The PGL Major qualifier is all wrapped up, and the eight Challenger teams have been determined. Five of these are new teams that weren’t at the previous Major: BIG, Cloud9, PENTA, Immortals, and Vega Squadron. This stands in stark contrast to the previous three majors, each of which included only two new Challenger teams. Seeing how these five teams upset the trend, we wanted to take a look at their journey to the major and give some insight on how we expect them to fare.
TLDR: BIG was formed at the start of 2017 by In-game Leader gob b with tabseN and LEGIJA, after leaving American team NRG. Joining the trio is nex, formerly of Mousesports, and up-and-coming AWPer keev, who previously played on ALTERNATE aTTaX. Under gob b’s leadership, this team has what it takes to take games off of less tactically sound teams. When it comes to the big players at The Major, however--teams like SK and Astralis--BIG is way out of their comfort zone.
Since its formation, BIG has showed steady improvement, largely credited to the tactical mind of gob b. This improvement is most evident in their record versus Flipsid3 Tactics. At the start of the year, BIG lost to Flipsid3 three matches in a row: a 16-11 at the DreamHack Leipzig group stage, 0-2 in the playoffs at DreamHack Leipzig, and 1-2 at the IEM Katowice qualifiers. In their next two meetings, however, BIG was able to turn the tables, taking home a 16-14 win in ESEA Premier League and a 2-0 at the ESL Cologne European qualifiers. This consistent improvement isn’t only against Flipsid3. BIG has shown the ability to learn from their losses and adapt their gameplay against teams like EnVyUs and PENTA. This shows just how influential and dedicated gob b is as an IGL. He’s studying his opponents, he’s learning from his mistakes, and he’s always coming back with improved results.
But having a good IGL isn’t enough to take home a Major title. In order for BIG to make an impact, everyone on the team will have to pull their weight, which may be a problem. So far, Keev has yet to really show impactful results against high-level opponents, as reflected by his 1.05 HLTV rating. nex and tabseN have shown themselves to be the stars of the team, with HLTV ratings of 1.18 and 1.26, respectively. LEGIJA and gob b seem to be underperforming at 0.98 and 1.01, although Gob b gets a bit of an excuse as IGL.
If BIG is to do anything at the Major, they're going to need nex and tabseN to carry hard or for the rest of the team to step up in a big way. With that in mind, I wouldn't be surprised to see BIG go out in the group stage with a score of 1-3.
TLDR: While Cloud9 is no stranger to the Majors, they did miss out on the last two. That said, out of the five new Challenger teams, Cloud9 has the best chance of making it past the group stage. At the Major Qualifier, they went 3-1, beating BIG, Godsent, and Flipsid3, and only lost to G2 (who are strong contenders to win the Major). This performance was largely thanks to Stewie2k and Autimatic, who have consistently performed well against top international teams. The real unknown variable is if Shroud and Skadoodle can show up. They had no problem performing last weekend at ESL ONE Cologne, where Cloud9 made the finals, largely due to Shroud and Ska stepping up their game. But the real question is, was their performance a fluke or a sign of a new era of NA CS?
One interesting fact to note is that Cloud9's map pool is relatively shallow. The only map we've seen them consistently beat top international teams on is Mirage. They have a decent game on Cobble and Train, where they can upset their opponents, but Mirage is their specialty. The issue with this is that any team who has studied Cloud9 knows to veto Mirage right away. Poof! Problem solved.
Keeping all of this in mind, Cloud9 has a good chance of making it to the playoffs--it is summer, after all.
TLDR: Immortals is another team that has it in them to do some real damage at the Major. The only problem is they're very inconsistent. In a recent interview, coach Zakk mentioned how emotional the team can be and how this is the root cause of inconsistent play. If they're doing well, they're a threat to everyone. If they're not feeling it, they'll fall apart like they did this past weekend at ESL ONE Cologne, where they only took one map off of an out-of-shape Virtus.Pro.
It's a shame that such skilled players let their emotions weigh them down. Out of all the Challenger teams in this Major, only Vega Squadron has a higher average HLTV rating than Immortals, and that's only because Vega is playing against much lower-skilled teams, and are also playing in far fewer events. Immortals have an average HLTV rating of 1.11, while Vega clocks in at 1.15. Here’s an example of how much a team’s opponents can dictate their HLTV rating: G2, one of the favorites to win the event, comes in at 1.09 because they’re constantly playing the best teams in the world.
Over the last three events, Immortals has scored wins versus VP, Dignitas, Godsent, Hellraisers, Mousesports, and SK gaming, and they took one map off of FNATIC in a best-of-3. They've lost twice to G2 and once each to BIG, C9, Team Liquid, plus the aforementioned BO3 loss to Fnatic. This proves that they’re able to take games off of Major contenders, but can still come up short against lesser teams if they aren’t emotionally present.
Another huge factor in Immortals' potential success at the Major is whether new member kNgV- can step his game up. In the first three maps he played at DreamHack Summer, kNgV- destroyed his opponents, clocking up an average rating of 1.49. However, after those maps, his performance dropped significantly, pulling in an average rating of 0.85 across his next 11 maps. This is likely because he's still trying to find his place on the team. He was historically an AWPer, but since HEN1 is the star AWPer on Immortals, kNgV- has had to adjust his play to fit in with the squad.
If Immortals is going to make it into the Major playoffs, they'll have to find consistency in both their emotions and their play.
TLDR: PENTA has been on a strange journey this past year. The current roster didn't come together until March, and it’s amazing that they've qualified for a Major in just four short months. The lifeblood of PENTA is kRYSTAL, the IGL and only original member of PENTA's German squad. Abandoning the German-centric teams of PENTA's past, the new squad features suNny and zehN from Finland, HS from Estonia, and innocent from Poland. This begs the question: how well are these players able to communicate with each other?
Apparently it hasn't been a problem yet, considering their recent results. They took home 2nd place at the Europe Minor Championship 2017 - Kraków (which qualifies you for the Major Qualifier), taking out teams like EnVyUs and Dignitas. At the Major Qualifier, PENTA breezed through the competition, going 3-1. Their only loss was at the hands of Mousesports, which has been on the upswing recently. PENTA's victories, however, were against two notoriously inconsistent teams, Optic Gaming (16-14) and Team Liquid (16-3), as well as underdog Vega Squadron (16-8). Based on their opponents, PENTA had one of the easier runs to qualify for the Major.
The real issue for PENTA is they just aren't on the same level as the Tier 1 international teams they'll be facing at the Major. kRYSTAL and zehN are the lowest performing players with average HLTV ratings of 0.97 and 1.08, respectively. That wouldn't be so bad if PENTA were playing the likes of SK or Astralis in every event, but they're not. They're meeting up against Tier 2 teams, and these two players are still struggling to perform. If PENTA is going to do anything, it will be off the back of their star player and Lurker suNny, which isn’t likely. Tier 2 teams might fall for the sneaky plays that suNny pulls off, but against teams like SK or Astralis, it’s just not going to happen. With that in mind, PENTA has almost no chance of getting out of groups.
TLDR: Vega Squadron went from meme to Major dream over the course of the last year. They were originally known as the team that 16-2'd NiP at the ELeague Major Qualifier, ending NiP's streak of attending every Major. Other than that, nobody knows much about them. Their only international LAN was DreamHack Leipzig earlier this year, where they went out in the group stage with a score of 1-2. They had a 16-14 win versus the unranked Rouge, but quickly got knocked out by Flipsid3 and BIG.
Vega had one of the easier roads at the Major Qualifier, but it was still a bumpy ride for the CIS team. They lost versus HellRaisers and PENTA, arguably two of the weaker teams in attendance, but managed to score wins versus Optic Gaming, Tyloo, and Dignitas, three teams that failed to qualify and were only able to chalk up wins against Renegades and Tengri.
What we do know about the players on Vega is that mir is their star, clocking in an HLTV rating of 1.29. Their next two highest performers are Chopper and hutji, who come in at 1.19 and 1.15, respectively. If these numbers seem high, it’s because Vega Squadron does not consistently compete against top international talent. These players also have only ~200 maps played on HLTV. Compared to someone like Shox on G2, who has 1120 maps played, the Vega players’ sample size is extremely small.
With this all in mind, it would be fair to predict a 0-3 exit from the Major for Vega Squadron. But then again, who would have thought they could 16-2 NiP back in December?