Tomorrow marks the continuation of ELEAGUE’s second season, which will span for over a month and includes 16 of the world’s greatest teams. As the inaugural season was such a success with Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’s television debut, the second season promises to bring exquisite Counter-Strike, right from the get-go, due to the offline group stage.
A noticeable improvement ELEAGUE has made to increase the second season’s quality is reducing the number of teams that will participate. While it might sound like more teams equals more great moments, the reality of a 24-team season was quite the opposite. Through using so many teams, the standard of the players is bound to drop as more teams are added, and all the world-class teams are already involved.
This led to some groups featuring teams who were out of their depth in comparison to the skill of the other teams in their group. Becasue of this, there were a few totally one-sided games that didn’t make for good viewing, such as the mismatch of G2 Esports against Selfless. ELEAGUE reducing the number of attending teams from 24 to 16 is great news for fans as we will be treated to balanced groups throughout the season.
With some of the general reasons to continue looking forward to ELEAGUE’s second season out of the way, let’s preview the four-team group that will participate in Group B and vye for the chance of advancing to the playoffs.
Group B is made up of Virtus.pro, Ninjas in Pyjamas, G2 Esports and Echo Fox. Contrary to last week, this group is made up of three genuine contenders to take home the tournament trophy. It features the recently resurrected Polish giants Virtus.pro, winners of the last season who are sure to want success in Atlanta for the second time. G2 and NiP are also serious contenders for this tournament, and both would seem out of place not attending the playoffs. With one of these three top teams bound to miss the playoff action, this group has a lot at stake.
The Polish veterans have recently burst back into prominence on the international scene after lying dormant for a number of months. Following a disappointing 2015, during which VP won some tournaments, though none were of any particular prestige, the seasoned lineup has turned back the clocks and shown us that they can still win stacked tournaments. Starting with ELEAGUE’s first season, the Poles picked up momentum and began to revert to the form they had been showing earlier this year and in stages of 2015. This allowed them to win Dreamhack Bucharest, as well as place second at two huge international tournaments: ESL One New York and EPICENTER.
This recent in-form version of VP makes them one of the favourites to win the entire event. Though faced with a challenging group, Virtus.pro is one of the best teams in the world right now, and certainly has what it takes to place top-two in the group stage and progress to the playoffs. While every player on the team is instrumental in their strong placings these last few months, there has been one player who has led the way for the masters of Counter-Strike.
Janusz “Snax” Pogorzelski has spearheaded the Virtus.pro revival, delivering huge plays in rounds and consistently helping his team. Snax has been a catalyst in turning VP’s form around due to his big performances in games that matter. In the Grand Final of ELEAGUE’s first season, Snax finished the series with an average of one kill per round, a truly great performance considering it was a hugely important game against Fnatic, then one of the best teams in the world. Snax delivering such a strong game at the Grand Final of a tournament truly shows his importance to the team.
Virtus.pro are undoubtedly capable of reproducing their success at the last ELEAGUE season and are perhaps more likely to do so, as their performance has only increased since their triumph. Should VP play at the level they did in New York and EPICENTER, I see them progressing from the group stages and possibly winning the tournament itself.
Another contender for the throne at ELEAGUE Season 2, G2 has one of the highest skill-ceilings in the world as a team. Though their form has dropped since their crazy month-and-a-bit streak that saw them win the ECS Season 1 Finals and almost beat Luminosity Gaming in a best-of-five to win the ESL Pro League Season 3, G2 are still a force to be reckoned with. Recent results from the team don’t paint them in the best light, but they have the skill to best either NiP or VP for a spot in the playoffs.
G2’s inspired run in the early parts of this year’s Summer was led by the duo of Richard “shox” Papillon and Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom, as the two form one of the best duos in CS:GO at the moment. Carrying game after game for the predominantly-French squad, the pair consistently secured G2 tough wins. An example of this came from the Grand Final of Season 3 Finals of ESL’s Pro League, where in the 143-round marathon that was the best-of-five series, shox and ScreaM each finished on 121 kills. This is a very impressive figure, especially when taking into account that the series was against the reigning Major champions, LG, and that their team lost.
Recently, however, G2 haven’t looked near the level of dominance they were at four or five months ago. Their best result lately was only a second place finish at the StarLadder i-League Season 2 Finals in September. This tournament did boast the likes of Virtus.pro, Na`Vi, NiP and Astralis in attendance, so this performance does suggest that they hold some of their old form, though it’s worth noting that Na`Vi had recently added Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev to their lineup. Other than that, a disappointing EPICENTER campaign leave G2 coming into their ELEAGUE group stage with not much in terms of good results behind them.
Nevertheless, G2 is one of the teams more than capable of progressing from, or even winning, their group. Only a few months ago they were one of the top three teams in the world. ELEAGUE, against top-tier opposition, will be the stage where G2 show us how dominant they can be on a consistent level.
Ninjas in Pyjamas
NiP is a team that is looking remarkably strong, especially considering the current use of a stand-in player. Granted that stand in is Maikel “Maikelele” Bill, an ex-member of the team who is familiar with the core four, but a stand-in nonetheless. In fact, this NiP lineup that will attend ELEAGUE will be the same one that placed second at Dreamhack Winter 2014, a Valve-sponsored Major Tournament.
Their success with Maikelele as a stand-in has extended so far that they’ve even won a large, international tournament. Defeating G2 Esports in the Grand Final of the offline tournament, NiP claimed victory in Kiev by winning the StarLadder i-League Season 2 Finals, an impressive feat considering their use of Maikelele as a stand-in. As the Ninjas have proved once before that their skill with Maikelele is such that they can win international tournaments, we can’t count the once-dominant team out of progressing from Group B these next few days.
As well as their win in Kiev, the Ninjas also reached the semifinals of the ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals just last week. Though this tournament was missing big players of the international scene like Na`Vi and Virtus.pro, it was still an impressive achievement and gives NiP a strong result to head into ELEAGUE on the back of. During their campaign in Brazil, Maikelele and the Ninjas took down opposition such as Team EnVyUs, as well beating SK Gaming in a best-of-one and taking a map off them in the series that would turn out to be their last in the tournament.
Their results in Brazil aren’t anything to go mad about, but it says enough to not count them out of ELEAGUE because their group is challenging. Virtus.pro will take top spot in the group should they perform at their recent level, leaving NiP and G2 to fight a fierce fight to decide which of these great teams will progress and which won’t.
Echo Fox is a team that realistically has little chance to escape the group it has landed in. Amidst top tier opposition, Echo Fox sticks out like a sore thumb, and, unless there is some miracle, the team will struggle to find even a single win in this group.
Now, I’m not counting Echo Fox out completely. This is Counter-Strike, and crazier things have happened than Sean “Sgares” Gares’ team upsetting some high-tier European teams. For starters the team qualified for ELEAGUE, unlike GODSENT. This isn’t indicative of much of course, except that surprises happen often in CS:GO. As well as this, this team has both strategical thinkers and good fraggers. The world learned of Sgares’ tactical prowess through TeamSpeak servers the players used while playing, after these servers were available to listen to last year. Echo Fox’s fragging power comes from ex-Cloud9 man Ryan “Freakazoid” Abadir and frequent guest on the front page of the CS:GO reddit Daniel “roca” Gustaferri.
The team’s most recent offline result was a semifinal placing at Northern Arena in September, where they fell to Immortals. Across this tournament their most notable win was a 2-0 over OpTic Gaming, but aside from that there’s little to brag about. Echo Fox aren’t completely out of the group by any means, but I struggle to see a scenario where Echo Fox send two of the other three teams home this early.
You can catch all the ELEAGUE Group B action starting from tomorrow on their twitch channel Twitch.tv/ELEAGUEtv.
Who do you think will come out on top of Group B? Let us know by commenting below or tweeting us @GAMURScom.
The author, Cam “clootch” Brierley, can be reached on Twitter @clootch_CS