Which teams will get the chance to prove themselves on the biggest stage of all?
The next major is only a month away, which means the time to decide the challengers has finally come. Despite the tournament, which starts today, being a qualifier, it is stacked with several top 10 and 20 teams. Some of these teams were not able to make it to the playoffs in Cologne, while others are relative newcomers who have taken the CS scene by storm. The tournament will follow a Swiss format, meaning teams will play other teams with the same record as them throughout the qualifier. The parity amongst these teams should make this tournament style even more exciting. Let's take a look at the 8 teams with the best shot at qualifying.
The Ninjas were going through a long funk in the summer, which led to them being taken down by a surprisingly strong Flipside team in the Cologne group stages. They have been on a steady resurgence lately and are now widely regarded as a top 3 team in the world. Expect them to have no trouble in this qualifier, especially when they won't have to play the #2 team...
While dignitas' form has been slipping over the past month, they undoubtedly have one of the most complete lineups in the game right now, let alone this tournament. Expect cajunb to light the way with his veteran leadership and for majiksbo0y to top frag against some inferior teams. An easy first round matchup against Spirit should make this a cakewalk for the Danes and Norweigan.
Undoubtedly the biggest surprise of this past half-year has been Optic. While followers of North American CS were closely watching CLG and Liquid, Mixwell swooped in from Spain and managed to breathe life into a team that was entirely out of the NA top-tier conversation. Their BO3 win against SK only further cements their status as a top-tier team not only in America, but in the world. If they can get past a tricky Tyloo team, expect them to roll through this qualifier without many hiccups.
Faze has been a revolving door of players for as long as it has existed, but the one consistent factor in this team has been the unbelievable fragging power. Now that the veteran IGL karrigan has joined the ranks and lent his knowledge to the fraggers, they are a force to be reckoned with. They have a rough first round matchup against Cloud9, but will benefit from being in the stacked seeding group A. They should be moving on to the major.
The summer is well past, and C9's form has left with it. After sniffing the top 5 for the first time in years, the NA team has dropped out of several tournaments earlier than expected. The most notable drop in form has been from autimatic, who looked like one of the best players in the world through C9's winning streak. What makes this qualifier even more challenging is that they have a difficult match against Faze right out of the gate. Even still, this is a very strong team that can dominate matches when they are firing on all cylinders. It might take all 5 rounds, but these guys have a chip on their shoulder after missing the last major, and should go through.
Niko's team has never been able to break through into the top tier of CS. However, they have a very strong record against teams that are worse than them. Not having to play 3 of the best teams in this qualifier is going to help them immensely. They shouldn't have any issue with a struggling HellRaisers lineup. They should probably make the major.
The biggest strength of NV? They've been there before, having won a major just a year ago. They've had a few lineup changes in that time, but the French side is making a late year resurgence. They've struggled mightily against Optic, losing to them in the last two tournaments, but luckily won't have to face them in this qualifier. They should be able to ride their wave of momentum into the major.
The Brazilians are a big question mark coming into this tournament. They consistently beat other teams from the Americas, but can never seem to beat top European talent. Another issue is that they know one of them will be leaving the team at the end of the year to go to SK (probably their star player felps). But on the plus side, we have seen how powerful last hurrahs can be with Liquid's finals showing at the last major. They also gave NV a run for their money at ECS, and have a chance for sweet revenge against them in the first round. It will hinge on them winning that first game, but if they pull it off, they might be able to limp into the major with a 3-2 record.
Just missing the cut are going to be:
G2, who will continue plummeting from their #2 ranking earlier this year;
GODSENT, who will show just how much shorter their end of the stick was in their roster swap with fnatic;
and Renegades, who will win a match or 2 but who have been surpassed by up-and-coming teams in other regions.
Discuss my predictions in the comments and stay tuned for more blogs!
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