The American Dream is a seductive, dangerous idea. As the engine behind turning a frontier nation into the premier superpower in the world, the very notion is heady. Everyone is created equal. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Everyone can, in theory, create the life they desire through daring, industry, and willpower. You can become the president or you can get the house in suburbia with the wife, two kids, a car and the white picket fence. You can become the millionaire entrepreneur, the modest immigrant with a new lease on life, the poor child who rose out of poverty.
What happens when the game is rigged? The pursuit that becomes a fantasy with no chance to become true? Now you have the freedom to get your face ground into the dirt, to spend years wasting away in idle fantasy, to gamble away your life in drugs and gambling and despair in the heart of Las Vegas. The American Dream gives no guarantees on what it will provide, only a dream that can fulfill all your desires or give you a false bill of goods you wake up to in the cold, sober morning. A glamour, an illusion, a shadow on the wall and when you investigate it, you realize there is no substance to it. That’s what happened at ESL New York 2016, the tournament of broken promises.
Let’s go back to the latter half of 2016. We were in the midst of the uncertainty era, and the lineups of the various CS:GO teams had yet to formulate one dominant team from any region. Fnatic had broken up in the most insane shuffle in Swedish history, and nobody knew whether Godsent would amount to anything. SK Gaming was still strong but could no longer win championships after the ESL One Cologne Major. It was anyone’s game as Virtus.Pro, SK, G2 Esports, Dignitas, Cloud9, and Natus Vincere vied for the No. 1 spot. In retrospect, there was no better place to solve this conundrum than New York. The Big Apple was synonymous with the American Dream, and its cosmopolitan air perfectly suited the international nature of an ESL tournament. The event delivered, as it gave us some of the most exciting and memorable games of that year. Once the dust settled, SK, VP, Team Liquid and Na’Vi were left standing in the semifinals.
In the upper bracket, SK played Virtus.Pro in a classic matchup. In the Majors, SK always had the upper hand, but the favor was going toward VP more and more as time went on. Here, too, Virtus.Pro won. On the other side of the bracket, Liquid played Na’Vi for the first time since the Major. Liquid got the better of Na’Vi back then, but there was one critical difference in New York. Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev carried Liquid to the finals of that Major with his overwhelming individual skill, and now he was batting for the opponent. Na’Vi had lured him away as part of the CIS shuffle, effectively ending the partnership with Spencer “Hiko” Martin. Hiko had been the one to get s1mple to join the squad after s1mple was labeled as persona non grata in the CIS scene. While the move to NA was a tumultuous time for the Liquid roster, they had the best results with him as they reached the semifinals and finals of two consecutive Majors.
Now at ESL New York, it was a battle of brother against brother. Hiko and s1mple now had the dream teams they had always wanted. Liquid had assembled the best players it could within one roster and Na’Vi had done the same, but only one team could move on. It was Na’Vi as s1mple showed why he was a class all of his own.
The finals had Na’Vi play Virtus.Pro in an epic showdown that went down to the wire. In the end, it took the combined efforts of s1mple and Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovacs to defeat the Plow and secure Mirage in overtime. At the end of it all, for one moment you could believe in the promise of what this tournament showed. Na’Vi was a championship team again. Virtus.Pro was an incredible gatekeeper that must be stopped if you wished to win the title, and yet still capable of winning titles. Liquid finally showed the promise of what it had on paper and appeared on the verge of transforming into an international powerhouse.
If ESL One New York was that incredible promise of what the American Dream could be, then the months that followed exposed the bitter truth. The exhilaration of victory percolated into disillusionment as Na’Vi never reached those heights again. A lack of leadership, internal fighting and apathy haunted that team afterward, and Na’Vi is still looking to recover. Liquid’s spurt turned out to be merely a spurt. In similar fashion, infighting and an absence of leadership snuffed out the fire that drove the team to those two finals. Virtus.Pro held onto its sterling form until the early months of 2017 before plummeting to a slump we have never witnessed from that lineup.
ESL One New York 2017 represents another attempt to capture the American Dream, and we will see new teams take the challenge. For Liquid, Na’Vi and Virtus.Pro, this will be a critical test to see how far they’ve come. Liquid and Na`Vi have the leadership and the rosters upon which they are relying for the foreseeable future. Virtus.Pro looks to climb out of the ditch of mediocrity that has marked its year after winning DreamHack Las Vegas. But aspirations aren’t reserved for past winners. Other teams have come into play since then. The reformed Astralis under Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander once fought to be recognized as the best in the world and now seeks to reclaim that title. After losing at ESG Tour, SK looks reassert its dominance. FaZe Clan has assembled a superteam of international stars led by Finn “Karrigan” Andersen. Cloud9 has finally made substantial changes to its roster for the sake of improvement. EnVyUs somehow made it out of the online qualifiers and wants to prove G2 isn’t the only relevant French team.
The frontier is open and settlers are moving out into the great wilderness to strike it rich. One year ago, we saw an incredible tournament at ESL New York, but the promises were broken and the potential never materialized. This year, a new crop of dreamers arrive with grand hopes and the determination to succeed despite all circumstances. Let’s see if the winners this time can hold onto their glory.
Cover photo by Patrick Strack/ESL, eslgaming.com