Act 3 begins: Setting the stage for the Counter-Strike tournament calendar leading up to Krakow

The Counter-Strike tournament calendar can be segmented into chapters.

Each chapter begins and ends with a Major: the Majors, being the most prestigious tournaments in the yearly circuit, are catalysts for many roster changes during the interim periods. Within each chapter are separate acts, much like a play. In 2017, the first chapter runs from the ELEAGUE Major in January the PGL Kraków Major in July. In between, we’ve had two acts so far, and the third is about to begin.

The ELEAGUE Major marked the end of the uncertainty era, that hazy period after Fnatic’s second wind and Luminosity’s rise when everybody beat everybody and nobody definitely rose above the pack. Astralis defeated Viruts.Pro in one of the greatest CS:GO finals of all time and claimed the spot as the best team in the world. After the Major, a flurry of roster swaps produced four theoretical powerhouses that could challenge Astralis, VP, and Natus Vincere: the KennyS/Shox G2, the reunion of Dennis-era Fnatic, SK with João “felps” Vasconcellos replacing Lincoln “fnx” Lau, and Dignitas’ continued evolution as North.

The first three LAN tournaments quickly confirmed there would be no clear delineation. At DreamHack Las Vegas, Virtus.Pro went into plow mode, defeating Astralis in the semifinals and SK in the finals. For his ability to keep his word, Wiktor “TaZ” Wojtas was given a Mercedes. Unfortunately for them, but not unexpectedly, Virtus.Pro did the classic Virtus.Pro bit of turning into a hot mess. They crashed out of subsequent tournaments and behaved suspiciously like bots in online leagues. At the same time, SK’s blistering form at Vegas also took a nosedive. Far from rolling opponents with the additional firepower of felps, SK found itself uncertain of how it wanted to play as a unit.

Prior to IEM Katowice, FaZe bought out Nikola “NiKo” Kovač’s contract to form the eighth super team. A mix of five players from different countries, they were led by ex-Astralis in-game leader Finn “Karrigan” Andersen. FaZe surpassed all expectations at Katowice, reaching the finals before falling to the hands of Karrigan’s former team. In the supposedly most difficult era of CS:GO, Astralis looked a cut above the rest.

G2 and Na’Vi finally showed some of their latent promises at StarLadder Kiev. The superstar players on both teams were going off and the sheer individual skill was astonishing. Despite a great group stage, both fell short against FaZe and Astralis respectively. Once again, the two Danish IGLs faced off with a championship at stake. If Astralis had won, the era of super teams would have become the era of Astralis. Yet Karrigan had other ideas. He and FaZe overcame Astralis in a tense match that went down to the wire.

After three all-out battles, Act 2 felt more like skirmishes. The schedule included CS Summit, DreamHack Austin, IEM Sydney and DreamHack Tours. In these smaller tournaments, we could see many rosters buckling in to improve and fix their teams. Gambit expanded its map pool with noticeable results, finishing second at the Summit and winning DreamHack Austin. Meanwhile, G2, Na`Vi and North are struggling to be greater than the sum of their parts. North suffered three “upset — Immortals at Katowice, HellRaisers at Kiev and Chiefs at Sydney — though its overall gameplay makes it seem like the fanfare was misguided in the first place. After StarLadder, Na’Vi lost all its mojo. It failed to advance from the group stages at Tours and was routed by Misfits, a mixed NA-French team, on its historically best maps. G2 continued to struggle on T-side, lost to Gambit at Austin and was upset by Tricked in the group stages of Tours. G2 did rally to win that tournament, though, against HellRaisers in the final.

On the bright side, SK quickly solved its identity crisis. It won Summit in emphatic fashion and, with a new game plan, won IEM Sydney against FaZe. That win elevated SK as a possible third contender to Astralis and FaZe. As for Fnatic, I have no clue. Post-StarLadder, the Swedes have pretty much laid low.

We now enter Act 3: the lead-up to Kraków. In the next month, Minors for four separate regions will take place, leading up to the offline qualifier to determine the final eight teams who will attend the Major. At the same time, four LAN tournaments will be the litmus tests for teams to double down on their positions or change things up: ESL Pro League Season 5 Finals, DreamHack Summer, ECS Season 3 Finals and ESL One Cologne. The first two acts of the first chapter have ended. It’s time to begin the final stretch.

The Major cycle will start soon as teams try to qualify through their different regions to get to the PGL Major. Running up to the Major, that will be the testing ground for teams to either build themselves or solidify their positions in the field. It’s time for Act 3 to begin.

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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