Group A: So Many Questions

       Out of all the questions group A threw up, there was one that was barely worth asking. The few who were wondering if Renegades, with their new acquisition of Keith "NAF" Markovic, could achieve an upset in this stacked group, would receive an answer swiftly. They could not, and they couldn’t really be expected to. You’ll hear a lot about how this is the era of so-called “superteams” and Renegades were in a group where they had to face two of them. It was a tough draw, but ultimately, they knew that having swapped in-game leader duties and embedding a new player was going to take time. The fact that their first game as a line-up came against FaZe was a baptism of fire they really didn’t want, so they can at least go back to the drawing board knowing they’ve faced the worst world Counter-Strike can throw at them.

       Another straightforward question to answer would be if FaZe could finally start living up to their billing as the world’s most expensive Counter-Strike team. In an era where image matters as much as results, I should probably get a commission for every time I use that phrase, but with it comes a bit of expectation. There’s no doubt in my mind that FaZe should dominate competition for the foreseeable future as there has never been a roster like it in the history of CS:GO. Yet, we all know that sometimes lesser teams can become more than the sum of their parts and all-star line-ups can inexplicably, repeatedly fail. Here at ELEAGUE, at least there was no disappointment, two easy games and through to the playoffs. You can’t judge too much off two maps, one of them against ill-equipped opposition, but my gut tells me they’ll do better than alright in New York next week.

       So, the more interesting questions are about G2 Esports and Na’Vi. The former had been massively underachieving despite being the first CS:GO lineup to combine the twin powers of Richard "shox" Papillon and Kenny "kennyS" Schrub. Explaining this is one of Counter-Strike’s great riddles and the answer lies somewhere in the emotional mindset of the team rather than their capabilities. There has always been something of a divide in French teams, always an uneasy alliance between the fun-loving and flamboyant and their reticent, pragmatic counterparts. When these different personality archetypes don’t clash, the team will invariably be the most successful of its time. When it doesn’t, bickering and a lack of belief will see the team implode, dividing into two weaker entities, key factions vowing never to play with the others again. I’ve seen this cycle multiple times down the years and feared we’d somehow skipped to the end, without the successful period.

       Then came DreamHack Malmo. G2 topped a group that featured French rivals EnvyUs, fnatic and major finalists Immortals before they went on to beat SK Gaming, NiP and North to lift the trophy. It’s an impressive series of wins, especially when you consider they bombed out of the major in Krakow and ESL One: Cologne before. Few predicted the French to be picking up a trophy, but afterwards, many were wondering why they’d been so readily discounted. Schrub took over their key matches, showing he is easily the best non-FaZe player in the world, and the contributions from all of their team showed they have strong depth that few other teams do.

       Here at ELEAGUE, they battled against Na’Vi, losing the battle, but winning the war. For Na’Vi, the focus was on how they’d adapt to the return of Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko, whose stock had risen to career highs after leading Gambit Gaming to victory at a major. Breaking the bank to bring him back may well have seemed like a great move, but I am already starting to wonder if maybe everyone was getting a bit carried away. For starters, as things stand, I actually think most of Gambit’s players represent individual upgrades to this Na’Vi roster. I’d take Dauren "AdreN" Kystaubayev over Ioann "Edward" Sukhariev any day of the week. Abay “Hobbit” Khassenov is delivering the kind of performances that Egor "flamie" Vasilyev used to. Mikhail “Dosia” Stolyarov might well be a living meme, but right now he’s putting in numbers that Denis "seized" Kostin hasn’t for a long time, in-game leadership excuses notwithstanding. The thing that separates Na’Vi from Gambit, their true talismanic player, is of course Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev. Since Teslenko came back to the team, it is s1mple who has consistently delivered, now in the primary AWPer role he craved back in his Team Liquid days. Yet, all too often we see him do the unthinkable, putting up big numbers and highlight reel plays, only to see the depressingly familiar sight of him giving that defeated, knowing smile as he shakes hands with the victors. It’s a smile that says “there’s not a single team out there who wouldn’t want to play with me and yet here I am…”

       In terms of what I’ve seen so far from this Na’Vi, ultimately nothing seems to have changed. Perhaps it is too soon to expect different, but I’m seeing the same signs that led to Teslenko’s departure in the first place. The slouched body language, the raised voices, and the in-game confrontations. A drill sergeant is fine in the army, not so much in a classroom. It’s easy to forget that after Sukhariev, the oldest player is 23. Their star player is 19 years old. Gambit’s average age was significantly higher, the players in possession of more robust temperaments, so much so you have to doubt if Teslenko every really had to learn about the carrot to accompany his ability with the stick.

       So, in their best of three series it was little surprise that G2 was able to overcome their opponents. What was disconcerting was the way that Na’Vi capitulated after making mistakes, something they did on TBS against FaZe too. They’ll need to find some confidence and belief if they want to be much more than the s1mple show, but early signs are that Teslenko might well be wondering if he should have stayed put.