Takeaways From The iBUYPOWER Summer Invitational

A look at how the results of the iBUYPOWER Summer Invitational intertwine with evolving North American storylines.

To be clear, the relevancy and predicative power of the iBUYPOWER Summer Invitational is hamstrung by its online format, smaller prize pool, and lack of upper level competitors, but the results of this online cup still complement three evolving storylines in the current turbulent but burgeoning North American scene.

Cloud9 Still Clings to the Top

In 2015, in the wake of the iBUYPOWER match fixing scandal, Cloud9 became the de facto No. 1 North American team. However, with Shahzeb “ShahZaM” Khan replacing Spencer “Hiko” Martin, C9 struggled to find results comparable to their late 2013/early 2014 hayday.  Perhaps sensing the winds of change with emerging Counter Logic Gaming, Team Liquid, and even Nihilum squads starting to crop up, Cloud9 cut both ShahZaM and Kory “Semphis” Friesen in order to bring in Ryan “fREAKAZOiD” Abadir and Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham. This new roster also struggled initially at events like Gfinity Masters Summer 1, but suddenly in the summer they found themselves on one of the greatest, if not the greatest, multi-tournament runs for a North American team in CS:GO history. This new lineup placed 2nd three times in a row at the ESL ESEA Pro League Season 1 Finals, Electronic Sports World Cup 2015, and FACEIT 2015 Stage 2 Finals, defeating some of the world’s best competition along the way. 

Unfortunately in the months following, Cloud9 failed to live up to the potential postulated by this summer run. At the end of August, at the next Valve Major, ESL One Cologne 2015, Cloud9 failed to advance through the group stage and won only one game against mousesports before falling to Virtus.Pro and Kinguin. The same result repeated two months later with Cloud9 finishing 9th-12th again at the next Major,after winning just one group stage game and failing to make it to the playoffs following two additional losses.

The discrepancy between C9’s ability and actual results presumably lead to the departure of their long-time in-game leader (IGL), Sean “sgares” Gares. While Cloud9 did win the Americas only iBuypower Cup soon thereafter with the ex-iBUYPOWER star Braxton “swag” Pierce substituting in, the permanent swap of sgares to the then-infamous Jake “Stewie2k” Yip lead to a rapid degradation of results moving into 2016. At the same time, the Hiko-infused Team Liquid and the JDM-lead CLG started to post some of their own brow-raising results, which only further emphasized the dwindling ability of North America’s former No. 1 team.

With Stewie2k, Cloud9’s first big test was the Main Qualifier for MLG Columbus, the first Valve Major of 2016. There they continued to struggle, especially on the T-side with n0thing at the tactical helm, but C9 did eventually squeeze out a qualification by defeating Renegades 2-0. At the Major itself, they failed to win a single game, while CLG acquired Legendary status for the first time and Liquid nearly secured a finals appearance before losing to Luminosity Gaming in pair of overtime defeats in the semi-finals.

Following MLG Columbus, fREAKAZOiD would leave Cloud9 to eventually join up with sgares again in Echo Fox, which in turn lead Cloud9 to pick up Alec “Slemmy” White, the former IGL of Without a Roof (now known as Team Kaliber). While the pickup of the then no-name Slemmy from an unimpressive WaR lineup was certainly less than appealing, results in the Slemmy era have been more inconsistent than underwhelming.  Under his leadership, Cloud9 failed to qualify for a Major for the first time in the organization’s history, but C9 were able to have a very good showing in the first week of ELEAGUE and make a surprising upset over Astralis at the ECS Finals.

Within the NA scene, OpTic Gaming have recently moved up near the front of the pack and Liquid continue to post huge results at Majors, meaning Cloud9 only barely holds onto a top three position thanks to CLG’s recent implosion. At the moment, the only team really nipping at their heels is the Semphis-led TSM. As Cloud9 had already lost to TSM in the quarterfinals of ECS, another loss to them in the finals of the iBUYPOWER Summer Invitational might have moved Cloud9 out of their perineal top three position in NA in the eyes of many. And that seemed to be the expectation going into last night’s final. On Saturday, Cloud9 somehow struggled in the first round versus Team Prospects, the lesser-known 8th seeded team whose invitation to the tournament was questionable in itself. Then on Sunday versus Selfless— who are only  a top six or so North American team playing with a new roster— Cloud9 put up an even less convincing performance: going into triple overtime in game one and single overtime again in game two before eventually closing both games.

Even in the finals versus TSM, Cloud9 still looked fairly lackluster initially. On Dust 2, they only squeezed out a 16-14 win even though Dust 2 was their map choice and TSM has regularly banned the map thus far in 2016. Only on Train were Cloud9 able to show off their raw talent on their way to a convincing win, dominating the T-side 11-4 before winning five of the next six rounds to take the tournament.

Right now, it doesn’t look pretty and it doesn’t look convincing, but Cloud9 are still able to take wins when given the opportunity. The North American scene is in flux with CLG falling apart and OpTic and TSM rising to replace them, but Cloud9 haven’t lost their grip just yet.

TSM Are Tightening Some Mouths 

After parting ways with the Danish players who would eventually form Astralis, the TSM organization’s original North American roster of Kory “Semphis” Friesen, Timothy “Autimatic” TA, Pujan “FNS” Mehta, Hunter “SicK” Mims, and Daniel “Vice” Kim might have been the most underwhelming and widely criticized signing in recent memory. Semphis and Autimatic, while certainly capable players within the context of NA, did not put up any significant results in their near-year together on Nihilum/compLexity. FNS had shown some game sense and tactical understanding as the IGL for CLG, but his skill as an individual player wasn’t enough to warrant his continued presence in the team, leading to his removal. While SicK and Vice may have shown some promise in ESEA Premier on Denial, they had no LAN experience and were never hyped anywhere near the level of a Stewie2k or Kenneth “koosta” Suen.

Criticism of the organization quickly transferred over to the players as the roster failed to produce results online, losing to Winterfox in the Last Chance Qualifier for MLG Columbus and Renegades in the DreamHack Malmö qualifiers in their first outings together. By the time the team removed Vice from the starting lineup on the 9th of March, they were already well on their way to becoming a joke within the community. Many wondered how TSM, an organization with extensive pedigree and funding, could bare to field a roster of such lowly caliber.  However, despite widespread pessimism, their results started to turn around when they trialled Eric “adreN” Hoag as their fifth. With adreN, TSM were able to defeat compLexity and Renegades online and even managed to take a map off of the Luminosity team that is now SK Gaming in the previous online iBUYPOWER Invitational.

Once adreN returned to Team Liquid following the original departure of S1mple, TSM were forced to try another fifth. Quickly landing on the unpolished, but talented, 16-year-old Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken, TSM showed remarkable improvement in April and May. On the 19th of May, TSM competed at the Second Americas Minor in Columbus, which was their first LAN together as a full roster, and SicK and Twistzz’s first ever LAN. While their two young guns looked rattled in their first match against Tempo Storm-now-Immortals, the TSM team were able to massively exceed expectations by defeating other mid-tier contenders in NRG eSports and Selfless on the way to a third-place finish. Compounding on that success, TSM managed to qualify for the international ECS Finals less than a week later by defeating CLG and OpTic in online play.

With Twistzz out of the lineup at ELEAGUE due to age restrictions, TSM struggled to impress, but they put up a fair number of round wins in their losses and managed to take a game off of Fnatic on their way to a 1-2 best-of-three defeat. From there, TSM shattered all expectations in London at the ECS Finals by defeating Astralis in a best-of-one, Cloud9 in a best-of-three, and playing Luminosity and Fnatic to the bitter end in a pair of 14-16 defeats on Cobblestone.

With both C9 and TSM not attending the most recent Major, TSM’s recent victory over Cloud9 at ECS meant they had more expectations around them going into the iBUYPOWER Invitational.  A TSM win over Cloud9 may have cemented TSM’s reputation as a top NA team. All was going swimmingly in the first two rounds, as TSM took fairly comfortable wins over Team Kaliber and Echo Fox on the way to the finals while Cloud9 struggled mightily on the other side of the bracket. Once in the finals, TSM played well on an unfavorable Dust 2 map-pick, but they fell apart on Train due their typical issues as a team: unorthodox economic choices, lost anti-eco rounds, and poor late round play even when holding the man advantage.  

Despite these apparent flaws, TSM’s performance earlier the tournament and over the past two months continues to suggest that they are team on the verge of becoming a respectable team even at an international level. If they can maintain their form or continue to improve, their initial humiliation just may be an afterthought in history. 

Selfless Are Still Here

While Enemy’s victory at the First Americas Minor in January could have been a watershed moment for the young team on their way to the upper-end of North American Counter Strike, the ensuing fanfare surrounding the team’s star player, Koosta, would actually jeopardize their progress. At that time, North America was embroiled in one of its periodic roster swapping periods, which was intensified by the emergence of two completely new rosters in NRG and TSM. Due to Koosta’s star caliber play at the Minor, he was a hotly sought after commodity. Enemy managed to retain him during the main swapping period, which concluded at the end of January, but he wouldn’t remain on the team much longer. By the 21st of February, Enemy’s roster was effectively dropped by the Enemy organization following the expiration of their contracts, and it was announced that Koosta would be joining Team Liquid a few days before their contracts ran out.

Koosta decided to do this instead of signing with another organization the ex-Enemy squad reformed under the new moniker “Selfless” with Steve “Ryu” Rattacasa, the coach, and an unnamed outside investor holding ownership stakes. The loss of Koosta was obviously a huge determinant to the team and in the weeks following his depature, Selfless struggled to show results on par with their successes in late 2015 and early 2016. Immediately following their reformation, they lost in the first round of the DreamHack Malmo closed qualifiers to an unproven AGG team 0-2. On the 27th of February, Selfless would momentarily rejoin with Koosta to play at the main MLG Columbus qualifier as he was unable to compete with Liquid due to his previous play with Selfless in the Minor, but the reverted roster was unable to find any of its previous form and failed qualified for MLG’s Major.

Instead of signaling the end following the Main Major Qualifier, Selfless actually looked significantly improved online. With Noah “Nifty” Francis now on the AWP and Skyler “Relyks” Weaver playing at a better level, Selfless won 18 of their next 27 games online. Their improved online form led the team to qualify for several major tournaments over the coming months. They reached both the ESL Pro League Season 3 LAN and the CEVO Pro League Season 9 Finals at the end of April thanks to their record in online leagues and were also able to attend DreamHack Austin in early May. However, at these LANs, Selfless struggled to find any wins. They won zero maps at the ESL Pro League Finals, CEVO Pro League finals, or at ELEAGUE more recently, and found just a single best-of-three win over NRG at DreamHack Austin before the start of the next Minor.

At the Second Americas Minor in May, Selfless were able to put up wins over Winterfox and the Brazilian WinOut team, but they failed to advance to the Main Qualifier after losing to Tempo Storm in the upper bracket and TSM in the lower bracket.  With OpTic and, to a lesser extent, TSM moving towards the top of NA, Selfless seem stuck being the best of remaining have-nots thanks to their ability to qualify for tournaments.

As online play has grinded to halt over the past two months, the iBUYPOWER Summer Invitation was Selfless’s chance to show that they still were a considerable force in national online competitions. Unfortunately, the stars didn’t line up for them this weekend. Selfless entered into the tournament with a new fifth in Jake “caboose” McDonald and were put on the same side of the bracket as the eventual tournament winners in Cloud9, which limited their chances to impress. In the first round, they played compLexity, a team that exceeded expectations at ELEAGUE by taking a map off of Gambit. Selfless easily dispatched them, 16-6 and 16-9.

But with only eight teams in the tournament, they ran into Cloud9 in the second round. Even though they did eventually lose 2-0, Mitch “mitch” Semago, a quieter player for Selfless in the fragging department, had a very encouraging series by leading his team in their marathon map losses. You can find another silver lining if you consider TSM’s disastrous meltdown on Train: TSM’s forthright defeat on their own map pick may have made Selfless look like the actual second best team of the tournament. The data sample is obviously quite limited, but the new Selfless lineup with caboose still looks dangerous online, and looks to be one of the better mid-tier North American teams.

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