We're just a day away from the start of The ELEAGUE Major 2017, where 16 of the best CS:GO teams will compete for a one million dollar prize pool, but a number of teams go into the event with fractured lineups and meek expectations.
From SK Gaming attending with a stand-in, to the CIS underdogs, theScore esports looks at three storylines of the ELEAGUE Major.
Crisis of confidence
2016 was likely the most difficult year for a number of CS:GO teams and players, and a large number of them don't look like they've recovered from it. Unless the teams have pulled it together during their boot camps, many teams will go into the first Major of 2017 in a state of disrepair.
Mentioned prior, SK are attending with a stand-in, Team Liquid have never filled the void left by Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev, while Team EnVyUs' confidence is put into question even after their WESG 2016 win. Further, the Swedish scene is in disarray as Fnatic is a shadow of itself and their swaps with GODSENT have done little to refresh the lineups, not to mention NiP's absence from the Major.
With so many teams and players with questions marks looming over them, rumors surrounding the rosters have surfaced, which introduces even more pressure for the players. Rumors of a French super team have surfaced, featuring nV's Nathan "NBK-" Schmitt, Kenny "kennyS" Schrub and Dan "apEX" Madesclaire and G2 Esports' Richard "shox" Papillon and Alexandre "bodyy" Pianaro. As well as a report of Jesper “JW” Wecksell and Robin “flusha” Rönnquist planning to return to Fnatic.
This added pressure could also have the opposite effect as Eric "adreN" Hoag was a critical player in Liquid's semifinal run at MLG Major Championship: Columbus, though that would not be a common expectation for many players.
The stakes are likely higher for teams attending the ELEAGUE Major, as not only is a one million dollar prize pool on the line, but indeed the state of many rosters. Except Virtus.pro's of course.
The burdened champions
As the reigning champions of the ESL One Cologne 2016 Major and MLG Major Championship: Columbus, the pressure is on for the Brazilians. Not only will they have to defend their Major title, but they also have a chance to make CS:GO history as the first team to win three Majors in a row, however unlikely that may be considering the state of the roster.
Looking at SK's recent outings, they finished 3-4th at the Esports Championship Series Season 2 finals, 3-4th at ELEAGUE Season 2 and second at IEM Season XI Oakland. Strong results by any measure, which earned them 2nd-3rd place ranking in our power ranking for the Major, tied with Virtus.pro. However, there are some devils in the details.
The biggest worry from SK stems from their recent roster change, when they benched Lincoln "fnx" Lau and acquired Ricardo "fox" Pacheco as a stand-in. They only played in one event with this lineup, at ECS Season 2 where they finished in solid 3-4th, but fox's performance was not one that instilled confidence. Over the eight maps played in the LAN, fox averaged an HLTV rating of 0.83.
A lot of faith is put into the core four of the Brazilian squad, but their success at the Major will be contingent on how Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo will integrate fox into his system, and how quickly fox can adjust. However, there are inherent limitations to this as fox is best known for his AWPing, and with FalleN and Marcelo "coldzera" David on the lineup, fox will not be given priority, leaving him hamstrung on the roster.
It's now more a question of how much the rest of SK can carry, which they've done before. At the Columbus Major, the Brazilians won that event with two players performing just below a 1.00 rating overall, while at the Cologne Major their poorest performer was Fernando "fer" Alvarenga who averaged a 1.02 rating during the event. Although, those ratings are a far cry from fox's 0.83 rating from ECS Season 2. fox will need to step up his performance, otherwise SK's Major chances are shot.
The CIS Sleepers
With four teams at the Major, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) has the second most teams attending the ELEAGUE Major, which is less than the nine European teams, but more than the three teams from America. Despite their representation, CIS is not expected to have good placings in Atlanta outside of Natus Vincere. However, this has been the expectation in previous Majors but the CIS teams always seem to pull something out of their hats.
At the ESL One Cologne 2016 Major, FlipSid3 Tactics and Gambit Esports earned Legend titles after their respective upsets in the group stage. This time around the upset potential should be lower at the ELEAGUE Major, thanks largely to the Swiss format, but if HellRaisers performance at the ELEAGUE Major qualifier was any indication, further upsets are not outside the realm of possibility.
HR are the CIS team expected to perform the worst and we've ranked them last in our power ranking for the Major, but during the qualifier they pulled off some big upsets. They defeated mousesports 16-6 in their opening match, then upset Ninjas in Pyjamas 19-17 after a overtime. They later lost 16-11 to GODSENT and 16-10 to OpTic Gaming, but clinched their Major spot after a 16-13 win over Cloud9.
Both NiP and C9 were considered two of the stronger teams at the time and were shoe-ins for the Major, but it's likely these expectations are what undid their Major runs. The qualifier should serve as a cautionary tale for those facing HR at the Major and they should have the same level of respect for F3 and Gambit.
F3 took down OpTic in a best-of-one and defeated NiP 2-1 for their Top 8 spot at the Cologne Major, while Gambit arguably had an easier run as they defeated Counter Logic Gaming and Astralis in best-of-ones. However, Gambit are also arguably the strongest looking CIS team outside of Na`Vi, after the addition of Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko and Abay "HObbit" Khasenov.
Spare yourself some heartache and cheer for your favorite teams with caution if they face one of the CIS teams.
Dennis "Tarmanydyn" Gonzales is a news editor for theScore esports who enjoys whiskey, D&D and first-picking
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