Alexander Waldherr makes the case for Asia region teams to be taken seriously as Legend Stage contenders at Katowice 2019
You read that right. You heard it here first. Now many of you are going to immediately dismiss this, tossing it straight into the CSGO garbage bin alongside my pick 'ems, North, and Team Envy, but hear me out. Is it a bold claim? Sure. But by no means is it as absurd of a statement as it has been in the past. Let's break it all down team by team, from those sitting pretty with their reserved spot to those trying to usurp them.
Grayhound's slow start
Of the four Asian teams that made the trip to Katowice - Grayhound, Renegades, Tyloo and Vici - only one has performed as Asian teams have stereotypically in the past, bombing out and underwhelming as an "easy" 0-3 pick 'em choice coming out of the minor. That being said, that 0-3 wasn't easy on their foes. Grayhound still managed to give their opponents a hell of a fight and all of us stickers that we can cherish forever. This is definitely a squad that will be back again in the future, better off now, having had this experience.
They pushed an up-and-coming (and New Legends qualifier) Team Vitality to the brink on Nuke, quite a feat against a team largely made up of grizzled French veterans that are traditionally very strong on that map in particular. My only lingering question about them is how the hell they managed to beat Vici and take a map off of Renegades to get here and underwhelmed when it mattered most. There's certainly something to be said about being able to perform on the big stage, the experience will suit them well for the next go around!
When it comes to their regional comrades, it has become abundantly clear that this isn't London. Tyloo, Renegades, and Vici will not have their achievements scrutinised and dismissed for having success in a BO1 format that lends itself more to upsets. They are sending us a message, that we have to take these results seriously as being representative of the strengthening of their region.
Many are eating their words after choosing Vici Gaming as their 0-3 pick, myself included, for good reason. We wrongfully assumed that they didn't have much to offer simply because we didn't have footage to look at and had preexisting misconceptions about the strength of their minor. We made the same assumption of Tyloo, assuming that they would underwhelm, having made roster changes in such close proximity to the major. But we were all wrong. We're talking about legitimate contenders who did more than simply squeak through into the New Legends stage.
Renegades on a roll
Renegades came into the Major on a hot streak from the end of the last online season, continuing where they left off in 2018 on LAN in Katowice. They cruised through the New Challengers stage 3-0, handling Avangar as they should have, but also taking wins off of a veteran-studded Ninjas in Pyjamas squad that was one of the 3-0 Challenger Stage teams in London and a very very hot ENCE team that still managed to punch their ticket to the next round in Day 3.
They have not had a player with a HLTV 2.0 rating below 0.9 in their first three matches, and have not had more than one player below 1.0 at any given time thus far. They fought as a team firing on all cylinders and their excitement was apparent as the final pieces fell into place on Mirage.
Tyloo in with a shout
Tyloo likely could have 3-0'ed as well, had they not run into arguably the best team in the New Challengers stage, NRG, in the 2-0 winners BO3 match. That set them up to continue play in the New Challengers stage, where they ran into a much improved Avangar who dealt them their second loss.
As it stands now, a BO3 will determine their fate, but their chances aren't bad at all, especially with the level that their new squad is firing off on. I think it's safe to say that the new blood is fitting in just fine and that Johnta has been pretty pleased with his squads performance, even if he's still looking to take them even farther.
Vici set to shock?
And then there's Vici. The minor play-in team that came in with a chip on their shoulder and proved to us that their 16 seed was completely unjustified. They are a threat to even the most experienced teams, once again, their only losses thus far coming courtesy of NRG and Team Vitality, two teams that have their tickets punched for the next stage.
They're poised to be this year's Complexity or Quantum Bellator Fire, but just how far can they go? Only time will tell if they can get over this last hurdle and go from being the last in from the minors to an unforgettable debutant performance. But one thing is certain, these boys came to frag and not just Freeman either.
Major names vulnerable
So what are their chances in the New Legends stage? The standing Legends are Astralis, NaVi, MiBR, Team Liquid, CompLexity, BIG, Hellraisers, and FaZe Clan. As things stand right now, I would argue that at least five of these teams are vulnerable, with some being more vulnerable than usual, but still very strong. I don't see Astralis, MiBR, and Team Liquid having trouble in the New Legends stage. I could easily be wrong, but to me it seems unlikely that these long standing rosters, or rosters with minor adjustments made, will have trouble with some of the rising talent in the mix for Legends status.
Astralis are the reigning kings for a reason, and no patch update is going to change that. Their regimented mastery of the fundamentals combined with intelligent mid-round calling will dismantle many of the potential challengers to their throne without issue. Team Liquid seem to be doing just fine with Stewie, as shown by iBuyPower Masters, mess of a tournament or not. They should be an easy favorite to keep a Legends spot.
New ideas from a new coach could offer them some new strats that other teams haven't been able to prepare for yet. Could that be the edge they need to climb the mountain? And MIBR may have a "new" roster, but it's really just a reiteration of Brazilian teams of yesteryear, so they'll likely have fallen (get it?) into line without any issue by now. The real question is if the South Americans can make a return to the Braziliant form of the SK era. Will they be contenders again?
Five slots up for grabs
As for the other five teams, I consider their Legends spots to be up for grabs. NaVi has shown us that they are not the impenetrable s1mple show that they once were, as teams like Heroic were able to find and exploit the chinks in their armor. You better believe that the brilliant CSGO minds behind many of these teams have taken a close look at those demos to see what worked and what didn't. NaVi will remain a favourite, but given their results and rumors of internal drama, they are arguably more vulnerable to upset than ever before.
BIG are looking solid, but that was with smooya in the lineup. How will Nex impact their roster on such short notice? I could see this one going both ways, as Xantares has boundless talent to offer them, but roster changes this close to a major are something to always be wary of. But if anyone can mastermind something in time for their matches, it's certainly gob b.
CompLexity have struggled as of late, so they will be fighting tooth and nail to maintain their Legends spot. As a fan of them personally, I hope they can do it with all my heart, but my brain knows that they're on upset alert. Will the minds of stanislaw and Warden be able to craft a signature style to replicate the success of the London Inferno? How will Rickeh and n0thing bolster the team when it matters most. The #coLFamilia eagerly awaits.
And finally Hellraisers and Faze Clan both haven't seemed to be themselves after the roster changes that they made. But no one cares about the small tournament results if the major goes well, so when the major ends will we look back at these deals and call them the Gambit Gaffs? Or the Gambit Grand Slams? Both teams will need their stars to align to reach the mountaintop, that much is certain. The NiKo/GuardiaN and ISSAA/woxic duos will be called upon to carry their teams to new heights, but will they answer that call?
Show some respect
So that's it then. I see five slots realistically available for 13 teams to fight over. If Tyloo and Vici are able to secure passage into the next round, that's a near 40% chance that we could see a Legend from the Asia Minor in this tournament (purely based on number of slots, not percent chance of winning). It's astounding, considering how little respect myself and others have given to the development of talent and teams from that entire region.
Will teams continue to take their wild and unique playstyle lightly? Will they attempt to counter-strat them based off a small sample of demos, only to find that their playstyle is too puggy and loose to plan for? Will we see the first ever Asian Minor Legend in CSGO? For me, the answer is a resounding yes. I think Renegades have a very realistic shot if they continue firing on all cylinders, followed by Tyloo, followed by Vici (assuming the latter two can punch their tickets in the 2-2 matchups). But if my pick 'ems are indicative of anything, it's that we can't rule out anything. And that, my friends, is the magic of Katowice.
Pictures: ESL/IEM Twitter