An ESL One Katowice CS:GO guide for newer viewers
This week's ESL One Katowice tournament is the fifth major for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. This guide will explain the event and the teams to newer viewers, who may have only just recently begun following the game or indeed have never watched before. The majors in CS:GO are tournaments sanctioned by Valve and with the prize purse raised entirely from crowd-funding, with players buying esports cases, from which they get randomly generated skins, and the money going into a kitty to fund the next major. Each major has a prize pool of $250,000 and the first place prize has thus-far always been $100,000, with this event being no different.
ESL One Katowice prize pool
The 16 teams at the tournament are made up from the top eight of the previous major (Dreamhack Winter 2014), who were invited directly, and the eight teams who qualified via the offline qualifier earlier this month. The teams are divided into four groups of four teams, featuring one team who finished top four at DHW, one who finished top eight and two who made it through the qualifier. Each group is played out using a double elimination bracket and with best-of-1 (Bo1). Two teams move on, with the simplest way to keep track of a team's progress being that once a team wins two games they move on and once they lose two games they are eliminated.
The eight teams would get out of the group stage go into a single elimination Bo3 bracket, with first place teams playing randomly drawn second place teams from the groups. All play-off rounds are Bo3, including the final. During the play-offs, teams ban a map each, pick a map each and then the third map is randomly selected from the three maps remaining in the map pool which totals seven maps.
Five of the maps (inferno, dust2, nuke, mirage and cache) have now been played for many months or years in competitive play, but two of the maps (overpass and cbblestone) are reasonably new, having been brought in only nine months or so ago. These two maps have quite recently been reworked, so spectators should keep their eye out for games which end up taking place on them, since it is still quite uncertain how strong most of the teams will be on them or who they favour.
(The numbers next to the team names are my world rankings)
Natus Vincere (Na`Vi) [#7]
VOX EMINOR (VOX)
Flipsid3 Tactics (F3)
Natus Vincere (Na`Vi) [#7]
Guardian - Super-star AWPer, but highly variable in performance level.
Edward - Famed pistol master and skilled rifler, fomerly a carry in 1.6.
Seized - Erratic but skilled rifler.
starix - Veteran player, solid at clutch round scenarios.
Zeus - In-game leader, likes to rely on late-round executes after a slow build-up.
In 2014, Na`Vi broke out internationally by besting a field of some of the world's best teams, including the champions of the two previous tournaments (Virtus.pro and NiP) at StarSeries IX, in Kiev. They followed that finish up with a runner-up performance at Dreamhack Summer, losing out to NiP in two finals there. Beyond that, Na`Vi managed to finish top eight at ESL One Cologne, narrowly losing to eventual finalists Fnatic and would make the semi-final of Dreamhack Winter, with an impressive upset win over a choking Team Dignitas (now Team SoloMid).
Three of Na`Vi's team (starix, Edward and Zeus) are veteran champions of Counter-Strike 1.6, the previous game which ruled the CS roost. The trio have all been around the top end of the Ukrainian scene since as far back as 2004, though not all playing together during the early days. In 2006, starix's A-gaming team secured the first ever medal for a Ukrainian team at a major securing the bronze medal at the 2007 World Cyber Games. The three of them would unite in the first Na`Vi team, which broke out in its first year and won all three CS 1.6 majors, numerous other events and broke the record for prize money won in a single year by any team in history.
Na`Vi are famous for playing to the level of their opponents in seemingly all tournaments. The best team from the CIS region, they have won and placed highly in many tournaments there, yet will still give up a map to even their local competition. Moving on to the international stage, they routinely give better teams more trouble, particularly thanks to their very slow and formulaic execution-based style of terrorist play. Na`Vi are famous for letting the clock run down to as low as 20 seconds before pulling the trigger on their attack, yet make it work an impressive amount of the time.
mirage (one of the best in the world)
dust2 (streaky but at times very strong)
A key strength of Na`Vi is the wild skill of mercurial AWP talent GuardiaN. This Slovakian master sniper is capable of hitting some of the most difficult shots in the game with the scoped rifle and with probably the fastest firing speed in the game. The strength his sniping brings is the ability to completely demoralise an opposing team, with the quality and difficulty of the shots he can hit. The weakness which accompanies that strength is that GuardiaN can cool off just as rapidly as he heats up, turning in performances one would not expect out of a star level name. As Guardian goes, so Na`Vi. The maps he is at his most dangerous on are dust2 and mirage, making these two the major threats for the largely-Ukrainian team.
Edward used to be one of the two stars of the Na`Vi which terrorised Counter-Strike 1.6 in 2010. He was the best pistol round player in the world and an incredible sprayer with the rifles. In CS:GO, he is not the same kind of monstrous force, but remains a good pro, capable of the occasional big game. What is most confusing about Edward is that he is incredibly hard to read and seems to have no pattern to when he will perform well or poorly, a factor which seems as difficult to manage for Na`Vi as their opponents.
Na`Vi should be expected to reach the top eight of this tournament, but go no further. They would be a favourite against any team outside of my top six (Fnatic, nV, NiP, VP, Titan and TSM). To defeat any of those top six teams, GuardiaN playing at his peak level is a must and beyond that they will need at least one out of Edward and seized to be performing well.
KRiMZ - Super-star Support player, lock-down CT player. God of bombsite B on inferno and connector on mirage.
jw - Super-star player, gets incredibly hot with both rifles and the AWP.
Olofm - Very skilled with all weapons, incredibly versatile. Formerly a main carry of LGB, his old team.
flusha - Master of clutch round situations, solid and reliable rifler, though saw a crucial drop in form at MLG.
pronax - Intuitive in-game leader, famed for making good mid-round calls based on his reading of the defensive set-up.
The best CS:GO team in the world, FNATIC took up that spot in October, winning the FACEIT S2 LAN finals. They would take the next two events in a row, winning ESWC and fragbite Masters S3 LAN finals. That stretch of wins, along with having notched up seven straight top four finishes since setting their line-up, took Fnatic into Dreamhack Winter, the last major of 2014, as heavy favourites to take the title. A prevailing story-line of Fnatic's time at the top had been their offline dominance over LDLC (now known as nV), beating them in both the ESWC and fbM S3 finals, the latter even being a Bo5. Fnatic were upset in the group stage of DHW, falling 14:16 to HellRaisers on mirage, one of Fnatic's strongest maps.
That upset loss helped set-up a quarter-final draw against LDLC. This time around, LDLC came out hot, winning the opening dust2, a map they were known to be strong on but which Fnatic had beaten them on previously. Fnatic responded with a dominant win on cache. The decider was selected as Overpass and LDLC looked to be on the verge of beating Fnatic for the first time in an offline series, going up 12:3 on the dominant CT side of the map and then winning the pistol round of the second half, reaching a 13:3 score-line. The seeds of their defeat had already been sown, though, as on the pistol round Fnatic had unveiled a never before seen boost which allowed them to see over a wall and over two-thirds of the map.
This was not just a useful boost, it was entirely game-breaking, allowing Fnatic to see nearly all of the map and having the players doing the boosting located in the only area of the map that the boost did not show the paths towards. Fnatic would win 13 straight rounds, taking the map and the series, with LDLC unable to even figure out where they were being seen from for many rounds, realising far too late. The effect of the boost was so significant that the admins spent many hours discussing its legality and the end result, to cut a long story short, was that it was decided that the entire map would be replayed the following day. Fnatic decided to forfeit, granting LDLC the spot in the semi-finals without the final map ever being truly resolved.
That loss ended Fnatic's streak of top four finishes at seven and allowed LDLC to go on to eventually take the Dreamhack Winter title. Fnatic went to ESEA S17 LAN shortly after DHW, an event which did not feature either of the DHW finalists (LDLC and NiP), but did feature world number threes Virtus.pro. Fnatic would lose the upper bracket final to VP, 0:2, but come back to win two straight Bo3 in the final, without dropping a map, to secure the title and tentatively maintain the status of world number ones, with LDLC having won only a single big event.
In the first big event of 2015, MLG X Games Aspen, Fnatic lost to NiP in the semi-final in the best series of CS:GO ever played. Losing to TSM in the third place game, it appeared as if the Fnatic era had finally finished, especially with nV going on to claim their second straight offline title and snatch the top spot in CS:GO. That French coup proved short-lived, though, as at the next event the two teams played at (IOS Pantamera), they would meet in the play-offs, with Fnatic winning the series and going on to beat Titan and take their first event of the year. The win, in a field featuring all of the world's top four teams, put Fnatic back on top headed into this major.
One of the greatest line-ups in CS:GO history, the only thing this team lacks for is a major title, one of the biggest accomplishments in the game. With their quarter-final exit at Dreamhack Winter being the only time they have failed to play in the tour four of an offline tournament, the pressure is on them to secure this major championships and cement themselves atop the CS world.
Fnatic are famous as the best CT side team in the game. Their dominance of this side, along with maps like inferno and mirage, made them the best team in the world in late 2014, as those strengths become core qualities of the meta, with seemingly all the top teams favouring inferno and making their money on the defensive side. Fnatic's strength on those two maps stems initially from the lock-down play of KRiMZ, playing in the small site (B) on inferno and at the connector area of the big site (A) on mirage. Beyond that, KRiMZ famously synergises well with olofm, whom he played with in LGB previously, as both play the same sites on these two core Fnatic maps.
jw is given a free role within Fnatic, allowed to switch to the AWP any time he pleases and swap position with any player on the map, to disrupt, surprise and engage the enemy. When jw is rolling, he can put together highlight rounds against any team in an instant, so Fnatic's use of him around different areas of the map ensures Terrorist sides cannot be sure what the defensive set-up will be for the Swedes. Flusha's stable and consistent playing style allows jw to show-case such a style, as the two often play in the same sites.
On the terrorist side, fnatic rely on pronax's mid-round calls and the wealth of rounds they can bank on CT halves. Despite being the world's best team, they can struggle for offensive side rounds at times, especially if pronax is unable to read the opposing team.
inferno (best in the world)
mirage (one of the best in the world)
cache (one of the best in the world)
KRiMZ is the back-bone of this team and dominates the game in a highly unorthodox manner. The positions he plays are typical of less-skilled players, yet he is both the best at those roles and one of the top two or three players in all of CS:GO. Famous for his incredible fundamentals, KRiMZ dominates the games by grinding opponents down, taking two or three kills in round after round. A master of the CT sides, where Fnatic are known to get most of their rounds, KRiMZ can lock down his site, especially on mirage and inferno, in a manner no other player in the world can. KRiMZ can be relied upon to always get the first kill and often the second, selecting the right positions to be in and knowing when and how to re-position to continue to be effective.
Teams cannot simply ignore KRiMZ's site and go to the other, as Fnatic rely upon that impulse and will rotate a player from that site to the larger site, when KRiMZ's site has been shown to be locked down and he can hold it himself or venture out, in the case of mirage. The dynamic of CT sides for Fnatic then becomes how they gamble that rotating man in or out of the site KRiMZ plays and one can see Fnatic's chances to win based on how well they do that.
jw is one of the most dangerous players in the world, as he plays an impulsive style, which Fnatic permit and encourage. Going where he pleases, doing whatever he pleases, even if that means wildly pushing up and aggressively taking on aim duels, jw can become an unstoppable force on the map. At times, he will cool off drastically, becoming merely a good player, at which point Fnatic must lean heavily on KRiMZ and look for a big game from olofm, an approach that often saves them.
Olofm was supposed to be the star Fnatic were acquiring in the Summer of 2014, but the incredible emergence of KRiMZ, who blossomed after moving to the team, had the knock-on effect of making Olofm the odd man out initially. Once Fnatic established themselves as the best team, olofm found his role and has since become by far the best third man in CS:GO, in as much as the team usually relies upon KRiMZ and jw's play, but olofm is a top ten player in his own right and as such a huge luxury for the Fnatic team.
Fnatic are the favourites to take the trophy in Poland. They did show some weakness at Dreamhack Winter and losing to NiP at MLG suggested the gap had shrunk somewhat between the other top teams and then, but their win at IOS Pantamera, taking the last four maps in a row, was impressive enough to have boosted their confidence again. Unless they show nerves and poor play, Fnatic should be a lock for the semi-finals and have the largest chance of reaching the final of any team in attendance. Unless Fnatic draw a team like nV in the quarter-final again, it would be a huge shock for them not to make the top four.
KRiMZ always never fails to play at a very high level, as one of the most consistent players in the world, but jw's level is more variable. When jw is not on his game, olofm can save Fnatic, but recently it has been poor play from Flusha which has cost them in big games. If KRiMZ, jw and olofm all bring their best, which happens perhaps once in every three maps, then Fnatic can be near unbeatable for any opponent.
How the group should play out:
Fnatic are a huge favourite to make the play-offs, with there being no reason as to why they would not progress. Na`Vi are specialists on mirage, so if that map were to be played then the Ukrainians would have a chance, but Fnatic are strong on that map and thus should not be worried. Flipsid3 would have had a chance of beating Na`Vi for the second spot, but that team is attending without their best player (s1mple) and thus are outsiders to be able to reach a play-off slot. Na`Vi should take the second spot in the group, with the pedigree and talent advantage over both of the other teams. VOX are large underdogs to move on, but will have a chance to perhaps upset F3.
Team EnVyUs (nV) [#2]
PENTA Sports (PENTA) [#10]
LGB eSports (LGB)
Team EnVyUs (nV) [#2]
Happy - In-game leader, well known for his team's strength on pistol save rounds. Lurker and strong fragger.
shox - Formerly one of the world's elite players, now an entry fragger and his strong performance in the final at MLG helped boost the team to the title. Inhuman aim and sheer depth of talent.
kioShiMa - Strong aimer and entry fragger, his improvement in game impact late in tournaments helps account for the team's two big titles.
NBK - Formerly a strong lurker and third man, now plays supportive roles.
SmithZz - The support player, but also known for streaky T side AWPing. Often chokes in big games.
Created after ESL One Cologne, this line-up brought former Epsilon players shox and kioShiMa together with SmithZz and NBK of Titan, with ex-LDLC leader Happy joining as the fifth man. Initially, they struggled to realise their potentail, losing the Dreamhack Stockholm final in a shocking upset at the hands of rivals Titan and being rudely ejected from the FACEIT S2 LAN final in the semi-final, due to an inspired performance by North Americans iBUYPOWER.
From ESWC onwards, they went four straight events without failing to place below top two at an event. At ESWC and fragbite Masters S3, they fell to fashion without much resistance. Winning Dreamhack Winter and MLG X Games Aspen, they twice beat NiP in finals and briefly took on the status of the world's best CS:GO team. At IOS Pantamera, they lost out to Titan in the group stage but made the play-offs, there falling 1:2 in a Bo3 series against Fnatic.
Much like Fnatic, nV are one of the very best CT side teams in the game, thanks in part due to their high skill quotient. That factor was a problem in the past for them, as it helps account for why they would repeatedly lose to Fnatic, having an ever so slightly weaker CT side and then similar problems on the Terrorist side. On the offensive side of the game, nV have a peculiar trend in that they are infamous for winning rounds when they lack the money for rifles and armour, being famed abusers of pistols like the CZ and Tec-9. Their problems in winning full buy round as T, have seen them sometimes unable to grind out wins or string together more than 2-3 rounds at a time.
They did overcome some of those problems in the MLG X Games Aspen final, with shox and kioShiMa show-casing fantastic entry fragging, to open the game up for them.
dust2 (best in the world)
inferno (one of the best in the world, along with Fnatic and the previous NiP)
cache (one of the best in the world)
Happy is the in-game leader, a role which is rarely associated with a big individual performance in CS:GO, yet is also the best fragger in his team and one of the world's top 10 players. His lurking style sees him picking up many T side kills, nearly always performing the best for his team over the entire game in this respect, and on CT sides he is a master of moving through smokes and finding angles from which to secure multi-kill rounds.
shox was arguably the best CS:GO player in the world during the latter three months of 2013, elevating his VeryGames team above NiP, then by far the most dominant team in the game's history. At the time, he was a god of pistols, rifles and mid-round play, being able to both multi-kill and win clutch round situations. In nV, his role has been more of a pure entry fragger and even occasional CT side AWPer. Initially, he struggled to find anything close to his old form, playing in this new role. At MLG X Games Aspen, he had a break-out performance in the new role, dominating the T side with unbelievable entry frags and putting his team in position to take the title.
nV are solidly the second best team in the world, having won two of the three international tournaments they last attended. Their form was very good at Dreamhack Winter, but arguably even better at MLG X Games Aspen. Even in spite of their third place finish at IOS Pantamera, one should expect nV to reach a top four at a minimum in Katowice. If they do not meet Fnatic prior to the final, they are a favourite to finish top two. Should Fnatic be eliminated by someone else, then nV are favourites to become the first team in history to win two majors.
The biggest danger for nV may be that they will face Titan, their domestic rivals, in the group stage. With Titan having beaten them a number of times in the past, making their record quite even, a loss in the group stage could see nV forced to face a top four team in the quarter-final, making their path to the final difficult from the outset.
It is almost assured that Happy will play well and frag heavily, such has been the pattern at practically all of their last few events. The key players for this team are shox and kioShiMa, in as much as strong entry fragging from either gives nV a legitimate chance at winning the title. The other two (SmithZz and NBK) need only contribute and not feed the enemy kills.
kennyS - The best CS:GO player and the best AWPer. Unparalleled consistent performance level right now.
apEX - Pure entry fragger, inconsistent but important for Titan.
RpK - Former Source legend, only recently returned. Solid mid round player.
Maniac - Support player, often criticised for weak offline performances, usually justifiably so.
Ex6TenZ - Legendary in-game leader, master-mind tactician, favouring an execution-based style but moving to a slightly looser kennyS-trigged system in the last 10 months.
The core of this team, all of their players minus RpK, initially looked to be a shaky composition upon being assembled, not expected to really challenge for significant titles. They shocked with a break-out win at their first offline event, taking down Fnatic and LDLC to win Dreamhack Stockholm in September of 2014. At ESWC, they would face LDLC again in the quarter-final and fall out of the tournament at that point. Shortly before Dreamhack Winter, KQLY, Titan's second best player and their secondary AWPer, was banned by Valve for using cheats. This saw Titan forced to miss the major and lacking a fifth man.
The team would temporarily use a member of their staff, a former CS:GO pro, and attend ESEA S17 LAN, where they shockingly almost beat Fnatic in a three map Bo3 series, but ultimately failed to crack the top four. Titan brought in RpK, a player who had been a team-mate of two of their members up until early 2013. At ASUS ROG Winter, a tournament early in 2015, the new look Titan finished second, losing out to NiP in the final, but placing ahead of the likes of Virtus.pro and HellRaisers.
At IOS Pantamera, Titan startled everyone as they won their first four group stage games, defeating Fnatic, nV and NiP, the three best teams in the world, on each team's best map (inferno in Fnatic and NiP's case and dust2 in nV's). This performance put them directly into the final, where they awaited the winner of Fnatic and nV. Fnatic defeated Titan's rivals and would beat them 2:0 in the final, denying them the title.
Titan are the top team most reliant upon the play of their best player, as kennyS' AWPing both gives them chances to stay in games with opponents and beat out better teams. The team allows him great freedom in how he goes about creating picks and holding positions with his sniper rifle and they play off of his otherworldly performance in his role. Titan are one of the best terrorist teams in the world, with Ex6TenZ the greatest in-game leader in the game's history, in a textbook sense; kennyS capable of entry-fragging in a manner few AWPers can; and apEX being a pure entry fragger.
inferno (strong, can play anyone in the world on it)
cache (under-rated in how good they are on it)
kennyS is the best player in the world in CS:GO and it's not particularly close. Fnatic's KRiMZ has challenged him for tha title at times, but even that consistent monster cannot match the level of kennyS. kennyS is both the most dominant individual player in the game, playing an at unbelievable level for the past 5-6 months, particularly peaking in the last four, and seemingly unstoppable even when his team is playing poorly. As a sniper, kennyS has one of the fastest firing speeds in the game and yet also has the most consistent hit-rate, allowing him to create highlight round kill sequences in seemingly every map of play.
Only three players have ever reached the level of individual dominance seen by kennys (GeT_RiGhT, shox and KRiMZ), but all three of those players were playing in the best team in the world at the time, while kennyS plays in a team practically nobody would rank in the top three and some would have as low as fifth best. That alone suggests the incredible nature of kennyS' peak, not coinciding with much help from his team, and the degree to which is he playing above and beyond even the other super-stars in the game.
apEX had a period around the middle of 2014 when he was arguably the best entry fragger in CS:GO, a notoriously difficult and nuanced role. That level of performance helped propel the old LDLC line-up to a top four finish at ESL One Cologne and being two rounds from contending for the trophy. In Titan, he initially started out well, but has been inconsistent and often unable to play a reliable side-kick to kennyS since then.
The numbers would tell us that Titan should reach the play-offs, but fall out as a 5th-8th placed team. Recent form and specific match-ups suggest there are higher ranked opponents they can beat and score a semi-final run off of. Fnatic and nV are the two best teams in the world, yet Titan have one of the best claims to a chance to upset those two teams, who are a favourite over all the others, in a Bo3. Since nV are in Titan's group, that leaves Fnatic, the favourites, as a quarter-final match-up which Titan, counter-intuitively can match-up well for and potentially cause an upset in. With NiP coming into the event with a new member, there also may be a little weakness which could be exploited there.
Somewhat in line with their sixth place spot in my world rankings, this is the team outside of the top four (Fnatic, nV, NiP and VP) with the best chance to make a miracle run to the final. For that to happen, it will require more than a godlike performance from kennyS, which he seemingly always delivers and which is the most basic requirement for their success. It will require apEX to frag well and, if they reach the semi-final, at least a solid game from RpK. Compared to the other top teams, Titan lack for some fire-power, since so much of theirs is tied up in their best player, so they much bridge that gap and then rely on strong T side play to put them in position to win.
How the group should play out:
The premier match-up sees some very solid upset potential, as Titan have always matched up well with nV, in light of being a significantly lower ranked team and far less likely to win big international titles. That Titan also favour dust2 and inferno, nV's two best maps, ensures that the match-up is an exciting one, even beyond the rivalry between so many of the players, many of whom have played in teams with each other. If the map the two play on is dust2 or inferno, then Titan have solid upset potential, even if nV are the favourites.
Assuming nV progress, which they should, favourites to beat every name here, then Titan are a reasonably strong second bet. kennyS' level alone can beat any team in the world on a single map right now, so LGB and PENTA do not stand out as teams who have enough fire-power to expose Titan's occasional lack of it, which comes in the context of the top eight in the world. PENTA do have some skilled players, but those players lack for much legitimate big LAN experience, in terms of performances to match their online form. LGB have a solid strategical approach, but do not have anyone close to the level of kennyS or anywhere near the raw skill to stand across from nV.
Ninjas in Pyjamas (NiP) [#3]
HellRaisers (HR) [#8]
Counter Logic Gaming (CLG)
Keyd Stars (Keyd)
Ninjas in Pyjamas (NiP) [#3]
GeT_RiGhT - The greatest player in CS:GO history. Slumping as of late, but the most famous lurker and clutch player in the game.
f0rest - One of the best 1.6 and CS:GO players in history. Perhaps possessed of the best aim in CS:GO, is wildly streaky for a top player, at times no longer deserving of top 10 status.
Friberg - The best entry fragger in CS:GO history. Mentally strong and able to force entries on maps like dust2 and inferno. Famous for locking down B on inferno as CT.
Xizt - The in-game leader, utilising a looser, more star-orientated approach. Famous for winning high pressure clutch rounds.
allu - A stats monster, showing lots of fragging potential in lower level games but as yet truly untested at the elite level offline.
The greatest team in the history of CS:GO, the four man core of this team won the first eight offline tournament they attended, not losing a map and eventually going an unbelievable 87-0 in offline maps won before taking their first loss. Even when they were bested at an offline tournament, they would not drop below a top four finish for what ended up being a streak of 31 total tournaments, lasting from August of 2012 through to late June of 2014. From the last third of 2013, perennial runners-up VeryGames took over the top spot from NiP, but the Ninjas continued to remain a solid top two in the world.
Losing out in the final of the first major, at Dreamhack Winter 2013, they fell there to an upstart Fnatic team. Four months later, at the second major, at EMS One Katowice in March of 2014, they fell in the final to an unstoppable Virtus.pro in peak form. Regaining the world number one status at the next event, NiP would cement that status with a victory at Dreamhack Summer in June. That would mark the end of their time as a consistent top four team.
At their next event, they fell to their first finish outside of the top four and repeated the feat at Gfinity. At the third major, ESL One Cologne, they incredibly performed their own upset run, beating out three teams (C9, LDLC and Fnatic) all in close three map fashion and all when those teams seemed to have secured an edge to eliminate them. Thus, NiP won their major title at the time they were at their weakest as a team, by far. After that, their problems caught up with them and they would fail to get out of the group stage of the next two LANs and fail to even qualify for more offline tournaments.
Weeks before Dreamhack Winter 2014, fifth man Fifflaren retired and NiP brought in sniper Maikelele. Despite no warm-up event to test the new line-up, they survived a shaky group stage to mount an epic run to the final. Along the way they smashed a previously hot HellRaisers in the quarters. In the semi-final, they hung in to reach three maps against Virtus.pro, one of the year's most consistent teams, and then outrageously rampaged over the Poles on one of their best maps. In the final, NiP overcame a first map loss to LDLC to smash the French side on inferno, the same map which had been the decider against VP and also one of the strongest maps of LDLC. The decider was overpass and NiP would earn two championship points, but see the game go to overtime and LDLC roar back to steal the trophy.
At MLG X Games Aspen, the first event of 2015, NiP overcame a shocking group stage loss to C9, on nuke, formerly their home map, to provide the greatest series of all-time in their semi-final win over Fnatic. Edging fnatic on cache, they fell in equally thrilling fashion on inferno to see the series head to three maps. The third was mirage, traditionally one of Fnatic's strongest maps. NiP showed an unexpectedly strong game, winning the game after a big T half and being able to neutralise fnatic's offensive play. At ASUS ROG Winter, NiP beat out Titan to take their first title, albeit at a tier three event.
At IOS Pantamera, NiP won only a single map in the group stage and failed to reach the play-offs. Despite Maikelele's inconsistent but talismanic AWPing having been a part of the new identity of NiP in their two big finals runs, the team elected to remove him from the line-up and, after some testing, chose to go with Finnish AWPer allu as their fifth man for ESL One Katowice. allu has one of the highest statistical ratings in CS:GO, but has never played for a top eight ranked team or in the deep rounds of big international tournaments, making his statistics over-inflated.
It is difficult to know how NiP's style will be affected by allu's addition, but the previous NiP line-up was famous for their default Terrorist style, very much triggering off individual plays created by entry fraggers Friberg and f0rest. That ability to brute force sites open has made NiP one of the best T side teams throughout all eras. When they do take over sites, GeT_RiGhT has made a career out of winning in the latter part of rounds. NiP's tendency to win off individual play has helped coin the term "NiP magic" to describe their ability to overcome difficult situations, often from 2vX or 1vX circumstances.
Some of the magic and a lot of their CT side proficiency stems from highly tuned chemistry and communication between the core players, who play off each other better than anyone else in the game's history. NiP don't win with the best CT set-ups or rotations, they react to each other's calls and play off what their team-mate should do in a manner few teams can replicate.
inferno (one of the best in the world, top 2-3)
mirage (seemingly much improved form)
nuke (traditionally their best map, but has rarely been seen on LAN in recent times)
GeT_RiGhT is the best player CS:GO has ever seen, but not as of the last eight months or so. At his best, he was a consistent fragger, dominant on all sides of the game and capable of winning clutch rounds at will, including those which appeared impossible for other pros. His ailing form, including during their Dreamhack Winter run, has been a problem for NiP at times. One of his better recent performances was in the decisive map against Fnatic at MLG, where he locked down B on mirage and helped secure the win.
f0rest was for the first year or so of CS an easy pick for a top five player in the world, but has seemed to drop a few spots as each six months proceeding that came and went. Now, he is still capable of producing one of those magical halves or maps, where looks like the best player in the world, but those seem to come once in every five or six offline games now.
The roster change has the potential to really mess things up for NiP, especially going with a player whose native language is not Swedish, in which they communicate. On paper, one would expect them to make a solid run into the top four and then lose there to nV or Fnatic, should the bracket shake out that way. I suspect that their roster move makes them more vulnerable to teams like TSM and Titan. If they finish first in their group, then they should make top four, but if they finish second or play Titan, then I think the chances of them dropping out 5th-8th are good.
For NiP to reach the final, they will need to once more challenge their patented "NiP magic". They'll also need a big performance from both GeT_RiGhT and f0rest, their two carries since the early days. Maikelele had been capable of taking over halves in the previous line-up, so allu will need to bring a good game in every three if a similar pattern is to be followed. A key problem for NiP is the lack of a predictable home map, in comparison to the other top teams.
HellRaisers (HR) [#8]
Dosia - Formerly an elite player, has struggled to maintain that form in the last nine months. Very passive player, but with strong aim and a penchant for taking on 1on1 aim duels and winning them.
Flamie - Star prospect of the region, but largely unproven in the context of offline international competition.
kucher - Good aimer, but sometimes struggles to match his performance level with his raw aiming ability.
ANGE1 - In-game leader and entry fragger, as unusual as it is that those roles are combined, suggesting that HR does not play within a highly rigid tactical system.
AdreN - A carry player in 1.6, he has taken on a supportive role in CS:GO and is not the fragger he was known to be before.
Four of the five players in this line-up were members of the Virtus.pro team which was the first team in the game to unseat NiP in an offline game, beating them 4:0, overall, at StarSeries V, and winning the title there. They would be the second team to score such a victory, again beating NiP in the semi-final of EMS One Summer, but then losing to VeryGames in the final. When VeryGames took over as the best team, starting at StarSeries VII, three of the members (Dosia, ANGE1 and AdreN) had become Astana Dragons and would also beat NiP there, finishing second.
Beyond that, the cracks started to show for HellRaisers and they would lose key series, failing to make the ESWC final, falling out of Dreamhack Winter 2013 in the quarter-final, to compLexity (now Cloud9) and likewise failing to crack top four at EMS One Katowice. HellRaisers became famous as a skilled team who could, on their day, cause a big upset over a better team, only to lose a team worse than the level of the one they had upset. They would play NiP close in the semi-final of Dreamhack Summer 2014, but beyond that saw themselves failing to even win tournaments domestically in the CIS region. At ESL One Cologne, they failed to reach the play-off stage.
At Dreamhack Winter 2014, the team upset Fnatic on mirage 16:14 and were considered to be favourites to reach the semi-finals, against a new look NiP, but were trashed by a huge performance from the Ninjas and f0rest, in particular. HellRasiers have changed out young star s1mple and old but flawed star name markeloff for Flamie and AdreN, the latter having formerly been a member of the team.
Famous for an approach heavily predicated upon out-aiming the opponent, they are not a strong T side team and struggle to show any consistency there, relying upon big individual moments to score rounds against top teams. As CT, their skill can allow them big runs of rounds, but they lack for strong maps due to their individualistic style of play. Led by the approach of Dosia, they can be slow to react on both sides, retaking in a one-by-one manner and slowly taking aim duels over-and-over as T.
inferno (good, but surprisingly inconsistent on)
mirage (above average but still not a reliable home)
Dosia - Once the best CIS players by far, this Eastern beast had a dominant skillset of spraying, bursting and confident one-on-one out-aiming. Has seemed to struggle in adapting to the modern day climate of the game, he is often predictabe in his slow and cautious approach. Still a good player, it is his game impact which lacks, as a good performance from him sometimes will still not win the game for the team.
Flamie - Considered one of the best prospects in the region, as the player he replaced (s1mple), Flamie is known for his explosive fragging. Has yet to be given enough opportunity to show himself a legitimate top player, much is expected of him in this HellRaisers team.
Thanks to their group draw, they can make the top eight, but are one of the teams with decent potential to be upset prior. CLG can shock them individually and Keyd can potentially out-execute them, especially since both favour mirage. HellRasiers should not beat NiP, despite their historical trend of upsetting teams in Bo1. All in all, I'd give them a slight edge to make the play-offs in second place, but then the lowest chance of any team to reach the semi-final, assuming they do not get some kind of miracle draw of one of the weakest teams at that stage.
How the group should play out:
NiP are a heavy favourite to reach the play-offs from the first place, expected to beat every team in the group. HellRasiers should be able to join them in second place, but can certainly lose to both of the other teams. For CLG to progress, they would need to produce two miracle games, likely relying on raw fragging. For Keyd to win is the least likely outcome, since they rely on strategy and execution, which is not going to work enough against teams with a lot more raw skill. Keyd can score a win against CLG, though, as the Americans still lack enough international experience and have not shown any kind of team consistency to make some of their one-off big-game performances.
Virtus.pro (VP) [#4]
Team SoloMid (TSM) [#5]
Cloud9 (C9) [#9]
Team 3DMAX (3DMAX)
Virtus.pro (VP) [#4]
Snax - Impressive intuitive player, adept at moving around the enemy and catching them off-guard. Skilled rifler, but sporadic in good form with them.
byali - A very explosive rifler, his peak is high but he has little control over when he can hit it.
pasha - Formerly a consistent fragger, he varies between AWPing and rifling and seems to be the primary X factor in all VP results.
NEO - The greatest CS 1.6 player of all-time has not transitioned well to CS:GO and seems to perform well only once in every four games and often has to settle simply for a decent contribution and hoping others carry.
TaZ - Another great 1.6 player, albeit not at the scale of NEO, TaZ has struggled heavily in CS:GO, despite starting out as the best in his team. Forced into supportive roles, to assist his stars in being in position to carry.
Starting out as ESC and bringing in the five man line-up which had won the last two majors in CS 1.6 history, this line-up contained four players who had won more majors than could be counted on one hand. Early CS:GO saw them establish themselves as a top four team, but then drop-off and eventually abandon their line-up, bringing in Snax and byali as replacements for kuben and loord. This new team struggled early, going out of Dreamhack Winter 2013 in the group stage. At EMS One Katowice, on home soil, they rampaged over the tournament to win the second major title in CS:GO history, their first, with only a single map loss, in the semi-final against LGB. Their victory in the final was particularly startling, as they ploughed NiP, the best team in the game's history, with a brutually nobody had ever seen before.
After that, NiP would win the next two Bo3 against them and VP would not get the chance to take the title of the world's best team. Splitting series against Na`Vi, they finished top three at ESEA S17 but only 5th-8th at Dreamhack Summer. The second high point of 2014 came at Gfinity, as the team overcame a humdrum group stage performance to active the notorious "Virtus.plow" and wreck blazing hot Dignitas and Titan teams, taking the title and heading into ESL One Cologne as a favourite.
The event in Germany saw VP returned to Earth, losing out to Happy's LDLC in the quarter-final. At all of the rest of the year's events, VP would finish at least top four, reaching the final of only ESEA S17. At Dreamhack Winter, they looked poised to defeat the new look NiP in the semi-final, but gave up the first map from map point, losing in over-time and fell in devastating fashion in the third map, one of their home maps - inferno. Falling embarrassingly in the group stage of ASUS ROG Winter, an event where top four should have been guaranteed, and failing to reach the play-offs of IOS Pantamera sees VP enter this major as a team in the worst slump of their last year of play.
At their peak, VP's "Virtus.plow" seems then rolling over teams on the T side, bullying them with aggressive and daring brute force pushes. On the CT side, they swarm upon opportunities to fight the enemy, putting up a brick wall which can seem impenetrable. The solution to beating the plow is simply not to face it, as VP are themselves not able to predict when it will be activated and it seems to have only truly been engaged a handful of times in history in offline tournaments.
At their normal everyday level, VP are a top four team in the world and show-case the expected good but not amazing CT side and a better-than-average-for-a-top-team T side, at least on their best maps.
cache (At times a true speciality, but also a map they have bizarrely give up games to lesser teams on)
mirage (traditionally their home map and still one they show proficiency on)
inferno (formerly their second best map, but a potential liability against the likes of Fnatic, nV and NiP)
Snax - His intuitive sense for the opponents' location seems to go hand-in-hand with VP's best performances. He has shown himself to be a big game player and a top 10 player, but has never truly established himself as an elite level force with consistency.
pasha - When VP were the dominant force a year ago, it was pasha who stood out as the MVP of the line-up. His drop-off from the Summer onwards seemed to be a major reason they could reach the semi-finals of tournaments but almost never go further.
byali - Strong in the entry fragging department, he has been a key component in their good T side play, but his aim is both explosive and at times known to desert him entirely. A very confusing but exciting player.
Despite their poor recent offline form, the hype surrounding their online form is large, a little reminiscent of last year's run-up to the same event. I don't take either too far, seeing them as likely semi-finalists, but unlikely to make the final and with an outside chance to fall in the quarter-final, if they get the wrong opponent. If they somehow get a team like nV or Fnatic earlier, they will not make the semi-final.
VP must have a strong performance from pasha if they are to make a deep run, as so much of their game is centered around providing him the freedom to play his loose and impulsive style. Beyond that, they need either Snax or byali to bring a big game, the former on CT sides and the latter on T sides. When one of those two can establish themselves alongside pasha, then VP have a good chance to compete with the best teams in Bo3 and will beat out all the lower ranked teams in that format.
Team SoloMid (TSM) [#5]
device - Super-star player, incredibly skilled and versatile, but chokes hard in the semi-finals of big tournaments.
dupreeh - Star entry fragger, capable of routinely putting up big numbers, doesn't out-right choke, but dips his form to match his team's level overall.
cajunb - Skilled third man, can AWP or rifle. Confidence player but not as consistent as dupreeh or as explosive as device.
Xyp9x - Formerly a top individual prospect, forced into more of a supportive position.
karrigan - New in-game leader, as of one LAN tournament ago. Some times AWPs and is expected to develop TSM's other-wise lacking T side play.
The core of this team goes back to their time in Copenhagen Wolves, making their rise in the Summer of 2013, when they made consistent runs to top eight finishes, often losing in three maps. At EMS One Katowice, the team took the next step up the competitive ladder, reaching the semi-final. There, they were soundly beaten by NiP. The following month, they would meet the same opponent in the semi-final of Copenhagen Games, this time playing the Swedes much closer, but still falling in two maps. Rarely attending events that year, the team next appeared at Gfinity G3. After a very strong group stage, they faced NiP in the quarter-final and defeated them for the first time in an offline Bo3. That run looked to potentially spark a run to the final, but VP viciously turned their semi-final game on its head and eliminated the Danes in another top four finish.
At ESL One Cologne, they reached a semi-final match against Fnatic, but weren't able to challenge for a final spot, seeing the Swedes move past them to the final. Three straight semi-finals runs established Dignitas as one of the world's top teams, despite their rare LAN attendance, but they clearly lacked something necessary to make a real run at a trophy. At Dreamhack Stockholm, they fell in the group stage, embarrassingly ousted in overtime against the underdog Finns of 3DMAX.
At the fragbite Masters S3 LAN, Dig had to play a peaking Fnatic in the opening series and were immediately eliminated from the tournament in fourth. At Dreamhack Winter, Dig benefited from an easy group, moving on to the play-offs without incident. In the quarter-final, they were favoured to beat Na`Vi, but elected to take a strange pick/ban phase which saw them selecting cbble and letting Na`Vi take mirage. The Danes knew Na`Vi did not play cbblestone, but then neither did they, really. Dig were humiliated on the opening cbblestone and then moved on to mirage, Na`Vi's best map. Despite being very much in this map, they would lose in close fashion and be eliminated in 5th-8th, failing to even make a semi-final for the second time that year.
After that result, the team removed long-time in-game leader FeTiSh and brought in karrigan to captain the helm. At MLG X Games Aspen, their first event of 2015, they reached the semi-final and took LDLC to three maps, but found themselves dominated on the deciding cache. In the third place game, they would beat Fnatic 2:0. They were then picked up by North American LoL organisation Team SoloMid (TSM).
Dig were traditionally a lock-down strong CT team, but famously poor on T sides. The rise of Fnatic and LDLC, better CT side teams, caused them to fall out of relevance somewhat. With karrigan's addition, the team does seem to have improved their T side play, but more evidence is required before one can claim them as truly transformed. TSM are famously front-runners, winning big against lesser teams, but crumbling in close matches and when playing from behind.
nuke (traditionally their home map and one on which they are one of the strongest in the world)
inferno (one of the top 4-5 CT side teams)
mirage (above average on the CT side and seemingly improved on the T side)
device - One of the most skilled players in the entire world, device seemingly has the complete package in terms of skillset. His AWPing is explosive and dominant, his rifles are ruthless and reliable. device's problem stems from repeated mental breakdowns in big matches, particularly their semi-finals losses. His ability to disappear entirely and buckle is a large part of the team's front-running pattern, fading late in close games.
dupreeh - Still one of the best entry fraggers in the game, his rifles are precise and consistent. As good as he is, dupreeh suffers from not being a dominant carry and as such tends not to perform well when TSM as a whole are getting beaten up.
cajunb - He can carry games by himself, but not as the primary star and consistent best player. Best left as the third man and not relied upon to bring the goods each and every time, his skills match him up well for that position in the hierarchy. Can AWP when needed, such as in circumstances where device chooses not to, and is one of the more confident in the side.
TSM are no longer favourites to reach the semi-finals, but have a chance by virtue of both NiP's roster move and VP's recently poor offline form. TSM can only go as far as device takes him, as him falling apart seems to inevitably spell the end of their tournament. Against lesser teams, he should be expected to perform well and remind us why he is held in such regard and thus TSM should have the fire-power to run over all but the other teams in the top six. They might even have a favourable match-up against Titan, since they can bully them with raw skill.
My sense for TSM is that they are the one of the teams with the wildest fluctuations possible in this tournament. On one hand I could see them making the semi-final, but on the other I could see them losing in the group stage in a game and having to play a strong quarter-final opponent and go out 5th-8th. I would pick them to be a surprise semi-finalist, assuming they can beat VP in the group stage and don't get an elite team in the quarter-final.
How the group should play out:
VP vs. TSM is the marquee match-up and the maps should tell the story there. VP have been playing more nuke, but will they risk leaving it in against the famous TSM CT side? One would assume not, leaving maps which both teams are good on. At the group stage point of the tournament, nerves don't seem to grip device, so I think TSM will beat VP and take first in the group. VP should finish second, they're simply too good to do anything but out-class the other teams here. Cloud9 have an outside shot to win a map from them, but shouldn't, ultimately.
* I wrote a guide to the previous major (Dreamhack Winter), aimed at competitive League of Legends fans.
* HLTV.org - The primary coverage site for CS:GO.
* Kniferound.net - The best wikipedia for competitive CS:GO information.
* An explanation of the roles in CS:GO:
Photo credit: GosuGamers, EnVyUs, Dreamhack, ESL, fragbite