This weekend, the final qualifier takes place for ESL Katowice. And there’s a lot at stake for each of the teams in attendance.
The first major event of the year held under the Electronic Sports League (ESL) banner will play host to one of the year’s biggest Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournaments. The prestige and the prize money are second to none, with $250,000 on the line for the teams in attendance.
While each of the 16 teams participating clearly have much to play for, these five teams are really feeling the pressure.
Once the premier team in North America, Cloud9 have struggled mightily for some time now. A singular win over Ninjas in Pyjamas prior to their early elimination at X Games Invitational actually seemed like an improvement. For a team that was once considered a dark horse contender at major tournaments, that’s not a good sign.
Some fans have questioned acquiring sniper Shahzeb “Shahzam” Khan in December from Denial Esports. But Khan has impressed in key moments for his team. The blame here lies at the feet of the whole squad.
Questions have long been floated about about Jordan “Nothing” Gilbert and Sean Gares, both of whom have long been a part of the professional grind. Gares nearly stepped away from the game last year, and rightly or wrongly, Gilbert has in particular come under scrutiny for his dedication to the game.
It’s going to take a lot of dedication to rise up out of the lengthy slump in form Cloud9 have found themselves in. If the results aren’t there in Katowice, it may be time to consider another change.
No team has had more of an up-and-down month than this Polish squad.
The team left their former organization, ESC Gaming, to pursue new opportunities as their play continued to improve. But then Valve announced that the team had been found guilty of participating in match fixing, with multiple players banned as a result. That was a hurdle that surely seemed impossible to clear.
But the team vociferously professed their innocence, and, shockingly, Valve backtracked. Shortly after, the squad joined Gamers2, as had originally been planned.
With a new lease on their livelihoods and a new organization to represent, expect to see Jacek “Minise” Jeziak and company giving it all they’ve got in their home nation this weekend.
While Titan’s ups and downs may not have come quite as quickly as those that hit Gamers2, it has still been a dramatic period of time for the French team.
Their discord began when Valve banned acclaimed player Hovik “Kqly” Tovmassian for cheating. Titan were forced to use their coach, former player Jeremy “Iorek” Vuillermet, as a temporary replacement. The results that followed weren’t up to the standards Titan has set in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
The team’s ensuing decision to bring Cedric “Rpk” Guipoy out of retirement to complete their roster was a surprising one. Guipoy, a former Counter-Strike: Source player, admitted to having scarcely touched Global Offensive since the game’s release. Even the graphical interface was foreign to him.
But Guipoy seems to have found his footing. He’s been a solid contributor to Titan, and the French squad managed a runners-up finish at Inferno Online Stockholm’s Pantamera tournament. They’ll be looking to maintain that form heading into Katowice.
Counter Logic Gaming
The hot streak led the former MouseSpaz squad to join Counter Logic Gaming seems like a distant memory now. A disappointing performance at the X Games Invitational (despite that opening game upset over LDLC) coincided with a dip in domestic results.
That was to be expected, as the dominance they had previously exerted in the region was unlikely to be maintained. But it’s still reason for potential concern for the team’s fans. This group has stuck together for some time, so even a poor result in Katowice isn’t likely to inspire change. But it would increase the amount of naysayers who claim this team can’t reach the same heights as other North American sides Complexity and iBUYPOWER.
Conversely, a dominant showing in Katowice would inspire talk of the team as a dark horse for the main event in March. Suffice it to say, a lot is riding on how Counter Logic Gaming is about to perform.
Kabum has become something of an enigma for Counter-Strike fans. It’s been that way ever since the Brazilian team was able to effectively compete for a trophy at the highest level of the game. Gabriel “Fallen” Toledo’s squad put on a fine showing at the X Games Invitational, but that still wasn’t enough to prevent them from being eliminated early.
Rather than fly back to Brazil, Kabum stayed in the United States to practice with American teams and try to raise money to help pay for a trip to the qualifier for ESL Katowice. They succeeded, and now Kabum have yet another shot at playing on the international stage.
Since the community gave them that chance, they’re surely going to feel the pressure. If not, it’s unlikely they’ll see another similar opportunity any time soon.