This weekend will see the first major of the year play out in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and the field is as competitive as its ever been.
The $250,000 tournament will be the highlight of a busy weekend in Katowice, Poland featuring major tournaments across a variety of games. ESL’s Counter-Strike competition is packed full of talent, with the world’s best teams being threatened by numerous challengers looking to knock them from their perch and take their place.
Here are five things to watch for as we head into the event.
Virtus Pro on home soil
The last time Virtus Pro played at a major in their home nation of Poland, the results were spectacular—they won it all. This weekend, Virtus Pro will once again have a raucous Katowice crowd behind them, but will they manage to repeat that feat?
It has been some time since the team looked strong enough to capture a major title. Veteran Filip “Neo” Kubski has at times been able to raise his game beyond what has often seemed like a plateau. But struggles from other members of the notoriously boisterous team have come and gone. Still, the situation wasn’t much different last year, with few giving Virtus Pro much of a chance of winning.
The team is far too mature and accomplished to play as underdogs. Instead, they’ll attempt to ride the wave of support from Polish fans cheering them on live. When this team is on its game, they’re much like a knife passing through butter. Opponents will be hoping not see too much momentum gathering behind the lone Polish representative.
Vox and Keyd look to prove themselves
This will be Vox Eminor’s third appearance at a Global Offensive major. The first two were both disasterous, with the team falling out of the group stage without a single victory to their credit. But things have since changed.
Vox managed an impressive run at the offline qualifier for ESL Katowice that included wins over Dignitas and fellow qualifier 3DMAX. Each game was competitive, but Vox never faltered. And that’s all the more impressive considering that the Aussies rarely get a chance to play outside of their home region. Each game, especially in the single map format that dominates group play at majors, means so much. The pressure is ratched up, but Vox has proven capable of responding.
Brazilian team Keyd Stars come into Katowice in a similar situation. Not often allowed to play outside of their home region, Keyd spent significant time both practicing and competing in North America and Europe this year. There aren’t many excuses left for Gabriel “Fallen” Toledo’s squad. If they aren’t able to produce a positive result here, they simply may not be capable of it.
Envy face an early threat
Team Envy enter the event as the arguable favorites. The French side are the reigning major champions after their victory at DreamHack Winter, and they managed to follow that result up with an equally impressive championship run at the X Games Invitational, defeating Ninjas in Pyjamas in the final both times.
But Envy may run into trouble very early in Katowice. They’ll be tasked with battling their domestic rivals, Titan.
Few would argue against Envy as the heavy favorites in the match, but it may not be a simple affair. Historically, domestic games between French Counter-Strike teams have often been difficult to predict as the great familiarity the squads have with one another can throw a wrench into the results. Titan have also shown flashes of their potential in recent appearances, most notably at Inferno Online Stockholm’s Pantamera event where they nearly ran the table before losing to Fnatic in the final.
If Kenny “Kenny S” Schrub is on point and Cedric “Rpk” Guipouy can continue to improve his form as he further transitions from Source to Global Offensive, the tournament may have its first major upset very early on.
The pressure is on Allu
Much has been written about the decision made by Swedish side Ninjas in Pyjamas to part ways with Mikail “Maikelele” Bill after the sniper had joined the team and helped them to reach consecutive finals at DreamHack Winter and the X Games Invitational. Bill played capably for the team, and replacing him with a true upgrade would have to be difficult.
Aleksi “Allu” Jalli is unquestionably a capable player. But whether he’ll be able to produce a markedly better result for Ninjas in Pyjamas remains to be seen.
The team clearly thought the move worthwhile, even considering that the Finnish Jalli breaks up the traditional all-Swedish Ninjas roster, forcing them to communicate more often in English rather than in their native Swedish. But the organization still has yet to commit to Jalli long-term, so if the Finnish sniper struggles early, the pressure to perform and justify his position with the team may prove too much to bear.
Either way, it would seem that Ninjas in Pyjamas’ early performance will have much to do with their final result in Katowice.
CLG must bring it together
Counter Logic Gaming have proven beyond any doubt that they are capable of beating any Counter-Strike team in the world. The problem is that they have similarly proven capable of being undone at a moment’s notice.
An exciting debut win over Envy at the X Games Invitational was immediately followed by a devastating blowout loss to Team Liquid and an exit from the tournament. Even when CLG managed to sweep their way through the competition at the offline qualifier for ESL Katowice, dramatics were still involved, as dominant leads over Gamers2 and Titan were both nearly squelched before CLG managed to seal each game.
That sort of inconsistency simply won’t get the job done on the world’s biggest stage in Counter-Strike against the most unforgiving competition. The sky’s the limit for this American team, but going on tilt for any protracted period of time will spell doom for them.