Sunday, December 14, 2014

ESEA LAN impressions

It's a little late, but I got busy, and decided that waiting a little while may give myself more time for insight as the fall out of ESEA LAN Season 17 finals settles. ESEA Season 17 concluded with a Fnatic win over Virtus Pro in the finals, with Fnatic taking two best of threes from Virtus Pro. Just like the last LAN debriefing on Dreamhack, most of the expert analysis has already been written, so I'm just going to write down my thoughts from a semi-serious MMer point of view.

iBP's AZK, nitr0 and swag
First, let's start with iBP. I have to say, I did not expect much of iBP initially. This was just my opinion, but with the recent change of DaZed out (now back in, as of this writing), nitr0 being untested, and adreN coming from a semi-long LAN hiatus, I think most expectations were for iBP to take this LAN as a sort of testing ground and serve as good LAN experience for the team. They did well, kinda surprisingly, taking it all the way to the semis where they lost against fnatic, who is arguably the best team in the world at the moment. They came out swinging and nitr0 showed us we have some reason to be excited for the NA scene, proving that there is talent in NA outside of iBP and Cloud9. It's too bad desi couldn't make it, as he is a very strong player. I hope to see some good action out of desi in the coming months, whatever team he gets picked up by. Skadoodle also proved that he is the best AWPer in North America at the moment, even with his reported sub-standard comms. If he can work on his chemistry, he can truly be a world class talent. I hope DaZed's new tenure on iBP will help Skadoodle continue to develop in the player he can be.

Cloud9's Semphis, sgears and n0thing

Moving on, Cloud9 was one of the favorites coming into this tournament. Their quick exit in FACEIT was seen as an anomaly, but the group stage exit at Dreamhack hinted that maybe it was warranted. They spent a month in Europe bootcamping, but I am of the opinion that the boot camp burned them out. Cloud9's style is always an intellectually surprising style of play, and by playing for so long, I think they meta-gamed themselves out. They rely on taking advantages of enemy's expectations and doing what the other teams don't expect. When you play everyday for a month, nothing seems new to you anymore. Cloud9 has the same team core that surprised VeryGames in DreamHack 2013 in one of the most exciting games to this date. These days however, they are not playing at the same level. There are many theories as to why this is happening. I think it's a combination of other teams seeing c9's play style more since that DreamHack upset. I think that upsets like that rely intimately on Semphis and sgears playing out of their minds, and that hasn't happened too much recently. n0thing has been playing CS for so long, that it's up to him to be unpredictable. He is one of the few that has enough experience to have truly seen everything, so they need him to do things that enemy's won't expect. Without his and Semphis entry fragging, Hiko's lurks look pointless. Shroud seems like he's a bit without guidance. I used to think that sgears was one of the smartest minds in CS. I don't want to say he's not. I think he's smart, but it's hard to match someone like Pronax in terms of raw fragging ability and tactics. I think Sean would do great in a coaching role, with a strong AWP brought in as a replacement. There are many rumors of Cloud9 roster changes that have swirled around recently, but only time will tell if they are founded or not. C9 is still my favorite team, mostly on the back of n0thing's personality and likeness to myself. I'm hoping they can turn it around and have a chance to place in the Top 4 internationally.

Denial's ShaHzam celebrates beating Cloud9

Next, we come to Denial. Denial is Todd 'anger' Williams's newest team, and one who people didn't have  really have high expectations of. That situation in it of itself was a perfect setup for them to surprise everyone, and surprise they did. NAF-FLY, daps and ShahZam all played out of their mind and beat took Cloud9 out early. I honestly don't know much about Denial outside of anger and ShahZam's reputation as being a shit-stirrer, but this outing put the players on an internationl map. ShahZam in particular showed us that there is another AWP in NA to watch for. If he can consistently have results like this, he can be top contender. Expect to see some big things out of Denial if they can keep developing.

Fnatic shakes hands with Virtus.Pro after winning
Fnatic proved that they're really good at either playing or cheating. This is the second big LAN with people breathing down their necks with the cheating accusations and they still perform. Their loss to LDLC in the quarter finals was considered the finals of DH for many, so their exit at that stage is not indicative of their skill. At ESEA, they were able to fight their way through the lower bracket, beating iBP and then VP in two best of threes. They are almost unstoppable. The only team that has an honest chance at beating them is the French powerhouse of LDLC, who is the other team in contention for best team of the world. If Fnatic is still cheating after all the witchhunting that is going on, they are the gutsiest team out there. It probably means that their hacks are so ingrained in the game, its impossible to detect and get them out. I have a theory that IF they are, the organization Fnatic is behind it. The organization has lots of money that could be used to hire hackers and programmers, and could develop to a level that would be tough to detect for Valve. Fnatic also has pressure from shareholders to perform well, something most other teams don't have. When it's your ass on the line, we have seen many humans do unethical things to not get fired. IF they are cheating, its systematic to a level that we probably couldn't catch. At least, those are my thoughts on it. However, short of any other evidence, we must assume that they are clean. It would destroy the sport if we thought cheaters were winning major LANs. We could never trust anyone again if that came out.

What else is left for VP to accomplish?

Lastly, we come to Virtus.Pro, who are doing well. Reportedly, they just signed of the most expensive contracts in the history of Virtus.Pro and CS. It doesn't appear as though their careers are in trouble, and it couldn't happen to better guys. The Polish 5 are some of the most looked up to people in the scene. However, I think that they are doing super well because of snax. Snax has crazy smokes, pulls out huge clutch rounds and can almost always be counted on to deliver. He is one of the great underrated CS players, in my opinion. PashaBiceps, of course, is the other carry. He shows up every game, and plays with such confidence and precision when he is on, that he is a force to be reckoned with. When he is on, he is in contention for best player in the world, and has one of the highest game impacts of any player. Coming from 1.6, its crazy to say that Neo is the one not pulling his weight. He was said to be the first person to hit the skill ceiling in CS 1.6, but his skills have never transferred that well to CSGO. I even think his sidekick TaZ is a little better than NEO, as TaZ has has some of the craziest and most intense clutch rounds I've ever seen. TaZ routinely brings VP out of tight situations, something that I can't say happens with NEO as much as it used to. NEO will play for as long as he wants to, as he has earned that right with his 1.6 performance. But I think it's safe to say that his best days are behind him. However, his waning years are still better than the vast majority of the population, so I have no answer for if he should stay or go. He is a legend, so it will be a sad day when he finally calls it quits. However, I think that if VP needs to change, it is NEO and TaZ who need to go. Snax and byali still have so much room for improvement, that I don't think you can keep people whose skills are going to decline as they age in favor of young blood. For now, the results are strong enough to not see a change, and so we can expect to keep seeing VP take Top 4 finishes for a long time to come.

All picture credit go to my boys over at

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