The Lanxess-Arena in Cologne, Germany was the location for a battle royale featuring most of the best Counter-Strike: Global Offensive teams in the world, in the form of the ESL One: Cologne 2017 Tournament.
In a tournament filled with upsets and surprises, nothing was more shocking than the three North American squads of Team Liquid, OpTic Gaming, and Cloud9 qualifying for the playoffs – although the Brazilian outfit SK Gaming ultimately proved their class, after some initial struggles, to clinch their $100,000 share of the quarter-of-a-million-dollars prize pool.
Team Liquid and OpTic Spring Shocking Upsets
One of only two teams to go 3-0 – the other being the equally shocking as well in Ninjas In Pyjamas – Team Liquid rose to the top of the Swiss format in stunning fashion. While the team has continued to steadily improve after the additions of both stanislaw and Twistzz, few expected them to defeat the likes of Na’Vi and Immortals on their way to the playoffs.
Not to be outdone by their North American counterparts, OpTic Gaming were the most surprising team to reach the playoffs. Just this past weekend, the US-based squad looked atrocious in three straight games as they bombed out of the Major qualifier. However, switching Tarik to the in-game leader role has immediately produced results, with star entry-fragger RUSH having the most drastic success.
RUSH was one of the best players in the world when stanislaw was leading the team, but since the skipper’s departure, he has looked like a shell of himself – that is, until now. Tarik’s loose style of leading has undoubtedly given RUSH his mojo back and he was OpTic’s standout performer in Cologne.
Cloud9 Make Hard Work of Qualifying
The last of the three North American teams to make the playoffs was Cloud9, who fought tooth and nail to make it. After dropping the first two matches (including a six overtime marathon against Na’Vi on Train), Cloud9 rallied to win the final three matches.
The toughest test for Cloud9 came in their final match against mousesports on Inferno, where mouse’s AWPer oskar went ballistic with 40 kills. In double overtime, Cloud9 sealed the deal, with Skadoodle picking up the final three kills in a continuation of his hot form. Skadoodle has quietly improved his play over the last few months, once again asserting himself as one of the dominant AWPers in the world.
SK Struggles the Early Story of the Show
Considered the best team in the world, Brazil’s SK Gaming struggled to make it into the playoffs. In the largest single map upset of the tournament, SK Gaming lost on Cache to the Turks of Space Soldiers 14-16. SK bounced back against Virtus.pro (although less impressive given VP’s complete collapse at this event) and North, both considered top teams.
The South Americans dropped a second game, this time against the French super team of G2 Esports, before securing their playoff berth with a convincing 16-6 stomp of Fnatic. While eventually qualifying, being forced to play all five games was a troubling sign for the best team in the world.
SK Regain Momentum
Losing against stiff competition indicated some potential issues heading into the playoffs. SK, however, quickly silenced those doubters, losing only one map during the playoffs. That map loss came during the quarter-finals against OpTic Gaming, who continued to impress. After losing on Mirage 10-16 SK stabilized, comfortably securing both Cache (16-9) and Cobblestone (16-7) to set up a semi-final clash against FaZe Clan.
In one of the most dominant performances of the tournament, SK crushed FaZe on the opening map of Overpass to the tune of 16-4. The second map of Cache was a complete 180, where overtime was needed for SK to pull off the victory 19-16. FaZe’s Rain had the best game by a single player in the entire tournament, securing 39 kills in the 35 rounds (the next highest on his team was NiKo with 21).
Cloud9 Worthy Finalists
In a surprising turn of events, SK Gaming squared off against North America’s Cloud9 in the finals of ESL One Cologne. SK Gaming predictably swept the best of five finals, yet Cloud9 did show promise by improving on every map. Map one was Cobblestone, where coldzera had a standout performance with 28 kills in the 16-9 victory. Moving onto Train, it was in-game leader FalleN’s turn at the top of the scoreboard, pulling off an impressive 34 kills in the 16-12 win. Last up for SK Gaming was Inferno, where it would take all 30 rounds before the Brazilians could close the game in 16-14 fashion. Once again, a new face topped the scoreboard for SK, in this case Fer, with 22 (C9’s n0thing had a game-best 25).
This final was a perfect example of the depth and ability SK Gaming have that currently makes them the number one team in the world.
All in all, ESL One: Cologne 2017 was a stunning event with more than a little hint that the gap between the best teams in the world has narrowed considerably. Regardless of the winner, this opens up all kinds of questions for the rest of the year in what is potentially a very exciting development.