The first edition of the ESL ESEA Pro League is coming to a head this weekend with $250,000 on the line.
The two esports organizations came together earlier this year to create the world’s biggest and richest professional league for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. The best teams on the planet have since competed spread across the European and North American regions, with the top four in each advancing to the finals in Cologne, Germany.
Those eight teams are Europe’s Envy, Fnatic, Team SoloMid and Virtus Pro, combined with North America’s Counter Logic Gaming, Cloud9, Luminosity and Keyd Stars. And these are the three questions that will be answered as the action unfolds.
Can Fnatic overcome TSM?
Fnatic’s run of dominance extending back to October 2014 has been unrivaled. The top team in Sweden has accrued an impressive 10 titles of significance, with most of those victories coming against the best competition the world has to offer. Such challengers as Ninjas in Pyjamas and Virtus Pro were routinely thwarted, and fans were left to wonder whether anyone could stop Fnatic’s momentum.
That question was answered in April when Team SoloMid defeated Fnatic in the final of the Championship Series Kick-Off event by a margin of three games to one.
It was a shocking result at the time. SoloMid has always performed well but rarely great, a trend that went all the way back to their time with the Dignitas organization. More specifically, the squad were known as chokers, never able to perform on the big stage against the best teams.
All of that changed in Bucharest. SoloMid have continued their winning ways against Fnatic, eliminating the Swedes from three consecutive tournaments and emerging victorious from all three. Fnatic’s unquestioned dominance now seems very much up in the air.
But not all is well for SoloMid. The Danish side has been forced into a period of part-time inactivity so that the players can prepare for academic exams—as a result, SoloMid hasn’t been able to properly prepare for this event or participate in others leading up to it. Questions now hang in the air as to whether the team can remain in their exemplary form.
Those questions could be answered very early on, as Fnatic and SoloMid will begin the tournament in the same group.
Will the Americans make a move?
One of the biggest storylines of 2015 has been the struggles of American Counter-Strike teams to gain traction on the international stage, a period of difficulty that not coincidentally began with the banning of several iBUYPOWER players following a match-fixing scandal.
That event and the ensuing chaos led to a flurry of roster changes among the region’s best teams, something only the establishment of the ESL ESEA Pro League was able to settle. The constant state of flux left some of the world’s most talented players unable to establish the chemistry and level of teamwork required to compete at the top international level in today’s game.
Recent signs have been mixed. Counter Logic Gaming managed impressive victories over such teams as Envy and Titan earlier in the year, but have struggled more recently. Cloud9 have established themselves as the team to beat domestically, but their appearance in the Gfinity Masters event last week in London ended with the squad finishing in last place. The Americans did come close to upsetting Envy in their opening bout, but close doesn’t cut it against the world’s best.
Luminosity, who are also in attendance, would appear to be wild cards. The mix of American, Canadian and Swedish players has performed well in domestic competition but is a relative unknown on the international stage. An opening match against Virtus Pro should go a long way in showing whether or not Luminosity will be a threat in Cologne.
Is Keyd Stars worth the hype?
Few teams have received as much attention in the past few months as Keyd Stars. Following a quarterfinals loss to Virtus Pro at ESL Katowice, the Brazilian team switched organizations and set course for North America in order to participate in the ESL ESEA Pro League. The decision has paid off, as the team finished in the top four to qualify for this week’s final.
The question now is whether or not Keyd Stars will justify all of the conversation they sparked. Thought by some to be the strongest in their new region upon their arrival, the Brazilians finished second in the North American league behind Cloud9 and narrowly ahead of Luminosity. Other results have been decidedly mixed, leaving us with a murky picture of the team heading into their opening match with SoloMid.
Out of all the teams in attendance, Keyd Stars may have more room to rise or fall than any other. A solid run including surprise wins over opponents such as SoloMid could justify including Keyd Stars among the top 10 ranked teams in the world. But if the Brazilians crash out early, they may be viewed as overhyped and underperforming, relegated to the middle tiers of professional Counter-Strike until their next big international opportunity.