ESL Cologne Preview
ESL Cologne Preview

Counter-Strike returns for the fifth time in Cologne, taking place at the “Cathedral of Counter-Strike” (it’s actually -- much more plainly -- called LANXESS-Arena), with $300,000 on the line.

ESL One Cologne will feature 16 teams competing in two groups - Group A and B - playing a double-elimination bracket before moving on to the single elimination playoffs.

Each respective group have a few interesting twists as some teams such as the ELEAGUE Major: Boston champions Cloud9 are still without as fifth as well as FaZe Clan, who recently secured the ESL One Belo Horizonte title with Jorgen “cromen” Robertsen as a stand-in. Astralis have a target on their backs as they enter the mix after skipping Belo Horizonte, winning back-to-back titles at ECS Season 5 Finals and the ESL Pro League Season 7 Finals. Following up these team is a familiar name in the Counter-Strike scene as Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo and company now represent the Made in Brazil (MIBR) brand under the influences of Noah Whinstons’ Immortals.

Group A

Group A starts with the Danes of Astralis coming into the fray looking to secure their fourth title in 2018 as well as their third win to tie with FaZe Clan in the $1,000,000 Intel Grand Slam. Astralis have all of the tools to make their opponents shake through the group stage as the Danes are set to take on ENCE in the opener. With a majority of the teams having to work around gaps left in their rosters, Astralis have been consistent through the first-half of the year, and they are not looking to slow down anytime soon as they are sure to secure their spot in the semifinals.

The Ninjas in Pyjamas are currently trying to work in their new blood and former Fnatic member Jonas “Lekr0’ Olofsson into their system neatly fit as he will be wearing a NiP jersey for the second time for the Swedish team. Lekr0 previously helped NiP secure a quarterfinal spot at the CS:GO Asia Championships, before falling to TyLoo in a three-map series. However, despite the frustrations the team has endured since the end of 2017 mid-way through 2018, Cologne has always been a positive upside for the team, but a long drought from 2014 may end this time around, especially with a solid pick up with Lekr0, which very well could be the missing piece to spark another successful for the Swedes.

Mousesports and Cloud9 have been in the trenches when it comes to having a stable lineup to compete. At Belo Horizonte, mousesports were forced to use a stand-in after Tomas “oskar” Stastny was ruled out due to visa issues. Although the team was without their starting fifth, former Cloud9 member Jordan “n0thing” Gilbert came out of retirement to help the German-based team go all the way to the grand finals before falling to FaZe Clan at Belo Horizonte. Even without their full starting roster, mouz are deemed to still remain consistent; however, following the runners-up exit, the team decided to make a change - claiming the rights of former Virtus.pro star Janusz “Snax” Pogorzelski and Martin “STYKO” Styk was benched.

On the flip side, Cloud9 were able to complete their lineup for the German event using STYKO as stand-in. The last-minute call will help Cloud9 with experience as well as another member with strong leadership characteristics, but ultimately the questions relies on how well the team can utilize STYKO through the group stage play to advance to the playoffs.

G2 Esports and Gambit have been on quite the roller coaster through the first-half of 2018. With several missed qualifiers and group stage exits riddling each team, changes were to be made but the results have been rather lackadaisical. Gambit made a couple of changes, starting with the in-game leader role going to Mihail “Dosia” Stolyarov as Denis “seized” Kostin benched void was eventually filled by former Vega Squadron rifler Nikolay “mir” Bityukov. On the French side, G2 finally settled the drama surrounding the internal issues between players with Richard “shox” Papillon at the helm, which then saw Nathan “NBK” Schmitt and Dan “apEX” Madesclaire head to the bench, while Edouard “SmithZz” Dubourdeaux and Kevin “Ex6tenZ” Droolans returned to compete. The changes have added some life, but ultimately, it will come down to the map pools and experience, with each team only excelling in one of these areas

Rounding out Group A, Natus Vincere have been consistent within the past six months after acquiring Deni “electronic” Sharipov, with two titles at StarSeries i-League Season 5 as well as the CS:GO Asia Championships. A few runner-up finishes as well as settling for third place has been the front of the team as Aleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev has claimed three different MVP awards along the way. The consistency has been key for this CIS lineup, who are sure to make their mark in the playoffs.

Group B

Group B has been rather quiet with most of the action prior to the event regarding teams scrambling to find fifths as well as a stable structure best suit for the group stage play. FaZe Clan recently showed out against mousesports in Belo Horizonte claiming their second title after IEM Sydney. Despite using cromen as a stand-in for the event, FaZe Clan are still dangerous without their star Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer as they have ran deep through the playoffs in several events - still showing how dangerous they truly are as they should have no issues reaching the playoffs at the Arena.

Renegades and BIG are the two teams out of Group B who have shown their true potential as both sides recently bolstered their lineups with young talent as well as experience on the tactical side. Renegades recently brought in rifler Joakim “jkaem” Myrbostad as well as trial coach Steve “Ryu” Rattacasa to give the team more of an edge against their opponents as the Aussie-based team have proven to be worthy contenders in Cologne. As for BIG, the German team recently added AWPer Owen “smooya” Butterfield, who debuted at Belo Horizonte despite the 5-6th place finish, but the young talent showed his impact on the team as their opponents struggled to send them down. With these additions, the two teams look to cap off their group stage run with a spot in the playoffs, but it will all come down to the map pool for these guys.

MIBR has surfaced once again after FalleN and company’s contracts ended with SK Gaming reviving the Brazilian brand from the roots of Counter-Strike 1.6. However, the brand itself has been the most exciting time to come for this group of five as the results mid-way through 2018 have been far from good, despite their Moche XL Esports title in Portugal. The inconsistency has played a major role in the team as they still seem uncomfortable with new addition Jake “Stewie2k” Yip and new leader Marcelo “coldzera” David. Most recently, the team was sent off in the semifinals at Belo Horizonte. However, the bigger stages tend to bring more out of a team who have been struggling and as for this squad the playoffs are no stranger like this and they are no strangers to the playoffs.

Fnatic and North have been up and down in recent months despite the spiteful times each team have come out on top, but the consistency just hasn’t been there for neither team. Fnatic recently booted Maikil “Golden” Selim to the curb and brought in familiar face and former FaZe Clan member Richard “Xizt” Landstrom as the team’s in-game leader. However, the changes haven’t shown much progress as Fnatic have only competed at the ECS Season 5 Finals with a group stage loss to Team Liquid. But with time away observing the events as well as their own play - Fnatic are sure to make some noise on their way to the Arena.

An innovative Team Liquid have been searching to claim their first title in 2018, as the team have come close in several occasions where the North American squad were recently back-to-back runner-ups at ECS Season 5 Finals as well as the ESL Pro League Season 7 Finals. The team has been continuing their innovative strategy led by Nick “nitr0” Cannella, finding new ways to defeat their opponents as well as tweaking their map pool over a course of three months. Despite the team falling out at ESL One Belo Horizonte in 3rd-4th place, the North American squad have bounced right back before, and maybe this time they will be knocking on the door to the grand final.

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