During one of the off-days between EPICENTER: Moscow groups and playoffs, we took the time to delve into the quarter-final match-ups and semi-final teams in the following playoffs preview.
EPICENTER: Moscow's group stage was played in a rather unconventional format: a best-of-two round robin from which the first teams advanced directly to semi-finals, while teams who finished second and third secured a place in quarter-finals.
Group A unfolded in the worst possible scenario. All matches ended up with each team grabbing one map, so the final standings came down to total round difference in the four-way tie. Natus Vincere finished first with +7, G2 second with +2 and dignitas third with +1, while NiP exited the competition with a -10 round difference.
Group B wasn't short of its own surprises. HellRaisers took a map off fnatic and Virtus.pro, but still finished in last place due to a crushing loss to SK. With two ties and a solid win over the Brazilians, Filip "NEO" Kubski's squad advanced to semi-finals, leaving fnatic and SK second and third respectively at a 3-3 record.
That means Virtus.pro's side of the bracket will see G2 facing SK in quarter-finals. On the other side Natus Vincere are waiting for the result of fnatic and dignitas.
Without further ado, let's delve into the quarter-final matches in the following preview. Read on to find out more about the six remaining teams, such as head-to-head history, strengths and weaknesses of their map pools, best performing players in Moscow and more:
In G2's most successful period yet, from May to July, they met SK (previously Luminosity) on four occasions: twice at ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals, in ECS Season 1 grand final and in ESL One Cologne's Group of Death.
During those three months, SK and G2 split two titles and exchanged the two group stage encounters. In those four encounters they shared 246 rounds on the server, an average of over 27 rounds per map, which made it one of the most exciting rivalries of 2016.
However, the short-lived rivalry paused as the off-season ensued and SK then skipped the first few LAN events. That rivalry now resumes after more than three months, at a time when both teams are looking to prove they can bounce back from recent struggles.
In EPICENTER's group stage, the usual suspects from both teams have so far delivered. Richard "shox" Papillon and Adil "ScreaM" Benrlitom once again stood at the helm of G2's close yet successful battle in groups, while Marcelo "coldzera" David has been one of the best players with a 1.19 rating (third highest). SK are however still missing one of their stars, as Fernando "fer" Alvarenga continues to struggle to find form after his lengthy break from the game.
Prior to the off-season, all five maps the two teams have in common made it through the veto process in the aforementioned four encounters. Since then the first bans haven't changed: G2 continue to avoid Mirage while SK don't play Cache.
Teams won't have the luxury of taking two maps out before picks in playoffs. That will put G2 in danger of Nuke, which they've barely played and mostly avoided in groups. Nevertheless, SK are highly unlikely to pick it as they didn't want to risk it even against HellRaisers. G2 should pick Dust2 and I'd put my money on Train for SK due to some of G2's disappointing results on it. As for map three, that could go either way between Overpass and Cobblestone.
As fnatic have a completely new lineup, they've only met dignitas in ESL Pro League Season 4, where the Danes picked up two wins, on Overpass and on Cobblestone. Online play can't tell us much, so let's take a look at what we've seen so far at EPICENTER to find out what we should focus on in the second quarter-finals.
Kristian "k0nfig" Wienecke and Emil "Magiskb0Y" Reif were both in contention for the MVP at WESG Europe & Regional Finals, though it was Wienecke who received the honor when the dust settled in Kiev. This time, the latter was tearing apart the fierce competition in Group A. Reif played amazingly even in some of the losses, especially on Cobblestone against NiP and on Overpass against G2.
Wienecke wouldn't lag behind as much in rating had it not been for his awful showing on Nuke versus Natus Vincere. Apart from that, he was very much up there with the other half of the best Danish duo.
On fnatic's side, it seems Dennis "dennis" Edman is back to his old self after passing leadership on to Simon "twist" Eliasson, who continues to play well. Following that change the AWPing duties shifted even more towards Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer, while the new in-game leader barely picked it up in the group stage. Apart from the very first game (the Cache loss to HellRaisers), Jonas "Lekr0" Olofsson was also a stable contributor.
In the second quarter-final, each team will remove a solid map of the other: Nuke in fnatic's case and Train in dignitas'. Unless the HR loss sways them another way, the Swedes will then likely pick Cache, but then it gets tricky. The remaining four maps are all great for Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen's team, so they could go any route they want and have a very good chance to win. My best guess is they pick one of Cobblestone or Overpass and veto Mirage in the second round, as fnatic beat Virtus.pro and SK on it in groups.
Natus Vincere's group stage run, which secured them first place despite losing half of their matches, largely came down to Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev's beastly performances. Statistically the 19-year-old was by far the best player of groups with an other-worldly 1.44 rating across six maps.
Normally at least one of Egor "flamie" Vasilyev and Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács share the load, but both of them played awfully throughout the group stage. That makes Kostyliev's contribution all the more impressive.
One of the worries I had for Na`Vi prior to the event was their shaky map pool. They never play Cache, had barely shown anything on Nuke and their Cobblestone has been in the dumps since Kostyliev's addition. That's not a map pool you expect from an elite-level team.
However, the ESL One New York champions began prioritizing Nuke over Cobblestone and showed solid results on it in groups, defeating dignitas and taking NiP to double digits. They attempted to play Cobblestone against G2, vetoing Dust2 instead for a reason even Kovács does not know, but that won't happen again.
Nevertheless, Natus Vincere will most likely have to play Cobble no matter who wins between fnatic and dignitas. The three days off work in their favor, as they can use them to focus on that map and bolster some of the others.
Natus Vincere's win conditions are clear: improving Cobblestone, Vasilyev and Kovács playing better than in groups, and Kostyliev not slowing down. If they meet at least two of them, they'll have a good shot at their second big title in a row.
Virtus.pro looked like the best team present at EPICENTER: Moscow throughout the group stage, apart from their baffling loss to HellRaisers on Cobblestone.
They also lost Mirage to fnatic, though they had already secured first place in the group with the win on Cobble and had nothing to play for aside from pride and bragging rights.
Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski and Paweł "byali" Bieliński continue to top the charts for Virtus.pro, but the real difference maker is Jarosław "pashaBiceps" Jarząbkowski. His great performance against SK on Cobblestone gave them an important win, and he also played well in the other matches, barring the aforementioned HR loss.
Their map pool is slightly worrisome, as Cobblestone, Train and Mirage make up 75% of the maps they've played over the last three months. Fortunately they put fear in SK when it comes to Nuke and G2 dislike letting it through as well. That practically gives them a chance to get two of their three most played maps through the veto, whomever they meet on Sunday.
Either team would most likely pick Overpass against the Poles, which Virtus.pro removed alongside Dust2 in all three vetoes so far, so that's what they see as their weakness.
Judging by the veto advantage they have thanks to Nuke and their form in groups, VP should be favoured in both match-ups and are looking like a favourite of the tournament right now.