Playoffs begin tomorrow morning at EPICENTER: Moscow, a $500,000 tournament where six teams are competing for the first place prize of $250,000. So far, HellRaisers and NiP have been eliminated, of which, the latter due to having the worst round difference in an almost unprecedented four-way tie in group A – one that is unlikely to be repeated, given EPICENTER’s tweet after the group stage.
Bo2 is an ass and we won’t be working with him again.
— EPICENTER: Moscow (@epicentergg) October 19, 2016
Na`Vi wound up topping group A thanks to their 16-3 thrashing of NiP in the final game. Notably, NiP needed just 12 rounds to advance over s1mple’s team, but a vintage performance from Edward – who put up a 25-9 K-D difference, 125.8 ADR and a monstrous 2.02 rating – saved the day. In group B, it was Virtus.pro who came out on top, thanks to a 2-0 win over FalleN’s SK.
With group winners Na`Vi and Virtus.pro – the finalists from ESL One New York, the most recent large international tournament – through to the semifinals, Saturday will only feature two rounds of six matches. Group A second place finishers G2 face off against SK at 11 a.m. CEST, while Dignitas takes on Fnatic at 2 p.m. CEST. The semifinals and the grand final are scheduled for Sunday.
Saturday – Quarterfinal #1: SK Gaming vs. G2
FalleN’s SK Gaming has played versus shox’s G2 four times in 2016 – once in ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals’ group stage, another in the same event’s best-of-five grand final, in the grand final of ECS Season 2 Finals, and most recently, in the group stage of ESL One Cologne, the summer’s major. Interestingly, each has won one grand final, and one group stage game. They seem to matchup well against each other.
In recent months, neither has played to what is perceived to be their true potential. SK finally fell short against Virtus.pro in New York after close games at the two majors this year, and while G2 made the grand final at SL i-League Season 2 Finals, their world-beating form of early summer is seemingly a mere distant memory at this point.
In HLTV.org’s interview, SK’s leader FalleN stated they are having internal problems, further stating they are “relationship problems that should not be happening,” and they “kind of break the team spirit.” Those are serious issues, and combined with rumors posted on reddit about fnx potentially being on the chopping block for Immortals’s star player felps, could help explain SK’s relative fall.
Without going too much into the rumors, it does not seem inconceivable either – fnx’s past issues were alluded to in Valve’s profile video of him, and he was initially removed from mibr in 2007 due to deliberately missing a flight to Seoul for e-Stars. On the other hand, felps has grown into the star of Immortals, and at 19-years-old, has plenty of mileage left.
As for G2, they came within one round of winning ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals over SK in May, and they bested the world champions twice in a row to win ECS Season 2 Finals a month later – but after the group stage exit in Cologne, and a tough loss to mousesports at ELEAGUE, few have considered them an elite side. The quick exit in New York did not ease things, and G2, in most people’s eyes, remains a one-trick pony, too dependent on the play of shox and ScreaM.
SK should remain favorites regardless of internal issues – they obviously propped up their game Wednesday in a must-win situation versus HellRaisers – but G2 definitely has a shot at pulling off the upset here, though it may require the kind of plus-1.40 rating heroics that shox put up in their map wins over Na`Vi and NiP. Only a godlike-shox and ScreaM combination can take the game away from SK – it is more likely that the Brazilians will have to cede some of it over in the form or weak play, for G2 to win.
TACO’s team needs to veto Cache first and Dust II second versus G2, while the Frenchmen do not play Mirage. Their second veto will likely be Nuke, though it might make sense to pull it out here if they have any confidence in it, given their underdog status. ScreaM and co need to win Dust II, and either of Overpass and Cobblestone to win, as SK remains too strong on Train. Still, playing Nuke instead could be a worthy risk, if G2 has practiced enough over the past weeks.
Sunday – Semifinal #1: SK Gaming/G2 vs. Virtus.pro
Looking further ahead on the bracket, we could get another delicious SK Gaming versus Virtus.pro series. After two series losses at the majors, the Poles won the most recent battle – knocking FalleN’s team out of ESL One New York with wins on Overpass and Nuke, after an earlier group stage loss on Train. SK’s sole map-win versus NEO’s team in the playoff series was on Mirage, though it is worth pointing out that the first two maps were not decided until overtime.
In the group stage of EPICENTER, FalleN’s team lost two straight against Virtus.pro, making their record in the past three months 1-0 on Train, 1-1 on Mirage, and 0-1 on Cobblestone, Nuke and Overpass. While these heavyweights will not battle on Cache or Dust II, veto strategy can still play a meaningful part in the end result. Is Virtus.pro now comfortable on Mirage after last win? Could Virtus risk SK picking Dust II or Cache, and veto Train instead? It is what I would do, if I were them.
In his interview on HLTV.org, pasha was oozing confidence and said they “want to prove they are [the best].” Beating SK again does not definitively prove it, but it goes a long way in confirming they belong above their former nemesis in the standings. It will also give Virtus.pro a chance to win a meaningful international title, which would, for the time being, obviously cement the spots they already hold as the world’s best team on both HLTV.org’s and Thorin’s world rankings.
Alternatively, the Poles of Virtus.pro have little history offline with G2. They faced off twice in the group stage of MLG Columbus – where pasha’s team won 16-1 in the best-of-one, and then 2-1 in the elimination best-of-three – but it was prior to G2’s rise to prominence six or so weeks later. Form suggests NEO’s team is in great shape, contrary to G2, and the practice rooms allow them to play even during these days off.
Virtus should veto Dust II and Cache, while G2 likely would go for Mirage and Nuke – given Virtus.pro’s recent wins over HellRaisers, EnVyUs and SK on the map. A map pool of Cobblestone, Overpass and Train could get interesting. However, given Virtus.pro’s stellar, consistent level of play in the past month, they should be favored in the matchup regardless. They are able to veto G2’s two best maps, leaving them little room to breathe.
Saturday – Quarterfinal #2: Fnatic vs. Dignitas
The new Fnatic roster is growing on me as a quasi-copy of Virtus.pro; a collection of smart, skilled players who do not necessarily need set roles, because of how versatile they are. Sometimes, olofmeister will be AWPing, and at other times, it seems natural that it is either twist or dennis holding onto the “Big Green.” It does not really make sense – just like it does not make sense in Virtus.pro – but if it works, it is hard to argue with the results.
Current rumors in the scene suggest Fnatic is potentially about to bring back KRiMZ from GODSENT, meaning a quick roster change after attending just two tournaments together – though it remains unclear whether it was initiated from Fnatic’s or KRiMZ’s side. If so, it has to affect how Fnatic is playing – the player getting the boot obviously already knows about it, so it is hard to see that not being a factor in his performance.
The black and orange needs the trio of olofmeister, dennis and KRiMZ for the major spot, and I would be shocked if they let go of twist. The natural choice to move would be wenton – a solid role player, but one without a true role in a team like this – who has not yet flourished on the team. However, if the transaction is closer to a trade, GODSENT would have no reason to accept wenton – they are more likely to demand Lekr0, and a good amount of money. It all depends on the structure.
On the other side of the series is Dignitas, a team with a consistent roster, a smart leader in MSL and a tactical playing style that very much runs contrary to that of Fnatic’s. These teams are near polar-opposites in terms of players too, with Fnatic’s stars olofmeister and dennis significantly older than Dignitas’s Magiskb0Y, who is having another great tournament in Moscow – boasting the number two rating at 1.30 just behind s1mple, with a +49 K/D differential to go with it.
These two rosters have never played against each other. There is no history to draw from, meaning all analysis will be derived from other results. And yet, due to how different the teams are, it might actually make it easier – to me there is a singular aspect to focus on, which will determine who wins, and Fnatic’s rumored roster change must be factored in as well.
In terms of maps, Dignitas rarely plays Cache or Train – but this series, with the ban-ban-pick-pick-ban-ban system, they cannot avoid both. Fnatic is apt at playing either, but do not touch Nuke. That allows them one Dignitas-specific ban, which they can use to their advantage in the veto process. Given MSL’s leadership style, it might even be in their best interest to go for a surprise pick, since Fnatic’s map pool seems fairly broad and even.
There is little doubt Fnatic has more skill, but Dignitas has better tactics. In many ways – especially considering how similar I think this version of Fnatic is to Virtus.pro – his is another carbon copy of SK vs. Virtus.pro, only a slightly milder version. While Virtus has recently gotten the better of SK, in this series, non-game related issues are on Dignitas’s side. I have Dignitas scraping out a win here, but they cannot afford mistakes with the map pool disadvantage – or a bad series from both MSL and RUBINO.
Sunday – Semifinal #2: Fnatic/Dignitas vs. Na`Vi
Na`Vi is still battling their own demons, even with starix temporarily being allowed to make in-game calls at all times during EPICENTER. Their Cobblestone has been disastrous, with a 0-9 record, including single digit losses to Heroic, Dignitas, Virtus.pro and HellRaisers. They are a strong Train team, though Fnatic has stolen it from them once online. On Overpass, this roster is undefeated, though their only tier one opponent has been NiP, twice.
Edward’s team never plays Cache, and their Mirage results have been mixed – they have recorded wins over SK and Virtus.pro, but also lost it twice against Dignitas, combining for just 10 rounds across two games. They finally showcased solid play on Nuke at EPICENTER, but Na`Vi’s Dust II is oddly weak, despite the dual AWP combination of GuardiaN and s1mple. In general, not all adds up with Na`Vi, with GuardiaN underperforming recently, while s1mple has put up otherworldly numbers.
Still, the reigning ESL One New York champions will have had three days to prepare by Sunday, and in an interview on HLTV.org, GuardiaN stated they planned on using the time to improve their Cobblestone. Given their oddly weak map pool, that is badly needed – currently their only go-to map is Overpass, though they can obviously beat anyone on Mirage and Train as well. Now with Nuke in their map pool, they hold a veto advantage over Fnatic.
Should Na`Vi play Fnatic in the semifinal, the Swedes would veto Nuke, and likely Overpass. For Na`Vi, they would need to veto Cache, with second veto probably going to Dust II. In a series of Cobblestone, Train and Mirage, I would have to favor Na`Vi – but as we saw with Fnatic’s surprising 16-5 win over SK on Mirage on day two in Moscow, you would be foolish to count them out. I would give the edge to s1mple’s team – with fnatic rumored to be amidst roster moves – but the margin for error is small.
As for Dignitas, they could afford to float Cache in the pool versus Na`Vi, focusing their vetoes elsewhere instead, more than likely on Train and Overpass – exactly as in the group stage game. The series should end up going down on Cobblestone, Nuke and Mirage. In that pool, I like Dignitas’s chances, and Na`Vi will need to have a solid series without key mistakes to come out on top. The Danes can win any of those three maps, and are likely favored on two. These are dangerous waters for Na`Vi.
Given there are a total of 10 different potential grand final matchups, it does not seem sensible to put too much effort into a potential grand final preview. Instead, I will be live-tweeting my thoughts throughout the weekend while following the games. If you followed my predictions above, it would seem that the grand final would either be Virtus.pro against Dignitas or Na`Vi – and in either, I must favor the Poles. Let us see how it plays out.
Photo credit: EPICENTER