For many Western viewers, the CIS region is the CS:GO equivalent of the twilight zone. And yet, there are quite a few familiar faces amid all the shadows and the confusion, and it turns out that some of the most interesting storylines of this minor cycle will come from this region’s tussle…
All around me are familiar faces
The CIS minor will also mark the return of many fan favorites, even if not exactly under the circumstances they’ve originally captured the imagination of a worldwide audience. While Runtime.gg may not be a household name, starix and seized might as well be: both players spent a significant chunk of time with Na’Vi in the previous years, bringing significant clout to this project.
Not only that, but the fact that starix is willing to continue and experiment as a player after his pseudo-forced coaching stint at the premiere CIS organization is an exciting story by itself. As for seized, many of you will be shocked to learn he’s still only 24 years old: I may have seen like an eternity of a tenure with Natus Vincere, but he could very well have many more chapters in his career going forward. While his trial with Gambit clearly didn’t work out, they would likely rank among the top of the list of players to whom a return to the major stage would mean the most. It’s going to be interesting to see what they can squeeze out of Runtime’s orange logo.
Is there one more miracle in Winstrike Team?
While Krakow was the first major where all our expectations were subverted off the back of the Swiss system, culminating in Gambit’s eventual victory, it was Boston that indeed threw the most curveballs. From Cloud9’s eventual win to the ex-Quantum Bellator Fire side’s top eight finish and Astralis’ early elimination, the ramifications of that crazy tournament are still felt on the Katowice major due to the invite system that stubbornly refuses to consider anything but the performances at the previous event of the same ilk. As such, Winstrike Team still has one shot before sinking without a trace, and the only thing you can point out as a positive is that they’ve already managed to turn the world upside down once before. Keep in mind that they weren’t even guaranteed to be at this stage: their 0-3 record at London meant that they had to re-qualify for the minor itself. Step one’s done and dusted – one has to wonder whether they’ve got anything else in the tank.
Arguably, the story of Gambit is a similar fall from grace, reaching the highest of heights only to make the fall even more painful for both players and fans. With ever-persistent rumors about the organization trying to ditch its CS:GO presence, it’s truly just the occasional inspired performance that keeps this motley crew going. Now that they’ve lost three different players in quick succession – with the departure of AdreN perhaps the most significant loss of all –, they’ve once again got their backs against the wall. This is usually the time when this team pulls off something magical: if they can’t do so again, it could very well spell the end of their major adventures for a very long time.
The ones who cut it close
If the butterfly effect truly exists, one has to wonder how tiny a flap of wings separate Team Spirit and AVANGAR. Both teams were there or thereabouts for the recent majors, but their stories could hardly be different: the Russo-Ukrainian side makes its fifth consecutive appearance at the final qualifying stage, missing out on a Boston adventure by a single series due to losing to the then-QBF side in the final. They did themselves proud in London but couldn’t kick on after qualifying – nevertheless; they’re perhaps one of the likelier candidates to clinch that top two spot here.
Contrast and compare this tale with AVANGAR, aside Team Spirit managed to dispatch on their journey towards London. The Kazakhs (and Jame) infamously missed out on a Legend spot in Boston after losing to QBF in the decider game, then falling short against Team Liquid in the last chance final by the narrowest of margins in overtime. The London minor would pit them against both of the eventual finalists in the playoff bracket as the aforementioned Team Spirit, and HellRaisers would stop them in their tracks. Arguably, their task is a bit easier this time considering the complexion of the field – however, the sting in the tale is the departure of dimasick, a player who has absolutely failed to establish himself as part of the Gambit lineup. One has to wonder which of these sides will manage to string together a decent set of results in the future: none of these teams managed to close the gap with the elite in 2018.
Simulcasts and tinkering
In an interesting development, the organizers opted to run two of the minors at the same time instead of four consecutive mini-events – a sign that Valve and co. keep on experimenting with the setup and format of these tournaments, even if the individual changes are fairly small. While they are fairly conservative in nature and take a while to take effect – just consider how long it took to cull the 0-3 teams of the Legend stage from the subsequent major and how much of a mess that turned out to be due to a lack of seeding –, at least we can take solace from the fact that the men behind the curtain are not resting on their laurels.
Make no mistake, there are many problems with the current major system – a high-variance group stage, the shunning of the prestigious third-party results, the unwarranted equal treatment of regions et cetera –, but at least it’s continuously being iterated upon. Even if these flagship events lost a lot of their shine compared to the other big tournaments in the scene, they clearly aren’t just an afterthought for Valve.
Image Via: Intel Extreme Masters