Written by: Alex "MACHINE" Richardson
Twitter: @MACHINEgg

       Summer of 2018 has put the Counter-Strike scene in a very interesting place. ELEAGUE CS:GO Premier 2018 has the potential to answer a lot of questions the community has, ahead of the major.

       It would be foolish not to start the conversation with the dominant Danes, Astralis. This is a team that has shown just how far professionalism, resilience, and synergy can push a roster of players. Any tournament sans-Astralis struggles to muster the credibility of gauging the ever-shifting world rankings. The team is, however, yet to firmly sit on the Counter-Strike throne, and they thus enter the ELEAGUE studio with the intention of silencing the usurpers.

Faze

       Astralis comes into this tournament with just two clear rivals, Natus Vincere and FaZe Clan. Both of these teams find themselves housed in Group B, separate from the Danish vikings until playoffs. NaVi, one of the house names of competitive Counter-Strike, have been subtly crawling up the rankings throughout the summer, boasting three back-to-back, six-figure prizes. The first two of these wins garnered some reservations due to the absence of some of the scenes' hardest hitters. That changed with their most recent trophy; ESL One Cologne was a stacked tournament with a forgiving format. Despite all of NaVi's rivals in attendance, the trophy was hoisted above the Russian and Ukrainian players' own heads.

       A team which many expected to step onto the grand final stage in Germany are set for greatness here in Atlanta: FaZe Clan. A team forged for one purpose - total domination - FaZe jerseys are handed out only to the strongest players around the globe, who have so far united to establish the scene's first successful international squad. This team have been dealt some tough hands this year. One of their stars and 2015's headline act, olofmeister, was forced to take time away from the rise to greatness due to personal reasons as well as an injury. Despite this, FaZe still found themselves lifting multiple trophies with a different stand-in every time. On July 10, the announcement FaZe fans and players had been waiting for was finally made: the Swedish superstar would be returning to the starting five. His debut after almost four months out of the limelight is set to be at ELEAGUE Premier, a promise that certainly puts a lot of eyes on FaZe. How is olof's individual form after spending so much time out of competition? Will his return drive the team forward immediately, or will the players need time to acclimate to each other's playstyles once again? These questions are set to be answered tomorrow on the 21st.

       Outside of this trio of powerful teams are many names that those who have not stayed entirely up to date with Counter-Strike over the last months may be surprised not to see in the conversation for favorites.

SK

       Group A houses perhaps one of the most exciting questions of the 2018 Premier. After a turbulent end to their time at SK Gaming, the Brazilian core that made up Luminosity at ELEAGUE two years ago, now fly the 'Made in Brazil' banner, or MIBR. Despite the name, the team has brought some North American sauce to their Brazilian BBQ. Stewie2K's presence in the roster, for example, was seen by many as an irresponsible gamble, and MIBR's merely intermittent success validated some of those concerns initially. Nevertheless, just one week prior to the kick-off of the ELEAGUE Premier, an announcement was made that had previously lived as only whispers and cryptic tweets. Tarik, Stewie2K's partner in crime for close to 8 months at Cloud9, would be taking the spot of boltz; the initial Stewie move was revealed to have only been half of the desired deal. Autimatic (who is competing for Cloud9 here in Atlanta), was presented with the same offer, however he elected to stay with the reigning major champions instead. Is this the realization of the mixed roster that FalleN envisioned? Will the team find new energy with the removal of a player they had clearly been intending to drop for a while? Will tarik fill the void that boltz left behind? ELEAGUE Premier will provide us with a first taste at how the new MIBR operates.

       Alongside MIBR and Astralis, North America's two titans join the fray. A hamstrung Cloud9 has been shopping for free agents to field a five-man roster for ELEAGUE since MIBR's multiple uppercuts to the Cloud9 organization. Just four days before the event was set to begin, Cloud9 revealed that Fnatic and Mousesports' (both also in attendance) recent rejects will be donning the C9 jersey in Atlanta. The potential for upsets has far more than just prize money at stake.

       Team Liquid, who have recently taken the 'Best in NA' crown from C9 since the MIBR assault, will also make an appearance at the ELEAGUE Premier. With strong consistent fraggers, combined with the experience and leadership of two-time Major champion TACO, Liquid are still yet to find the winning recipe, but continue to be a threat at every tournament they attend.

mousesports

       The last two teams bringing their talents to Atlanta are the dark horses of Group B. Our first, Mousesports, is a team that was poised for greatness. In the aptly-named 'Roster-mania' that happened earlier this year, this team kept their heads down and their snouts to the grindstone. Mouz have yet to justify what many consider a greedy and foolish roster change, when they traded STYKO for Counter-Strike legend and Virtus.Pro lifetimer, Snax. His reason for leaving his Polish brethren after over four years? Simple: trophies. We'll be watching with keen eyes as to whether this exchange of two drastically different players will net them the winning touch they previously lacked.

       Last - but by no means least - is Fnatic. Olofmeister's old home has undergone many renovations since he moved on to greener pastures. Still, a core that have been together since the beginning of 2017 hasn't been able to rekindle their team's previously raging flame. Yet, there is hope: they're stepping into Atlanta with two ex-ninjas in draken and Xizt. These two left the alternative Swedish roster of NiP in a staggered fashion, and both are finding themselves with much to prove at the ELEAGUE Premier this month. Keep a close eye on this team, despite the chip on their shoulder.