Outliers and Underdogs: Three Key Americas Minor Storylines

Why you should watch the Third Americas Minor.

The abbreviated Third Americas Minor will start at 10:00 am EST today in Atlanta with Muffin Lightning, Team SoloMid, Cloud9, and Immortals facing off in a double elimination bracket. The top two teams will advance to ELEAGUE’s Main Qualifier for the first Valve Major of 2017 set to take place in January.

As for who will make it through, there is no getting around it, Cloud9 and Immortals are massively favored to be top the tournament and advance onwards to the Main Qualifier.  Cloud9 have long been considered a top-ten team in the world, even breaking into the top-five across various rankings over the past month, largely due to their tournament winning performance at the ESL Season 4 Pro League Finals.

Immortals haven’t been as highly touted due to a handful of poor performances when Wilton “zews” Prado was still part of the lineup. Since his departure they have again looked to be a team on the rise, winning iBUYPOWER Masters and making out of the group stage of the far more competitive IEM Oakland. TSM nor Muffin Lightning have been nowhere near their level recently, attending very few tournament and finding equally few wins.

Still, while the end result very well may be a foregone conclusion, there are multiple interesting intersecting histories and comparatives surrounding our competitors that will still might the competition worth watching.

Is the Third Final the Charm?

With such a distinct hierarchy in ability at the event, it’s highly likely that Cloud9 and Immortals will be facing off for the third time in a tournament’s finale over the past three months.

Cloud9 and Immortals first faced in the Northern Arena Finals in the immediate aftermath of the late summer player break, with both teams entering the tournament with a brand new roster. Cloud9 traded out their nominal in-game leader Alec “Slemmy” White for more firepower in TSM’s former lurker, Timothy “Autimatic” Ta, while Immortals took the opposite approach. They added an in-game leader in the former coach of Luminosity/SK, Zews, while replacing one of their underperforming players in Gustavo “SHOOWTiME” Gonçalves.

Despite their divergent paths, both teams meet up in the Northern Arena finals amongst relatively weaker Americas-focused competition. The series itself was quite close with Immortals taking the first map in narrow 16-12 fashion on Cobblestone, before Cloud9 answered back with a 16-13 win on Train. While the infamous headphone administration debacle ultimately soured the final map, Overpass, and called the result somewhat into question, Immortals took the series and the tournament with 16-11 win.

Despite the Immortals victory, over the next two months Cloud9 would be the team to find far more success internationally.  On the back of strong online results, Cloud9 were able two more tournaments specifically, StarLadder i-League StarSeries Season 2 and DreamHack Bucharest. Cloud9 exceeded expectations in both outings,  placing top-four at StarLadder and second only behind Virtus.pro at DreamHack Bucharest.

Both teams had a chance to attend the ESL Season 4 Pro League Finals and ELEAGUE Season 2. While the pair did not face off against one another in their shared ELEAGUE Group B, both somehow bombed out versus lackluster competition in mousesports and a FaZe Clan team who had then only very recently added Finn “karrigan” Andersen. Nevertheless, on Brazilian soil at the Pro League Finals, Cloud9 made a cinderella run through the tournament defeating OpTic, mousesports, and Immortal’s burlier older brothers in SK to win the tournament. Immortals, on the other hand, went 1-3 in the underwhelming Group A, which eliminated them from the tournament.

With two straight poor results, Immortals benched their new in-game leader Zews who hadn’t performed up to par individually on LAN and reportedly didn’t get mesh well with his younger teammates. Instead, the team picked-up another more veteran player Lucas “steel” Lopes who moved over from g3nerationX, but more notably played on the Keyd Stars/Luminosity lineup prior to the Lincoln “fnx” Lau and Epitácio “TACO” de Melo acquisition.

With the new addition at iBUYPOWER Masters, Immortals found two straight wins in the group stage over Renegades and FaZe immediately sending them into the finals of the abbreviated tournament.  Cloud9 would met them there after defeating Flipesid3 and Tyloo themselves on the back of their EPL win. Despite their wildly different levels of success since Northern Arena, Immortals would again come out ahead in another finals matchup. This time their wins came on Cache and Mirage, though they did loss another game two on Train, but it should be noted that the minor difference in prize money between first and second place and the fact both teams had already qualified for IEM Oakland may have again dampered the stringency of competition.

Following this victory, however, Immortals would come out better in proceeding tournaments while Cloud9 would be the one to wilt. Immortals made it out of their group at IEM Oakland before losing in the round of six, while Cloud9 did not, losing three matches out of five to tough opponents in SK, Ninjas in Pyjamas, and a now burgeoning FaZe. Making matters worse, Cloud9 also underperformed massively shortly thereafter by failing to make it out of groups again at DreamHack Winter amongst significantly weaker competition.

While the grand finals of Minor might be somewhat compromised as well as both attending teams will have already secured their spot at the Main Qualifier, the pair will probably meet at full strength in the upper-bracket finals pending their opening roudn victories. Immortals have the head-to-head record and have had a far better trajectory recently, while Cloud9 have accumulated far greater accomplishments overall since their first bout in September. Will Immortals take the Minor and finally find their footing as a surging young team or will Cloud9 again show up as one of the best teams in the world this weekend?

TSM’s Last Hurrah

The North American rendition of TSM were a community-wide joke in the immediate aftermath of their inception last January. The disparity between the original Danish line up who were perpetually a top-four team in the world and the new squad was blaringly apparent. Even amongst North American teams, TSM’s new squad was underwhelming with two washed up veterans in Pujan “FNS” Mehta and Kory “SEMPHIS” Friesen, two relatively unknown “up-and-comers” in Hunter “SicK” Mims and Daniel “vice” Kim, and a stable but perhaps only average player in Autimatic.

Their opening results hardly tempered that highly negative perception. In TSM’s first competition, the Last Chance Qualifier for MLG Columbus Main Qualifier, they lost to the oft-hapless Winter Fox in the very first round. After stretches of inactivity and unimpressive results elsewhere, TSM swapped out their worst performer in Vice for Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken in late March, but their results only improved modestly before the Second Americas Minor in May. There, they over-performed by a fair bit by placing third with best-of-three victories over NRG and Selfless, but their potency seemed to come back to earth when they attended their ELEAGUE Season 1 group. Against a more difficult European field, TSM won just one game in nine, though they did play with a stand-in for Twistzz due to ELEAGUE’s age restrictions.

Then, TSM had sports-movie esque moment when the attended the ECS Finals shortly thereafter. In their first game in the group stage, they were pitted against their predecessors, and the source of their painful initial reception, in Astralis. Thanks to an overconfident pick-ban by their Danish binate, the pair landed on TSM’s best map, Cobblestone, where they won convincingly 16-12,  in an apparent overthrow of months of mockery.

Moving forward, TSM almost found another unbelievable result as they took a big lead against Fnatic again on Cobblestone, before narrowly losing 14-16. Then in the group decider, TSM found another big dynamic warping upset. After over a year doddling around doldrums of the mid-tier North American scene after being dropped by Cloud9, Semphis defeated his former teammates with lineup of fellow leftovers in a clean 2-0 sweep. While TSM fell to a world-leading Luminosity team in in the semifinals, they found another close game on Cobblestone before again falling 14-16.  

The often maligned TSM suddenly looked competent even versus the best teams in the world, but before they could play another LAN, Autimatic decided to leave the team to join his friend Jake “Stewie2k” Yip on Cloud9 during the late summer shuffle.  Since then, TSM have never displayed any of the prowess or potential showed at the ECS Finals. With Skyler “Relyks” Weaver coming into replace Autimatic, TSM have not played well enough online to qualify for many LAN’s, and have not won a single match at either LAN they have attended. At Northern Arena Toronto they lost to both Echo Fox and OpTic Gaming, and at iBUYPOWER Masters they lost to Renegades and FaZe.

Just this week, Jarek “DeKay” Lewis reported that Shahzeeb “ShahZaM” Khan and Sean “seangres” Gares of Echo Fox are set to join the TSM roster following their performance in the Major qualifier system. As TSM are not likely to advance past either Immortals or Cloud9 at the Minor, today and tomorrow’s matches will very likely be the last appearance of the fundamental TSM roster. This is their last chance to rekindle some of iota of the potential shown back in May and July. Will  they fade gently into oblivion or burn bright once more as they approach their ultimate end?

Can Muffin Lightning Strike twice?

There is definitely some entertainment value to Muffin Lightning’s quixotic team name and Eli Manning infused-logo, but they do not look imtiminading.

This season in ESEA Premier, they placed fourth with a 11-5 record,  but did not advance through the playoff quarterfinals. Their opponents in the first round of the Minor, Cloud9, placed first in Pro League with a 25-1 recond, and won the adjoining tournament versus some of the best teams in the world. Muffin Lightning have never attended a LAN together, and actually didn’t even earn their slot at the Americas Minor; they were awarded the spot after Echo Fox dropped out.

Their lineup is also highly unimpressive consisting mainly of mid-tier North American rejects and highly unknown names. Joshua “sancz” Ballenger formerly played on Nihilum in 2015 and compLexity more recently before being benched from that heavily struggling roster at the end of the summer. Samuel “SileNt” Portillo was previously a member of a Method and NRG before likewise being removed from the starting lineup following the conclusion of the Second Americas Minor. Adam “aKis” Kisseberth had played on some mid-tier North American teams previously, playing with Elevate and Splyce in 2015, but has not played with relevant competition since then.  Ryan “ichibaNNN” Colucci’s only has experience with a mid-to-low level North American teams was playing with Echo Fox as a stand-in for a brief period in late-April/early-May as they looked that team lookd to make higher profile pickups. Jack “ARKIMONDAY” Kastner is even less known with Muffin Lightning being the only recognizable team on his résumé.

Outside the notoriety earned by the uniqueness of their nome de garre, Muffin Lightning were only somewhat able to impress at the Americas Minor Closed Qualifier. After making in through the second Open Qualifier, Muffin Lightning played in the online Closed Qualifier which essentially acted as the group stage to the official offline bracket stage.

In their first match, they found a shocking result by defeating Immortals outright in a best-of-one. Then, they almost bested Echo Fox in the group winner’s match to secure a trip to Atlanta as they took map one in another landslide on Cache and found a commanding 8-1 lead on Echo Fox’s Dust2 pick. Unfortunately, Echo Fox came back in the second half to win the map. Then in the map three decider, Muffin Lightning  again looked like they were about to secure their bracket stage birth by racking up an unthinkable 12-1 scoreline on Mirage, but again Echo Fox made a second-half comeback to secure their own offline appearance. Afterwards, Muffin Lightning had another chance to make ELEAGUE’s Minor in a best-of-three versus Immortals, but after being hit with an opening Cache ban, Muffin Lightning found two straight losses to eliminate them from the tournament.  

While Muffin Lightning were lucky enough to qualify for actual Minor via the dissolution of Echo Fox, they are still by far the weakest looking team in attendance. They certainly had flashes brilliance at Closed Qualifier winning one half in a deciding map or one map in a best-of-three, but Muffin Lightning need to miraculously strike twice to make some sort of impact at the Minor. While they more realistically should be looking protect their pride or advertise themselves as prospects, another over-performance could still end TSM early or put a humiliating smirch on the records or either Cloud9 or Immortals, and who could bare the loss to the silly and sublime Muffin Lightning?

For compliments or complaints, you can find me on Twitter @WallabeeBeatle.