For SK Gaming, the ESL One Cologne Major ended in triumph. It secured a back-to-back major victory and with months of excellence has made this the SK era. The Brazilian squad has proved itself as the best team in the world and one of the elite in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’s entire history.
But the truth of competition is that one team’s victory must come at the destruction of another’s dreams. Sixteen teams gathered at ESL One Cologne and 15 were eliminated. But this isn’t the end. A team can be defeated, but never indefinitely. There are more tournaments than the major, other places you can prove yourselves. So long as you don’t give up, the chance is always there.
Two teams in particular must feel hard done by the Major: G2 and Virtus.Pro. G2 was seeded into the group of death despite being ranked as one of the best teams in the world with a resume to prove it, as they had been in two LAN finals at ESL Pro League and the Esports Championship Series Finals. At the ESL Pro League LAN Finals in London, G2 lost to Luminosity (now SK) 3-2 and at ECS beat LG 2-0.
Sadly for them, they were only seeded based off their major qualifiers performance, and random draw put G2 into Group D, where it lost best-of-ones to SK and Fnatic. It was doubly painful as Fnatic — in typical Fnatic fashion — pulled out crazy plays that made regular spectators tilt out of the game. Such plays included Dennis “dennis” Edman’s charge with a Czed and winning duels against rifles or Robin “flusha“ Rönnquist’s 1-v-2 clutch that he won with a 2K collateral kill that fragged both Richard “shox” Papillon and Adil “ScreaM“Benrlitom in one shot.
For VP, this major almost became a magical moment. Ever since the end of 2014, VP has dropped from its place as an elite team and was in a slump. Its form was terrible both online and on LAN and no one could figure out why. With no easy roster swap, VP was forced to try to find something that worked within its five-man lineup, as players swapped positions and kept passing the AWP around like a hot potato in hopes that someone could come alive.
None of it worked, and there were few bright spots as even in competitions where they were clear favorites like CEVO, they were still knocked out by the up-and-coming Brazilian team Tempo Storm (now Immortals). Wiktor “TaZ“ Wojtas went so far as to say that if something didn’t change soon, they would have to do the unthinkable and consider a change to CS:GO’s longest-tenured lineup.
But even in its worst state, when nothing seemed to work, there was something about that team. Something that could still make you believe that on the right day, in the right match, they could still bring the heat. VP still got to the playoffs of the MLG Columbus major and was knocked out by the eventual winners, LG. At StarLadder i-League Invitational #1, they won the tournament over Natus Vincere, showing they still had signs of life. Yet that momentum ground to a halt, as just when you thought they’d also make it out of groups at ELEAGUE, EnVyUs shut them down.
Going into ESL One Cologne, it was hard to say if VP could even get out of its group. EnVyUs had just beaten them. Mousesports had shown good form at the qualifier, and NiKo was a superstar level talent. Liquid on paper was the strongest NA roster ever assembled. Yet VP cared for none of it and walked through the group with ease with victories over mouz and Liquid. They beat Astralis in a hard double overtime series in the playoffs where Astralis had two stand-ins, one of which was a coach who had retired years ago. When VP met SK in the semifinals, it was hard to believe that they could do much.
Yet this was VP. They always found a way back into the game using unique, almost niche strengths to grind them into games where others would fall. In the best series of the tournament, VP gave SK a run for its money as they beat the Brazilians in overtime on Cobblestone and ran them close on Mirage in the third set. Usually this would be a great run, but the pick ban phase for VP is something to regret. After SK chose cobblestone, VP made a gamble and chose Nuke as its map pick. On Nuke, VP was comprehensively smashed 16-5. On top of that, VP had lost every relevant pistol round and was still able to make it so close. What if they had won a pistol on either Mirage or Cobble? What if they had chosen any other map but Nuke? Those poisonous words must be echoing in their minds now as they wonder, “What if?”
Yet not all is lost for either G2 or VP. They both lost in their groups at ELEAGUE: G2 to NiP and VP to EnVyUs. But they both earned enough points to qualify for the last chance bracket where they need to beat two teams each to make it back into the final playoff bracket. For G2 and VP, this is their best chance at redemption, their shot to wash away the pains of disappointment at the major. Yet they are not alone. Gambit was trounced in the playoffs at ESL One Cologne; mouz had another disappointing LAN; FaZe — just like G2 — was seeded into the group of death and in any other group could have advanced. I imagine only Flipsid3 was happy with its performance, having knocked out NiP to get to the quarterfinals at Cologne.
With the Last Chance Bracket of ELEAGUE happening so soon after the major, it has become the redemption tournament. The place where many of the teams that were defeated will get a chance to try to take down that ever tantalizing title of a LAN victory.
Cover photo courtesy of HLTV.org.