ESL Pro League Match of the Day - 10/16
With StarSeries finished, and teams successfully making it home, the second week of ESL Pro League is set to begin tomorrow morning. Coming into this week we have two underdogs leading the way in NA, Renegades and Ghost, as well as well known favorites MIBR. Meanwhile in the EU we have of course seen the Danish side of the scene strive with Astralis, Heroic, and North taking up the top of the scoreboard. With Natus Vincere looking to shake things up with their first few games of the season, and teams in NA looking to give Renegades their first loss, week 2 looking to be a very action packed week and my hope is to give the community insight on what I believe to be the most exciting game of each day.
Astralis vs NiP
The first week of ESL Pro League went in quite opposite directions for these two teams. The Swedish team, NiP, are now 1-5, barely grabbing just one win against AGO to prevent themselves from ending the first week 0-6. Before EPL started, NiP had just finished placing 3rd at BLAST Pro Series. A Top 3 finish to be taken with a grain of salt seeing as they could only beat the easiest competition there, Virtus pro and Cloud9. As for the current best team in the world, Astralis, they have been breezing past the competition. They are currently 5-1 and are coming in from a 1st place finish at both the Major and BLAST Pro Series. The only team to stop the Danes from a 6-0 sweep being Space Soldiers who took the legends down on Train in OT. Looking at this match-up, it comes as no surprise that Astralis are the favorites here and with maps like Train and Overpass being played it isn't hard to make a case as to why.
The first map these two are playing will be Overpass, a map that both NiP and Astralis have been incredibly competitive on in 2018 both on and offline. The Swedish team is currently 17-5 this year but have only played Overpass four times in the past three months. These all may be wins, but taking a closer look at the scores shows how much of a struggle each win was and explains why the team hasn't played the map in over a month. All of them took place at LAN events, but all of them also ended with the opposing team getting double digits. Going into OT against OpTic, and just barely hedging out wins against ENCE, Heroic, and Red Reserve are not the kind of opponents you should be struggling against if you plan on beating a team like Astralis. It is pretty evident that Overpass is a map that the Ninjas have found a lot of success on this year, but their lack of interest in the map and their inability to close out their games on it against such easy opponents makes me weary to say that they have what it takes to do anything more than put up a decent fight against Astralis.
Speaking of the Danish super team, they are currently 19-8 for the year and 4-2 as of the past three months. They have managed to keep their opponents below double digits in all but two games, those being their losses against North and MIBR. Most impressively beating Natus Vincere during the grand final of the Major to secure their 2-0 victory. However besides playing against Navi, they have not been very contested on Overpass. In fact I would say their two hardest opponents besides the Ukrainian team where the two teams they lost against. Losing to MIBR was a tad bit understandable, seeing as Astralis played the game just a few days after winning the major and ended up winning BLAST Pro Series anyways. But their loss against North at DreamHack Stockholm was quite unexpected, sure North had looked good at the event but Overpass is most certainly not a map that anybody would peg the fellow Danish team to stand a chance on against Astralis. At the end of the day, I do see Astralis coming out with the win here simply because of how much more comfortable they are on the map. However given everything that has been discussed, I also wouldn't be surprised if we saw NiP get at least 10 rounds on the board.
The second map of the series will be Train, which the two played against each other just last week. Resulting in a 16-13 win for Astralis. It is also of course a map that Astralis have very few losses on in 2018, coming into today's game with a record of 16-6 is definitely an intimidating number to look at as an opponent. Especially with almost all of those wins being against the best teams in the world. Train was a map that Astralis avoided for a while, but as of late have finally seemed to find their footing on. The past three months have resulted in six wins and only one loss for the super team. A majority of which took place in the first week of EPL and ECS. Which included their one loss against Space Soldiers, a team who just recently left their org. It was definitely an unusual turn of events seeing as Astralis had never lost a map to the team before that day. What was even more peculiar was that Space Soldiers had to come back from a 5-10 half as well as persevere through OT, and the Danish team is not know for giving up big leads. It is safe to assume that they were not in the right mind set that day, but coming into this game I am quite a bit more confident in their ability. Especially since they’ve had time to look at their mistakes in not just the Space Soldiers game but their close win against NiP from last week as well.
Ninjas in Pyjamas have looked pretty 50/50 on Train this year with 17 wins and 13 losses, none the less they are still a very competitive team on the map and have proven so time and time again. Especially given last weeks close game against Astralis who they were neck and neck against for almost the entire game. The Swedish team is currently 6-3 for the past three months, however like Overpass, each win has been incredibly difficult for them. Even when facing an easier opponent it is quite obvious how sloppy their games tend to be, a very concerning sign for such a star studded roster. With games against Sprout, TyLoo, and Ghost all almost ending in OT in recent months I would not want to be putting my trust into the Swedish team. With such a rough start to the ESL Pro League season a win here is vital for NiP if they want any chance of redeeming themselves from the first week. Having just one win under their belt is a huge concern and beating a team like Astralis on even one map would be more than enough to spark some hope for them. Realistically I think that NiP definitely have a better chance of beating Astralis on Train than they do Overpass. However this is assuming that they somehow drag themselves from the mental grave they dug themselves into during their first week of matches. A task that will they don't seem to be in the right state of mind to do, especially against the best team in the world.