Thorin's ESL One Cologne 2015 CS:GO Preview
ESL One Cologne is the sixth CS:GO major to be held and features eight of my top 10 ranked teams in the world. With $100,000 for first place and a total prize pool of $250,000, the entire CS:GO world will be watching to see who leaves Germany with the title. 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.
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.
FNATIC (olofm, KRiMZ, JW, flusha and pronax) [Thorin World Ranking - #1]
FNATIC are not just the best team of this era, stretching back to around October of last year, but still retain the number world number one ranking. The reason why both of those statements can be made comes down to their incredible consistency. FNATIC does not win every event, but make the final of almost every one they enter. When they don't make the final, they are a lock to at least finish top four. On only one occasion in history has this FNATIC line-up failed to reach the final four of a tournament.
Despite all their titles and top finishes, FNATIC have not looked as strong in the last few months as they did at their peak, yet that has only highlighted the depth and additional strengths of the team, being as we are seeing them outside of the superlative form of late 2014 which had seemingly everyone performing at the same time. Over the last three months, this "slumping" FNATIC has still won two events, made the final of three and finished top four in all four events they attended.
The Swedish side's consistency in results starts with their line-up, which is one of the few in the history of CS:GO which has been able to seemingly rotate who is the star at a given time, so as to adapt and still remain an elite level team. KRiMZ and JW played the best CS:GO of their careers in late 2014, when FNATIC were in god-like form, but olofm has emerged as the world's best player since March of this year. When all of those players had their issues at the ESL ESEA PL finals, it was Flusha who carried maps in the final of the tournament to allow his team to collect another trophy. No other team in CS:GO has that level of depth in terms of star power performances.
The other factor ensuring this team consistently goes deep, contends for titles and wins them is their near impossible depth across the map pool. The map pool contains seven maps and yet there is not a single one on which FNATIC can reasonably be considered bad on, relative to the rest of the top teams. On cbblestone, mirage, cache and inferno, they remain in the discussion for the best in the world. cache, in particular, has seen olofm deliver classic performances at seemingly every big LAN event.
Having four maps on which your team can be considered the best in the world already ensures you will win a lot of BoX series and against a wide variety of opponents, in light of the veto-pick system, but FNATIC's map pool goes deeper. The remaining three maps - train, overpass and dust2 - all have compelling reasons to expect FNATIC can get wins on them. dust2 has been one of the maps FNATIC have been able to show proficiency on when others have failed them, winning it practically all of the time offline with the exception of games against TSM and the old EnVyUs, considered the world's best on that map.
Overpass was a map FNATIC avoided when they were very strong elsewhere in the map pool, but they were one of the first to pioneer an aggressive A site style of play on the CT side, going away from the passive stay-in-the-site approach of how the map was played before it was reworked. This approach, coupled with FNATIC's famously strong CT side team-play and olofm's play-making, has some notable victories on this fringe map for them. Finally, train should be FNATIC's worst map, yet they still managed to beat Na`Vi on it, who are one of the best on it; took down NiP in a close match; and narrowly fell in over-time to Cloud9, also one of the world's top train teams.
FNATIC are the only team in CS:GO who have a chance to win on every single map and against almost every single opponent, with a couple of key exceptions, as TSM has shown us this year. Their only real flaw has been poor individual performances from JW and KRiMZ, beyond that the only reliable counter to FNATIC has been TSM, who also share elite level status. C9 have beaten FNATIC, but it took their best form to do so. Na`Vi and VP should be capable, but have yet to when it mattered.
FNATIC will very likely be making the thirdmajor final in this line-ups history and leaving with the second major title in that era.
Team SoloMid (device, dupreeh, cajunb, Xyp9x and Karrigan) [Thorin World Ranking - #3]
TSM have slipped below Na`Vi in the world rankings but they are still a more dangerous threat to win a big title, as their haul of four for this year has shown. As a line-up, TSM has the most talent, man-for-man, in the game right now. device is the consistent star of the team, but cajunb is going to come in with a monster game seemingly one in every three, where he can be the best player in the server against practically any team. This skill level gives TSM a high chance of winning games against every team.
What elevated TSM to their LAN victories was the tactical approach Karrigan brought expanding their strength across the map pool, so suddenly maps like mirage and inferno would be TSM wins against even the likes of FNATIC. That has faltered a little in the past couple of tournaments, where they've been losing on maps like mirage and overpass with a worrying consistency. TSM also has difficult match-ups against the likes of Virtus.pro and Na`Vi, where those teams can both compete with them on their core maps and potentially even win the series.
With all of that said, TSM are still a team with a very deep map pool, with only really cbblestone and overpass being true danger maps, in any reasonable sense of the term. Peak TSM can certainly win this tournament and even without that level of form, they seem a lock to reach the semi-final. That they are a counter to FNATIC, also opens up some exciting possibilities, as if they were to face the Swedes in a semi-final or final, then they would actually be a favourite in that specific match-up.
There is a pretty good chance TSM can leave Cologne with their first major title, which would seem fitting in light of where their team fits amongst the greats in CS:GO history already.
This category contains the teams who all have a good chance of making it to the final four and, in peak form, have also shown they could also win the title.
Natus Vincere (GuardiaN, flamie, Edward, seized and Zeus) [Thorin World Ranking - #2]
Na`Vi were the hottest team in the world heading to FACEIT Stage 2 Finals, but fell to TSM in the semi-final after leading by a map. Then they were humbled by losing four out of five maps against Virtus.pro in Columbus at CEVO S7 Finals. It feels as if Na`Vi have coolled off their previously blistering form, with stars GuardiaN and flamie no longer dominating the big games. Despite that, this team still stands as one of the most dangerous in the entire tournament and for every single opponent.
Skill-wise, Na`Vi are monsters and have a lot of aim talent throughout their ranks. Tactically, they play a unique and defined tactical style, slowly probing away and setting up for that final push onto a site. In the past, what prevented that from winning games was having a lower overall skill level in the team and the fact GuardiaN couldn't be expected to carry every single game. Now that GuardiaN's level has become more consistent and he is no longer expected to solo carry, Na`Vi are a frighteningly explosive team.
Against the entire field, Na`Vi would be a lock to make the semi-final and have a very good shot at the final, but the format of the tournament means they may well come out of their group in second and with FNATIC, TSM, EnVyUs and VP as the teams who exited in first place. Being as you can't face someone from your group, that would leave Na`Vi battling one of the three that aren't FNATIC. Out of those three, it feels as if TSM and VP will beat Na`Vi, while they should be able to win against nV. That doesn't give Na`Vi the best chances of making the semi-final.
With that said, the CIS team could of course upset FNATIC in the group stage and get out in first, so there is that possibility to consider. Na`Vi probably won't win this event, but they are one of the few teams nobody in the field wants to face, since practically nobody can really expect to have a good match-up against them, except perhaps Virtus.pro.
Cloud9 (Skadoodle, Shroud, n0thing, freakzoid and sgares) [Thorin World Ranking - #4]
Their three finals in a row ensure C9 are considered an elite team in CS:GO right now. Their dip in form at CEVO, losing series to mouz and VP, did add some doubt as to whether they capable of winning a big event right now, though. On form, C9 can reach the semi-final of this tournament and upset a big team in a Bo3 there or in the quarter-final.
With that said, there are a bunch of teams in the field would beat them in a Bo3 - FNATIC, TSM, Na`Vi and VP spring to mind - so their world ranking is less important than who they will likely face. With this group stage system, they may well have to play one of those teams, being as they can't play VP due to being in the same group as them. That means that the tournament has them set-up to go out in the quarter-final. Upset potential is big for C9 here, as they have beaten FNATIC in a Bo3 and the new nV team would be expected to lose to them.
C9 can make the semi-final of this tournament, it just seems more likely they'll go out in the quarter-final.
Virtus.pro (NEO, Snax, byali, pasha and TaZ) [Thorin World Ranking - #5]
Virtus.pro always seem to wait until they've slid down the rankings enough to no longer be considered a contender before they return to peak form suddenly and win a title. Doing so at CEVO, they showed us a different flavour than we've ever tasted before from them, with NEO taking over as the primary AWP.
I doubt the CEVO form VP will turn up here in Cologne, for the same reason as I rarely expect peak form VP to turn up: it happens so rarely and is seemingly impossible to replicate on a daily basis. With that said, VP are so dangerous for certain teams in this event - such as Na`Vi, C9 and TSM - that they will be a factor in who wins this tournament, being as it is unlikely to be them.
VP are the team who can spoil the tournament for a number of the teams more likely to actually leave with the trophy otherwise. What's great about VP is that they are the catalyst for classic series, so I expect the to be able to make the semi-final of this tournament and play gate-keepers for the crown. Being as they could play a team like NiP or Na`Vi in the quarter-final, VP's path through the bracket should be the viewer's choice for the most exciting potential matches. I think VP would beat both of those teams right now, not least since they've shown themselves to have a favourable match-up against Na`Vi on more than one occasion, despite Na`Vi being the better team in the context of the wider scene.
VP have a very good chance of making the semi-final, but are unlikely to win the event, unless the now near-mythical plow is activated.
EnVyUs (kioShiMa, kennyS, Happy, apEX and NBK) [Thorin World Ranking - #6]
The team with the most question marks surrounding them in the whole event, by virtue of the fact we really don't know how good they are, is nV. They were so good at IEM Gamescom, yet the format of that event meant it was more of an exhibition tournament and used fan voted maps, which did help them a little. Perhaps that tournament suggested they can be a solid counter to TSM, which would make for a fun wrinkle to the top tier, but it seems unlikely we'll see that level of play against the other top teams.
The format of the event means nV got a group they should almost certainly make it out of in first place, securing themselves a decent chance at winning a semi-final, but with teams like C9 and Na`Vi out there who I think would beat them. Semis at best for nV, with quarters more likely. I think this is the team with the smallest chance out of this category of making the semi-final and them winning is unreasonable to suggest right now, but not impossible. After this event, we'll know if they belong in this category or should be knocked down to the one below.
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.
Ninjas in Pyjamas (GeT_RiGhT, allu, f0rest, Xizt and friberg) [Thorin World Ranking - #7]
This is not your daddy's NiP, as the team which made the final of all five previous CS:GO majors is not even ranked in the top five in the world right now. Never has their form looked as poor, having only won a single Bo3 over a team ranked top 10 at the time, beating Dignitas at Gfinity Summer Masters I, in the last three or so months. The Bo1 format of the group stage means they have a good shot at getting out, but they should not be expected to win a Bo3 series over any of the teams in the categories above.
I think NiP are even money to get out of the group stage, but will lose to most teams in the quarter-finals. If they get nV in the quarter-final, that's a series they can win but I think the new nV might have enough firepower to prevail still. VP would be a fun match-up, with a lot of history, but VP's form looks strong enough right now. This will be the first CS:GO major in both NiP both fails to make the final and probably even the semi-finals.
mousesports (nex, ChrisJ, denis, Spiidi and gob b) [Thorin World Ranking - #8]
Ever since their break-out run to the semi-final of Gfinity Summer Masters I, mouz have been a team on the rise. They've looked better and better at every passing tournament, stringing together four straight top four finishes, with the last admittedly being at IEM Gamescom. What's great about mouz is that they are so consistent in what works for them, since it's based on the rise of a couple of their players and their overall style of play, which are both replicable, to some degree.
Individually, mouz are the weakest team out of these top eight who make up the three categories discussed so far, but their skill is largely concentrated into their stars: nex and ChrisJ. nex has legitimately become a top 10 player in the world and every tournament he shows up a map in which he explodes with a performance worthy of a star in a top five team. ChrisJ has been plagued with inconsistency his whole career, particularly in translating his performances to LAN, but has recently been much improved in both regards. His AWPing can be the difference maker to win an extra map here and there for his team.
Tactically is where mouz have risen up the ranks and sit as one of the best teams in the game in terms of the strategical component of CS:GO. That all stems from gob b, who is one of the very best minds in the game and has repeatedly shown himself capable of out-thinking some of the other top leaders. The down-side for the team, is that gob b's fragging has been utterly terrible and that denis and Spiidi, the other two players, can't reasonably be expected to have a big output with anything approaching consistency against the top teams who stand in the way of mouz winning a big tournament.
mouz's consistency means they can't win this event, they simply are not explosive like teams such as Na`Vi, VP and perhaps nV. Instead, they should make it to the quarter-finals on the basis of their strength in particular match-ups, such as against Cloud9, and from there it's very unlikely they'll proceed onwards. For teams like NiP, VP and C9, mouz are a team they don't want to see in this tournament, since they are a tricky match-up.
Best of the rest
None of these teams are likely to progress from the group stage, but these teams stand out from the other teams who will be eliminated there.
Kinguin (ScreaM, Maikelele, Rain, dennis and fox)
Their Bo3 victory over Virtus.pro at FACEIT Stage 2 has many still hyped to see Kinguin play at this tournament, being as they have shown some upset potential. With that said, that was a dark day for Virtus.pro, hardly a stellar performance for them which was merely beaten by superlative play from Kinguin. Kinguin does have quality in their team, I'd say they have more skill than the likes of mouz, but they lack a solid tactical foundation to suggest they can go far here. Which big team would they beat in a Bo3? Even Virtus.pro now looks much better than the team they met at FACIT.
The group does give them a chance, with nV being a new line-up and far from set as a top team, but that's really the only chance for Kinguin, being as in a redrawn group they will can face teams like mouz or C9. It's not impossible to make the play-offs, it's just unlikely and then they won't go any further.
Titan (shox, SmithZz, Maniac, RpK and Ex6TenZ)
As cool as it might be to see shox and Ex6TenZ reunited, there's no basis to imagine this team will be playing a Bo3 in Cologne. They lack for individual skill and proficiency in the different roles right now, with them needing shox to be a beast and SmithZz to likely be a secondary star and primary AWPer. If SmithZz can not make a considerable frag contribution, then that leaves them looking like a team with three players who would all more reasonably be in supportive positions in other teams - SmithZz, RpK and Maniac. Add in that Ex6TenZ is a terrible individual player right now and this team will lack for fragging power.
The charm of the old Titan and the main reason for Ex6TenZ's presence was their tactical aptitude, which shone through in many tournaments over the first four months of the year. That is all gone right now, with the line-up changing right now. If it reappears in Cologne, they have a chance of moving up a category, but there's no far been nothing to suggest it will. If they got to face a team like Kinguin in the redraw, there is a chance to progress, but even that is far from guaranteed. Most likely, Ex6TenZ will be collecting his fourth group stage elimination at a 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.
Luminosity Gaming (fer, steel, FalleN, boltz and cold)
The former keyd team have shown us time and time against that they both have a solid tactical foundation, a couple of good maps (mirage and inferno) and can bring it in a Bo1. The redraw system means that's not likely to mean much, though, being as two solid Bo1 wins are the requirement to move on to the quarter-finals. If teams veto properly against Luminosity, then the random map draw means they can occasionally get a good map, but chances are low to get out of the group stage.
Counter Logic Gaming (tarik, Cutler, jdm, hazed and FNS)
The second best NA team doesn't mean quite so much when you consider the gap between the best and second best on the international level. C9 can play in the semi-final of this tournament, while CLG are assured to be exiting tournament play at this stage, with perhaps an outside shot of getting a Kinguin redraw and a slim chance of moving on. tarik and jdm can bring an explosive single map against the bigger teams and Cutler is always solid, but expect to see CLG going home after the group stage.
Renegades (AZR, jks, Yam, Havoc and SPUNJ)
Everyone seemingly wanted to believe in the Renegades story, as the best team from Oceania managed to take maps from elite level sides at Gfinity Spring Masters II and was a single map win away from progressing to the top four. The tournaments since then have deflated all of those hopes though, as they made no noise at ESWC and were fairly poor at IEM Gamescom. Right now, Renegades are an outside chance to even upset on a single map, with this tournament realistically being their last chance to retain any of the exciting potential that Gfinity signalled from them.
These teams will not only be going out of the tournament in the group stage, but are also unlikely to beat any teams except in this category.
Flipsid3 Tactics (WorldEdit, markeloff, bondik, B1ad3 and Davcost)
Flipsid3 was s1mple, plain and simple. As harsh as that may sound, he was the reason they could be competitive, he was the reason they were relevant and he was the reason to watch them. Without him, Flipsid3 are not the team which upset NiP at ESWC. This team have essentially zero chance of making it to the play-offs of this tournament. WorldEdit is a talent, so perhaps he can summon a miracle solo performance, but where else will the frags come from?
Team eBettle (Hyper, rallen, GruBy, peet and furlan)
eBettle were a fluke of the qualifier, that's literally all we have to go on with them. They managed to make it here, so props to them for that, but it was only as a result of a 16:14 win over HellRaisers and a 25:23 overtime win over Titan. HellRaisers have been very shakey, miracle win at APM since then aside, and Titan was attending their first ever LAN with their brand new line-up.
What people often forget is that eBettle earlier in that qualifier narrowly won an overtime game against Epiphany Bolt, a Finnish team practically nobody has ever heard of. Add all those facts together and you have eBettle winning by the smallest margin almost possible in three straight matches, none against top teams. They have a surprise factor, since nobody really knows how they play offline still, but teams will likely just ban train, the map they won against HR and Titan. I expect nothing at all from eBettle, they've already done enough in reaching this point.
Team Immunity (SnypeR, Rickeh, emagine, USTILO and James)
They had an alright showing at FACEIT Stage 1, but that's it. Immunity will not make it out of this phase of the tournament and possibly won't even win a map. They'll have a shot if they face F3 or eBettle, but that's it.
ESL One Cologne begins at 2pm CET on Thursday. Check HLTV.org for match information and stream links.
Photo credit: ESL, Dreamhack