StarLadder i-league StarSeries Season 2 is the first international LAN after the offseason. It is the first of a circuit of events that run to the end of the year. There are a lot of different tiers of teams from various regions, but the four teams everyone should watch out for are Virtus.Pro, Godsent, Natus Vincere and G2. All four teams’ paths to this point are different with only one factor connecting them: The will to win.
Virtus.Pro struggled all year long, and many wondered if VP could ever be a Tier 1 team again. Their online results were terrible and they were doing badly on LAN, dropping out early in the playoffs. When faced with those results, Virtus.Pro did what it always does: Shuffle the players’ roles in the team and bounce around the AWP to see if they could get more out of their players, as they had no choice. And though they never seemed to get the LAN results they were looking for, the changes showed. When we look back on the results now, the story is altogether different. In eight LANs VP attended through June, it lost to the winner in seven of them. In the eighth, it won against Na’Vi at the StarLadder i-League Invitational. Despite the terrible online results, VP had been fairly good on LAN, though it was more based around grinding and tactics to get them those results.
That changed at the ESL One Cologne Major, where they faced off against SK — the best team in the world — and nearly beat them in the semifinals. With a resurgent form, VP showed the world the Virtus.Plow was back when it destroyed the competition at ELEAGUE and walked away with the trophy of one of the most prestigious tournaments of the year. Because of those results and the roster shuffling among other teams, Virtus.Pro is posised as the second best team in the world, and a victory this week will solidify that spot and setup a long awaited rematch against SK. Which is fitting because Virtus.Pro is the only team to take SK to a third map in both of its Major runs.
The return of Virtus.Pro at the top as well as the dominance of SK had led to a killing of the top tier teams. It makes sense in a way, as the only way to achieve victory in a competition is to crush those who stand in your way. With the rise of SK and VP to the top, someone was bound to fall.
In this case, those teams were Fnatic and Na’Vi. Fnatic underwent the most massive shuffle of the year. The old Fnatic lineup of Markus “pronax” Wallsten, Jesper “JW” Wecksell, Robin “flusha” Rönnquist, Freddy “KRIMZ” Johansson and Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer is widely considered as the greatest to have ever played CS:GO. Due to motivation problems, pronax left the squad and Dennis “dennis” Edman took his spot. This new lineup was extremely successful, winning the first six LANs it attended before losing to Astralis at the MLG Columbus Major. Even that was mitigated by the fact olofmeister was dealing with a wrist injury that later kept him out of action for two months.
Many expected and hoped that once olofmeister came back into the lineup, Fnatic would pick up where it left off and dominate the world once again. It never happened. They were still a Tier 1 team, but being good wasn’t enough. The internal issues were too much, and the loss to Virtus.Pro at ELEAGUE was the final straw. Now JW, flusha and KRIMZ have joined Godsent. They have returned to play under pronax’s leadership and are now four of the five players who once dominated the game. This is the move they believe will take them to the top once again and dethrone SK and VP.
The other team that was affected by the dominance of SK and VP was Na’Vi. Except in their case they were also ruined by a one-sided matchup against Fnatic. Na’Vi was never able to beat either Fnatic lineup for the entirety of 2015-2016. Conversely, the change was much simpler. Although Danylo “Zeus” Teslenko is a legend of Counter-Strike, he was the weak link in terms of performance. They had given him as much time as they could, but once a better prospect had shown himself in Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev, Na’Vi made the switch. For Na’Vi, the big problem will be the new Valve coaching restriction as Sergey “starix” Ishchuk was the acting in-game leader. With his role now diminished, the team will have to figure things out without him.
The final team to look out for is G2, which has essentially been frozen in time. Losing at the Major didn’t mean much, as G2 was stuck in the group of super death. At ELEAGUE, they were forced to use a stand-in as Cédric “RpK” Guipouy had a surgery and couldn’t attend. For G2, there was no reason to change players. G2 didn’t have the same problems as either Fnatic or Na’Vi. G2, unlike Fnatic, can reach a final and then play SK there and have a winning record against them. And unlike Na’Vi, G2 doesn’t have problems choking in finals as it has already won a tournament together. The problem with G2 is we still don’t know how consistently this team will perform. A lot of G2’s performance rides on the individual skill of its players, and this is a great test to see if they can take away VP’s spot as second best team in the world.
All of the pieces are set to see who will claim the title of StarLadder and get into a better position to try to usurp the SK era.
Cover photo: HLTV.org