An unseeded Swiss format once again delivered some surprises in the qualifier, with
had to miss the end of the event due to an unspecified illness. In any case, it is time to take a look at the sixteen teams at the ELEAGUE Boston 2018 major.
It is hard to know what to make of Astralis here. The team’s best player
Nicolai "device" Reedtz
has been MIA for the past couple of months due to health-related reasons, and
Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander
had to put through quite a few role-changes to make the team work around the vastly different skillsets of
Dennis "dennis" Edman
Ruben "RUBINO" Villarroel
, their stand-ins at BLAST Pro Series and ECS Season 4 Finals. In fact, the team’s former entry fragger turned semi-lurker
Peter "dupreeh" Rothmann
has taken over the AWP duty for the team, and he is going to hold onto the role at ELEAGUE Boston, despite dev1ce having made his return to the active roster.
While Astralis continues to be regarded as a top-four or so team, it has actually been almost a year since their previous win at IEM Katowice in March 2017, with just three top-two finishes to their names in the ten months after – and one of them without dev1ce in the lineup. The Danes have something to prove, though it could be worse if North had not had an even weaker year, and their title as the country’s best team was in question.
But the Danes remain an elite side through consistency, and that consistency is what is going to help them get through the group stage despite these issues. It is possible that the new-look Astralis will give teams trouble as their style will not be as obvious at first, and there are no demos to watch for preparation. We will not have a good idea of how high the team’s ceiling is until at least the group stage is over in Atlanta, but I would be surprised if they were not an easy playoff team. Look for us to hear more about them in Boston.
BIG’s by-far best-ever showing at PGL Krakow continues paying dividends as they got to skip the major qualifier and proceed directly to the group stage, with a higher seed giving them a reasonably good first round match-up and thus a better chance to advance to the playoffs a second time around. BIG has had a pretty rough six-month stretch following the 3-0 group stage run in July, and there is little reason to expect that to change now, even though gob b’s team has had more time to prepare specifically for their opponents.
The opener versus Liquid gives the Germans a chance for a 1-0 start, but short of drawing some very favorable match-ups in the later rounds of Swiss, it is hard to see a path for them to repeat their Legends placing. BIG remains largely a one-trick pony with
Johannes "tabseN" Wodarz
carrying the team to an extent not seen perhaps anywhere else in the professional scene, and the duo of
Johannes "nex" Maget
Kevin "keev" Bartholomäus
have not developed he way BIG needed them to in order to challenge stronger teams more consistently. Should BIG not make the playoffs, their friendship could be tested in early February – some international teams will come knocking for tabseN. Can they avoid a devastating loss?
BIG Clan Cloud9
The Americans took care of business in the qualifier as one of the two teams with a perfect 3-0 record, putting up wins over EnVyUs (prior to RpK being sidelined),
. The win over mousesports, with a 16-5 scoreline on train, was impressive, but otherwise
Jake "Stewie2k" Yip
’s team remains largely untested in 2018. That they have potential should be no surprise to any active Counter-Strike fan, but historically their issue has been maximizing that potential – and to this day the organization has never made playoffs at a major.
Will "RUSH" Wierzba
seems to think they are currently peaking individually, but relying on such interview claims has never made too much sense.
Cloud9 are set to face
in the opening round – getting paired with one of the other teams from the qualified, due to
’s absence at the event. It is a tough draw, considering just three (!) of the eight Legends teams are ranked higher than G2, per HLTV.org. It is another case that proves how broken the current system is, but everyone knew that already.
Looking at the field in Atlanta, Cloud9 look like they should be able to make it to the playoffs this time around. There is heavy baggage historically – as highlighted in the previous part – but few parts remain of the old rosters with the heaviest disappointments under their belts. The random draw will once again play a huge part in determining the fates of the likes of Cloud9, but there are enough match-ups that are favorable – or at the very least coin flips – that they should catch a break and finally end one of the industry’s premier organization’s poor run at the Valve-events.
Nikola "NiKo" Kovač
Håvard "rain" Nygaard
are playing all-but guarantees FaZe will be competing for titles at every event they attend, especially with
Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács
Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer
also putting together the kind of campaigns that on lesser teams would be in the conversation for tournament MVPs, given similar success. But the team has still looked a little off at recent events, with the ECS Season 4 Finals victory coming just barely over mousesports, Vega Squadron managing to upset them in the major qualifier, and Liquid with coach
Wilton "Zews" Prado
in the lineup putting up a damn-close game against them. Not always will the reason for weak showings truly be that they were not playing their game.
Short of civil war erupting within the team during the couple of days off, FaZe are a shoe-in for the playoffs. Critics will remember what happened at PGL Krakow, but only a fool would bet on a similar event taking place this time around. The pan-European lineup is the clear favorite to win it all in Boston, thanks to
having to field
Joao "felps" Vasconcellos
Ricardo "boltz" Prass
Finn "karrigan" Andersen
’s record against
Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo
could still come to haunt them in a potential playoff series. But given next week will only feature the group stage, there is not much to be said – FaZe should finish with either a 3-0 or a 3-1 record, and anything else would be a material disappointment for them.
Following months of successful online play, the Black and Orange put together valiant efforts at ESL Pro League Season 6 Finals and ECS Season 4 Finals, going out in the semi-finals of each. With former
Maikil "GOLDEN" Selim
having joined as the in-game leader, the team has a new look compared to the old fnatic teams, and thus far it has seemed to work.
Jonas "Lekr0" Olofsson
has continued growth in his form, but the real star for fnatic in late 2017 was
Freddy "KRiMZ" Johansson
, whose level of play in some matches made us remember his dominant version of 2014-2015 in the world-beating fnatic squad with
Markus "pronax" Wallsten
The Swedes have the worst possible opening match-up in Atlanta, taking on FaZe on the first day. From there they would need to go 3-1 to advance – a tough task without significant luck in the Swiss draws. Despite occupying a top-eight spot in the HLTV ranking, it is tough to predict fnatic to make playoffs when they could risk going 0-2 in a second-round match-up against Cloud9, G2,
or mousesports. They definitely have a shot to make the playoffs, but largely due to an incredibly tough opening match-up, seem to have a sub-50% chance.
The Frenchmen topped the offline qualifier with relative ease, scoring wins over
and Vega Squadron – the last of whom in overtime after almost allowing a huge comeback – to top their group with a 3-0 record. Unluckily for them, Valve’s love for randomness has paired them up with Cloud9 in the opening round – which means they are facing the third highest ranked team, per HLTV, in the opener, as a thank you for the strongest record in the qualifier. Meanwhile the very last team that qualified, Liquid in 9th place as replacement for 100 Thieves, get to play BIG. Go figure.
It has been almost three years since
Richard "shox" Papillon
, one of the all-timers in CS:GO history, made the playoffs at a Valve major. How depressing is that? ELEAGUE Boston marks another time when looking at the team list it feels like they definitely should finally crack the streak and get into the elite eight, and yet that is how it has felt practically every single time with this team. If not for their inconsistency across the tournament circuit – with group stage exits at multiple events in 2017 – it would be easy to chuck it up to much of it being in their heads. And yet, how could you go against them here? G2 to playoffs, finally.
It has been three years since G2's shox made the playoffs at a Major. Gambit Esports
While many thought losing
Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko
would be akin to a death sentence for the Kazakhstani power, Gambit have done reasonably well even after the Ukrainian leader’s departure, while his new team has mightily struggled. Figure that.
Abay "HObbit" Khassenov
has become a very consistent star player, and
Rustem "mou" Telepov
continues having flashy plays and maps every now and then. What seems to be holding Gambit back from reaching an even higher level though, is that
Dauren "AdreN" Kystaubayev
has not found the kind of individual form he had in the first half of 2017, when he was mounting a campaign to be considered a top-five player in the world.
The betting markets view Gambit as the favorite in their opener against Na`Vi, the team of their former leader. It is a big match for both – especially due to implications for the CIS rivalry – but unlikely to decide either team’s fate in Atlanta. Gambit have shown promise throughout the past six months, and it seems unlikely that ahead of the biggest tournament of them all – where they are the reigning champions – they would not show up with >100 hours on Steam and fully recharged. That does not make them a favorite, or even put them as a likely candidate for a top-four finish, but it should be enough to put them into the playoffs – barring nightmare group stage draws. And that is where the fun begins for teams of Gambit’s caliber.
Team Liquid Avangar
had a chance to put Liquid out of their misery in the 9th place decider match of the qualifier, but eventually
Nick "nitr0" Cannella
– who has actually had a better showing thus far than the deadly duo of
Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski
Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken
– helped the team qualify. Unfortunately, an otherwise exciting team is rendered largely uninteresting through Valve’s roster change rules, which force former Immortals player and latest addition steel to watch from home, as coach zews – whose only CS:GO background as a player came in the ultimately failed comeback attempt in IMT in 2015 – steps in for the squad.
Liquid could beat the likes of BIG and QBF – and luckily they are going to face the former in the opener on Friday – as well as the likes of Space Soldiers and Vega Squadron, but drawing those teams in the Swiss system will require significant luck. Any top team should be able to abuse zews enough on the server to grind out wins, even if Liquid get close, thus leaving the Americans’ hopes of advancing to the playoffs dependent on pure luck. There are eight better rosters competing at ELEAGUE, so it seems likely Twistzz will have to wait slightly longer for his turn in front of the brightest of lights.
The team built around
Tomáš "oskar" Šťastný
is in an interesting position. They won ESG Tour Mykonos last fall, and then came within a round from upsetting FaZe in the grand final of ECS Season 4 Finals in Cancun. In-between they crashed out at ELEAGUE Premier, but also scored two top-four finishes at DreamHack Open events, and won ROG Masters EMEA. They are clearly capable of beating even the best teams in series, and yet it always still feels as if they have more left to prove – perhaps partly because the scene itself has been somewhat inconsistent in recent months. Now is their chance to stake a claim to a higher place in the Counter-Strike hierarchy, should they advance to the playoffs.
Much of mousesports’s play is built around oskar’s incredible AWP skills. Both
Robin "ropz" Kool
Miikka "suNny" Kemppi
are star players, but their role on the team is to back up the Czech superstar, who plays the most important roles. It puts a lot of pressure on him to perform, though so far he’s been eerily consistent in keeping up to the task. Losses against Cloud9 and
rocked the ship a little at the qualifier, forcing mousesports to play the fifth and deciding round to cement their place at the major. It likely is not worth it to read into those two results too much, but everything counts, and it is good to keep their form in mind.
They face Astralis in the opener in what is their chance to prove the win over the Danes with RUBINO was not just a product of dev1ce’s absence, though that may well be the case. Beyond that, mousesports are one of the teams virtually on the bubble, where they are definitely good enough to qualify, yet two bad draws and a single narrow loss could be their undoing, in the grimmest of worlds. If they win the opener, mouz should be good – and if not, they still have a good chance. A Finnish player just might see major playoffs next week.
Na`Vi are backed up against a wall. Adding Zeus clearly did not solve enough problems to make a difference, and the expensive acquisition of
Denis "electronic" Sharipov
from FlipSid3 has not, as it appears today, have been enough to truly move the needle. The team’s win at DreamHack Winter was promising – similar to Gambit’s win last year – but their play in the qualifier did not exactly make fans confident. Na`Vi qualified beating just QBF, Sprout and Liquid with zews, getting destroyed by both mousesports and FaZe in their two tougher match-ups. Superstar
Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev
is, as usual, in amazing form – he finished on top of the statistics with 1.52 rating, +47 K-D and 1.10 KPR across five maps.
In a rematch of their 59 round overtime battle at DreamHack Winter, Natus Vincere take on Gambit in the opening round of the ELEAGUE Boston major. Not only will the game be a good litmus test for their form, following a couple of extra days of practice, but set the tone for the rest of Na`Vi’s campaign in Atlanta. Older fans still consider Na`Vi a lock for the playoffs, but their play in the past year really has no warranted that kind of security – they often get bailed out by s1mple’s historical level of play, but his teammates have left a lot to be desired with their play. Without
Egor "flamie" Vasilyev
at a near-superstar level, this Na`Vi team lacks too much firepower to compete for a semi-finals place – a tragedy, because it is a waste of what appears to be s1mple’s prime.
There are only a couple of teams in Atlanta who are clearly underdogs versus Na`Vi. Their peak firepower is so high that they can defeat anyone when things click, but that is exceedingly rare. Zeus needs to hold his own to not be a clear weak point abused by opponents – something the likes of FaZe waste no time doing. Make no mistake, there is pressure on this team to perform. Na`Vi are shelling out a lot of money for the team, and recently extended the players’ contracts. Tick tock, the clock is ticking.
Na'Vi usually rely heavily on s1mple's talent. North
Valdemar "valde" Vangså
joined North towards the end of the summer, the Danes’ honeymoon period started with a second place at DreamHack Masters Malmo, with a half-forfeited title at DreamHack Open Montreal and a top-four finish at ELEAGUE Premier boosting their stock towards the top-five region in the world. With pressure building on North to then deliver on their new status as one of the more exciting teams in the world, they all-but collapsed, finishing the year with group stage exits at EPICENTER, BLAST Pro Series and ESL Pro League Season 6 Finals.
The team’s star player
Kristian "k0nfig" Wienecke
has looked mortal in recent months, which is a bad sign – for all the talk about the additional firepower of valde and
Philip "aizy" Aistrup
’s never-delivered promises, North is a team fully reliant on the tactical playing style
Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen
has instilled in the team, and they do not have a lot to fall back on when that does not work. It seems other teams are wise to their antics, and despite being able to play nuke, and having learned how to get by on both train and cache as of late, they simply cannot seem to get over the finish line. Then again, their superstar player has finished the past three months with a sub-1.00 rating – who could possibly win that way?
North will face off with Vega Squadron, arguably the biggest surprise of the qualifier, in the opening round. That is a match they simply cannot afford to lose, and it is also one that they will take seriously after the Russians managed to steal a win from FaZe last weekend. The Danes have not been active enough recently for anyone to really know what kind of shape they are in – it has been well over a month since their latest offline match. But so far the North experiment must be considered somewhat of a failure, regardless of the number of impressions MSL’s stadium tweets have drawn – one year after the organization was built around the Counter-Strike team, more results are needed to not risk k0nfig being poached by their bigger brothers Astralis.
Quantum Bellator Fire
Quantum Bellator Fire might have been the very least likely candidate to qualify for the ELEAGUE major out of the sixteen teams participating in the qualifier, having come from the weaker CIS qualifier in second place, following a grand final loss against Kazakhstani side AVANGAR. However, they were the clear beneficiaries of the random seeding in the Swiss format – despite matching up against Na`Vi in the opener and FaZe in the third round, they were able to qualify with wins over Chinese Flash, an RpK-less EnVyUs, and finally fellow CIS qualifier team AVANGAR.
probably are if not the best, then second-best opponent they could have drawn in the major. It is unlikely they can mount another mega-surprise by advancing through the group stage, but given a favorable draw for their style of play – which is likely to catch opponents off-guard, as long as they cannot out-skill QBF too easily – a win could make it an even better international debut for the Russian side. They have nothing to lose here – QBF are playing with house money now.
SK Gaming are one of the teams who got absolutely bodied by Valve’s roster change rules, unfortunately for the second time in three majors – a travesty considering the long-term implications for their legacies, as long as fans and peers continue valuing Valve majors above all other events. As Thorin put it, SK are entering ELEAGUE Boston in Nightmare mode, choosing not to practice with felps ahead of the event, presumably to not risk losing form with boltz – their new fifth, with whom they quickly got back to the top after a couple of weaker showings towards the end of the summer.
Marcelo "coldzera" David
, FalleN and
Fernando "fer" Alvarenga
were ranked top-six in HLTV’s annual player rankings, which speaks to both SK’s strong play as a team throughout 2017, and the performances of the individuals. Last January SK attended ELEAGUE Atlanta with fox as their fifth – and still made the semi-finals. SK face Space Soldiers in the opener, and are a near-lock to make the playoffs, regardless of draws and some clutch rounds here and there. There is too much skill, too much experience and perhaps most importantly, too much routine – for almost all their competition. That FalleN boasts a perfect record versus karrigan in best-of-three series could be enough to even challenge FaZe for the title. But more on that later – I should get a new chance to write about the Brazilian juggernauts ahead of the playoffs in Boston.
The SK Gaming line-up will see felps back in action, standing in for boltz. Space Soldiers
The Turks managed to upset mousesports in overtime in the decider to clinch a spot at the major, but otherwise had an uninspiring showing. They gave Sprout their sole win in the opener, and got their first two wins against AVANGAR and Misfits, other near-bottomfeeders. That they came to Atlanta off an offline series loss against AGO at ESEA Season 26 MDL Challenge does not help their outlook. With
Ismailcan "XANTARES" Dörtkardeş
in form and the duo of
Buğra "Calyx" Arkın
Ahmet "paz" Karahoca
occasionally having good games, Space Soldiers have a shot to score an upset or two – as we saw against SK Gaming at ESL One Cologne last summer.
Engin "MAJ3R" Kupeli
’s side, they face the same SK team in the opener in Atlanta, and while the Brazilian side is fielding felps as a stand-in for boltz – without practice, a key consideration when thinking about SK’s form and potential adjustments – one would be surprised if FalleN and company were not ready for them this time around. Start down 0-1 among this field, and things get from bad to worse really fast. Without an upset in the other games, QBF might be the only team Space Soldiers could face as a favorite in the second round – and a 0-2 start is likely to all-but guarantee elimination before three wins. ELEAGUE Boston is the Turks’ debut on the grandest of CS:GO stages, but it is unlikely they reach the playoff portion of the event.
The Russians formerly known as
Ninjas in Pyjamas
killers had a strong showing at the qualifier, besting FaZe easily in the second round, and barely falling short against G2 in overtime. Once again
Leonid "chopper" Vishnyakov
Nikolay "Mir" Bityukov
played great, leading to suggestions they could be headed to teams with bigger brand names in the CIS region. But as Tgwri1s pointed out, Vega Squadron is the second-longest standing lineup in the top level of CS:GO, having kept the same roster for some fifteen months now. Chances are they might be able to stick together going forward, regardless of results in Atlanta.
Much like Liquid, Vega Squadron probably need some luck with their draws to be able to make it out of the group stage. Their great merit in beating FaZe could end up being their downfall – had they barely made it out against weaker opponents, perhaps they could be underestimated in the group stage. Now it seems likely North will put in extra effort to prepare for them; ditto for opponents in later rounds. It is worth taking a look at the Russians as they are a team we are likely to hear more about in 2018, whether in this roster or spread out among multiple CIS teams.
Does anyone remember Virtus.pro? Despite making top-four at PGL Krakow in July and barely losing to SK in an epic best-of-five final at EPICENTER, the Poles’ 2017 record included seven group stage exits in eleven tries, following the DreamHack Masters Las Vegas championship. There was even some uproar about issues within the team, as
Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski
took to Facebook to announce he will no longer be leading the team. There is a part in every Counter-Strike fan who wants the Plow to come back in top form once again, but it has been quite a while since the previous showing, and it appears there are longer and longer breaks as time goes on.
With that said, Snax and company have made it out of the groups at every major since after the very first one in late 2013, and seven out of ten times have made it at least to the semi-final. There are no guarantees they can any longer summon the kind of form at will that makes them a contender or even a shoe-in for playoffs – and there is some added pressure because the majors have, through their worst period, still been the one events they could count on. How much longer will the organization be content paying one of the higher salaries in the scene if the results do not come? Are any of the players in lower Polish teams, such as
, impressing them enough to consider a change? It is impossible to know, but I would keep that in mind when watching Virtus.pro – for once it does not seem like their future is set.
Facing QBF is a lucky break for Virtus, and could be the kind of added boost they need to make it to the playoffs in Boston. An in-form Virtus.pro squad firing on all cylinders can beat almost any team in attendance, but as that team may not exist any longer, some luck with the random draws could be required. This could be the dark horse team of the event – and almost certainly the team with the most distance between their highest ceiling, and lowest basement.
Once another round of Swiss groups has cut the field in half to just eight teams, the remaining squads will travel to Boston for the playoffs, set to begin on Friday, January 26. With a couple of days off for travel in-between, we will once again be previewing the next stage of the ELEAGUE Boston major separately here at Fragbite.
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 (