Eleven teams converge on São Paulo to battle for $750,000 at the ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals Oct. 26-30. What should we watch out for in Brazil?
SK: The End of an Era
Cracks are beginning to form in the foundation of two-time major champions SK Gaming. That foundation was built upon concrete role players and synergistic team play, but that harmony was missing in Moscow with individual and mistimed plays resulting in another top-four finish.
SK were eliminated by Virtus.pro in the semifinals twice this season; first in New York, then in Moscow. They also had a shaky run with EPICENTER groups, qualifying 2-1 against a lethargic G2 in the group decider.
Problems may be brewing within the team, according to an interview where leader Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo revealed, “we’re having internal problems, mainly some relationship problems that should not be happening.” That, coupled with a three-month break since their top major finish in Cologne, suggests that this is a shell of the mighty SK of the past.
The team that FalleN built is still pound-for-pound one of the best in the world. Even with internal issues, the Brazilians are consistently finishing top-four on the biggest stages in the world, which is no small feat.
Toledo will have had a few days to get his team in order and SK will have the home-field advantage with a massive fanbase in São Paulo. Additionally, this time, they won’t have to contend with their Polish arch-nemesis. SK should take the championship, but if they don’t plaster the cracks, the bottom could fall out.
“It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll” – AC/DC
It finally happened. Dignitas hoisted the trophy in Moscow after beating CIS juggernauts Na’Vi and Virtus.pro. EPICENTER marked the third event win in a row and established the Danes as a serious contender on the global stage.
Dignitas had been building towards that breakout event for a year, adding maps to their pool and taking an increasingly tactical approach to the game. But it all came together after René “cajunb” Borg and Emil “Magiskb0Y” Reif joined the team. MSL’s tactical approach had found teeth with two stars carrying enough firepower to make Moff Tarkin crack a smile.
Now ranked second at HLTV, Dignitas find themselves in groups with two top-five teams, SK Gaming and NiP. Last week, Mathias “MSL” Lauridsen’s squad traded maps with the Swedes, taking Nuke 16-12, but losing their home-map Cobble 16-12.
They’ll also have to contend with Cloud9, who went 25-1 in the ESL Pro League but have yet to secure a title on LAN. And then there’s the question of FaZe.
FaZe Change It Up
Turn and face the strain” – David Bowie
With the addition of Finn “karrigan” Andersen, FaZe has been re-energized. The former in-game leader for Astralis joined the team just in time for ELEAGUE in Atlanta. There, they defied expectations by topping Group A and earning a spot at the ELEAGUE finals.
The mixed European team wowed fans and shocked analysts with series wins over Immortals and Cloud9, including a crushing T-side against Immortals on Mirage: 16-2.
Leadership isn’t the only change for FaZe, but it is the most substantial. In August, they added former NiP and ENCE AWPer Aleksi “allu” Jalli. Since adding Allu, the team has excelled online with an 18-8 record in ESL Pro League, including 2-0 victories over Dignitas, Virtus.pro and Na’Vi.
Despite online results, FaZe traditionally struggles in the limelight, drawing criticism from some analysts. Since entering the CS:GO scene, the organization has only escaped group elimination twice — both times in Atlanta. Under Karrigan’s leadership, FaZe comes to Brazil as a wildcard. But with a small map pool and little experience as a five-man roster, FaZe will be fighting an uphill struggle.
It has been nearly four months since Team Liquid’s second-place finish at the last major in Cologne. That event took place with a focused squad, including superstar Aleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev, and under the direct guidance of former coach Luis “peacemaker” Tadeu.
But leadership has been a problem for the Americans ever since a Valve ruling limited the in-game role of the coach. This season, Spencer “Hiko” Martin’s team has to make in-game calls themselves. That shouldn’t be a problem, except that no clear leader has emerged. Liquid has shifted strat calling roles a few times, recently transferring command from Nick “nitr0” Cannella to Hiko.
What’s worse is that this event marks Team Liquid’s first event without peacemaker. Team manager Steve “Joka” Perino will fill in as coach after Tadeu’s departure.
Team Liquid has only attended a single event this season, ESL One New York. There, they met Hiko’s goal to advance out of groups with victories over G2 and Fnatic. They were eliminated in the semifinals by Na’Vi after three maps.
The Americans come into Group A, made easier since Fnatic withdrew from the event. They are set to face two struggling teams in Immortals and EnVyUs, a freshly shuffled mousesports and countrymen OpTic Gaming. As long as Hiko can keep his men in line, São Paulo will be promising, in groups at least.
What are you looking forward to from São Paulo? Let us know by commenting below or tweeting us @GAMURScom.
Patrick “Sabo” Flannigan is one of the first esports casters, starting with TsN in 2001.
He currently writes about esports, continues to cast and hosts This Week in CS.