Once again we were graced with another spectacular event over in Europe, with the world’s top Counter-Strike teams heading over to the Romanian city of Cluj-Napoca for one of the final legs of the Dreamhack tour.

It was generally considered that the top 3 of this event were reasonably predictable, with many opting for penciling in EnvyUs, TSM, then a choice between Fnatic, NiP and VP. But this wasn’t exactly the case, as we soon found out once we moved to the final bracket.

Through the group stages the outcomes were somewhat predictable, though some of the big-name teams had a few small scares here and there. There was a feeling in the air that a change was coming, and it started here.

In Group A we saw Luminosity and Fnatic top the groups, knocking out C9 and Vexed Gaming rather comfortably. In Fnatic’s match against Vexed it was rather disconcerting to start with, as Vexed seemed to be in crushing form at the start of the Cobblestone match, taking a quick 10-5 lead. The champions pulled it back in style though, ripping apart Vexed’s Terrorist side and taking a 11-0 streak to cruise home.

C9 continued to show splashes of their form that has taken them to the precipice of the North American scene, but yet again failed to deliver. Losing to LG and having a close 16-13 match with Vexed, the American squad capitulated when they came up against Fnatic in the decider match, losing 0-2 including a crushing on Dust2 of 6-16.

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Over in Group B, TSM and G2 Esports (Formerly Games2) took out this group without any real challenges – for TSM dupreeh and device were showing some great form, while for G2 we saw jkaem, Fox and Maikelele starting to really starting to spread their wings to provide some great highlights.

Group C had the promise of some great games, but overall the matches were rather standard. TL were unable to bring their A-game, and many were disappointed with the lack of punch that these guys displayed given that they are really starting to show their collective power after a few roster changes through the year. VP and NiP cruised through this group, and the once venerable Titan was virtually no-where to be seen, despite a nice win over NiP 16-13.

The final Group D had 2 of the legend seeds from ESL One Cologne EnvyUs and Na’Vi that were in the hearts of many fans to hit the top 5, and some were counting on Envy to take the entire tournament. Na’Vi had some minor challenges in this group, just scooting past CLG 16-12 but falling to Envy 9-16, finally securing a top 8 spot by clearing out CLG in the tie-breaker match with a 2-1 victory. Guardian was displaying some incredible form which started to put him and the team in a great spot moving forward into the playoff bracket.

Throughout the tournament there was a bevvy of content that was displayed despite there being little downtime. Interviews with players families about their rise in video gaming and their histories, along with SirScoots down on the ground having a chat to players in-between matches. Another very cool thing that the PGL folks threw in was the production content itself – great cut-aways, 1v1 split-screens, and generally speaking the observing was on point. A small thing I loved was the flame-burst when the bomb went off – what a great touch!

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Day 4 took us to the Quarterfinals where things really started to get interesting.

First match of the day saw EnvyUs taking on Fnatic, starting off on Mirage. Fnatic held on respectably in the T side, with an 8-7 first half. They followed this up on the back of great work from Flusha and Krimz finishing off map 1 with a 16:9 score – NBK struggling for Envy.

Where in transit to map 2 (Cobble) and 3 (Cache), a table was flipped and the scores changed dramatically. NBK, Happy and Kioshima came on fire, annihilating Fnatic taking these two maps in dominating form – 16:9 and 16:2 respectively. A statement was made, and many had alluded to Fnatic’s recent form showing that their reign of power in the world of CSGO may have come to a close – but could Envy take it all the way?

Match number 2 saw VP and G2 Esports battling on Cache and Train – with a surprising 2-0 victory to G2 on the back of great performances from Fox and jkaem. VP looked very shaky through most of the rounds, struggling with their T sides and realistically only Snax bringing his best play to the table. After a 16:10 win on Cache, G2 cleaned up VP during a tight tie-breaker match on Train, finishing up 19:17.

Match 3 had all the promise of a spectacular game, TSM at the top of their game, and NiP starting to show some of that “NiP Magic” during the group stages… That was, until the games actually happened. NiP crushed TSM, with dominance on both CT and T sides of the coin, finishing Train 16:10, and Dust2 16:8. There was no doubt that Friberg had a couple of small niggling issues during the group stages, and former NiP player-now-analyst Fifflaren showed us how he gets pumped up when this happens. No doubt about it – it worked. Friberg went ballistic and controlled Ivy on Train like an absolute monster, finishing up 27-14 bringing his team a great map 1 victory. On Dust2 it was the lurk-master Get_Right’s turn to shine, bringing in some great play on T side, and helping the team to their 16:8 win over TSM.

The final match 4 saw Na’Vi and LG facing off on Dust2 and Overpass – Guardian absolutely dominating Dust2, dropping a 36-18 score helping his team to a tight 16:14 win. The Na’Vi squad pushed forward full of confidence to Overpass – and while LG certainly brought in a great fight with Steel, Boltz and fer showing some great plays – it wasn’t enough as Na’Vi took them down 16:13.

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Finally we’d reached the pinnacle of the journey, the big stage was ready, the crowd was huge and over 500,000 people were tuning in on Twitch.tv and watch in the CSGO client. The semi finals of Cluj brought us 4 incredible teams, EnvyUs, G2, NiP and Na’Vi. Who’d take it? Envy were looking very strong, G2 were a little surprise package that could do almost anything, NiP had Friberg on fire along with Get_Right, and Na’Vi’s Guardian was an absolute machine. Let the games begin…

Semifinal 1 was a rather intriguing set of matches, going all the way to the 3rd map. Dust2 was swept up in style by G2 Esports in a surprising start to the series. They held firm with dennis and jkaem producing some solid results, while on the other side apEX struggled for EnvyUs. This was the time for a true championship contender team to rally, bringing things together and wrench the momentum back to their side, and in a thrilling map 2 on inferno they did exactly that.

Happy, NBK and KennyS came alight, producing some top-notch Counter-strike, taking the match to a multiple tie-breaker – and despite great resistance from fox, G2 couldn’t keep it together, the map scores locked up at 1:1.

The third and deciding map was one of Envy’s top maps, Cache. apEX found his form, and with his comrades KennyS and Kioshima aside him, Envy completely shut down G2, with poor performances from Maikelele who was a stand out earlier on, and another beastly player jkaem giving his scorecard a shake with a pitiful 7-22. Envy moved on to the grand final.

Semifinal 2 brought NiP up against a strong rival Na’Vi, and to be honest there could have been anything that would have happened here and the crowd would have roared regardless. What wasn’t exactly expected was the way in which Na’Vi cruised through the games, finishing up 16-3 on Train (surprising, given Friberg’s destruction of TSM on this map) and 16-6 on Dust2. On train is was a rather flipped setting – with Na’Vi’s T side ripping through the NiP CT defense, taking sites cleanly and stopping the NiP stars Friberg and Forest from contributing anything, with a 6-18 from Friberg and a 9-18 from Forest respectively. What happened here? That’s the big question we come out with after this matchup.

After the dust settled, we were ready to rock with a promising final, with EnvyUs versus Na’Vi.

The first map started with a bang, an incredibly close and challenging map for both teams, seized on fire for Na’Vi with a 32-19, and KennyS leading the charge for Envy with a 26-18 himself. But despite seized’s and guardian bringing in some strong play, Envy were able to hold out on the back of KennyS, taking the first map 16:14.

We moved over to the tournament’s most used map Cobblestone, and what occurred was nigh on unstoppable. NBK decided to flick the switch to 11, and tore through Na’Vi’s CT defense on the big map, taking out players left and right with some beautiful snaps and entries, while kennyS, apEX and Happy all came through themselves – but NBK was definitely the star here today. Finishing 25-9, the Frenchman and his crew consistently crushed any Na’Vi resistance, and finished up the match 16:5, sealing the deal and taking home first place and a cool $100,000 and a sick trophy.

Image courtesy of Dreamhack

The top 8 teams not only grab a slice of the prize pool pie, but they also pick up a “Legend” status seed that gets them into the next big tournament with a seeding in each group. It’ll be interesting to see how C9, Liquid and CLG try and bounce back from this tournament, while CLG weren’t too shabby, Liquid and C9 will be quite sore after falling in the group stages. The NA teams have been the target of a lot of questions lately, and a great measure of a team and of players is how they react to this, and how they learn, adapt and recover from their losses, and I’ll be quite intrigued to see what happens for these guys over the next few weeks.

Players fell and rose back up like a phoenix across this tournament, most notably NBK. Starting off with some poor performances, the Frenchman brought it back slowly through the bracket stage until his incredible performance in the final match against Na’Vi. He has taken the MVP title for me for this tournament, with Guardian following close behind.

[youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjKY2vPvpLI”]

I’d thoroughly recommend checking out as many of the VODs from the tournament as you can if you’ve missed them, best place to find them would be in this handily crafted thread over on Reddit, or of course on HLTV.org. Hope you’ve enjoyed the tournament, and we look forward to the next one!

Big thanks to hltv.org for stats, teamliquid.net CSGO Liquipedia for brackets and info