Will SK secure the top spot and prevent embarrassment at the hands of H2k? Can H2k defeat SK once again to send themselves to the WCG finals and continue their march up the rankings? How will the freshly returned Power Gaming lineup perform with a mixture of star power tempered by ring rust? Can PlayZone and Oslo Lions surprise and take maps off the big teams or will they be left a sorry indictment of the state of their, once great, domestic scenes?
SK Gaming (MODDII, face, RobbaN, walle, alleN)
A lot has changed for SK Gaming in the last couple of weeks. There are few single player transfers which impact a team as much as this one has. In Gux they had one of the top 10 individual players in the world, by all accounts, and seemed to be gradually improving with each passing event in one respect or another. Now that driving individual presence is gone and they must fill the gap with a new player. MODDII is a very good player, I felt he was the best MYM player when I saw their rise in late 2009 and nothing has thusfar changed my mind. The problem for him and SK is that they can't just directly slot him into Gux's spot and do nothing more.
Part of Gux's impact was that he is a very versatile player who can really do everything required of a top level player. In SK they needed more than fnatic need from him and thus he had freedom and the ability to fill in holes all over the place and really keep the team in games the were taking a pasting in and elevate them in games which were close. MODDII should and can be a very good player for SK but it's necessary for them to rethink the dynamic of the team, as I imagine has occured them to by now if not immediately.
For this qualifier it is not necessary to truly reach or exceed their level when they were at their best with Gux, though H2k may disagree. Rather it's important to be consistent and win in situations where SK should win. Their loss to H2k at Arbalet Cup Dallas may have some rushing to say H2k is the better team but I think that's yet to be proven and this event will shed the light we need to see how a MODDI-edition SK can play against H2k. In the first map against H2k the blew their fellow Swedes away and the other two maps were 14:16 losses each. This time around I think SK still should be going into their match against H2k as favourites, especially since there is a room for more improvement on their side than H2k's at this point I think.
Nevertheless H2k remain the most dangerous opponent for SK due to their familiarity with the players and their aggressive and risky playstyle. Of the other teams it's no exaggeration to say it will be a big shock to see SK lose to PlayZone or Oslo Lions and those results would be a terrible omen for the future of this lineup. These are single map games but even so those are teams who should be significantly below SK's level if they want to contend for big titles. Power Gaming is another story as until the games arrive it's really very difficult to guage what level they will be at against an SK or a H2k. Certainly a dangerous matchup for SK but more in terms of potential than anything proven.
H2k Gaming (niko, Xizt, FYRR73, kHRYSTAL, pronax)
H2k have been quite the fan favourite for the past couple of months and rightfully so, though perhaps a little overexuberance has led to them being inappropriately considered contenders for the big events as opposed to in the 4th-5th kind of realm. The beauty of this team is that it's overall character matches the styles of the players within it and compliments them. On paper many would have expected the MYM players to be the ones who got the better end of the deal between the two teams but in reality the H2k lineup has proven to have instant chemistry.
For this event H2k should be considered a very solid second place option and it should expected for their matchups against SK to decide to the top spot. The real question for me is whether or not H2k will prove themselves a team capable of just upsetting the bigger teams or genuinely outplaying them on a more consistent basis. Their SK victory at Arbalet is a good start but more must be shown before they can start to stake a claim to being legitimate event contenders I think. If they play their aggressive style and take a few chances with quick rotations and pushes on the CT side I think they can beat SK but it's going to require big time individual performances also. That's a lot which has to go right but then again SK could well underperform on their side of things and lend H2k a hand.
H2k may be one of the teams who are most at risk from Power as they haven't played these players at the big events and the Power style means they probably need less time to build chemistry than other teams. That they face the Finns on dust2 is also a bad sign. H2k are a good dust2 team, no doubt about that, but the only time you want to play dust2 against another good team is generally when it's a bad map for them. The map is too variable to rely on as a home map unless you're truly unbeatable on it.
Lions and PlayZone should pose no threat to H2k and any losses to either will be a sign that the team's consistency has yet to be cemented or worse that their previous results were best case scenario type affairs where everything went right.
Power Gaming (plastE, ruuit, naSu, natu, tihOp)
Power are the most interesting team to watch this event. Like many I've always taken a lot of enjoyment watching their team play over the years and their style has always meant they were capable of competing with and beating the elite teams, though more in the short term than consistently. In some ways they remind me of a European WeMade FOX with better skill across the board. This team are coming off a drought of CS playing, even natu has not been in the spotlight, so the real problem for them is most likely to come in the raw skill department. That will make or break them as their overall style is very much based off a lot of freelancing and adapting after-the-fact to great and risky intuitive plays by their elite players.
At their peaks ruuit, plastE and naSu are among the best players in the world in my opinion. Even more crucially, despite similar skillsets, they all play a different role within the team and thus can all be used in the same lineup without stepping on each other's feet much. If these three all turn up to play at even 80% of their peak level I think Power can be dangerous for SK and H2k, in particular in the group stage since Bo3 is always more tricky. natu should be solid, 10 years have led me to expect nothing less, and tihOp is the guy I have my questions about at the moment.
The last PoweR events, WCG and WEM, were the first time I'd seen him really get comfortable AWPing against the elite teams at the big LAN events. The skill has always been there, I've been expecting he would properly break out since 2004, yet he's seemed to suffer from nerves and hesitation which has seen him settle for rifling or playing more passively with the AWP. If he can play the style he showed at WCG and WEM then he will be a key player for Power against the big teams here, especially since the AWP has very much returned to being a vital piece of top level Counter-Strike again.
If Power's individual game doesn't show up then they have little but experience to fall back on and that's worrying if you're hoping to see them crowned as the best Finnish team, nevermind a top international team. Oslo have a troubled enough lineup that I still see Power beating them regardless but PlayZone might be a different matter. One has to assume PlayZone have at least put in some practice and thus sheer routine will be there if nothing else. If Power lose to PlayZone then they'll have a lot of work ahead of them to be in good shape for the WCG itself and we'll all have to put our 'welcome back' party on hold in terms of cheering for them at big events.
PlayZone fi (BASiC, lukee, Freon, H^N, MulleN)
PlayZone are a complete cypher for me. The players who have departed the lineup for the army are the ones I had spent nearly all of my time watching in their games. Add to that the fact this new three really don't see capable of replacing them or playing at the same level. The worst aspect to that fact is that even with JiGetus and dRiim the team were incapable of gaining any kind of ground on the better teams it had become clear. This new team I am only looking at to beat Oslo, possibly give Power a good matchup and otherwise not do much. If they can do more than that then props are in order but truthfully I have no reason to grant them more at the moment.
Lions no (kalle, mikkis, tacky, hellzerk, Vertigo)
This team has changed players at an alarming frequency over the last year, especially considering they are now placed to be Norway's best team. The era when Norway could even compete with the top teams, nevermind place highly at big event, is long gone it would seem. Now it would be a good event for a team like this if they could even string together two maps wins and a great one if they managed three. The players I do know from their lineup I haven't seen do enough in the last year or two to be internationally relevant and so I have to go with Lions as potentially the last placing team at the event, even over PlayZone who certainly don't have significant reason to be thought of as better. At least this will be a chance for experience and who knows, perhaps a victory will come on a map which can show us more about these Norwegians.
The action starts tomorrow, Thursday, at 16:00 CEST and SK Gaming will be streaming the biggest matches of the event live on the SK website. Joining me in the virtual commentary booth will be Evil Geniuses captain Tomi 'lurppis' Kovanen. lurppis is not only one of the better tactical minds in the international game but also the best player to commentate this specific event. He has played in teams with all of the Power Gaming members for a number of years, one is even his brother. On top of that he has played against all of the other teams competing over the years.
One can expect lurppis to come with his usual feel for the game and also provide in-depth analysis of the economical situations for all the teams as the games progress. The latter aspect may be sorely underdeveloped in the current commentary climate but when you have an expert on hand to shine a little light on that area it really opens up a new side of the game which allows situations to make more sense and lock into a coherent overall strategy.
(Photographs copyright of ESEAnews)
@Thooorin on twitter.
2001-2002 Pro-cybernews (Editor-in-Chief)
2002-2003 Gamers.nu (Lead Editor)
2004-2005 ESportsEA (Editor-in-Chief, Consultant)
2006-2008 ESportsEA (Editor, Community feature host)
2008 TAO-CS volume 1 (Co-author)
2008 TAO-fRoD (Co-author)
2008-2009 WinOut.net (Editor-in-Chief, Consultant)
2009-2012 SK Gaming (Editor-in-Chief)
2012-2013 Team Acer (Editor-in-Chief)
2013-2014 OnGamers (Senior eSports Content Creator)
Pro bono publico:
2001-2002 XSReality (Site administrator)
2003-2004 Team3D (Editor-in-Chief, Consultant)
2012-2013 fragbite (Blogger)
2013-XXXX [POD]Cast (Co-host)
2005 Down with the s1ckn3ss
2009 fRoD Quick and nasty (part 1)
Events attended for coverage purposes:
2001 CPL London (Pro-cybernews)
2001 WCG Qualifier (Pro-cybernews)
2002 CPL Summer (Gamers.nu)
2002 WCG Qualifier (Gamers.nu)
2002 CPL Oslo (Gamers.nu)
2002 CPL Winter (Gamers.nu)
2003 CPL Cannes (Gamers.nu)
2003 Clikarena (Gamers.nu)
2004 CPL Winter (ESportsEA)
2009 WEM (SK Gaming)
2010 IEM IV European Championship (SK Gaming)
2010 IEM IV World Championship (SK Gaming)
2010 Arbalet Best of Four (SK Gaming)
2010 Arbalet Cup Europe (SK Gaming)
2010 e-Stars Seoul (SK Gaming)
2010 WCG (SK Gaming)
2010 WEM (SK Gaming)
2011 IEM V European Championship (SK Gaming)
2011 Assembly Winter (SK Gaming)
2011 IEM V World Championship (SK Gaming)
2011 Copenhagen Games (SK Gaming)
2011 Dreamhack Summer (SK Gaming)
2011 SK vs. FX showmatch (SK Gaming)
2011 e-Stars Seoul (SK Gaming)
2011 ESWC (SK Gaming)
2012 IEM VI Kiev (SK Gaming)
2012 IEM VI World Championship (SK Gaming)
2012 WCS Europe (Team Acer)
2012 Dreamhack Open Valencia (Team Acer)
2012 Dreamhack Winter (Team Acer)
2012 IPL5 (Team Acer)
2012 HomeStory Cup VI (Team Acer)
2013 IEM VII World Championship (Team Acer)
2013 MLG Winter Championship (Team Acer)
2013 LCS Europe Spring Week 10 (Team Acer)
2013 WCS EU S1 Ro16 (Team Acer)
2013 LCS Europe Summer Week 9 (Team Acer)
2013 WCS EU S2 final / LCS Europe Summer playoffs (Team Acer)
2013 Riot S3 World Championship (Team Acer)
2013 Battle of the Atlantic (OnGamers)
2013 Battle of the Atlantic (OnGamers)
2014 LCS Europe Spring Week 5 (OnGamers)
2010 IEM IV European Championship (ESL-TV)
2010 IEM IV Asian Finals (ESL-TV)
2010 IEM IV World Championship (ESL-TV)
2010 IEM V Shanghai (ESL-TV)
2011 ESEA-invite S8 (WinOut)
2011 GameGune (WinOut)
2011 SEC (WinOut)
2013 Dreamhack SteelSeries CS:GO Championship (DH-TV)
2014 Dreamhack Steelseries CS:GO Invitational (DH-TV)
2014 Dreamhack Summer (DH-TV)
2014 Gfinity G3
2014 Dreamhack Stockholm CS:GO Invitational (DH-TV)
Pro bono publico:
2010 ESWC (lvl^)
2010 Arbalet Cup Dallas (lvl^)
2010 GameGune (lvl^)
2010 fnatic PLAY (lvl^)
2010 WCG Nordic (SK Gaming)
2011 Dreamhack Winter BEAT IT (whisenhunt)
2011 EPS Winter (whisenhunt/ESL-TV)
2011 WCG (whisenhunt)
2011 IEM VI Kiev EU qualifier (SK Gaming)
2013 FACEIT Sunday Cup April 28th (FACEIT)
2013 Prague Challenge (District)
2013 FACEIT Sunday Cup September 8th (FACEIT)
2013 FACEIT Monday Cup September 9th (FACEIT)
2014 ESEA Invite S15 LAN finals (NiPTV)
* Winner of the Heaven Media 'E-sports Journalist of the year' awards for 2012 and 2013.
THE NEW JERSEY