lurppis: Key storylines for ELEAGUE Season 1 playoffs

Playoffs of the inaugural season of ELEAGUE with $1.4 million up for grabs are finally here, with the final eight teams beginning their campaign towards the $390,000 first place prize – the highest ever in Counter-Strike history – this week. In this article we take a look at the key storylines to keep in mind while following the action in Atlanta.

Who will stake a claim for being the world’s second best?

As unfair as it might be, and regardless of who is to blame for it, an asterisk the size of Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre – the venue of the semi-finals and the grand final – will be next to the eventual champion’s name due to SK Gaming being missing from ELEAGUE. Without the clear No. 1 team in the world present – and that is, through no in-game fault of their own, i.e. losing – there is no way you could even try to make a case for whoever wins to being the world’s best, because they are simply avoiding SK altogether.

What is more, in a fashion similar to DreamHack Masters Malmo three months ago, the ELEAGUE playoffs actually end up being sort of like the cool-down event after ESL One Cologne. The figurative Super Bowl took place in Cologne, and this event – regardless of being shown on TV and having more prize money – is a mere consolation prize. It is a shame, because ELEAGUE has had great production and put on a good show, despite having few good matches so far due to format, but it is still a fact. ELEAGUE’s inaugural season has been disappointing thus far, both due to its format and the timing of the playoffs.

Is ELEAGUE Slemmy’s swan song?

Cloud9 has improved since the addition of Alec “Slemmy” White, who has installed an actual system to the team that was, at best, lost at sea earlier in the year. But their results cannot be anywhere near what they would be happy with, and with Mike “shroud” Grzesiek disclosing on his stream that the team had previously talked about Slemmy moving into the role of the coach, one must wonder whether ELEAGUE playoffs could be the 25-year-old’s swan song as a player in Cloud9’s team, mere three months after he joined in late April to replace freakazoid, who wound up joining former Cloud9 leader Sean “sgares” Gares in Echo Fox.

The move would make sense. Slemmy has struggled mightily on an individual level, unable to record a plus-0.90 rating at any event – be it online or offline – so far with the team. Yet the team has improved since he started leading, suggesting he might be a more valuable part to the team as a coach, still acting as the in-game leader. Cloud9 face Natus Vincere in the quarterfinals, as clear underdogs, but far from ready to be counted out. Still, could the team go through another disappointment? They partly only made it this far as the No. 1 gainers from SK’s disqualification. Perhaps not, and they may want to look into buying out Tarik “tarik” Celik’s contract from CLG again, especially if Slemmy is ready to continue leading the team from the coaching seat.

Which teams will alter their futures?

With somewhat of an off-season coming up next once ELEAGUE has concluded, many are already forecasting multiple roster shuffles, a silly season of sorts. Among those is Na`Vi’s coach starix, who took to Twitter speaking of “mass team reshuffles” following the playoffs. It is certainly possible, and the likes of Cloud9, mousesports and EnVyUs are obvious targets for potential changes, depending on their performances in Atlanta. As are plenty of teams who have not even made it this far, or been left out of ELEAGUE altogether.

Yet the eight teams still in play have the ability to alter their futures, by outperforming their expectations. A strong run at ELEAGUE could make some think twice before blowing up what they have been building for months, and while it is likely some changes have already been set in stone – with contracts signed – it is also possible that many are still only being planned, and therefore can be affected by what transpires at the playoffs. When watching the games, it could be worth thinking of potential ramifications for each team’s roster later on.

Was ESL One Cologne a fluke, or are NiP in serious trouble?

Look, either Cologne was a fluke and NiP is actually better than the 9-12th placing it traveled home from Germany with, or the Ninjas are in serious trouble. Regardless of the criticism sent their way about their competitiveness and will to win, I can assure you none of them is happy losing – and going out in the group stage of a major is a whole new level of pain that team had not yet felt. Now, ELEAGUE is the chance to make up for the weak showing at ESL One, and to prove they are actually much better than the most cynical of us might believe.

Christopher “GeT_RiGhT” Alesund and company have a favorable bracket draw – when do they not, by the way? – and could, if the stars align, even reach the grand final. This is the Ninjas’ chance to prove they have still got it, and can still compete for titles. And considering the value of playing matches on American TV, it would be a pretty good time to bounce back. Unfortunately for them, their most serious opponents – Virtus.pro, Astralis, Na’Vi and Fnatic – all are fresh off a disappointing Cologne event, so they are not alone in trying to distinguish themselves from the pack. But unlike that group of teams, they are the only ones in real trouble if they go out in the quarterfinals.

Could Virtus.pro steal ELEAGUE after an underrated showing in Cologne?

Photo by Helena Kristiansson/ESL, eslgaming.com

Photo by Helena Kristiansson/ESL, eslgaming.com

 

The Poles managed to place 3-4th at ESL One Cologne without much fanfare, battling through a much-weakened Astralis squad in the quarterfinals in two overtime maps. But NEO’s team also took down mousesports and Liquid, and were the only team to steal a map from champions SK Gaming, who they were close to beating. In other words, this was the best we had seen in months – perhaps in 2016 altogether – from the team, and ELEAGUE gives them a chance to build on that momentum shortly after the major, with the team who defeated them missing from competition.

Judging by form in Cologne, Virtus.pro likely was the second best team there out of all the teams who still remain at ELEAGUE. There is an asterisk next to Astralis, because they were missing Kjaerbye – and later on dupreeh, too – but the point remains. Janusz “Snax” Pogorzelski could very conceivably lead his team to the grand final with wins over NiP and Astralis, and could in fact even be favored to do so. And we all know that if you give Virtus plow some momentum at the wrong time, they can become the unstoppable force few opponents have been able to stop – arguably only Fnatic 2015, and SK 2016, two of the greatest teams of all-time. Keep an eye on Virtus, because they are definitely a contender for the title.

How many will tune in to watch the playoffs, and for what repercussions?

Turner is handing out $1,400,000 in prize money over the course of the first season, and yet that is far from being the largest expense for the event. Hotels, constant flights, the TV studio, slots on Friday nights on TV all cost tons of money. Therefore we need to keep viewership in mind while watching the playoffs unfold – because the numbers so far have arguably been disappointing, and likely not exactly what they had in mind when launching ELEAGUE. Absolutely figures were never going to be amazing, there is no question the company was aiming for constant growth to validate their format – and that growth has been non-existent.

In fact, the eighth week of play at ELEAGUE had fewer viewers on television than the opening week. The figures have looked more like a rollercoaster than the hockey stick Turner were surely hoping for, and there is no question this season will end up costing the company money. To be fair, it was never going to be profitable – but it was a play to get in the game early on, with hopes of solid growth leading into the kind of viewership figures that are worth paying whatever hosting this season costs. Without a jump in the figures – assuming those below are correct – I have a hard time seeing a second similar season happening. I hope I am wrong, and that more people tune in during the playoffs. But so far it has not been as rosy as one might have hoped.

Will Astralis win ELEAGUE, repeating NiP’s Malmo performance at their own Super Bowl?

From a storyline perspective, a win for Astralis would likely be the most interesting. They had to use Lukas “Gla1ve” Rossander as a stand-in for Kjaerbye at ESL One Cologne due to Valve’s roster rule, and dupreeh’s health led to coach Danny “zonic” Sørensen playing in the final games in Germany. Their event was already ruined before it started, and stickers aside, ELEAGUE must have been a more important event – seeing as a top eight was all but guaranteed with their group draw – for them than the major. And now, Astralis are the ones who should be the most motivated going into ELEAGUE playoffs, with others having the least amount of demos of their play to watch.

While ECS Season 1 Finals were a disappointment, the run started with piss-poor map veto against Team SoloMid. Rats learn from electric shocks, so one must assume Finn “karrigan” Andersen and zonic will not leave Cobblestone in again in Atlanta. Elsewhere Astralis is a strong team and boasts one of the best trios in today’s Counter-Strike scene. ELEAGUE will be their Super Bowl, while everyone else surely wanted to peak in Cologne. It is unclear how much more is left in the tank, but at least Kjaerbye should aim to be in the shape of his life – and he likely is the swing player in the Danish team. Look for Astralis to have a strong showing, and I fully expect them to make the grand final in Atlanta – with a fair shot at winning.

ELEAGUE playoffs begin on Thursday with the first two quarterfinals – EnVyUs vs. Fnatic and Na`Vi against Cloud9 – with the second set, including Astralis taking on mousesports and NiP battling Virtus.pro, scheduled for Friday. The semifinals and the grand final will be played next Friday and Saturday, July 29-30.

lurppis is a former professional Counter-Strike player whose team was ranked the world's best in 2007 and who led Evil Geniuses for two years. Since retiring, he has been an active member of the media.

Facebook Comments