5 reasons to be excited about ESL One Cologne

This weekend's ESL One tournament in Cologne, Germany has drawn the biggest names and brightest talents in Counter-Strike from all over the world to compete for a $250,000 prize, and we’ve got five reasons why you can’t afford to miss the action

Photo by DrabikPany/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

This weekend’s ESL One tournament in Cologne, Germany has drawn the biggest names and brightest talents in Counter-Strike from all over the world to compete for a $250,000 prize, and we’ve got five reasons why you can’t afford to miss the action.

Ninjas in Pyjamas look to recover

Counter-Strike fans were shocked when one of the game’s most impressive streaks was brought to an end this summer. Ninjas in Pyjamas had, in their current iteration, gone two years without placing outside of the top four in a live tournament.

That all changed at the ESEA global final in Dallas, Texas.

Ninjas in Pyjamas suffered an upset loss at the hands of Cloud9 (then playing as Complexity) before taking another loss to Virtus Pro to drop them out of the event in fifth-place. Shocking as the result was, most fans thought that the team would recover quickly.

But it wasn’t to be. When Gfinity 3 rolled around earlier this month in London, the Swedish side many still considered to be the best in the world were nearly eliminated during group play before being blown out of the quarterfinals by Dignitas.

Rumors of potential roster changes have been flying hot ever since. Many fans have long since called for the removal of Robin “Fifflaren” Johansson, believing he’s no longer capable of playing up to the standard of the world’s best. Should the team again disappoint, Johansson may not be the only Swedish star on the roster at risk of dismissal.

Cloud9 debuts with Shroud

Playing under the Complexity name, Spencer “Hiko” Martin’s squad had established itself as North America’s best team and one of the best at Counter-Strike in the world. But the summer has brought many changes for the side.

The team’s name is chief among them. Disputes over where money gained through in-game sticker sales should go sparked the group’s eventual departure from the Complexity organization. Cloud9 stepped in with a different offer and the promise of annual salaries, and now Martin’s team is sporting a fresh new look.

But the changes have been more than superficial. After losing Braxton “Swag” Pierce to domestic rival iBUYPOWER, Cloud9 went through a period of roster upheaval. While this did not stop them from beating such teams as Ninjas in Pyjamas, Virtus Pro, and Natus Vincere, the chaos did bring pmany questions about the team’s future.

Eventually Cloud9 settled on acquiring the services of Mike “Shroud” Grzesiek, a much-hyped but still relatively unproven player. That move, combined with Sean Gares’ decision not to retire from the game as expected, has left Cloud9 with as solid a roster as they have had since losing Pierce.

Soon we’ll learn if that solidification will produce results.

Virtus Pro looks for a major sweep

This has already been a great year for the Polish powerhouse. They won the year’s biggest event to this point, ESL Katowice. But that tournament was played in front of a raucous home crowd in Poland, and Virtus Pro’s players made no secret of the importance of that support. Will they be able to replicate their success from Katowice in Cologne?

There’s no reason to think not. The team’s roster is loaded with skill and experience. Even without a home crowd backing them, opposing players often list Virtus Pro as among the most difficult opponents to face due to their combination of individual ability and their unshakable nature in a game that often comes down to who can keep their cool under intense pressure.

Virtus Pro is also coming into the event red-hot, having finished in first-place at Gfinity 3 against equally stiff competition as they’ll face in Cologne. By any measure, there is no safer bet this weekend than Virtus Pro.

London Conspiracy looks to prove their worth

Two teams have been opening eyes heading into ESL Cologne.

Norwegian side London Conspiracy wasn’t expected to accomplish much after the team joined the English organization. But the results thus far have been very positive. The team’s run at Gfinity 3, which was stopped only by eventual champions Virtus Pro, showed just how much potential this team has.

Whereas the group was once look at as nothing more than a minnow in a big pond capable of an occasional upset, the Norwegians are now considered a legitimate threat to make a run in Cologne. But that newly earned status will also make the target on their backs all the bigger, and time will tell how the side will deal with no longer playing the role of underdog.

The unknown

One of the most exciting things about ESL Cologne is how difficult it feels to predict what might happen.

Indian team Wolf comes in as a complete unknown. They will be tested immediately, as the opening match pits them against Ninjas in Pyjamas. And while most are writing off Wolf’s chances before even giving them a look, there’s no telling what will happen when the team gets their chance.

An even bigger unknown may be that of the new maps which have been added to the rotation for the event. Cobblestone and Overpass will be making their competitive debuts at ESL Cologne, and there’s no telling what might happen when these maps come up in matches between the world’s best teams competing for the game’s biggest prize.

The event will also mark the debut of a new map veto system designed to prevent the same map from being played repeatedly. Chance will play a role in the selection of every map for every game, so don’t expect to see Inferno played five consecutive times. While this may make the tournament more difficult to prepare for for competing players, it will certainly make for a more exciting viewing experience for fans.

ESL Cologne begins play Thursday, August 14.