Who Can Beat Astralis at BLAST Pro Series São Paulo
BLAST is back with their first event of 2019, this time taking place in São Paulo, Brazil. From major winners Astralis to the struggling lineup of FaZe clan, we are in for a short two days of action packed games. There is no question that the previously mentioned Danish super team is the most favorited team to not only make the finals but win BLAST São Paulo. The real question is who can possibly contend against them for said title. Will ENCE prove that their major run wasn't a fluke? Will MIBR bounce back from their devastating loss at the WESG Finals?
Coming into the IEM Katowice Major, fans and pros alike were not entirely sure what to expect from the now entirely Made in Brazil squad. The last Major, and time, the Brazilian core of falleN, fer, and coldzera had played with taco and felps ended in a 3-4th finish at the Boston Major, falling to Cloud9, the eventual winners of the Major, in the semi-finals. It was an impressive result to say the least, especially since the only reason felps was playing was due to roster lock rules - creating not the most ideal position with both personal conflicts and the then SK Gaming's teamplay on the server. In Katowice we also saw MIBR finish 3-4th, the same place the core of the team have found themselves in for three Majors in a row now. However, this time around it was a not so surprising finish for the Brazilian super team. Unlike their Boston Major run with felps, falleN and Co, which got them to breeze past opponents like compLexity, G2, and Renegades, reaching the semi-finals in a fairly easy fashion before being knocked out 0-2 by Astralis.
Come WESG, there was practically nobody standing in their way of victory. Despite the likes of NiP and ENCE pulling out, they still managed to go out in 5-8th place. A much better result then last years WESG Finals but still well below the expectations of both the fans and organization. MIBR have yet to prove themselves to be a top 10 team since returning to their 2017 lineup and with their recent disaster of a tournament in China the actual level they are capable of reaching is still unclear. Despite how short the upcoming BLAST event will be, MIBR will still face some of the best teams in the world. Straight out of the gate they will be facing one of the more intimidating lineups of the event in ENCE, the underdog team who claimed second place at the Major. This will be the hardest set of games the reunited roster will of had to play and will finally give us a good idea about whether or not MIBR’s decision to dig into the past was a good one.
After pulling out of the WESG World Finals, skipping out on their spot at ECS, and even forfeiting a few MDL games we finally get to see the team that shocked us all in Katowice play again. The eyes of the entire Counter-Strike: Global Offensive scene will be watching the talented Finnish team to see if they can recreate the magic they sparked at the recent Major. With all the odds stacked against them, allu and his band of merry Finnish men came back from a 0-2 start and took down the 2nd and 3rd best teams in the world to get a spot at the grand final. Sadly they couldn't beat the final boss, Astralis, and fell 0-2 like many of the courageous teams that have attempted to slay the Danish beast. Although their Cinderella run did not end with a Major trophy, it did earn them a spot as the fifth best team in the world as well as the eyes and respect of viewers and professionals around the world. Despite their perseverance, it is impossible to ignore the mistakes that they made throughout their journey, as well as the inevitable truth that Sami "xseveN" Laasanen won't be able to consistently replicate the stellar performance we saw from him in Poland.
xseveN was without a doubt one of the biggest surprises of the Major when it came to individual performances. However, for a team that made it to the final, none of ENCE’s individual stats were very impressive. For example, before they made their miraculous comeback, they barely beat BIG to get themselves back in the game. On the CT-side of Dust2, their communication was in shambles. From a lack of utility usage to set up stars like allu or sergej to mis-rotations, it was incredibly hard to watch. Their second map against BIG was Train, ENCE’s best map to date. They started out 0-7 before finally picking themselves back up. It's like something clicked in the teams brain and from that point on, ENCE looked like their confidence had finally been restored. The competition in Sao Paulo, and the overall environment of the tournament won't be anywhere near as serious as the Major but it is still important to remember the Finnish sides mistakes. Now that they have had their name in the spotlight, teams will of taken the time to properly strategize and prepare for whatever they may throw into the battlefield and Liquid especially will be out for revenge.
Everything was going smoothly for the best NA team in the world up until they had to face ENCE, contributing to one of the most surprising story lines of the Katowice Major. Liquid was picked as one of the most likely teams to make it to the grand final. It can even be argued that they were one of the few teams who had any real chance of taking down Astralis if they had faced each other at the Major. Especially after their clean 3-0 in the group stage that ended with a stellar 2-0 against fellow tournament favorites Natus Vincere. Even with their star player Twistzz taking on a more support type role on the team, Liquid where seemingly unfazed by the changes in not just their roster but their game plan as well. Speaking of new changes, from the short time we have seen Liquid play with Stewie2k, it is clear that he is becoming more and more comfortable with every game that passes. He isn't the hard fragger that we saw with Cloud9, but he is definitely more consistent and looks more alive individually.
Liquid will be starting out against the hardest opponent to beat in São Paulo, finally getting to play Astralis for the first time since the IBP Masters. The CS:GO community has been waiting anxiously to see what they had in store for the Danish team since their win in LA and we were robbed of it at the Major. Now Liquid have a chance to set the tone for the rest of the year by potentially beating Astralis at a legitimate, large tournament with top tier talent and thousands of fans. Sadly, we don't get to see a rematch of Liquid vs ENCE until the final round of games, but it is a match that has the potential to be a grand finalist decider. This is assuming that both Liquid and ENCE strive in almost all their other games, and if that happens, the stakes will be just as high between the two as during the Major. This time around Liquid should be more than ready for what ENCE may throw at them and will even know the map they are going to be playing each other on days in advance. If they want to stay the second best team in the world, then they have to persevere here and make it to the finals.