Atlanta has been hosting the ELEAGUE Major’s Challenger and Legend stages over the past two weeks, providing plenty of the hardcore Counter-Strike action that fans have been yearning for since the break. The teams lined up for the intricate swiss bracketing system to determine who would make it to Boston and earn the title of Legends.
The real standouts during the preliminary Challenger stage were Cloud9 and G2 Esports, who both sailed through the first round flawlessly, boasting records of 3-0.
Travelling down the standings, Na`Vi advanced 3-2 after wins against QBFire, Sprout and Team Liquid. Na`Vi played it hot and cold throughout the first stage, winning handily, and losing in similarly one-sided affairs. That final win pushed s1mple’s former squad, Team Liquid, into the last chance bracket, and the North Americans managed to slip under the category of “New Legends”.
The 9th place three-way tie between Team Liquid, Renegades, and the Kazakh’s of AVANGAR forced a set of decision matches allowing only one of the three to advance. After a relatively easy win for AVANGAR over Renegades, the Liquid players found themselves at a significant roadblock in their Championship dreams — win now, or go home. Fortunately for the team, nitr0 was on fire, and he put in an absolute ‘A’ game, out-fragging his counterparts by a significant margin. Liquid survived in a nail-biter overtime victory, 19-15, to move on to the next stage.
The “New Legends” rounds would be the final step towards Boston, and the teams in attendance included superstars and surprises alike. Yet only 8 teams would make it from Gambit, Astralis, Virtus Pro, BIG, Fnatic, SK Gaming, North, Cloud9, G2, FaZe, Space Soldiers, Vega, mousesports, Na`Vi, Quantum Bellator Fire, and Team Liquid.
The second swiss round proved to be even more thrilling than the first. While most of the top dogs secured their places with relative ease, it was still a tense couple of days for most of the teams. It was also a second consecutive week of high pressure games for the Challengers compared to the previous Legends that started their Major at that point.
Team Liquid had already overcome the previous swiss round despite playing with their coach Wilton “zews” Prado, instead of Lucas “steel” Lopes, and the North Americans were looking to continue doing damage at this Major, despite their weakened roster. It started with a bit of luck as soon as the first matchups were revealed, as Liquid’s first opponent were BIG, one of the weakest teams amongst the previous Legends. Favored against the Germans, even playing with zews, Liquid played a comfortable first game on their trademark Inferno and overwhelmed BIG 16-5. Unfortunately, things went south from this point onward. First, they were matched against a revitalized G2 Esports, and then Na’Vi, in a rematch from the previous week. Down 1-2, and just one loss shy from elimination, they would have to face Vega Squadron in their fourth match. Things started poorly on the CT side for Liquid, as they were unable to withstand Vega’s relentless aggression, and they quickly fell behind on the scoreboard, only scoring four on the defense. A side switch later, and a completely different Liquid showed up, stringing round after rounds after picking up the pistol and the next two. The squad eventually managed to tie the score at 11-11 and then 12-12. Seemingly back in the game, it was at this moment, however, that Liquid fell in a crucial round, giving away their advantage against an eco buy from Vega. The Russians would not let go of their recovered grasp on the game, and closed it out in regulation, eliminating Liquid from the Major.
The weekend was brighter for Natus Vincere. After a laborious Challenger Stage where it seemed to be all or nothing for the boys in yellow, they finally found consistency and solidity. In a run completely opposite to that of Liquid, they began with a loss at the hand of the previous Major winners, Gambit. Na’Vi compensated for this loss right away by gunning down BIG in the second round with a near perfect victory. The trio of electronic, s1mple, and flamie completely tore apart gob b and his team, who only sat on one round won when the dust had settled. This win put Na’Vi right back on track, and they would cruise effortlessly to a Legends spot by taking down Team Liquid 16-9 and Fnatic 16-7. After more than a year of doubts, they displayed hints of the massive potential that people were expecting, and delivered clean and dominant victories on their way back to the top.
Finally, Fnatic’s quest to preserve a unique legacy came to the fore. This was their 12th Major and 12th group stage — the only team that has participated in all the Majors and got Legends at all of them as well. The Swedes opened against one of the toughest opponents from the Challengers, FaZe. It was yet another encounter with the super team that had put an end to their ESL Pro League and ECS runs a few weeks earlier. And yet again, FaZe prevailed in a game where Fnatic couldn’t reach double digit despite their best efforts. In their second match, they were drawn against another big name in Counter-Strike, Virtus.pro. Fnatic went in with full confidence, and Freddy “KRiMZ” Johansson displayed a star-level performance that was reminiscent of the legendary era of Fnatic. The Swedes put themselves even at 1-1, but things would become dicey for Fnatic, as they would then have to fight Astralis. It was a dangerous matchup considering the Danes had remained one of the best team in the world, even in light of their issues with Nicolai “device” Reedtz’ health. KRiMZ led Fnatic yet again to a dominant victory 16-8, propelling them to within a win of advancement. It would have to wait, however, as they were outgunned by the Russian-Ukranian powerhouses of Na`Vi.
With one chance remaining, Fnatic were once again drawn against a big team in Gambit. With both team sitting on 2-2, the stakes were high in a match that would determine who would make it to Boston: the defending Major champions or the ever-Legends Fnatic. Eighteen rounds would be all Fnatic needed to claim the victory, after yet again another fantastic performance from KRiMZ, seconded by Robin “flusha” Rönnquist and Jonas “Lekr0” Olofsson. At the end of another grueling group stage, Fnatic retained their status as the Legend team.
The final Champions Stage will be held at the Agganis Arena in Boston, Massachusetts, starting on the 26th. The first Major tournament of 2018 will crown its champion during the Grand Final on the 28th.
Bucharest Major Qualifiers
Had it not been for Galaxy Battles status as a Major being revoked VGJ.Thunder’s win in the Bucharest Major qualifiers would have been their 2nd. They will still be competing at Galaxy Battles but unfortunately it will not be for DPC points. This makes their 2-0 victory over LGD all the more important as it sets them up with an excellent chance to get some much needed points. VGJ.Thunder’s path to the finals had them go through IG twice, Eclipse, EHOME, and finally LGD. After dropping into the lower bracket VGJ.Thunder didn’t suffer another loss, 2-0ing every opponent with excellent performances from Sylar and Kamma in nearly every game.
The Chinese region continues to be home to some of the most competitive teams in Dota 2 and making it out of not just one Major qualifier but two in a short amount of time marks a rise for VGJ.Thunder. Their improvement has also been seen in the qualifiers for StarLadder and ESL One Katowice where, while not qualifying, they made it to the semi-finals in both brackets. VGJ.Thunder’s sister team VGJ.Storm in NA also made it to the finals of their qualifier for the Bucharest Major but fell short in the finals after taking the first game.
ESL One Katowice Major, SEA Qualifier
Only three days after their loss to TnC in the StarLadder qualifier Fnatic earned their chance for revenge when they met TnC again in the finals of the ESL One Katowice qualifier. The stakes would be much higher, however, as they would be playing a bo5 and they were playing for a spot at the upcoming Major in Katowice, Poland. Fnatic triumphed over TnC 3-2 in a series that was difficult to predict right down to the final moments as TnC typed out gg in the final game. Including the time the teams took to draft the finals took over 4 hours to play, turning the series into a marathon. Fnatic jumped on an error in game 5 as TnC expended too many skills on Pieliedie which allowed Abed’s Aghanims Tinker to leap into TnC’s base and wreak havoc with rockets and lasers. Fnatic will be joining EG, VG, Na`Vi, and Team Liquid among others for the Major making it an event you won't want to miss.
Galaxy Battles II: Emerging Worlds
The Galaxy battle saga finally came to a conclusion, where EG and VGJ.Thunder stole the show. The two teams not only met in the winners’ bracket finals after besting the other teams in attendance, they also clashed again in the grand finals to see which team would take home the lion's share of the $500,000 prize pool. While EG came out on top in the winners’ bracket, VGJ.Thunder stormed back in the finals and won their first tournament in a spectacular showing. While most of the games EG and VGJ.Thunder played were fairly straight forward, when the two were matched against each other they gave the two best games of the tournament. One in the upper bracket finals and one in the grand finals. The 2nd game of the upper bracket finals featured an incredible comeback from EG, due largely to Arteezy’s Terrorblade and one of the best Nyx Assassin performances to date by Cr1t. In the grand finals however the shoe was on the other foot as Freeze was on the Terrorblade and brought VGJ.Thunder their 72-minute victory. Both teams will hope to continue their momentum as they play in the ESL One Genting Minor only two days after the finals of Galaxy Battles.
The hegemony at the top of Super Smash Brothers Melee was broken this weekend as Plup defeated Mango, Armada, and Hungrybox twice to win the title. The fifth installment of Genesis featured the crème de la crème of Melee, but the bright young star completed the upset to start 2018.
It looked like another tournament destined for an Armada vs Hungrybox showdown in the grand finals as both players cruised to their singles bracket finals, but Armada was unceremoniously swept by the eventual champion 3-0 in a stunning upset. Hungrybox survived another marathon against TSM’s Leffen, but he would suffer a similar fate, a 3-1 thumping, in the winners’ final against Plup.
With one life left, Armada reached the final bracket with his own sweep against Lucky to set up a clash against his countryman Leffen. Unfortunately, that is where Armada’s run would come to an end. Despite the one sided scoreline — Leffen finished off the series with 3 stocks remaining — it was still some of the most exciting Melee of the weekend. Leffen would not be able to repeat his heroics against Hbox, however, to set up a rematch in the grand finals.
The comeback looked like a stern possibility as Liquid’s player swept the first series 3-0. Plup looked out of wits after another quick win for Hungrybox in game 1 of the second set, but Plup turned things around to seal the deal with wins on Pokemon Stadium twice, and Battlefield in the decider.