On Friday, June 24, the Esports Championship Series (ECS) Season 1 Finals will kick off in London. The four best teams from both the European and North American Online Qualifiers will meet at the SSE Arena for a weekend of premium Counter-Strike. Due to Fnatic’s star player returning and the other competitors looking strong, the ECS finals is set to be the most competitive tournament since MLG Columbus.
The most influential reason why the ECS Season 1 Finals this coming weekend is set to be the most competitive tournament since the Columbus Major is the return of a fully functional Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer. Prior to Olof’s wrist injury the Swede was widely considered the greatest player in the world, frequently leading the scoreboard for the greatest team in the world. However, it became clear at MLG Columbus that Kajbjer’s play was suffering due to his impediment, as Fnatic got knocked out of the quarter-finals by Astralis. Since then olofmeister has been absent from Fnatic’s lineup until he appeared on ELEAGUE last week.
At ELEAGUE olofmeister returned to the scene in a blaze of glory only finishing two out of the 11 maps he played with a negative kill/death ratio, even then only being negative one and negative five. He performed particularly well against Dignitas, where across two best-of-one’s Olof picked up 48 kills in 47 rounds. On both maps he had over 105 average damage per round.
During the period of olofmeister’s injury Fnatic have failed to win any events, choosing not to attend Dreamhack Masters Malmö and coming 3rd-4th at the ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals. Fnatic used John “wenton” Eriksson in olofmeister’s stead in their recent games who, although performing well for a stand-in, failed to impact the game as Olof did.
If Fnatic had been able to bring a fit and well-performing olofmeister with them to the ESL Season 3 Finals it’s likely they would have progressed further. A semi-final loss to the momentum filled G2 Esports sent Fnatic packing, but as the series ended with a 2-1 scoreline the addition of Olof’s firepower might have sent Fnatic to the final. As Fnatic held their own against the strong French side in the semis without olofmeister, it is a tantalising thought to see the Swede back in action against the very best at the ECS Finals.
Another reason the ECS Season 1 Finals promise to be the most competitive and highly skilled tournament in a while is the strength of the other teams attending the event. Astralis, Luminosity Gaming, Ninjas in Pyjamas, G2 and Team Liquid all have, in my opinion, the chance to win this event. I see six out of the eight teams in attendance as having the chance of winning the whole tournament, dull games will not be present this weekend.
Luminosity Gaming (LG)
The reigning world champions of Counter-Strike come into the ECS Season 1 Finals as arguable favourites, having topped their ELEAGUE group and placing first in the ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals in May alone. The Brazilian team, and their mastermind Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo, have consistently reminded us that they are one of the best teams in the world. With masterful slow terrorist rounds and world class fraggers, LG are certainly one of the teams who come into London with the highest levels of community expectations.
While LG and Fnatic were both present at the ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals, the two teams didn’t play each other. The two titans of the scene also managed to avoid each other at the Major in Columbus earlier this year. The most recent time the two teams have faced each other at a large scale offline tournament was in March of this year, at the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) Katowice. Although LG beat Fnatic in a best-of-one in the group stages in Katowice, Fnatic managed to beat LG in the grand final, taking the five map series in 3-0 fashion.
LG and Fnatic’s meetings in Katowice seem to be the last time the teams played each other at full strength. Now that olofmeister is fit and ready to play again, LG have the chance to prove themselves the best team in the world by defeating Fnatic. The current best team in the world against the former best team in the world will be a truly competitive game this weekend.
Ninjas in Pyjamas (NiP)
The seasoned Ninjas approach this tournament looking strong, performing well in both offline events they have played recently. At Dreamhack ZOWIE Open the veteran Swedish lineup placed second, ultimately losing 2-0 to the energetic Brazilian squad Immortals. The NiP campaign at Dreamhack Summer was a successful one, as the side reached the finals before losing to a dynamic team capable of big upsets. NiP do have positives to draw on from their participation, with a best-of-three win over Astralis being a convincing sign that NiP are in good form. While the series went down to the wire, NiP finished the series with a 16-14 victory in favour of them on a tightly contested Cobblestone game. Their win over one of the consistently best teams shows promise for the Ninjas.
NiP showed a flash of their former brilliance at the ongoing ELEAGUE earlier this month. A 2-0 win over G2 sent NiP onto the playoffs as they won their group, marking the tip of an impressive improvement of NiP I have covered in detail here. NiP’s very convincing stomp of G2 showed their talent reaching what we in the community know it can, as they won both maps from the French-Belgian side before their opponents reached double digits. The win against a team spearheaded by two of the most in-form professionals in the scene right now, Richard “shox” Papillon and Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom, shows that NiP are in a place where they can challenge Fnatic and the other talent at ECS.
A team who always show up but never seem to win the ultimate prize, Astralis look to be in their usual form. The Danish side have attended ELEAGUE and Dreamhack ZOWIE Open this month, where they topped a relatively easy group for them in the latter. Following wins over ENCE and SK Gaming, Astralis met the ever menacing Swedish side NiP. In the close series the Danes lost and therefore were sent packing from the tournament. Although Astralis should be hoping for greater than semi-finals at events like the recent Dreamhack ZOWIE Open, a close series to NiP is not the most disheartening result to head home on.
The team’s ELEAGUE performance showed promise for the squad also, winning their group in convincing fashion. While their result at ELEAGUE was good, their group was considerably less skilled than them, reducing their praise for their progression. While the Danes have not had the best results of late, their presence at large tournaments is ubiquitous. Should Peter “dupreeh” Rothmann, Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz and Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjærbye perform to their skill ceiling at ECS, then Astralis are sure to be contenders for the crown.
G2’s explosive rise in form seems to have stalled recently. While G2’s epic gain in form these last few months was hugely impressive it seems to have slowed down. Their rapid rise to the top of the professional scene is something I have elaborated on here, but their godly showings at ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals haven’t been repeated the past 30 days.
G2 looked as if they had transitioned permanently into the ranks of Tier 1 teams at the beginning of June, when their storm of the professional scene seemed to be continuing at ELEAGUE. Topping a group in which they beat NiP on two maps, G2 looked like the unstoppable pair of shox and ScreaM would continue to terrorize other teams.
This doesn’t seem to be the case though, as since G2 topped their group they lost a series to NiP and only barely qualified for the upcoming Cologne Major. While their loss to NiP was not enough to smear their name, questionable losses at the Cologne Main Qualifier did tarnish it slightly. The expectation for G2 was to sweep aside three teams at the Qualifier and progress to the Major, though the reality was different. With losses to Mousesports (a game G2 lost 16-1) and Gambit Gaming, G2 found themselves precariously fighting for their position at Cologne against Cloud9. A masterclass from shox saved G2 though, with the Frenchman dropping 34 kills in only 24 rounds. While they have looked shaky recently, the threat of shox and ScreaM is enough to make G2 a contender to win ECS.
The primarily North American team come into ECS with a new roster that has been bootcamping. With a similar lineup they showed at the Columbus Major, the difference being Josh “jdm64” Marzano coming to london rather than Eric “adreN” Hoag. The question looms of whether or not Liquid can perform as well at the ECS Finals as they did in the last Major now they have Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev back in their squad temporarily.
While Liquid’s recent results at ELEAGUE suggest the opposite of the team being a contender at ECS, the team that competes in London will only feature three of the players who played at ELEAGUE. As the team is more similar to the lineup that reached the Columbus Major semi-finals, it isn’t too far-fetched to speculate that similar form may be shown by Liquid. Should your memory span back far enough you may remember Liquid upsetting Fnatic in the groups to take top seed. With their Ukrainian talisman of s1mple returning to the lineup it’s possible that such an upset may happen again.
With the presence of so many of the world’s best teams in such good form it’s clear the ECS is set to be the most competitive tournament in months. With olofmeister returning as does Fnatic’s chance of winning. ECS will be an event to watch as so many titan’s compete for one crown.
Photo Credit: ECS
Article by @clootch_cs