EnVyUs: the French Dark Horse
The Frenchmen of EnVyUs were no strangers to the shuffle that took place after the Major. While they changed relatively early — by bringing back Fabien “kioShiMa” Fiey after two years and promoting Ali “hAdji” Haïnouss form their Academy team — EnVyUs have not had the opportunity to participate in an offline tournament with their new roster. They only attended WESG 2018 but had to field Christopher “SIXER” Xia instead of Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom due to the single nationality rule. DreamHack Masters Marseille will thus be the first big outing for the boys in blue. Redesigned, refreshed, rethought; this new lineup has been rebuilt after a difficult year for EnVyUs, spent in the shadow of the French superteam G2 Esports.
The times have changed though, and while G2 were initially hailed as the elites of French CS that would propel the country back to the very top, things have not unfolded that way. In fact, the early 2018 months showed that there was trouble in their lineup. The Masters in Marseille, then, is the best opportunity for EnVyUs to score points, fill the void, and reclaim the throne that was once theirs. This will be easier said than done however, as they have yet to find their footing with this new lineup to begin with. In addition, they also landed in a rather complicated group, featuring FaZe, Cloud9, and their aforementioned French rivals G2 Esports. While FaZe should in all likeliness top this group, it should be very close between EnVy and the other teams.
On paper, EnVyUs have mustered all the necessary ingredients for a competitive roster that could do damage in this group. They retained the rifler prodigy that is ScreaM and brought back the talented kioShiMa. They have the rock solid foundation that Cedric “RpK” Guipouy provides, and they promoted the young and promising prospect hAdji, whose prowesses and consistency at the national level have earned the respect of his peers. In practice, one of their biggest weaknesses still remains the lack of experience together in a LAN environment, and the fact that their youngest player is still largely new to this level of competition.
As such, this will be an important test for EnVyUs, and even more so for hAdji, who will make his debut on the international stage. Fortunately, they find themselves in slightly more optimal conditions, as this will be on home soil, with a crowd that will be on their side. The rest of the group, while not the easiest, fields teams that all have some question marks attached to them. FaZe will be playing with Richard “Xizt” Landström instead of Olof “Olofmeister” Kajbjer. Cloud9 have changed a player recently after a couple of disappointing finishes. Finally, G2 Esports are still trying to find solutions to their issues, having benched Richard “shox” Papillon and signed Óscar “Mixwell” Cañellas in a rather unconventional move. In the end, and for their first offline event with this new lineup, Vincent “Happy” Schopenhauer and EnVy have the tools they need, and it’s all about connecting the dots and making the team become more than the sum of its parts.
Fnatic: the Golden Surfers
Despite the rumors of impending changes before the World Championships, Fnatic have completely foregone any tweaks after a very rich vein of form. Thus, Fnatic will show up in Marseille with exactly the same lineup that accomplished so much recently. It all started eight months ago, first by grinding and topping both online leagues, ECS and EPL, then scoring multiple top finishes at their respective offline finals, until eventually winning back to back trophies at the Intel Extreme Masters in Katowice and WESG 2018. In this first quarter of 2018, Fnatic have steadily and surprisingly become a beacon of stability in terms of improvements, results, and roster, in a scene that seems wildly fluctuating otherwise.
This is why they should come into this DreamHack Masters Marseille with confidence as one of the favorites. Keeping the same roster for quite a long time by today’s standards, winning two big events in a row, and taking down some of the best teams in the world in high pressure contexts; all these add up and make a very strong case for the Swedes. It may seem strange somehow and feel a bit magical, after their long absence from the very top, but there is no denying that they have recaptured their title as the Legends of Counter-Strike.
This is all the more true considering the usual favorites are either looking shaky these days — FaZe and Cloud9 being the most glaring examples — or simply unknown quantities after recent roster changes. A team like SK remains a big threat even after a roster move, but the burden is still on them to prove it. Fnatic are already proven champions. They have the titles, they have the right players, they have the assuredness that they can beat anyone along the way. We might not see them dominate, but they could find their way to yet another prestigious title.
It is quite the coincidence that they’ve landed in a group with Na’Vi, Renegades, and TyLoo. They are in a favorable position to win this group, likely alongside Na’Vi, and advance to the playoffs. However, the two other teams, despite their underdog status in this group, are also exactly the same teams that handed Fnatic their only early exit back in February at StarLadder Season 4. Everything should be fine for Golden and his crew though, as long as they do not let this past get in the way and ruin what should be an otherwise smooth path to the playoffs. If they manage to stay on track and focus on their strengths, we could see them ride their wave to another gold finish.
Team Liquid: the Mountaineers
When you add a former SK player to your squad, it’s difficult to argue that it isn’t an upgrade. That’s what happened for Team Liquid recently as they recruited TACO to replace the departing steelega. TACO is one of the most decorated players in CS:GO, yet he arrived at a time when Team Liquid were already on the up-and-up. Will he give the squad the boost they need to scale more summits, or will they have to figure things out again?
The reigning CS_Summit champions have had some tough luck at many of the premiere tournaments of late 2017 and early 2018, but don’t take these blokes for granted. Over the past two months since the return of NAF, Team Liquid has been on a tear. They defeated Cloud 9 and SK Gaming in order to win the Summit, placed 3rd above FaZe and SK Gaming at StarLadder, and finished in the semi-finals of the IEM World Championships. Their results launched them as high as 4th in HLTV’s rankings, and they certainly earned it.
The success of Team Liquid starts with their longest tenured players, Nitr0 and EliGE. Once known as one of the best entry-fragger duos in the game, both have switched things up over the past year in order to accommodate their new teammates. Their flexibility provides the basis of their team’s success — and they’ve shown time and again that they can clutch big rounds, too. NAF was an original member of the squad and returns as one of hottest players in CS:GO at the moment. He also provides a wide range of talents as a rifler and AWPer, and his volatility has given the team an X-factor during times of struggle. Even Twistzz, famous for taking the most difficult assignments on each map, has embraced the teams dynamic approach to CS. The prodigious magician is still looking up at his ceiling, and every event brings him closer and closer to reaching it.
This packed lineup has only gotten stronger over time, and they will continue to get stronger under the tutelage of their coach zews. Although this is old news for consistent viewers of CS, zews is one of the most highly regarded minds in the game. Team Liquid’s new dynamic set-up, which allows any of three players to pick up the AWP depending on the situation, not only takes advantage of the team’s players, it makes the team more difficult to predict and dissect. This can completely shatter an opponent’s plans heading into a map.
They enter their group at Marseille on a high, and it will be interesting to see how TACO will fit in. On paper, it appears to be a like-for-like replacement, but could this be the change that leads them to the top? With two new aimers, the team will approach Marseille with a pressure-free attitude, and we’ve seen many teams perform their best in these situations. Will Team Liquid climb even higher? The forecast looks good, and they’ll surely click on every head that greets them with a challenge.
Na`Vi: the Knife’s Edge
The Natus Vincere roster has everything to prove over the course of the coming year. Despite retaining all of their players, the recent roster shuffle left fans filled with doubt. We may continue to hear them cry out their “what if” scenarios on the forums until Na`Vi silences these doubters in the only way possible — by winning. This is precisely something that the core of the roster are no stranger to.
Zeus, Edward, and s1mple alone have enough talent to be an all-exclusive ticket to a Major Finals stage. Even though they have had their fair share of struggles, they took the title of champions at Dreamhack Winter 2017, and 2nd place in the fourth season of Starladder. The Na`Vi boys are no newcomers to victory — even in recent history.
On paper, Navi possess the puzzle pieces necessary to jump into the team pools in Marseille, and fire a full broadside of armor-piercing salvos. Their group is arguably one of the weaker ones, and they certainly boast more experience and firepower than both Renegades and TyLoo.
Their experience behind Zeus and Edward, which dates back to the glory days of 1.6, should give them an edge against the lesser lights in this competition. Should Plan A fail, s1mple, who continues to put up numbers that place him among the best in the world, flame, has proven he can bail them out of rough rounds. Surrounded by the strong groundwork of flamie and electroNic, the CIS mix should not be taken for granted.
However, the success of a team like Na`Vi will not be measured by their ability to beat teams that they should beat. The real test for Na`Vi is whether they can get past a month of uncertainty and finally claim another title. For years, and through several renditions of their roster, Na`Vi have dominated the CIS scene. That’s to be expected, and that certainly hasn’t changed. Yet as one of the most talented rosters in Counter-Strike, they should be aiming for more. Their last trip to DreamHack proved more than a few doubters wrong. Now, it’s time for a repeat.