Immortals, the second best Brazilian team living in California, are not the favorites to win ECS Season 2 Finals. The event will boast $750,000 in prize money, with a total of eight teams competing for the season two championship title. Among those teams are six top ten teams from HLTV.org’s current world ranking, where Immortals holds the 11th place.
However, IMT have caught a couple of short-term breaks prior to the event even starting. Both SK and dignitas, the top two-ranked teams in attendance, will be playing with a stand-in. The Danes’ Emil “Magiskb0Y” Reif is home for a school exam with his replacement unknown as of writing, whereas SK is reportedly cutting ties Lincoln “fnx” Lau, and will be using Portuguese Ricardo “fox” Pacheco as their stand-in.
That is not enough to make Immortals favorites to win. It might put them above the two juggernauts, but there are still four other teams above them in the rankings: Cloud9, Astralis, FaZe and EnVyUs, with OpTic below them, but who are fresh off having won ELEAGUE Season 2 and the $400,000 first place prize. But if you delve a little deeper, you realize there is a case to be made for Immortals here.
STAND-INS ENTIRELY ALTER GROUP DRAW
Henrique “HEN1” Teles’s team was drawn to group B, which they are sharing with SK, dignitas and EnVyUs. Under normal circumstances that would have been the group of death at ECS Season 2 Finals, but the first two are playing with stand-ins, and EnVyUs are seemingly waiting for the year to run out, excited at merely the prospect of another French game of musical chairs changing up their team.
It is generally hard to tell how a team will do without its full roster, but we have a small sample size from earlier this fall when Fernando “fer” Alvarenga was sidelined, and SK were playing with former Tempo Storm member Gustavo “SHOOWTiME” Goncalves in his stead. While the results are all from online games SK did not particularly well prepare for, given their off-season leading up to them, they were disappointing. SK finished 2-4 with wins over NRG, but double losses to Liquid and Renegades, including a 0-16 thrashing at the hands of the Aussies.
This time the rest of SK is in much better shape, and you could talk me into fer being harder to replace than fnx. But there is also a case to be made against the latter. SK are as of writing still in Atlanta for ELEAGUE playoffs, and with fox located in Portugal, they are unlikely to have more than a couple of days of practice going into the event – in the best-case scenario. SK will not be in anything close to optimal shape in Anaheim, even with a stand-in.
For dignitas it is harder to say, but SK is a good comparison point – both teams play with a heavy emphasis on tactics and the Danes as of Saturday, some five days before the beginning of the event, were not sure who they were using. Mathias “MSL” Lauridsen’s team will need to plug and play with their stand-in with little-to-no practice, and their team is not going to be able to fill the void in pure skill and explosiveness left by Magiskb0y.
While Immortals would have been clear underdogs versus each team, they now become – in light of their recent strong play – likely favored to win the head-to-head games and advance. That is a huge break for the Brazilians, who have won smaller events such as CEVO Gfinity Season 9 Finals, DreamHack Summer, Northern Arena and iBUYPOWER Masters this year, but continue looking for a big win of their own. It opens up a whole new universe of possibilities.
The third opponent in group B is EnVyUs. Immortals boast a losing record against them in 2016, with two map wins against the Frenchmen’s four – or otherwise a 2-3 match record – but have been gaining in strength in recent months, a move opposite to that of Vincent “Happy” Schopenhauer’s troops. The Brazilians upset EnVyUs at both IEM Katowice and DreamHack Masters Malmo’s group stages, at a time when they were far weaker challengers than today. Favored? Maybe not, but certainly possible.
In group A their potential opponents include Cloud9, OpTic, FaZe and Astralis. IMT have beaten Cloud9 twice in a best-of-three series offline since the addition of Lukas “steel” Lopes, and perhaps more importantly since Cloud9’s championship at ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals. Online Jake “Stewie2K” Yip’s team has destroyed IMT throughout 2016, but offline the Brazilians’ record includes series wins at Northern Arena and DreamHack Open Austin, making them undefeated 4-0 offline in 2016.
OpTic has only faced IMT offline three times, once in Sao Paolo in October in a best-of-one on cobblestone, and twice at the American Minor in May, though each roster was different back then. Online OpTic’s record is equal to IMT’s at 5-5 for 2016, but again, that includes results with different lineups. All in all the two have been fairly even this year, with each sparking up as of late – though OpTic’s ELEAGUE win obviously trumps anything IMT has done… Without making the match-up one-sided, by any means.
FaZe is a newborn team with Finn “karrigan” Andersen manning the flight deck, and there is not much to be read into their 14-16 loss to Immortals at iBUYPOWER Masters. FaZe has improved since, and had barely had any practice with Frenchmen Fabien “kioShiMa” Fiey by then. A series here could go either way, but once again, the outcome remains in play – you could not talk me into saying Aleksi “allu” Jalli’s team are 60% favorites after getting destroyed by OpTic at ELEAGUE. Too close to call.
Finally, group A’s top dogs are now Astralis, despite losing to OpTic in Atlanta. Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander’s team is looking stronger and stronger as events go by, showcasing a steady rate of improvement since he took over. The only match IMT has played against Astralis took place at IEM Oakland, where the Danes survived a scare in overtime. Harder than the previous two opponents, but not unthinkable, and the Danes could get taken out by someone else.
STRONG MAP POOL
This past weekend HLTV.org’s Petar “Tgwri1s” Milovanovic tweeted out map records for current rosters, as well as four man cores in 2016 against other top 15 teams. Current Immortals roster with steel remains undefeated on both cache and mirage, maps they have had strong records throughout 2016. In fact, Immortals has the best win-rate on cache of all teams in 2016, having won 75% of their games on the map for a 12-4 record. Not far behind are their cobblestone at 65% (17-9), barely behind SK’s 72%, and mirage at 62% (13-8).
The squad has tried nuke a couple of times, but with a 0-3 record on it effectively do not play the map. That is fine though, because while it has gained in popularity in the last two months, it remains a popular veto choice among top teams, many of whom would not likely be willing to risk their tournament life on such an unproven map. Of the remaining six maps, IMT has scored a meaningful offline win against a top team on each in 2016, proving they have the kind of versatility required so they cannot be pushed around by teams in the veto phase, before matches begin.
Admittedly Immortals do not look keen to play overpass, but even there they have wins over Cloud9 and gla1ve’s Danish SK, and narrow losses versus FaZe and Na`Vi. Led by HEN1’s sniping, they are a dangerous train team, having beaten FaZe at ELEAGUE in Wilton “zews” Prado’s days, and their dust2 is not impressive – but they still defeated Cloud9, a strong team on the puggy map, on it, and took Astralis to overtime.
The second best Brazilian team does not have a rock like SK’s train to rely on, but they are very good on three maps, and capable of three others. Not everyone is yet familiar with their style under steel’s leadership – another overlooked asset when studying them, as few demos exist – and they are scrappy enough to make any game competitive. With nuke being an automatic veto, you know there is no map that you can count Immortals out on as soon as you see it on the server – which you cannot say about every team.
THE CASE FOR IMMORTALS
In the previous sections I have laid out the foundation of why I believe Immortals have a chance to win it all at ECS Season 2 Finals, and become the eleventh team to win a big tournament in 2016. As an added note, they would also break OpTic’s record of winning an event from the eleventh rank, as Monday’s update is all-but guaranteed to knock them down a spot as the ELEAGUE champions should skyrocket multiple placings up in the pegging order.
IMT caught a few lucky breaks in SK and dignitas having stand-ins, but which champion does not at some point, whether in-game or not? On top of that, they do not have any kryptonite-like match-ups in Anaheim, with certain opponents actually boasting challenging records against HEN1’s team. Finally, their map pool is strong, with cache the ace up their sleeves, mirage not far behind, and four other maps they are competitive enough on to challenge any team in the world. Now that’s something.
To top it off, whereas most other teams have been busy racking up frequent flier points jetting across the world, Immortals have not left North America since adding steel roughly a month ago. In that time span they have attended two quick two-day events in iBUYPOWER Masters and Americas Minor, and IEM Oakland three weeks ago in Northern California. Compared to the opposition, they have had much more time to prepare at home, which can be invaluable at times like these.
In line with the above, Immortals live in Southern California, and will be able to put in practice every day leading up to their matches at Anaheim Arena. In fact, nothing is stopping them from driving home after games to warm-up ahead of the next day. Some will benefit more from the added playing time than others, but I would not rule it out as meaningless. Instead, it is just another minor factor on top of many other ones, which together could be enough to see Immortals lift a trophy next Sunday.
Immortals are not favored to win Esports Championship Series Season 2 Finals, but they have a realistic chance to do so anyway. Had Astralis beaten OpTic at ELEAGUE, they would have become the clear favorites, but now the door has been left wide open. SK might pick this team apart after the major, but for now Joao “felps” Vasconcellos and company could end up surprising many. Let us see if Immortals can be worthy of their name at Anaheim Arena.
Photo credits here.