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Photo: StarLadder

StarSeries i-League Season 7 comes at the perfect time. It is the first 16 team tournament with a comprehensive format. While BLAST Sao Paulo was good, it’s still largely a bo1 tournament with a limited (albeit better) set of teams. At StarSeries, neither Astralis nor Liquid will be in attendance. This along with the post-IEM Katowice 2019 shuffle has made StarSeries Season 7 a stage where multiple teams and players have something to prove.

The Falling Elite

MIBR and FaZe are two teams that everyone should be looking at in StarLadder. Both teams have had struggles in their recent tournament outings, but what makes StarLadder unique is that it will pit them against a wider field of opponents in a bo3 tournament. This will be the perfect tournament to see if both teams can still continue to be considered elite in 2019.

In the case of MIBR, they’ve had ups and downs. After a bad 2018 season, the trio of: Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo, Fernando “fer” Alvarenga, and Marcelo “coldzera” David reunited with Joao “felps” Vasconcellos, Epitactio “TACO” de Melo, and Wilton “zews” Prado. So far the reunion has had mixed results. They had a strong performance at the IEM Katowice Major where they got a semifinals finish. They followed it up with two dismal showings at WESG (ro8 elimination) and BLAST Sao Paulo where they went 0-5.

While the community may have written off the MIBR squad after their performances at BLAST, I’m a bit more hesitant. While losing going 0-5 is horrid, the format of bo1s spread across two days makes it hard for me to completely condemn MIBR. One bad day can snowball into one bad tournament, especially with the added pressure of wanting to perform well in front of a home crowd.

For MIBR, they want to prove that they can be one of the best teams in the world. There is no better opportunity than this. StarLadder is a much better run tournament than WESG with a far superior format than BLAST. As that’s the case, we will see MIBR’s map pool and consistency tested throughout this event to see if they still have what it takes to be world titles. In terms of individuals, fer and coldzera need to step up. Fer still continues to occupy the aggressive entry role and needs to reach his 2017 form to justify that role over felps. Coldzera needs to become the player he once was in 2017 as well if MIBR want to compete against the likes of Astralis or Liquid in the future. Both fer and Coldzera are 50/50. Both showed up at the Major and neither showed up at BLAST.

The other elite side struggling to remain on top is FaZe. The name value on paper is still one of the highest in the world with players like: Havard “rain” Nygaard, Nikola “NiKo’ Kovac, Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovacs, Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer, and Dauren “AdreN” Kystaubayev. Despite that incredible firepower on paper, almost none of it has been realized in the server.

Since removing Finn “karrigan” Andersen from the squad, NiKo has taken on the in-game leadership duties. So far, it has been lackluster as he has yet to find a system that can make his players perform to the levels we’ve seen from them in the past. FaZe are currently just hanging onto their status as an elite team in the world. Their ro8 finish at the Katowice Major was labored. They then followed it up with a 1-4 record at Sao Paulo. For FaZe, they need to prove three things here. First is that their names on paper can be actualized into frags on the server. Since the start of the new year, none of the players outside of NiKo have performed to the level expected of them. Second is NiKo as an in-game leader. Since taking over, the FaZe clan have looked the weakest they ever have. Finally, the team itself wants to prove that they are still an elite team at this event.

The Major was not a fluke

The next two teams that have something to prove are ENCE and Renegades. Both squads had a great run at IEM Katowice 2019. ENCE made it to the finals of the tournament while Renegades made it to the playoffs. Both teams showed good teamplay, structure, tactics, and role balance. Among the various teams rising up right now, these are the two that look poised to knock out teams like FaZe or NiP from the higher standings.

The big question for both is if they can replicate that Major form. At this point, no team should be underestimating either of them. They will now face a level of scrutiny that they have never received before as the best teams, coaches, and analysts try to dissect, assimilate, and counter their play.

So far ENCE seem to be doing just fine. At BLAST Sao Paulo they had a 3-1-1 record and were tied with Liquid for second place. They only lost out due to the round differential (which is a meaningless stat in quantifying skill levels between teams). While ENCE fans want to point to BLAST as the tournament that has shown that ENCE are the real deal, for me StarLadder is that event. Unlike BLAST, StarLadder is a week long tournament with a bo3 format. This is a much better test of consistency and map pool for the team and this is the tournament that will start to solidify ENCE as one of the best teams in the world.

Individually, the key players to look out for are Jere “sergej” Salo, Sami “xseveN” Laasanen, and Justin “jks” Savage. At BLAST, xseveN came back down to earth, but sergej’s form recovered and easily filled the firepower gap. While that was a great sign, I want to see how ENCE do in an elongated tournament with bo3s played throughout. As for jks, he has become the star player of Renegades and looks to potentially break through as a consistent star on the world stage.

The Major was a fluke

Where ENCE and Renegades want to prove that the Major was a fluke, there are many other teams that want to prove it was. In this case, they are: BIG, NRG, and Fnatic. BIG was hyped up to become a world contender after they recruited Can “XANTARES” Dortkardes. At IEM Katowice 2019. However they made a change to the roster weeks before the Major happened as Owen “smooya” Butterfield was benched and Johannes “nex” Maget came into the roster. The move failed as they went 0-3 in the Legends Stage as they lost to Vitality, G2, and ENCE 1-2.

If the Major was a upset for BIG, it was a disaster for NRG and Fnatic. NRG qualified for the Legends Stage, but were eliminated by NiP, AVANGAR, and coL 0-2. It was a massive upset where Peter “stanislaw” Jarguz dropped 45 on nuke to will his team over NRG. In the aftermath of the event, NRG benched Jacob “FugLy” Medina and replaced him with Tarik “tarik” Celik. NRG now have more firepower than ever before and a wildcard player in tarik. This move was made to push NRG to the next level and StarSeries it he perfect place to see the potential that this new lineup has.

While the Major was a disaster for NRG, it was like a terrible storm. In comparison, Fnatic’s fall at the Major felt like a biblical flood. They failed to make the Legends stage at all as they were eliminated 1-3 in the Challengers Stage. This was even more unforgivable as they were ranked the number one seed going in and were thus given easier opponents. Fnatic have decided to stick it out with their current roster as they still believe in the potential of their current lineup.

BIG, NRG, and Fnatic all want to prove that the Major wasn’t a fluke. That it was just one bad tournament and that they are still among the top teams in the world.

The Minor Players

The last remaining teams that people should look out for are: North, TyLoo, and Vitality. Each of them is trying to solve an inherent problem in their current lineup. In the case of North, they’ve been consistently disappointing since they removed Mathias “MSL” Lauridsen from the lineup. They had a meltdown of epic proportions as they failed to make it out of quadruple elimination. They were one of the favorites to make it out of the EU Minor, but failed to get either slot, but managed to get third. After getting third, they got seeded into the 3rd place play-in where they got two more chances to advance. North were then eliminated by VICI Gaming twice, once in a bo1 and the second time in a bo3. For North, their inexplicable ability to play worse than expected is something they want to fix. To do that, they’ve instituted a new coach, Torbjuorn “mithR” Nyborg. We’ll have to see if North can become a legitimate world force again or if reddit will continue to spam the handicapped emojis.

The second team looking to prove itself here is TyLoo. TyLoo has made multiple changes in their roster at the beginning of 2019 as they created the ultimate Asian All-star team. Their current lineup consists of: HaoWen “somebody” Xu, Hansel “BnTeT” Ferdinand, Kevin “xccurate” Susanto, YuLun “Summer” Cai, and YuanZhang “Attacker” Sheng. In terms of raw firepower, they are easily a top 10 team in the world. What holds them back is their teamplay and chemistry. That is why they also recruited Ivan “Johnta” Shevtsov as coach. His track record seems fairly strong as he has coached HellRaisers from 2017-2018 and many of his lineups overperformed. If he was able to institute a system into the squad, then TyLoo could become a real world threat.

The final team to look at is Vitality. The two focal points of Vitality are: Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut and Nathan “NBK” Schmitt. ZywOo has been hailed as the next big thing, the French phenom that has the potential to become a world superstar. Thus far, he’s done a spectacular job given how young his career is. For all of his ability though, it only emphasizes the lack of leadership that Vitality desperately need.

It has been five months since NBK has fully committed to becoming the in-game leader of Vitality. The team has a good amount of name value with players like NBK, ZywOo, Dan “apEX” Madesclaire, and Cedric “RpK” Guipouy. The problem is that they haven’t figured out a consistent team identity that can enable that talent. The responsibility of that failure lies with NBK. While still a good player, he hasn’t been able to make Vitality a strong unit, whether that’s through teamplay or tactics. If Vitality is to succeed, then it will all come down to how NBK can grow as an in-game leader. If he can, then they can put French CS on the map again. If they can’t, they’ll be doomed to mediocrity.

Something to Prove

The CS:GO tournament circuit is starting to get underway. StarLadder i-League Season 7 is set at the perfect time. Two of the big world powers are missing: Astralis and Liquid. This makes StarLadder i-League the perfect proving grounds for all teams in attendance. The field is wide open and every team will get their chance to prove their worth.

For teams like MIBR and FaZe want to prove that they are still elite sides in the world. If ENCE go big here, they will solidify their spot as one of the top teams in the world. Renegades wants to prove that their Major wasn’t a fluke, that they are now a consistent international playoff team. Teams like NRG, BIG, and Fnatic want to prove that their performance at the Major was a blip on the radar, that they are still strong teams in international Counter-Strike. Teams like North, Vitality, and TyLoo want to break past their limits and get to the next level.

Everyone has dreams and goals, but competition is ruthless. It doesn’t matter how badly you want it, teams have to prove that they are good enough to get it. By the end of this tournament, we’ll see which teams will have proven their worth and which will have fallen short of their mark.

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