It’s always the darkest before dawn, and the long buildup to the Katowice major is finally starting to reach its conclusion. London’s incredible upsets, subtle rule changes, injuries and other drama all came together to set up perhaps the most exciting minor cycle in CS:GO history – but perhaps the spiciest of them all is the European series, the one that historically provides the highest quality of competition – and quite the fallen giant in the form of mousesports.
A return in more ways than one
By far the greatest surprise of the FACEIT Major was the winless collapse of mousesports. It’s safe to say that no one expected the international side to finish 0-3 in London. While they didn’t have the luck of the draw – running into three different top-tier sides in the Swiss bracket – it can’t be argued that the calamity occurred just around the lowest point of the Snax-saddled roster that seemingly failed to get off the starting line at most events. With STYKO restored to his support duties, mouz clearly outclass their opposition here, and it would be absolutely astonishing if they couldn’t restore their major participant status.
…at least that’s what the results and the form table suggests. However, this side was always dogged by doubts about their mental fortitude, often reveling in their underdog status before falling over themselves when they’re expected to win. While it may be unfair to compare this scenario with the team’s shocking failure to even make it out of the groups at the StarSeries Season 6 finals against highly inferior opposition, there’s always a chance that chrisJ and co. find a way to stare into the abyss only to get stunned by what gazes back from the great beyond. For a side that tends to struggle with the straightforward stuff, an event where they are their toughest enemy could actually prove to be a challenge.
The Danish derby
While every Scandinavian side is stuck in the shadow of Astralis, there’s still bragging rights and prestige on the line for the teams fighting for the domestic silver medal – not to mention the tournament invites that come from it. While getting a chance to compete again in the major is clearly on the forefront everyone’s mind here, the possibility of North and OpTic meeting up at some point during the tournament is a tantalizing prospect.
Neither team managed to impress in London – even with North coming fresh off of a shock tournament win in Stockholm and OpTic displaying perhaps the most exciting gameplay during the minors leading up to the main event. With the sky-high level of competition in this field, it’s safe to say that even a re-qualification would go down as an awe-inspiring result by either side. Both projects are looking to justify a set of aggressive roster changes made at the tail end of last year. It should be especially interesting to see whether gade’s decision to jump ship from North turn out to be a justified one or yet another horror story that one of his new teammates, Kjaerbye, could tell him a lot about.
EZ for ENCE?
The Finnish side has quickly become a darling of the competition thanks to a unique story combining old and new plus an exciting brand of play. Barely missing out on the FACEIT Major at the hands of NiP, their tournament wins at StarSeries Season 6 and DreamHack Open Winter 2018 give them quite the calling card going into this tournament, and there’s a good argument to be made that they’re the second favorites behind mousesports in this one.
It’s quite clear by now that the project has got legs – and yet it remains to be seen how they can make the big step up to challenge the top tier of teams. While ENCE stunned mousesports at ESL One Cologne, their record against the higher-rated sides has not been that impressive otherwise. Interestingly enough, they’ve lost out to both North and OpTic in different smaller-scale events in the latter half of 2018, and it should be interesting to see whether they can live up to the hype. Still, with a third-placed spot also offering an opportunity to make it to the big stage, it might just be the tournament where the Finnish squad makes it past the finish line – a repeat of their last performance at this very stage would get them into a reasonably promising consolidation final.
It’s going to be odd looking back at this period of CS:GO’s history where the minors’ format is arguably more skillful than the tournament’s it is supposedly leading up to. With best-of-three series all the way barring the opening matches and a double-elimination setup, it’s a far cry from the one-map Swiss cloud-cuckoo-land craziness that determines so much in the main event. It’s a system that’s been crying out for a revamp ever since its introduction, and while the slow trickle of changes may not be ideal, the introduction of the third-placed playoffs will help alleviate some of the other concerns with the tournament.
One of these sticking points happen to be the even representation of very different regions – a quick look at both HLTV’s top twenty list of both players and teams, not to mention the number of squads lining up for the minor spots in each territory makes the Western hemisphere’s dominance quite clear. However, with the same amount of teams making it into the major from each minor until now, the pervasive narrative was that deserving teams like NRG (and arguably ENCE) kept missing out to make place for pushovers from other regions – even if some of those teams would go on to put up great showings on the main stage.
The third-placed play-in should help to add a bit of clarity in this respect and raise the bar just a little bit higher for a tournament that has lost a lot of its sheen in recent memory due to upset winners (and playoff participants) who would proceed to sink without a trace over the course of the next few months – again, making this one of the most tantalizing minor cycles to date.
Image Via: Intel Extreme Masters