As the dust settled at SL i-League StarSeries Season 2 Finals, it is time for us to look back at what we learned from the $300,000 event.
SL i-League StarSeries Season 2 Finals is behind us, as NiP lifted the trophy following numerous upsets and exciting matches. Before we get to what we learned from the five-day event, here's a quick recap for those of you who haven't been able to keep up with the tournament:
StarSeries was the first big offline event since ELEAGUE's playoffs. That makes it more than a month-long gap in between, during which we had the first official off-season before Pro League began in the third week of August.
Combined with the fact that numerous attending teams changed rosters or had to attend with a stand-in — GODSENT, Natus Vincere, FaZe, Cloud9, NiP and EnVyUs —, the event was inherently hard to predict.
One of the aforementioned teams and perhaps one of the presumed favourites, Natus Vincere, shockingly finished in last place, while another favourite in Virtus.pro also failed to deliver, as both teams kicked off their disappointing run with a loss to one of the Chinese and fell to the elimination match into a hard best-of-one match-up.
In the meantime, the last of the big three favourites, G2, stormed through the tournament on the back of Richard "shox" Papillonwithout losing a map up until the final, even though both of their previous playoffs matches were extremely close. The other finalist wasn't quite as expected however, as it was NiP who pulled off a miraculous run without coach Björn "THREAT" Pers while fielding Mikail "Maikelele" Bill instead of Jacob "pyth" Mourujärvi.
The 16-team tournament brought us many nail-biting moments in matches that went down to the wire and are definitely worth re-watching. We've put together some of the most entertaining maps and big upsets with links to VODs:
Off-seasons add a new layer to competition
The off-season is an amazing addition to CS:GO's competitive scene. We have praised it before and theorized about what it offers, but during StarSeries we got to see hard evidence of what it brings to the table.
First of all, it obviously gave teams the chance to make changes they would otherwise be reluctant to do, be it strategical or player adjustments, given the usual volume of offline events and leagues.
It's peculiar to see how much can change in a month, given certain conditions
It created a sizable gap between big events, more importantly any offline events — over a month since ELEAGUE came to a close at the end of July. That month-long pause, combined with the roster changes, produced a very unpredictable setting, allowing for huge upsets and making StarSeries so much more exciting.
It also gave us time to regain our appetite for top-tier competition. I didn't realize it up until the nail-biting last map of the grand final, which naturally fueled the emotions, but the event built my excitement up to a level I haven't experienced while watching Counter-Strike for quite a while.
GODSENT and Na`Vi need more time
While we're on the topic of unpredictability, we have to address the two debutants that failed to live up to the expectations. In the last week, Natus Vincere and GODSENT became an example of how changes, even smaller as was the case with Na`Vi, can break a working machine.
That's not saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". I totally understand why the changes were made and had to be made — to become the best. And that may take a little more time.
Many had Natus Vincere as one of the favourites, and for good reason, but I imagine no one had accounted for Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev putting in one of his worst offline performances ever. It's hard to say where the problem lies after just two maps, even if one explanation presents itself, which is that there are too many stars on one team.
GODSENT have to go back to the drawing board
GODSENT may not have been that high on the list, but they were still expected to at least advance from groups fairly comfortably and possibly reach as high as semi-finals, depending on the quarter-final match-up. The core has always been based on confident play, but we haven't seen any of that in Kiev, the Swedes often played more slowly than ever before, even when Markus "pronax" Wallsten was still in fnatic.
In both of these cases we'll just have to wait and see how the teams develop and figure out where to go from here. It was their LAN debut and after a lot of time off, after all.
We should treat online form very carefully
This is no groundbreaking discovery, but in many cases we only had online form to look at prior to StarSeries and a lot of it turned out to be misleading to say the least.
FlipSid3 made it out from Major groups for the first time ever at ESL One Cologne, but their online form afterwards was atrocious. Andrey "B1ad3" Gorodenskiy's roster came into the $300,000 event with an awfully long losing streak, but once again managed to advance from groups despite being down 4-11 on the second map of the decider against FaZe.
FlipSid3 overcame online results and made another top eight
The in-game leader admitted the online results caused argumentsand discontent within the team, but FlipSid3 believed they'd be able to do better in an offline setting nonetheless and proved just that.
Virtus.pro had been the ultimate example for a while now, having gone far at big events on countless occasions despite poor online results. It was interesting to see them fail in Kiev after a solid showing in the first few weeks in Pro League, but it's true that the Poles have always performed better when under pressure. This time that wake-up call came on LAN, which is the worse option of the two.
The other side of the coin are Heroic and Cloud9, who had done very well online prior to the event and showed up on LAN as well, reaching quarter-finals and semi-finals, respectively.
The Chinese deserve spots at more events
We've only seen Chinese teams at four big events thus far, beginning with VG.CyberZen's first appearance at StarSeries in January, followed up by TyLoo's showing at DreamHack Masters Malmö.
Both of those times, and now at StarSeries, the Chinese proved they have a lot to offer, giving us a new perspective on how CS:GO can be played, and yet we haven't seen much development on the organizers' part, barring the last Major cycle (provided TyLoo were at fault for not making it to the Major itself) and StarSeries.
Two of the favourites, Na`Vi and Virtus.pro, fell to Chinese opposition
Before 2016 comes to a close it seems IEM Oakland will be the only time we will see an Asian team in attendance at a significant event, depending on what WESG will look like, which makes it five to fix events this year in total, roughly once every two months. That doesn't seem to be enough.
What's great is that all of the aforementioned events are huge, significant tournaments, but some of the organizers should start considering TyLoo and VG.CyberZen for the smaller ones hovering around the $100,000 mark to add some more depth to the competition.
G2 are still huge contenders, but...
Papillon carried his squad to the grand final, reaching godlike form up until the second map of the dignitas semi-finals, with Adil "ScreaM" Benrlitom having his say in the journey as well.
When he dropped off to below-average numbers, Alexandre "bodyy" Pianaro picked it up against the Danes and played well on Overpass versus NiP, while the Belgian also showed up in the latter, but it wasn't enough to get the title.
shox and ScreaM can move mountains together, but their backbones can only bear so much
It really does seem that StarSeries was all but a confirmation of what we had already presumed from G2's Summer run, which is that they heavily rely on both Papillon and Benrlitom to perform at their best to win big series.
Both are consistent enough to get them deep in playoffs, but they'll need more of what Pianaro showed this last week, or Cédric "RpK" Guipouy to be the tank he was during Summer, to add some much-needed failsafes, because they can't rely on the wildly inconsistent Edouard "SmithZz" Dubourdeaux.
GeT_RiGhT and f0rest are back on track
NiP's stars, Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund and Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg had both been very quiet these past few months, which was in part the reason why they had been unable to replicate some of their success, finishing last at ECS Season 1 Finals and exiting groups in Cologne.
Overall Lindberg has been a more stable player than his long-time teammate lately, and during StarSeries that trend continued.
We haven't seen NiP in such form for a very long time
Alesund joined him in most of the matches as well and recorded his first rating over 1.10 this year, while Lindberg became the MVP following his superstar performance in the grand final.
However, NiP's win has to be accounted to everyone, because Bill and Richard "Xizt" Landström were both very stable contributors as well and Adam "friberg" Friberg came alive in the final map versus G2.
It's been a very long time since we've seen NiP collectively push through an event in such a fashion, and it'll be interesting to see how they progress when and if Mourujärvi comes back into the picture. One thing is clear, the legendary Ninjas are here to stay for a while longer.
If you'd like to see more about individual players at SL i-League StarSeries Season 2 Finals, you can look forward to our next article where we analyze the best players of the event.