The ELEAGUE Major has just begun. The era of parity in 2016 has carried over into the New Year and it is still nearly impossible to predict a winner. There was nearly a month of inactivity from the end of 2016 until now–it’s difficult to know what kind of form the teams will show up in. Also, the best-of-one Swiss system that is being employed makes it possible for upsets if certain teams get hot, much like GODSENT’s run through the qualifier. While there are favorites for the ELEAGUE Major, none of them are locked in to win it.
At the end of 2016 Astralis came on strong, finishing second at ELEAGUE season 2 and first at ECS season 2. The addition of in-game leader Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander galvanized the lineup and got them performing to everyone’s expectations. Despite this form, there are some chinks in the armor for Astralis.
Astralis hasn’t competed since early December at ECS season 2. That is over a month of inactivity after a period where it looked like they were peaking. While they were able to win their last tournament, their path to the finals wasn’t as difficult as it seemed. At ECS, they played SK Gaming in the semifinals who were using a stand-in. They also got revenge over OpTic Gaming in the finals after losing to them in the finals of ELEAGUE season 2, but OpTic had just risen to power. OpTic was new to the elite tier and didn’t have the pedigree or level of talent that Astralis had.
Aside from their recent form, the core of Astralis has a long history of choking and coming up short in the playoffs of majors. Even as the favorites, they have lost multiple quarterfinals and semifinals that they should have won.
After Cloud9’s win at ESL Pro League Season 4, OpTic took over as the best NA team and were formidable at the international level. They won Northern Arena Montreal and ELEAGUE season 2. They also made the finals of ECS season 2. Their stars, Oscar “mixwell” Cañellas and Tarik “tarik” Celik were looking very good and their role players were having high levels of impact.
The last time we saw OpTic, they were at the major qualifier and while they did qualify, they did not look as strong as they had at the previous two tournaments. Their ELAGUE title was impressive, but it was sullied by the fact that Virtus.pro was upset in the quarterfinals giving OpTic an easier run to the finals. They also won ELEAGUE off the back of some fantastic play from their role players, Keith “NAF” Markovic and Peter “stanislaw” Jarguz. These players had never hit this level before and were not able to show up in the same way in the ECS finals which is why they lost the rematch to Astralis. You just can’t bank on them playing at that same level again.
At the end of the summer going into fall of 2016, the consensus was that Virtus.pro was the best team in world. They won the first season of ELEAGUE and DreamHack Bucharest. They also made the finals of ESL One: New York and EPICENTER. These were impressive showings at multiple premier tournaments. However, it was only a matter of time before VP returned to their up-and-down form.
Throughout their peak form in 2016 VP were still plagued by their online woes as they often struggled to even qualify for tournaments. Towards the end of the year, their inconsistencies at LAN matched their online form. They were a big letdown at ELEAGUE season 2, losing as the heavy favorites in the quarterfinals. They then failed to qualify for ECS season 2. At the recent WESG event, they once again lost to an underdog in the bracket stage as they were bested by the second best Polish roster, Team Kinguin. VP’s form is just as mercurial as ever going into the major. They could win it all, but just as easily fail to even make a run at all.
All three teams had some very good peaks in the latter part of 2016, but all have many question marks going into the ELEAGUE Major. Astralis seems like the best pick but they still have their history of choking to overcome. With no clear cut favorite, this major is set to be one of the most exciting ever.