A busy couple of weeks of top-tier action have come to an end as ECS Season 8 Finals and ESL Pro League Season 10 Finals found their champions, so let's reflect on the two big events to see what we learned.
Taking place at the end of November and early December, the eighth season of ECS went more or less according to expectations, with all of the top-four teams in attendance making it to the playoffs and Astralis winning their second consecutive event after a dominant run featuring another episode of their long-standing rivalry with Liquid, leaving fnatic and Evil Geniuses in third-fourth place.
Things took a surprising turn when the aforementioned quartet crossed the Atlantic immediately after the Texas event to join a stacked competition in Odense, Denmark. Although all of them made a repeat showing in the playoffs stage at the ESL Pro League Season 10 Finals, none were able to hoist the trophy, as mousesports came out of nowhere to clinch their first Big Event title with the current roster.
3-4. Evil Geniuses
3-4. Natus Vincere
5-6. Evil Geniuses
7-8. 100 Thieves
mousesports break out of plateau period
When the ESL Pro League Finals kicked off, the main teams in consideration for the title were the elite quartet who had come over from the United States, with some perhaps putting their hopes in Natus Vincere as still quite a fresh lineup that had yet to reach their peak and looked capable of doing so on the back of a long period of preparation leading up to the Danish tournament.
Even though all of the chief contenders made it far, it was shockingly mousesports who came out on top, in the end, after they had seemingly plateaued on the edge of the top-ten, unable to break the barrier of title contention for months before. Of course, Finn "karrigan" Andersen's side had just come off a triumph at CS:GO Asia Championships, but they had mostly gone up against equal or inferior competition in China and only had to pull off one significant upset against Evil Geniuses.
ESL Pro League presented much more of a challenge in the form of every single one of the top-six teams that it looked near-impossible for the European mixture to break through. But they managed to do so against the odds, taking down the Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz-led squad again before adding the scalps of Astralis and fnatic to their tally during a spectacular playoffs run, having just missed out on another big takedown in Liquid, who were the only top-four team to beat karrigan's side, albeit in a very close series.
It was far from only about the names they left behind, as well. For quite a young team, mousesports showed some incredible resilience from start to finish, finding themselves on the back foot and coming back on several occasions. Most will remember their most exciting turnaround from 8-14 on Dust2 against Astralis in the semi-finals, but mousesports also recovered from being down 0-6 on Nuke versus ATK, 3-7 on Vertigo against Liquid, and 11-14 on Train against the Danes, all the while pulling off some other impressive streaks like a 14-2 run facing Renegades, the 16-0 Nuke thrashing of Evil Geniuses, as well as 10-2 and 10-1 second-half runs in the grand final against fnatic
EG have run out of steam
A little over a month ago, Evil Geniuses became the second North American team to stand atop the rankings on the back of their triumphs at ESL One New York and StarSeries i-League Season 8, but it was a position they only managed to hold on to for two weeks, making way for Astralis to reclaim the throne after IEM Beijing saw stanislaw's squad exit the event in the group stage at the hands of FaZe.
By the time the ECS Finals rolled around — just a few days after another early exit from EG, this time at the CS:GO Asia Championships —, it had become apparent that the team's peak was gone. We only got confirmation of that fact in Arlington as well as at Pro League the following week.
Having rollercoasted from a big win to a last-place exit to another win and two more early eliminations inside a two-month window, Evil Geniuses were at least able to stabilize with a couple of playoffs finishes at the league finals, but they couldn't contend for titles anymore as they fell to Liquid and Astralis in America and to Natus Vincere and mousesports in Denmark.
That doesn't necessarily mean that their peak period was a fluke, however. It's important to note that EG have been exceptionally busy in these last two-and-a-half months, during which they have often gone from event to event, amassing a staggering eight tournaments since joining their new organization. That is something the team has fairly noted as a hindrance when it comes to preparation, and things won't improve until after the Christmas break, with EPICENTER set to close out 2019 for Evil Geniuses next week.
fnatic are here to stay
When fnatic made their lineup changes back in September, many expected the move to lead nowhere — yours truly included — as the Swedes recycled older players again with the addition of Robin "flusha" Rönnquist and Maikil "Golden" Selim instead of going according to the originally-advertised plan of adding at least one of the younger talent, missing out on the likes of GamerLegion's Tim "nawwk" Jonasson.
Needless to say, it was a huge surprise when they went on to win the first event they went to at DreamHack Masters Malmö and added a runner-up finish at StarSeries, and it was understandable to have doubts about the sustainability of those results after such a massive spike in team performance, which at the very least resembled a honeymoon-like period.
The new fnatic is now almost three months into existence and they still have yet to falter, having added qualification for ESL Pro League S10 Finals, a respectable semi-finals finish at ECS Season 8 Finals, and the third grand final appearance in four events in Odense on top of the aforementioned resumé. With that, they have now jumped to second place in the ranking, and when you consider that this roster was sitting on the 28th spot after the changes on September 16, that is an unbelievable feat.
It's clear that fnatic are to stay in the elite, where they have earned their place not only thanks to improvements in leadership from Golden, flusha's smarts, and consistent standout performances from Ludvig "Brollan" Brolin, but also through an upgraded mentality and a better team spirit; an aspect that Jesper "JW" Wecksell & co. have often highlighted as the key difference from previous lineups.
Liquid's year is on the line
After Liquid went on the massive streak of six Big-Event titles in a row in the first part of the season, they began making a case for themselves as the team of the year despite missing a Major title in that period, an area in which Astralis already had the advantage at that point due to winning IEM Katowice.
Not only have Nick "nitr0" Cannella's squad lost the No.1 spot since that run, they have stopped winning tournaments altogether, going from six consecutive triumphs to six consecutive Big Events without a title following the off-season. Meanwhile, Astralis clinched another Major trophy in Berlin and brought their total Big-Event count to five in 2019 with IEM Beijing and ECS going their way, threatening the North American side's claim to the team-of-the-year accolade.
With the rivals about to meet again and potentially for the last time in 2019 in the opening round of the BLAST Pro Series Global Final in Bahrain, we will reserve arguments for one or the other for after the tournament when it comes to whose year was better, but Liquid need to step up and finish the season on a high note if they don't want to hand the status over to the Danes.
The competition between the two big rivals has recently resurfaced and Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander's team are definitely back on top at the moment, not just in current overall standings but also in the matchup itself, which Astralis have now won five times in a row in the second portion of the season and across two series in December alone, beating Liquid in the grand final of ECS and in the match for the top spot in Group B at ESL Pro League Finals.
Jury is still out on FaZe
The new FaZe's victory back at BLAST Pro Series Copenhagen immediately raised what I will now coin as flukespicion (noun, 1. suspicion that a result may have been a fluke) among fans and pundits, as the format of the tournament series is infamously prone to upsets and the previous version of Nikola "NiKo" Kovač's team had gone on a similar run once before in Miami, which remained the organization's only big-event title in 2019 before November's stop in Denmark.
And, in fairness, FaZe have since dipped when you look at their final standings alone, as they ended up 3rd-4th at IEM Beijing and 9th-12th at ESL Pro League Season 10 Finals, which clearly shows a downward trajectory. But, on the other hand, Marcelo "coldzera" David's side would have probably been praised for the former result thanks to their two series wins over Evil Geniuses, who had just come off a win at StarSeries, had it not been for the thrashing they received from Astralis in the semi-finals that came after.
It is the Odense tournament that is a bit more worrying because Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer looked in terrible form again and coldzera's only two maps rated above 1.00 came in straightforward wins against TYLOO, as FaZe dropped a map to a struggling MIBR, another to the Chinese, and lost a winnable matchup to 100 Thieves — all three being far from the best teams at the tournament.
With how inconsistent they've been since the Copenhagen triumph, it is difficult to know where the European mixture stands at the moment as they head into their last tournament of 2019, so we will have to wait to see where they end up at the last BLAST stop of the year in Bahrain, where there will be no best-of-ones.