The Storylines Headed Into IEM Sydney

The group stages of IEM Sydney proved to be a rollercoaster ride. A mixture of close games and games that were not so close, topped off with some prime upset material. The Swiss format provided once again in terms of entertainment value and arguably brought the best four teams attending the event to the playoff stages.

For those who missed it, the final four for the IEM Sydney playoffs are:

  • SK Gaming
  • OpTic Gaming
  • FaZe Clan
  • Astralis

 

The first match of the semifinals will be OpTic vs. SK Gaming.

This match up is likely going to be a good series to watch, considering what each team has been through the past few months prior to this event.

OpTic Gaming – A Time of Trial

These past few months for OpTic might as well be dubbed as trial time for OpTic. After a very successful run towards the end of 2016, where they captured the ELEAGUE Season 2 title, the Northern Arena Montreal Title and topped off with a runners up spot at ECS Season 2. For the most part, OpTic looked consistent in their form, which is something that is quite rare in North America.

The new year brought new things for OpTic, and not the good kind of new. We would see stanislaw depart OpTic Gaming sometime after the ELEAGUE Major. This obviously left OpTic in a very, very tough spot. Stanislaw’s calling, particularly his mid game calling at the time, was considered to be one of the best.

OpTic since then have tried out Hiko and peacemaker, in the form of player and coach respectively, and fREAKAZOID for some online matches. Hiko’s trial run with OpTic was not the best in the offline tournaments and fREAKAZOID’s brief online stint with the side proved to yield some results.

The news that JasonR would stand in until OpTic found their permanent 5th came to light, and shortly after they would also announce hazed as their coach, also on a temporary basis. This turned out to be the best route for OpTic, after the previous trial and error. OpTic looked more consistent online, and then when they hit the offline tournament cs_summit, for the most part OpTic looked decent, beating teams such as EnVyUs, Team Liquid and Cloud9, before losing out to Gambit 2:1 in a BO3 in the loser bracket semifinals.

It then turned out that JasonR was unable to attend IEM Sydney, and hazed would be playing at the event. Since their arrival in Sydney, OpTic have looked decent for the most part, losing out to North in double OT in their opening group map before beating ViCi Gaming, Chiefs, then losing to FaZe and finally beating Chiefs again to qualify, as per the Swiss system.

OpTic’s slow start to their tournaments may prove detrimental, but they have looked comfortable in their victories. Their loss against North was a closely contested battle for the most part.

Hazed brings a veteran element to this team, as a player or as a coach. As a player, he has experienced games against the world’s best teams, and would bring the veteran experience to a team that more than likely needs it. OpTic is a younger team all around, and despite players such as tarik having competed internationally on multiple occasions as well, having someone like hazed around would provide a calming element to the team, and the leadership that these multi-talented players need in order to unlock themselves and essentially unleash themselves onto the other team.

It certainly has been a trial and error time for OpTic for the most part, however, it’s looking more like a trial and success at the moment, ever since their performance at cs_summit and their semifinals berth at IEM Sydney.

Whilst the last month and few weeks could have been considered successful, how they fare against SK will be the ultimate test. SK have had their own dip in form recently, but during cs_summit, they looked like they had regained the form that they had before.

The OpTic players will be looking to leave their mark on IEM Sydney, and a definite way to do so would be to beat SK Gaming just as they regained their form, and with hazed leading them, it is entirely possible.

This match up, depending on how it ends, could cement this short trial period with hazed as an overall great success.

SK Gaming – Revitalisation

At the start of the year, SK Gaming made a very, very  impressive run at the major with their stand-in, the Portuguese AWPer fox. Placing in the top 4, SK Gaming surprised many. Fast forwarding to Dreamhack Vegas with their new addition felps, who replaced fnx, They placed 2nd, losing out to Virtus.Pro, who seemed hungry for success after falling short in the ELEAGUE Major finals to Astralis.

It had looked like it was going to be another dominant year for SK Gaming, another year where they placed high and threatened all of the teams around them, both domestically and internationally. The two time major champions actually looked like nothing had changed for the most part.

Until their dip in form.

In their next two offline events in the following two months after Dreamhack Vegas, SK Gaming looked shaky. They were eliminated in the group stages of IEM Katowice, recording wins against North and Heroic only. They lost to Cloud9, Na’Vi and VP. Aside from the Cloud9 BO1, their losses were relatively close. 16-12 to Na’Vi and 16-14 to VP. In a group that consisted of Cloud9, Heroic, North, Na’Vi, VP and SK, many would have picked SK to go through alongside some of the better European sides in that group.

This was not the case.

Another group stage elimination at Starladder i-League StarSeries finals would occur, where SK lost to G2 on Overpass, Astralis on Train and FaZe on Train. SK managed to record two wins against TyLoo and VP, which were both on Mirage.

There was a notable slump in form from FalleN. One of the best AWP players in the world, coupled with a great in game leading mind, many regarded FalleN as the best player in both of those categories. A slump in form was obviously going to happen, but when it was going to happen was the question. The slump in form was bad, FalleN missed shots he would have hit on any other day. It was looking rocky for him on a personal performance level.

cs_summit would prove to be the turnaround tournament for SK, where things finally felt they were in place for the Brazilian side once again. They looked strong. They started at the top and stayed there. Ousting Team EnVyUs 2-0 on their opening match up, followed up by a 2-1 against Cloud9, a 2-0 against Gambit and then a 3-1 against Gambit in the BO5 finals.

SK Gaming were able to turn around their slump in a quick manner and assert themselves as one of the world’s best once again. FalleN was hitting his shots and then some. SK looked confident all round and the confidence was carried half way across the world down to Sydney, where they 3-0’d in the group stages of IEM Sydney, beating teams like ViCi, Astralis and North to be the first team to qualify for the playoffs.

The story line of a brief slump and revitalisation is worth noting, largely due to the thought that it may last longer than two offline tournaments. SK have always looked good online and their form continued in the ESL Pro League, but they were lacking something offline. Now that they’ve found their confidence offline once again, they will be looking to claim the OpTic scalp to assert their dominance over the North American scene, as well as asserting themselves on the international scene once again.

FaZe Clan – The Hitmen and the Mastermind

The term hitman, or hitmen is used in a lighthearted and humorous context. Mastermind could be taken in a more serious context.

Thinking about it, aside from rain, none of these players really fit into their team too.

NiKo was a tier or two above the mousesports roster, constantly held into mediocrity. When Iowel arrived, the team started to seem a little bit better but for the most part, NiKo was doing most of, if not all the heavy lifting for the side.

karrigan, after being a core member of the former TSM and now Astralis roster for so long, was benched and eventually removed, joined FaZe and instantly made them a better team, largely due to the fact that they had received the guidance that they so desperately needed.

kioshima was dubbed the problem by EnVyUs and FaZe, being benched by both teams. However, FaZe brought him back to the active line up.

Allu has also had his fair share of teams, but it finally looks like he has settled down at FaZe, and is performing quite well for the mixed European side.

The title misfits probably would have been more fitting, but to a degree it would have been disrespectful.

The hitmen and the mastermind seems more fitting, because that is essentially what it is. Ever since karrigan’s arrival, prior to NiKo, the team was a bunch of players that had all the right tools to be great, but they were not. They were not considered to be heavyweight contenders for any international title, largely due to the fact that they did not have any form of leadership.

There was no structure.

Enter karrigan. As soon as karrigan entered the fray, the team already looked structured. Their results improved almost instantaneously. They had a top 4 finish at the IBUYPOWER Masters, IEM Oakland and ELEAGUE Season 2. After the results were lacking at the major and at the Dreamhack Vegas event, another change was made, where NiKo was brought in for aizy, who left for North.

Any team that acquired NiKo would instantly become an international force, and that’s what FaZe became.

A 2nd place finish at IEM Katowice, and then a 1st place finish at the StarSeries LAN showed that FaZe were contenders from the word go. FaZe went from a team that could maybe contend for titles, to a team that can and will continuously contend for titles.

Now that FaZe has had time to sit down and practice with NiKo, they are likely going to be a force to reckon with throughout the year, provided this roster sticks with each other. At the moment, they are likely the team that will take the fight to Astralis in close matches that will go back and forth.

We have seen what FaZe can do with a bit of structure, but now that they have NiKo, they are absolutely lethal, and it has shown already.

The development and shaping of FaZe Clan’s CS roster took time. With time came the eventual structure, and with time came one of the best players in the world.

Four hitmen and one mastermind threw FaZe into international contention.

The development of this roster has been incredible.

 

Astralis – The Stars

There’s a lot that can be said about Astralis. A team that was dubbed for great things internationally under the TSM banner, and even under the Astralis banner, was never able to do much.

Exit karrigan.

Enter gla1ve.

It’s almost kind of funny how that works. One in game leader that’s been with them for a while leaves and makes another team so much better, elevates them to another level so to speak.

gla1ve comes in, like karrigan, a fresh face to a new team and does wonders. An instant hit. A top 4 finish at IEM Oakland, 2nd place at ELEAGUE Season 2, 1st place at ECS Season 2, 1st place at ELEAGUE’s Major in 2017, a top 4 finish at Dreamhack Vegas, 1st place at IEM Katowice and a 2nd place finish at the StarSeries LAN.

It’s safe to say that gla1ve has done tremendous things with this team, and these results are why they are the best team in the world.

They have also been incredibly consistent, which makes them that much more concerning for anyone who will play them.

A team that was dubbed for great things is now great.

After one change.

Astralis coming up against FaZe is more than likely going to be a grudge match now, especially in the knockout stages of the tournament. In the previous two tournaments, FaZe has one tournament victory, and so does Astralis, with the other team being the runner up behind them. It definitely will be interesting to see who will come out on top this time in Sydney in a BO3.

Astralis are the stars of this tournament, their astronomical and sudden rise is nothing to laugh about and should be taken very seriously.

The question remains – are the stars the limit, or will they be able to keep pushing past the stars and continue writing their own tale about their astronomical rise?

 

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