Key Takeaways from ESL One Cologne 2016

This article takes a look at the key conclusions to be drawn from ESL One Cologne, the second $1,000,000 major that ended at Lanxess Arena in Cologne on Sunday evening.

The confetti may still be falling from the rafters of Lanxess Arena in Cologne, but we are a day removed from SK Gaming becoming just the second team in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive history to repeat as major champions, and it is time to take a look at the key takeaways from the event.

The majors’ seeding system and map randomizer need to change

Group A saw Gambit prevail over Counter Logic Gaming playing with their coach, and Astralis who was using a stand-in for their game, and later on had to resort to fielding their coach, zonic. Meanwhile in the Group of Death, legitimate competitors for top eight finishers and above, FaZe Clan and G2 Esports, were eliminated by arguably two of the world’s best three teams. Whoever is enforcing the current system – and rumors from Cologne suggest it may not be Valve – will need to reconsider before the next major takes place. When careers and legacies are at stake, we simply should not be content with the way things are.

Likewise, the map randomizer is no longer needed. It was introduced prior to ESL One Cologne 2014 as a means to solve the issue of few maps dominating the games, and that is no longer the case. Furthermore, only allowing one round of vetoes before picks has also alleviated the previous problem. The map randomizer did not necessarily cause large swings in results this time, but it is an unnecessary random-factor nonetheless, and has no place in professional Counter-Strike. And as of July 2016, it no longer serves the need that it was introduced for, either.

NiP gone from the club of having always made playoffs at the majors

As had been the case in the past, Ninjas in Pyjamas were drawn in what many called a lucky group, sharing group B with Na’Vi, and two teams many would have considered clearly inferior on paper – namely OpTic Gaming and Ukraine’s FlipSid3. NiP faced B1ad3’s team in the elimination game of group B, and barely pulled off a 16-14 win on overpass, moving the series to cache – a map NiP were considered the world’s best on. FlipSid3 won the map 16-2, with markeloff later telling the press his team had not practiced cache leading up to ESL One Cologne. And NiP’s magic ran out on mirage, where markeloff’s +13 K-D and 1.55 rating performance eliminated NiP from the major.

First Counter-Strike Hall of Fame inductee HeatoN was quick to promise NiP would not make changes, but the loss has implications for NiP regardless. Their Malmo win has an asterisk next to it, they bombed out of ECS Season 1 Finals in last place, and now failed to make playoffs at a major, despite a favorable group draw. Something is wrong with NiP, and they once more need to return to the drawing board. In an interview on GAMURS, Fnatic’s flusha stated the team is too predictable.

It is also worth noting that NiP had good results upon replacing Fifflaren with Maikelele, and then when Maikelele was replaced by allu. Similarly, when pyth joined, the team won DreamHack Masters Malmo. There is a clear pattern here, but from the outside looking in it is hard to say whether it has to do with work ethic, or other reasons. But in any case, NiP are gone from the exclusive club of having made playoffs at every major, which is now down to device, dupreeh*, flusha, JW, KRiMZ, olofmeister and Xyp9x.

FlipSid3 take a step forward after standing still for a year

The Ukrainian team cut ties with s1mple shortly after ESWC 2015, where The Love Story of Our Time between the 18-year-old superstar and Hiko began. Since then, B1ad3’s team has been a forgettable participant at the majors, having quietly crashed out at the group stage of ESL One Cologne 2015, DreamHack Open Cluj-Napoca and MLG Columbus 2016. But starting with their stellar play at ELEAGUE in June, it seems that B1ad3’s team have finally turned a page and began leaping forward.

WorldEdit had a great game against Echo Fox at ELEAGUE, wayLander topped the charts versus NiP, and markeloff once again proved he is not only a reliable performer at the majors, but also capable of carry-type performances, as seen versus the Ninjas on mirage. Now the question is this: Will teams figure FlipSid3 out, having proved they need to be taken seriously, or can B1ad3 stay ahead of the curve? This team could very well be a contender for a spot in the top ten rankings going forward. can still beat anyone, and win any tournament

Even the most loyal of fans have at times seemingly doubted the Polish juggernauts this year, as they have struggled to claim top four finishes at the largest tournaments and have fallen short in games against what many deemed weaker opposition elsewhere. However, they proved this past week in Germany that they can still compete with anyone – if that was ever in question. They were the only team to take a map off of eventual champions SK – which was also the case at MLG Columbus – and also won SL i-League Invitational #1 in Kiev over Na;Vi in May.

NEO’s team took down mousesports and Liquid to top group C, overcame the weakened and dupreeh-less Astralis in the quarter-finals, and were possibly within a Scout-round by FalleN from pulling off the unlikely comeback on mirage to win the semifinal series. continue playing to their opponents’ level, which is both a blessing and a curse. Until they figure it out, they will continue struggling against weaker opponents, while scaring the elite teams. In Cologne, TaZ showed he has still got it, and Snax remains a superstar. It may take more work for the giants to get to their top level, but it still exists. can still beat anyone.

The second tier of teams could go through a major shuffle after ELEAGUE

Through a bad group draw or overall weak play, the likes of G2, EnVyUs, mousesports and dignitas had a disappointing showing. G2 lost to two top three teams, but bowed out nonetheless. EnVyUs is a team that I would be shocked to see together with this roster after ELEAGUE – which is keeping many teams from making changes. NiKo already said he will stop calling in mousesports – with coach kassad presumably taking over – but reports of oskar having already signed a contract loom over the team. And when does NiKo become a free agent? Finally, dignitas had yet another disappointing showing, losing to Astralis with a stand-in and their coach playing.

Put all of this together and it could well mean we will see major roster changes in late July, once ELEAGUE has wrapped up and there is a break from tournament play. Unhappy players talking together at after parties have led to multiple roster changes over the years, and when there is such an exceptionally large group of those – given the number of upsets in the group stage – it is unlikely nothing will happen. Another CS:GO silly season may be upon us, so hold tight as a game of musical chairs amongst the non-elite teams begins in a matter of weeks.

Liquid are either a future contender, or one of the greatest “What ifs?” in CS:GO history

Most were cautiously optimistic when s1mple moved to Los Angeles in early 2016 to join forces with Hiko, a player who had made top four at ESWC 2015 while under the flag of FlipSid3, taking down NiP in the process. But no one could have foreseen what was coming. The team’s issues aside, Liquid has now placed top four in consecutive majors, a feat only accomplished by seven other teams today in CS:GO – NiP, fnatic, Astralis, EnVyUs, Na’Vi, and SK Gaming. Success can disappear as quickly as it arrives, and Liquid need to weigh the possibility of that happening versus the pain of continuing with this roster. And speaking of weight, Pimp will be under immense scrutiny and pressure now, if he does take over.

Given Liquid’s success, there are two options. Either the team will continue being a contender with Pimp, giving North America their first legitimate top team in CS:GO, or they become the greatest “What if?” in CS:GO history, as both fans and players watch their results weaken and wonder what could have been, if only they continued trying to work with the talent that is s1mple, figuring out ways to make him work in their team. The four members are good enough to compete, but s1mple was who put them over the top at both majors. Can someone else step up to fill the void of perhaps the game’s most explosive superstar?

SK Gaming are all-time greats

It is hard to believe Brazilian teams had only attended a handful of events in CS:GO prior to Keyd Stars’s showing at MLG Aspen’s X Games event, and had even less success at those. Yet we are less than 18 months removed from the upset win over Cloud9 on mirage, and the team now playing under SK Gaming’s flag are just the second repeating champions in CS:GO’s history. And the way they keep doing it is so appealing, because they truly combine superior tactical approach, high individual skill and hard work to get the results they have strived for.

The victory in Cologne now elevates SK Gaming to the same level previously only occupied by the legendary 87-0 NiP squad, and the pronax-led 2015 Fnatic team that also won two majors. They truly are the role models of modern CS:GO, a team few people have bad things to say about. And SK show no signs of slowing down, meaning they could go on to add many more titles to their trophy cabinet in the years to come. Make sure to tune in any time you get a chance to watch the Brazilians play, because this kind of greatness is fleeing and it is rare to get to witness it live.

coldzera is the ESL One Cologne 2016 MVP and the world’s best player

If SK Gaming’s rise to prominence was surprising, coldzera’s individual rise tops that. Prior to July 17, 2015, practically no one outside of Brazil had heard of the then 20-year-old player, who joined a Keyd Stars squad that had never made it out of the quarter-finals at the majors, or won a best-of-three series against a top team. The catalyst to then-Luminosity’s rise to the throne was not coldzera joining – but the combination of fnx and TACO in November – yet he has been the superstar of the team since he joined, showing none of the usual growing pains players go through when quickly getting to the upper echelon of Counter-Strike.

In Cologne, coldzera finished with a 1.36 rating – tying his statistic from MLG Columbus’s MVP campaign – to go with +89 K/D differential across nine maps, 0.89 kills per round and 88.4 ADR. His grand final performance, amounting to a 1.58 rating with 96.0 ADR, was just the icing on the cake. No longer is it a question of who gets olofmeister’s previous title, because coldzera has proven he is now the world’s best Counter-Strike player.

You can contact me at @lurppis_ on Twitter.

Photo credit: ESL