‘Tis the season of qualifiers, and the MLG Columbus 2016 Main Qualifier LAN took place this weekend, as 16 teams competed for the remaining 8 spots available at the Columbus Major in April. The top 8 teams from the past major–in this case, DreamHack Cluj-Napoca 2015–are immediately invited to the next major, and are referred to as “Legends.” The final 8 spots are filled through an offline qualifier, and the teams who progress to the Major from this qualifier are known as “Challengers.” Pretty simple, right?
MLG Columbus 2016 is a tournament of many firsts. It is MLG’s first time as the organizer of a Major. It will be the first Major held on North American soil. It’s also the first Major with a million dollar prize pool. With victory attached to both historical precedent and a hefty sum, there’s no denying that the qualifier gave us a sneak preview of what it means to truly play high-stakes Counter-Strike.
The rules of the tournament, although not unusual, provide a format that facilitates this level of intensity–the qualifiers use a double elimination format, meaning that any team who lost their two first best-of-one games of the tournament would be instantly removed. However, if a team won their first two games of the tournament, they immediately qualified for Columbus.
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There is no avoiding the largest storyline and question of the entire weekend: can North America actually win against Europeans? There were no excuses available for the five American teams at the qualifiers–no jetlag or “away team disadvantage” to assign blame to if their performances went sour. With their North American fanbases watching attentively Cloud9, Selfless, Team Liquid, Counter Logic Gaming, and Splyce had to prove themselves.
And much to everyone’s collective surprise, it turns out that my frequently mocked continent was able to compete at the level of their European peers. In fact, only Selfless was eliminated from the tournament, and the other four NA teams all managed to qualify.
That’s not to say that things didn’t look dire at various points. It wouldn’t be North American Counter-Strike if it didn’t give you a mild heart attack. After every NA team except Splyce lost their first game of the tournament, their heads were moved to the chopping block. Although the North American teams would prevail, there was a window of time where Splyce were, in fact, the “last hope of NA.”
If you’re wondering who Splyce are, that’s understandable. In all fairness, they were a team that never should have even been at the tournament in the first place–TheMongolz had won the qualifier, which but were unable to attend due to visa issues. After receiving a last minute invitation to the event from MLG, Splyce emerged from the shadows and became the first North American team to qualify for the Major.
CLG managed to beat Vexed (formerly known as eBettle) in a best-of-three series to secure their spot at the major, and, in true CLG fashion, it was closer than it should have been at moments.
Cloud9 continue to fall entirely flat on their Terrorist sides, but managed to secure wins over the weekend by the sheer force of their massive Counter-Terrorist sides. It is not a long-term strategy, and Cloud9 still have their critics, but their successful run at the qualifiers should give them not only confidence, but enough time to iron out the kinks in their T-side play before Columbus.
Team Liquid narrowly beat HellRaisers in their decider match, and the final map was won by only the smallest of margins–after the teams took turns crushing their opponents on their own map picks, Liquid would eke out a 16 – 14 win on Dust 2. Notably absent from the scoreboard, especially in the final map of the series, was Aleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev. However, the event seemed to offer some catharsis to the young player, who gave an emotional post-game interview, where he praised his opponents and thanked his teammates and fans as tears welled in his eyes.
Out of all the European teams in attendance, I was most impressed by Gambit, who had a remarkably strong showing at the event. The team is a veritable who’s who of recognizable names from the CIS region–Dosia, AdreN (not the North American one), mou, hooch, and, of course, wayLander, who has returned to Counter-Strike after a stint in the Finnish army. Gambit qualified for Columbus with two victories during the group stage, where they showcased a style that seemed to depend in equal parts on complex, team-based execution and individual playmaking ability.
MLG Columbus 2016 will be taking place on April 1 – 3rd in the Nationwide Arena. Tickets can still be purchased online here, although you should buy them quickly if you’re planning to go–there aren’t many left.