Takeaways from the ESL One Katowice Qualifier
After an action-filled qualifier, here are five thoughts on the events that transpired at Katowice.
The format of the qualifier works
The qualifying format for this year’s Katowice tournament was completely changed from previous majors. Instead of the entirety of the qualifier being online, an offline tournament at Katowice was held for online qualified teams and invited teams. Each team was guaranteed to play two games in a double elimination bracket, where winning two games guaranteed a team a spot at the main Katowice event. Notable teams to participate included NA’s CLG and Cloud9, EU’s Titan, Team Dignitas (former Copenhagen Wolves), LGB eSports, mousesports, and Flipsid3 Tactics (former dAT Team). There were also representatives from Australia and Brazil, with Vox Eminor and KaBuM.TD participating.
The format was an undeniable success. Most games were very tight, cross-regional games were played, upsets happened, and new players made names for themselves. For a “tournament” that was only a qualifier to the main event, there was a lot to be learned about the state of the CS competitive scene.
Of course, as with any tournament, there was some criticism, with most of it directed towards the best of one format. Surely, for a tournament where there is so much on the line (a spot at a major and the accompanied sticker money), the argument is that matchups should not be left to the luck that is more prevalent in best of one series in comparison to best of threes. This is what ESEA does for their LAN tournament and is arguably the best system for ensuring level competition.
Yes, best of threes are more competitive, and it does seem unfair that possibly after only two games, a team must pack up and head home. But in reality, the majors have never been about providing a format that is fair and competitive for all teams; it is about generating excitement for the fans, where every game is, or is close to, a do-or-die situation. While ESEA has the better system that is fairer for the teams involved, it does not generate nearly as much hype as a major does. Even for major competitions in a lot of sports, entertainment is valued over a fair format: college basketball’s March Madness uses a single elimination, best of one format, and yet it is heavily hyped because it allows for smaller teams to succeed and progress with only a single victory. If the better teams always won, tournaments would not generate nearly as much excitement. For CS, the best of one format gives teams hope that even if they are not the favorites on paper, if they play well they still have a shot at progressing. This gives us viewers the chance to bond with these teams, to root for the underdogs. It creates compelling stories to follow, and high pressure environments which players either embrace or collapse.
Maybe in a perfect world, we would want the best teams to always win. But for the viewers, the best of one format gives underdogs the opportunity to make a major impact at tournaments, and ensures that the tournament has no meaningless games.
The inconsistency of Titan
They made it in the end, but certainly, no one who watched Titan throughout the qualifiers could have been convinced that this was a team that had ambitions to win the main event, or even that this team had finished runner-up at Pantamera and ASUS ROG, which included teams such as NiP, fnatic, and EnVyUs. At Katowice, things started off shaky with a quadruple overtime 28-24 de_cache victory over mixteam PiTER. Things did not get any better as Titan would move on to lose to a resilient CLG team 16-14 on de_dust2. However, Titan would manage to pick themselves up and following a CT start on de_nuke, defeat the Copenhagen Wolves to qualify.
So what exactly is holding Titan back from becoming a true, top five team? What is not holding them back is the play of kennyS. kennyS was once more in tantalizing form, dropping over 50 kills against PiTER, while being the only positive player in the loss against CLG, and tied for top frags against the Wolves with apEX. Without kennyS’s outstanding performance, it seems likely that the two close games against PiTER and CLG would not have been as close.
What exactly then are the issues that hold Titan back from winning more convincingly? Do players like Maniac and Ex6tenz need to frag more? Is RpK good enough for Titan? Or did Titan just get unlucky against their opponents?
The first thing to recognize about this team is that they are still somewhat new, having added RpK only fairly recently. The loss of KQLY hurt Titan in that they no longer have a secondary AWP threat to pair with kennyS. Ex6tenz seems to have become the secondary AWPer and while he is certainly not the AWP threat that KQLY was, he is in a better position to pick up easier frags and lighten the load off of apEX and kennyS. Back to RpK, the value that he adds is that he has the capability to become a consistent fragger similar to apEX. RpK is not being asked to be a star, but a player who can contribute to the team and get his share of kills. Titan would not have chosen RpK over former Titan player ScreaM had they not believed that RpK had the ability to regain the form he had before taking a hiatus from the game. At this point, RpK has likely only shown us glimpses of what he can do, and it is not hard to believe that he can only get better.
Then, what is the next step for Titan to truly become a top level team? The answer is that play of Maniac. With the addition of RpK, Ex6tenz can be that secondary AWPer that holds angles and gets the necessary kills to put his team in a position to win. Now it is time for Maniac to step up his game. Maniac may be a “support” on the Counter-Terrorist side or a “lurker” on the Terrorist side, but that does not excuse him for his weak performances. The fact is that by being a “support,” Titan have already put Maniac in a position where he does not need to do much in terms of getting frags. For lurking, Maniac probably will not become GeT_RiGhT any time soon, but Titan do not need Maniac to become GeT_RiGhT. What they do need is for him to raise his game to the point where other teams cannot consistently take advantage of his weak play. As of now, it is all on Maniac to improve, as he is on a team where already a lot is done to hide his weaknesses.
One important thing to note is also the fact that Titan played both PiTER and CLG on their opponents’ better maps. In an interview with HLTV.org. PiTER stand-hooch commented on how de_cache was one of their better maps, while de_dust2 was the same map that CLG defeated Team EnVyUs on. This does not excuse going to quadruple overtime against essentially a mixteam, or to take away from CLG tarik’s fantastic performance. It may be that Titan were the victims of their opponents having the maps / games of their lives, instead of them underperforming.
For now, there is no need for Titan fans or the team to panic. For all intents and purposes, this is a team that is still reinventing itself after losing KQLY to a VAC ban. Maybe it will not be this major where Titan figure everything out, but there is no doubt that Titan will eventually be a top team. For now, they should at the very least be a team others should be worried about, as they are only getting better.
Is wayLander the real deal?
From a first glance at the teams in Group A, it appeared clear that PiTER would be the major underdog, if not the weakest team in the group. However, surprise they did, taking Titan to quadruple overtime before finally falling, and then defeating Dreamhack Winter participants Gamers2 (formerly known as ESC Gaming) 19-17 on de_mirage. The dream run would end there however, with Flipsid3 demolishing the spirited side 16-3 on de_mirage.
Key to this run was one player, wayLander. wayLander was instrumental in keeping the game close versus Titan, dropping 41 frags over the course of the match, second-most to kennyS. Against Gamers2, wayLander was in spectacular form, ending up with 42 frags, a differential of +16 and a rating of 1.72. His frags were fourteen more than anyone from Gamers2, and fifteen higher than anyone else on his team. wayLander’s performance was clearly instrumental in PiTER overachieving.
So who exactly is wayLander and is he a rising CIS star to look out for? wayLander, according to teammate hooch was born in Finland but moved to Russia when he was five. His Finnish nationality suggested that perhaps a Finnish team such a 3DMax should make a move for him, but it appears that he may not speak enough Finnish to make such a switch. The question is then, do top CIS teams like Na’Vi, Hellraisers, or Flipsid3 perhaps make a move to pick him up?
Considering that both Hellraisers and Flipsid3 made recent roster changes that worked out for both teams, those two are likely not an option at this point. Na’Vi would, should a move materialize, make the most sense given that they often have to rely on GuardiaN and Edward to play well to win. An additional fragger could help them close the increasing gap between them and the other top teams.
Even with an impressive LAN showing, it still seems too early for these teams to try and make a move for wayLander. Although wayLander would be an upgrade for starix given his performance, it is important to take into consideration that this was his first real LAN appearance, and that these were three best of one games. At this point in wayLander’s career, it is better for him to continue with PiTER and help establish their identity as a team. We have to remember that such an impressive display from PiTER came about without two of the main players who helped the team qualify due to visa issues. If wayLander and his team continue to impress, there is the possibility that they will be picked up by a bigger organization, or that wayLander himself may end up on a top team. For now it seems too early for a move, but if he continues to have impressive performances, there is no doubt that eventually he will find his way on to a top team.
Have other regions caught up to Europe?
At first glance, the results of the qualifier gave the impression that at last, other regions are catching up to Europe, which has been the dominant region for the lifetime of CS:GO. After all, out of all the non-European teams, only NA’s Team Liquid failed to qualify for Katowice. Four out of five teams is a strong ratio of teams who qualified. Could it not be said that the regions outside of Europe are catching up to European teams?
Unfortunately, these results are not really indicative of the strength of the European region. This is not to take anything away from the fantastic accomplishments of these teams. But it would simply be foolish to claim that because the top teams in regions outside of Europe were able to defeat, at best, tier two European teams, other regions are getting to the point of being as strong as Europe.
The two strongest NA teams were probably the more likely candidates to advance, especially Cloud9, considering this was a team with lots of experience and a fair amount of success at majors. By far, the most surprising result was CLG’s close 16-14 win on de_dust2 versus Titan. An incredible performance by CLG’s tarik enabled CLG to eventually pull through in the end against Titan. On the other hand, Vox and KaBuM were by no means favorites to even win a single match.
So then why should we not get excited over how well these teams played? For one, the strength of each team’s opposition was not especially high, with the exception of CLG versus Titan. Cloud9 defeated a terrible INSHOCK team, and barely squeaked by against an unconvincing mousesports in a game that could have gone either way. KaBuM lost to that same mouz team, before defeating INSHOCK and a dignitas team who were coming off a tough loss against Vox and who have not played together offline previously. Vox’s victory came over a 3DMAX squad without their in-game leader, whose position was filled by allu. This added responsibility definitely affected allu’s play with the Finnish star not posting his usual numbers, which likely heavily contributed in 3DMAX’s defeat.
Basically, the teams that the non-EU squads defeated either were not very good or had external factors that prevented them from performing at their best. There is also no doubt that the best of one format played in the favor of these teams, meaning that those who overachieved on a map greatly benefited.
This is not to say that this is bad news for the other regions. At the very least, the gap between European teams and everyone else is closing in that the best teams from the other regions are able to defeat second tier European teams. However, it is being able to compete with the very best European teams, the likes of Virtus.Pro, EnVyUs, and fnatic that will show that the skill gap between the regions have truly been closed. Not until then can it be claimed that the other regions have caught up to Europe.
New mousesports lineup, same results
Probably the biggest shame regarding the previous mousesports lineup that included allu and karrigan was that they never managed to reach a major. For a team that online was able to compete with the top teams, there was always the question as to if they could replicate such performances in an offline setting. How fitting was it then that allu and his new team were to play his old team in a match that would decide who would progress.
Given the draw that mouz was given, things seemed as favorable as ever for them to finally return to their first major since last year at Katowice. A win over still relatively unknown quantity KaBuM seemed to pave the way for mousesports’s return , until a close loss against Cloud9 led to a high stakes match against allu’s 3DMAX. For mousesports, it was not meant to be as allu’s men came up with a relatively smooth 16-8 victory on de_cache. With another major coming so close to mouz’s grasp, what went wrong for chrisJ’s men?
In comparison to the previous lineup, this lineup of chrisJ, LEGIJA, Troubley, gob b, and zonixx lacked fragging power. Without the established dual-AWP threat that allu and chrisJ brought, it seems like mousesports are a team who depend on chrisJ to hard carry, similar to Titan and kennyS, with the main difference being that mouz cannot rely on their role players to perform. kennyS at least has apEX and RpK. Other than chrisJ, only Troubley has really shown the capability of performing at a high level. LEGIJA and zonixx both had terrible performances in their losses, with zonixx picking up a total of four kills in their final game versus 3DMAX. Such a performance is unacceptable at any level of play, let alone in such a consequential match. Following the roster change, LEGIJA has been dreadful on LAN, having gone with a kill differential of -25 at ASUS ROG, followed by a -32 differential at the Katowice qualifier. Even though gob b played pleasantly well, his performance was far from being enough to overcome the poor performance of his teammates. There are too many exploitable weaknesses on the map that mouz’s opponents can take advantage. It is impossible to expect that giving chrisJ an AWP on any given round will magically raise everyone else’s level of play.
The upside to this mousesports lineup is that they have established a team identity of being German speaking, which should help with their communication. But there is no doubt that the loss of allu hurts the team. Without him, there appears to be too much pressure on chrisJ to be the main performer of the team. The recent release of zonixx goes to show that while mousesports may have decided on a German identity, even after a plethora of roster changes, they still have not found the right players to play together.