The Thorin Treatment: Solving the Major Qualifier Riddle
The ELEAGUE Major Qualifier sees the most competitive qualifier in the history of the majors. The field sees cores featuring numerous former champions, teams who are currently ranked among the top 10 in the world and numerous underdogs who have upset potential, given the right opponent and the right maps. The approach of most people thusfar has to been to pick the eight who will make it to the major based on how they perceive the strength of the teams against the field or their recent form.
As good as those approaches may be, in a general sense, I think there are three primary factors which will determine how likely it is that a team qualifies for the ELEAGUE Major.
1. Width of map pool
A change in terminology I've begun using is to no longer use the phrasing "deep map pool" to mean that a team plays a lot of maps, but rather to mean that they are very good on many maps. There are some teams out there who are decent on numerous maps but not fantastic on many. For those teams, I think it makes more sense to describe their map pool as "wide." In the spirit of this change in phrasing, I think the width of a team's map pool is the most important factor in deciding their fate in this major qualifier.
The system used to decide the map is that the higher seed picks to be Team A or Team B. Team A will veto three maps, Team B will veto two and then Team B will pick the side on the map which is randomly selected from the remaining two. As such, with five maps taken out of the pool before one can be selected, teams with small map pools will be heavily punished. In GSL style groups, such a team can simply hope to make it to the decider, which is typically a Bo3 series, and thus be assured of being able to pick at least their second best map.
For teams like G2 and C9, danger lurks in this format, where the likes of Dignitas and NiP are only too happy to see many maps removed.
2. Which specific opponents will let them play their best maps
Even teams who have small map pools will get chances to play their good maps if they face opponents who are both confident on those maps and want them to remain the available selection pool. As such, it's crucial that such teams are the ones you get to play in the tournament, to give yourself a chance to pick up a couple of the three wins you will need to get to the major.
The upset potential of teams like TyLoo and HellRaisers goes up massively if they play on shared ground against better teams.
3. Skill level to overcome opponents on worse maps
When teams like FaZe or G2 find themselves facing opponents who have drastically different map pools and have target banned out their strong maps, it will be their individual skill level which can allow them to still push through and steal what may be a stronger map, in a relative sense, for the other team.
The likes of RNG and GODSENT do not have such luxury in abundance of raw skill to cheat the veto.
Locks - These teams will be playing at the ELEAGUE major, so certain is their qualification
The Danes famously have one of the widest map pools in the scene, playing everything but cache or train. With a minimum of two bans, they can ensure those two maps are taken out of the equation every time. Thanks to their speciality on nuke, Dig can also command veto respect on an extra map than some other teams. While Dignitas have a really wide map pool, it is not deep in the sense of them being the best in the world on any map. As such, they certainly can be upset on a few maps, but their consistency throughout the map pool almost ensures they will be in Atlanta in late January.
The reliable skill core of the team also means Dignitas will be tough to beat three times for the field.
Ninjas in Pyjamas (NiP)
The Ninjas are not just the most experienced core in CS:GO history, but they are one of those teams who are essentially mentally unshakeable. Of course, NiP can lose and be upset, but they will not show up flat and be broken by opponents on a mental level. Intimidation won't work against NiP and thus they are a very solid lock to make it through this field. Add in that they have developed a very solid map pool, including strength on nuke, and they will simply ban out mirage and ensure themselves a solid map on each and every occasion.
pyth's return has brought back a stability which may yet cost NiP the chance to win as many games when they are underdogs, but for this kind of field it is tailor made to see NiP through.
Good bets - These teams are pretty likely to make it through and it would be a shock to see any of them fail to
karrigan's men have been solid in all respects since his arrival as the new IGL. Even at ESL Pro League S4 Finals, where they failed to make the play-offs, they still showed some solid group play in the toughest group in the competition. FaZe's issue right now is getting more Bo3 wins against elite level teams, not cleaning up Bo1 games against a wide field.
karrigan has brought strength on maps like mirage and overpass and the team even showed the ability to play nuke against NiP, one of the world's best on that map, at IEM Oakland. The key for FaZe is that they can ban out cbble, which they do not play; cache, which they have been shaky on; and dust2, which has just not shown reliability for the mixed nationality team. Teams who can get them onto something like dust2 could have a chance and nuke is not a certainty, but with the right bans, FaZe should be able to get their three wins and progress.
The Brazilians have improved coming into every major qualifier but the fields for each qualifier have also gotten stronger each time and thus they have somehow failed to make it through to the main event so far. This time should be different, though. IMT has the skill and the aggressive style to mean they are a strong pick to get their three wins early and move on.
IMT's strength on maps like cbble, mirage and overpass is known, but they do have some holes which could be exploited. If teams can get them to cache, nuke or train, then they have had issues, but it has mainly depended on the opponent. I don't think there are enough teams in the field who can force them onto one of those maps and then show the skill or style to beat IMT enough to deny them a spot in Atlanta.
The ELEAGUE S2 champions have continued their strong form, with their second place finish at ECS S2 showing they have arrived as a good international side. OpTic has a surprisingly wide map pool, so while teams like Dignitas, NiP and G2 can beat the NA side on their best maps, they don't have many obvious weaknesses which the lesser teams can force them onto. I see OpTic as being a side which will clean up the lower teams and thus ensure their spot at the major.
They do face some scares when they face the best European teams, since they seem to have no fear of playing the better maps for those teams, which can be dangerous against sides like nV and G2, but there's enough quality and consistent form that means OpTic will make it to another major.
Risky - These teams can make the major but they can also certainly fail to, given the right opponents and the wrong maps.
shox and company are well known as a team who live and die by the skill of shox and ScreaM and playing dust2 and cache. The upside is that shox and ScreaM have shown the ability to consistently show up and thus G2 have been very solid gatekeepers to the top 10 and do not get upset by lower teams often. With that said, their map pool is a real issue for this kind of format. A few teams will likely be crazy enough to play G2 on dust2 or cache, but those who wisely ban them down to maps like train or cbblestone, which are the usual middle ground they meet opponents on after multiple bans, will have real chances to beat G2 whenever the French team's stars are playing anything below superlative CS:GO.
The French team are the opposite of their regional compatriots in balance of strengths, with G2 based around two stars and nV a more balanced performance distribution, but they are very similar in playing gatekeeper to the top 10 and beating out lesser sides with regularity. nV are a team with a wide map pool but not a deep one. As such, getting wins everywhere will be tricky, so this event will be about focus for them. They will have chances in every game, but they will also not have maps they are a lock to win on. nuke can be a good wild-card for them, as they have shown a willingness to play it and let it through.
kennyS and the ability to play many maps should be able to get nV to two wins, but whether they can get that elusive third will depend on which map the other teams will play them on.
C9 have very much come back down to Earth after their EPL success, but they are still a solid team. A flaw is that they seem to think, perhaps propped up by memories of their EPL run and their online form in NA, that they are a team with both a deep and a wide map pool. In reality, they have a wide map pool but not a deep one. Give them train and mirage and they can beat almost every team in this field, but opponents will very likely ban those maps. Put them onto cbblestone and dust2 and their skill should still get them through, but it's getting a bit more dicey. As a team who have publicly let it be known they do not play nuke, they face a veto disadvantage against a number of teams and I expect them to take the three bans whenever they can.
autimatic has not been the beast he was previously and so he and Stewie stand out as the stars of the team, but they have a lot asked of them against this field. Even teams like GODSENT, RNG and HR will be no joke in terms of matching up against C9's players, skill-wise, due to the performance being so concentrated in specific players for the NA side.
mouz could well have been placed into the category below, with their nine game losing streak off-line and their 33% win-rate since the start of EPL S4 Finals, but they still have the pieces to do damage at this qualifier. chrisJ and NiKo are both capable of carrying games and getting mouz a few map wins to get them in contention. The latter's mediocre, for his level, form recently doesn't bode well, but all they would need is one big map at the right time to be in with a shout of progressing.
mouz's map pool has shrunk along with their new roster and their mass of losses, but they can still do some damage on dust2, mirage and cache. They need the right opponents who will let one of those maps through.
Spoilers - These teams all have upset potential and can thus play spoiler for the tournament, but aren't likely to get out.
The Australian side has hovered around being good in NA, but never shown any strength offline internationally. Dreamhack Winter didn't show enough reliable factors to be considered a reasonable expectation for how RNG will play and their level coming into this qualifier. I have always seen RNG as a team that has some choke in them which costs them in offline play.
overpass, cache and nuke are maps that need to be avoided or spell danger for RNG. For this team, it's all about getting the bigger names onto the likes of mirage, cbblestone and train. On those three maps, they will have their shot at stealing map wins.
Despite containing four major champions, GODSENT are a team who are best thought of with your memory erased from prior to their time joining this organisation. Right now, they are at the level of an Epsilon or HellRaisers and can upset big teams, but do not have any specialist map or play who is exceptionally good. Experience is a factor, but the map pool alone is the biggest enemy to this team. Put them on cbble, cache, train and mirage and they can probably steal one big game and have chances in others.
The problem is that they will likely not be able to ban three maps often, due to seeding, and thus will only be able to take two out of dust2, nuke and overpass out. Taking out nuke is a must, so it's very dangerous for GODSENT whenever someone forces them to dust2 or overpass.
HR don't play at enough top LANs for me to know why they have upset potential, but they always get some positive comments from teams regarding how they play online and in practice. For a team without any stars, in a relative international sense, their skill level can be deceptive. This team has a very small map pool, but teams who play them on cbblestone or train will be at a some risk.
I checked out on TyLoo after seeing them lose to ENCE in the IeSF final and noticing how limited they are in their upset potential. People still think of them as a legitimate team purely on the basis of their Bo3 series win over LG at Dreamhack, but that was many months ago and they have routinely shown they can lose to many teams much worse, including their 0:5 in the easiest group of IEM Oakland recently.
I think a big part of TyLoo's problem stems from the fact their map pool is impossible to discern within Asia, since they seem to beat the Asian teams on practically everything and have fantastic win-rates everywhere. The strength of this team comes from their aggressive playing style and the surprise factor of teams who don't know how to counter them. I don't see that flying in this tournament, but I do think they can threaten a few of the middling teams they might face on overpass or cache.
People think of TyLoo's mirage and cbblestone, thanks to some notable memorable wins, but they have accrused so many losses to weak opponents on those maps, which often went unnoticed, that I don't see them having depth to their map pool. This team needs the surprise factor both in the veto and their opponents' knowledge of their playing style. They do have a good skill balance, but they also lack a consistent performer when they face international teams.
No chance - These teams will not be qualifying for the major and lack practically every quality required of a team who could qualify
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