ECS Finals was a very interesting tournament to go into. The competition was equal and it was impossible to count out any of the teams that attended. Dignitas and Astralis were perhaps the favorites for most people. SK, OpTic, and FaZe were some solid contenders for the title. Cloud9, Immortals, and EnVyUs looked to improve from their most recent showings. Everyone here had a goal in mind, all were capable of reaching it and some found success. However, in competition, where there is victory, there is loss.
Upside of coming out of this tournament with flaws can be an advantage considering the major qualifier this weekend. Finding what doesn't work is detrimental in change for the better no matter what. A fluke run here would be no help as it would make a team feel comfortable with something that most likely wouldn't work again. The teams that fall into this category no doubt have that in mind. The question still stands, what went wrong?
Cloud9 broke the dry spell of North America by winning ESL Pro League Finals, but they have done nothing impressive to follow that up. With group stage exits for ELEAGUE, IEM Oakland, and DreamHack Winter it was difficult to say that C9 could be a contender for ECS, based on in-game performance and characteristics. They might have looked like the best NA team at São Paulo, but since then they have been nothing more. ECS looked to be their time to prove the critics wrong, but unfortunately it didn't turn out that way.
C9 was out early in the tournament after being knocked down to the elimination match against OpTic Gaming. They started off with a poor showing on Mirage with FaZe where they only got a single round on their T side. FaZe looked like they were outclassing C9 and completely decimated the offensive side of the American team. C9 came back strong in the first map of the elimination match and in the first half of the second map. It looked as if it'd be another dominating win against OpTic, but after a 12-3 half in their favor, they had no response to OpTic's Overpass CT side. They lost thirteen rounds in a row and were headed into the decider map. C9 fell short in the overtime game on Cache and were out of ECS after losing for the first time against OpTic on LAN.
Cloud9 falling apart here was not like before. At IEM Oakland I attributed their failure from advancing in the group stage to the inconsistency of their players, but here it was different. For the most part, excluding the FaZe game, C9's main core of firepower was present. The games they played were close for the most part, except for Overpass where there were only two rounds that came down to clutch situations on their T side. OpTic had a perfect CT side so you can't blame them to much for the loss. On Cache it could've gone either way, but in the end OpTic edged it out and that could be because they have actual teamwork.
Cloud9's inconsistency is an issue on its own, but one thing that has been brought to everyone else's attention is the lack of structure they have. You could make an argument for C9's players being better than OpTic's, and you could also say the opposite. The one definite thing though is that OpTic have a better system and more coordination. C9 lacks a real leader and lack any kind of system to play off of. Possible solutions have sprung up like a coach. The addition of a coach can benefit them because they can build in the needed system. The players on Cloud9 need to start relying on each other instead of their own aim.
Immortals put up a good showing, but for a core that has looked good for the most part of the year, they still have limited results in the big tournaments. To say that these guys improved from IEM to ECS would not be a valid statement. I have no doubt that they will qualify for the upcoming major, but with the inconsistencies at hand they weren't really favored to win ECS by any measure.
Immortals kicked off their tournament well in the game against EnVyUs. They had a good lead going into the CT side of Cache, but nV came back to string some rounds together and even the series up before the two kept exchanging rounds. The map went into double overtime, but it was the French who pulled through to the finish line. In Immortals' next series it was SK that was favored to come out on top, despite having fox in the lineup. On the other hand, because of fox Immortals could also be expected to win. Everyone on the Immortals side, besides hen1, were under-performing with three players under 70 ADR in the first map and SK took the easy win. It all looked done and over with since SK's Train was coming up, however both were not playing so well as a team. That said, the stars of Immortals were having good individual games, but that was only enough to make it close and they still lost 14-16.
Immortals' play at ECS can overall be described as sloppy. They seemed off mentally and in-game. On Cache, against SK, they kept losing rounds on the T side that they shouldn't have lost. Post-plant situations never quite went their way. They showed some careless mistakes and signs of pressure. Also we saw boltz let go of a defuse that would've won them the round needed to take early control of the T side economy. Instead he lost the one-on-one and the CT side was reset and forced to save two times. Train had a similar situation where Fallen defused the bomb in a smoke because the T's did not know where the bomb was planted. I mention these rounds because similar mistakes were what cost them their run at ECS. Well that and some under-performance from certain players on different maps.
There is no reason to think that Immortals will be like this at their next stop. I'm convinced that the mistakes made here were probably a one-time thing and that their heads weren't one-hundred percent in the game. They looked a lot better at IEM Oakland with the addition of steel and I'm sure they won't do any worse than they did here in the future.
From the three teams I put into this category, this one is the most disappointing to see fall apart. I thought that FaZe would get a top four finish over the guys on OpTic. They lost to them at ELEAGUE, but the loss came as a result from FaZe's players not playing as well for the most part. At ECS, they had a chance to redeem themselves and everyone thought they would since they looked to have improve since the addition of karrigan. However they fell short and looked like a different team than they were last weekend.
FaZe looked to destroy the opposition after holding off Cloud9 perfectly in their opening match. The contribution was there from everyone, even allu was outstanding being the best player on the server. Against Astralis though, it was the complete opposite. FaZe was shutdown over and over again by the Danes and their T side execution was uncoordinated. A lot of hesitation came from the players and it never seemed like they capitalized on the possible advantages due to not playing out their strategies with confidence. The only rounds they got were some crazy clutch plays, but other than that Astralis just destroyed their offensive side. The decider series for OpTic was a rematch from last week's ELEAGUE semifinal. The maps seemed to favor OpTic slightly, but Nuke was totally FaZe's map to win. The Train T side from FaZe was looking lacking at the start, but they did pick up five rounds before OpTic went on a seven round streak to win the half. FaZe then was falling apart on Nuke too, when the score was 7-15, but aizy started to look great on the CT side and powered through the rest of regulation, with some help from kioshima, to have the map go into overtime where they completed the comeback. Unfortunately they crumbled on Cache and were dismantled by the guys from OpTic.
It started off well for FaZe on Mirage. They played like they did in the series against Virtus.pro. They played off of what they had and put themselves in the spots where they had the player advantage. However when they faced Astralis they didn't do so well with that. After getting control of the map they took too much time to act on it and gave the CT side of Astralis enough time to rotate over to the site under pressure. Long flanks came through, utility to assist the defense helped and they were shut down constantly. It looked the same in the series with OpTic except this time karrigan's performance was off the charts in the worst way possible. In a three map series he only had 28 kills and a little less than 50 ADR. In-game leader or not, those numbers are not ideal to win against a team with the skill caliber of OpTic.
FaZe looked like they just didn't have a good event. Star player performance wasn't there from rain and their structured play fell apart mid tournament. We praised karrigan's ability to use the star potential of FaZe well, but we did not see any of that here at ECS and even the coordination he was supposed to bring in didn't show up. On the plus side though, it doesn't seem like something they can't fix. They played differently from the ELEAGUE quarters and IEM so if they watch demos and find their mistakes, they could look like the monster that took down Virtus.pro last weekend.
Although this team didn't triumph in the glory of victory, they do have something to be proud of coming out of ECS. This tournament can be used as a preview of what to expect. Every team in attendance will be at the major or the qualifier for the major next month so it doesn't hurt to play through some official matches before the important event happens. This team showed some improvement and have more space to hit their ceiling.
With the replacement of fnx being fox, not many people expected this to bring improvement for SK. Especially at ECS where they only had three days, at most, of practice. Even with that you'd expect them to be able to get out of their group and they did. Managing to do that at least reassures them and the public that maybe they won't do so bad at the major. There were some issues during the tournament, but they attempted to take care of them at the same time. If anything SK should've seen ECS as a test to build a foundation of what's to come next month.
SK was off on a bad start getting demolished by dignitas. In the elimination match, they took out their Brazilian brothers with a comfortable win over Immortals' Cache, but a shaky game on Train made the scoreline very close. SK pulled it through and were to have a rematch with dignitas in the decider BO3. The three map series was a back and forth stomp from each team on their own picks. Cache went the way of SK and Mirage went to their opponents. Overpass was somewhat of a different story. Although dignitas was favored to win, it was SK who got back to it and had their star players shining. They took the BO3 and made an unexpected top four appearance. It wasn't all good though as we saw SK get absolutely destroyed by the guys on Astralis with a 2-0 that was no where near close and that was the end of their run.
It's pointless to try and take away anything from a team that is playing with a stand-in, but it is different for SK's current situation. Fox will be playing with them for the upcoming major so looking at how he fits here at ECS can be a sign of what we can expect. Also works as a way for SK to check what it is that they need to work on to make sure they do well next month.
For the most part, fox didn't looks so out of place. There were a couple situations where his positioning was a bit questionable. For example, the loss to dignitas on Overpass was partly due to him not defending the B site very well. On Train, he tried to play a spot that Fallen typically would be in and failed miserably. These are mistakes that SK will look at and they will fix them. They even showed change during ECS when they took fox off of B on Overpass and put coldzera there. It completely changed their results and they turned the tables on the team that bested them earlier in the tournament. It shouldn't be too big of a deal for SK to iron out the kinks to fully incorporate fox. I don't think SK should take this loss too hard. They should go back and watch their mistakes to come back in better form. No doubt this will be the team to do that.
You don't have to win tournaments to say a team reached a goal. If anything success is perceptive and usually is different for each person. A team in the top 20-30 range would love to win a major, but for some of them it might just be a dream to qualify. While the top three teams would only be satisfied with a first place finish. Depending on who the team is they will have a different goal from the next one. Yes, they all aim to win, but taking small steps is necessary for some as champions don't develop overnight.
In my most recent piece I laid down some "musts" for OpTic if they wanted to be labelled as a legit team and not an inconsistent one. I said how they are required to at least reach the finals of ECS and qualify for the major. So far so good, as they are halfway there. The run at ECS had a rocky start, but it ended with OpTic being the second best team at the tournament. They are well on their way to prove people wrong and to put themselves down as the best North American team.
OpTic's start was a scary one when they were getting thrashed by Astralis on Dust. It all looked the same in the Cloud9 game, but after a 3-12 half on Overpass they came back and won thirteen rounds in a row to force the third map. Cache was a closer affair and they managed to pull out the win in overtime. In the deciders match they got a rematch with FaZe, but it wasn't much of a problem for them. They won the first and third map in a comfortable manner despite losing eight match points on Nuke. Their semifinal was against EnVyUs, who they beat at ELEAGUE to get to playoffs. The first map was a walk in the park for the guys on OpTic. They were outclassing the guys on nV, but they were brought back to earth after a fairly close scoreline on Nuke. They made the second final in a row and their opponent was the same. Except that Astralis was on fire this time around and had a comfortable win over the Americans.
Despite not winning ECS, OpTic looked well for the most part. A team that depends a lot on the skill of all players got exactly that. Seemed like both NAF and RUSH played very well throughout the tournament. RUSH's consistency is starting to stick through with him and he is looking like a possible star for OpTic in the future. He can be the rock that is needed because his teammates can sometimes have up-down performances. NAF is starting to also showcase his skill and had a more decent tournament from before. Maybe not as good as in the ELEAGUE final, but good enough to pick up his own weight. Tarik held to his own as well. However, it was mixwell who looked off for most part. He was missing shots he would hit any other day and under-performed for most maps. He did look good on one or two of them, but that's not enough for the star AWPer of OpTic.
There were some holes that OpTic needs to patch up, but they should be able to manage it. As long as RUSH and NAF keep up this good form and support the star players then OpTic should have no problem being a top team in the world on a consistent basis. That is if said star players find their footing and start to be more consistent themselves.
This lineup has been aching to win a premier tournament all year, but they never did it. With a year as crazy as this one, it is pure joy to finally get a tournament win for the players on Astralis. They went from a team just short of being champions, to a team that looked like a disaster, to a team that has come back in form, maybe even stronger. Since the addition of gla1ve, Astralis has looked nothing, but good and now that everyone was playing well here at ECS there was no way they were letting it slip away.
Astralis had a very dominating run here at ECS. The group stage looked easy losing only ten rounds in the combined two BO1s against C9 and FaZe. The 2-0 in the series against SK was also not very difficult task with all the players on Astralis playing super well. The final was no hassle either when they destroyed OpTic in the ELEAGUE final rematch. This was probably the most dominating premier tournament win of the year. Astralis didn't drop a single map and only lost more than ten rounds in the last map against OpTic.
The difference between Astralis at IEM, ELEAGUE, and ECS is quite apparent. Device played a lot better here in the important games, not like he was playing horrible before, and was crucial in a lot of the dominating maps. After struggling on Overpass he finally found himself and had the best performance on it. All across the board he was contributing to the team like an S class super star should be. This turned out to be his best event of 2016 and he carried his team to not just the semis, but to the trophy this time.
Side note: I left out dignitas and EnVyUs due to really not having much to take away from their run here. Dignitas was playing with a stand-in since their best player prioritized his exams. EnVyUs looked the exact same with only winning when apEX or KennyS go off. No key takeaways from either and I thought it'd be best to just leave them out.
Photo Credit: HLTV.org
Post: Domination, Progress, and Failure - ECS Finals Wrap-up