As the 2016 season comes to an end, there's one more big tournament for Counter-Strike fans to stick their teeth into. The finals of Esports Championship Series Season 2 is going down in Anaheim this weekend with eight of the best teams in the world facing off for the crown. The action will unfold in the standard, two group structure that will see two teams from each group make it to the playoffs to battle it out.
Without further ado, let's take a closer look at the groups and who will likely make it out of the group stages.
Group A: Astralis, OpTic Gaming, FaZe Clan, Cloud9
Advancing: OpTic Gaming and Astralis
While this group is certainly filled with talent, there are two teams that have been playing at the top of their game as of late and should make it into the finals. Coming out as the first seed of the group should be OpTic Gaming, who was third in North America during the regular season. The NA squad has been around for quite some time, but have only now started to rise to extreme prominence. They started off by winning Northern Arena Montreal in November by beating G2 Esports in a close 2-1 series and then reached the zenith by taking down Astralis to wield the ELEAGUE Season 2 crown. They've certainly got the hot hand and will look to keep it going this weekend.
Despite the fact that Astralis, who finished in first place of EU during the regular season, lost to OpTic in the ELEAGUE Season 2 grand finals, they still managed to defeat some of the best teams in the game to get there. They took down the Ninjas in Pyjamas in the quarterfinals before shocking the world with a sweep of SK Gaming in the semifinals. Before that they made it all the way to the semifinals of IEM Oakland, so they're definitely a team that is on the rise going into the ECS Finals and should make its way to the playoffs.
Cloud9, despite finishing second in NA, is a bit of an enigma. They came in second at DreamHack Bucharest, but didn't make it out of their group at ELEAGUE Season 2 the following month. But then just eight days later, they reached the top of the mountain with a first place finish in the ESL Pro League Season 4 finals. They were unable to ride that high for very long, as they have failed to come up with a respectable finish at a tournament since. They failed to make it out of the group stages of IEM Oakland and lost 2-1 to Gambit Esports in the quarterfinals of DreamHack Winter. If they are able to play at the level they did in the ESL Pro League, they've got a good shot at making the playoffs. Recent results show that likely won't happen, though.
FaZe Clan, who finished third in the EU region during the regular season, is a team that seems so close to being great, but they can just never get over the hump. Despite qualifying for two of the three majors this year, both seasons of ELEAGUE, the ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals and IEM Oakland, they have yet to finish better than 3rd-4th. With such strong competition in this group, it is likely that this streak will continue.
Group B: SK Gaming, Team Dignitas, Immortals and Team EnVyUs
Advancing: SK Gaming and Immortals
This group is certainly one of the bigger questions of the entire tournament. Both SK Gaming and Team Dignitas will be fielding different rosters than the last time they took the stage. SK just has more veteran presence and will likely be able to wade through the changes better than Dignitas will, however. Even though I'm predicting SK, who finished first in the NA region during the regular season, to make it out of the group stages, it's not a prediction made with an immense amount of confidence. Despite winning two straight majors in the summer, SK has failed to finish better than second in a tournament since. To try and remedy this recent inconsistency, they have removed Lincoln "fnx" Lau from the active roster and replaced him with Ricardo "fox" Pacheco in the meantime. Only time will tell whether this change will yield the results the team surely wants. With four of the best players in the game still locked in, though, they should be able to get to the playoffs.
Immortals, who finished the season in third place of the NA region, hasn't really been lighting up the scoreboard lately, but they have been on an upward trend. After winning DreamHack Summer back in June, they've added on top place finishes at Northern Arena Toronto and iBUYPOWER Masters. They also just defeated Cloud9 at the ELEAGUE Major qualifier to make their way to the offline qualifier next week. The Brazilian squad is surging and should continue their strong run with a playoffs qualification at the ECS Finals.
Team Dignitas, who made its way to the tournament by way of a tiebreaker after six teams finished with an 8-10 record in the EU region, is a team that would have a shot to make it out of groups if they had their full squad. Unfortunately, Emil "Magiskb0Y" Reif won't be able to make it due to a school assignment which will force him to stay home. Magiskb0Y is arguably their best player, so it definitely is leaving a hole. While they have brought on Valdemar Bjorn "valde" Vangsa, who is a great player in his own right, to take his place, he doesn't have the cohesion with the team that will be needed to perform well here.
Team EnVyUs, the second place finisher of EU, is a team full of missed opportunities. They have yet to win a high-profile tournament winning DreamHack Open Cluj-Napoca in November of 2015. The team comes and goes with Kenny "kennyS" Schrub, and more often than not, he lets his emotions get the best of him and the team suffers accordingly. With a stacked group, this likely won't be a place where they can shine.
The action will kick off Friday, December 9 at 2:15 EST with Astralis and OpTic opening up play in Group A. WIth a full slate of great Counter-Strike on the table, this won't be one you want to miss.