ESL One Cologne: Preview & Predictions

ESL One: Cologne kicks off on the 4th of July, 2017 and will run until the 9th of July. The event, hosted at the Lanxess-Arena, is a $250,000 tournament. A total of sixteen teams will be attending to fight for their share of the prize pool, as well as fighting for the lucrative championship.

The sixteen teams attending are certainly an interesting mix, and are listed below:

  • Cloud9
  • FaZe Clan
  • Fnatic
  • G2 Esports
  • Immortals
  • mousesports
  • Natus Vincere
  • Ninjas In Pyjamas
  • North
  • OpTic Gaming
  • SK Gaming
  • Virtus.pro
  • Team Liquid
  • Heroic
  • Space Soldiers
  • TyLoo

The tournament will feature the Swiss format in the group stage. Eight teams will then battle it out in a best of three playoff stage, right up until there are two teams remaining in the grand final, which will be contested as a best of five series.

Out of these sixteen teams, the eight teams that should qualify for the playoffs are as follows:

  • FaZe Clan
  • G2 Esports
  • SK Gaming
  • Team Liquid
  • Virtus.pro
  • Immortals
  • mousesports
  • North

Let’s kick off the explanations with:

FaZe Clan

FaZe have been on a team on the up ever since the arrival of karrigan. They were a team, throughout the various iterations of the team, that failed to make playoffs for tournaments and were never really considered a team that could potentially contend for titles or challenge the top tier teams. After many changes, and the eventual arrival of karrigan, the team now had the leader that their heavy firepower needed, and they were immediately possible contenders for titles – constantly placing in the top 3-4 of the tournaments they were apart of, barring the ECS Season 2 Finals and the ELEAGUE Major at the end of 2016 and the start of 2017 respectively.

The arrival of NiKo elevated them above that tier of possibility and made them a certain contender. After the arrival of the Bosnian beast, FaZe placed in four consecutive grand finals – placing 2nd at IEM Kaotwice, placing 1st at StarLadder Finals, placing 2nd at IEM Sydney and then placing 2nd at the ECS Finals.

FaZe Clan’s opening match is against Heroic. Whilst it is essential that Heroic are not underestimated, it still should be a comfortable win for the European mix.

FaZe are one of the strongest teams present at the tournament, and them making the playoffs is at this stage would be a bare minimum expectation.

G2 Esports

The French superteam is finally together. A team that is rife with incredible talent, the French side was built in order to dominate. It did take them a while to get off the ground, but after a top four finish at Dreamhack Austin and a win at Dreamhack Tours, the super side were able to earn their first tier one international tournament victory at the ESL Pro League Finals in Dallas. They then headed to the ECS Finals in London, and were put in a tough group, alongside teams such as FaZe and SK – both of which had rather dominant and consistent international runs throughout the first few months of 2017 up until this point.

Despite the star studded lineup of G2, one of the more interesting players in the French side is bodyy. Bodyy has revealed himself to be a solid, consistent, mechanically and fundamentally sound player. He is a player that will more or less consistently perform throughout G2’s matches, and was largely evident during their Pro League run, particularly in the finals, where he pulled out some amazing work and mixed well with his teammates for some spectacular teamplay to ensure G2 secured the round. It feels like that, despite the names in the squad, bodyy has become an essential player in this line up, and is someone the team can always rely on to perform in a variety of complex situations.

Their opening match is against the Chinese side, TyLoo. TyLoo are internationally experienced, however, in comparison to G2 they should cause them little to no trouble.

SK Gaming

SK Gaming, as mentioned on many occasions, are a team that seemingly lost their dominant form in the earlier stages of the year – after a dip in FalleN’s performances & a dip in general form, the team was knocked out of IEM Katowice and the StarLadder Finals in the group stages, only to make a resurgence at cs_summit, IEM Sydney, and later on ECS Season 3, winning all of those tournaments.

It could be said that SK Gaming have been revitalised. They have been on a tremendous run as of recent and are looking incredibly dangerous. Coldzera and fer are looking incredibly dangerous at the moment, felps is playing at an incredibly consistent level, FalleN is hitting the shots & TACO is an incredible entry fragger. SK Gaming are talented all round, there is no doubt that they are one of the most structured, skilled and tactically deep sides in the game.

However, their first match in Cologne is against Space Soldiers. Whilst Space Soldiers are relatively unknown in terms of the international scene, it feels like they are a side that boast a tremendous amount of talent, and are a side that should not be underestimated. It should be a victory for SK, but it wil be interesting to see how the Turkish side perform against the 2x major champions.

Team Liquid

The North American side have made some roster changes recently, with the departure of Hiko, the addition of stanislaw, the departure of Pimp and the arrival of Twistzz. It has taken some time for the side to gel, with disappointing finishes at cs_summit and Dreamhack Austin. However, they have impressed as of late with their top four finish at the ESL Pro League Finals. Although that finish was impressive, what was more impressive to me was the fact that Liquid were able to head over to ECS and beat Fnatic in a group decider, but on top of that take a map off of Astralis in their second group decider match.

They were able to take Overpass off of the Danish side in a convincing manner, winning 16-9. Overpass is one of Astralis’ better maps, and for them to be able to take off one of the best maps from one of the best teams in the world is a phenomenal feat.

Team Liquid are looking like they are shaping up nicely. With someone like stanislaw, they have that reliable and solid mid round calling element, as well as an in game leader that can contribute to the scoreboard. A player like Twistzz on the other hand is definitely an upgrade from Pimp in terms of firepower. Whilst Twistzz is already an incredibly talented player, he can be seen as a long term investment overall, and someone that has the potential to develop into an incredibly sound and consistent player with the talent and experience around him, as well as the knowledge behind him – in the form of zews.

Liquid have the leadership inside and outside of the server, as well as the firepower to succeed.

Liquid’s line up, from talent outside of the server to the talent inside the server definitely has the capability to succeed internationally. Their first match is against Na’Vi. The last time these two sides met was at the ESL Pro League Finals in Group B, where Liquid lost 16-4 on Train. Although it depends on the map, it definitely will not be a repeat of the group stage in Dallas, and Liquid could escape with a win against Na’Vi, who have been struggling for form recently.

Virtus.Pro

The veteran Polish side have had a rollercoaster year so far – 2nd at the ELEAGUE Major, 1st at Dreamhack Vegas, 7-8th at IEM Katowice and 12-14th at the StarLadder Finals. They then went on to play Astralis for the ELEAGUE: Clash for Cash, which was a major finals rematch in the form of a showmatch. They managed to pull one map away from Astralis – a 16-7 on Nuke, however were belted on Overpass and Mirage 16-4 and 16-3 respectively.

They then headed to the Adrenaline Cyber League offline tournament, and managed to win out, beating HellRaisers 2-1 in the semifinals and then conquering Na’Vi 2-1 in the finals to win the tournament. Whilst this might not be an accurate representation of Virtus.Pro’s form by any means, it could act as a springboard, in terms of confidence level, as they head into Cologne and the major after the fact.

Virtus.Pro are a veteran side, and are a roster that elect to fix their problems internally as opposed to seeking an answer externally. It will be interesting to see how well the Polish side has prepared for this event, and whether or not the LAN win at the Adrenaline tournament plays into their confidence. They did look strong on Mirage against Na’Vi, despite getting rocked by Astralis at the Clash for Cash.

VP’s opening match is against Immortals, who have been on their own run of form as of recent with their new addition, kNg. This match will be a stern test for VP for sure, as it will give an indication of what is to come, and will be a measurement of VP’s preparation for this tournament. I feel like VP can pull away with the win, but it will be a tight game – especially given the Immortals’ short run of form.

Immortals

Immortals are a side that look renewed and refreshed ever since the addition of kNg. Despite a poor finish at the Pro League Finals, the Brazilians did bounce back and were able to place 2nd at the PGL Minor & place in the top four for Dreamhack Summer. kNg started his tenure on Immortals with a bang, impressing many with his general skill.

Although the Immortals’ run of form has been short, and neither of them were at overall tier one events, they are a side that should not be ignored, and are a side that can do tremendous damage at a tournament like Cologne, especially with their recent change.

Overall, Immortals are a side that have the experience and have the talent to succeed. Their shortcomings on a tier one level internationally are concerning, however, with the change of fnx for kNg, their internal issues seem to be resolved, and it will be interesting to see just how well they are able to perform against teams that are used to the highest level of competition. On top of that, it will be the first actual test for their new addition, and will probably give a more accurate measure of his performance capabilities.

mousesports

The mixed European side have gone from a team that was frustrating, and almost boring to watch during the NiKo era, to a team that is exciting and rather interesting to watch. During the NiKo era, mouz were frustrating to watch because it was a one man show, and without him they failed to perform. Of course, it was lovely to see a display of NiKo’s skill, but that is all that it felt like. It simply felt like a one man show that was not going anywhere.

Then, NiKo left and mouz made changes – chrisJ returned to the active line up and ropz joined in replacement of Spiidi. It was natural initially to not expect much from mouz, but with the addition of ropz, they started turning heads. They were impressive at the Pro League Finals, going 4-1 in the group stages and losing out to SK in the quarterfinals. It was an impressive showing from the team all round, but the standout was ropz. This was his first tier one event, and he was able to perform at an incredible level. Despite mousesports placing in the top four at Dreamhack Tours, it was not until the Pro League Finals that people considered mouz to be a team on the up after losing one of the best players in the world.

mousesports are a side with loads of potential, but, for the most part the two players in the mixed side to watch are oskar and ropz. Oskar is an incredibly talented player that’s able to pop off at any given time. On the other hand, you have ropz, a young talent that can be shaped into an incredible player. The players surrounding them are intelligent, and for the most part reliable – particularly lowel.

mousesports’ opening match is against Fnatic. Fnatic are a side that have been struggling for form lately, and seemingly struggling for confidence. Provided mouz have practised well for this event, they should be able to trump a side that is seemingly a shadow of their former selves.

North

North are a side that boast a tremendous amount of talent, but are lacklustre in their results. They are a side that should be challenging top teams for titles, but have not been. In short, they are serial underperformers. Their finish at IEM Katowice was disappointing, as was their placing at the StarSeries Finals. Their elimination at the hands of Chiefs ESC at the IEM Sydney group stages. They looked better at the ESL Pro League Finals, placing 2nd, losing out to G2 3-1 in a best of five.

North’s run in the Pro League Finals could have been considered “easy” to an extent, however, their ability to place high at a tier one international event shows that they are able to perform, but now it’s a matter of performing against the best.

In this tournament in particular, there are a lot of sides that have not played at a tier one international level, or have had a lack of exposure to top tier events, as well as sides that have undergone recent roster changes.

Their opening match is against OpTic, a side that has gone through their own roster changes as of recently. They should be able to beat the North Americans quite comfortably, and North overall have the capacity to qualify to the playoff stages of this tournament. Once they get to the playoffs, it might be difficult for North, provided they come up against a side that has been on a hot run of form. However, they should qualify from the groups.

The teams to watch?

We’ve gone through the teams that can, and should qualify from the group stages, but what about the teams to look out for?

Space Soldiers

Space Soldiers head to one of the biggest stages in Counter Strike history for the first time. It is also the first time that they will compete at a tier one international event. They do have a lot of talent in that side, in particular XANTARES. This is a player that time and time again has shown that he is exceptional and that he can perform, but it will be interesting to see how they do against some of the best teams in the world. Their opening match is against SK Gaming. This is a game where they can go in and give a good account of themselves.

Overall, Space Soldiers are a team to watch, because it will be interesting to see if they are able to live up to the hype behind them, and it will be interesting to see what kind of level they will reach during their time in Cologne.

TyLoo

TyLoo made an interesting, but reasonable decision, and that was to add peacemaker as a coach. Whilst peacemaker’s reputation may have been hurt due to recent events at Misfits, his coaching resume is somewhat impressive, including a major finals appearance with Team Liquid, a top four placing at ESL One New York with Liquid and a 2nd place finish with Tempo Storm at Dreamhack Austin.

Peacemaker is an authoritarian coach that wants to implement his style and his system. The my way or the highway attitude did not work out well, particularly at Misfits, where the end of his time there came after a disappointing finish at the minor due to a seemingly irrational and almost irresponsible roster change.

Whilst players in North America, and even players in Brazil would generally disagree with that because his specific style or system may not fit with their strengths or their in game leaders’ preference, it would fit well with a team like TyLoo.

TyLoo are a team that has seemingly lacked tactical structure and discipline. They have overextended and made mistakes that, in reality, should not be made in higher level, professional Counter Strike. Hiring peacemaker was a smart decision because he is a coach that can provide them with some tactical structure, as well as ironing out those simple mistakes. His authoritarian style also fits well with TyLoo because of the respect they already give him and the trust they place in him.

It definitely will be interesting to see how TyLoo shape up come Cologne, and whether or not they will enter the competition with a more disciplined approach, in terms of less mistakes being made and slightly more tactical depth.

Ninjas In Pyjamas

The Ninjas bid farewell to the king of banana, Friberg and added REZ to their side. NIP have not played in an offline tournament since cs_summit, and it will be interesting to see how they shape up without the core member of their side, and with their new addition.

Furthermore, there are questions to be answered, such as, how are they using REZ? Is he going to be integrated into the already established system, or are they open to working around his strengths, thus changing up their style and their system? There are, of course, many more questions to be answered, however, the key ones are going to revolve around REZ and NIP’s system.

Whilst I generally do not expect much of them from this tournament, it will be interesting to see how prepared they are in this tournament, and it will be interesting to observe whether or not NIP has changed anything, or whether or not they need to change more after the string of events in Europe.

 

ESL One Cologne kicks off on the 4th of July, and will run through until the 9th of July.

Header photo credit: ESL

 

 

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