With four of the world's best teams competing at the CCS Kick-off Season offline finals in Bucharest, Romania this weekend, we take time to reflect and speculate on what the current state of affairs is among the competing four.
Classification is a fickle thing in Counter-Strike. fnatic win the year's first major, demolish their opponents repeatedly and yet stumble at other events of the year, most recently the ESEA Season 18 finals. EnVyUs go on a consistent rampage of first place finishes, but the last week has seen a limping team go on a losing streak online.
TSM bring Danish CS:GO to the highest echelon when on point and yet they struggle to find the term "first place" in the dictionary. And NiP sometimes seem to spend more time on vacation or on surf maps than playing tournaments; when they appear however, like a foretold prophet, their playstyle is as scarily consistent and powerful as Roger Federer's in tennis.
|While not a major, the CCS Kick-Off finals will help define the current landscape of CS:GO photo hltv.org|
And then we have Virtus.pro, who for years have had no problem crashing out of easy tournaments only to come back roaring and win unexpectedly, such as last weekend with the sixth largest prize-pool in CS:GO added to their belt. Which is not to discount the Slavic leviathan that is Na`Vi, who recently won a tournament of their own, or the ever-mercurial Titan. But thankfully we are not talking about these three teams.
What we are talking about is the CCS Kick-off Season Finals, where fnatic, EnVyUs, TSM and NiP will duel for $75,000 at DreamHack Bucharest in Romania's capital.
Regardless, and at the expense of my point sounding too cliché, I think it is very true what everyone from amateur CS:GO betting analysts to professional analysts on Twitter say: "you can never be sure in CS:GO"; an upset is always around the corner.
It is very unlikely that we will ever see a 87-0 offline record happen again in CS:GO and, I would argue, all the better for the scene.
But all things considered, this weekend's action at the CCS Kick-off Season Finals will decide important questions about the current state of the elite tier of CS:GO. Some of these questions will reverberate for a long time, possibly impacting the teams abovementioned until the next major.
Unlike a traditional preview where I would split sections into discussions of teams and then project their final placings, I will simply begin with each semi-final match-up and work from that point. Hence:
NiP vs. EnVyUs
This pairing marks perhaps one of the most recognisable "El Classico's" this year. And yet for a match-up with so much historical residue and resonance, it is also a rivalry that has been looking fairly lopsided recently.
In Kiev at StarSeries XII, nV made mincemeat of the Swedes (and one Finn), handing NiP some of their worst offline losses ever: a 16:2 thrashing in the grand final on de_mirage and a 16:1 beatdown on de_inferno in the upper final before that. Team leader Vincent "Happy" Cervoni notably played like a man possessed against the Ninjas.
At another offline final in March, the Frenchmen convincingly beat NiP again in a best-of-five with an easy score of 3-1, sealing their victory in London.
On the other side of the coin, NiP were able to hit the French team where it counts: by handing them a convincing defeat at the semi-finals of the year's first major, ESL One Katowice 2015. Going back even further in time, we see a history of continued sparring for supremacy among these two teams.
|allu has strengthened NiP, but nV are still their superior in head-to-head matches photo hltv.org|
This event will settle some of these questions of supremacy. Are EnVyUs still on the elite top-two level alongside fnatic or are they beginning to slip from that position? Following an absence from offline play, are NiP ready to begin a summer streak or is the team still feeling rusty?
Recent offline results show the wind blowing in a favourable direction for the Swedish organisation. EnVyUs have frankly had a laughable performance in the FACEIT League, losing to pretty much everyone in the league at least once and failing to qualify. In the Game Show CS:GO League, nV received an upset loss to the Danish dignitas, a grim result.
NiP on the other hand have played well in the FACEIT League, and will likely finish the season in second place with an assured qualification. They still were challenged by Na'Vi in recent games—losing one and narrowly winning a second—and Titan managed to anti-strat their pants off to a convincing 16:6 defeat on de_mirage.
I'm going to argue that NiP will clinch the semi-final opener here, but with a narrow score of 2-1. I can never be sure what maps nV favour now, as past claims to kingship over de_inferno or de_dust2 have been rendered kaput.
The French team can rely on many of their frag-star players to carry or rise when needed, but with Fabien "kioShiMa" Fieypossibly still affected by the loss of a loved one in his family, and with Richard "shox" Papillon subdued lately—or at least not working in his god-tier role as previously—there is definite room for a choke here.
|EnVyUs are in a light slump but nothing unrecoverable photo hltv.org|
NiP have a bright day ahead of them tomorrow, but Aleksi "allu" Jalli will need to win the AWP duels, especially on maps with clearly contestable angles such as de_cache and de_inferno, should they be picked.
Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund can also be relied on to perform, but it is a continuing question if the rest of his team can play their support roles correctly and get the trade-kills when it counts.
TSM vs. fnatic
To be absolutely honest, I'm not too worried about fnatic's grand final loss to Virtus.pro at the ESEA Season 18 Global Finals. The Poles love their vacation time in Dallas (and might be the European team with the most appearances at the American event's finals) and always play well there.
There is also a culture of camaraderie and chill at ESEA events that—while not affecting teams' desires to win there—means walking away with a second place finish is not as harsh there for a tier one team as a similar placing at a major.
I still believe fnatic are the best team in the world simply by observing how well they play together, and how intuitively some of their players can at times understand competitive flow in the game, e.g. Jesper "JW" Wecksell with aggressive pushes or Freddy "KRIMZ" Johansson with positional play.
As for TSM, although I simply think that fnatic are the better team, I think the Danes are at a peak in their cores' trajectory in CS:GO.
Certainly replacing Henrik "FeTiSh" Christensen with Finn "karrigan" Andersen was the right move and despite continuing 3rd-4th place finishes in March—at StarSeries XII and the ESL Cologne Winter Finals—TSM did manage to break the 1st-2nd placings mark at Copenhagen Games.
|TSM are looking to keep up their gradual and steady climb photo hltv.org|
Now, granted, losing to Virtus.pro in the grand final and upper final on home soil might be considered a bit of a choke, but the Poles are starting to be red-hot right now, so it's excusable to some degree. TSM after all still have a ways to go in solidifying their playstyle, although in general I enjoy seeing how well executed their CT defensive set-ups are.
Head-to-head, these two teams are more evenly matched than some might believe. TSM convincingly beat fnatic in two best-of-three's during the CCS qualifiers, forcing the Swedes to move through the Last Chance brackets in order to even book a flight to Bucharest. In the Aftonbladet Fight Night series, fnatic got revenge and poured salt on re-opened wounds with a closely fought 3-0 series victory.
In that series, Danish superstar and part-time man of mystery—known for his disappearing acts during tense offline semi-finals—Nicolai "device" Reedtz played well while the rest of his team slacked. In the end, Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer and Johansson, ever a dangerous duo, managed to perform the strongest on the server and help fnatic take the series.
|olofmeister continues to elevate high-level play in CS:GO photo hltv.org|
Just like NiP vs. EnVyUs, this series promises to answer exciting questions as the mid-year point slowly approaches; similarly these questions look into whether one top-two team is losing grip and whether a top-five contender can continue to rise. But I will continue to give the edge to fnatic here even though the game could be very close: 2-1 for them is my guess.
Upper/Lower Bracket final and beyond
Where does the tournament play out from there? Assuming my guess of NiP and fnatic advancing is our working hypothesis, I think it might be the latter's play on Saturday that gets them the first spot in the grand final.
I predict EnVyUs will narrowly edge out TSM in the lower bracket final, although this game is the one I am the most skittish about overall since both teams match-up well against each other.
The consolidation final—if you're still following my train of predictions here—will see nV and NiP go at it again and it will truly be hard to predict who moves from here; we are in the realm of the down-to-the-wire matches now, where every decision taken and breath exhaled decides rounds and games.
|Could fnatic return to the first place podium in Bucharest? photo hltv.org|
Let me just play with the idea of NiP sealing a second victory due to their quiet absence from the scene and chance to refresh. The Ninjas' luck will run out however when they advance to the grand final and find the hungry eyes of the fnatic tiger lurking high above, ready to pounce.