ESL One Cologne is once more upon us, and the LANXESS Arena will again be filled to the rafters with some of the most passionate fans in the world. The event, running from July 4-9, will understandably not gain quite as much attention from some fans due to the lack of Major status. What it will not lack, however, is firepower, as the attending team list reads as impressive as any event. And with a $250,000 prize pool to play for, you can be certain the 16 teams competing will take this one very seriously indeed. The format is Swiss, with multiple best-of-one matches determining which 8 teams progress to the elimination rounds. These will consist of best-of-three quarter-finals and semi-finals, and a best-of-5 grand final to crown the champions. Hereâ€™s our preview of the 16 teams competing.
Cloud 9Cloud 9 is one of the teams in this event that have just come out of the PGL Major Krakow Qualifier, having secured themselves a spot at the event with an overall score of 3-1. The Americans claimed victories over BIG, GODSENT and FlipSid3, with their only loss coming in a close 11-16 series against G2. Timothy â€˜autimaticâ€™ Ta proved a constant threat in each of the victories, coming out top of the leaderboard in two out of the three wins, only dropping second, behind Jake â€˜Stewie2Kâ€™ Yip, in one game. They enter the event at number six on HLTVâ€™s world ranking.
FaZeFaZe is one of the hottest teams in the world right now, sitting second in the world rankings. An impressive runners-up finish at ECS Season 3 Finals saw the mixed nationality team sweep aside OpTic, G2 and Cloud9, falling only to SK, 1-2, in an amazing Grand final. Whilst different members of the team took turns in top fragging the early matches, the final versus SK was brought to life by amazing performances from Aleksi â€˜alluâ€™ Jalli and Nikola â€˜NiKoâ€™ Kovac.
The formerly fantastic Fnatic have struggled to live up to expectation as of late, playing only two games at the ECS Season 3 Finals, in which they lost to Cloud9 before being sent home by Liquid. They did, however, see some success at DreamHack Open Summer, trading victories over Cloud9, Gambit and Immortals with losses to CLG and to SK in the Grand Final. The team still has the players to achieve their former greatness, but it seems they have lose the â€œwow factorâ€ that made them so unbeatable for a long time. Currently at number seven in the world rankings, theyâ€™ll be hoping to build confidence at a tournament that has been good to them in the past.
G2, the so-called â€˜super teamâ€™, will be looking to further their goal of reaching number 1 with Astralis (one of their main rivals for the claim) not in attendance. This leaves SK and FaZe to stand in their way as favourites. The French team seized their chance to attend the Major in Krakow with a 3-0 score at the qualifiers, including a thrilling overtime versus Immortals. G2 wonâ€™t have forgotten that the last time they met both FaZe and SK,Â at ECS Season 3 Finals, they came out on the bottom. They will be hoping to achieve revenge here.
Heroic are a team that made a name for themselves over the start of this year, rising to a high of 12th in the rankings before falling back down to 26th, where they currently sit. They have fought their way through the qualifiers for this event beating BIG and dignitas and, whilst not likely to run too deep, certainly have the potential to cause an upset or two.
Immortals are yet another rising talent from Brazil hoping to follow in the footsteps of the wildly successful SK. And having secured themselves a spot at the next Major, they could well be on their way. While they took down HellRaisers, GODSENT and Dignitas on their way to secure their Major qualification, this event will prove to be their sternest test before heading over to Krakow.
A team with an abundance of talent, but without the trophies to back it up, Liquid come into this event with a point to prove. With their latest star signing Russel â€˜Twitstzzâ€™ VanDulken bringing just as much hype as expected, the team has some of the biggest stars in North America. Despite this, they narrowly missed out the Major, falling short in their final game after an intense 23-25 overtime versus FlipSid3. Can this event be their redemption?
After losing their star player NiKo, many expected Mousesports to rapidly fall out of contention. Instead, they have held steady, and most recently qualified for the Krakow Major. They brushed off Tengri in style 16-1 whilst also emerging victorious in much closer games versus GODSENT and PENTA. Having proved themselves capable of beating some of the other contenders here at previous LAN events, Mousesports will be no free pass.
One of the teams seemingly hit hardest by the change in coaching rules after choosing firepower over finesse. Desperate for new leadership in game, surely if there is not an improvement in performance at this event there will have to be changes to the roster.
Ninjas in Pyjamas
NiP, the royalty without results, will make their Cologne debut with a new-look lineup. For the first time their core four has been split, Adam â€˜fribergâ€™ Friberg makes way for Fredrik â€˜REZâ€™ Sterner who is reunited with his former teammate William â€˜drakenâ€™ Sundin. This move is seemingly to bring further star power, as well as a refresh in play style and tactics for NiP. It will be interesting to see if it pays off.
Outside of a second place at ESL Pro League Season 5, the Danish team have largely failed to deliver on their early promise. They will be hoping to use Astralisâ€™ absence from this event to close the gap between them and their countrymen with a high placement. Â North will also have G2 in their sights, the team that stopped them at that last hurdle in the ESL Pro League.
After a rapid rise in the rankings, Optic have been experiencing something of a dip as of late. Following the loss of some key players, the team has been searching for stability and a return to the top ten. Failing to qualify for the Major with a straight 0-3 against PENTA, Vega Squadron and Renegades will have diminished their confidence. But James â€˜hazedâ€™ Cobb still seems confident, tweeting: â€œIâ€™m feeling like we can still do something good in Cologne. Iâ€™m still giving 1000% effort.â€
Currently the number one ranked team in the world, SK is my personal pick for this event. Following their back-to-back wins at ECS Season 3 Finals and DreamHack Open Summer the marauding Brazilians seemingly fear nobody. The scary thing about SK is the star-power running through their entire roster: each player has the ability to turn a game around single-handedly. And even if one player does underperform. the other four always seem step in to pick up the pieces. In order to beat SK, you must beat each and every one of them in a head-to-head battle. Thatâ€™s no easy task.
Turkeyâ€™s representatives at this tournament many only come in at 28 in the rankings, but they have the potential to cause some upsets. In particular, Ismailcan â€˜XANTARESâ€™ Dortkardes is more than capable of generating some problems for the opposition. Their path to qualification for this event included 2-0 wins against both GODSENT and EnVyUs, so Space Soldiers have already demonstrated they are no slouches. Write them off at your peril.
The Chinese outfit had a rough time at the PGL Major qualifiers, winning only one match out of four against Renegades, and come in to this event ranked at number 30. Without an awful lot of other recent international tournaments to go off, TyLooâ€™s exact form for this tournament is hard to gauge. This could potentially throw a spanner in the works for their opponents, who might struggle to adequately prepare. Dark horses, perhaps?
The previous Polish powerhouses are currently falling on hard times. Much like Ninjas in Pyjamas this legendary lineup has had a tough run of results and will be looking for a path back to greatness starting with this event. It remains to be seen what they can achieve in their current state. Whilst their last result was a 2-1 victory over Naâ€™Vi and HellRaisers, before that VP suffered a painful run of losses. But I wouldnâ€™t write them off just yet. After all, it wouldnâ€™t be the first time these 5 players have emerged from a rut stronger than ever. One thing is certain, Virtus Pro never fail to turn up for ESL One Cologne, and they will be bringing a massive fan following with them. The first matches kick off at 12:00 CEST on both the A and B stream 12:00 mousesports v fnatic 12:00 FaZe v Heroic 13:15 Immortals v Virtus Pro 13:15 SK v Space Soldiers 14:30 NiP v Cloud9 14:30 TyLoo v G2 15:45 Natus Vincere v Liquid 15:45 North v Optic