I do not think ESL Pro League is a top-tier event. Because of how all of the online matches work, the best teams on LAN do not necessarily make it there. This tournament, for instance, will be missing Natus Vincere, Virtus.pro and G2. Liquid, one of the best NA teams, wouldn’t have been here if Renegades didn’t have to drop out to play in the Asian Minor.
But this ESL Pro League LAN is worth watching because it is one of life and death. For whatever reason, six teams could be greatly affected by the results of this competition. They are:
FaZe was an experiment where the owner tried to buy all of the highest value big-name fraggers he could find, throw them onto one team and hope for the best. As it turned out, firepower alone wasn’t enough, and this team suffered utter mediocrity despite having players that could be stars on good teams. At some point in FaZe’s life cycle, players like Joakim “jkaem” Myrbostad, Philip “aizy” Aistrup and Håvard “rain” Nygaard must have started to just go through the motions. Playing, but not focusing, as they waited for their contracts to go out and to get on a team that had a chance to win.
And then along came Finn “Karrigan” Andersen. After being kicked from Astralis, he was snatched up by FaZe and in three days gave FaZe its best result of the year at ELEAGUE, as he led the team to best-of-three wins over Immortals and Cloud 9. There is no better way to start your tenure of leadership and now Karrigan has given FaZe something that’s been absent for a long time: Hope.
EnVyUs in all reality shouldn’t be on the life or death list. They’ve slowly dug themselves out of the hole they couldn’t escape for the majority of 2016 and have shown some remarkable improvement. But they are French, and G2’s losses at ESL New York and EPICENTER put EnVyUs on this list. If things don’t go well here or in the coming months, G2 is likely to poach one of EnVyUs’ players, and that will be the death of this lineup.
With Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev finally leaving the team, I believed that the roster shuffle shenanigans of Liquid were finally over. I was a fool. Luis ‘Peacemaker’ Tadeu and Liquid parted ways over business disagreements and now they have no coach with any leading experience. And no one on the roster can fill his place. Nick “nitr0” Cannella already tried and quit. Jonathan “EliGE” Jablonowski is the best player on the team and should focus on his individual game. Joshua “jdm64” Marzano is the AWPer so he can’t focus on leading. Jacob “Pimp” Winneche’s second language is English, so he really can’t do it. Spencer “Hiko” Martin got the job by default, but he doesn’t want it either.
Nevermind the fact that the lineup still hasn’t successfully integrated jdm64 into the team, this is a ticking time bomb, and Liquid will need to brute force its way out of the group with firepower to have a chance. At least in Liquid’s case this will just be a one-off event and the team can bring in a coach afterwards.
The SK era was short lived. From when they won their first major to winning their second, they were clearly the best team in the world despite some losses. Now Na`Vi, VP and Dignitas have crashed in the door and are fighting tooth and nail for the top spot. It’s difficult to say SK still doesn’t have what it takes to stay on the throne. Only VP have eliminated them in tournaments since the season started re-started in September. This is a result of VP’s new strength in nuke. If SK can either increase its level on nuke or find a way to change its map pool, it’s possible to flip the script on VP.
The real grim reaper for the SK players is themselves. Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo has cited massive internal issues with the team, the most noteworthy being that their strength of learning from losses and mistakes is gone. As Chen “Hao” Zhihao, legendary Dota 2 player says about teams: “The deeper the love… the deeper the hate.” SK is known for being the closest of friends and incredibly passionate about the game and each other. When something goes wrong, that will be immensely more painful, as only the closest can hurt you so deeply, and even much more excruciating to fix. To top it all off, Dignitas looks incredible after winning EPICENTER and looks to defeat SK here.
When Alec “Slemmy” White was leading this team, there was always a clear ceiling. Slemmy was bad, even for a supportive leader role, and the rest of the players were unable to cover the flaws. Eventually he had to be replaced, and Timothy ‘autimatic’ Ta has been a great pickup. Autimatic went on to be the second best player on the team and C9’s most consistent.
But the ceiling has returned and comes in two forms. Jake ‘Stewie2k’ Yip took over leading after Slemmy was removed and after initially working for a bit, Cloud 9 has hit a problem. Stewie2k either doesn’t have the experience or knowledge to mold this team and take it to the next step. He’s done an incredible job of getting this far, but there are limits to his leading — in particular against the upper echelons of competition, and the fact that he’s the star of the team.
The other ceiling is Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham. He had the worst performance of his career against FaZe at ELEAGUE and is like a leaden weight around Cloud9. The only similar performance by an AWPer on a top team is Edouard “SmithZz” Dubourdeaux. SmithZz had just as terrible a performance as Skadoodle did at EPICENTER in the best-of-three against SK. The difference was SmithZz was playing one of the best teams in the world; Skadoodle was playing a team that just got its leader three days prior. SmithZz went 7-16 in 16 rounds whereas Skadoodle went 7-20 in a game that ended 16-9. If Cloud9 wants a chance, Skadoodle needs to wake up.
Immortals’ situation is similar to EnVyUs. Brazil’s best team is SK and is having a lot of internal issues. The majority of rosters fix internal issues through the easiest means possible: a roster swap. Immortals’ best player is João “felps” Vasconcellos, and it would make all kinds of sense for SK to bring him in.
Felps is an incredible player and LAN-tested against international competition. On top of that, Immortals dropped out of ELEAGUE after losing to FaZe, making the prospect of a swap more tantalizing for felps. On the other hand, Immortals has a history of underperforming at the big events, so death may be a bit farther away.
Photos courtesy of HLTV.org