The Underdogs of the Challengers Stage
The IEM Katowice Major, taking place in Poland, is the first big event of 2019. We will be seeing teams from all over the world and all over the skill spectrum competing at the 14th Major of the Counter-Strike: Global Offensives era. 16 teams will be competing in the challengers stages and only half of those will be advancing onto the legends stage. From former Boston major champions Cloud9 to new French super team Vitality, there is a plethora of teams to pay attention to this week and I will be going over a few of the underdogs that have shown the most potential coming into the major.
For the second major in a row, Spirit have managed to battle their way into a Challenger Stage spot. They finished the CIS Minor in second place, coming back after a loss to AVANGAR in the upper-bracket semi-final by easily taking down both Winstrike and Gambit. Their victory at the Minor notably also made them the first team to deny Gambit a Major spot since the organization's first at MLG Columbus 2016. I feel that they're a team being very underestimated by most, especially given the consistent performances we have seen in the past year from this long running roster. Granted this was the team's first LAN event since the FACEIT Major, which they placed 9-12th at in the challengers stage, we have seen them most recently dominate a few online qualifiers. Making it into season 30 of MDL, as well as qualifying for StarSeries Season 7. Losing not a single series at either of these two online events, it was clear from not just the team play but the individual performances as well that the team has finally found a consistent rhythm in their gameplay and are looking much stronger then they did when entering the FACEIT Major five months ago.
Spirits first game will be against ENCE, a name that can arguably be placed with the likes of NiP and Cloud9 in terms of their chances of making it to the Legends Stage. These two are no strangers to facing each other, they played a handful of times at online qualifiers last year, but are a team that Spirit have proven to struggle against during these face-offs. Given both teams map pools in recent months it wouldn't surprise me if we saw the two facing off on a map like Nuke or Inferno, two maps known for their slightly favored T-sides, which also seems to be were Spirit has the most success when playing. It obviously isn't confirmed what maps will be played, but looking at the general direction the veto could go as well as the fact that these first two rounds of games are Bo1’s, Spirit have a good chance of making things close against the favored Finnish side. There is no doubt that the primarily Russian team has a long battle ahead of them, but they are definitely an underdog team that has shown more than enough potential to be considered dangerous.
2018 was a big year for the Brazilian scene, from TeamOnes 4th place finish at the WESG 2017 finals to the formation of teams like INTZ, we have seen a plethora of the regions teams climbing up the ladders of the competitive scene and Furia just happens to be one of them. This iteration of the Furia lineup has played less than 100 maps together and we haven't seen them face much competition outside of the lower tiers of NA as well as a few of the better known teams of the Brazilian scene. By no means does this make them one of the worst teams of the event, in fact it can most certainly be argued that they even stand a chance against Renegades or TyLoo given the right maps. Especially considering the form we saw from them at both the Americas Minor, as well as a slight portion of the WePlay! event. At the Minor we most notably saw both Kaike 'KSCERATO’ Cerato (a player rumored to of been joining MIBR not too long ago) and Yuri 'yuurih' Santos shining throughout the tournament - both taking over the main firepower roles of the team to secure wins over Envy and INTZ. Sadly they were unable to beat NRG, the first place finishers of the event, and their performance against a team at NRG’s level is where my doubts for the teams true ability to make it to the Legends Stage begin.
NRG are considered to be a top 10 team within the competitive scene, in fact they are currently the best 2nd best within the NA region. Meaning they are at a level that qualifies them as more than ready to compete and attend at a Major. Obviously Furia doesn't need to be at a top 10 level to make it to the Challengers Stage, but being able to beat Envy or even Winstrike isn't going to cut it. If they advance from the Challengers Stage, they will be one of the last to do so. Luckily, their first game will be against a shaky Ninjas in Pyjamas lineup, their most recent result being an embarrassing 6th place finish at BLAST Pro Series Lisbon in December. A event they had double the time to prepare for compared to most teams in attendance due to their absence at the EPL Finals. Since BLAST, they have taken the time to bootcamp and there is no doubt in my mind they have been able to work through a lot of their problems, but it still makes me wary to trust them in a Bo1 against an underdog like Furia. This will be the Brazilian organization's biggest test since their formation in 2017 and they most certainly have an underdog lineup that can do some damage early on in the Challengers Stage. The biggest thing to watch out for will be if they are capable of handling a Bo3 in such an intense, high stake environment.
Out of all of the teams discussed in this article, Vega Squadron definitely have the easiest first game matchup to potentially start their underdog run with. They are also one of the few underdog teams of the Challengers Stage that can say they have made it to the Grand Final of a premier LAN event - StarSeries Season 6. They may not of taken home the trophy, losing in a Grand Final that they notably did not make too #EZ4ENCE, but they did walk away with a underdog run that will stick in the minds of CS:GO viewers for quite some time. It is hard to make a case as to why Vega Squadron should be a team to look out for in the coming days, a team that can mess with the balance of things, especially with the little play time this roster has seen since their amazing run in Kiev. However, one thing I can say for sure is that they are a team that seems to bite when you least expect it. Much like their logo, a shark, the team likes to take their time. Brooding in the dark until the fans, casters, predictors, etc. assume it's safe to announce that they won't be a threat, which was the case they not only found themselves in at StarSeries but the main qualifier of the FACEIT Major just under 6 months ago.
Vega Squadron definitely got lucky at the previous Major, seeing as they only had to play one best of 3 to make it to the Legend's Stage, and it will be interesting to see what they do now that they have to potentially play multiple Bo3s to not get eliminated. The Russian team seems to rely heavily on momentum to keep themselves going, and I honestly think the only way we see them make it out of the first stage of the major is if they win their beginning Bo1’s. I know it may sound ridiculous, saying an underdog team has a chance simply based on them getting momentum under their feet, but I honestly believe it is what helped them at the previous Major as well as at StarSeries. Oddly enough they are also a team that has had their best results at LAN events. The fans love a good underdog story, and Vega loves using this to hype themselves up. They are definitely my least favorite from this set of three teams to make any sort of underdog run, but still a viable opponent. Especially since they get to face a struggling G2 lineup in their first game of the Challengers Stage.