In this article we take a look at the key takeaways from ESL One New York, the $250,000 tournament that finished at Barclays Center late Sunday night with Natus Vincere defeating Virtus.pro in overtime for the first place prize.
New Liquid, OpTic can play: North America continues improving
While there is little doubt it is indeed Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev who won the break-up with Liquid – and yes, there is a winner in this case – the new Liquid team featuring Jacob “Pimp” Winneche is good. How good is still hard to say – Fnatic’s current form is a question mark, and Na`Vi’s cobblestone is not competitive – but Liquid’s run in New York was encouraging nonetheless. Sticking out like a sore thumb was the play of Jonathan “EliGE” Jablonowski, who finished the event with a 1.27 rating – second only to former partner-in-crime and MVP s1mple – with rest of Liquid in the 0.89 to 1.01 range. He was a one-man army in New York, and Liquid will need more from his aides going forward. But in any case, this was a good debut for Spencer “Hiko” Martin’s new-look team.
OpTic bested Cloud9 in the North American online qualifier last Tuesday, and probably was not optimally prepared for this event. Still, the team playing by Tarik “tarik” Celik’s home turf put on a good show, defeating G2 and Astralis before falling just short of Virtus.pro in the elimination game on cobblestone. Keith “NAF” Markovic and tarik both had good showings, while Óscar “mixwell” Cañellas was the team’s best performer in the G2 upset. Overall, ESL One New York is a solid building block for OpTic, and proof that the addition of tarik did indeed help them reach a new level of play.
Astralis have systemic problems
I would point out just how many times the Danes have crashed out in the group stage following the supposedly-page-turning Fnatic win at MLG Columbus, but what is the point? Everyone knows Astralis is no longer a contender, and I feel like a broken record talking about their issues – but it is hard to ignore the facts. This team has not improved at all since Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjærbye joined – in fact, they might be worse off, partly a result of having to adjust their game around gla1ve for ESL One Cologne. Astralis needs change – perhaps not personnel, but at least in terms of how they play. It is not possible to practice and play right for months with such talented players and not improve. Something does not add up here, and even the team likely does not know what that is.
Virtus.pro’s win in Bucharest was no fluke
Virtus.pro took a map from SK in the semifinal of ESL One Cologne and proceeded to win ELEAGUE over Fnatic. They finished the summer season on a high, but the group stage exit at SL i-League StarLadder Season 2 Finals raised plenty of questions about their form. They did win DreamHack Bucharest shortly after, but given relatively weak competition, that was hardly a definitive answer to their current form. On the other hand, ESL One New York could, and should be considered as such. Snax’s team had a rough time with OpTic in the group stage’s deciding game, but boy did they deliver in the playoffs. First the Poles fought off eight map points – including six series points on overpass – against SK in the semifinal and then took Na`Vi to overtime on the deciding map of the grand final from a 14-8 deficit. They are a legendary team for a reason – I do not think any other team possesses similar poise. And Virtus.pro is one of the few elite teams.
Fnatic’s performance could be underrated, but they are not (yet) contenders
Initial reactions to Fnatic’s two Liquid losses on dust2 were understandably negative – this is an organization for whom losses to North American teams have throughout its existence been rare upsets. GODSENT faced plenty of criticism over early losses, and Fnatic must get its share, too. But if Liquid is actually a very good team, which is at least plausible, then perhaps Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer’s team could be better off than we all think. Aside from losses to Liquid’s versatile playbook, as described by vuggo, they did as well as one would expect. Still, it is too early to judge fnatic based on its first offline showing, especially one where formerly world’s best player olofmeister had his career’s second worst showing.
Swiss group stage format is great for viewers
While players understandably enjoy the GSL format for its predictability – there can be no three-way ties, and you know all the potential matchups going in, making it easy to prepare – for fans it has been a disappointment, given how un-even groups usually are. Most often you end up with two lopsided games, and then a good winner’s game. But much like the kind of large round robin group that IEM Katowice used – and that will be featured at IEM Oakland next month – the Swiss group stage format is great for the viewers. Matchups are drawn prior to each round, and the element of uncertainty makes it less predictable who will get knocked out when. Unless you think you saw G2 going out in last place in New York? Hopefully more tournaments will give it a chance in the future.
Is G2 good, or is its temporary top form done and dusted?
I have been skeptical of G2’s results throughout 2016, though it has been hard to argue against the streak of results they put together over the spring and early summer. But now the picture is much foggier, and it is significantly harder to place shox’s team on the world map. They won ECS in June, and more recently placed second at SL i-League StarLadder Finals – but they also went out in groups of ESL One Cologne (though in the Group of Death), lost to mousesports at ELEAGUE and now were eliminated this weekend at 0-3, with a final loss against OpTic. Perhaps the losses will make shox summon his godlike form of earlier 2016, but for now it seems the margin for error for G2 simply is not wide enough to consider them a contender. Nearly everything must go right for them to win, and it seems too much to ask, most of the time.
The coaching rule needs further optimizing, one way or another
Players such as dennis and shox have already raised concerns over this, but it cannot be emphasized enough – in a game where technical pauses are already a killer for viewers, the multiple additional pauses teams are now granted to communicate with their coaches are absolutely brutal for the fans. It is clear the rule needs further tweaking, or perhaps abandoning entirely – after all, the only ones who had an issue with coaches acting as in-game leaders were seemingly Valve. If we cannot go back, hopefully the brain trust in Seattle can come up with a better alternative that allows coaches to stay involved. We deserve the improved gameplay the likes of starix and threat can bring, with the fluid gameplay now mostly seen online, where coaches do not need pauses to talk. It was an idea, and now it is time to scrap it – but let us hope Valve is not ready to kill coaching altogether, for that would be a massive loss to Counter-Strike fans.
SK Gaming has barely lost a step
Yes, it is true SK Gaming failed to make the grand final. And they have indeed lost plenty of online games against weaker opposition, even after Fernando “fer” Alvarenga’s return. But they were eight map points and six series points away from knocking out Virtus.pro, the team who took Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo’s side to their limit when they were the world’s clear best team in July. The group stage loss to Na`Vi slightly tarnishes the image, but if SK, having just returned after months without its full roster, was barely bested by two of the world’s perhaps best teams, how bad can they really be? I would not worry at all, because to me it looked like SK Gaming has barely lost a step. Sometimes it is good to lose one, to see where your weaknesses lie and what you need to work on. In fact, winning directly might have been too easy and could have led to complacency – EnVyUs style. Now SK faces a challenge, and you would be foolish to count them out. First or second, they remain among the few elite teams.
Na`Vi are champions – could this be only the beginning?
While Na`Vi won a couple of tournaments earlier in 2016, this is their first large tournament win in CS:GO. In fact, in the past 12 months alone the team has lost the grand finals of DreamHack Open Cluj-Napoca, ESL ESEA Pro League Season 2 Finals, SL i-League StarLadder XIV Finals, MLG Columbus, DreamHack Masters Malmo, and SL i-League Invitational. That is a lot of baggage for one team to carry, understandably leading to GuardiaN’s emotional outburst after his godlike performance on mirage sealed Na`Vi’s championship. With s1mple on the roster they had a chance for a fresh start, and now they are 1-0 in grand finals with the new roster. Looking back in a year, it could be the one fluke win they got in between all the losses, or it could be the beginning to something greater. My money is on the latter, especially if future adjustments to the coaching rule allow starix to communicate more, or once seized gets more used to making the calls in-game.
s1mple is the ESL One New York MVP
Shortly after his 19th birthday ended up in Barclays Center, the youngster got the best birthday gifts he could have asked for – his career’s first large international championship, and the well-deserved MVP title that came with it. He finished with a plus-1.08 rating in all maps aside from the 16-3 thrashing by Virtus.pro, with peaks of 28-10 score and 2.04 rating in the SK Gaming win on mirage, and a 26-12 score and 1.72 rating in the deciding map against his former team Liquid in the semi-final. He had the highest rating on train in the grand final, and trailed only GuardiaN on the deciding map. The superstar finished the entire event with a 1.29 rating and a K-D differential of +54 – both the highest of everyone – to go together with a 89.9 ADR and 58.4% headshot-percentage, despite scoring 18.8% of his kills with an AWP. Congratulations s1mple, now it is your time to defend the throne.
Photos courtesy of Adela Sznajder/ESL, eslgaming.com