Two American teams exited early at the latest Counter-Strike major. For one, it was a crushing setback. But for the other, it may be a promising step towards a bright future.
Counter Logic Gaming headed into ESL One Cologne in the shadow of fellow North Americans Cloud9. While the Counter Logic team has put together some solid domestic results this year, recently Cloud9 has looked like they’re inching closer to winning a major. But even with the pride of American Counter-Strike riding on their shoulders, both teams suffered a group stage exit in Cologne.
That may be what many expected for the Counter Logic Gaming, thought it wasn’t the finish in-game leader Pujan “FNS” Mehta wanted. But he was still satisfied with the way his team played. Just two rounds stood between Counter Logic Gaming and a ticket to the quarterfinals in what Mehta called a “heartbreaking game” against Natus Vincere.
“We had the lead at 14-13 but then Zeus clutched a really important 1v2,” Mehta told the Daily Dot. “Had we won that round they would have been on a terrible buy and we’d have match point, so that was heartbreaking.”
Counter Logic Gaming opened the event with a close 13-16 loss to fan favorites Ninjas in Pyjamas on de_dust2, dropping them into a second group stage where they bested Polish side Team eBettle 16-14 to set up that fateful encounter with Natus Vincere, a do-or-die match with a spot on the big stage at Lanxess Arena on the line.
“We were actually really confident on Dust2 when we got it against NiP, but we lost against them in a really close game,” Mehta said. “Our game against eBettle shouldn’t have been that close. We should have closed it out a lot faster. They played really well though.”
Despite the loss, Mehta says his team “played much better than expected.” They were a handful of rounds away from beating both Ninjas in Pyjamas and Natus Vincere, after all. And Mehta says their issues are clear to them. “Tactically I think we were fine,” he explained. “It just came down to those last few rounds where we’d make a slight error, a slight mistake or a miscommunication. That’s the difference between the best teams in the world and us, I guess.”
The other North American side in Cologne, Cloud9, has played like one of those world-class teams recently. But they fell short in this tournament, tying Counter Logic Gaming with a group stage exit and a top 16 finish. Mehta still thinks their domestic rivals are a notch above.
“They are definitely still above us in a head-to-head,” Mehta said. “I also feel like in competitions they have a much higher chance of beating the top teams, especially in a best of three. But I don’t think it has anything to do with their individual skill. I just feel like the overall preparation they bring into their games is just better than ours.”
Preparation, though, is one area of competition that’s easy to address with a simple prescription: hard work. Mehta is confident Cloud9’s prominence won’t last forever.
“The gap is definitely closing, tournament by tournament,” he said. But while in Europe, they don’t measure themselves against their domestic counterparts—they both wave the same flag. “We’re not trying to compete with them when we’re over here. We’re only competing with them regionally so we’re happy for them when they perform in Europe.”
Counter Logic Gaming and Cloud9 are the standout performers from North America, even if their fans likely want more than they showed at ESL Cologne. And with what seem to be fairly stable rosters—neither team has made a roster change since the large North American roster shuffle nearly three months ago—Mehta believes that will continue.
“I think the problem is when teams don’t give their roster changes enough time to work out. They’re just after instant success,” Mehta said. “I feel like replacements aren’t always bad, problem is once new players come in, the team isn’t doing enough work to become better.”
That won’t be a problem for Counter Logic Gaming any time soon, Mehta says. The team’s only break in the next two months were their days off in Cologne after falling in the group stage.
“We’re not just going to be chilling after the major,” he says. “We have like 5 weeks of playing coming up. The second we get back we’re going to be playing again non stop.”
Counter Logic Gaming will look back on their time at ESL One Cologne with bittersweet feelings. They took two of the best teams Europe has to offer to the very edge, but tripped on the very last hurdle. Mehta said making that “slight mistake” is the difference between world class teams and his, and it showed in Cologne. The team has talent. That much is clear. And if they learn how to keep their cool in the vital moments next time around, the world beware.