28 October 2015 - 04:30
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Thorin's Dreamhack Cluj-Napoca 2015 CS:GO Preview

Thorin previews the 16 teams competing at Dreamhack Cluj-Napoca, the seventh CS:GO major.
Dot Esports
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Dreamhack Cluj-Napoca, the seventh CS:GO major, is upon us and never before have we seen as tough a field at the top and bottom ends. 16 teams will compete for their share of a $250,000 prize pool, with the winner earning $100,000. All 10 of my Top 10 ranked teams in the world are in attendance.

I have divided the 16 teams into six different categories, based on their chances in the tournament.

While most majors saw the favourites limited to one or two stand-out names, this time around there are compelling reasons for a handful of teams to leave Romania as champions. Down at the bottom of the rankings, practically every team in attendance is capable of winning at least a game, making the process of progressing out of the group stage far from easy.

In this preview I look at all 16 of the teams competing and their chances of winning, progressing through the bracket stage and making it out of the group stage. I have divided the 16 teams into six different categories, based on their chances in the tournament.

Favourites

These are the teams who are very likely going to be playing in the final on Sunday and have the best chance of winning the tournament. There is always uncertainty about who will win a specific tournament, but collectively there is an overwhelming chance the victor is one of these teams.

Team SoloMid (device, dupreeh, cajunb, Xyp9x and Karrigan) [Thorin World Ranking - #3]

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The Danes enter the major having never reached the final of one, but looking to have all the pieces in place to earn that elusive trophy. I've spoken at length about why I think TSM should be crowned champions at the end of this tournament, so you can view the below video for that, but I'll summarise some of my points.

As a team, TSM have shown incredible consistency since the major, attending four tournaments and reaching the final of all four, with victory coming at the last of those four. They lost the Fragbite Masters Champions Showdown to FNATIC, but took were only two rounds from winning a Bo5 final over Virtus.pro and securing the ESL ESEA Pro League Dubai Invitational title.

At Dreamhack London, TSM battled EnVyUs in a tight two map series and lost both due to some spectacular rounds from the French side, forced to settle for another runners-up finish. At PGL Season 1, they got a triple dose of revenge, beating FNATIC and then Virtus.pro twice, all without dropping a map.

The way TSM beat VP, twice beating them on train, a map the Poles are considered the best in the world on, and also edging them on overpass, another map VP are considered masters of, showed just how deep the Danes' map pool has become. TSM have taken over FNATIC's title of the team with the deepest map pool in the world, with only cbblestone a potential weakness, but being their permanent ban and an obvious ban against all of their best competition (nV, VP and FNATIC) anyway.

As a team, every member is in peak form, perhaps with the exception of cajunb. Not only do TSM have one of the most skilled line-ups in the entire world, edged only by EnVyUs' ridiculous stacking of talent, but they can now proudly proclaim that they have the best individual player in the world in device.

device is the most skilled and reliable player in all of CS:GO right now. Bet your house on his performance over big series and you'll routinely leave up on money, even when his team loses. When you're one of the best teams and you have the best player, your chances of taking home trophies is high, as FNATIC showed us for the last six months.

Stylistically, TSM are a hard match-up for every team in the tournament, though EnVyUs have proven to be their Kryptonite thusfar. To be fair, the recent offline match-ups have been a lot closer than TSM's famed one-sided match-ups against FNATIC from earlier in 2015.

TSM have the deepest map pool, the most consistent team, one of the most skilled teams across the board and the best player in the world. The only category in which I'm uncertain about them is in regards to their drive and heart. Outside of the majors, TSM are no longer the team who choke or give up winnable games to the other elite teams. If they lose now, it's because they played top CS:GO and the other elite team played even more effective world class CS:GO.

At majors, though, it has been a different story. TSM are the only elite team in attendance without a major title because they have not shown the same kind of force and grit at the biggest events. If they do not succumb to those demons which have haunted their past campaigns, TSM will leave Romania with the trophy.

Team EnVyUs (kioShiMa, kennyS, Happy, apEX and NBK) [Thorin World Ranking - #1]

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While TSM are the most consistent team in the world, EnVyUs are the most skilled line-up in the game and enter this tournament as the hottest team in the world. They arrive in Romania riding two straight offline tournament titles and a streak of wins over TSM. There are many who favour EnVyUs to win this major and with some compelling reasons to be made for that case.

EnVyUs made it to the final of ESL One Cologne, but lost after a complete break-down in the face of a miracle comeback from FNATIC. At the following event, ESL ESEA Pro League Dubai Invitational, they were shockingly eliminated in the group stage by NiP. That was the last moment where we saw any weakness from EnVyUs. Since then, they've blazed so hot that nobody has been able to handle them.

At Dreamhack London, they beat TSM on maps TSM are considered world class upon. At Gfinity Champion of Champions, the Frenchmen were able to win consecutive Bo5 series over Virtus.pro and FNATIC. Who in the world can be considered a favourite to beat EnVyUs in direct competition right now? The answer is nobody.

The strength of this line-up starts with their players, as they have the most skilled line-up ever witnessed in CS:GO. Every single player has been a primary or secondary star in another top CS:GO line-up at some point in the past. Happy and kioShiMa were the best players in the old EnVyUs, for most of that line-up's history. kennyS and apEX were the stars of Titan and apEX was a monster in the old LDLC. NBK was incredible in the early VeryGames of 2012 and 2013.

That skill is tied together with the loose approach EnVyUs have always taken to their T sides, allowing the players to work simple tactics into round wins via individual excellence and a stacked aptitude for trade-fragging and brute forcing sites open. As long as their players are in form, it's very difficult to win maps off EnVyUs because of how much sheer firepower they come armed with at all times.

It's less than nV have displayed a deeper map pool than expected and more that their weaknesses and strengths line up well with where the map pools of the other teams are at right now. Their train looks exploitable by the top sides, cache is unlikely to be tested due to other elite teams not liking it and their overpass is their permanent ban anyway. The other four maps, all see nV a scary prospect for any team in this competition.

The key for EnVyUs is their cbblestone, which they were able to recently beat Virtus.pro and FNATIC upon. Being able to win on that map against those teams makes it difficult for those teams to both pick and ban against them as well as beat them.

So, why won't EnVyUs be earning a second major title for three of their members this week? Their chances are very good, I must stress, and I consider them barely behind TSM in their likelihood of winning, but weighing up the team's strengths, I favour the Danes. EnVyUs' big issue is consistency, where I see them as being a mildly flawed side.

In terms of individual output, their wealth of talent means they don't need the same players to perform well to win games, which means they are going to be hard to beat, but it also means their path to victory is less reliable and certain than some of the other top teams in attendance. If the wrong players are the ones carrying against TSM and Virtus.pro, I think EnVyUs can be beaten by them.

The team are the best in the game at force-buying, but placing such an emphasis upon that risky approach also means they can often open the door for opponents to get back into games and potentially even beat them, with poor economical management being the recipe to have a game snowballed against yourself when you're already down.

In short, I think nV at their best can and probably would win this event, but I can't be sure that EnVyUs will turn up to this event and perform according to that level of form. The more shaky nV or with uncertain strengths, can be beaten by perhaps all three of their rivals (TSM, VP and FNATIC).

Virtus.pro (NEO, Snax, byali, pasha and TaZ) [Thorin World Ranking - #4]

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2014's Virtus.pro was a consistent top four performer, but rarely won events. In 2015, they've been much more susceptable to being upset and placing poorly, yet have won more tournaments. In the last few months, VP have come their closest to combining the strengths of both previous patterns, routinely placing top four and now being a legitimate threat to win the title at pretty much every tournament.

Virtus.pro are the most dangerous team in the world. When they hit their form ceiling, nobody can deal with them. FNATIC stopping the infamous plow in the semi-final of the last major was rightly considered a miracle and we all saw what happened to the Swedes in the semi-final of the next event, where VP butchered the in the last two maps.

TSM are incredible consistent, but their games against VP are always champagne Counter-Strike, delivering some of the best and most close series we've ever seen. As a result, VP are a team TSM have to be concerned about. EnVyUs beat VP at Gfinity, but that was with NEO absolutely shitting the bed and Snax practically solo carrying at times, and it still went to five maps. It's no exaggeration to say every single team in this tournament has to fear VP at their best.

With that said, even VP themselves, as has always been the case, are unable to know when their best form will arise within themselves and at what point in a tournament. As high as their ceiling is, they don't reach it as often as teams like TSM and nV. As a result, my rule of never betting on VP deep in big tournaments still holds as a rule with good reasoning behind it.

VP's map pool is deep and I think their strength on mirage, train and overpass put them in a good position to potentially make the final of this tournament, but I wouldn't bet on them to win the title itself. Against anyone in a semi-final, they have a good shot at reaching the final, but those chances are better against FNATIC and nV than TSM. If they battle the Danes, then you get the closest team match-up in the game. Personally, I hope for that to be the final: VP vs. TSM.

Seemingly a lock to reach the semi-finals and with a good chance of arriving into the final.

Other contenders

This category contains the teams who all have a chance of making it to the final four and, in peak form, have also shown they could also win the title. In this case, there is only one team featured here.

FNATIC (olofm, KRiMZ, JW, flusha and pronax) [Thorin World Ranking - #2]

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FNATIC are the greatest CS:GO line-up of all-time and the only five man unit in history to secure two major titles, in a row no less. Despite their era of dominance beginning back in October of 2014, their numbers this year practically defy belief, in the context of playing in the most competitive era in history. FNATIC have won nine titles, been in the final of 13 tournaments and reached at least the top four of all 18 events they've attended.

Weighing all of those numbers and their context up, one might wonder how FNATIC can possibly be left out of the favourites category. Put simply, FNATIC have never looked as vulnerable and fragile as they do now. It's difficult to find a legitimate reason to suggest FNATIC will win this tournament, while numerous flaws can be pointed out in their form, match-ups and recent placings.

The last major was only in August and FNATIC have played at four different offline events since then. Their only win came in an exhibition match against TSM, which pit the champions of the two previous fragbite masters seasons against each other. FNATIC won 4:1, which was a comprehensive result over a top team, but the exhibition nature of the match cannot be ignored.

At the ESL ESEA Pro League Dubai Invitational, FNATIC were hulk smashed by VP in the second two maps of the semi-final, the kind of beatdown this team has rarely ever seen in their 14 plus months together. At Gfinity Champion of Champions, they gave up two maps to NiP in a Bo5 and then battled to take nV to five games in the final, only to fall in an underwhelming fifth game.

Just as FNATIC's map wins had seen them handling NiP and their losses in the series had seen them just edged, the nature of the matches was flipped against the French side, with FNATIC barely squeaking out their wins and then EnVyUs cruising on their own wins. At PGL Season 1, FNATIC were eliminated from the tournament in two straight map defeats to TSM and Virtus.pro.

Only one of those four tournaments featured more than four teams competing, so I think FNATIC's perceived consistency of still reaching every top four and making some finals is deceptive. They were invited to the Fragbite Champions Showdown due to winning Season 3 back in November of 2014 and their invitation to Gfinity saw them facing NiP, far from an elite team, in the semi-final of that four team invitational tournament.

At PGL Season 1, there were only three spots for European teams at the final and they finished third, with the final spot being taken up by the North American representatives, who in this case were Team Liquid, a side who have never been considered a threat to finish top four at a big international tournament.

This is not the FNATIC of old who could hit peak form and roll past even elite level competition. This FNATIC team has more in common with the "NiP magic" era of NiP, around the first four months of the year, where that legendary core had the know-how, timing and gusto to win close rounds and perform great come-backs, but did not win big event titles.

The "FNATIC miracles" era, sees them still a team capable of playing top teams close on maps, making a series out of it and reaching deep finishes, but there are now three teams who would all be picked as favourites both over FNATIC in direct match-ups and to win titles ahead of them at tournaments.

As a line-up, FNATIC have issues across the board. pronax gave up leadership at one point during PGL, hardly a sign which instills confidence. olofm was previously the best player in the world and could carry FNATIC through hard times and close out important matches, to the extent I often characterised the middle six months of the year so far as being FNATIC relying heavily upon olof, but even olof has seen his individual form dropping off in correlation with FNATIC's overall team form, which I hardly consider a coincidence.

JW has been missing from the line-up practically all year, in the context of the player who was a world-wide star in late 2014 and one of the most exciting individual players in the game. KRiMZ is still a reliable performer, but even he has seen some mediocre games against elite level competition in the last few months, after being so good at the major.

The last member of the line-up is the infamous flusha, who was being touted by some, including FNATIC's other members, as the best player in the world after the last major, where he was unbelievably good. The Swede has proven unable to make good upon such statements, though, as his post-major form was good but not great and then he became a complete liability at PGL S1.

FNATIC's biggest strength used to be their mastery of the map pool, with the ability to beat any other team on any map, for all intents and purposes. That boast can no longer be made, with practically all of the teams in the favourites category having maps they would be expected to beat FNATIC upon.

It's now difficult to find a single map FNATIC are the best on. I often emphasise that the great teams all have a home map which they can be relied upon to win against almost anyone, but FNATIC can no longer point to any map and say it is theirs with certainty.

One can still imagine a world in which FNATIC gets every component of their side together at once and embarks on a miracle run to the major title, completing the three-peat, but it seems quite unrealistic to expect that to happen.

Dark horses

These are the teams who won't win the event, but have an outside chance of surprising and making a deep run, perhaps reaching the semi-final and upsetting better teams in the right match-up.

Natus Vincere (GuardiaN, flamie, Edward, seized and Zeus) [Thorin World Ranking - #5]

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Na`Vi are a team who look to have seen their best days come and go. In the Summer, they were right there on the brink of winning a bunch of big events, but now have little to suggest they can win this major. In hindsight, they perhaps benefited from EnVyUs' downfall and C9 rising up.

With that said, they were in a formible run of form in terms of some individual strengths, with GuardiaN a legitimate top three player in the world and flamie having carry performances on key maps. Neither of those patterns have continued to be the case. GuardiaN's offline form has taken a hit since the Summer run, resulting in a number of big series losses, and flamie has been practically absent in big games.

Na`Vi still have a scary line-up on paper and the style to upset better teams and make a semi-final run, it's just that their recent team form and individual performances don't warrant the expectation that they will manage either. It also doesn't help that Na`Vi have never been as good at the majors as elsewhere.

When you have GuardiaN, you always have a chance to upset most of the field in a Bo3 series, but that relies upon us ignoring his difficulties at majors and in big series over the last few months. Strength on maps like train, overpass and cbblestone puts Na`Vi in good position to beat most of the field, but all of the elite teams can best them on those maps, collectively.

Ninjas in Pyjamas (GeT_RiGhT, allu, f0rest, Xizt and friberg) [Thorin World Ranking - #6]

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NiP are no longer a team contending to be at the elite level, but they refuse to die entirely, at least right now. With this line-up of players, even taking into account their dips in individual form and crises of confidence, they still have the pieces to play top teams close and move past the rest of the field.

They did shock nV with a Bo3 win over the French side in Dubai, but it's hard to see NiP reaching the semis without an unusually favourable quarter-final draw, as a result of upsets in the group stage on their part or elsewhere. GeT_RiGhT is still capable of playing world class Counter-Strike, allu has shown some signs recently and f0rest is not yet dead and buried. friberg has been a liability, which is a big concern, and Xizt is still the most stubborn IGL in the game.

NiP have never looked worse heading into a major, but they could certainly repeat their last performance of reaching the quarter-finals.

Best of the rest

Due to the draws, these teams will likely make it out of their groups, or simply stand out amongst the field outside of the above categories.

Titan (shox, SmithZz, ScreaM, Ex6TenZ and RpK) [Thorin World Ranking - #10]

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Titan have yet to show us offline results to suggest they will go deep in this tournament, having only played the offline qualifier for the tournament with new recruit ScreaM. Even so, their team looks good on paper, featuring players who have all been a part of past VeryGames/Titan line-ups.

shox has shown improved form since returning to titan and can still play world class CS, even if we don't quite know how often right now. ScreaM has always been a fragger, but the question revolves around how he can work within the Ex6TenZ system, something which has been a frustrating conundrum going back many years. In Ex6TenZ the team has the best in-game leader in history, albeit not right now, and someone whose fragging has improved considerably since his days permanently occupying the bottom end of the scoreboard.

SmithZz and RpK are both players who will never return to their peaks of play, months or years removed them now, but are not relied upon for pure fragging, simply to play roles within the team. Man-for-man, Titan has a very solid line-up when you compare them to everyone but the top five teams.

Historically, Ex6TenZ teams have only once progressed from the group stage, so that is a story-line which will be in the background at this event, but their chances look better than at the previous major. If they can reach the play-off stage, then they can compete with a few of the teams likely to be there, but it seems unreasonable to suggest they can make the semi-final, without some miraculous performances from shox and ScreaM at the very least.

Cloud9 (Skadoodle, Shroud, n0thing, fREAKAZOiD and sgares) [Thorin World Ranking - #8]

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Cloud9 managed a streak of three straight international finals during the Summer, but have since spiralled out of contention. Looking back, it seems reasonable to put their run down an unusual burst of form, benefiting from match-ups against an ailing EnVyUs and elite teams not having had time to adapt to C9's strengths. None of those circumstances remain relevant to the current situation C9 find themselves in.

Due to their group, they can reach the quarter-finals, but we've seen nothing to suggest they will win a Bo3 series beyond the groups. They're still North America's hope at a deep run, but the Shroud of the ESL ESEA Pro League S1 final has not been seen in a while. Skadoodle has been the consistent star of the team, reaching super-star status in the Summer, but has never made it out of a major group stage in his career and seems to dip in form at such competitions.

mousesports (nex, ChrisJ, denis, NiKo and gob b) [Thorin World Ranking - #7]

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mouz looked so consistent headed into the last major, but fell underwhelmingly there and have never looked as good since. Bringing in NiKo added an exciting X factor to the team, being as that's a player many have wanted to see playing in a good team for some time.

In terms of firepower, they have it with nex, NiKo and ChrisJ. Their problems are that each of those names has a flaw for this competition. nex is their star, but has a history of performing at a lower level at majors. ChrisJ has never truly been consistent, so the team rides his highs when they can. Finally, NiKo is still largely untested in big competitions.

gob b showed us his potential as a mastermind in-game leader in the Summer, but with these tools at his disposal he should be expected to actually show us more at this major.

Single map upset potential

As the name suggests, these teams have the potential to cause a single map upset against some of the better teams.

G2 Esports (Rain, Maikelele, dennis, jkaem and fox) [Thorin World Ranking - #9]

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Losing ScreaM saw some of the raw firepower removed from this team, but they still have the players to be a threat for a top eight finish. dennis's form continues to improve as each month passes and he has some real potential to one day perhaps be a star in this game. Maikelele is still good for a hot map here and there and Rain is a consistent fragger.

G2 don't have any strengths which make me think they'll be winning a quarter-final match, but they have a good chance of making it to that stage, at least.

Luminosity Gaming (fer, FalleN, cold, steel and Boltz)

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Luminosity have reached the quarter-final of the last two majors due to their famed ability to upset better teams over single maps. Saying that, this major features a much more dangerous set of lesser teams, so Luminosity making to that far is hard to predict this time around. Many know the danger of their mirage, so there's little surprise factor around LG, beyond how rarely European teams get to play them.

They have good tactics, they execute well and fer is a star quality player, at least from the rare occasions we get to see him play internationall, so LG are a compelling team to watch. If you hope to see a big team fall on a single map, these guys are historically your best bet to manage that.

Team dignitas (Pimp, Aizy, Kjaerbye, tenzki and MSL)

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dignitas were building a good resume of finishes earlier in the year, but this is the first major in 2015 that they have qualified for. As a team, they have some individual strengths, most notably the consistent performances from pimp and Aizy, both of whom routinely flirt with star status in this game. The problem lies in their demand that Pimp become a hybrid AWPer, which has limited his own game against better teams.

Kjaerbye and tenzki may as well both be the same person, as they receive compliments from some other players in the scene but have yet to really show us anything big in offline competition. MSL has been one of the better leaders of the year, outside of the top teams, but has a puzzle on his hands to get this team back into a position where they could potentially finish top eight or beyond.

Counter Logic Gaming (tarik, Cutler, jdm, hazed and FNS)

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CLG have always been an upset team for the Europeans, but they've never shown anything of note beyond that. Despite all of their LANs this year, we've yet to see a notable Bo3 series win from them. With the same line-up as the last major, there's nothing to tell me that situation will be changing this time around.

Team Liquid (Hiko, nitr0, Fugly, Elige and AdreN)

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The addition of Hiko made TL into a team who could even qualify for the major, which was an upgrade in itself. Their overpass win against FNATIC was a nice step in the right direction, but this a team we still know very little about offline, in terms of this specific five man unit.

In terms of skill, they are one of the better teams at the lower end of the field, but a number of these players (nitr0 and Elige) have underwhelmed against European competition at offline tournaments. It also can't be ignored that AdreN has a long history of playing very poorly in Europe.

They have skill, their tactical game looks much improved and Hiko brings some stability and clutch factor, but I think TL are only good for a single map upset at best.

Also rans

These teams will definitely be going out in the group stage.

FlipSid3 Tactics (bondik, WorldEdit, markeloff, B1ad3 and DavCost)

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It used to be the case that the only thing of note about F3 was s1mple, that otherworldly CIS talent with a ludicrously low level of social awareness. However, we've seen a surprising level of performance from F3 since s1mple's departure. Most notably, bondik has been much improved and perhaps the team's best player. WorldEdit looks destined to become known as a poor man's ChrisJ, who is inconsistent and merely hyped off his occasional strong maps.

F3 qualifying for the major was nice, but they will not be playing beyond the group stage.

Vexed Gaming (Hyper, rallen, peet, Furlan and GruBy)

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The former Team eBettle shocked the world by qualifying for ESL One Cologne, only to get gorilla smashed out of that tournament in next-to-no time at all. This time around should not be a different story, placed in a group where they should lose to any of the teams they face in their campaign.

peet was unusually good at winning AWP clutches at E-frag's World Championship, but I don't see that being of any relevance here. The competition they face here and the circumstances, at a major competition, mean I don't expect Hyper, traditionally their best player, to be able to push them past any opponent.

Dreamhack Cluj-Napoca begins at 10am CET. Check HLTV.org for match information and stream links.

Photo credit: Dreamhack, fraglider.pt

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