EPICENTER: Moscow begins tomorrow, which means it's time for a preview of all teams in which we delve into recent history and notable match-ups, highlight some of the best performing players as of late and more.
EPICENTER: Moscow, running from October 17-23, has eight teams split into two groups, played in a best-of-two round-robin format.
The best team from each group will advance directly to semi-finals, while teams who finished in second and third place will meet the opposite team from the other group in quarter-finals.
Here are the groups once again:
The $500,000 event features six of the top ten teams per HLTV.org's Team Ranking, including the current top three in contention for first place in the near future: SK, Virtus.pro and Natus Vincere.
Delve into our preview below to learn about the recent results of all teams, the best match-ups in groups and some of the best performing players as of late:
After bombing out at their LAN debut at SL i-League StarSeries Season 2 Finals, Natus Vincere overcame multiple obstacles to triumph at another huge event, ESL One New York, earlier this month.
Prior to the event, Sergey "starix" Ischuk was forced to leave leadership duties to Denis "seized" Kostin, with ESL following Valve's coaching ruling. At the same time, Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev took over the secondary AWP, which, in hindsight, might have been what gave Na`Vi the big win.
The now 19-year-old had a rough first event under the black-and-yellow banner in Kiev, but he was an entirely different player in the Big Apple. From start to finish, the Ukrainian was a force that powered Natus Vincere through the $250,000 event, recording top-notch stats in various areas such as rating, consistency and clutch play.
Will s1mple repeat his New York performance and get two of these in a row?
In New York we witnessed how formidable Na`Vi can be when even two of their three stars are on fire at the same time, and in groups we got a glimpse of what happens when all three play to their best ability — domination.
The Ukraine-based squad managed to win the big event without Ischuk's constant input giving and in-game leading. At EPICENTER: Moscow they'll have him to fall back on if things go south, as the event will not follow Valve's coaching rules. That will give the aptly named "Born to win" an edge over the fierce competition. Not only are they extremely skilled individually, they have the comfort of a seasoned leader behind them, more so than anyone else attending the event.
Nevertheless, this group could get dangerous. They have no LAN experience against two of their opponents. Their latest LAN encounter with dignitas dates back to January (DreamHack ZOWIE Open Leipzig) and the Danes are a better team than they were in January, while the G2 match-up will be this year's first.
Much like Na`Vi, dignitas are on the rise. They've secured two semi-final finishes in a row at StarSeries and DreamHack ZOWIE Open Bucharest before reaching the very top only last week, at WESG Europe & CIS Regional Finals.
Truthfully, their conditions at the first two events were largely different compared to their last tournament. During WESG Regional Finals, the Danes didn't have to meet any of the top ten teams en route to their first victory in months and fielded Philip "aizy" Aistrup instead of the underperforming Ruben "RUBINO" Villarroel.
That doesn't take anything away from the fact that Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen's roster is now better than ever. Kristian "k0nfig" Wienecke and Emil "Magiskb0Y" Reif are now the best Danish duo, succeeding Nicolai "device" Reedtz and Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen. With René "cajunb" Borg finding form as well, dignitasare a hard-hitting team.
If k0nfig and Magiskb0Y continue on this path, dignitas will be a real contender
EPICENTER might be dignitas' hardest event to date. They won't be able to catch a break given the competition they'll face in groups. They managed to give the good version of G2 a run for their money at StarSeries, but it's been a long time since they faced their other two known opponents — NiP and Natus Vincere.
The Danes haven't taken any elite-level teams down in a best-of-three scenario in the past few months, but they have come very close twice (G2 at StarSeries, VP at DH Bucharest). They'll have another chance to break into the true elite in Moscow, and there's no reason we should count them out.
NiP are another team hugely affected by the coaching limitations, as now Björn "THREAT" Pers will no longer be able to serve as a in-game leading coach.
NiP didn't attend ESL One New York, which was the testing ground for the new timeouts as well as the limitations. Nonetheless, they had to adjust prematurely as their coach had school responsibilities and Richard "Xizt" Landström was reinstated as the in-game leader.
On top of that, Jacob "pyth" Mourujärvi's injury allowed for Mikail "Maikelele" Bill to return temporarily for SL i-League StarSeries Season 2 Finals, but it has since been announced that the 25-year-old will stay on for several more tournaments while Mourujärvirecovers.
Despite missing their coach, NiP did what no other team in the history of CS:GO has done — win a big event with a stand-in.Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg grabbed the MVP title with consistent performances, but it was the whole team playing well throughout the event that led to the Swedes winning their first title in nearly six months.
Can NiP replicate their StarSeries form?
EPICENTER will give us a rematch of the StarSeries grand final, where NiP took a 2-0 victory after a nail-biting finish to Overpass. They'll also meet the current version of Natus Vincere for the first time and the same goes for dignitas, so they won't be able to learn much from previous encounters.
NiP's strong map pool will work in their favour, as they should be accomplished on all seven. Interestingly, they haven't touched Train for more than three months despite having good results on it in the first half of 2016. So far the Swedish side are undefeated on Nuke, a map other teams were afraid of letting through against them at previous events, so their only results on it are in online matches.
Their vast map pool might not present itself fully in groups, as the veto process will see two maps vetoed by each team before they get to pick one, but we should see the fruits of it in playoffs where teams only get one ban before picks.
Last but not least in Group A we have the weirdly inconsistent G2, who finished second at StarSeries after the off-season but bombed out in last place at ESL One New York.
In Kiev it was the combination of Richard "shox" Papillon and Adil "ScreaM" Benrlitom that got the French-Belgian squad silver medals, but it's also what cost them the gold in the end, as Papillon disappeared from the top of the scoreboard in the final.
On the other hand, G2's display in New York was atrocious. The Belgian played well and Papillon's performance was underwhelming compared to his usual level yet average overall, but the remaining players were nowhere to be seen.
Don't expect shox to be content with his and G2's performance in New York
Alexandre "bodyy" Pianaro showed signs of improvement at StarSeries, but at ESL One he recorded a measly 0.60 rating while Edouard "SmithZz" Dubourdeaux barely passed 0.70, as G2 dropped a huge lead on Astralis and got decimated by two debuting teams, Liquid and OpTic. That's unacceptable for a team who is considered an elite-level team.
If we see the same G2 in Moscow, their chances are slim to none. We shouldn't expect Papillon to be content with his personal display in New York however. If he and Benrlitom combine again and the rest at least enter the server, G2's chances at making it through will go up massively.
After a three months long break from LAN competitions due to Fernando "fer" Alvarenga's health issues, SK finally attended a big event, ESL One New York.
In New York it was clear the Brazilians hadn't regained their former level, but at the same time they gave others time to catch up, namely Natus Vincere and Virtus.pro.
Nonetheless, SK were still a force to be reckoned with. They defeated the Poles in groups before meeting them again in the semi-finals, where they played four overtimes across the first two maps, Mirage and Overpass — a testament to how close they were to a big final despite the long break. However, SK didn't close it in two maps and couldn't contest VP on Nuke, as they finished in 3rd-4th place.
FalleN's squad will get a chance to confirm their place at the top
Group B of EPICENTER: Moscow will be a precursor to the battle for a definitive first place in the rankings, as SK are in a group with Virtus.pro. This is a chance for the Brazilians to confirm their place at the very top, a place they've earned by winning both Majors in 2016.
The other two match-ups should be much easier: fnatic don't seem to be ready for this level of competition, judging by the changes in roles, and HellRaisers even less so.
The first place in Group B and thus a semi-final spot should be decided between the top two teams in the world. However, if they split their best-of-two, it'll come down to who falters against the underdogs.
In a way Virtus.pro could be compared to G2 in terms of their inconsistent results, but the root cause of the inconsistency is much harder to pinpoint when it comes to the Poles.
At StarSeries, their last place could be explained by their lack of focus due to unspecified issues outside of the game. After their grand final run at ESL One New York, where they fell short to Natus Vincere, it seemed we got the true Virtus.pro back.
However, a few weeks later, Filip "NEO" Kubski and company attended WESG EU & CIS Regional Finals, where they performed poorly once again. VP barely made it out of groups there, losing to mix teams .Norway and .Russia and playing a close Mirage with Guerilla Method. After close series with Epsilon and EnVyUs, Dmitry "hooch" Bogdanov's team stopped the Poles in their tracks again and left them in the third place decider.
We shouldn't lower our expectations of Virtus.pro after a poor showing
Whatever it is that makes Virtus.pro play badly from time to time, they always seem to come back stronger afterwards. We should expect them to bounce back now, prior to a huge event that should give Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas's squad sufficient motivation to bring home another good result.
Group B should be fairly easy to get out of for a team like VP, but there will be a tough fight for first place. The format in use at the event places the second and third-placed teams into an additional best-of-three quarter-final, which will be a scary prospect considering how stacked Group A is.
As mentioned above, that fight will likely come down to the best-of-two between Virtus.pro and SK. The stakes are high: whoever grabs first place will get to skip a match, kick back and watch the quarter-finals to prepare for the semis.
fnatic debuted at ESL One New York, two months after their new lineup had been put together. After a crushing loss to Virtus.pro, the Swedes decimated OpTic and grabbed another comfortable victory against Astralis, at which point they were a win away from the semi-finals.
Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer's roster were matched up to Liquid on Dust2 and started well, but a big comeback from the Americans meant the two teams would have to face once more. Fnatic decided to play the same map, but they failed to adapt and got eliminated in 5th-6th place.
Before Dennis "dennis" Edman took over the reins for New York, Jimmy "Jumpy" Berndtsson had been calling the shots instead of John "wenton" Eriksson who was instended to be the in-game leader after the roster was created.
fnatic are passing the in-game leader role like a hot potato
That role has fallen upon Simon "twist" Eliasson, who was fnatic's best player in New York. While it's great that Edman is free of the pressure, it's hardly as good that it was transferred to another star, let alone the AWPer. That system can work, Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo is the prime example of that, but not everyone has the talent to focus on both roles at the same time. It should help that two more players can (and do) pick up the AWP when needed, however.
It most likely means that fnatic will have a very free style, similar to what they used to have with the previous lineup. For that to work the players need to deliver individually, which we didn't see at ESL One New York. Whether it can work against fierce competition in SK and Virtus.pro remains to be seen, but fnatic are favoured over HellRaisers and thus should make it out of the group.
Following Tomáš "oskar" Šťastný's departure, HellRaisers were looking for a new AWPer and trialed Sergey "smike" Sklyarenkofor the job. After a last-place finish at StarSeries they decided to cut ties with the Ukrainian, citing his inexperience and problems with communication.
Kirill "ANGE1" Karasiow and company then approached a former Escape player, Bence "DeadFox" Böröcz, and signed him after a three weeks long trial period. EPICENTER: Moscow will be their LAN debut with the Hungarian, who helped his new team defeat Tengri in the CIS closed qualifier's final.
They have been quite successful against some of the best European teams online. HR finished in 11th place of ESL Pro League at nine wins in 26 matches, with many of the losses being close scorelines.
HellRaisers will be heavily outmatched in Moscow
Like most teams HellRaisers play six maps regularly, including Cobblestone and Train, which they're likely to play against any team in their group. They also re-introduced Overpass into their map pool this month and took NiP and FaZe to close results on it.
HellRaisers have to face the horrible truth, which is that they'll be heavily outmatched in Moscow. Apart from fnatic, who have still yet to prove themselves, they're the only non-top-tier team attending the $500,000 tournament.
We shouldn't expect much from the Ukrainian-Slovakian-Hungarian mixture among such competition, but they could take an unprepared fnatic off-guard. More importantly, HellRaisers are looking to get some much-needed experience with the new addition.