A look at the ESL Pro League Season 7 Playoffs
The group stage went as most of us expected, the only real surprise being SK. A team that has been in rare form in the past month or so due to roster and role changes. Other than that the rest of the playoff teams where all favorites coming into the group stage. Moving forward we have Astralis and Navi advancing to the semi-finals as well as getting a day off to relax and prepare for their up and coming games. Meanwhile FaZe, Liquid, Mousesports, and SK have to battle it out in the quarterfinals to secure a spot in the semis. In this segment of my EPL coverage, I will be discussing the group stage results that we saw from the teams listed above. As well as how I think they will do going forward into the playoffs
FaZe have definitely proven they are here to win, starting out this event with a very convincing 16-3 victory over C9 on Cache. Niko went off against the NA squad, getting 27 kills and only dying 9 times. Cache is by far FaZe’s best map right now and they managed to get C9 to fall right into their trap. Everybody on the team was chiming in none stop with frags and nades, completely destroying C9’s economy. Leaving Skadoodle without an awp and the rest of the team with little to no utility to execute a site for almost the whole game.
Their second game was against Mouz, who they beat 2-0. Coming into the Bo3 I thought this would be a 2-1 win for FaZe because Overpass was being played, a map that has turned into a disaster for the team as of late. It most certainly wasn't a pretty victory, FaZe gave up a 10-5 lead and eventually ended the game at 16-14. However even with oskar and chrisJ going off (two of the more impactful players of the team) Mouz still couldn't compete against the godly team.
Their momentum and confidence quickly died when they faced Natus Vincere, who they didn't win a single map against. When a player like Xizt is dropping a 30 bomb and carrying the team on a map your opponent isn't even that good on, you know you that you have a long series ahead of you. Even with s1mple having one of his worst games in months FaZe couldn't win. Coming into Nuke, the 2nd and final map of this series, they looked pretty tilted especially when Navi got up to a 7-0 lead during the first half. Even when FaZe managed to win 8 rounds in a row, their hopes were not very high considering that Navi was now going to be on CT side with 7 rounds already under their belt. This is definitely the preferred side to be on, which definitely showed as FaZe only managed to win 4 rounds leading into another 16-12 loss.
If FaZe wants to stay in this game and not get eliminated in the quarterfinals, they need to take the night to cool off and figure out what went wrong. Going from destroying Cloud9 and Mouz to getting 2-0 by Navi in a matter of days is not how you win big LAN events. Especially since they will have to face Astralis if they want to get into the grand finals, they are going to have to step up their game big time. In the long run, I think that Astralis is going to knock them out in the semifinals and FaZe will be missing out on lifting yet another trophy.
The Ukrainian squad had a very easy start with their first game being against MVP PK on Mirage. Navi lost the first pistol round due to the quick and aggressive push onto A site that MVP executed, which led to them starting out with a 3-0 lead. However, as soon as the first gun round took place Navi took over the majority of the half. There were a few rounds where it looked like they got a little too cocky and underestimated their opponent which I think is something that a lot of top 10 teams do when facing a lesser opponent of MVP’s level.
Coming into the Heroic game, I had my doubts since this was such an unpredictable opponent that none of the teams really had time to prepare for. In an interview I recently watched, flamie mentioned that they only had a few hours to prepare to face Heroic. Giving them barely enough time to go over one demo. Their lack of preparation definitely showed, if it wasn't for the big game that s1mple and flamie had on Overpass we probably would've seen a 2-0 for Heroic instead of a 2-1 for Navi. Despite these struggles, they still came out on top and advanced to play FaZe.
So far they have performed very well, obviously having that close of a win against Heroic is a bit scary. However, their 2-0 win against FaZe to secure a semi-final spot eliminated any doubts I had for the team. The most impressive part of this was that they managed to win Mirage even with s1mple, arguably the number one player in the world, having his worst game in months. Zeus and Edward also stepped up to secure the first map against FaZe, two players that are normally sitting at the bottom of the scoreboard. Overall, Navi is looking like a very scary force to be reckoned with. Everybody has started to show up on the team, and the fact that they can now win a game against one of the best teams in the world with s1mple having a bad day gives me high hopes. I personally feel like we are going to be seeing them in the finals of this season of ESL Pro league.
Seeing Liquid make it out was no real surprise, they had by far one of the easiest paths to make it to the playoffs. Their game against Grayhound, a team that had proven just the week before they could win against big name teams like Liquid, was a breeze. They completely dominated the first half, overwhelming Grayhound on every site they took as well as ruining the Aussies economy from the get-go. The second half was much shorter but just as good, resulting in Liquid only giving up one round before closing out the game.
This is definitely a much more confident and stable looking group of players than what we saw at DreamHack Marseille. Against Space Soldiers they had a dominant performance as well, grabbing the 2-0 with little to no problem. The only concerning part of that Bo3 was the huge advantage they gave up on Mirage, which I think is something that we will see less often once they have had more time to practice their T side. Looking at their games the past few days, Liquid has definitely been focusing on their CT side when practicing. Their retakes have been very clean, rotations are on time, and counter nades to try and keep their opponents at bay are on point. What I have also noticed is that NAF and Taco usually end up holding a site together, while Twistzz and EliGE hold the other. nitr0 usually ends up by himself playing mid or a quick rotate spot. Basically, Liquid has a solid plan for their CT side and it has been pretty effective so far.
Their T side is a completely different story though, it was clear that they didn't have a lot of strats set up. Especially when they played Astralis, which was by far their worst game of this event. To nobody's surprise, they got manhandled by the Danish super team. Unable to get anything going on either of the maps that were played. Despite this brutal loss to Astralis, I still have high hopes for the NA squad. They should've had more than enough time to analyze the match and figure out what they did wrong.
Their chances of making it past Mouz actually look pretty good considering how sloppy the young European team has looked. Plus Liquid has pretty good LAN experience against them, granted it was with steel. They are going to have to do something about their T side though, Mouz is more than capable of exploiting an issue that big. If they make it past the quarterfinals they will have to face Navi, and their chances of winning that game are little to none. Navi is in amazing form right now and I would be surprised if Liquid didn't get completely stomped.
It is no shock to anybody at this point that Astralis has landed yet another playoff spot, starting out this event by crushing OpTic in a 16-3 victory. Their SK game was a bit closer, both maps ending with SK hitting double digits. But despite this, Astralis still managed to come out on top. Even with these being close games they managed to shut down the SK players, even Coldzera was struggling and he is considered to be the best player on the team.
Looking past that shaky SK game, Astralis came back the next day and completely demolished Liquid. They had a quick 2-0 victory against the Americans. Astralis has also picked up a effective habit of double nading just about everything. 10 seconds into the round and we would sometimes see players at half health due to it. It was even more effective when they were facing a rush, in those cases they would land two grenades on multiple players at once. The aggressive use of these nades definitely has made teams slow down and be more cautious when facing them on any map.
Astralis are the obvious favorites to win this event, but if they end up facing FaZe in the semifinals will they be able to redeem themselves from that frustrating loss at IEM Sydney? They looked like a completely different team facing FaZe at the last big LAN event. This is a semi-final though, so the pressure won't be as high as it was during the grand finals. Looking at their performance vs FaZes, Astralis are definitely the more confident team here. At the end of the day, I expect that they will be the champions of this years EPL finals against Natus Vincere.
Mouz had a very long and hard path to this quarterfinals spot, and even with their 2-0 victories over NRG and Heroic they did not look very confident. Their very first game against SharkS started out on a terrible note, the young Brazilian squad was up 6-0 and looked like they were going to send Mouz to the losers bracket. Luckily Mouz was able to bring it back after the SharkS players lost all their momentum.
They then lost 2-0 against FaZe who to be fair is a team they have always struggled against. FaZe is an amazing team, but Mouz in theory should be capable of taking a map off of them. We saw them make a lot of silly mistakes and on the second map everybody just seemed so out of it. Nobody was fragging, nobody was making plays, and the game ended in a disappointing 16-4 loss. In both the NRG and Heroic games, mouz won but they still had the same issues from before.
From Sloppy game play, to being unnecessarily aggressive, Mouz are having a lot of little yet impactful problems right now. this is something we saw happen at IEM Sydney as well. Overall I doubt we see them advance to the finals, they are a very good team. But looking at their competition they have a long path ahead of them, especially with their quarterfinal game being against Liquid. This is a team they have struggled against a lot in the past. Granted this was when Liquid had steel, but it will still be a very very hard series for them to win. Besides their obvious problems with their T side game play, Liquid has looked fairly strong since the start of this event. That weakness is something that Mouz will need to exploit if they want to advance to the semis against Navi. However looking at their recent performance and how messy their games have been, I don't see this happening and I see a 5-6th place finish coming from them.
The state of this SK team was very bad coming into this tournament, I did not see them making it out of groups. Yet somehow they have found themselves facing FaZe in the quarterfinals, however their method of getting there was quite chaotic and riddled with mistakes that wouldn't have flown if they had played teams that were actually at or above their skill level.
Looking at their Inferno games, they have fixed some of the issues they previously had on the map. On their CT side, they were able to hold B much more effectively with Stewie2k on the site. fer has also taken to being Stews “partner in crime”, holding most of the sites with him on a majority of the maps they have been playing. SK's double awp setup was super successful as well, however they literally relied on having this to win the rounds. For example in their game against NiP, as soon as their economy would get damaged and they couldn't afford the double awps everything would fall apart. They would just stop winning rounds until they could afford to full buy again. It is good that they have found an effective way to hold sites while playing Inferno, but a double awp set up is very expensive and they are going to have to find a backup strat if they want to see consistent results throughout their future Inferno games.
SK have also created a very successful Mid hold while on Mirage which we saw against RNG. They would have Stewie2k in connector and Fer on cat, creating two easy rotates to either site that needed help as well as control of mid. Right now SK has shown an extremely effective CT side on Mirage and Inferno and I wouldn't be surprised if this was the case for other maps as well. However their T side is lacking quite a bit, This is something that is just going to take time and practice. The T side takes a lot longer to learn and strategize on especially when you have a new player and a new IGL. SK has definitely made a lot of progress, but not enough for me to believe in them winning against FaZe in the quarterfinals. Even with all the mistakes we saw FaZe make yesterday against Navi, I still feel like SK aren't ready and that we will be seeing them exit Dallas with a quarterfinal finish.