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Counter-StrikeCSPreview

Mega PGL Krakow preview – Challengers

1
In preparation for the upcoming PGL Krakow major, Tomi "lurppis" Kovanen has taken a look at the participants list, starting with the Challengers.
The eleventh major is going to start on Sunday with eight Legends teams, who made the playoffs at ELEAGUE Atlanta, going up against eight Challengers who qualified in Bucharest a couple of weeks ago. In this two-part preview we will cover all sixteen participants vying for their share of the $1,000,000 prize purse, with the first part focusing on the Challengers. You can find the second part for Legends here.

BIG

Tyskland Fatih ”gob b” Dayik
Tyskland Johannes ”tabseN” Wodarz
Tyskland Johannes ”nex” Maget
Tyskland Kevin ”keev” Bartholomäus
Serbien Nikola ”LEGIJA” Ninić
Osterrike Alexander ”kakafu” Szymanczyk (Coach)

Since the team was put together to begin the year 2017, gob b’s troops have been on a steady incline, improving gradually over time despite some disappointments on the way. Following a surprising second place finish at DreamHack Open Leipzig in January, where they took down valde’s Heroic in the semi-final, the Germans made it into the semi-finals of Copenhagen Games, only to be upset by eventual champions Singularity. At ESEA Season 24 Global Challenge they lost two close maps to PENTA in the grand final, but found revenge in the European minor shortly after. Following a 0-2 defeat at the hands of dignitas in the opening round of playoffs at the minor, BIG ran through EnVyUs, dignitas and PENTA to secure their first offline victory. The team then used that momentum to qualify for the PGL major, bouncing back from a 10-16 loss to Cloud9 in the opening round of the Swiss group stage, to go 3-0 versus Tengri, Immortals and Liquid to secure a spot at the year’s second Valve-backed event. But will they be ready to compete?

When BIG was founded in January, many expected former ALTERNATE sniper keev to step up, with ex-mousesports talent nex presumably taking on a larger role. But despite starting the year with some flashy plays, keev has not quite taken the next step yet, and while nex has clearly stepped up his play this year, he is not the team's star, either. Instead, tabseN – who united with gob b in the US last year after dominating EnVyUs as a stand-in at Counter-Pit Finals last March – has been the superstar and carrying force behind this team. His numbers have been ridiculous in 2017. As the engine of the team, tabseN must continue playing at his otherworldly 1.30-rating level for BIG to be competitive, and that is the first tough requirement – with much more to come.

tabseN.
tabseN has had an impressive form in BIG.

Teams will take BIG more seriously following their run in Bucharest, and it might be their undoing – while the Swiss format has gifted teams major spots at the qualifiers, the level of play is simply too high at the major itself. There are three teams BIG could beat, but it is unlikely they will face them. So far BIG has found success on cache, train and overpass, with mirage and cobblestone lacking impressive results, inferno remaining largely untested and nuke being the team’s permanent veto. They have a broad enough map pool to score upsets in best-of- one games, but to do it thrice might be asking too much. Look for gob b’s brilliance and preparation to get BIG close, but they likely will not be ready to compete for a Legends spot until 2018.

Cloud9

Usa Jordan ”n0thing” Gilbert
Usa Tyler ”Skadoodle” Latham
Usa Jake ”Stewie2k” Yip
Usa Timothy ”autimatic” Ta
Kanada Michael ”shroud” Grzesiek
Usa Soham ”valens” Chowdhury (Coach)

The Summer9 joke is back in full force, and exactly at the right time. Stewie2K’s team has climbed to the fifth place in HLTV.org’s world ranking, and after group stage exits at ESL Pro League Finals in Dallas and DreamHack Summer, have made the semi-finals at ECS Season 3 Finals – where they bested fnatic and upset Astralis from a 0-8 deficit on mirage – and last weekend took down NiP and Na`Vi to clinch a grand final spot for the first time since their win at ESL Pro League Finals in Sao Paulo last October. But have the North American fan favorites already peaked, or is this simply them skyrocketing up towards their top-level of play?

In Cologne Cloud9 showed impressive resilience, fighting back in series despite early deficits, and putting up a real fight versus SK on two of the three maps in the best-of- five grand final. Cloud9 still are not a highly tactical team, and their play is reliant on their players playing well individually, with coach valens scheming for each opponent to keep them ready. In fact, valens was missing from this Europe-trip until the team got to London, where their play instantly improved – make of that what you wish. While Stewie2K and autimatic generally perform at a high level, the story here has been the resurgences of Skadoodle and shroud – the two players who led the way for the Cloud9 team of summer 2015, which sparked the Summer9 joke.

shroud.
shroud was praised for his performance in Cologne last week.

While the individual play is a recipe for inconsistency, Cloud9 have found a go-to map at recent tournaments. On mirage they beat Immortals at the Americas minor, upset Astralis from an early deficit at ECS, destroyed FlipSid3 at the qualifier, and defeated Na`Vi at ESL One Cologne. On top of that, they took FaZe to overtime in London – where they lost 15-19 from a 15-6 lead – and barely lost to fnatic at DreamHack Summer. They also boast a solid record on train with wins over NiP, Immortals, GODSENT and fnatic, and close games versus Na`Vi – a six-overtime thriller – and SK. Problem is that it ends there. Cloud9 does not play nuke, their overpass performances have likely been better than their expected value, and they are simply inconsistent on inferno, cobblestone and cache.

Cloud9’s biggest worry may be that they peaked too soon. Following the grand final run in Cologne, no team will underestimate n0thing and company in Krakow. If you do your homework on Cloud9, you can veto their two best maps, force them to veto nuke, and then work with the remaining maps. Given that – and the quality of teams in attendance – there is no guarantee Cloud9 will make playoffs. They have a shot, but I still have them going in as underdogs, who might require some help from lady luck to pass the group stage at a major for the first time since ESL One Cologne 2014. On that note – their previous summer streak also ended with a group stage exit at the major, after which they never recovered. No pressure.

FlipSid3 Tactics

Ukraina Andrey ”B1ad3” Gorodensky
Ukraina Yegor ”markeloff” Markelov
Ryssland Georgy ”WorldEdit” Yaskin
Ryssland Denis ”electronic” Sharipov
Finland Jan ”wayLander” Rahkonen

FlipSid3 are known for always stepping up their level of play for the majors, with a fairly inactive approach to the rest of the circuit. They have only attended two tournaments since the previous major – the qualifier for this one, and a small four-team, one-day event in Moscow – though they won DreamHack Open Leipzig over BIG in January. Somehow the team’s star player electronic has still continued developing, and he is a great candidate to have a breakout performance at the major, following his 0.95 KPR, +45 K-D and 1.38 rating showing at the qualifier. The kid can play.

electronic.
electronic has been showing up, to say the least.

B1ad3’s team beat Renegades, HellRaisers and Liquid – the latter in the deciding game, in triple overtime – to qualify for PGL Krakow. They also came close to upsetting G2, and were dominated by Cloud9. While FlipSid3 are often consistent in their play, come in well prepared and rarely bomb out of tournaments, they simply lack some of explosiveness you need to make top eight at an event with the world’s best teams in attendance. The 18-year- old Russian youngster electronic has brought in some, but it is unclear whether that is enough to beat three teams in attendance at the major itself.

FlipSid3 do not have a go-to map. Their tactical style works well on nuke, but select few play the map; it's unlikely they will get to see it in Krakow. Their mirage is not bad, but they have suffered a ton of close losses on it. Cache does not fit their personnel too well, and their results on cobblestone and train have not been encouraging. Both inferno and overpass are reasonably good maps, but again not quite there to compete with the elite sides. B1ad3 is likely to get rid of cache and cobblestone first, and then base the final veto on their opponents. There is some sneaky upset potential to ruin another team’s tournament here, but it likely will not be enough to see them to the playoffs in Krakow.

G2 Esports

Frankrike Richard ”shox” Papillon
Frankrike Alexandre ”bodyy” Pianaro
Frankrike Nathan ”NBK” Schmitt
Frankrike Dan ”apEX” Madesclaire
Frankrike Kenny ”kennyS” Schrub
Frankrike Edouard ”SmithZz” Dubourdeaux (Coach)

Out of all the challengers, G2 boast by far the highest ceiling. They struggled online when the team was put together after the ELEAGUE major – and some foolishly thought they would never put it all together – but have showcased good results offline since the get-go. At SL i-League StarSeries Finals shox’s side lost a close series to FaZe in the quarter-finals, with a disappointing defeat at Gambit’s hands stinging from DreamHack Open Austin – an event they were clearly favoured to win. The Frenchmen bounced back with titles at DreamHack Open Tours – albeit versus weaker opposition – and ESL Pro League Finals, where they took down SK in the semi-finals and North in a best-of- five final. They qualified for the major with an undefeated 3-0 record, but surrounding it went out in a lop-sided loss to FaZe at ECS Finals – in a ridiculously tough group, featuring both SK and FaZe – and most recently were somehow upset by Na`Vi despite leading 11-2 on overpass and 13-10 on nuke, both on defense.

All the tools are there to hoist the trophy. Both kennyS and shox remain some of the best players on the planet, NBK is likely the most overqualified role player in the world, and both apEX and bodyy are capable of taking over games at times. G2 are also SK’s kryptonite, boasting a 5-1 record against the world’s number one team, but often failing to reach the later stages of tournaments where FalleN and company await. Following their quarter-final exit in Cologne, shox told HLTV.org in an interview that G2’s problems are largely mental – which makes a lot of sense, given the history of French teams. There is a little time to sort issues out in-game before the major, but mental issues are different – sometimes they persist forever, and at other times a simple conversation can sort them out. And it is, of course, completely impossible to even try to gauge where G2 are from the outside.

G2 are possibly the world’s best team on cobblestone and nuke. Their first offline loss on the latter came from 13-10 lead versus Na`Vi last weekend, and they boast a ridiculous 10-1 record on the former. Curiously they have not found a recipe for consistent success on cache, a map shox’s teams have historically done well on, and despite kennyS’s AWPing prowess have struggled on train, where their only win has come against Tricked. G2’s permanent veto is mirage, and they can compete on overpass and inferno – likely the two maps that will determine their fate in Krakow. Teams should not let them play cobblestone or nuke, and they are all-but guaranteed to veto mirage and train.

shox.
shox is looking to break his major curse.

Despite their recent issues, G2 should finally end shox’s ridiculous five-major run of exiting in groups – ditto for the three-major run of kennyS. These are some of the best players in the game’s five-year history, and they are due another deep playoff run after hoisting the trophy separately under LDLC and EnVyUs banners at DreamHack Winter 2014 and DreamHack Cluj-Napoca 2015. It would be a shock for G2 not to go through the group stage, and I would expect them to lose one game at most. Swiss system will yield random match-ups and upsets can complicate things, but G2 are playoff-bound and could well be competing for the championship on next week’s Sunday.

Immortals

Brasilien Henrique ”HEN1” Teles
Brasilien Lucas ”LUCAS1” Teles
Brasilien Ricardo ”boltz” Prass
Brasilien Lucas ”steel” Lopes
Brasilien Vito ”kNg” Guiseppe
Brasilien Rafael ”zakk” Fernandes (Coach)

After having their hearts broken at the ELEAGUE major qualifier last December, Immortals finally qualified for a major by the slimmest of margins, knocking out HellRaisers in the decider. But following their emotional high in Bucharest, the Brazilians crashed out at ESL One Cologne in second-to- last place, defeating Virtus.pro in the opener but suffering losses to Liquid, G2 and Cloud9 to miss out on LANXESS Arena. Prior to the qualifier, fnatic destroyed them in the final two maps of a semi-final series at DreamHack Summer, though only after kNg’s monster-performance secured them their first win over SK offline in the group stage. In other words, IMT remains a very hot and cold team, with definite upset potential but no guarantee of minimum level of play.

Part of the problem might be how emotional the team is – their coach zakk mentioned it in an interview on HLTV.org, and one of their games at the qualifier was paused due to them apparently yelling too loud. Immortals are inconsistent, but at least they benefit from the highs as well. Since adding kNg to replace fnx – who came in as part of felps’s buyout for Brazilian rival SK – IMT have crashed out in groups at ESL Pro League Finals, suffered their first offline loss to Cloud9 at the Americas minor, upset SK and beaten mousesports to make semi-finals at DreamHack Summer, qualified for the major and crashed out in groups, again, at ESL One Cologne. They have recorded wins versus SK, Virtus.pro, mousesports, Cloud9 and G2, but also gotten blown out by teams such as EnVyUs, fnatic, SK, Cloud9 and BIG – with an overtime loss to Liquid from a 14-9 lead sprinkled in. There is no consistency.

Teles brothers lucas and hen1.
The Teles brothers from Immortals after winning DreamHack Summer 2016.

With two snipers as their stars, it is not surprising nuke is Immortals’s permanent veto. Their best map is likely overpass, while mirage has given them troubles as of late. The rest of the seven-map map pool is right in their inconsistency zone. Newcomer kNg has done well while splitting sniper duty with HEN1, who remains the biggest difference-maker on the team. Both boltz and lucas contribute and fill their roles, whereas steel has struggled despite giving up the in-game leader’s role. Put short, IMT have the ingredients to make the playoffs, but it is unlikely they will. Winning three of five requires some luck as an underdog, and you need to make use of every opportunity you get. That is the part IMT has not proven to be good at, and it is likely what will bite them in Krakow. With their peak at a high-enough level, it is time to focus on finding consistency, for without it they will never become a contender.

mousesports

Nederlanderna Chris ”chrisJ” de Jong
Tyskland Denis ”denis” Howell
Tjeckien Tomáš ”oskar” Šťastný
Spanien Christian ”loWel” Antoran
Estland Robin ”ropz” Kool
Ukraina Sergey ”lmbt” Bezhanov (Coach)

Following years of agony, including the stint mousesports effectively held NiKo prisoner in an ill-fitting team, the feel-good story of the recent months must have been ropz’s climb from FPL to the major. The 17- year-old kid has proven all doubters wrong with steady rifling despite lacking experience, and is clearly a top-two member on this mousesports team, though fully capable of taking over for oskar at crucial times. At ropz’s debut in Tours, mousesports took down Heroic and Na`Vi in groups, and stole a map from G2 in the semi-finals. At EPL Finals they escaped the groups, but got devoured by SK in the quarter-finals. In Sweden it was again the Brazilians of SK who knocked them out in 5-6 th place, and in Cologne they suffered the reverse sweep of going 2-3 and exiting groups, despite a 2-0 start with wins over fnatic and FaZe.

This mousesports team is good, despite still lacking experience in leadership with former sniper chrisJ at the wheel, and much-criticized German denis fielding a roster spot. The duo of oskar and ropz shoulder majority of the fragging weight, with Spaniard loWel chiming in as needed. They are not lacking skill, but they are tip-toeing the line where one of their stars having a poor showing could derail a tournament. It adds some risk in terms of consistency, and makes it easier to game-plan against them.

ropz.
ropz sure has skyrocketed in the past year.

While this mouz roster has tried all seven maps, their last outing on overpass took place two months ago – and it was one of their first two vetoes in each game in Cologne. On cache they are on a four-game losing streak stretching back to early May, and on mirage they have garnered a few too many single-digit losses. Meanwhile, nuke is a very strong map for mouz – as FaZe got to see in Cologne, where a 0-9 start on defense was their undoing – and they have looked impressive on inferno. mouz are happy to play train and cobblestone, thought results on both are arguably a little noisy. They have enough to work with, but much like the other Challenger teams here – save for G2, who should not be in this group in the first place – lack a go-to map.

mousesports are on the verge for playoffs. There are definitely enough teams they could beat that if a couple of things break right, ropz could complete his journey from qualifying for FPL Challenger league in August 2016 to becoming a major Legend under a year later, but there is an equal chance they will leave disappointed, as happened in Cologne. The other mouz players have no track record of doing well under heavy pressure, and this will be the major debut for both of the team’s star players. Odds say the Cologne-based organization miss out on the playoffs, but they are within an arm’s reach. Not a bad development, considering mousesports are less than six months removed from losing NiKo, one of the worlds’ top-three talents.

PENTA

Tyskland Kevin ”kRYSTAL” Amend
Finland Miikka ”suNny” Kemppi
Finland Jesse ”zehN” Linjala
Estland Kevin ”HS” Tarn
Polen Paweł ”innocent” Mocek

PENTA have not had much success since losing the German team centered around later-mouz- trio of nex, Spiidi and denis. The team made the playoffs at two consecutive majors in 2014-2015, but since then is best remembered for said trio keeping NiKo outside of mousesports’s roster to maintain a major spot. To start 2017 the organization decided to go international, and picked up ENCE’s suNny, former Kinguin member innocent and online ringer extraordinaire HS, who had never found a stable team in the past. The team won ESEA Season 24 Global Challenge over BIG, crashed out of GeForce Cup versus relatively unknown Swedes of Gatekeepers, and then lost to BIG in the grand final of the European minor. But PENTA defeated out EnVyUs and dignitas in Bucharest, and then qualified for the major with a 3-1 record.

kHRYSTAL.
Back in the majors!

It is unclear how competitive PENTA will be against the elite teams – they qualified by beating OpTic and Liquid, two inconsistent performers who did not make it, and then Vega Squadron. PENTA’s offline record does not include any wins over top teams – which they are bound to face in Krakow – with kRYSTAL and zehN having looked out of their depth already against the current level of competition. HS and suNny have really stepped up for PENTA, with innocent acting as the third wheel. Another issue they are facing is that their coach naSu, who has been with the team since GeForce Cup, will not be attending the major due to a personal scheduling conflict.

PENTA’s permanent veto offline has been nuke – a map many veto, and they could use as an advantage having floated it a couple of times successfully online. Given lack of structure, their best maps are traditional pug maps – cache, mirage and inferno. All of those allows their players to take over areas individually, go for early picks, and then regroup before committing to a bombsite. Overpass should be a nightmare for them, but somehow they have won it twice – likewise, their record on train is a lot better than one might expect of a team without a top-tier AWPer or a clear leadership figure. There are teams on this list PENTA could beat, but it gets much tougher in the Legends column. PGL will be a nice stepping stone and a chance to gain valuable experience, but it would be shocking to see PENTA advance. They simply need more time to develop.

Vega Squadron

Ukraina Dmitriy ”jR” Chervak
Ryssland Nikolay ”mir” Bityukov
Ryssland Sergey ”keshandr” Nikishin
Ryssland Pavel ”hutji” Lashkov
Ryssland Leonid ”chopper” Vishnyakov

Who knew of Vega Squadron before their infamous 16-2 thrashing of NiP at the ELEAGUE Atlanta qualifier in December? Practically no one. Teams say they have shown potential in practice for a long time, but for many that potential never manifests on an official match server, much less offline against a legendary team. After barely missing out on the major following a 12-16 loss versus EnVyUs in the decider, Vega Squadron fell short 14-16 versus FlipSid3 and 0-2 against BIG – following a four-overtime thriller on train – at DreamHack Open Leipzig in January, their first international tournament. And… that first international tournament is their last, to date.

The NiP-killers successfully defended their championship at the CIS minor a month ago, and came through in the deciding game in Bucharest with a 16-5 win over dignitas, a much more experienced team. Star player mir has a superstarish-rating for 2017, but it is obviously impacted by their lack of top-level competition and a tiny sample size of games – just 21 offline maps to-date.

The Russians do not play cobblestone and avoid overpass, but generally play the other five maps. They can hang their hat on the NiP win on cache – probably enough reason for most to veto it against them – they scored two wins on inferno versus TyLoo and dignitas at the major qualifier, and have had solid results on train. But if you take away those maps from them, they are stuck on nuke or mirage, which they have had far more issues on. Overall, Vega Squadron likely are not ready for playoffs – they might not even win a single game, depending on their draw – but their ability to score upset wins is now well-documented, and they keep trending in the right direction. A win or two this time around is still a win for Vega Squadron.

Final words

The second part of the mega PGL Krakow preview will be released in the next couple of days right here at Fragbite. PGL Krakow will begin on the coming Sunday with the opening round of the Swiss group stage, and last for eight days with the grand final scheduled for Sunday, July 23. If you haven't read the preview for Legends, you can find it here.
About the author
Tomi Kovanen, more commonly known as "lurppis", is one of Finland's most prominent Counter-Strike experts. Kovanen started his career as a player back in 2004, retiring in early-2012. During his active years, Kovanen represented teams such as hoorai, Team ROCCAT, 4Kings and Evil Genuises.

Following his retirement, Kovanen has continued to be an influential member of the scene, sharing his expertise as a columnist, analyst, commentator and a frequent user of Twitter (@lurppis_).

Header image: Helena Kristiansson, esportphoto.com / DreamHack

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Philips OneBlade CupOneBlade CupSponsored post

Which country has the best amateur scene? This will soon be decided

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The time has come to crown the best amateur Counter-Strike scene within Finland, Denmark, and Sweden in the biggest amateur tournament of the North, Philips OneBlade Cup.
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Fredrik "freddieb" Buö has united with his fellow countrymen in Godsent. The 23-year-old will connect from Epsilon and take over the in-game leading role, replacing Markus "pronax" Wallsten.
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We met up with Dan "apEX" Madesclaire from G2 Esports following his team securing the Dreamhack Masters title in Malmö, Sweden. Talking about their way to the final, how it felt to win and what is coming up next for the team.
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Counter-StrikeCSDreamHack

G2 win DH Masters Malmö over North

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The French have defeated North 2-0 (16-12 Inferno; 16-9 Cobblestone) in the grand final of DreamHack Masters Malmö.
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