Group B Storylines

       Group B was mostly dominated by the story surrounding Brazilian team, Immortals. It might be the most spectacular nosedive in Counter-Strike history, a team that made the major final in Krakow just two months ago, now completely falling apart. It has nothing to do with results. The team remains capable of beating anything North America might throw at it and a good chunk of Europe too. Instead, this team has fallen apart for reasons that truly make little sense when held up to any type of scrutiny. Whatever you want to say about the sensibilities of professional players, you will find a slender minority that believes it’s acceptable to have late nights and consume alcohol the night before championship matches. Out of that minority, it seems three of them just so happen to play for Immortals. Furthermore, most would also accept that there are little grounds to defend a tweet threatening to “kill” another professional player over this observation. Worse still, if you actually go looking for someone at a tournament to enact your threats. Vito "kNgV-" Giuseppe hasn’t just doubled down on this by refusing to apologize, but he has almost certainly sealed his fate as a high-level professional player by choosing this hill to die on. All the hard work and high level performances are utterly meaningless if you’re a ticking time bomb who is always one tweet away from getting disqualified, or potentially arrested. Any organization wanting to take on that liability is as utterly mad as those making excuses for Giuseppe’s meltdown.

       And understand, this doesn’t come from a hand-wringing, virtue-signaling outrage peddler like we have seen creep into esports. I’ve been an isolated voice arguing for trash talk in and out of games, for young players not being held to unbelievably high expectations, and that esports doesn’t need to import a more mainstream code of conduct in order to succeed. There’s just no way to defend the collective madness or the swollen egos of those who would put a night on the tiles before championship glory, before their teammates who have worked harder than they have, before the fans who support them, or the organization that took a risk and paid them exorbitant salaries in exchange for the reasonable, tacit agreement of effort at events. This selfishness cannot be respected and I extend even less respect to anyone who would be willing to endanger the welfare of a fellow professional. There isn’t a rule that says we all have to like each other or get along, but some things have to be off limits.

       So Immortals came with Giuseppe, his visa issues posing further questions about his long-term future and potentially being a convenience anyway. In his place, a legend was drafted as a stand-in, which gave ELEAGUE viewers a welcome surprise. Raphael "cogu" Camargo is the original Brazilian star, a talismanic player who propelled his mibr (Made in Brazil) team to becoming the best in the world in 2006 and is rated by many as one of the top Counter-Strike 1.6 players of all time. At 32, it isn’t clear how much more gas is in the tank, but when you have that kind of pedigree, you’re always capable of producing moments, and indeed he did, even if they weren’t enough to push Immortals through this group. He’s not likely to feature in Immortals or indeed ELEAGUE ever again, but it was good that we got to include him in this piece of esports history. For Immortals, they will now be waking up to the fact they have bigger problems on the horizon than failing to qualify for ELEAGUE’s playoffs. The worst might yet be to come for model professionals Lucas "steel" Lopes and Ricardo "boltz" Prass, possibly faced with losing their right to compete at a major spot they earned if rumors are to be believed.

       This storyline seemed to overshadow the arrival of Danish team North. Not that long ago, I referred to them as the most underwhelming all-star team currently active. It was a just criticism. Despite a roster of some of the best players their country had to offer, big salaries and being backed by a mainstream sports organization, the team repeatedly flopped at tournaments. Even as recently as the major in Krakow, they labored through their best of one matches and then lost their first best of three to a team in terminal decline in the form of Virtus Pro. However, since the addition of Valdemar "valde" Bjørn, they’ve looked like a much more complete team. Prior to his arrival, the last time they managed a top four finish at a notable tournament was all the way back in February. Since he joined, they were finalists at DreamHack Malmo and winners of DreamHack Montreal, courtesy of the gift of a free map that Immortals gave them.

       I expected them to breeze through to our playoffs, but it was anything other than easy, not because they met stiff opposition, but rather North is a team that struggles to put games to bed. In their first match against fnatic, they built up a decent lead on one of the signature maps, Mirage. 9-6 at half time, and then at one point 15-9, amazingly, the game went 16-14 with the Danes winning by the narrowest of margins. This was followed up by a double overtime against the troubled Immortals team, North’s own brilliance hamstrung by basic errors and poor decisions. Still, winning is all that matters and I doubt North will dwell too much on the nature of their victories here. They’ll take winning ugly over where they were a few months ago.

       Fnatic was the real story of this group for me. Having made what seemed an underwhelming recruitment choice for their new in-game leader, academy player Maikil "Golden" Selim,, it wasn’t clear what direction the team was likely to take. The talent and experience on the roster is without question, yet recent placements would make you believe this team was ordinary, consigned to be an “also-ran” at every event they attended. Their performances at ELEAGUE might well be remembered as the start of their transformation, provided they can continue to be consistent.

       After the aforementioned narrow defeat at the hands of North, a game they could have conceivably won if they’d managed to not lose to just one more force-buy, they could have taken the scenic route to the playoffs. Keep in mind, Selim had literally stepped off a plane and drove through Atlanta traffic to hop straight into a game, something that makes immortals’ cries of their incident being jetlag-related seem even more implausibly pathetic, so there’s extra credit for them making it competitive. They overcame Mousesports, who were strangely flat despite a tournament win in Mykonos just prior to this, showing that Fnatic’s map pool might be deeper than first thought. Finally, it seemed that their new in-game leader was getting the most out of Freddy "KRIMZ" Johansson and Robin "flusha" Rönnquist, the latter delivering a level of performance not seen since the height of his mouse-lifting speculation. Following this up by putting Immortals out of their misery in two maps showed that they potentially turned a corner. Make no mistake about it, fnatic came to ELEAGUE as the team who were fourth overall on form and got through anyway.

       There remain questions of course… Did they get lucky, in the sense that they played a stumbling North, a Mousesports slightly complacent due to their first tournament win and an imploding Immortals? Sure, I think these are fair statements. Were they supposed to be winning any of these games despite these factors? Probably not. That’s how far Fnatic has fallen of late. It could be that their veterans delivered two performances that aren’t representative of what they will deliver next week, or the week after that, an insane series of fortuitous events, the stars aligning just to get them to the playoffs. It doesn’t feel like that though. It might not be a new dawn, but I’m sure fnatic’s loyal fanbase will take the promising signs that they are back on their way to being competitive again.