Three Teams to Keep an Eye on at the ECS Season 6 Finals
The second ECS Final of the year will be taking place from the 22nd to the 25th, this time in Arlington, Texas. Eight teams will be competing for their share of the $660k prize pool and with just two playoff spots available in each group it is going to be an intense set of match ups. Group A consists of Astralis, Cloud9, MIBR, and mousesports while over in Group B we will be watching Liquid, Ninjas in Pyjamas, North, and NRG fighting for one of the two playoff spots up for grabs. From the resurgence of teams like NiP and mousesports to new rosters on Cloud9 and North, we are heading into an exciting few days of games. With so many different teams to follow, I will be going over a few of the most interesting storylines heading into the first day if matches.
Ninjas in Pyjamas
After their disappointing 9th-11th place finish at the FACEIT Major, the Swedish team immediately bounced back into action with three top five LAN finishes in a row, dominating two BLAST Pro Series events as well as EPICENTER 2018. BLAST Istanbul marked the first time they had reached a grand final of a big LAN event since winning IEM Oakland in 2017. Sadly the BLAST events are very rapid Bo1 tournaments, so their triumphs in both Copenhagen and Istanbul should be taken with a grain of salt. But either way, it is obvious NiP feels much more confident and comfortable with their gameplay. On top of these impressive tournament finishes, they managed to snag fourth place during the ECS season, grabbing the final spot available for the final. After starting out the season 0-7 before finally grabbing a win against mousesports, the ninjas put a tremendous amount of effort into saving their season. With such a significant comeback, a lot of pressure will be on the Swedish team to prove why they deserved the final LAN spot as well as whether or not they can continue their streak of decent LAN finishes.
All three LAN events I mentioned above showed us a different player from NiP stepping up their game and going above and beyond to carry the team. Lekr0 being the only one to have above a 1.00 rating on NiP at BLAST Copenhagen, F0rest finishing as the 11th best player in attendance at EPICENTER, to REZ having one of his best LAN performances of 2018 at BLAST Istanbul. It is nice seeing everyone getting back into the swing of things. However, what the Swedes really need to figure out is how to get most of, if not all of, their players performing at a consistent tier one level. Obviously not everyone can be playing out of their minds like s1mple or device do, but the inconsistency of the individual performances from the NiP players is one of their biggest problems. During the Copenhagen finals, the most recent tournament they attended, every single round that they lost was either by rotating or executing a site just a few seconds too late or simply from lost aim duells. The Swedes have definitely resurrected themselves for the end of 2018, and by skipping out on IEM Chicago, they will be coming into the ECS Finals off of a nice break and plenty of time to prepare for the competition they will be facing in Texas.
Since the American organization decided to switch into the EU side of CS:GO, things have actually seemed to be slowly heading towards a positive direction. After bombing out of the FACEIT Major as well as BLAST Pro Series Istanbul, Cloud9 finally found their permanent fifth player kioShiMa. Solidifying their transition from being a North America team to an European one. They have only played nine maps with their current five man roster, but they started it out with a bang at BLAST Pro Series Copenhagen. They only managed to place fifth but took home 30K after beating Astralis in a Stand-off match. Outside of this show match, they took home shocking victories against FaZe and MIBR and nearly tied against Navi and Astralis in their Bo1 games. At a tournament most people predicted Cloud9 to not even get a single win at, they definitely surprised the CS:GO scene and it wasn't even because of kioShiMa joining the team. In fact it was RUSH and Golden who stood out the most for the team, both putting up some of their best individual performances in 2018. However their attendance at the ECS Finals comes from pure luck, taking Renegades spot after the Australian team ran into visa issues. A lot of pressure will be on Cloud9 to not let this luck go to waste and to prove that transitioning from NA to EU was a good idea.
All that we really have to look at for this roster are the results at Copenhagen and it's safe to say that it is looking promising. Especially now that kioShiMa is officially signed with the team and they’ve had time to practice. Golden is an incredibly underrated IGL, especially after the rough time he had with the Fnatic players, and now that he's managed to also step up his individual game we should be seeing a brand new and refreshed game plan that Cloud9 will be running. He is young but a great leader, something very evident from what he managed to do with his short time on Fnatic. As for kioShiMa, we haven't seen much of him this year, especially with all the chaos of Envy dropping their French CS:GO roster. Despite these bumps in the road, as many long time viewers know, he is an incredibly strong supportive player. The ECS Finals will definitely be a huge test for Cloud9. Their group consists of Astralis, MIBR, and mousesports, three of the toughest opponents at the event. Despite this intimidating set of teams, Cloud9 have already proven they can hold their own against both MIBR and Astralis at BLAST Copenhagen. However their ability to replicate those results is impossible to predict. No matter what happens, this is just the beginning for this new and improved Cloud9 lineup and will be their first chance to show us what they are really made of.
Mouz are one of the few teams in Texas this week who not only qualified for the ECS finals but the EPL ones as well. Making a strong case for themselves not just online but offline by winning ESL One New York and placing 5th-6th at IEM Chicago. Besides a shaky run at StarSeries, mouz seems to be right back on track with STYKO on the team. In Chicago it was clear that things had begun running much more smoothly for the roster. They may not have won but they showed us a much more team oriented level of play that they had been lacking without STYKO. The team will be competing against Cloud9, MIBR, and Astralis for one of the two playoff spots available in Group A. Their first match being against MIBR, a core of players that Mouz have yet to beat since they left SK. However this time around they are finally playing with STYKO on the roster, a player who they had only lost one game against MIBR with in 2018 before his departure. All three teams in their group have shown signs of weakness lately, and mouz are not free from these struggles either. It is definitely going to be a brutal battle between all four and doing good here will further prove why they are a top five team as well as prove whether or not re-signing STYKO was a good idea.
It was clear that Snax was not meant to be a permanent member of mousesports, shoved into a role that only STYKO can seemingly fill for the team. Not even their first place victory at ESL One New York improved the Polish players chances of staying. His skill and individual performance dropped even lower than it did while on Virtus pro in 2018 during the few months he spent on mouz, and he seemed more like dead weight than anything else. Despite his terrible performance I think that adding Snax to the roster was somewhat a good thing. STYKO had been playing well below support standards towards the end of his time on the team and the move gave him a break to focus on his personal skill. It also helped mousesports as a whole, opening his teammates eyes to how well the young support player truly helped their gameplay. Now that STYKO has returned, the players are slowly transitioning back into their previous roles and strategies. No LAN victories have been achieved thus far - in fact, they had a terrible 9-11th place finish at StarSeries Season 5, but they did follow this up with a 5th-6th place finish in IEM Chicago. They’ve looked even stronger as a whole with STYKO back on the team then they did when winning ESL One New York. With some fairly strong showings both on and offline so far mouz are definitely one of the favorites to make it to at least the playoffs.