The top teams to watch at ESL One New York

Redbull eSports

The competitive Counter-Strike: Global Offensive hiatus is over and we’re back with an array of events. ESL One New York is sure to be epic, but who’s worth keeping an eye on?

After the lull in competitive Counter-Strike action, there’s a flurry of top-tier tournaments on the way, culminating in ESL One New York in mid-September. The close season has seen roster changes aplenty, with legends of the game moving on and intriguing new line-ups forged across the space. It’s safe to say there have been plenty of interesting swaps.

For the first time in nearly four years, Ladislav ‘GuardiaN’ Kovacs will no longer adorn the robes of Natus Vincere and Olof ‘olofmeister’ Kajbjer Gustafsson will leave behind his Fnatic legacy in pursuit of further glory with FaZe clan. North have dropped young talent ‘Magisk’ Reif for fellow Dane Valdemar ‘valde’ Bjørn Vangså in another notable switcheroo. There’s been a shift from OpTic as they now move away from their previous North American squad towards a new, European set of competitors. It’s safe to say that a whole lot has changed in very little time.

With DreamHack Malmö giving us our first glimpse at rosters new and old since the break, it’s clear that there are teething problems with many as they look to figure out their best maps and adjust to new team-mates and strategy alike. By the time ESL One New York swings around, rosters should be considerably more solid. The juggernauts of Astralis and SK will be looking to notch another title as they continue to stamp their claim to be the best in 2017. Can SK Gaming add another title in their pursuit of the Intel Grand Slam and a bonus US$1m? We preview three teams to keep an eye on at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in a couple of weeks.

FaZe Clan

The FaZe story is a fascinating one in itself. An organisation that could never quite crack it at the top level yet seemed to cycle between some of the best talent. What Finn ‘karrigan’ Andersen had failed to do with Danish squad Astralis, he’s managed with FaZe. Historically teams of mixed nationalities had not fared particularly well in Counter-Strike, but it’s testament to the ability of karrigan as in-game leader that he’s managed to make it work thus far. Following the acquisition of Bosnian star Nikola ‘NiKo’ Kovac in February, the team enjoyed a run of impressive results. With Havard ‘rain’ Hygaard, Fabien ‘kioShiMa’ Fiey and Aleski ‘allu’ Jalli they seemed to make it work.

A run of top four finishes followed. Runners-up at IEM Katowice, IEM Sydney and ECS Season 3 and a top four placing at ESL One Cologne were complemented by a sole victory and US$125,000 at Starladder i-League StarSeries Season 3. Karrigan and co overcame the formidable force of Astralis to take the title at Starladder, but were later humbled consecutively by SK Gaming who just seemed to have all of the answers. At the PGL Major in Krakow, disaster struck. An awful run of form where not a single player showed up saw them bomb out of the tournament in 15-16th place, failing to notch a single game. Considering they were amongst pre-tournament favourites, the community was rightly stunned. Although in Counter-Strike terms the roster was still fairly young, changes were afoot and the squad on paper is filled with huge names.

GuardiaN and Olofmeister will need to recapture form of old should this FaZe roster truly take that next step up and be considered in the same breath as the existing elite. There’s no doubt that NiKo is a star of the present. Bar a blip at the Krakow Major, he’s posted unbelievable statistics at pretty much every tournament he’s competed in of late. Should GuardiaN rediscover the form he once had on Natus Vincere, then he’s undoubtedly an upgrade on allu. The same applies for olofmeister. The former-Fnatic man was regarded as the best player in the world for a period of time. FaZe’s problem lies in that that time was a considerable while ago. Will new motivation and karrigan’s stewardship be enough to revive the career of two Counter-Strike legends? ESL One is sure to give us a very good indication.

Natus Vincere

Na’vi are another one to keep an eye on. Interestingly, the key to success is similar to that of FaZe. A returning in-game leader will need to galvanise a roster that have struggled to recapture old form of late. When Daniil ‘Zeus’ Teslenko was removed from the roster to add in the outstanding talent of Oleksandr ‘s1mple’ Kostyliev in August, it coincided with the Valve rule change to alter the way that coaches could interact with their teams. Consequently, Sergey ‘starix’ Ischuk was no longer anywhere near as effective as prior and Na’Vi now had a very different problem. Simply put, they lacked an in-game leader. As the role rotated between squad members no one managed to put a stamp on it and the team struggled to reach previous levels of performance.

Zeus, the man removed in favour of prodigy s1mple has since gone on to win a Major with Gambit, a team that arguably boasts significantly less talent. His ability as a leader of a squad is not in doubt so when Na’Vi lured Daniil back despite him having just won a Major there was understandable excitement. From DreamHack it’s clear to see that he hasn’t quite got the team playing exactly the way he wants them just yet, but when he does they could well arrive in style. It could so transpire that ESL One New York is Zeus and Na’Vi’s time to shine.

SK Gaming

There’s little new or fresh about SK Gaming. They’re one of few rosters that quietly went about their business and made no changes as of late. The team have won comfortably over US$500,000 since the ELEAGUE Major, having won the cs_summit, IEM Sydney, DreamHack Summer, ECS, and ESL One Cologne. Sadly they didn’t achieve the result they would have wanted, losing to long time rivals Astralis at the PGL Major Krakow, but there’s little debating the pedigree of the Brazilian squad. Gabriel ‘FalleN’ Toledo and Marcelo ‘coldzera’ David are two names that anyone that has followed Counter-Strike in recent times will be familiar with.

coldzera continues to turn in performance after performance since his burst onto the scene what seems like decades ago. The man has been widely regarded as the world’s best player and only the truly elite are spoken of in the same breath. While Krakow and now DreamHack didn’t go the way of SK Gaming, they’ll be looking to get back to their best and add another ESL One title to their bulging trophy cabinet. They only managed top four last year, with Natus Vincere taking the trophy home. They currently still sit ahead of Astralis by HLTV ranking, but who’ll come out on top out in New York? Only time will tell.