Counter-Strike StarSeries preview
Last Updated: 03/04/17 5:17pm
Kiev will once again play host to one of the most exciting events on the Counter-Strike circuit. Starladder have hosted some of the best teams in the world for years, and 2017 will be no different, as the I-League StarSeries Season Three finals kicks off.
Eight invited teams are joined by eight qualifying teams from Europe, North America, and Asia, forming a daunting guest list of A-list heavy hitters, some dark horse contenders, and a couple of unpredictable upset potential line-ups.
The usual suspects will be looking to mount serious trophy challenges. The most recent tournament victor is the Danish powerhouse, Astralis, who took the title at IEM Katowice in a confident performance over new contenders, FaZe Clan. Astralis comfortably sit top any respected power ranking of the top CS:GO teams in the world right now, and they show no signs of slowing down.
Nicolai "Dev1ce" Reedtz is considered the superstar of the line-up, and yet it often ends up being youngster Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjaerbye or even support player Andreas "Xyp9x" Hojsleth putting up the numbers to secure success for the lineup. With so much firepower in the hands of in-game leader (IGL) Lukas "Gla1ve" Rossander, it's actually expected that the lineup at least challenges for the top four, if not make the finalThat expectation may be challenged by the second half of what could become one of the classic Counter-Strike rivalries. Astralis and Virtus Pro first met this year in the grand final of the ELEAGUE major, with Astralis claiming their first major title. Virtus Pro quickly took revenge the following month at Dreamhack Vegas. The two didn't meet at IEM Katowice, making StarSeries a possible venue for their third battle of the year.
The two won't necessarily meet though, and the favourites will face a difficult challenge from the likes of SK Gaming, G2 Esports, and FaZe Clan.
For G2, StarSeries will be their first offline appearance since the roster shuffle that saw the organisation acquire what is perhaps the best French line-up in history. The side failed to qualify for IEM Katowice, however their online performance (including a win over roster shuffle partner EnvyUs) saw them earn a spot in Kiev. So far, performances have been mixed, but the prospect of seeing Kenny "KennyS" Schrub and Richard "Shox" Papillon playing together on LAN is something the CS:GO has been waiting years for. To win on their first appearance is perhaps ambitious, but when these players get rolling, who knows what could happen.
SK Gaming and FaZe Clan walk a similar path heading into StarSeries, with both still in the process of integrating new members of the lineup. SK brought in former Immortals star Joao "felps" Vasconcellos, while FaZe made the long overdue play for superstar Nikola "NiKo" Kovac, who had been the driving force behind Mousesports. FaZe were able to claim second at IEM Katowice as Niko debuted for the side, while SK have suffered mixed results since felps joined the squad.
Under normal circumstances, Natus Vincere (Na'Vi) would be considered amongst the favourites to take the trophy home, especially with Oleksandr "S1mple" Kostyliev and Ioann "Edward" Sukhariev playing on home soil for the Ukrainian based organization. Unfortunately, Na'Vi find themselves in an uncharacteristic slump heading into Kiev, one that resulted in the departure of long time player-turned-coach Sergey "Starix" Ischuk. Na'Vi haven't made it beyond the quarterfinals of a premier tournament since EpiCenter in October of last year, and haven't actually hoisted a trophy since their success at ESL One New York in the same month.
Luckily for Na'Vi, their dip in form is nothing compared to the rut that Ninjas in Pyjamas find themselves in. Although they found their last success more recently than Na'Vi, the Swedish side have sunk much further in the last few months. Failure to qualify for the last major or get out of the groups at Dreamhack Las Vegas and IEM Katowice was the catalyst for change, a small one, but a change. Youngster William "Draken" Sundin replaced the outgoing Jacob "Pyth" Mourujarvi. Initial results indicate an upswing, however it could just be another NiP honeymoon period.
The Dark Horses
The god squad is back, but Fnatic are yet to recover the form that saw them crowned one of the best line-ups to ever play the game back in 2015 and early 2016. Unconvincing results at Dreamhack Las Vegas and IEM Katowice tell the story of a team chasing former glories, but coming up very short thus far. The silver lining for Fnatic is that online results have been improving, including the qualifiers for this event. After a lengthy break between events, one can hope the team has ironed out their issues, and come into Kiev ready to challenge for their former throne.
Gambit Gaming and North have very little in common, bar the fact that neither side seems capable of consistently defeating tier one opposition. They are consistent though, in the sense that both sides will almost always reach the playoff stages of any given tournament, before crashing out in the quarter or semi-finals. At the ELEAGUE major, Gambit dropped to Fnatic in the quarter finals, while North fell to Virtus Pro at the same stage. Fast forward to Vegas, and the two actually met in the quarters, with North coming out ahead, though they too lost in the very next stage to SK Gaming.
South Korea dominates many different titles in the esports scene, but thus far Counter-Strike isn't one of them. MVP Project could look to set the wheels in motion for the country at StarSeries, after they breezed through the Asian qualifier with a dominant performance. The team lost just one map on their route to the tournament, which included a 2-0 victory over Vici Gaming. Reaching the playoffs would be a huge achievement for the team, and could work wonders for creating some hype around the Asian CS:GO scene, something that TyLoo (also attending StarSeries) had been doing in 2016, before their roster issues arose.
Did well just to get here
While it's nice to imagine that every single team attending an event has a chance to win, sometimes it's just not feasible. Counter Logic Gaming weren't even expected to qualify out of their own region, and yet here they are. Of course, they deserve to be here after defeating the likes of Optic Gaming and Renegades, however their chances at even making the playoff stages in Kiev are fairly slim.
While perhaps not as dire as CLG's chances, Hellraisers would also be satisfied with a playoff performance in Kiev. The team had to overcome Team EnvyUs to make it into the tournament, and did so with an overtime victory in the third and final map of the series. Hellraisers failed to pick up a single win at the ELEAGUE major, however since that event youngster Martin "Styko" Styk announced his transition from part-time to full-time Counter-Strike, will this change be the catalyst that takes Hellraisers to the next level?
First Round Matchups
The Swiss format often lives with the risk of some less than stellar opening matches, however there are a couple to look out for on day one.
Gambit Gaming vs Fnatic is far and away the most enticing first round clash. The two sides are both looking to break in (or return in Fnatic's case) to the top five in the world and consistently find those top four placement in major tournament such as this one. The Swedish side may head in as favourites after clocking recent victories over the likes of North and Faze, however they have still certainly not reached the god status they were once at.
The Ninjas in Pyjamas honeymoon period will be put the test right off the bat when they meet G2 Esports on day one of StarSeries in Kiev. William "Draken" Sundin seems to have breathed new life into the lineup (as did many other 'fifth men' before him), but will NiP repeat previous heroics after bringing in new players? G2 Esports are of course a world class squad on paper, but they have struggled to settle the new lineup. This will be their first LAN appearance since the major roster shuffle, and the first time we see superstars Kenny "KennyS" Schrub and Richard "Shox" Papillon on the same lineup together in an offline setting.
For some upset potential, look no further than Virtus Pro vs MVP. The almost unknown entity from South Korea could look to prey on the early tournament weaknesses of VP. The Polish side tend to struggle early on before ramping up their performances to 'plow' through to the later stages of the tournament. A win for MVP could even provide a confidence boost big enough to make them a threat during the Swiss stage.