Three Teams to Look Out For at the ZOTAC Cup Grand Finals
The summer player break is finally over and we are starting out the end of August with a LAN event in Hong Kong. 8 teams will be battling for their piece of the $300k prize pool this weekend in a single elimination bracket. There are many interesting storylines coming into this event, from new coach Janko 'YNk' Paunović on MIBR to young Polish AWPing star Michał 'snatchie' Rudzki joining Virtus pro. This is going to be the proving grounds for several teams coming into this event with new additions to their rosters. Today I am here to discuss which teams you should be keeping an eye on, and what to expect in the next few days.
The struggling Polish team is coming into this event with their newest member Michał 'snatchie' Rudzki as well as being fresh off of their 3rd place finish at IEM Shanghai. Making it their 2nd top 5 finish in a row at a Chinese event. Despite placing 3rd, there was a noticeable similarity between the lackluster performance we saw from the teams 8th place finish at DreamHack Valencia and their finish in Shanghai. VP got destroyed by young Danish team Fragsters and French super-team G2 in Valencia. Adding yet another early exit to their history books. Which to be fair was probably because they had just lost longtime teammate Janusz 'Snax' Pogorzelski and his stand-in, Piotr 'morelz' Taterka, was playing even worse than Snax had been while on the team. As for Shanghai, VP played HellRaisers twice; one of these being a Bo1 loss and the other being an extremely close 2-1 Bo3 victory. HR had no practice coming into the event and was playing without one of their primary stars Özgür 'woxic' Eker due to illness. After that, they went on to barely beat 5Power on both maps that got played and ended their time at the tournament with a sloppy 2-1 loss to TyLoo.
Virtus pro has looked even worse without Snax and Snatchie is coming into this team as what feels like their final reach for a solution. Well, a solution that doesn't involve removing the three remaining members of the old lineup; Jarosław 'pashaBiceps' Jarząbkowski, Paweł 'byali' Bieliński, Filip 'NEO' Kubski. Snatchie will be joining the team as (im presuming) their new primary AWPer, and is by far the best pick up the team could’ve gone for in the Polish scene. During his time on AGO, Snatchies performance as an AWPer was outstanding. His aim is pristine, especially on the CT side and his ability to constantly hold angles and consistently hit shots was a very big part of AGO’s ability to not only hold sites but retake them as well. Looking at Snatchies LAN results with AGO, he is very comfortable playing in front of a crowd and also performs his best individually. He has consistently been a top 5 contender for the leader-boards in AWP kills per a round, and opening kills per a round throughout each big LAN event that he has attended in 2018 thus far. It goes without question that Snatchie is the likeliest candidate for the title of best AWPer in Poland this year and will definitely be giving VP a new edge that they haven't had for quite some time.
In the long run Snatchie can make a very big difference for the VP lineup. Looking at the other youngest players on the team, both michu and Byali are filling their roles nicely. Michu has been putting up the numbers and playing the entry fragger role nicely. As for Byali, he has been the most consistent and impactful rifler on the team. With Snatchie taking on the role of the “main star” this is a team that looks very dangerous on paper. Especially with a veteran like NEO leading the way and being able to expand Snatchies already outstanding personal abilities. It is sad to say, but the weak link for this lineup is pashaBiceps. The legendary Polish player has been very inconsistent and seeing as he was playing such a vital role on the team, that is something that VP cant afford to let continue. Obviously the fact that he is now stepping back from being the primary AWPer means that he will have one more chance to prove himself in a different role on the team. Pashas time as a primary AWPer may be over, but that doesn't mean he has no use on this team. There is a lot of potential for the current Polish lineup occupying the Virtus pro org, it all comes down to when said potential will be fully unlocked. As well as how each players individual skill set gets incorporated into the grand scheme of things. VP’s performance at the ZOTAC Cup is going to be a surprise for everyone watching and will give us a good idea of how much work this lineup really needs.
The American/Brazilian squad is coming into this event from an extensive boot-camp with their new coach Janko 'YNk' Paunović as well as former C9 member Tarik 'tarik' Celik. YNk is the final missing piece that this team needed, the core of MIBR have been without a coach for almost 2 years now. A role that they've desperately needed to fill for quite some time now, especially with their map pool and player roles in disarray. As most of you know, YNk was an analyst (and a pretty good one at that). The year for both sides of the roster has been very lackluster compared to their runs in 2016/17 and having somebody who can keep them focused and help them properly practice is going to bring massive improvements to the team. However this is also the first of three big LAN events that MIBR is attending in the next few weeks, and the ZOTAC Cup is more than likely going to be a very experimental tournament for them.
This version of MIBR has only played one event since tarik was reunited with his former teammate Jake 'Stewie2K' Yip. Placing 6th at the ELEAGUE CS:GO Premier, ending the tournament with just one Bo3 win. It was very evident that the team had had no time to practice or prepare, seeing as they only managed to beat Cloud9 and completely bombed out against Liquid. Individual performances were bad, and the team as a whole ended up being the second worst in attendance. The only "good" takeaway being that MIBR had a 75% pistol round win percentage. Tying with Astralis for the best overall pistol round performances. Besides that though, there wasn't a lot of positive to take from the tournament. Fallen and fer just barely managed to end the tournament as top 20 players, however the main firepower of the team (coldzera) ended the event with a negative rating. It was coldzeras worst event of his entire career, he had never gone below a 1.00 rating at any tournament (both on and offline) before ELEAGUE. It was even worse for the Americans who ended as the 5th/6th worst players of the event.
Obviously the above stats/performance that MIBR showed us at the ELEAGUE Premier needs to be taken with a grain of salt, especially now that the team has been at a boot-camp for several weeks. Luckily the players are going to be facing Flash in their first Bo3 of the event, a team that is well below the tier 1 level. It goes without saying that Flash is not a team known for competing with teams of MIBR’s caliber, however they are an opponent that can (and has been) easily underestimated. The last match-up between these lineups was when Flash was known as VG.Flash and before MIBR picked up the former SK lineup. It was very weird to say the least; Cache ended in a 16-1 win for VG.Flash. In fact it was almost a 2-0 for the team up until the second map (Inferno) went into OT and SK barely scraped together a win. Train was definitely a surprise for everyone who watched, SK destroyed the Chinese team in a 16-2 victory. All in all MIBR’s chances of making it to the grand final are well in their favor. Everyone on MIBR will be using the ZOTAC Cup as a learning experiment, something they can use to work out any chinks they may find in their armor before attending the FACEIT major in September.
This will be Ghosts second LAN event as a team, and first time playing without Matt 'Pollo' Wilson. Kevin 'kRYSTAL' Amend will be taking his place and will be on trial for the next few months. According to Joshua “steel” Nissan on Twitter, the new addition will not change his role as a IGL and if all goes well with the ZOTAC Cup as well as DreamHack Stockholm kRYSTAL may find himself a permanent home with the American team. Ghost’s most recent big LAN (ESL One Belo Horizonte) event ended with a very disappointing last-place finish. However the four maps they ended up playing were also the very first that the old torqued core had played with new teammates Yassine 'Subroza' Taoufik and Matthew 'Wardell' Bowman. Now the lineup has had time to properly practice, but will they be able to compete in this single elimination bracket?
The addition of kRYSTAL should in theory bring more stability to their mid-round game. Seeing as kRYSTAL has quite a bit of experience playing team leader, he will also bring new ideas and a fresh set of eyes to Ghost. He may not be the flashiest player in the world in terms of skill and raw aim, but he has the brains and smarts needed to keep the team continuously and consistently flowing. His time with Imperial was short due to internal issues, but it was successful. Most notably grabbing wins against Gambit, OpTic, and Heroic to win DreamHack Open Summer. kRYSTAL and his teammates went 6-0 and ended the event with a 1.18 team rating. kRYSTAL himself ended the event as the 16th best player in attendance with a 1.05 rating, a successful performance seeing as he was the IGL. Compared to the other team leaders in attendance, he was the second best in terms of personal performance. Coming in behind hampus from Red Reserve. Now that he can focus more on his own personal play than having to constantly worry about the rest of his team, we could see his impact in games skyrocket.
Looking at the rest of the team (steel, Wardell, Subroza, Koosta), they have had their own little successes since coming together in this Ghost lineup. So far they have qualified for DreamHack Stockholm, and the current ZOTAC Cup. However their biggest achievements thus far have only been against Rogue, compLexity and eUnited. Their Bo3 sets against SK (now MiBR) and FaZe ending in terrible 0-2 defeats. The NA team has definitely gotten a bad drawing for their first debut with kRYSTAL and will be forced to face OpTic in a Bo3 that is do or die. However, keep in mind that this is the first of three huge LAN events for the Danish team (one of those being a Major). So anything could happen, especially if OpTic doesn't want to give too much away to their enemies before the FACEIT Major. Or if Ghost has some serious tricks hidden up their sleeve.