There are many things that make esports such compelling viewing. Chief among them is when you seemingly have a clear favourite for an event only to be upset by a long shot.
That is precisely what happened this past week at the CS:GO ESL One Cologne 2018 tournament, the latest in the schedule of ESL One and Intel Grand Slam events on the calendar.
A total of 16 teams were either invited or qualified. It featured all the big teams chasing success in the Intel Grand Slam, including heavyweights FaZe Clan and Astralis. They were the two big favourites heading into the event. FaZe Clan need just one win from their remaining two tournaments to claim the $1,000,000 Intel Grand Slam bonus on offer. And going in, Astralis required two more wins from six remaining tournaments to land the prize.
If FaZe Clan reached the final, there would also be a $100,000 spoiler prize available for a team that could beat them. Initially, it seemed likely both favorites could end up facing each other in the final.
The group stage was a double-elimination (GSL) format consisting of eight teams in each group. The top three from each group qualified for the playoffs.
In the Group A upper bracket, Astralis romped to victory on the back of three comprehensive wins over ENCE eSports, Cloud9, and then G2 Esports in the final. This ensured Astralis earned the seeded semifinal spot, with G2 Esports qualifying for the quarters.
The third qualifier came through the lower bracket. Here, Natus Vincere, who despite losing to G2 Esports in the opening round of the group stage, defeated Gambit Esports, Cloud9, and then ENCE eSports to claim that third spot in the quarterfinals.
A similar tale played out in Group B. FaZe Clan took control of the group and earned the top seed with comfortable wins over B.O.O.T-d[s], MIBR and then Fnatic (who earned the second qualifying spot).
The third qualifying spot in Group B saw BIG come through after the team won its opening Round 1 game over Team Liquid. They then lost to Fnatic in the Upper Bracket Round 2. This dropped them into the Lower Bracket for the Round 2 game with Renegades, which BIG won 2-1 and then in the final they surprised several people with a 2-1 win over MIBR (formerly SK Gaming).
With Astralis and FaZe Clan awaiting in the semifinals, the two winners of the quarterfinals were always going to be the underdogs. At this stage, Natus Vincere beat Fnatic 2-0 and BIG followed that with a similar victory over G2 Esports.
Now, cue the upsets. In a fabulous first semifinal, Natus Vincere came through 2-1 over Astralis, winning two of their three games by 16-13 scores, with a 16-6 Astralis win sandwiched in between.
The second semi seemed to be heading as planned with FaZe Clan taking the opening match 19-17 in overtime. Then, in another close second game, BIG bounced back to win 16-13 to level the matchup. That seemed to inspire the underdogs, who then produced a superb 16-6 win on Inferno to claim a place in the final.
Regardless of who won the final, it would be that team’s first Intel Grand Slam win. In the end, Natus Vincere came out on top after winning the first game 16-10. They then saw BIG bounce back to level the series 1-1 with a 16-11 win on Dust II. A 16-10 win on Train followed; a decisive 16-8 win on Inferno saw Natus Vincere claim the title.
In addition to their $125,000 top prize, Natus Vincere now have nine further tournaments in which to win three more ESL One/DreamHack events to stand a chance of the $1,000,000 Intel Grand Slam prize.
More to the point, following its semifinal defeat to BIG, this means FaZe Clan now have just one final chance to win that million-dollar bonus. That last shot will come at the DreamHack Masters Stockholm 2018 slated for Aug. 29.
The situation for Astralis is a bit more flexible. They have two wins in the bank and five more chances to claim a further two wins.
Aleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev wins MVP
After superb performances throughout the event, Natus Vincere’s Alex “s1mple” Kostyliev was the MVP of the ESL One Cologne 2018. He narrowly edged out teammate Denis “electronic” Sharipov.
It was the fifth time S1mple had earned MVP honours this season and the seventh time he’s nabbed them for this team.
Speaking after the event to HLTV.org, S1mple explained how delighted he was to see his team claim the victory: “It’s an important win for us at a tournament where all the [top] teams are. Now we know how everyone plays and we know that we have one week to fix everything and prepare for ELEAGUE.”
The ELEAGUE Premier event S1mple refers to takes place in Atlanta, Georgia from July 21-29 and features eight teams (Astralis, Cloud9, FaZe Clan, Fnatic, Team Liquid, MIBR, mousesports, and Natus Vincere) competing for a $1,000,000 prize pool.
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