With the European and CIS minors out of the way, the spotlight is now turned on the Americas and Asia’s representatives. Just like its EU counterpart, the American minor features a team – and a player – that arguably shouldn’t have to grind through this stage in order to get a ticket to Katowice: all eyes will be on NRG and karrigan to see what they can accomplish, especially in light of mouz’s catastrophic collapse a few days ago. Beyond these storylines, the depth of the Brazilian scene will be tested here, just like the mettle of Bravado amidst their fight for financial survival.
An energetic return
One of the unexpected twists of the last minor cycle was NRG’s failure to qualify for London despite a set of impressive performances in the third-party circuit. Since then, they’ve gone strength to strength on LANs, and even though they still aren’t regular challengers of the top dogs per se, it truly seems unthinkable that daps and co. would miss out on the major again, especially with the two extra slots on offer thanks to the third-place play-ins.
Of course, they might end up meeting the very team in the playoffs that eliminated them the last time around – eUnited –, at least where the core players are concerned. Beyond the arrival of FNS, there’s another interesting quirk to consider about that side: the decision to use clerkie, their general manager as their replacement their coach who they’ve decided to release on December 23rd. “Pretty hype to try what has been used at my Maryville teams at the professional level” – he wrote recently on Twitter, and it’s certainly going to be interesting to see how he can cope with the task.
Can karrigan carry Envy to victory?
For an in-game leader with the clout of karrigan’s, a move from FaZe to Team Envy, however temporary, must feel like a slap in the face. (For reference, he was forced to abdicate from the fifth-highest rated team in the world for one whose core hasn’t even hit top thirty at any point of its history per HLTV.) It’s tough to imagine anyone holding a bad performance against him under these circumstances: Envy has not made any waves since the organization returned to CS:GO, though the fact that they’ve managed to swat Rogue aside in the closed qualifiers might warrant at least some optimism. With a top three spot giving you a chance to progress from the minor, it’s not entirely out of the question that karrigan can steer them through these treacherous ravines, at least as long as they’ve managed to establish some sort of team chemistry off the back of this unexpected move in less than three weeks’ time.
In any case, with quite a few teams crying out for a competent IGL – beyond the many non-Astralis Danish prospects, Fnatic instantly spring to mind –, it would truly be a shock if he would have to take such a massive step down the ladder on a permanent basis. This is an interesting test case nonetheless: how much of an impact can an elite in-game leader have with subpar players against a lower-level team? Keep an eye out on Envy’s T-side mid-round calls, something which hasn’t been karrigan’s strongest suit in the past.
An interesting subplot of the Americas minor is the prevalence of Brazilian players: unlike in London where only Não Tem Como and FURIA eSports represented the country, this event will feature four teams with nineteen players across them. FURIA made one roster change in the meantime and they have to hope that they can improve on a catastrophic performance from last time around – meanwhile, NTC may have gone bust and only a fraction of its roster stuck together, but kNg and bit will have another shot at redemption under the INTZ banner.
As if their task wasn’t tough enough already, the latter now have to scramble to cope with the loss of felps to MiBR. The team hasn’t even dropped a single map in the South American closed qualifiers, suggesting they’re quite competent in the context of the crowded Brazilian domestic scene at least, but the fact that they failed to make any sort of an impression at the ESL Pro League Season 8 finals in December even before this forced lineup change seems to indicate that they’re a long way off from challenging the top tier of international competition.
Rounding out the field are the interesting anomaly that is Team One – a North American organization opting to field Brazilian and Argentinian players – and Imperial e-Sports (a capital e and a hyphen, really?!). Imperial’s foray into Counter-Strike began by picking up the previous roster of Santos e-Sports, the football club of the same name, at the tail end of last year. They could potentially make a very quick return on their investment into CS:GO with a breakout performance here.
Playing to survive
It’s tough to objectively evaluate Bravado Gaming and Project Destiny. The South African side decided to move their squad to the US in a bid to increase the level of competition available to them and now they can’t foot the bills, opting for Indiegogo to raise enough money for three months’ worth of expenses while negotiations continue. The fact that this seems to be the best way to generate thirty thousand dollars – a pittance in the world of venture capital funding, especially with interest in the world of gaming at an all-time high – is not exactly a promising sign of the project’s long-term prospects. In fact, despite a fairly concerted push by esteemed members of the community, they’re still only just about halfway with nine days to go at the time of writing, and that’s already off the back of a time extension by the crowdfunding platform. If an esports project with such a unique setup can’t convince investors, something’s likely off on the corporate side of things. (Personally, I find the error-ridden Indiegogo campaign pitch a red flag, not to mention the fact that their own social media promotion involves re-sharing the same one article over and over again.)
It’s rare that we get to see a team literally playing for their survival – realistically speaking, sticker money would be a good start, but it won’t solve their problems on its own. You just have to look at how even the unexpected top eight finishers at the majors can quickly run out of prestigious event invites to see that a simple improvement of results won’t sort out the problems of an organization that’s struggling to put together even three months’ worth of revenue. From a cold, harsh business perspective, it’s likely just Bravado Gaming itself that’s threatened here: the players are good enough to find themselves a home no matter what.
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Image Via: IEM