cadiaN” Moller. Valdemar “valde” Bjorn took up the leadership role and they recruited Jakob “JUGi” Hansen to be their primary AWPer. So far, the move has worked as their individual skill is better than before with relatively good results considering the timeline. Valde became the leader at the beginning of May: one month later, they finished in the top 8 at Dallas and the top 4 at the ECS Season 7 Finals. While the results are good now, we will have to see if they can build on top of that. The hardest part of being the in-game leader is when teams start to adapt and counter your team. That adaptation could start at ESL Pro League Season 9.

neo joins faze

The other team that’s made a recent in-game leader move is FaZe Clan. Filip “NEO” Kubski was brought onto became the new in-game leader of the squad. So far the results are fairly positive as they got top four at DreamHack Dallas. While the result was good, the teams they beat weren’t the best. They had a bo1 win over Windigo, a bo3 over a declining NiP and G2 (admittedly a team on the rise). They also had a competitive series against Liquid in the upper bracket. The best thing I can say about this FaZe lineup is that the firepower outside of Nikola “NiKo” Kovac is coming online.

Oskar’s last ride?

After Mouz benched Tomas “oskar” Statsny, I was wondering what oskar was going to do next. He was one of the best players in 2018 and the star AWPer of Mouz. In the end, he joined HellRaisers. In his official PR statement, he said:

“I wasn’t sure at first though because I really needed a break from CS, but eventually I decided to sign for a short period. I will do my best to not disappoint HR.”

It feels like oskar is closing in on the end of his career as a Counter-Strike pro. As that’s the case, you should watch some of the HellRaisers games at ESL Proleague Season 9 as he is one of the wildest players we’ve seen in CS:GO. We don’t know how much longer he’ll continue playing professional CS, so enjoy it while it lasts.

Resurrecting shox and kennyS

The G2 project to resurrect Richard “shox” Papillon and Kenny “kennyS” Schrub is starting to show signs of life. At DreamHack Dallas, both players reach strong peaks of form in different parts of the tournament. The most memorable was kennyS' overtime game against FaZe in the playoffs where he hit levels of play we haven’t seen from him since 2017.

Outside of the focus on shox and kennyS, the team has built a fairly solid team around them. Lucas “Lucky” Chastang, Audric “JaCkz” Jug, and Francois “AmaNEk” Delaunay generally do their roles fairly well. Both JaCkz and AmaNEk have specialty maps where they become primary win conditions (the former on Overpass, the latter on Train). While G2 have shown progress, I think they have a hard ceiling unless they can get both shox and kennyS consistently playing at superstar levels, despite the multitude of changes made.

The mouz test

It has been three months since Finn “karrigan” Andersen joined mousesports. We’ve already seen some good signs from the team. They finished top 6 at IEM Sydney and won DreamHack Tours. The ESL Pro League Season 9 Finals and ESL One Cologne will be the litmus test for the team to see how good they actually are.

Mouz are in an interesting spot as they have the talent to break into a top 5 placing in the world. It will likely come down to three things: experience, teamplay, and map pool. In terms of experience, you need to look out for Özgür “woxic” Eker, David “frozen” Čerňanský, and Robin “ropz” Kool. The team is built around a young trio of stars, which means that we don’t know how they will react should they get to a big playoff game. The second thing to look out for is teamplay. In their last outing at Dallas, Mouz made a bunch of small pacing or communication errors which top teams could exploit. As for their map pool, they looked strong on Train, Inferno, and Mirage. We have to see how much karrigan has expanded on that in the intervening period as you need to be able to play six of the seven maps in order to be an elite team.