Top Three Teams to Look Out for at EPICENTER 2018
With the wild card spots almost completely filled, we are less than 24 hours away from the first day of EPICENTER 2018. $300k is up for grabs this week in Moscow, Russia and some of the best teams in the world will be fighting for a piece of it. Group A consists of ENCE, Natus Vincere, FaZe, and HellRaisers, by far the most stacked side of the tournament. Meanwhile in Group B we have Avangar, Ninjas in Pyjamas, Liquid, and the winner of tomorrows consolidation final between Swole Patrol and Virtus Pro. With teams like FaZe and NiP trying to rebuild, and Navi and Liquid trying to prove why they are the best in the world, we are going to be seeing some extremely competitive games in the group stage. Especially with the double-elimination Bo3 format taking place in the group stage. There are many interesting story lines behind the teams in Moscow and I will be talking about which three I think are most likely to take home the trophy.
The Finnish team is coming into EPICENTER with the organization’s first big LAN win under their belt. Shocking everyone in not just Kiev but the world with their first place finish at StarSeries Season 6. They lost just three maps at StarSeries, defeating Vega Squadron to take home the trophy in a gruesome five map final. ENCE had been pretty quiet since their third place finish at the FACEIT Minor, falling just short of a spot at the major but they re-entered the scene with a bang at DreamHack Montreal where they finished in second. It wasn't a huge event but nonetheless impressive for a team of ENCE’s caliber, and it was just the beginning for the young Fins. They will be looking to continue their recent run of success at EPICENTER, arguably their hardest event since ESL One Cologne. They will have to defeat and outlast FaZe, Liquid, and Natus Vincere, three of the best teams in the world if they want to take home yet another trophy. A daunting but very possible task for the team, especially with the recent performances that the young stars of the team have shown.
At 16 years old, Jere 'sergej' Salo is the youngest CS:GO player to ever take home a MVP award with a 1.25 rating over the course of 13 maps. The rising star was by far the best player in the grand final, sporting 103 kills and 83 average damage per round. It comes as no surprise that he was a key part of his teams success and victories throughout the entire event. However don't let the MVP award he boasts distract you from his fellow teammate Jani 'Aerial' Jussila who ended the grand final with 25 opening kills and just a hair behind sergej in terms of stats. Aerial ended the event with a 57% success rate in opening duels as well as the most opening kills of anybody at the event. With both of these young stars stepping up it comes as little surprise that they managed to win StarSeries, especially since the rest of the team has been holding their weight as well. I think that ENCE are more than ready to put up a fight against the likes of Natus Vincere and even Liquid, and I am excited to see how far they can make it into this tournament.
The Finnish teams first match up is a Bo3 against FaZe, an opponent that they have an incredibly good chance of beating. The once superstar roster of FaZe have been on a downward spiral since ESL One Belo Horizonte. This poor performance has continued into both ECS and ESL Pro League, currently sitting in 5th place in both leagues. Despite the rare form ENCE’s first opponent seems to be in, we haven't really seen them play a team at FaZe’s normal level. Even teams like OpTic and BIG, who they beat at StarSeries, are arguably slightly below FaZe’s skill level even when they are having a bad time. What we have seen is that the Finnish team knows how to prepare for an event, and they have a very good idea of what they need to do if they want to be successful here. Despite this being a smaller event than their previous LAN Events with only 8 teams in attendance, it will arguably be their most challenging. Luckily three teams from each group make it to the playoffs, and I am fairly confident that ENCE will have at least a top four finish.
After their second place finish at the Major, Navi turned around and went out 5-6th at ESL One New York. Their two losses against Gambit left many fans worried and confused, especially after their performance in London. However, I would not be concerned with the mess of a team we saw leave New York - in fact I think that Navi is one of the most likely candidates to win Moscow. The event was only three days after the Major grand final, which the Ukrainians lost to Astralis in an embarrassing 0-2 fashion. This time around, Navi will be coming into Moscow with practically a whole month of recovery time. They are going to be out for blood and to redeem themselves from the devastating losses in New York and London.
Even when playing well below their normal level, Navi was still above a majority of the competition in New York. They finished with a 1.06 team rating and Aleksandr 's1mple' Kostyliev was, of course, a top 5 player at the event. Ending with an overall rating just barely below that of Russel 'Twistzz' Van Dulken, the MVP of ESL One New York. Looking at the major, the Ukrainian team’s only losses were against Astralis. Which took place as their very last and their very first games of the event. Other than that, they dismantled every opponent they came across. Crushing the likes of BIG, MIBR, and FaZe, just to name a few. It is very obvious that Astralis are pretty much the only team that they can't seem to beat.
Navi’s first game with be against HellRaisers who are coming in from a very close 2-0 against Virtus Pro.The Ukrainian team should be able to 2-0 HellRaisers fairly easily, especially given what we saw yesterday. They are the obvious favorites to win EPICENTER and rightfully so. As of right now the only team seemingly in their way of a victory is Liquid, who they won't have to face until the playoffs. Swedish team Ninjas in Pyjamas could turn themselves around but looking at their attitude the past few months that is highly unlikely. Not even FaZe is in a state to take down the third best team in the world. Looking at their opponent it feels almost impossible for Navi to not be making it to the grand final of EPICENTER and would be a very good way to redeem themselves from their 2nd place finish at the Faceit Major.
It comes as no surprise that Liquid managed to choke yet another chance at claiming first place at a LAN event - ESL One New York was an extremely nice continuation of the skill they showed at the FACEIT Major. However both ended with the American team falling just shy of taking home the trophy. Liquid seemed to have everything lined up in New York, they had only lost one map up until the grand final against Mousesports. Yet the NA curse still haunts the organization, no matter how many changes they make. However EPICENTER is arguably less stacked than ESL New York was. With FaZe being in shambles as of late, their hardest competition is Natus Vincere. A team who as of late, have had a special kind of weaknesses against Liquid. This would be a very primal place for the org to claim their first LAN win since cs_summit 2.
During ESL One New York Liquid played 12 maps and ended as the highest rated team (1.18) in attendance, despite their grand final loss against mousesports. Four of the five players finished in the top 10, and Russel 'Twistzz' Van Dulken ended up going home as the MVP of the event. It comes as no surprise that these guys are by far the most successful and skillful NA team in the scene right now, but their inability to close out tournaments has really made them suffer. Across the board, Liquid has had amazing stats and performances up until around the semi-finals. At both the FACEIT Major and ELEAGUE Liquid ended up falling just short of a victory, however both times were also because of Astralis - the best team in the world, which looking at how dominant the Danes are, makes their inability to take the final leap of winning a tournament more understandable. Astralis is a beast that nobody really knows how to take down, and probably won't for a while. So for now, Liquid are one of several teams trying to prove they are #2 in the world and what better way to further prove their case than a win in New York.
Liquids first game will be against the second place finisher of the wild card qualifier and, like Natus Vincere, it feels almost impossible for them not to win. Liquid got very lucky in their group placement, being able to avoid ENCE, FaZe, and Natus Vincere until the playoffs. With the form that Twistzz has been showing and the all around teamwork and unstoppable flow we've seen from the NA team, Liquid have earned themselves the right to be considered favorites to win it all in Moscow along side Navi. The only thing standing in their way is quite literally themselves. The second/third place curse is still looming above their heads, especially after the loss in ESL New York against Mouz. The pressure of finally grabbing a LAN win for the org is getting greater with each failed victory, and this prospect will either make or break the team at EPICENTER. Assuming that Liquid doesn’t face Navi before the grand final, we should see them joining the Ukrainians in the final battle for the trophy in Russia this week.