With the ending of ESL New York, the new world order of Counter-Strike has arrived. And that will be tested once again at EPICENTER. At the very top of the pack sits SK Gaming, Natus Vincere and Virtus.Pro, with each capable of beating the other. The strongest and most stable of the pack is still SK, the reason being its system and tactics are still the best there is. Even when their star player Marcelo “coldzera” David is performing below par, they can still run Virtus.Pro close when VP is in plow mode and could have very easily won that series and gone to the finals and win against Na`Vi.
The most dangerous team in the world — and the closest to knocking out SK from the throne — is Virtus.Pro, the grittiest team to have ever played CS:GO. They have incredible tenacity and an explosive offense on T side. The big weakness is you never know what kind of form Virtus.Pro will have on any given day. They can go from dropping to VG.CyberZen at StarLadder, to winning DreamHack Bucharest and nearly winning ESL New York. They then went home and dropped maps to Russia and Norway at WESG. You never know what you get from Virtus.Pro, but they are one of the most compelling teams in the history of CS:GO.
The last team to round out the elites is Na`Vi. They have bigger problems than either Virtus.Pro or SK. Their map pool is a mess as they don’t play Overpass, Nuke or Cache. Liquid and VP also exposed their weakness on Cobblestone, which is something both Virtus.Pro and SK play. On top of that, their system has completely changed from the extreme tactical style of Sergey ‘starix’ Ischuk to a much more brute force, skill-based lineup. The thing is, man for man, they are the most skilled lineup in the world and go nearly five deep, with the exceptional players being Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovács, Egor “flamie” Vasilyev and Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev.
Below them are the two finalists of Starladder: Ninjas in Pyjamas and G2. NiP is hard to measure as they haven’t played anything since then and are still using Mikail “Maikelele” Bill as a stand in. This LAN is a great test to see if the StarLadder was a fluke or if they can hit that level on a consistent basis. Finally G2 has the making of an incredibly dangerous team and when Richard “shox” Papillon and Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom are on fire they can beat any team in the world. They had a disappointment at ESL New York and need a good result here to bounce back.
After those five, the tiers of teams becomes especially murky as so many have changed rosters and are going through an adjustment period. Among that tier are two teams in attendance: Dignitas and Fnatic. Dignitas is in the top of Tier 2 along with other teams like Liquid, Cloud9, EnVyUs and Immortals. The addition of Emil “Magiskb0Y” Reif and René “cajunb” Borg has changed the makeup of the team as they’re doing the best they have since 2016 started. As for Fnatic, this will be the second LAN with their new roster and a better test to see where exactly they are relative to the top of the field.
The last team at the event is HellRaisers. They are the CIS foil to Flipsid3. Where Flipsid3 gets their wins from tactics, leadership and teamwork, HellRaisers gets theirs from the firepower of their individuals. Unfortunately they’ve struggled ever since their star player Tomáš ‘oskar’ Šťastný left and are still struggling to find a new identity. As they don’t get that many opportunities to go to big LANs like these, they need to make the most of this chance.
The group beneath the top is a bit unsettled at the moment, and the events to round out the year will surely define the picture a little further. But one thing is for sure: The gap between the top three teams and everyone else is significant.
Cover photo: Helena Kristiansson/ESL, eslgaming.com