SK’s absence means ELEAGUE playoffs are wide open

SK Gaming’s disqualification from ELEAGUE has created an interesting situation where there are no longer any favorites. We now have a tournament where five of the six best teams right behind SK in the world rankings are fighting to win the entire thing: Natus Vincere, Fnatic, Astralis, Virtus.Pro and Ninjas in Pyjamas. The sixth was G2 who was eliminated in the Last Chance Bracket last week after being as forced to use a standin as Cédric RpK Guipouy had an injury.

Both Na’Vi and Fnatic should be the favorites in their matches against Cloud 9 and EnVyUs, which will likely mean a Na’Vi/Fnatic semifinal match. It’s an important match for two reasons: First, they have had a strong rivalry where Fnatic has always seemed to have the edge in series and especially finals.

The other reason is that both Fnatic and Na’Vi are two of the three contenders for the claim of second best team in the world after SK (the third being G2). The arguments for the three teams being the second best are different. G2 has the best recent form, but the problem is G2 doesn’t have a system to fall back on if its star players aren’t at their best.

In the more relevant cases of Na’Vi and Fnatic, they have different issues. For Na’Vi the problem is two fold. Ever since Ladislav GuardiaN Kovács came down from his God mode earlier in the year (which coincided with a wrist injury he suffered near the MLG Columbus Major), the firepower on this team has been a bit behind the others. He is still a very good player, but Na’Vi now needs to rely more on the rest of the team. Although the difference isn’t large, it is enough that extremely skilled lineups can edge them out, such as Liquid at ESL One Cologne. The bigger problem that still has yet to be addressed is that the Na’Vi squad chokes in finals. If not for that, I’d pick Na`Vi as the favorite to win ELEAGUE.

For Fnatic, the problem is its entire system is based around almost everyone always showing up strong. For the first few events prior to Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer’s injury, this was always the case. Despite having slow starts in some of the tournaments, they’d always show up when it counted and won every event they attended. So what is making the difference between then and now?

 

Photo by Helena Kristiansson/ESL, eslgaming.com

Photo by Helena Kristiansson/ESL, eslgaming.com

 

Olofmeister, like GuardiaN, is no longer at the top of his powers. He is still a very good player, but he hasn’t shown the form that enabled him to dominate games by himself as he did prior to his injury. Despite that, Fnatic is still a skilled lineup. The problem is when they have had to face off against teams that have better form or firepower on that day. That’s happened twice recently: The ECS Season 1 LAN Finals and ESL One Cologne. At ECS, Fnatic lost to a completely on-fire G2 and at Cologne was defeated by a completely on-fire Liquid. In the rare instances they meet a team that can out-frag them in the server and don’t get shook up by the styleless style of Fnatic, they don’t have an answer. This is in contrast to the Markus pronaxWallsten version of the lineup that could pause and adjust to anything on the fly. Despite the misgivings, there is no team here that should be able to push Fnatic in that way in the playoffs, so I favor Fnatic to win the entire thing.

Astralis is an interesting case study. On paper, the lineup is amazing. It includes three star players in Nicolai dev1ce Reedtz, Peter “dupreeh” Rothmann and Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjaerbye. The roster is filled out with two strong role players in Andreas Xyp9x Højsleth and Finn “karrigan” Andersen. The biggest problem, however, is the adjustment period. Karrigan as the in-game leader decided to go for a pure 1:1 transition for Kjaerbye, so he had the exact same roles as he did in Dignitas. Karrigan in turn would take up any of the missing roles and positions that the team needed. Theoretically how that works out is Kjaerbye’s star power takes them over the line, and Karrigan will add some impact and do an adequate job in his new roles. In practice, Kjaerbye is bringing the star power, but Karrigan has had a bad time with his new positions, making a very clear weakness in the lineup that has been exploited by other teams. So the question for this team is how fast can Karrigan learn these new roles, and then we’ll see how far they can go.

The last two teams are both at a crossroads: NiP and VP. For NiP, the honeymoon period with Björn THREAT Pers and Jacob pyth Mourujärvi is over. After a win at DreamHack Malmo, they’ve slowly been figured out. Robin flusha Rönnquist foretold NiP’s fall before it happened when he said in an interview with Tomi lurppis Kovanen: “Their weakness would be if a team studies them, you know their every move pretty much, and you won’t get any surprises from them right now.”

Flusha’s prophecy became true as NiP started to slip in results, losing DreamHack Summer to Immortals. The two biggest warning signs that something was wrong occurred at ECS and ESL Cologne. At both tournaments, NiP fell out of groups, but the shocking one was at Cologne, where it was defeated by Flipsid3. It’s at the point where NiP and THREAT have to question what exactly it is they’re doing wrong and change it.

The last team to look out for is VP, which has recently taken the opposite road of NiP. VP had a terrible start to the year both online and on LAN, as it played musical chairs with the players’ roles and AWP in hopes of finding some kind of consistency. Despite the struggles, VP still managed to get to the playoffs at MLG Columbus and nearly defeated the eventual champions LG (now SK). The fortunes for VP turned around after Starladder i-League, where it won the event over Na’Vi. Since then, they’ve slowly come back into form and most recently made it to the semifinals of ESL One Cologne and to the playoffs of ELEAGUE. Among the five contenders here, VP is the hardest to read. You never know exactly what kind of form they show up in as they always seem to play to their opponents level and their strengths as individuals are so niche that it creates a very chaotic and exciting game.

ELEAGUE means a lot of different things to each of the teams. It is one of the most prestigious CS:GO leagues and is the only one on national television. For Na’Vi and Fnatic, it is a chance to solidify their position as the second best in the world. For Astralis, it is a test to see how far they can go with a new lineup. For NiP, it’s a place to prove that they can still contend. For VP it’s redemption. Proof that they can still compete with and even beat the best there is. Over the next two weeks, we’ll see how it all plays out. But it sure won’t be boring.

Slingshot senior columnist. StarCraft and CS:GO expert who pushes narratives over numbers. You can reach him at Stephen@Slingshotesports.com

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