StarLadder Major Berlin 2019 begins with New Challengers Stage next Friday. Finnish audience is mostly looking at Otto “ottoNd” Sihvo and his CR4ZY team, but there are many other interesting candidates as well.
The first stage of the Major features one of the possible champion candidates - currently boasting HLTV rank #2 - Team Vitality. Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut might be only 18 years old, but he has carried the team on his back from tournament to tournament this year. The team was formed last October, but they were already one map away from the playoffs in the Katowice Major. During the last months they have proven that even in the top tier competition, they are a force to be reckoned with.
Vitality is not alone in terms of top competition. In addition to the Frenchmen, there are four top ten teams of HLTV ranking playing in the New Challengers’ Stage: NRG, G2, FURIA and mousesports. NRG took a great risk during the summer and benched their in-game leader Damian “daps” Steele to replace him with Peter “stanislaw” Jarguz to gain more firepower. They were already a consistent team with a lot of 3-4th placings, but with stanislaw they’re aiming for trophies. G2 has shown a lot of promise after the last Major, especially during the ESL Pro League Finals falling short only against Team Liquid. Both FURIA and mousesports have been rising the ranks quickly during the last few months, but now they need to show they can handle the pressure even in the biggest stage.
The seeding system has ranked the teams using HLTV rankings of the past five months. The process aims for less random matches with the Swiss System. ELO ratings were created for all the teams to avoid unfair opponents. Optimally, only the best teams should advance to the next stage without any questionable match-ups for one way or another. Even though randomness has been tackled with the match-ups, best-of-one matches could still provide upsets. Best-of-three matches won’t start until elimination or advancing is on the line. Thanks to this format, everything is possible during the first rounds and underdogs should definitely take advantage.
The challengers of The New Challengers’
Below the top five there are quite a few contenders, the most notable being North and CR4ZY. Both of them missed Katowice closely and they surely want to avoid the same qualification hassle for the next Major, now that they made it through the Minor. The Russian powerhouse forZe qualified for IEM Chicago but unluckily visa problems prevented their participation. This is their first world-class opportunity to show what they’re made of. Unfortunately, their first opponent is mousesports, a team that has already challenged top competition.
CR4ZY is really interesting team for the Finnish audience, because they feature Otto “ottoNd” Sihvo as their AWP player. He showcased his talent during his stints in various Finnish teams, until his final break-through happened with two different HAVU rosters - the latter being formed around himself. His transfer to the Serbian powerhouse might have come as a surprise, but it seems to be the correct decision. There has been a need for Finnish player in the international waters, because the HLTV Top 20 player of 2018 - Miikka “suNny” Kemppi - has been without a team since March.
The other eight teams need to pull their own weight and a lot more to gain a place in the New Legends’ Stage. Both Complexity and HellRaisers look completely different from their playoff runs in the London Major. They need to step up hard to gain a place on the Legends Stage. Avangar showed promise in Katowice, when they were close to become Legends, until ENCE came in their way. However, their recent form has been anything but that. Especially the plays made by Ali “Jame” Djami have been on the frame for saving his AWP so often.
Grayhound, INTZ, Tyloo, DreamEaters and Syman got their own stickers easier than European Minor teams. As ENCE coach Slaava “Twista” Räsänen said before the Katowice Major, The New Challengers’ Stage might be easier tournament than European Minor. All the teams have earned their place in the tournament, but the afore-mentioned five teams will most likely be struggling to gain victories. However, cinderella stories are part of the charm in all sports events and the player break might have evened out the huge skill differences between teams.
Who will be the ENCE of this tournament, surprising everyone on their way to the grand final against all odds? Or even better, will there be a complete underdog champion, such as Cloud9 in Boston and Gambit in Krakow? The Berlin Major starts tomorrow at 13:00 EET when The New Challengers Stage kicks off. Four days of action determine which eight teams will be seen playing in the New Challengers’ Stage among the Legends of the previous Major.
All the stages will be seen in the Major page of Telia Esports Series and Telia TV. The broadcast is also available on the Twitch channel of Telia Esports Series.
Kalle "gaLezki" Kareinen