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Stuchiu’s “Buy or Sell” after IEM Katowice

This is the third iteration of Buy and Sell. You can read the previous one here.

The third month of the year has just begun, with three big Counter-Strike events already finished — and StarLadder Season 3 Finals a full month away. The idea here is simple: The “buy” list contains teams that still have unfulfilled potential, whereas “sell” teams are ones I believe have hit their ceiling with the current lineup. To make it interesting, I’ve considered only the top 20 teams from HLTV’s rankings and their LAN results. In addition to that, I’ll avoid picking the same teams I had on previous lists. I’ll also evaluate my picks from the last edition.

Buy

Astralis

Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth

Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz

Peter “dupreeh” Rothmann

Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjærbye

Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander

Recent Results

ELEAGUE Major: First

DreamHack Las Vegas: Top 4

IEM Katowice: First

In the very first edition of Buy and Sell, I told everyone to buy into Astralis as my first item of business. They not only reached my expectations of being a championship-level team (they won ECS Season 2 soon afterwards), but have gone on to win the ELEAGUE Major and IEM Katowice while earning a top four finish in Vegas.

Astralis is the best team in the world and has the most consistent results. If you read the criteria, there is almost no potential left to fulfill.

Almost.

I’m doubling down on Astralis as the most dominant force for the foreseeable future and making this their era. They have by far the deepest map pool in the world and can play almost any team on any map while retaining a strong chance to win. Additionally, this team doesn’t rely on one or two players to come through in the clutch when situations get sticky. Every player can and has now shown up in high-pressure matches. That is a huge luxury to have when anyone on the roster can bring a huge impact into the game in any round on any map.

Astralis is also the most pistol immune team in the world. Losing the pistol round almost means nothing to them as they can easily win the force buys with regularity. This is your last chance to buy in before the Astralis Era gets into full swing. Get on now or get left behind.

FaZe Clan

Håvard “rain” Nygaard

Fabien “kioShiMa” Fiey

Aleksi “allu” Jalli

Finn “karrigan” Andersen

Nikola “NiKo” Kovač

Recent Results:

IEM Katowice: Second

FaZe is another obvious choice. With only a few days of practice, they already made their first big final at IEM Katowice. NiKo’s buyout was met with huge fanfare and has already delivered. If Xyp9x didn’t deliver some transcendental clutch play, NiKo would have been the shoe-in for MVP of the tournament.

NiKo, the superstar force, now has legitimate firepower behind him with allu and rain, and neither stars seem to have role conflicts with the new player. It is all glued together by the support play of kioShiMa and karrigan. Karrigan has proven himself one of the best in-game leaders in the world with how well he has constructed FaZe and maximized its various pieces as part of a comprehensive whole.

FaZe looks to be a top four team in the world after Astralis, VP and SK. Although it’s early, and FaZe hasn’t won a best-of-three against any elite teams, I think they could match up well against both VP and SK.

G2

Richard “shox” Papillon

Alexandre “bodyy” Pianaro

Nathan “NBK-” Schmitt

Dan “apEX” Madesclaire

Kenny “kennyS” Schrub

Recent Results

None

Among the three teams I’ve picked, this best exemplifies the “buy low, sell high” approach. After losing the Katowice qualifiers and losing all their recent games in ESL Pro League, the initial hype surround this team has completely died. Many are skeptical if they can make their way back to the top, but I still believe.

On paper, this is still one of the strongest teams in the world with two of the best players in the world in shox and kennyS. Historically speaking, their stumbling is odd as French super teams take off almost instantly after they form. In this particular case, I think it will be a slow gradual build up akin to the Kevin “Ex6TenZ” Droolans version of G2 in 2016. Shox never had to be an IGL for a superstar AWPer like kennyS, so it makes sense that this lineup will take more time to coalesce. I think they’ll end up as a top six team in the world and potential dark horse to win a tournament.

Sell

OpTic

Tarik “tarik” Celik

Oscar “mixwell” Cañellas

Will “RUSH” Wierzba

Keith “NAF” Markovic

Spencer “Hiko” Martin

Recent Results

DreamHack Las Vegas – Eliminated in group stages

IEM Katowice: Eliminated in group stages

Those who are still holding onto their OpTic stock should drop it like certain Portuguese players drops glocks.

There are currently four problems I see with this team. The first and largest is that OpTic doesn’t have a good in-game leader. I don’t blame their recent results on NAF because he is new to the role, but teams need a competent leader to stay competitive in this era. The second problem is tarik, who is rightly billed as the star player but hasn’t been playing as one at his last three international outings. Without strong team synergy, you need your individual performances to pull through and in this respect, tarik has been unimpressive. This brings me to the third problem: in order for this team to work, I think they need four of their five players to be firing at the same time. They briefly reached that level in the previous lineup, but haven’t been able to do it after Peter “stanislaw” Jarguz left.

The fourth problem is the scarcity of suitable replacements that could solve their first three woes. I don’t see any good options to add to this team to fulfill any of the troubled roles. The few North American star players better than tarik have no incentive to leave their current teams. The only experienced leaders OpTic could buy are either Damian “daps” Steele, their old IGL, or Sean “seang@res” Gares. I can’t imagine daps leaving NRG given how he was kicked from OpTic in the first place; I can’t see Gares leaving Misfits considering his entire team chose to play with him instead of staying with TSM.

Given all of these factors, I can only recommend a sell.

Renegades

Karlo “USTILO” Pivac

Simon “atter” Atterstam

Yaman “yam” Ergenekon

Justin “jks” Savage

Aaron “AZR” Ward

Recent Results

DreamHack Las Vegas: Eliminated in group stages

The Australian project is a complete disaster. If anyone still has stock left in this team, sell it all before it becomes worthless. Renegades is a conundrum, similar to Natus Vincere and Ninjas in Pyjamas. Like Na’Vi, Renegades has a bunch of individually strong players, but the whole is worse than the sum of its parts. Like NiP, Renegades is incredibly stubborn when it comes to roster changes and refuses to add anyone promising from NA.

We’ve seen this Australian core play together for one and a half years and it’s been completely played out. It’s time to blow it up and have the players either go to an international team or reshuffle another Australian stack because they’ve been stuck at the same level this entire time.

Natus Vincere

Denis “seized” Kostin

Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovács

Ioann “Edward” Sukhariev

Egor “flamie” Vasilyev

Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev

Recent Results

ELEAGUE Major: Top 8

DreamHack Las Vegas: Top 8

IEM Katowice: Top 6

The Na’Vi shuffle is often mischaracterized as a bad move when the circumstances surrounding Danylo “Zeus” Teslenko’s firing were more complicated than the popular narrative. Na’Vi didn’t know the Valve coaching rule was coming into effect. Additionally, s1mple had proven to be the most explosive superstar in the world as he carried Liquid to two high Major finishes. At the same time, Na’Vi had reached peak potential with that lineup and, barring a resurgence of form from GuardiaN, I don’t think they could have become championship contenders again.

Having said all of that, it doesn’t excuse the fact that this team still has the same pressing problems after winning ESL New York in October. The loss of leadership from Sergey “starix” Ischuk remains a gaping hole in the team. Without him, Na’Vi has been unable to find proper synergy as a unit. Instead, they’ve relied on individual skill to win games, but that isn’t enough in an era where teams have evolved to embrace individual skill, tactics and teamwork at the same time.

As players, I like every single person on this roster; as a team, I think they can beat any team in the world in a best-of-one. But against the top teams in a best-of-three, Na’Vi doesn’t have enough structure to win with any consistency. A roster change to incorporate an in-game leader seems possible and the best choice. If opting not to go that route, Na’Vi will have to buckle down for the long haul and hope seized will magically uncover his hidden leadership skills. I suppose they could take a shot at having GuardiaN lead, as shox believes he can.

Either way, I don’t think Na`Vi will beat elite teams in best-of-threes consistently any time soon. They’ve hit their limit as a team that can get out of any group no matter the difficulty, but can’t go further. I must reluctantly tell you to sell.

Evaluation

In this section, I’ll review the buys and sells I did last time.

Buying into Na’Vi was a mistake, as they aren’t close to being championship contenders. The combination of no competent IGL, starix’s gradual fading into the background, and the lack of consistent teamwork is too much for them to overcome in their current version. Meanwhile, Gambit have paid off as a top tier 2 team that can upset the elite sides in a best-of-one on the right map. Such success may not continue as teams are now quick to ban out Inferno/Overpass/Cobblestone, but I see them sticking around that level for a while.

SK paid off as they were able to reach the Las Vegas finals. Despite losing in groups at Katowice, I don’t see them relinquishing a top three spot anytime soon. If anything, the Katowice group stage was a fluke that claimed the tournament lives of some very good teams. I think they’ll prove themselves to be threats for a title soon. As for the sells, Hellraisers hasn’t changed and all three teams of EnVyUs, G2 and Team Liquid have already roster swapped.

Cover photo courtesy of Turner Sports/ELEAGUE

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