After the customary post-Major break, and save for a few teams that attended the cs_summit, the CS:GO circuit officially resumed with StarLadder holding its fourth season of StarSeries in Kiev over the past two weeks. Needless to say, everyone was impatient to witness how the many recent roster changes would shape the scene for 2018. StarLadder presented an excellent opportunity for teams to get back into the swing of things, and the format that notably featured a best-of-three swiss round made this a mouth-watering event on paper. With each team playing between 3 to 5 best of 3s, it would be possible to make some conclusions on team and player form after the first round.
It was another tournament and another great showing by KRiMZ, even though Fnatic exited StarSeries in a disappointing fashion after their promising months leading up to it. The bearded legend made heads turn once again, finishing the tournament as the eighth best player despite the team winning only a single map in three series. At ease with excellent holds during CT sides, comfortable in his trademark clutches, and prepared for pistol rounds with four or five kills, the Swede’s performance really stood out even as the team struggled. If collective play somehow lacked, individual skill was on display at StarLadder for Fnatic.
Team Liquid and Natus Vincere didn’t suffer such a fate fortunately, as both teams made their way through the swiss round, with varying degrees of success. The horsemen came in with high expectations after their victory at the cs_summit just a week before, but it remained to be seen if this was a fluke or not. Their first encounter saw them face Astralis, a team they’ve been able to overcome in the past. Unfortunately, the Dane’s revamped roster—now with Emil “Magisk” Reif—proved too tough to handle for Liquid, and they conceded the first match. Not an ideal start, but they brushed it off and went on a three-win streak from then onwards, taking down successively Renegades, Virtus.pro and finally mousesports to book their spot in the playoffs. A smooth swiss round was a first objective accomplished, as they proved that, in a very competitive environment, their AWP-optional approach to the game that they adopted when they brought in Keith “NAF” Markovic could pay dividends.
Meanwhile, Na’Vi looked poised to make a flawless run through the swiss round, first by taking down HellRaisers convincingly, before overcoming their rivals Gambit. That’s when things went awry, as they faced FaZe in the third round. Na’Vi managed to score Inferno but bowed down on Mirage and Overpass, and thus gave way to the international powerhouse. Their next match wasn’t easier either as they disputed their fourth round against SK Gaming whom, despite a less convincing period as of late, remain scary opponents in all circumstances. In a fairly one-sided series, SK sent Na’Vi into the danger zone, handing them their second defeat in the swiss round. Drawn against Heroic in the win-or-go-home round, Na’Vi had lost all their second chances, and it was absolutely pivotal to claim a win over the Danes. The series opened on Train, and the situation already looked dangerous for Daniil “Zeus” Teslenko and his men. Although they won the map, it took all 30 rounds and Heroic showed some resilience in spite of their underdogs status. The Danes replied right away on Mirage and suddenly both teams were playing their tournament lives on a final map. The match was determined on Overpass where Na’Vi completely outpowered Heroic, in a game that notably saw Zeus step up and deliver a top notch performance, resulting in the CIS side booking a spot in the playoffs.
There, the first quarterfinal saw Liquid take on their good old nemesis, SK Gaming. The Brazilians rapidly took the advantage in the series with a swift win on Mirage, a map they’ve consistently scored against Liquid. Moving on to Cobblestone, TL mustered all their forces to avoid elimination, and fought a hard game that went to double overtime. Thanks to an outstanding performance from nitr0, and a notable 3K from NAF that saved the first overtime, Liquid prevailed 22-20. They followed with a 16-7 sweep on Inferno to close the series. Moving on to the semifinals, they met mousesports for a rematch of their group stage fourth round. Alas Liquid couldn’t repeat the feat and were stopped there. Their tournament wasn’t over though, as a third place decider was planned.
Meanwhile, Na’Vi made their way through the other side of the bracket. After trading very close maps with Astralis in their quarterfinal, they eventually crushed the Danes in the decider played on Inferno and earned a ticket to the semifinals. In a similar story to Liquid, they got themselves a rematch again one of their group stage encounters, FaZe. And in a similar way, the roles were reversed as Na’Vi were able to get revenge. Although they had to yield on the first map, they stopped FaZe right in their tracks and claimed two quick 16-7 victories on Overpass and Train to win the series and power through to the grand final against mousesports.
Opening on Overpass, the final began the best way possible for Na’Vi, who quickly took the upper hand and smashed mousesports on the offense 11-4, before closing the map 16-7 uncontested. mouz replied with a 11-4 half of their own on Mirage in the second game, but Na’Vi were able to match that score after sides changed, and it turned into an overtime game. A couple mistakes from Na’Vi there gave too much room to an extremely crisp Chris “chrisJ” de Jong, which resulted in mousesports grabbing the second map. The third map started with yet again an 11-4 half in favor of mouz, and despite s1mple’s best efforts, Na’Vi were forced to tap out at 16-9, missing the title by only a small margin. Things were not all doom and gloom though, as the out-of-this-world and record-breaking performance of s1mple during this week and a half earned him the HLTV Most Valuable Player award, which for the first time in its existence was not given to a player of the winning team. It was a testimony to how dominant the Ukrainian prodigy had been all tournament long.
Team Liquid also ended the tournament on a positive note, as they managed to gun down FaZe in the third place decider, netting them an impressive hunt trophy and a bronze finish at one of the most competitive events in the history of CS:GO.