The ninth CSGO major has been and gone with a whopping $1 million prize pool distributed amongst some of the world’s best teams. ESL ONE Cologne saw 16 teams duke it out in four groups before pitting the best of the best against each other for the $500,000 first prize.
The format for ESL One Cologne group stage stayed the same as previous tournaments with the original games being a best-of-one setup where teams needed two wins to advance or two losses to exit. A decider match was also played in a best-of-three series to determine the last team to advance in each group.
But even before the tournament has started there were speculations surrounding the group stage setup with 3 of the 5 best teams being placed in the same group (SK, G2 and Fnatic). This meant that only 2 of these teams would be able to make it through and earn the Legend status.
With the groups in place it was time to get the tournament underway and even from these matches we were able to see some major upsets. Most notable of these was in Group A where Gambit Gaming was able to best Counter Logic Gaming and Astralis in best-of-ones to be the first team to make it into the playoffs. The destruction of Astralis was so severe that one of their players (Dupreeh) had to go to hospital with an unrelated appendix infection and their coach Zonic had to step in and play.
Even with the Astralis roster being weakened by two stand-in players, they were still able to beat out their Danish brothers Team Dignitas in the best-of-three decider and obtain their Legend status.
Another major upset was over in Group B where FlipSid3 Tactics quickly recovered after loss to Na’Vi. The Ukrainian team was able to fight back against OpTic Gaming and put them out of the tournament before amazingly defeating 8 time Legend team NiP in the decider best-of-three match. This allowed FlipSid3 Tactics to obtain the Legend status for the first time since the organisation created a CSGO team back in 2014.
Group C was able to give us one of the biggest dark horses of the tournament in the form of Team Liquid. After recently making multiple roster changes, the North American team was an unknown going into ESL ONE Cologne and they were able to use that to their advantage. While not making it in two easy best-of-ones thanks to Virtus.Pro, Team Liquid was able to best Team EnVyUs and mousesports to join the Polish Legends in the playoffs.
Finally was the “Group of Death” which was a worthwhile title for Group D. With three of the best teams in the world fighting for survival it was hard to give the FaZe Clan any room to move. With that being said the European conglomerate was able to beat out Fnatic in an extremely close best-of-one match. Unfortunately this is where the road got rough for them as the Brazilian side SK Gaming quickly dispatched of them and sent them to the decider match where Fnatic was waiting for revenge.
While G2 Esports had been making a huge comeback in the last few months, they were unable to make it out of the group stage of ESL ONE Cologne. After narrowly being edged out of the first match by SK Gaming, the French side was looking at an uphill battle when they found out they were up against Fnatic instead of FaZe. Unfortunately they were narrowly defeated once again and their tournament dream was over in two quick best-of-one’s.
We now come to the meat and potatoes of ESL ONE Cologne 2016. This is where the best teams will battle it out for the big prize pool of $500,000. From the looks of things you might think you could easily pick the final but a lot happened along the way so let’s dive right in.
Still struggling through with their doubly weakened lineup, Astralis still took the Polish Virtus.Pro to overtime in both of their two maps, ultimately losing in both but still feeling on top of the world. They came into this tournament for the sole purpose of obtaining the Legend status and coming back with their lineup at full strength at the next major. For the number one Danish team I would say it must have felt like they already won.
Unfortunately at the other end of the spectrum, we have both of the upset teams, Gambit Gaming and FlipSid3 Tactics going up against some of the best teams in the world and they couldn’t recreate what they did in the group stage. Legend status or not, Gambit Gaming were rapidly outclassed by Fnatic at every turn, resulting in a quick 2-0 win for the Swedish superstars.
FlipSide Tactics had also suffered a similar fate against SK Gaming. While the first map (Mirage) was shaky at best, they were able to take the Brazilians to overtime in the second map (Nuke) and attempt to hold on to their tournament life. Unfortunately for the Ukrainians it wasn’t enough and their tournament run quickly came to an end.
The closest game of the quarterfinals of ESL ONE Cologne by far was between the CIS Region’s Natus Vincere (Na’Vi) and the dark horse of Team Liquid. While not only going to a third map, the scores were close right until the end of the series where Na’Vi seemed to defeat themselves in an amazing upset win. With s1mple putting the team on his back, he was able to carry them through the final match with an impressive 1.90 HLTV rating and clinch a second major semifinal for the North American team.
We are on our way to the pointy end of the tournament now and our final teams will faced off for a shot at the huge $500,000 prize that was waiting for them at the end. Virtus.Pro and Fnatic seemed to be back to their old form once again, SK Gaming looked to be on top of the world and Team Liquid had sprung out of nowhere to suprise abosolutely everyone with one upset after another.
Continuing with with their tournament trend, it seemed like SK Gaming were unphased when it came to going up against Virtus.Pro. However, it was a bit of a wake up call when the Polish side was able to take them to overtime in the first map and quickly swept the win out from under them. This in turn allowed SK Gaming to get their heads in gear and proceed to win the next to maps cleanly and effectively. Even going as far as beating VP on their own map pick (Nuke) 16 rounds to 5 before cleaning out the series with a 16:12 win on Mirage.
After meeting in the group stage it was almost destined to be a SK v Fnatic grand final as we entered the semi-final stage of the tournament. Unfortunately for the Swedes, Team Liquid had other plans and in another shocking upset they took down Fnatic in just two maps. While both matches were close (16:13) this is a series that Fnatic shouldn’t have lost and it left people wondering just what the heck is going on with the Swedish squad. Was it Olofmeister injury still plaguing his performance or possibly the lack of a dedicated in-game leader not being able to direct the players?
Nevertheless, both “s1mple” and “EliGe” put up some impressive performances throughout the series and it allowed Team Liquid to make history once again. They had their team in the Grand Final of a Counter-Strike Major tournament and it was their chance to prove that North American CS was able to stand against the best teams around the world.
On the final day of ESL ONE Cologne the fans were firstly entertained by a show match between team BOT Bardolph (missharvey, Moses, HenryG, Spiidi and audience member – KrowNii) and Team juliano (juliano, Sadokist, JZFB, kennyS and audience member – aNtrex). This match, while mildly entertaining was over quickly with BOT Bardolph taking the decisive win. HenryG and Spiidi carved a path through the enemy team, both ending up with over 20 kills a piece.
The action moved quickly onto the Grand Final where we would see if Team Liquid could write a new chapter for themselves by winning the first ever CSGO Major tournament for the North American region. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the final result that they wanted and SK Gaming had their own sights set on taking the trophy. I honestly don’t know what happened but it looked like SK Gaming were on a completely different level in this series. Team Liquid were making mistakes and tournament carry “s1mple” slowly dropped to the bottom of the scoreboard amassing a measly 10 kills throughout the first map.
While Team Liquid attempted to pick up the pieces of the first map loss they just didn’t seem to have the spark that was their in the previous matches against Na’Vi and Fnatic. Notably in the second game we saw a fantastic AWP ace by Team Liquid’s “Jdm64” but it wasn’t enough for them to capitalise on. Without the drive to carry themselves through to win the necessary rounds, SK Gaming quickly cleaned up the series in two maps. Top fragger “coldzera” put out consistently amazing performances throughout the tournament and was the highest rated player across the board.
Congratulations to SK Gaming roster for securing their second consecutive Major title against Team Liquid. If you missed any games, they have now been uploaded to the ESL Counter-Strike Youtube Channel.