A month or so ago the hype around ESL Pro League Season 9 Finals was pretty goddamn intense, as it looked like we were going to finally see the best two CSGO teams in the same room, at the same time, and maybe even in the same server.
After months of waiting, Astralis and Team Liquid would finally be coming face-to-face, so we could answer the question of who is really best in the head-to-head between the world’s number one and two.
Sadly, in the space between the excitement in the event came a few performances by said ‘world leaders’ that have frankly been a bit, well, number two.
Astralis got double slammed by FURIA at ECS Season 7 Finals, before the same Brazilian team went on to lose to some very modest sides in the Americas qualfiers, and Team Liquid looked back to their old selves with an overtime loss to Team Spirit at an ESL One Qualifier that they can still come back from at least.
For now, though, it’s Montpellier or bust, and ESL always put on a good show. There is a cool quarter million for the winners to split between them, a best-of-five Grand Final in a 15,000 capacity arena, and a really interesting mix of teams in attendance, so let’s get into it and look at who could come out on top of an event that everyone thought would be all about Astralis v Team Liquid, but might be won by neither of those teams after all…
Should be contenders
Let’s just go right for the jugular at the top, and ask the most obvious question, are Astralis in with a chance of winning this tournament? A lot of people will have their doubts after the frankly subpar showing at ECS Season 7 Finals in London, and rightly so, as losing to Furia twice really isn’t what we’ve come to expect from the Danes. Sure, the Brazilian team is good, but not so good that they should be turning over the greatest team CSGO has seen in a best-of-three.
With that in mind, it is reasonable to say that the level Astralis showed in Katowice, and specifically the playoffs there, was well beyond them when they started their campaign in London, and the brief flashes they showed were not enough. It would make logical sense given everything we know about that team to expect them to come back with a vengeance here, and the extra LAN practice they got at ECS won’t have hurt either.
We’ve been saying it for a minute, but this pretty much has to be where Astralis come back, and dump out the remnants of the ‘Blastralis’ team that has looked painfully average of late. ECS being ring rust makes a lot of sense, but the idea they could fail here and still travel to Cologne with expectations of winning that and/or the Major is a bit absurd when you consider the strength of the top ten right now.
As for Liquid, there is less reason to be fearful if you are a fan, not that the loss to Spirit is in any way excusable. The fact is that match took place online, and Liquid are used to big games being LAN affairs these days, but there is no reason to think they are in the same sort of trouble Astralis are at this point. There team will want to make a statement at this event, and there are good reasons to think they can.
Some of the names that Liquid will be afraid of just aren’t going to be at this competition, and will be a great comfort to not have to think about what ENCE might do if they meet in bracket. For that reason Liquid should be favourites for this event, and anything other than a Grand Finals appearance will need some explaining if they want to go to Cologne (assuming they make it) as top dogs.
If not Liquid, then…
There are some real contenders that might also be crashing out in last, as that is how CSGO works in 2019. The likes of FaZe and Mousesports will scare a lot of people at this tournament with the firepower they bring to the table, and the Neo effect is doing something at FaZe, although nobody seems to know just what that is. Betting on either of these two, or MIBR, would be a risky move, but betting against them is never completely safe either.
To add to that list we also have North now, who are improving exponentially under Valde’s leadership and look a scary prospect, and an NRG team that American fans keep telling me is about to break out. Personally, the move to replace daps with Stanislaw was baffling to this writer, and expectations are lowered for the NA squad if anything, but the honeymoon period is a thing and it will be interesting to see how they get on.
The likes of Cloud9, HellRaisers, Fnatic and G2 Esports have a lot of fans, especially the former, and those fans will be very annoyed about their team being written off before a face has been clicked in anger, but there are levels in this game and it’s very unlikely any of those three can reach a high enough one to be a threat here. The Swedes always have that potential of course, but it’s not something you can currently rely on.
Thanks for taking part
The other teams at this event have come a bloody long way to be in France this week, and it’s sad to think the likes of Grayhound and Tyloo might go home again without a win. The Chinese giants have made some exciting moves of late in an attempt to arrest the decline their squad has experienced, but it’s going to be a big ask to integrate the new players into a line-up that has never had the most efficient communication.
Brazil is sending three teams, with Luminosity and Detona here in FURIA's absence, and there lies a slightly interesting aside, with other teams from that part of the world no doubt keen to follow on from Furia’s work and prove MIBR aren’t even the second best team in the nation. It would be a tough month for MIBR if that were the case, but we are sure all the money will keep them warm at night.
Whoever comes out on top will take a massive boost to the next event, which is the unofficial major, ESL One Cologne, and is followed by the actual Major from Berlin a month or so later. With a very respectable prize pool on offer as well, this is going to be one of the most important and exciting tournaments of 2019, so be sure to head over to our match page and stay on top of when every unmissable game starts at this epic event.
Matches schedule and betting odds
Picture: Helena Kristiansson, Sarah Cooper / ESL