ECS Season 1 Finals – Group B preview

This article takes an in-depth look at fnatic, Astralis, Cloud9 and Team SoloMid - the four teams competing for two playoff spots in Esports Championship Series Season 1 Finals's group B.

In an article released earlier this week on GAMURS, I previewed the opening group of Esports Championship Series’s inaugural Finals event. Now, we will take a look at group B at the event, featuring half of the tournament’s eight participants.

Fnatic (dennis, flusha, JW, KRiMZ, olofmeister)

Despite being on an all-time dominant run prior to olofmeister’s injury derailing the team at the worst possible time – at Counter Strike: Global Offensive’s first million dollar major, MLG Columbus – fnatic barely qualified for ECS Finals, having had to play the online season with wenton in the world’s best player’s stead. For a while it remained unclear when olofmeister would return, and it started weighing on fans’ expectations for the Black and Orange… Until the Swede did exactly what he wished GuardiaN had done in Malmo, and made his return for ELEAGUE using this GIF. And return he did, putting together a masterful performance with a 1.30 rating, 0.87 KPR, +70 K-D and 1.45 K/D ratio across 11 maps.

While olofmeister was gone, flusha played one of the best maps of all-time, all-but carrying fnatic in the EPL Finals semi-final against G2 Esports on inferno with a 2.11 rating, +24 K-D performance with 123.1 ADR. FaZe Clan took a map from the Swedes in Atlanta, but when it really mattered, fnatic left nothing to chance in a convincing 2-0 win. And there is little reason to think that will not continue as they take the stage at Wembley, starting on Friday against Cloud9, a team that has historically never enjoyed success against them. TSM’s surprise factor is gone from ELEAGUE, but Astralis is a much more interesting team, and one capable of derailing the best of plans.

It is unlikely fnatic are ready on nuke, given olofmeister’s absence, and that could hurt them in the most competitive series. Luminosity have already played nuke, but despite early commentary suggesting otherwise, the Danes vetoed it in games so far at DreamHack Open Summer. fnatic should by all means cruise through group B, and be heavily favored – especially following flusha’s comments on NiP’s style of play – to join Luminosity in the grand final. Once there, either team could win, but my money is on fnatic. They will be hungrier, and possess the championship pedigree. With olofmeister in form, I have fnatic taking back the reign that always, on some level, belonged to them.

Prediction: 1st in group B

Astralis (dev1ce, dupreeh, karrigan, Kjaerbye, Xyp9x)

I analyzed the new post-Kjaerbye addition Astralis in an article last week, so before we get started it is likely worth reading that – because otherwise this section might feel empty. If we were to assume many of the Danish team’s issues were mental, then the loss to NiP at DreamHack Open Summer’s semi-finals did not do what some of the members might have hoped – that Kjaerbye’s addition could propel them out of their mental issues. Often, all it takes is one win, and his addition could have been – perhaps even should have been – the difference maker. Well, sometimes it does not all simply click from the get-go, and this turned out to be one of those times.

It would be impossible to suggest that Astralis would not be favored to make the playoffs in London. Cloud9 have not been overly impressive as of late – despite Stewie2K’s vast improvements – and TSM are a clear underdog, regardless of their solid ELEAGUE performance. But teams like Astralis are not judged by their group stage results – and that is the entire point. The favorites have nothing to win in the groups; if they make it through they simply did what was expected of them. On the contrary, there is plenty of room for disappointment – in the group stage, however, that is something the team built around dev1ce has tasted very few times, but most recently at DreamHack Masters Malmo, two months ago.

Astralis will be playing in the semi-finals, but once there, their opposition matters. Following the loss in Jonkoping it is not possible – if it ever truly were – to expect karrigan to lead his team past the semis. In the group stage fnatic should end up on top, and either one of Luminosity and NiP is, historically, favored in playoffs. However, should Astralis go up against NiP again, I would expect Kjaerbye’s team to do better than before. And considering how close their loss was, that would mean win. That is right – if Astralis face NiP in the playoffs, my money is on the Danes. Even in the semi-finals.

Prediction: 2nd in group B

Cloud9 (n0thing, shroud, Skadoodle, Slemmy, Stewie2K)

ECS Finals are the second-to-last stop for Cloud9 before the organization has some decisions to make. Liquid went all-in when adding Pimp from SK and purchasing jdm64 from CLG, and we already saw Cloud9 were ready to make moves when they came close to adding GeT_RiGhT last Fall amidst NiP’s issues. Regardless of the popularity of n0thing and shroud, and Stewie2K’s development, there is no way Cloud9’s organization is happy with how their Counter-Strike team has been performing since the illustrious run last summer, which saw them make three straight grand finals.

Slemmy has the team playing much smarter than before, and n0thing showed promise at both ELEAGUE and DreamHack Open Austin, but he struggled at ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals, and most recently ESL One Cologne qualifier, proving he remains an inconsistent contributor in CS:GO. Likewise, at this point it seems unclear whether shroud will ever take the next step in his development. He had some superstar-level performances last summer, but those days are long gone. He is a much better player online – though also versus weaker competition – than offline, and at the majors his statistics are down even more. In many ways, Stewie2K has done what so many wished shroud would do; embrace his new role and step up once given a shot.

Cloud9 stand next to no chance versus fnatic, and their recent form suggests they should not be able to compete with Astralis. Hell, even TSM might not be a free win for them. I have Skadoodle and crew placing third in their group, and once again missing playoffs. A string of strong plays from their four impact players could elevate their level enough to give them an upset win or two, but it simply is not likely. Cloud9 almost seems like what Thorin famously called 3D back in the days – a retirement home for American pros.

Prediction: 3rd in group B

TSM (autimatic, FNS, Semphis, SicK, Twistzz)

Most expect TSM to be in London as pure spectators, given how outmatched they seem on paper in the eight team tournament, but this may not be the case. Semphis’s team had an underrated, flying under the radar but somewhat dangerous-type showing at ELEAGUE – they took a map from fnatic, and played six close maps against the teams they shared group D with, including two more against the Swedes. Those results came with cadiaN as a stand-in for their best player. Still, TSM are unlikely to upset either of the group’s two goliaths, but could foil Cloud9’s hopes in London, and send Semphis’s previous team to full-on rebuilding mode.

TSM’s map pool was solid at ELEAGUE, and Twistzz – the team’s 16-year-old budding star – could be the difference in tons of close matches, and an upset win to build on. The opener versus Astralis will be tough, especially if their loss against OpTic Gaming at EPL Season 3 Finals taught them not to underestimate the lesser known North Americans. TSM know this, and I expect them to be realistic – the opportunity for them to make their mark is against Cloud9 in the elimination game. But the best-of-three format does not favor them, and at this point FNS and crew are the weakest team going into ECS Season 1 Finals.

Prediction: 4th in group B

I will be live tweeting my thoughts during games while watching, so if you are interested in live commentary you can follow me on Twitter at @lurppis_.

Photo credits: ECS