The Thorin Treatment: An ELEAGUE Major Primer
The basics of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive may be easy enough to understand for the neophyte but the lengthy and packed yearly schedule can be intimidating and time-consuming for the newer or more casual spectator to process. Here is a simple primer to the ELEAGUE Major, the 10th in the game's history, and its field, that anyone can digest and then go on to enjoy the event itself.
The majors have no peers
There are many great tournaments in the Counter-Strike calender. Some have stacked fields of the best teams. Some have masses of prize money to be won. Many feature fantastic matches. None of them can match the majors, though. Every top team cares most about winning the major and thus prepares accordingly and invests the maximum effort to claim victory at the game's most prestigious set of tournaments.
These teams have a very good chance of leaving Atlanta with the trophy and are a strong pick to beat practically every other team in the field and progress deep into the bracket stage.
Astralis (device, Kjaerbye, dupreeh, Xyp9x and gla1ve)
Astralis were the game's great underachievers in years gone by, good enough to beat anyone and to win medium-sized tournaments, but always falling short when under pressure at the majors. This year saw them fall to their lowest point, failing to even register top results for most of the year. That all changed late in the year, as the team took in gla1ve as their new in-game leader and his efforts turned their game around in practically all respects.
Astralis have one of the best Terrorist sides in the game, working in precise fashion and building up strong halves of gun round wins. On the CT side, their good team-work and high level of skill make them tough to break and beat. Astralis have displayed one of the widest map pools in the game, with particular strength on train and overpass, maps a number of the other top teams are willing to play. With three straight top fours, including two finals and a title win, Astralis enter the ELEAGUE major with the best form and the best chance of taking home the title.
What cost Astralis major finals and indeed a championship campaign at past majors was their mentality, which has seen them suffer a number of infamous break-downs, but the team looks incredibly strong heading to Atlanta and the field is hardly packed with teams proven to be able to put that aspect of the Danes' game to the test.
Star player: device
One of the most well-rounded players in the game, device has shown remarkable consistency throughout the year, even when the team was performing poorly in terms of final placings. With the team now playing at a championship level, as evidenced by their victory at ECS S2, device is a primary candidate for the MVP award at the ELEAGUE Major.
Virtus.pro (Snax, byali, NEO, pasha and TaZ)
The longest lasting complete five man lineup in CS:GO, together for more than three years and counting, remain one of the most dangerous and difficult to beat in the game. VP have always brought their best at the majors and have been notoriously tough to put away in the bracket stage, where they are ever present. Were it not for being drawn against the eventual champions so many times earlier in the bracket stage, it seems almost certain the Poles would have racked up numerous finals appearances.
Part of the reason the lineup has remained intact for so long and continues to find success is the team-play and understanding of the roles that informs their famous style. On the Terrorist side they run over teams and mix clever utility play and brute force power to rack up T side rounds. The "Virtus.plow" is one of the most exciting sights to witness in CS:GO and has rightfully made this Polish powerhouse one of the game's most popular and cheered for teams.
VP were a lone consistent force in a turbulent latter half to the year that saw many teams taking titles but then flopping at future events. VP were not entirely succeptible to failure of their own, as they blew a quarter-final game against FaZe at ELEAGUE S2 and more recently fell to domestic rivals Kinguin to be denied a final at WESG. VP may look to be wounded, but the majors have always been their place to rebound with a strong performance.
A wide map pool and a never-say-die attitude ensure VP look to be another solid bet for a deep run and one of the hardest teams to defeat.
Star player: Snax
Snax was always one of the game's strongest forces, deadly on pistol rounds and a power player in clutch round situations. The latter part of 2016 saw the Pole embracing the AWP, though, and he quickly emerged as an effective player, adding a primary AWP to VP's arsenal that they had not truly had since pasha's prime in 2014 and a brief spell of success for NEO in the latter part of 2015.
These teams are well equiped for deep runs and have a number of qualities going in their favour to allow them good chances of beating the rest of the field.
OpTic (mixwell, tarik, RUSH, NAF and stanislaw)
OpTic were the team who improved with every roster move in 2016, finally reaching their final form in the last third or so of the year and then completing their best run of form. OpTic went from being a competitive NA team to one of the world's best. Victory at the ELEAGUE major was a surprise, but the team followed up that performance with a return to the final at ECS S2.
OpTic have a surprisingly strong map pool, expanding their strengths on train and cbblestone to bring overpass into their equation of strength. The signature of OpTic has been explosive executes onto sites, with RUSH leading the way and becoming a key player in entrying for the NA side. The success of late 2016 came in part due to every member of the team experiencing a career peak in form. While it's unreasonable to expect everyone to play at such a level again, the world has seen that OpTic can see success from different elements of its roster.
Star player: mixwell
While OpTic is very much a two man show when it comes to star players, it is mixwell, as opposed to tarik, who stands out as the star of the team. A strong hybrid AWPer, the Spaniard is dangerous with both his AWP and a rifle.
North (Magisk, k0nfig, cajunb, RUBINO and MSL)
On paper, North are potential major winners. Such potential was on display as they won EPICENTER a few months back. The problem for the Danes is that they tapered off in results as the months following that win added up. There was no drastic drop off in play, but many of their strengths lessened a little and that added up to few results to speak of.
North have a strong distribution of skill in their lineup. Magisk and k0nfig operate and excel at different ends of the aggression spectrum, with cajunb coming in as a hybrid AWP who can take over games in his own right and is not required to regularly. RUBINO is one of the strongest Support players in the world and MSL is contending for best IGL in the game. North play very much around their stars, with k0nfig helping decide the early round and the team keying in on his points of entry.
A huge strength for North has been their map pool. Wide enough to accomodate five maps, they are one of the few teams who does not resort to permanently banning a single map, but switch up between train and cache depending upon the opponent. Having all of the other maps at their disposal, they can also change their pick to ensure they always match-up well with the team facing them in the server.
Star player: k0nfig
The rise and consistency of Magisk made North great, for a time, but it was the play of k0nfig which defined their style and continued even after the team and Magisk had a dip to a lower level of performance. k0nfig is aggressive, confident and highly skilled. If North makes a deep run then he will be a contender for MVP.
SK Gaming (coldzera, FalleN, fer, TACO and fox)
Taking into account that SK Gaming are playing with a stand-in, one might expect that to immediately exclude them from conversation of teams with a chance to go far, but the core of this team is legendary. Not only do they boast two of the world's best players, in FalleN and coldzera, but fer formerly played a star role in past lineups, and can deliver performances in proportion with that reputation, and TACO has emerged as one of the best Support players in the game. Stand-in fox has long been criticised for poor individual performance, but his job is simply to fit in at the major, not excel.
Their era has ended but SK Gaming still have powerful stars, strong team-play amongst their core and a good mentality to equip them to play a few maps well. They are unlikely to win the title itself, but SK will still pose a threat to a number of sides and could well find themselves playing in the semi-finals in Atlanta.
Star player: coldzera
coldzera impressed with his consistency and gun skills in 2015, but 2016 was the year he elevated his status from star to super-star. One of the world's most consistent performers, the SK man has phenomenal poise under pressure, routinely taking down multi-kill rounds with his bursting and spray. As 2016 went on, he developed his AWPing to become one of the best secondary AWP presences in the game, which has notably ensured SK remains monstrous on train. 2016 saw coldzera delivering legendary performances at the majors, a trend he looks to continue in 2017.
These teams have good reasons to suggest they won't win the major, but also enough strong points to make them dangerous to a number of the top teams and capable of making a deep run.
FaZe (Rain, Aizy, allu, kioShiMa and karrigan)
FaZe were initially a a freak-show curiosity, made up of skilled players from numerous European countries, a rarity in CS:GO, but often appearing to be less than the sum of their parts, the inversion of that famed adage. The addition of karrigan, former IGL of Astralis, saw the team finally making the play-off stages of top tier tournaments and two big semi-finals, at IEM XI Oakland and ELEAGUE S2, saw the team close out the year with much promise of bigger things.
FaZe's skill remains a primary strength, with a number of players capable of being the star of a map. Their map pool itself has expanded, bringing in most of the map pool to their domain of aptitude. A problem is perhaps that FaZe has yet to really establish themselves as dominant on any one map, so their width is not yet matched by their depth. Certainly, they will look to battle teams on maps like mirage and overpass, specialties of karrigan.
Star player: Aizy
Rain is the signature name of FaZe, both in terms of status and tenure with the team, but Aizy is the player who has benefited most from karrigan's arrival and whose elevation to star status makes FaZe their most dangerous. A powerful rifler who is best suited playing aggressively early in the round, his aim is strong and he opens up much for the team.
Na`Vi (s1mple, GuardiaN, flamie, Edward and seized)
Na`Vi were one of the most consistent teams in CS:GO for the first seven months, making the semi-finals and final of seemingly every event they entered. Their problem was that they lost in the vast majority of those instances, particularly at the majors, and could not take home the trophies to make their spree of excellent play. Such stagnation caused the team to gamble on bringing in s1mple, one of the game's best talents, to spear-head a new era of the team.
The problem for Na`Vi, is that Valve's restriction on coaches speaking during rounds disabled their tactical strength by effectively silencing starix, who had been in-game-leading from the coach position. That forced seized, one of the game's strongest Support players, to take over as leader and he has struggled both as an IGL and an individual player ever since. As a team, Na`Vi have looked uncoordinated and unconfident. They managed a miracle run to take the ESL One New York title, but since then they have degraded across the board in respect to winning qualities. If Na`Vi catch fire, with some of the most skilled players in the game, then they can be very dangerous, but the fundamentals of team-play also suggest they could fizzle out entirely.
Star player: s1mple
A strong case can be made that s1mple is the most skilled and complete player in Counter-Strike, if not the best outright. A prodigy, this Ukrainian youth has been posting monster numbers for a number of years, with high level performances leading Team Liquid to at least the semi-finals of the last two majors. s1mple is incredibly strong with every weapon in the game, one of the world's best riflers and yet also capable of picking up the AWP and dominating even legendary names. If Na`Vi is to go deep in the ELEAGUE Major then it will be with s1mple posting mind-blowing stat lines.
Flawed but with potential
This group show their flaws in seemingly every tournament they enter, yet the pieces are there to allow them to show glimpses of top level play, albeit without consistency.
G2 Esports (shox, ScreaM, RpK, bodyy and SmithZz)
Back in the Spring, G2 emerged from the wreckage of what looked to be the French scene's retirement home for top pros to become one of the most explosive and exciting teams in the game. Making the finals of two big international tournaments, they seized the title at ECS S1, beating the world champions in the process. Since then, G2 has come very much back down to Earth and is a decent but not elite level team. The side lives and dies by the performances of shox and ScreaM, needing both to bring world class performances for G2 to even stand a chance of a deep tournament run.
As the team has cooled off, their map pool has shrunk and they are looking to play dust2 and cache primarily, where they can rely upon their individual skill and explosive T side hits to get them rounds and give them map wins. shox and ScreaM are both reliable, but expecting them to be super-stars game in and game out is a tall order, especially without much tactical depth to emphasise their talents.
Star player: shox
One of the longest standing elite players in CS:GO history, shox is a player who brings artistry to the rifle position. Capable of entrying sites, cleaning up the mid round and winning clutches, when he is on his game then nothing seems impossible. One of the best pistol round players in the game, he even adds an occasional secondary AWPing style to give G2 whatever they need at the given time. A down-side for this tournament is that shox has not been at his stellar best at a major in a number of years.
EnVyUs (kennyS, apEX, Happy, NBK and SIXER)
Containing some two-time major champions, the four man core of EnVyUs was once one of the most exciting and frightening teams in CS:GO. 2016 saw that reputation destroyed, though, as the team finished in last place at both majors and barely kept their head above water throughout the rest of the circuit. EnVyUs have been firmly a bottom end of the top 10 ranked team and as such enter the event without much confidence in themselves.
Their map pool is surprisingly wide, capable of playing essentially everything but overpass and train. The problem is that EnVyUs have no maps they are assured wins on. Even on their strengths of cache and cbblestone they have suffered losses and been unable to dominate.
The pieces are still there for EnVyUs to be a team who can make their style work and rack up wins, but the belief does not seem to be present within the team and perhaps stems from their issues with leadership over the year.
Star player: kennys
The French AWPer spent 2016 powering up to once more become a super-star player. The old kennyS is back and the once best player in the game, in late 2014 and early 2015, is again hitting crazy flick shots and pulling preposterous noscopes out at will. More importantly there is consistency to kenny's game and he shows his passion when the team loses rounds. nV doesn't know where else their kills will come from, but they still can boast one of the world's best among their ranks.
Team Liquid (EliGE, nitr0, JDM, pimp and Hiko)
Four of these players were a part of the lineup which went on a Cinderella run all the way to the final of ESL One Cologne, the last CS:GO major. The down-side is that said run came on the back of the now departed s1mple delivering one of the best individual tournament performances in major history. With s1mple long gone and not walking through that door again, it has fallen to EliGE to establish himself as the star of the team, which he has done with some strong and consistent rifle performances.
Outside of EliGE, the team is a mess. nitr0 was once one of NA's brightest stars but is erratic in both his individual performance and his choice of role, going from lurker to IGL to entry again. JDM was brought in, for big bucks no less, to be the star AWPer of the team and yet he has not looked like as much at any time offline and the team has shown reluctance to set him up to succeed at such a role. pimp is the new man and does the dirty work, since nobody else does. Hiko was one of NA's most clutch players and a key talismanic component of some of NA's best major runs of years past, but has struggled with his own form in the post-s1mple era.
Star player: EliGE
EliGE began to develop as a talent in late 2015 and has continued to progress until ESL One Cologne, where he finally hit star status and began to stand out as a legitimate talent on the global scene. Possessed of strong spray, he has quietly become one of the world's better riflers. The knock on him has been his frustration with team-mates, which has not always seen his team joining him at a top level of performance.
Gambit Gaming (AdreN, mou, HObbit, Dosia and Zeus)
Gambit are a solid blend of old and new CS:GO talent, with legitimately good leadership from Zeus. AdreN and Dosia are the old guard and bring both experience and poise under pressure. mou and HObbit represent the new blood and both have shown strong performances at the lower levels of competition. Victory at Dreamhack Winter was a big surprise for many, but going deep at the major will be a tall order to fill. Gambit represent an unknown quantity outside of DHW, so many teams will wonder they will match-up against the CIS side.
Star player: AdreN
The skill distribution in Gambit is good and their tier 2 opposition often feel the brunt of star level performances from mou and HObbit, but it is AdreN who strikes fear into the top teams' hearts. Consistent in his aim and style, the CIS legend has a high CS:GO IQ and knows the right play to make in the right moment. As such, he can be relied upon to win clutches and support his team from his role.
These teams could well flop the whole event and were a surprise to be here, with the exception of the two who automatically qualified as holders of Legends spots, meaning they retained three of the five from a lineup which placed top eight at the last major, almost eight months ago.
GODSENT (flusha, JW, lekr0, schneider and pronax)
Four of the five GODSENT members have won majors before and three of those fours have three to their name, a record in the game's history. Sadly, this is not a championship level team. GODSENT have consistently disappointed since the former FNATIC players JW and flusha reunited with pronax. Despite still having some solid parts, even qualifying for the major was a surprise, in light of their recent form. flusha is one of the best players in major history, but even carry performances from him likely will not be enough to get GODSENT into the playoffs.
Star player: flusha
While everything else has gone to shit in GODSENT, flusha has remained a dynamic and powerful player. One of the game's classic lurkers, he shows an in-game intelligence which allows him to be in the right place to surprise the enemy with consistency. At the majors, flusha brings his best game and in GODSENT he needs to be at his best for them to compete.
FNATIC (dennis, twist, olofm, KRiMZ and disco doplan)
The other half of the great FNATIC lineups of the last couple of years don't find themselves much better off than GODSENT. FNATIC have the name value of a championship team, but some of their players are living off that name without the performance to back it up. olofm was the best player in the world for a period last year, but since returning from injury has rarely ever glimpsed that kind of level again. KRiMZ was one of the most reliable pieces in CS:GO, but has fallen off a cliff since departing from the team. twist is a skilled player, but has not had much experience of success in the last couple of years. disco doplan is the new man but has very much walked into a difficult situation.
Star player: dennis
In the early days of his time in FNATIC, from late 2015 onwards, dennis looked to be a strange luxury for the team, often only pulling out magic on pistol rounds and then largely cruising as the team won tournaments on the back of the play of olofm, flusha and KRiMZ. 2016 saw olofm out of the lineup and then struggling, which allowed dennis to find his place an all-around player and provide a much larger impact on the team's success. Capable of AWPing and rifling, the Swede is still best known for his exceptionally dangerous pistol play.
HellRaisers (DeadFox, STYKO, ANGE1, Zero and bondik)
HellRaisers are very much a name back from the dead. The old core, almost entirely gone by now, was a dangerous outsider to a number of top teams, good for the occasional upset but long past the days of deep tournament runs. The transition to becoming a non-CIS lineup saw the team no longer competing at the major level, but that has recently changed. Despite losing star oskar, the team found a replacement in DeadFox who has thusfar impressed and delivered some star performances of his own.
The core of this team is young, inexperienced and hungry. ANGE1 is the veteran of the team and has seen a revival in individual form. bondik is the work horse who has begun to settle into a role in the team, initially struggling when he left FlipSid3 to join up, where he had a very defined role and was putting up strong numbers.
HellRaisers did well enough to qualify for the major and do not have many teams against whom they can expect to steal wins. Their strengths on train, cbble and overpass mean they will at least get to play some opponents on those customs and have a chance, but the level at the major is a significant step up from the qualifier.
Star player: DeadFox
DeadFox's fast AWP flicks and Desert Eagle have seen him burst into HellRasiers as a stand-out player. In early 2016 he was not on the radar at all, playing at the level of minors only, but given his opportunity he has thusfar made the most of it. Going up against the world's best players should be a test of where DeadFox is in his development.
FlipSid3 (electronic, WorldEdit, wayLander, markeloff and B1ad3)
FlipSid3 are famous for qualifying to the major, in spite of the odds, but then failing to progress at the event itself. That changed last major when they shockingly upset NiP in a deciding Bo3 and earned a spot in the quarter-finals. FlipSid3 has arguably improved since then, adding in talented new player electronic. The rest of the team can be up and down, still relying upon WorldEdit to allow them to dominate the tier two teams, but FlipSid3 will always have the outside chance of an upset thanks to the structured play and preparation of IGL B1ad3.
The Swiss system is of course the enemy of the preparation-focused IGL and that combined with F3's relative lack of fire-power, not least since WorldEdit often shies away from performing against the elite sides, makes it hard to see F3 repeating their feat and again earning Legends status.
Star player: WorldEdit
electronic has shown some flair in his first games, but FlipSid3 remains the WorldEdit show. A strong AWPer who plays with the team built around him, WorldEdit has had big games, they just haven't often come against the best teams in the world.
mousesports (NiKo, loWel, ChrisJ, Spiidi and denis)
mouz failed to impress for the majority of 2016, but stole two top four finishes in spite of their failures. NiKo carried them as best he could, but they proved too much of a weight to empower him to take home trophies. New addition loWel has adapted well enough, but they are a team still sorely lacking a strong identity and structure. That their fire-power is erratic and their map pool in shambles should be the death knell for mouz at the major. If they can get teams to dust2 and cache, then the stage is at least set to have a chance. mirage can betray them and the rest of the map pool is a difficult landscape to navigate for the German organisation's latest lineup.
Star player: NiKo
Never before has a player delivered monster group stage performances of the level of NiKo's in 2016 and yet had so few opportunities to play play-off games and contend for titles. With amazing individual talent, NiKo has shown himself dangerous across all weapons and his crosshair placement displays a keen intellect for reading the game. NiKo has not been himself since the arrival of loWel, though, and so the lone star of the team no longer carries them.
The Swiss system can seem confusing and intimidating at first, but follows some fairly simple and memorable tenets. Win three games and you are through to the playoffs. Lose three and you are eliminated from the tournament. At each stage you always play a team with the same record as you, so a team who is down 0:2 will face another team who are 0:2. In theory, you do not play the same team more than once in the tournament.
The primary context to understand in this phase of the tournament is the impact the map veto phase plays. Team A bans three maps and Team B bans two, each taking a turn to ban one after the other. Of the two remaining maps, one is randomly drawn to be played upon. Who is Team A depends on seeding or coin-flip, presumably. As such, teams with wide map pools (Astralis, Virtus.pro and North f.e.) can choose to be Team A and take away almost half of the maps and thus ensure a favourable match-up for themselves. Team B decides the side the teams start on for the map to be played.
Swiss system is less about who you play and more how your map pools match-up, as an opponent who plays completely different maps and has a wide map pool will be the toughest to face. Teams who play a similar pool are likely to leave something in the randomiser which gives a chance to underdogs.
Once the eight teams have qualified for the playoffs they are placed into a single elimination bracket, seeded by their score exiting the Swiss system. Each series in the playoffs is Best-of-3 (Bo3). Each team bans a map, each team picks their map and then the randomiser selects the potential decider, should the series end up tied 1:1. Series play is more about strength on your own map and having a deep enough pool to have the decider be something you will have a chance to succeed upon. Teams without very strong home maps or with a shallow map pool must rely upon drawing an opponent who allows a shared strength for both teams into the randomiser for the decider.
The ELEAGUE Major begins Sunday, Jan. 22 on Twitch.
Photo credit: ELEAGUE, Dreamhack, TheScoreeSports