Going into the PGL Major, just about everyone had pegged four teams as the favorites to win the tournament: Astralis, SK Gaming, FaZe Clan, and G2.
The first three had clearly surged ahead of the rest of the field, as they cemented their status with consistent results at premier events. Astralis remained Astralis, and though it hadn’t won a tournament in the last few months, it only suffered losses against the best teams. SK had won six of its last seven tournaments, and there was speculation the team hadn’t even reached its peak. FaZe boasted four consecutive finals appearances and a semifinal finish at ESL One Cologne. G2 lagged behind as the nominal dark horse in the group with the skill ceiling to beat the best teams, but it was much more inconsistent and frequently lost to lesser teams. Kraków looked to be the arena where all these teams would finally settle discussion over who was the best.
Instead it became the tournament of upsets. Surprise after surprise rolled out as the overlooked squads decided to spoil expectations worldwide; this was exacerbated by the Swiss format and the eventual seeding of the bracket itself. In the group stages, two of the four favorites unexpectedly fell. FaZe didn’t look like the StarLadder champions whatsoever. It completely fell off from the previous months of form and lost to BIG, mouz and Flipsid3 in best-of-ones. Meanwhile, G2 drew an incredibly tough bracket as it faced Natus Vincere, Gambit, Cloud9, Astralis and Fnatic in succession, finishing 2-3 despite its best efforts. On the other side of the bracket, Cloud9 couldn’t generate enough sun-drenched, tanktop-infused power to advance to the playoffs. After a second place finish at ESL Cologne, Cloud9 ended up being eliminated on the last day by Virtus.Pro.
Not only were there shocking upsets, but stunning victories as well. BIG surprised everyone by mastering Inferno to a high degree and defeating FaZe, Cloud9 and SK in succession to earn a spot in the playoffs. BIG’s T-side executes were fresh and the team’s approach showcased its preparation heading into the Major. The other surprise was Gambit going through group stages 3-0 after it was revealed the team lost every single practice scrim leading up to the Major. Despite the loss in practice, Gambit beat Mouz, G2 and Virtus.Pro to secure a spot in the playoffs.
By the time Swiss groups were done, many believed that the randomness of the format couldn’t get worse. Then the playoff bracket was released. The four remaining favorites were forced to face each other on the upper side: Fnatic vs. Gambit and SK vs. Astralis. On the lower side was BIG vs. Immortals and North vs. Virtus.Pro. After the groups were drawn, most of us presumed that SK vs. Astralis was going to be the mini finals as they were the two best remaining teams, and no one else appeared to be on their level. They had an incredible bout where Astralis prevailed, and the Danes were set to play Gambit in the semifinals.
But the surprises didn’t end. Gambit then eliminated Astralis with a preternatural performance. On Overpass, mou destroyed the entire Astralis side in a shocking performance. Astralis won the second map convincingly, but never completely got back the game on Train. Danylo “Zeus” Teslenko was able to rally the troops near the end of regulation and guarantee Gambit’s spot in the Major finals.
On the other side of the bracket, Immortals went into a literal knife fight with BIG. It was a back and forth series that pushed each of the teams to the limit and due to scheduling issues, both teams were forced to play past midnight and the arena was emptied. After scraping by BIG, Immortals realized it could not be so emotionally volatile in the games, as it almost resulted in self-sabotage. Instead, Immortals decided to be more calm in its semifinal match against Virtus.Pro.
Virtus.Pro was favored, coming in hot after demolishing North in the quarterfinals and they finally looking confident after months of shaky — and, frankly, embarrassing — gameplay. The optimistic cited the Major being in Poland as a critical boost, but if that was the case, Immortals didn’t feel it on the server. Immortals trounced VP in the most one-sided series of the playoffs.
The final was a showdown between two teams that few people anticipated would earn a spot into the playoffs, much less the finals. It was a battle between Gambit and Immortals. Immortals had reached the finals after a sordid history of tilting and choking in the previous qualifiers. It was a dream run for the Brazilian upstarts made possible by the serendipitous bracket draw they received. On the other hand, Gambit battled through the upper bracket and upstaged more prominent teams with its flawless teamwork. It was a culmination of Zeus’ dream to finally win the motherfucking Major.
It looked terrible for the Gambit side after being cleaned out in the first map of the final. The momentum was all on Immortals’ side. After the first game, the team rallied back on the T-side of Train. Zeus made all of the right calls and the practice routine started to put the Gambit side players back into form. Immortals fought back and it became a very tightly contested map where mou was forced to pull out hero plays to pull Gambit over the line. In the final game of the Major, Dauren “AdreN” Kystaubayev turned up and destroyed Immortals on the CT-side. He completely took over banana and won nearly every duel he was in. If they didn’t go to AdreN, then Immortals ran into Rustem “mou” Telepov and got shut down. But when it switched over to the T-side, the game became much more difficult as Immortals managed to rally back. Only the superheroic plays of Abay “HObbit” Khasenov kept Gambit in the game. Zeus and Mikhail “Dosia” Stolyarov had impactful rounds that helped push the team over the edge, and with that, Gambit won the Krakow Major.
Each of the Majors will have a moment, a story, or a player we forever attribute to them. Sometimes they crown the best teams in the world, as with Luminosity at MLG Columbus last year. Other times, it is the final touch that raises a lineup from one of the great lineups to legendary status like ESL One Cologne 2015 for Fnatic. This time, the Major will be remembered for the insane upsets throughout the week and Gambit winning the motherfucking Major.
Cover photo by Adela Sznajder/DreamHack