Jan 10 2017 - 6:14 pm

Now or Never for Natus Vincere: ELEAGUE Major Preview

Na`Vi has the potential to win the ELEAGUE Major, but can the once well-oiled machine find form in Atlanta?
Contributing Writer

This iteration of Natus Vincere is one of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive's great tragedies. A lineup overflowing with potential, with the right balance of role players and stars fraggers, Na`Vi looked to become one of Counter-Strike’s dominant teams with their pickup of Ukrainian superstar Oleksander “s1mple” Kostyliev. For the most part, however, Na`Vi has struggled to find form, their play not the tight and tactical maneuvers most were accustomed to from the CIS side.

Outside of their incredible performance at ESL One New York and solid run at EPICENTER, Na`Vi does not look like their old selves. Valve’s coaching rule changes (which severely hamstrung the contributions of their master in-game leader Sergey “starix” Ischuk) after the team had already replaced their second tactician, Daniil “Zeus” Teslenko, is a root cause of Na`Vi’s current woes. Further, the general inconsistency from the team’s co-stars, specifically Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovács and Egor “flamie” Vasilyev, has long been a crux for Na`Vi’s failings, both players rarely having strong performances at the same time even before the s1mple era.

But in the games and series where the cogs turn together, where s1mple and company all function in unison, where their unstoppable marriage of tactics and raw skill takes over a server, Na`Vi can beat any team in the world. With the major looming, will Na`Vi be able to recreate the magic they found in New York, or will they be unable to live up to their potential yet again?

The Prodigy

Na`Vi’s lineup boasts some of Counter-Strike’s most storied names, each with a skillset that complements and rounds out the roster nicely. At the moment, the standout player is obviously s1mple, who seems to be one of the best, if not the best player in the server, no matter the opponent or stakes of a match. s1mple will be an irreplaceable asset for Na`Vi as he performs exceptionally well during majors, as he showed while playing for both Team Liquid and HellRaisers, meaning in all likelihood that his performance will not be the make-or-break, deciding factor for his team.

Although, there are different degrees to which s1mple can be a great player, ranging from merely a consistent AWPing and entry force to winning ludicrous clutches and deagle force-buys, and should he be able to find even a few of these highlight reel quality rounds, it may be enough to help struggling teammates or deteriorating tactics.

The Streaky Duo

Na`Vi’s other carry players, flamie and GuardiaN, on the contrary, are going to be much more influential deciding factors during the major. GuardiaN’s run of form at the start of this year died down following his wrist injury during the MLG Columbus Major, leading to the shaky inconsistency from the once unphasable Slovakian AWPer.

Furthermore, how Na`Vi will use GuardiaN’s AWP will be a deciding factor for this event; at IEM Oakland, where Na`Vi struggled, there were times where s1mple would be given the AWP over GuardiaN on CT sides. Although s1mple is an incredibly skilled AWPer, he is also more proficient with rifles than GuardiaN, who likely should keep the AWP instead. As painful as it may be to admit, the combination of the wrist injury and introduction of s1mple likely means that we will not see vintage GuardiaN as frequently. But even if it is just for a few rounds at a time, GuardiaN can still be the yin to s1mple’s yang in a lethal double AWP setup.

As for flamie, a player with some of the best raw aiming ability in the world, Na`Vi’s success depends less on his form at the major than GuardiaN’s (who takes up a larger economic burden as the AWPer), but a player of flamie’s caliber can take over CT halves with his rifle play. Although flamie’s individual performance as of late has still been quite good, if he can rekindle some of the fire he had at events like IEM Katowice from earlier in 2016, he could join s1mple as a pervasive carry threat.

The Support Staff

The Na`Vi support staff of Ioann “Edward” Sukhariev and Denis “seized” Kostin will also be paramount to Na`Vi’s success at the major, especially the still relatively new in-game leader in seized. Edward has had his standout performances throughout the year, and has remained a rock on CT sides, while contributing nicely to the team’s map control oriented terrorist sides. Seized, on the other hand, has struggled for consistent form throughout the year, notably since s1mple’s introduction to the team.

While the burden of shot-calling in such an elaborate system has likely encumbered seized’s play to some extent, he will need to pull greater weight for Na`Vi to find success at the major. Fortunately for seized, s1mple has basically taken over the secondary AWP role entirely, meaning that seized himself presents less of an economic burden to the lineup even as his play suffers from calling.

The Evolving Pool

Na`Vi’s map pool has been quite erratic since s1mple’s joining. Before their roster move and the coaching rule change, Na`Vi were excellent on Overpass, Dust II, Cobblestone, Train, and Mirage, able to grind down teams with their sweeping map control and the power of GuardiaN’s AWP. With s1mple, Na`Vi is still world class on Overpass, and they are still quite good on Dust II, Mirage, and Train.

Unfortunately, they are not as consistent from game-to-game on these core maps, even against presumably lesser teams, the team’s “system” suffering likely as a result of replacing Zeus and losing starix’s constant presence. Further, Zeus seemed to take whatever system the team used on Cobblestone with him, Na`Vi having played quite poorly on the map in recent months. Na`Vi, with s1mple, still avoid Cache like the plague (despite s1mple being notoriously good on it) and recent attempts at playing Nuke have not been particularly fruitful.

Na`Vi still has a serious chance at the major with their current map pool, so long as they remain consistent on it, and likely need to give up on playing Cobblestone to the same extent they once did. Alongside the other carries of the team finding at least some consistency and seized recovering some of his lost form, Na`Vi properly managing their pick ban is one of the key factors to their major run, as they have shown their propensity to make poor map veto decisions and end up on unfavorable maps.

How do you think Na`Vi will do at the major? Let us know @GAMURScom or in the comments.

Comments, compliments, or concerns about the article? Let me know on Twitter @EddiePlaut.

Feb 21 2017 - 5:51 pm

Pessimism emerges following the North American post-major shuffle

How cynical can we be about the current state of North American Counter-Strike?
Photo Courtesy of DreamHack
Contributing Writer

The North American scene had been so frequently underwhelming in the past that the term “NA” itself has actually become a descriptor synonymous with “ineptitude” and “failure.” That reputation seemed to be slowly slipping away due to the brief breakout successes of Team Liquid, Cloud9, and OpTic Gaming at various points last year; however, right about now, I expect that many fans of North American Counter-Strike are violently starting to shake their heads again.

No North American team earned Legendary status at the first Valve Major of 2017, OpTic’s sudden surge irreparably ended as their highly touted in-game leader, Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz, left the team, and most recently, all four North American squads who entered into DreamHack Las Vegas were eliminated in the group stage. Suddenly, when considering the scene and its participants, it’s not at all clear that the dogged-days of “NA CS” are invariably at an end.

After the August player break, Cloud9’s string of high placings may have even exceeded their venerated 2015 “summer run” as the best multi-tournament run in the history of North American CS:GO. They placed second at Northern Arena Toronto and DreamHack Bucharest, finished top-four at StarLadder i-League StarSeries Season 2, and actually won the ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals. However, since then, Cloud9 has fallen into concrete mediocrity. Just before their EPL win, they failed to make it through their ELEAGUE Season 2 group and were likewise eliminated in the group stage of four proceeding premier-level tournaments: IEM Oakland, DreamHack Winter, the Esports Championship Series Season 2 Finals, and the ELEAGUE Major Main Qualifier.

While the Stewie2k-Autimatic combination has certainly worked wonders since the August player break, lukewarm performances by the team’s previous stars in Tyler "Skadoodle" Latham and Mike "shroud" Grzesiek have frequently been noticed and heavily been criticized. Also, while Jake "Stewie2k" Yip has continued to perform at a decently high level as an individual player, despite taking over in-game leading responsibilities for the team, his leadership has been frequently cited as an issue inherent to the squad’s more recent failings. Regardless, in the turbulent pre and post major shuffle seasons, Cloud9 made no direct changes, adding neither players who are more suited to Stewie2k’s style of play nor a veteran in-game leader who could take the team into a new direction. While Skadoodle specifically has looked better lately, the solitary addition of Soham "valens" Choudhury as a coach hardly measures up to the moves clamored for by analysts and fans alike.

OpTic is another vibrant success story gone awry. For a moment in mid-December, OpTic had a wholly unexpected spike in performance as they miraculously won the highly prestigious and highly-competitive ELEAGUE Season 2 and placed second at the less competitive but still fairly stacked ECS Season 2 Finals. Suddenly, after two successive weekends of play, OpTic reasonably looked like a top-three team in the world and an outside contender for the next major championship.

Instead of a more typical peak in the immediate aftermath of a roster move, OpTic only improved modestly over time following the pickup Tarik "tarik" Celik in September. They had unimpressive initial forays at ESL One New York Season 1 and the ESL Pro Season 4 Finals, before showing some promise, but not extreme prowess at Northern Arena Montreal and their initial ELEAGUE group. Their sudden surge seems largely due to a combination of peaking individual play, especially from Rush, at those two specific events alongside equally significant developments on the team’s T-sides via Stanislaw’s newfound leadership. Nevertheless, that increasingly upward trend wasn’t backed by their more recent appearance at the ELEAGUE Major where they failed to make it beyond the swiss style preliminary stage thanks to tough initial draws, lacking pre-event preparation, and poor individual performances.

Unfortunately, their fall only accelerated from there. Just days after the conclusion of the major, it was announced that Stanislaw would be leaving OpTic for Team Liquid, for reasons largely unknown. Once again, in the tragic tradition of North American Counter-Strike, the lifespan of a strong or suddenly surging team was crippled by a baffling roster move or unforeseen circumstance. Without the increasingly competent leadership of Stanislaw, OpTic again failed to make it into the playoffs of DreamHack Masters Las Vegas.

Other once hopefuls in Echo Fox and Team SoloMid dissolved in recent months after long unsuccessful periods of play, with the most promising aspects of both squads being distilled into the new Misfits lineup. That team just attended their first premier-level tournament together in Vegas, but they didn’t make much of an impression. They bombed out of Vegas 0-2 with losses to Virtus.pro and Fnatic. Likewise, no other possible North American upstart, such as compLexity, CLG, Splyce, or Selfless, has shown any iota international aptitude in the past six months. While Team Liquid obviously stands to gain from the Stanislaw transfer, as they have long had sufficient firepower but lacked competent in-game leadership, their rise is not inevitable. We have not yet seen them play on LAN with their new roster, and their last impressive outing dates back to early October.

Even putting the current state of individual squads aside, there are still plenty of reasons to be ambivalent about North American scene generally in 2017. Liquid aside, no blockbuster moves to shore up any of the other wilting participants in the scene were made in this most recent off-season. Personality conflicts and interpersonal drama still seem to be lingering but significant undermining force, as we can infer from Stanislaw’s recent departure from OpTic. And the continued plethora of cash-rich organizations, some backed by lucrative buyouts from mainstream sports franchises, seem to be continuously keeping the more middling talent of the scene artificially disentangled.

But putting those concerns aside for a moment, you have to acknowledge that throughout 2016, North American teams have frequently surpassed expectations and historical precedent. Liquid’s semifinals run at MLG Columbus tied compLexity’s DreamHack Winter 2013 as the best performance for a North American team at a major, and Liquid did it in a far more competitive era. Then at the next major, ESL One Cologne 2016, Liquid surprised again making it all the way to the finals, now clearly exceeding any past major result. Now, that massively overachieving S1mple-infused Liquid would never appear together again, but soon thereafter, Cloud9’s emerging young star in Stewie2k led his team to the first premier-level tournament win by a North American team in a decade thanks in no small part due the addition of his friend Timothy "autimatic" Ta. That team also slumped immediately thereafter, only to be succeeded by the once unimpressive Conquest core in conjunction with Oscar "mixwell" Cañellas and Tarik. OpTic’s unimaginable ELEAGUE victory and subsequent run to their second straight finals was perhaps the most impressive pair of back-to-back tournament showings for a North American team in CS:GO yet. 

So what expectations for the region are actually reasonable for the remainder of this year? Will we continue to see these spurts of success moving forward or have those anomalies come to an end?

Unfortunately, it seems many fans perceive the world through the lens of sanguine certainly. Past failures don’t count while future successes are inevitable. “Unlucky draw.” “Bad Luck.” “That one anti-eco.” “That one clutch.” “Just one more roster move.” “Just one more try.” And in the end, what “should have been” always means “what didn’t happen.” It’s exceedingly easy to lambaste this sort of mentality, to pick apart that obvious team or regional bias, but, because this sort of dressing down has long since been popular, I think optimism and excitement has been increasingly and unfortunately been associated with stupidity and fandom, while cynicism has conversely become the principal quality of the supposedly savvy and the would-be cool.

Irony and cynicism are useful tools of deflation. They can very powerfully chastise the ridiculous and pierce through the sort of ignorance inherent to zealous fans. However, to cynically bemoan the present inequities of the North American scene, while not at all acknowledging it’s more promising aspects, I think is tantamount to a sort of cowardice.

It may very well be the case that no one in the North American scene will post results anywhere on the level of 2016’s spattering of short-term spikes in 2017, but there are players, teams, and narratives that certainly look promising as we move back into the tournament-to-tournament grind, whether that be the rise of Cloud9’s young duo, the development of Stanislaw as an in-game leader, or suddenly increased capacity of the newly formed Team Liquid. While it’s surely better to just follow the best teams of the scene without any specific preferences, if we are to earnestly assess the often castigated North American scene and it’s participants in its present form, I think we shouldn’t completely bind ourselves to negativity in an attempt to fend off some terrifically unhip impression of enthusiasm.

For compliments or complaints, you can find me on Twitter @WallabeeBeatle.

Today - 6:20 am

NRG wins in double overtime vs Liquid: ESL Pro League Season 5 Week 2 Day 1 Recap

Season 5 of the ESL Pro League has returned shortly after DreamHack Las Vegas.
Image Credits: ESL

After a week hiatus due to DreamHack Masters Las Vegas, the ESL Pro League has returned with a brief day of matches. The biggest surprise from today was NRG Esports' double overtime win over Team Liquid, which ended at 22-19. The rest of the scores from today's action are featured below.

What do you think of today's EPL matches? Tell us your thoughts with a tweet @GAMURScom.