Cologne: A Major with no favourites
We’re now into the ESL One Cologne 2016 Major, and there’s a general consensus amongst professional players, fans and analysts that this might just be the most contested Major tournament to date. While the majority of past Majors have had only a couple of teams with real chances of winning the tournament, Cologne lacks that apparent dominant team, making the contest a mysterious one to follow. Whether this is to do with the ridiculously high skill ceilings so many teams have reached recently or the usual contenders not maintaining their usual superior standards, Cologne certainly has a plethora of teams who can feasibly walk away with the $500,000 on offer for the victor.
Due to either a decline or increase in form, all five of these teams can be considered contenders to win ESL One Cologne 2016.
A team that can never be counted out no matter the form they approach a tournament in, the Swedish giants remain the only side whose core have won more than a single Valve-sponsored Major, winning a total of three. To put this into perspective, Fnatic have won three of the eight Majors that have taken place, as well as competing in 50% of the Grand Finals in these Majors. The Swedes are the undisputed king of these Major tournaments.
As well as the team’s dominance of past Majors, Fnatic have the single best player at Majors in Robin “flusha” Rönnquist. Statistically, flusha leads the way in player performances at Major tournaments in Kill/death ratio, as well as having an insane HLTV Rating. With players like these, Fnatic’s inclusion in half of all Major Finals begins to make sense.
Yet, with these ridiculous statistics, Fnatic are not labelled as the favourite to win the tournament. The team recently placed 3rd-4th at the ECS Season 1 Finals, suffering a loss to G2 Esports in a best-of-three series. While one result would not be enough to remove Fnatic’s elite status, their showing at ECS wasn’t the dominant side we were used to seeing at large events. Their group stage wins over Cloud9 and Team SoloMid weren’t convincing, with both games fiercely contested and almost won by both American underdogs Fnatic played.
It’s true that the Swedish team don’t look in the hottest form they’ve ever been in, but the topping of their group in ELEAGUE Season 1 did show what a frightening team they can be when they perform well. Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer in particular lead his team in epic fashion after returning to competitive play after an injury, scoring huge amounts of frags, game after game, and reaching the form that caused the community to dub him the world’s best player. Fnatic have had mixed results recently, but are far too strong of a lineup to not mention as a contender for Major champions.
The fabled pairing of olofmeister and Freddy “Krimz” Johansson as well as the crazy individual talent on Fnatic has helped them win so many Majors already, let’s see if they can do it again at ESL One Cologne 2016.
Current Major champions SK Gaming are not considered to be a firm favourite to win ESL One Cologne 2016. In March/April the same lineup, then competing under the name Luminosity Gaming, won their first ever Major tournament in Columbus. Their status of being the reigning world champions alone is enough to shortlist them as a possible winner. The last few months have seen the SK lineup claim the top of the professional scene for their own, as they added more impressive wins to their Major title including the ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals and Dreamhack Austin.
The Brazilian team’s dominance came at a time when the professional scene was slightly under it’s usual level of competitiveness. After MLG Columbus, it became public knowledge that olofmeister had been playing the event with an injury, thus making Fnatic less potent than their usual self. That being said, SK’s run at the Major in Columbus was incredible, and they showcased just how skilled their team is, and how deserving they are to be the first non-European team to win a Major.
The reason SK Gaming aren’t titled the favourites coming into ESL One Cologne is due to their recent placement at the ECS Season 1 Finals where they came in 2nd. While a very good result, the loss in London showed they may not be as dominant as they were coming into Columbus.
Combine this with the strength of a Fnatic team with olofmeister and a G2 side enjoying a particularly high burst of form and this produces questions about SK’s chance to win in Cologne.
In my opinion, G2 are in the best form of all contenders as the Major starts. They demonstrated their potential at the ECS Season 1 Finals last month, defeating SK 2-0 in the final. Their triumph in London showed how far G2 have progressed recently, as they lost a best-of-five to the same Brazilian lineup at the ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals 3-0 not two months ago. The French-Belgian squad would be my favourite to win if they had proved themselves at a previous Major.
The most recent Major tournament held in Columbus was disappointing for the four members of the current roster who played in it. Their group stage exit prompted the replacement of Kevin “Ex6TenZ” Droolans with the young Frenchman Alexandre “bodyy” Pianaro. This change has so far worked wonders for G2 and has been the catalyst in a team that is both exciting and talented. While playing with bodyy G2 have recorded series wins against NiP, Fnatic and Luminosity (now SK Gaming) at the ECS Finals alone.
So what prevents such a team from being the favourite of Cologne? Well, their aforementioned group stage exit in Columbus tarnishes their claim as the favourites in this tournament. G2 finished Columbus with one win and two losses, the losses both coming against Virtus.pro. There’s no doubt that G2 had a hard group to get out of at Columbus, with the Polish team and Na`Vi also bidding for their place in the playoffs. However their hard group is relevant to the predicament they find themselves in this Major, as they must send either Fnatic or SK Gaming home should they hope to advance from the group. Of course G2 are capable of this, beating both teams at the ECS Finals, but it does prevent them from being labelled favourites.
MLG Columbus’ second-placed team are quite the wildcard at ESL One Cologne 2016 due to their lack of games played recently. Aside from their ELEAGUE showing in late June, the squad have had few important games played lately that can be used to judge their form. This mystery factor prevents them from being named a favourite, as well as their failure to win a Major.
The Na`Vi boys have unfortunately been the runners-up of the last two consecutive Major tournaments, and seem to have a tendency of coming in second place. The “second place curse” was seen earlier this year at Dreamhack Masters Malmö, where the CIS team lost to NiP in the final. While none of these results are recent, it’s hard to picture Na`Vi winning a tournament that is of a higher calibre than those they placed second at.
Their ELEAGUE performance offers us some insight to their form at the Major, though presumably a weaker form as teams prepare heavily for Majors. Na`Vi lost two of the six maps in the initial games of ELEAGUE, interestingly losing Mirage to mousesports. As mousesports are a much weaker side than the CIS giants and Mirage is Na`Vi’s playground, their loss on it is worrying for fans of the Russian-Ukrainian-Slovakian side. Shaky performances against lesser teams like mousesports and Echo Fox as well as only a handful of relevant games recently make Na`Vi a contender for the title, not a favourite.
The Swedish Ninjas always present a threat to opposition at tournaments with the presence of the veteran duo Christopher “GeT_RiGhT” Alesund and Patrik “f0rest” Lindberg amongst their ranks. As well as their hugely successful duo, NiP have also been blessed with what looks like a normal group when looking at Majors in general, but an easy group when looking at Cologne 2016. These factors allow the Swedes to be considered amongst the contenders to win the tournament, but not quite enough to name them a favourite.
The Ninjas’ recent results have not been reflective of a team capable of winning a Major tournament, with less than ideal showings at both Dreamhack Summer and the ECS Finals. NiP did reach the Grand Final of the former but failed to defeat the Brazilian side Immortals. A good result for the Swedes for sure, but losing a tournament to a team not present in the Major doesn’t bode well for them.
NiP’s run at the ECS Finals can be used to draw some strange positives for the Ninjas despite a 0-2 record in the groups. They were sent packing after losses to Luminosity Gaming (now SK) and G2, who turned out to be the finalists of a stacked tournament. The problem NiP faced in the ECS group stages shouldn’t repeat itself in Cologne, as despite OpTic’s rise to prominence and Flipsid3 Tactics’ tactics, the Ninjas should escape their group reasonably comfortably. With the other major talent set to see each other out in different groups, NiP can make use of this with a relatively unchallenged route to the playoffs, an idea similar to that which lurppis has explored.
While the Ninjas are certainly not favourites to win due to their underwhelming results of late, they are certainly capable of making the playoffs and possess the individual talent, as well as the strategical mind of THREAT, to see their Cologne campaign last long and run deep.
So many contenders for this Major tournament all entering in varying states of form sets the stage for a legendary tournament. Each and every one of these teams can realistically walk away as champions of the world, making Cologne a truly unique Major.
Photo Credit: ESL
Article by: @clootch