Stuchiu: The rising tides at ESG Tour

ESG Tour showcased the rising tides in CS:GO
Mousesports won ESG Tour in an upset. Photo by Adela Sznajder/DreamHack.

The second LAN of the Counter-Strike season felt unsettlingly calm. A warmly inviting sun, blue skies, and crisp Mediterranean air stood in lieu of the bustling crowds and feverish excitement that usually defines a CS:GO tournament. The Destiny Villa in Mykonos served as a picaresque backdrop for the first ESG tour, giving the event an air of relaxation and whimsy. It was the perfect destination to serve as a metaphor for the state of competitive CS:GO. Teams and players were only now coming back from the summer break, preparing to get back into the grind of things.

Going in Mykonos, SK Gaming was the clear favorite. Ranked No. 1 in the world, the Brazilians boasted the most stable and impressive results of anyone this year. Mykonos was meant to be a pit stop where SK refueled before diving into the stacked fall schedule; after losing a tough draw to G2 Esports at Malmö, this pseudo-vacation was a welcome opportunity to reassert SK’s standing. Instead, SK never displayed its full might. In its absence, rising tides rose up to crash upon the Villa as mousesports and Team Liquid went on a heater to make it to the finals.

Mouz and Liquid were only perceived as troublesome challengers. Both teams went through roster changes in the offseason and, according to the optics, they would find improvement in time.

Mouz had fortified the squad by recruiting Miikka “suNny” Kemppi and Martin “STYKO” Styk in place of Denis “denis” Howell and Christian “loWel” Antoran.

Throughout the year, Mouz had progressed from the washed up remnants of the German scene to a decent international squad. Acquiring Tomas “oskar” Stastny and Robin “ropz” Kool proved the boons the team needed to climb out of a rut: the former took over superstar duties while the latter slowly integrated into the roster as time progressed. The only hiccup along the way was a slight falloff in individual skill. Chris “ChrisJ” de Jong’s maiden excursion as in-game leader had turned into a full-time job, and Mouz needed more skill to reach the next level. If the organization looked to compensate for ChrisJ’s growing pains, suNny and STYKO were astute choices. suNny was the star player on PENTA and had flashed the ability to show up regardless of opposition. Meanwhile, STYKO was coming off a good rise of form during his time on HellRaisers and appeared to be an auspicious pickup.

The switch was good on paper, but Mouz had no time to practice together. The team had just come off break and had to go on the road to attend DreamHack Malmö. The lack of practice was apparent from the start: the setups, teamwork and coordination on their CT-sides was clearly off. But on their T-sides, their skill shone through as oskar, suNny, and ropz delivered again and again throughout their tournament run. Mouz defeated Gambit and Virtus.Pro to reach the finals of the tournament. In particular, Oskar continued to justify all the accolades as he dropped 37 kills against Virtus.Pro in the final game of their series.

On the other side of the bracket was Team Liquid. Liquid elected to avoid roster changes in the offseason but the team did have shakeups. It should have been expected as the team failed to advance through the PGL Krakow Major qualifier, which must have crippled its confidence. Rumors of a breakup peppered their nonchalant inactivity through the offseason, and Liquid was unable to confirm its original lineup until the very end before the deadline. It seems like retaining the roster came with a couple of caveats. The roles within the team are now different. In a bizarre move to outsiders, Peter “stanislaw” Jarguz abdicated the IGL role to Nicholas “nitr0” Cannella. Why the man hailed as NA’s best leader and the chosen one would step away from his defining occupation is a mystery; why it was given to someone who had flirted with the leadership role multiple times, but never impressed or committed to it, was yet another.

Going into the first LAN after the break, Liquid picked up where it left off. Liquid had an easy time in Group B by defeating BIG twice to advance. BIG had upended expectations at the Kraków Major, but that performance consisted of three victories on Inferno when no one was scoping them out. This lack of anticipation superseded the fact that Inferno was one of their self-confessed worst maps. With the scouting report, Liquid was able to soundly defeat BIG in the best-of-three.

What makes Liquid’s run at Mykonos truly impressive was the triumph over SK in the semifinals. Although SK seemed off throughout the series (most noticeably TACO), Liquid still improved from where it was before to the offseason. Nitr0, stanislaw and Joshua “jdm64” Marzano’s individual forms were much stronger here than we had seen them in months earlier. On top of that, Jonathan “EliGE” Jablonowski and Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken continued to be consistent. With SK not in championship form, it was the perfect scenario for Liquid to upset.

From there, the unlikely final was born. Mouz and Liquid had proven themselves to be the best teams at the tournament. Now it was time to see which among them would take the trophy home. It was a back-and-forth series as each team took turns taking maps. In the end, Mouz’s skill won out as the star players were able to win critical maps for the team, particularly oskar dominating the fifth map in the series.

ESG Mykonos was a great event for both teams, a good run that they will aim to build upon. It showed the promise that lays in both teams, but neither team can rest on their laurels. The challenge only gets harder from here. Teams like FaZe Clan, Natus Vincere and North will be looking to capitalize on their talent as well while the old dogs of SK, Astralis, and G2 Esports won’t be satisfied with being usurped; bet on SK getting back into gear after this unexpected humiliation. We have seen many up-and-coming teams get a few good results before being subsumed by the ocean. Teams like HellRaisers, Heroic, and Counter Logic Gaming offered a fleeting glimpse of potential before reverting to the mean. The tides are rising, but will it be enough to alter the current landscape of the scene? Will Mouz and Liquid be an aberration of lunar powers? Or the beginning of something more?

Cover photo by Adela Sznajder/DreamHack

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