ESL Expo Barcelona Starts This Weekend - Preview
Starting on the 19th of February and ending on the 21st, the live Spanish crowd and online Counter Strike audience will have the pleasure of enjoying top international competition battling it out in a rather quirky format - a format previously used at IEM Gamescom - for a grand total of €75,000.
The teams in attendance will be the invited Fnatic, Team EnVyUs, Astralis and G2 Esports. In addition to the invited teams, qualifying through the European qualifiers are Vexed Gaming and Team Dingitas. Joining them will be Spanish representatives, qualifying through the Spanish qualifiers; e6tence and gBots.
The format used at the Barcelona CSGO Invitational will see each team starting the tournament with three lives. Losing a best of one game will result in a life loss. In addition to €1,000, the winning team will also have the choice of which two teams face off against each other in the following match. The only team with lives remaining by the end of the tournament wins the event and secures themselves €22,000 as well as an extra €1,000 per victory and per life remaining. For a full prize distribution see below:
1st place €22,000
2nd place €11,000
3rd place €5,500
4th place €4,500
5th place €3,500
6th place €2,500
7th place €1,500
8th place €500
Additionally, ESL has gone through with a small but highly requested change since the IEM Gamescom event. Previously, the map picking system saw fans vote for what maps they wanted to see the teams play and a player representative from the winning team randomly picked from several numbers – each number associated with a specific map – thus randomly choosing what map was to be played. These random map choices obviously came into criticism and thankfully ESL have since switched to a new system for this event. The teams playing the match will go through a veto to select which map is to be played.
The format, a format I am quite fond of and have been quite excited about since its inception at IEM Gamescom, is rather intriguing. While offering a plethora of different matchups and compositions, the format also creates some rather interesting dynamics. For one, teams have the opportunity to form strategies though allegiances. Because the winning team has the choice of who plays next, they can make sure that their ally is pit against weaker opponents and if the ally wins their match they can carry on the strategy helping their brothers in arms with their matchups. Another option is for the winning teams to repeatedly pick on the strongest teams by having them constantly facing up against each other with the hope that they eventually knock each other out of the tournament, though this strategy isn’t flawless as it gives those teams choice of who plays next and the opportunity to carry out their own strategies. It also opens up opportunities for rival teams to repeatedly face off against each other and attempt to decide each other’s fate. And as with what happened at IEM Gamescom, there’s a possibility that at the end of the event we’re rewarded with a best of 5 between the two strongest teams. I’m excited to see what this tournament and format has to offer by the end of the week.
Fnatic come in as the strongest team in the world having won 4 consecutive international tournaments. With incredible star-power from players such as olofm and an incredible backbone in the ludicrous consistency of KRiMZ, Fnatic look primed to take the event by storm and secure yet another trophy for their already ridiculously stacked cabinet.
However, with the loss of their longstanding in game leader, pronax, Fnatic - under the leadership of flusha and recent inclusion of dennis – have adopted a much more individualistic playstyle, a playstyle more centered around individual play making ability than team work and strategy, a playstyle oft criticized by analysts.
Fnatics newly adopted playstyle has been effective thus far, securing them 4 back to back international tournaments, but Fnatic as a team have yet to present the same level of sheer control dominance espoused by the previous iteration of Fnatic. And while Fnatic have surely had major success with the new lineup, they’ve still yet to secure an offline map against their long lasting rivals, Team EnVyus, who also happens to be in attendance at this event.
Team EnVyUs –
Since securing their first Valve Major under the Team EnVyUs brand and consequently securing the #1 ranking in the world, Team EnVyUs have dropped significantly following repeated inadequate performances.
After their success Dreamhack Cluj Napoca Major, all eyes were on EnVyUs to carry on the momentum and stamp themselves into the history books as one of the strongest teams to ever exist in Counter Strike. Unfortunately, that momentum quickly dwindled as they dropped out of the following event, FACEIT Stage 3 Finals, in 7-8th place following losses to the newly formed, incredibly ambitious Luminosity Gaming and the all but dead Ninjas in Pyjamas. Their form continued to look dire as they dropped the ball against Na`Vi in the semi-finals of the following two international tournaments.
Only recently have EnVyUs started to regain some semblance of form having secured themselves their first tournament victory of 2016 at the GameShow Global Esports Cup following a dominant performance in the finals against Team Dignitas. However their victory at the Global Esports Cup did not come without struggle. EnVyUs fell 2-0 in horrendous fashion earlier in the tournament against Team Dignitas and suffered map losses to the North American representatives, CLG. But even with these struggles Team EnVyUs persevered with an incredible star performance from their carry AWPer, kennyS to close out the rest of the tournament.
EnVyUs, much like Fnatic, adopt a rather loose playstyle much more centered on individual play and playmaking ability than strategy and tactics. As such EnVyUs have struggled against opponents like Na`Vi and Luminosity who do adopt those heavy strategical playstyles. With NBK recently adopting the role of in game leader, EnVyUs as a team have attempted to revitalize themselves with moderate success. Not much has changed in terms of playstyle for the EnVyUs squad since the change but it has only been several weeks since the change has occurred and EnVyUs have only had two showings with their new leadership. A lot of questions surround EnVyUs and this tournament, with the competition involved, will be the first of many to answer those questions.
Team EnVyUs come into this event as the second strongest team, theoretically the first considering right now they are the only team with upper hand over Fnatic. Having defeated Fnatic in dominant fashion in all their recent encounters, it’s quite possible to argue that EnVyUs come into this tournament as favourites. G2 Esports, Astralis and Team Dignitas are their other opposition and EnVyUs certainly also hold the advantage over those teams, boasting an incredible 12-2 record against the Danish squad of Astralis, who they happened to beat 4-0 at their first international event as a team at IEM Gamescom.
EnVyUs come into this event with most of the teams out to get them. Fnatic and EnVyUs maintain a long lasting rivalry which initially saw EnVyUs consistently losing at every possible opportunity. Only at dreamhack winter 2014 did EnVyUs surpass Fnatic and that was largely due to Fnatics disqualification following their illegal boost. That tournament surely left a sour taste in Fnatics mouth; it would’ve likely been their 4th major had the boost incident not occurred. More recently Fnatic were knocked out at the latest Major in Cluj Napoca and suffered defeats to EnVyUs, and almost only EnVyUs, in their 4 tournament run they’re currently maintaining.
As previously mentioned, EnVyUs’ incredible record against Astralis leaves them as a prime target for the best Danish team looking to finally overcome the French at offline events. G2 Esports, formerly Titan, are up there with Fnatic and Astralis as rivals for the French. G2 being French themselves have a lot of history with the players of EnVyUs. kennyS and apEX both formerly members of Titan left to join greener pastures and went on to secure several tournaments victories under the EnVyUs brand. Something G2 esports and Titan have longed for. Similarly, SmithZz and shox are formerly of the EnVyUs/LDLC team having secured several victories under both brands. Going further back into history, NBK built his legacy under the leadership of Ex6TenZ, in game leader of G2 Esports. Dingitas themselves also have reason to be gunning for the Boys In Blue having just recently suffered a 3-0 loss in the finals of the Global Esports Cup.
Will the French band together to overcome their opponents or are tensions still higher between the players? Regardless, EnVyUs most certainly need to be on the lookout.
Astralis come into this event as the third strongest team. Following a brief stint in the summer of 2015 where under the TSM brand astralis were for a brief moment top 1 contenders, Astralis have struggled to regain that same form. Known for their incredible ability to choke under pressure, Astralis come into this event with nothing to lose. EnVyUs and Fnatic are certainly seen as favourites so the pressure is off for the Danish stars.
Lead by karrigan, Astralis bring a more strategical approach to the game. With star-power in dev1ce, incredible entry fragging from dupreeh and incredible clutch ability from Xyp9x, Astralis boast a rather impressive repertoire. Strategically sound and explosively skilled, Astralis fall short only on their mental attitude towards the game. Everybody recognizes the potential of the team and previously - like during the summer of 2015 - Astralis showcased their ability by overcoming the best team in the history of Counter Strike Global Offensive – Fnatic – repeatedly.
Having suffered some rather disappointing losses over the last couple of months, most notably their abysmal showing against Ninjas In Pyjamas at the Dreamhack Cluj Napoca Quarterfinals, Astralis are certainly looking to regain some confidence and make a statement at this event.
Some possible storylines are, will Astralis work with their Danish brothers to overcome the competition? Or will they continue to wreck Team Dignitas like they have every time they’ve met up? Will the Danes and Swedes co-align with to take down their joint French rivals, EnVyUs? Will Astralis continue to break G2 Esports heart by beating them in ridiculous fashion? All these questions and storylines and more are left to be answered and fulfilled.
G2 Esports and Dignitas -
Just like Astralis, G2 esports and Dignitas come into this event with nothing to lose and everything to gain. It’s a tossup between G2 and Team Dignitas which team comes in with the upper hand; Dignitas have recently shown incredible form taking down teams like mousesports, Virtus Pro and EnVyUs in best of 3 series. G2 on the other hand haven’t shown much to be excited about having fallen flat at the most recent major, suffered groupstage losses at Starladder and embarrassingly dropping out of the Global Esports Cup following a loss to the North American Counter Logic Gaming.
Unlike EnVyUs and Fnatic, G2 esports and Team Dignitas both adopt a more strategical approach much more reminiscent of the Na`Vi’s and Luminosity’s of this world. Under the leadership of MSL and Ex6TenZ, G2 and Dignitas are looking to continue working for upsets against the stronger teams and will likely finish in the 4th and 5th position. However, with superstars such as shox and scream, the incredible shape that has been displayed by the likes of kjaerbye and k0nfig, the best of 1 games, and the format, anything is possible.
In theory, Dignitas should be looking to partner up with Astralis and Fnatic and they’d both work together to make sure they’re facing off against preferable opposition and putting EnVyUs and Fnatic against each other as often as possible to knock each other out. In G2’s case, assuming there is no bad blood between EnVy and G2 - which is unlikely – G2 should partner with EnVy and make sure they’re facing against weaker opponents and avoid giving the team choice(i.e winner picks the next two teams to play) to anybody other than themselves. There’s a lot of complex dynamics and scenarios that can unfold in this format so teams will have to think about it quite thoroughly to make sure they have the best strategy going into the tournament.
Vexed Gaming, gBots and ex6tence -
The last 3 teams are the two teams from the Spanish qualifiers and the Polish team of Vexed Gaming. These three teams are undoubtedly the weakest three and at best should be looking for wins against each other. However, with the format being best of 1 and the Spanish crowd behind them, who knows what miracles are possible?
Vexed gaming having qualified for back to back majors are slightly stronger than the two Spanish competitors so they could potentially look for upsets against the likes of Dignitas and G2 Esports but aside from that, it should be quite the struggle for these three teams.
The strategy for these three teams going into the event should be to partner up with EnVyUs, who have shown a willingness to partner up and help weaker teams like they did with Renegades at IEM Gamescom, and to try and set up matches between themselves and not against the much stronger opposition.
I predict fnatic to finally overcome EnVyUs and take home their 5th trophy in a row; I believe EnVyUs will claim the second spot and Astralis the third. Dignitas should follow suit taking upset victories off of EnVyUs and defeating G2 Esports handedly and G2 themselves should achieve one or two upset victories over fnatic and Astralis. Vexed, gBots and ex6tence are likely to be fighting out of last position only securing victories between each other with Vexed likely coming out ahead.
So who are you rooting for? What alliances do you think will be formed? What upsets do you think will happen? Who do you think will take home the event? All that’s certain is there will be storylines, alliances will be formed, rivalries will continue to foster and upsets will happen.
The tournament starts this Friday and you can catch the broadcast live on Twitch.
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