Thorin's Gfinity CS:GO Invitational Preview
The Gfinity CS:GO Invitational brought to you by Omen by HP will see four teams competing in a single elimination bracket with all three series being Best-of-Five (Bo5). Bo5 matches are marathons which test teams' mental stamina, the depth of their map pools and significantly reduce the impact of a few moments of good fortune deciding who progresses onwards. To speak of this event requires one to start with the format, since it will dictate so much of the action which unfolds from the 23rd of September onwards.
For an underdog team like Epsilon, this is not just a chance to score some big scalps, with major champions and elite level players out there in the field, but do so in conclusive fashion. EnVyUs seek to prove that, despite their trying and almost entirely unsuccessful year, they are still of a different pedigree to teams outside of the top tier and can win on comfortable ground, having four of the five players who won Gfinity Champion of Champions, an event with the same format, last year. Mouz are tired of being just the NiKo show, as incredible as that show has been, and look to show the world how the addition of oskar has opened up their game and pushed them closer to tier one. GODSENT are filled with major champions, including a number of the most decorated players in history, but have yet to produce anything close to the kind of performance their names should have.
Gfinity CS:GO Invitational brought to you by Omen by HP
The Favourite - Team EnVyUs
Happy | NBK | kennyS | apEX | DEVIL
EnVyUs are a team haunted by the expectations their illustrious pasts demand. Were they a new team formed today, with these players in current form but without any results on their resume, they would be an exciting if confused group who were working to find a winning formula and emerge as a true tier one team. Instead, they are forever a disappointment to those who remember the level they entered this year in. On paper, they still have players who are capable of playing some of the best Counter-Strike in the world, as they show us in brief single map flashes or the odd series, but there is little to rely upon in any respect from the nV camp.
Who is EnVyUs' star player? kennyS has been returning to form, but is still not the dominant force he was over the first few years of CS:GO. apEX produces a monster series seemingly every other tournament, but that's only good for a single match and can't secure the trophy for his team. Happy can still put frags on the scoreboard, but requires his team to be successful for him to be in any way effective, practically the opposite of the dynamic one expects of a dedicated lurker. Without a dedicated star player or even an inkling of who the two best players will be on the server, on a given day, is there any wonder nV still struggle to bring consistency to their results?
Their style was famous for breaking the meta-game, ushering in an era when so many teams wanted to move towards a free-for-all style based around individual play and less routine. That was then, though, and this is now. No team has successfully made such a style work to the level of being champions since FNATIC, whose last title came in the first quarter of this year. nV are not even the best in CS:GO at their style and thus they rarely find themselves reaching even the top four, a spot which used to be a lock for the original line-up, who managed that feat in their first 14 offline tournaments.
EnVyUs come into Gfinity with a rare advantage: they are the team with the most factors pointing towards them winning the title. They have had a solid enough run recently, in the context of this year's form, with a top eight finish at StarSeries S2 and a semi-finals appearance at Dreamhack Bucharest. None of the other line-ups in the field can boast that kind of offline form. Skill-wise, nV should be bringing the most weaponry to Birmingham, so they will have the pre-condition of the aiming advantage, which has traditionally been the basis of their loose and aggression-heavy Terrorist side style. Finally, their map pool shows some signs of improving over the mess of even a couple of months ago.
nV's map pool is always a topic of concern with this particular group, as they had struggled to establish any depth in it ever since making the change to add kennyS and apEX. Even in the good times with those players, reaching major finals and winning titles, they heavily relied upon three maps. As they fell into their slump, prior to kioShiMa's removal, they continued to score their wins primarily on only three maps, with the specific three changing almost entirely. In 2016, their map pool has taken a huge hit, as the losses piling up have seen their win-rates across the board going down the drain. Surprisingly, nV finds themselves in a decent position right now as far as their map pool goes, which will give them a good chance at victory in this tournament.
Their two strongest maps are cache and cobblestone, classics from their Dreamhack Cluj-Napoca winning run and key maps in their Gfinity Champion of Champions win last year. On those two maps, they can in theory compete with any team in the world. They did manage to lose cache in shocking fashion to Cloud9, a team who frequently banned it and had not played it offline with their new line-up, in Bucharest, but the Frenchmen have still won four of their last five offline games on it. cbble has worked its way back to the top of the map pool again for nV, whose style fits the T side and the map's weakness to hard and aggressive all-in T side rushes.
Outside of those maps, nV has a developed a solid secondary tier of maps. On dust2, they have become an above average team again, something they had not done in the kennyS era. Train is not a map you expect them to win often, but they can at least play it and not simply suicide with force-buys on the CT side as they did earlier in the year. Finally, mirage has never been associated with nV, but they have shown close performances against teams like VP and even managed to take it off C9, who are specialists on it right now. Outside of overpass, nV's permanent ban, and nuke, the French side can in theory play anyone in the field on any of these maps.
In this format, with each team banning one map, nV can simply ban overpass or nuke and trust that they have a good chance to get their three maps out of the remaining maps. Assuming they get past Epsilon, which is a pretty fair assumption, they will match up well against both mouz and GODSENT in this format. The core of GODSENT loved cache and cbble as FNATIC recently, but have not looked like that intimidating force since leaving olofm and dennis behind. Mouz are known as dust2 and cache specialists, but probably only hold an advantage of NBK and the gang on the latter.
For nV, their humiliations this year have been numerous, and victory here is essential. Losing a Bo5 series to any of these teams may well be a notable final note in the song of this line-up's time together, with the entire scene awaiting the inevitable French shuffle that I've been assured will begin when the right contracts expire on nV or G2. There are no excuses for nV not to be playing in the final here and leaving with the trophy. Of course, this line-up have shown themselves specialists in failure recently, despite their previously impressive arsenal.
The Dark Horse - mousesports
chrisJ | denis | NiKo | Spiidi | oskar | nex (Sub)
The new line-up of mouz, with oskar, has never played an offline game, so comparison with their previous line-up, featuring nex, is essential to extrapolating how the Czech player's inclusion may change the team's strengths and chances at victory. Mouz had spent so much of the year as a team which relied upon NiKo playing like one of the two or three best individual stars in the game, and that was simply to have a chance at winning maps against the top tier. A look at their last tournament together, which culminated in their best ever finish, as they cracked top four in ELEAGUE Season 1, shows the blatant flaws of that unit.
That top four finish only looks impressive until one begins to pick apart the opponents faced and beaten. Mouz had to make their run into the play-offs from the Last Chance Qualifier, having been shockingly smashed by FlipSid3 and a miracle Shara performance in the group stage of the competition, and thus denied even an opportunity to gain direct entry to the play-offs and having to make it into the LCQ as one of the best performing third place teams from a group. In said LCQ, they began with an impossibly close marathon series against G2, who were using a stand-in, who had no competitive experience offline against tier one opposition, and it still took 108 frags from NiKo over three maps, two of which were mouz's best, to secure them a spot in the next round.
FaZe were a team who had their own issues with map pool and identity, yet the talents of that team still couldn’t stop mouz and it took NiKo, again being the best player in the server, including an unbelievable deagle ace, to get his team into the play-offs. Their one big scalp in the play-offs was against Astralis, a team with lots of history and some star talents but which had not accomplished anything of note with that specific line-up and has not started to look good until very recently. Against Virtus.pro, in the semi-finals, mouz were humiliated and tossed aside like the tier two team they so often resorted back to cosplaying.
oskar's arrival sees another legitimate star level talent added alongside NiKo. nex, the player replaced, had shown flashes of excellence in 2015, but had been a walking liability for the majority of 2016, especially offline and against top competition. oskar is one of the best players in the world once you get outside of the top 7-8 teams. Not only does he provide NiKo with a legitimate running map, who can put numbers on the scoreboard, but he puts ChrisJ into his appropriate place as a third star, not required to deliver big performances but capable of putting mouz over the top to a victory when he does.
Since joining the team, oskar has been the best player for the German organisation, admittedly with them only having competed online. NiKo remains a monster, but not quite at the superlative level of earlier in 2016. ChrisJ has been more up and down, but that is to be expected as outlined above. Spiidi continues to look serviceable and then fall apart, while denis remains the worst player in the team and continues to struggle massively to secure kills.
The map pool of mouz has been the most promising area of the team aside from oskar's additions. The old mouz were dust2 specialists, legitimately being able to claim they were one of the best at that map. In their last eight offline games on the map they were beaten only once and most teams chose to simply ban the map against them. Of course, that was the primary problem for mouz, as anyone who banned dust2 immediately neutered mouz and their chances at taking a series. Cache and mirage were both solid maps, but not exceptional and certainly not guaranteed against any top 10 team. Towards the end, NiKo and the crew did learn how to play train, but not to any level they could rely upon. Outside of those four maps, mouz was a complete mess.
Before they embraced train, they would inexplicably allow cbble through, despite being absolutely appalling on it. Over their last eight offline games on it they won only two, with one being that infamous multiple overtime abomination against F3 at MLG Columbus and the other against an Echo Fox , where the best thing about them was being owned by a former basketball pro. Overpass was a no go and they barely beat G2 with a stand-in there and nuke was never played. Mouz were a very predictable team as far as maps go and had no chance at all if they lose dust2 or cache.
oskar's addition has seen the map pool improved in some unexpected ways. Firstly, mirage has been their new best map, with them winning five of eight online games and their last three in a row. Cache remains a strength and cbble has amazingly been redeemed to become a solid map, with only a loss to NiP there, who are known to be good on the map. dust2 slipped early, but they have won their last three there, giving them a solid four maps to play with against most opposition. Interestingly, train has been the only map they have not played, suggesting the priorities for bans have switched.
Against GODSENT, their semi-final opposition at Gfinity, mouz have played them online already. They lost mirage and dust2, but took cache. That series will be a real potential thriller, as the teams occupy different map strengths across the pool and only really share a dislike of nuke, meaning it will certainly be removed. Mouz have had the better form online and has a core that have been playing together more recently. This event will show us both what oskar is capable of with a better team around him and how deep mouz's map pool goes with more fire-power equipped.
The Unknown Quantity - GODSENT
pronax | znajder | flusha | JW | KRIMZ
Every member of this line-up has won a major in CS:GO, a fact no other team in this field can match. Four of the five (flusha, JW, KRiMZ and pronax) were the best team of all-time, but it is that missing fifth player - olofm – the defining factor for GODSENT? When they were the best team in Counter-Strike, olofmeister was the best player in the world and hit a level of elite consistency not seen since GeT_RiGhT's early dominance at the game's birth. Without olofm, this core has understandably lacked some fire-power and seen their roles shift.
Once he asserted himself as the best player in the world, olofm put his stamp across the entire identity of FNATIC. He was the star player, the play-maker and everyone else found their own roles to fit the team's style and compliment his play. KRiMZ has never looked as good as he did when he was playing with olofm, on both sides of the map. JW was unleashed as the wild-card to take chances and create havoc for opponents, knowing the rest of the team played around olof. Finally, flusha was free to chill as one of the best passive players in the game and occasionally assert himself for more impact than any other team could expect from their third best player. Pronax was not required to frag much, though he was fairly decent in that respect for an in-game leader, and just focused upon keeping FNATIC dynamic in their calls. It was a formula that won three majors, more than a dozen titles and a mountain of prize money.
Without olofm, who admittedly hasn't looked like that kind of superstar for a while now, GODSENT has had to reinvent themselves and thus far, it hasn't been a pretty process. Rather than looking like the monstrous FNATIC of the back-to-back majors, they resemble the FNATIC which won Dreamhack Winter 2013, the first major, and featured a different four members of this line-up - everyone but KRiMZ. That FNATIC saw flusha as the best offline player, JW good but sometimes struggling to have impact and znajder playing as someone who should have been the third best player but was forced into an uncomfortable position of having more expected from him, to make up for JW's disappearance offline.
Online competition has been a mess and the team's first excursion offline, at StarSeries S2, was just as bad. The team finished 9th-12th in Kiev, hasn't qualified for anything online and generally looks like a team with nothing to look forward to but that next major, the spot for which they own thanks to having three fifths of the FNATIC team which secured top four at ESL One Cologne.
The biggest plus for FNATIC right now is flusha, who has seemingly slotted right back into his carry boots from 2014 and is playing at a high level, legitimately making him a contender for one of the best online players in the world. znajder and JW are good, but the former in terms of consistency and the latter in how high the ceiling of his play can be. KRiMZ struggles to look anything like the classic KRiMZ of 2014 and 2015, instead seeming more like the player who struggled when olofm was out of the line-up due to injury. Pronax has been appalling and as such the pressure on him to mastermind this team is higher than ever before, as he adds little else to their matches.
The best map for GODSENT has interestingly been mirage, a map FNATIC were not fantastic on since late 2014. Beyond that, there's not a lot of consistent strength in their pool, with train probably the next best terrain for KRiMZ and company, losing only to FaZe there, who are known specialists on the map. dust2 and cache are really up and down, depending on the day. Overpass is an example of a map where one must examine the specific opponents, as GODSENT's losses are not to tier one opponents and all of their wins are against relative nobodies. cbble, one of FNATIC's best maps, has only been played once, in the opening game of this line-up, as they lost to VP. nuke continues the FNATIC tradition of being their permanent ban.
The map pool and the current form of the players suggests that GODSENT will lose to mouz and not even contend for the title, as they will meet a mouz team who share similar map strengths. Mirage is far from a certain win against the new oskar-equipped squad. dust2 and cache will be closely contested and can go either way. Knowing that FNATIC doesn't play nuke, mouz can force them to ban it, removing FNATIC's ability to ban cbble. This leaves cbble and overpass as the other two maps to be played, which gives mouz a very nice opportunity to take cbble and a good shot at overpass. GODSENT have looked poor in all outings thus-far, so a full Bo5 series will show us if they are going to be a serious offline team or just a retirement home for legends.
The Underdogs - Epsilon
draken | disco doplan | freddieb | Rez | BARBARR
Epsilon are very much the minnows surrounded by sharks in this tournament, as they compete alongside major winners and teams who have played at the biggest tournaments in the world. This Swedish team are still in the process of establishing themselves, and have yet to reach the level of skill to compete in a $250k+ tournament, but their progress has been steady and they are better than their exposure level might suggest.
They did the rounds in the semi-pro scene earlier this year and couldn't pull off any strong finishes, but gave a good accounting of themselves against the better teams in those tournaments (E-Frag, Dignitas and SK.dk). Their real break-through moment came at Dreamhack Summer, where they failed to make it out of the group stage only due to having to play NiP twice. Since then, they've continued to climb the ladder and are now a team who are capable of beating tier two competition, even if they still have the occasional slip-up. They beat Team X, now Heroic, 3:0 in the Bo5 final at Pro Gamer Summer in China. At ASUS ROG Summer, they fell to Space Soliders in the final, spoiling the story-line of them cleaning up tier two tournaments to put themselves as obvious contenders to become a truly relevant team.
The big change since all of the aforementioned results has been the removal of xelos and the introduction of BARBARR. xelos was in-game leader of the team, but clearly the worst player in the side and struggled mightily offline. BARBARR is a 1.6 veteran, having at one point been one of the best up and coming AWPers around 2010. CS:GO has been far less kind to him and he has only worked himself into relevance this year and bizarrely will not be an AWPer in this new look Epsilon.
Before BARBARR arrived, the roles saw draken as the primary AWPer and disco doplan as secondary. doplan was a semi-lurker and REZ was the primary lurker. The entry unit was made up of freddieb, xelos and draken. With BARBARR's arrival he takes over being the IGL from xelos and also an entry role, but freddieb and REZ have swapped entry and lurk roles with each other. The AWPers remain draken and then sometimes disco doplan.
disco doplan is the player who has grabbed most of the headlines for this team, thanks to carrying the Pro Gamer Summer final vs. Team X and being asked to stand-in for NiP recently. He is a strong rifler for the team and has shown good performances online and offline. Still, for my money, the best player in Epsilon is AWPer draken. His strength is consistency with the sniper rifle and he has been the backbone of Epsilon's rise; the most reliable carry in the team. freddieb is a player who has been surprisingly poor online, but has come alive on a number of notable occasions offline and looks like the third best player outside of the internet.
REZ has seen improvement over the last couple of LANs to establish his value within the team, so that only Xelos was left as a sore point in the side and an obvious weakness. BARBARR stands as an obvious upgrade, at least in terms of fragging; he is a much better fragger online, at least in his past teams. Epsilon are a team where the general fragging strength will probably surprise some spectators, considering their lack of experience.
nV are a team who thrive against lower level competition, thanks to even their slumping players still being skilled aimers. With that said, the key match-ups to watch here should clearly be draken against kennyS and disco against Happy. If either can win their match-up outright, either directly or in terms of impact for their teams, then we have some interesting maps on our hands.
Speaking of maps, the pool for Epsilon really brings something interesting against nV. Epsilon showed themselves to be a strong nuke team, winning all of their games on it. Since BARBARR arrived, the Swedes have also done well on overpass. That leaves nV having to pick which to remove, since they never play overpass and nuke gives Epsilon a legitimate chance at scoring a map. Outside of nuke, the best map for Epsilon is mirage, where they have numerous wins and look all around solid. nV took that from C9 surprisingly at Bucharest, but otherwise have only just begun to develop that map in their pool, giving another opening for Epsilon.
cache is better than it looks for Epsilon, when you consider two of their losses came to an NiP who were once the best team in the world on it. Still, going against nV seems like it will be near impossible. Ultimately, Epsilon will need to hope nV go for the overpass ban, which will give the Swedish side a real chance on nuke and mirage. If they can score any other map wins it seems most likely to be on dust2, which has been a strong individual map for stars draken and disco doplan.
Epsilon can't lose at Gfinity when it comes to opportunity. If nV beat them, that's fine and any maps they give a good showing on will only help grow their names. If they can come close to beating the French side or incredibly manage to upset them, then it will go down as a memorable series for the year.
Gfinity CS:GO Invitational brought to you by Omen by HP
Photo credit: Dreamhack
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