The ESL Pro League Season 5 Finals was the first in a series of offline tournaments leading up to the PGL Major next month. Unfortunately for ESL and fans of high-level Counter-Strike, neither FaZe Clan nor Astralis qualified for the LAN portion (I suppose it’s regrettable that VP didn’t get there, either, but did anyone expect them to survive the online stage?). This event became a battle between the remaining super teams: G2, Natus Vincere, SK Gaming, North and Fnatic. It was a must-win for SK to solidify its place in the top three, but the team instead had an unexpectedly erratic group stage performance and a dispiriting loss to G2 in the semifinals. The French juggernaut took the trophy in the end, proving it could live up to the potential of the individual players. Here is a rundown of the positives and negatives that came from this event.
The Good: All of it. G2 topped Group A by beating SK, Fnatic, and EnVyUs, then defeating SK again to advance to the finals. North put up a feeble struggle as G2 triumphed 3-1 with dominant showings in all three wins. G2 displayed clear signs of improvement between DreamHack Tours and now. Expect G2 to firmly install itself in the top four of the world by the PGL Major.
The Good: Finally, this roster reached its first final in a notable tournament. It was a good turnaround for North, which was upset in its last three LAN tournaments by Immortals, HellRaisers and Chiefs. The most impressive part about North this weekend was Kristian “k0nfig” Wienecke, who was by far North’s best player. Philip “Aizy” Aistrup has continued to improve under the roster as well.
The Bad: Although North managed to scrape together a string of wins, its run to the finals was unimpressive. North beat Liquid, the weakest possible draw, in the semifinals and only after the NA team squandered an enormous lead on Mirage. The finals performance was incredibly underwhelming, and North’s T-side was disappointing for a team that usually prides itself on stability in that area.
The Question: At this point, it’s clear that North lacks what it takes to win championships. So who do they change on the roster? The obvious choice in terms of raw skill is Valdemar “valde” Vangså, though I think the correct choice is bring back Ruben “RUBINO” Villarroel. Who gets replaced in such a situation? In terms of performance, Emil “Magisk” Reif has been the clear letdown, but his ceiling is incredibly high and a simple rearrangement of duties could awake him out of his slump. Aizy has improved from LAN to LAN, but he hasn’t filled the holes left behind by RUBINO. In addition to that, aizy doesn’t have Magisk’s potential. Given that information I’d side with kicking aizy, but the roles and positions will require another shakeup and likely wouldn’t even be possible until after the Major. Even bringing in Valde won’t fix the problems the team has on paper, but at this point a new look is needed.
The Good: SK dominated Day 1 without Marcelo “Coldzera” David showing up. The team’s exit in the semifinals doesn’t look bad on paper: G2 had to win a crazy number of CT retakes to win Overpass, and both losses were close. Additionally, Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo had his best tournament since Lincoln “Fnx” Lau was removed from the team in December.
The Bad: This was a must-win LAN for SK to build its resume among the best teams in the world. Coldzera all but vanished when the needed him most. Overall, he had one of his worst tournament performances in years. This was likely just an ill-timed aberration considering how consistent he’s been in the last two years. In one respect, though, it’s a good thing that SK’s underwhelming performance wasn’t a system/communication issue. SK has a packed schedule ahead, and the team lacks the time to go back and deconstruct its approach again. Coldzera should return to his high-impact ways, and SK will bounce back to form for the upcoming tournaments.
The Good: After terrible showings at the Summit and DreamHack Tours, there seemed to be no hope for the French squad. EnVyUs surprised detractors by going 3-2 in Group A with strong wins over Immortals and SK. After forcing tiebreakers, the French team managed to reach the playoffs.
The Bad: The entire run was based on Cédric “RpK” Guipouy killing everything on T-side. Although it was a great performance by him, nothing about this last year convinces me he can do this with any consistency. By any sensible judgment this result was an over-performance. EnVyUs will appear at the EU Minor next, where it should be one of the favorites to advance.
The Good: Fnatic continues to improve as its teamwork and playbook slowly improve. The roles have changed and the players have started to add different executions to their T-side. The biggest positive sign is that Fnatic is looking to shift their map pool. It appears Inferno will be its home map while Nuke is returning as a pocket pick.
The Bad: Fnatic went 3-2 in Group A but failed in the tiebreakers. This is another early exit by a team that needs a big result soon. In terms of fortitude, this Fnatic lacks the poise and composure emblematic of the Markus “pronax” Wallsten era. Beyond its refusal to take timeouts at critical moments, the team lacks the leadership to ameliorate the tendencies to tilt and get overly frustrated.
As for the rest of the teams. Mousesports showed itself to be a fairly good team on LAN. Robin “Ropz” Kool has improved from Tours and heading into the future, Mouz should surpass its results from the NIkola “NiKo” Kovac period. Liquid seemed to meet its most optimistic expectations this tournament, and JDM has been given enough leash to take initiative. OpTic, Cloud9 and Na’Vi are still struggling with the same issues they’ve always had. I can’t say much about NRG as this was their first LAN, and offline jitters can look identical to systemic flaws in such a scenario. I’ll similarly reserve judgment for Immortals as this was the first LAN with Vito “kNg” Giuseppe.
Cover photo by Helena Kristiansson/ESL, ESLgaming.com