It has been a long time in the making, but after four Minors and a Main Qualifier, the groups are set and we’ll soon be under way for this year’s second Major as we’ve head to Germany for ESL One Cologne 2016. Over the course of the next 6 days, we’ll watch 16 of World’s Best Teams battling it out for the largest slice of the One Million Dollar prizepool.
The first three days will host a 4 group GSL Group Stage, before heading to the Playoffs on Friday. As for the talent pool, as usual with majors, we’ve an extremely stacked roster with pretty much all the powerhouses in attendance for one of the greatest events of the year.
Here’s a quick recap of what we’re expecting out from the four groups, and who we believe will advance to playoffs.
ESL One Cologne 2016 – Group A:
First we’ll give a look at Group A, where we’ll keep with DreamHack Summer pattern with Astralis as the typical group favorite. Although they’ll be moving here after a disappointing show at the ECS Finals, the Danes commonly step it up for these types of events. So while the groups have been an area of growing concern, they’re the only T1 team of the group. We should note that Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjærbye qualified for Major while playing with Dignitas, so he will not be available. In his stead, the team will use Lukas “Gla1ve” Rossander as a stand-in, who’s currently peaking, so the change shouldn’t be too significant in the early goings.
CLG enters as the lone North American team of the group, but also arrives with a questionable lineup. Coach Faruk “Pita” Pita has still been playing on the starting roster, but this will be the team’s first appearance since essentially swapping Josh “jdm64” Marzano for Kenneth “koosta” Suen from Liquid. Just before the lineup shuffle, they actually played exceptionally well for ELEAGUE where they surprisingly upset the former SK Gaming roster (the Danish one, now playing as Team X) in the Semi-Final prior to losing to Astralis in the Grand-Final. But we’re not anticipating the revised lineup to deliver any surprises this week.
Gambit moves here after a less than favorable performance in ELEAGUE. The Russian mix is also a bit of a dark horse when moving to LAN matches, as we’ve often seen from Mikhail “Dosia” Stolyarov. Particularly during the Main Qualifier, notching notable wins over EnVyUs and Gamers2. So with some smart Vetos, they’ve good chances to reach the playoffs.
The fourth team of the group is Dignitas, who’ve been sporadic since Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjærbye moved out to Astralis in exchange for Rene “cajunb” Borg. They grabbed their ticket to Cologne with a mid level collection of wins at the Qualifier, and had difficulties handling the top-tier teams of ELEAGUE’s Group D. But they should match up well with the Russians, so we wouldn’t be surprised if they manage to grab a playoff spot.
ESL One Cologne 2016 – Group B:
Taking a look at group B, for a slightly heavier group. Highest ranked contender of the group in our World Rankings Natus Vincere arrives holding the #2 rank, fresh off winning ELEAGUE’s Group E finale over FlipSid3, while only dropping 2 maps through the week, after nearly a month of inactivity. Before that, Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovács and friends finished runners-up to Virtus.Pro at the SLI Invitational. So they’re favorites for the playoffs.
The other Tier1 team of the pack and favorite, NiP, who’ve hit a bit of a rough patch not long after winning their ELEAGUE as well, with a dominant sweep of G2 in the Final. At DreamHack Summer, the Swedes eliminated Astralis on their way to the Grand-Final, only to be stunned by the Immortals‘ 2-0 upset. They’ll arrive in Cologne after a two-and-done group stage exit at the ECS Finals following losses to SK/ex-LG and Gamers2. So a strong start is critical in avoiding a repeat of their most recent outing.
For Group B, OpTic joins as the single NA representative, and had to travel a tough path the get here. First they clinched their spot in the Main Qualifier by winning the MLG Americas Minor in May, after defeating Immortals (playing then as ‘Tempo Storm’) in both the UB Final as well as the Grand-Final. And earlier this month, Oscar “mixwell” Cañellas and co. won 3 of 4 mid-tiered matchups in Katowice secure this week’s appearance. So they’re surely capable of offsetting the group seeding.
Lastly, the other Tier2 team of the group FlipSid3 is probably the most inconsistent of the pack. While Jan “wayLander” Rahkonen has been an adequate replacement for Vlаdуslаv “bondik” Nеchуроrchuk, but overall, they’ve followed an extreme pattern of high and lows. They had a good enough appearance at the Main Qualifier, surviving two elimination matches, to keep the pattern of qualifying for Majors. And we should note, they sport a higher form when moving offline, such as the 2nd place Group E ELEAGUE final. So they too could benefit from the bo1 format, but doubt they’ll go any further than the Decider match.
ESL One Cologne 2016 – Group C:
Heading off the group we’ve the North American Liquid lineup, that made their debut with Josh “jdm64” Marzano recently added to the roster at the ECS Finals. The team also saw the return of Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev through the Major, which is kind of peculiar situation. But honestly, these changes looked rather promising, as they were quite a handful for both Gamers2 and SK/ex-LG. So they’re a bit of a random variable in this top heavy bunch.
Virtus.Pro had a wild several months riddled with some poor online results. But the 2nd place finish at the CEVO Finals marked the start of their resurgence back to a T1 level. They finally landed their first title of the year, defeating NAVI to win [SLI Invitational], and after taking a month off, the Poles return in good form, meeting expectations in reaching the ELEAGUE weekly final. Although they lost to high rolling EnVyUs, the week offered up a steady progression. So they’re surely one of the group favorites.
Representing the local flag, we’ve Mousesports, who was the first team to grab a major spot at the Main Qualifier winning a three matches, including a stunning 16-1 tilt against Gamers2. Overall, the Germans have been a tricky bunch to follow over the mid term. Aside from the Qualifier, most of the recent LAN events have not gone as they hoped. Katowice, Columbus, and DreamHack Malmo all offered promise without the results. But then in ELEAGUE they looked poised to reach the Weekly Final, but were bounced by FlipSid3 in a half-hearted 2-0 defeat.So while they can contend with T1 teams for a playoff spot, as the marathon continues, so would our concern.
Finally, we have EnVyUs who are fresh a solid showing in last week’s ELEAGUE Group F Grand-Final victory, topping Virtus.Pro 2-0. The Frenchmen surely endured a staggered Spring, but the Main Qualifier showcased a form closely aligned to the vintage NV, marking a possible turning point for the current roster. Overall they’ll match well with this group, and with their current form, they’ve good chances to top the group.
ESL One Cologne 2016 – Group D:
Last but certainly not least, we head to Group D, the undoubted ‘Group of Death’, packed top to bottom with high-end talent. Leading off the Group we’ve the current #1 ranked team of our World Rankings SK, who will make their first appearance under the new German banner, since coming over from ‘Luminosity‘, where they reigned as the most dominant team of the American scene, and much of the International as well. The Brazilians already have a collection of trophies on the shelf this year, including the year’s first major, MLG Columbus. The biggest challenge will be surviving the Groups, but they’ll join after topping 4 of their last 6 offline appearances, with good chances of continuing the pattern.
Right there in the mix with the Brazilians is Fnatic, who recently embraced the return of Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer to starting lineup, after almost 2 months of injury time. Though the Swedes faired well with John “wenton” Eriksson in the interim, reinserting that firepower aided in winning ELEAGUE’s Group D Grand-Final over FaZe. But as we saw at the ECS Finals, they’ve still some ground to makeup in keeping pace with the other T1 contenders, making this a less than ideal group to start the Major.
Following an atrocious 1st Quarter, FaZe began their transition as a top-notch contender after the acquisition of Fabien “kioShiMa” Fiey in April. The team progressed quite quickly in the subsequent weeks, landing several T1 upsets online, before punching their Major ticket rolling through their mid-tiered matchups at the Main Qualifier, with 3 straight wins. Their exceptional LAN play continued in their ELEAGUE outing, where finished the group behind Fnatic after losing to them in the Finale, but they split maps earlier in the week before besting TSM and Dignitas. But this will be their toughest LAN group stage to date, and will need to be perfect in order to advance.
And final team appearing this week in Cologne, Gamers2 who re-cemented themselves in the T1 mix at the EPL S3 Finals in the Epic 5 map Grand-Final clash with SK/ex-LG. Despite the loss, the French mix had finally turned their fortunes around, moving to dominant a handful of T1 matches online to qualify for the ECS Finals. Things got a little dicey in the Main Qualifier dropping maps to Gambit and Mouz, but Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom and co. ended on a high note defeating Cloud9 to secure their spot here. Before heading to Germany, they got their grand-final rematch with the Brazilians where they delivered a convincing 2-0 sweep to grab their first Title of the year winning ECS Season 1 Finals, also dismissing Fnatic and NiP along the way. So while there are some concerns over inconsistency, they’ll arrive while seemingly peaking, making this Group that much closer to call.
So that is the list. As we said, we’re talking about an extremely stacked lineup of teams in attendance for ESL One Cologne, which is set to kick off Tuesday at 11:00 CET with the Danish derby between Astralis and Dignitas.
The first several days will be chaotic while sorting through the Group Stage, but we’ll be down to the final two come Sunday, where we’ll be crowning this year’s second Major Champion.