The ELEAGUE finals this week saw the world’s strongest CS:GO teams, fnatic and Virtus.Pro, go head to head. Earlier this year, I would have said ELEAGUE was fnatic’s tournament to lose. They were already a strong team when they added Dennis “dennis” Edman at the end of 2015, and the team quickly hit something of a groove. Starting in January at StarLadder, then again at ESL in Barcelona and the IEM World Championships, they had decisive first place finishes with very few losses—in fact, they dropped only give games over the course of those three tournaments. But then, an upset: at MLG Columbus in April, fnatic was knocked out of the quarterfinals by Astralis and didn’t even finish in the top four.
It was the beginning of a series of losses. At ESL One Cologne in July, fnatic lost in the semifinals to Team Liquid, who had just added jdm64 and Pimp. Virtus.Pro, meanwhile, lost their semifinal match to SK Gaming, who dropped their entire Danish squad and picked up the former Luminosity Gaming crew, made up of five players from Brazil.
It was the beginning of a series of losses.
Stable rosters folded against new blood, and it seemed like the stable position fnatic had at the top of the ladder was open. ELEAGUE play started at the end of May, and fnatic finished near the top of the pack, with a 9-2 record. (SK Gaming, despite their impressive record of 10-1, were disqualified when they dropped their whole squad.)
Virtus Pro, on the other hand, finished with a much less impressive 6 and 4 record. In the post-season, they got knocked out of their bracket by EnVyUs and ended up in the Last Chance Bracket, where they went 2-0 against Gambit and then 2-0 against Renegades. After securing a place in the playoff bracket, they went 2-0 against Ninjas in Pyjamas, and then 2-0 against mousesports.
They carried that momentum into the finals, too. After strong play in the pistol round by krimz, fnatic won three straight rounds, eventually taking a sizable 9-2 lead. In the 12th round, though, VP kept most of their team alive and prevented a bomb plant, constricting fnatic’s economy and boosting their own. Off the back of that victory, VP won ten more rounds in a row, and that momentum carried them to a 16-10 victory. The second match also started with three consecutive fnatic victories, but VP won all of their rounds as Counter Terrorists and the match ended 16-5.
They carried that momentum into the finals.
Virtus.Pro have not changed their lineup since January of 2014, and it turns out they don’t need to. It’s always kind of a bummer when a team or a player gets dropped after a few lackluster finishes, but the fact that Virtus.Pro can keep playing excellent Counter Strike as a coherent unit is refreshing in a scene that’s often fighting for the newest thing.
We’re probably going to see a lot of scrambles and close matches this Fall, because it looks like while fnatic continues to be a strong team, now the scene is full of squads that can match them. If ESL One Columbus meant the end of a fnatic-topped hierarchy in competitive CS:GO, this tournament—its playoffs dominated by the undefeated Virtus Pro—demonstrates that it’s anyone’s game again. ESL One in New York this fall is up for grabs. Fnatic are clearly still a strong team, but it’ll be exciting to see who else is in contention for that top slot in the coming months.