StarSeries i-League Season 8 will travel to the resort town of Belek, in Turkey, where 16 teams will be taking part in a $500,000 tournament, and although the top two teams in the world will be missing, 11 of the top 15 will be in attendance, including ESL One New York winners Evil Geniuses and DreamHack Masters Malmö champions fnatic.
The event in Turkey will be a great stage to see how a lot of the new rosters we saw play in Malmö are evolving after their initial christening—and there will be plenty of maps to see their evolution with a best-of-three double-elimination group stage followed by an eight-team double-elimination bracket. For a more detailed breakdown of the tournament in Belek, head over to our viewer’s guide.
Evil Geniuses have an opportunity to rebound as the top-seeded team
StarSeries i-League Season 8 will have every single team from #3 to #14 in the ranking with the exception of ENCE (#8), making it one of the more competitive tournaments on the calendar. Missing the icing on the cake, the two best teams in the world, will be a negative for the overall competitiveness of the tournament, but will give room for a lot of the teams that have made changes recently to see how they stack against each other. Not having the two teams at the top also means one of the leading storylines this season is missing, as there are a lot of unknowns at the top of the world ranking since Astralis started to make strides to return to former glory and Liquid are failing to live up to their early 2019 standards.
Amidst the chaos at the top, a new contender has emerged in Evil Geniuses who are currently less than 100 and 200 points below Liquid and Astralis in the world ranking. Their ascent has been a slow and steady one since the NRG days, their progress easily traceable as they failed to make it to the FACEIT Major, went out in last place at IEM Katowice, and finally made it not only to playoffs but the semi-finals of the StarLadder Major. Their run of form was then propelled by a win at ESL One New York last month where they beat Astralis twice, in the group stage and the grand final, although they fell fast and hard when they bombed out of DreamHack Masters Malmö in 13-16th place.
The event in Belek is a gift from above as it provides Evil Geniuses the perfect opportunity to bounce back from their ESL One New York hangover and leave their Malmö blunder behind without having to take on either of the two teams topping ranking. While a victory wouldn’t be as sweet without beating one of the teams above them, it could certainly help boost morale and get the team back on track for the last sprint of the season. From a more gloomy perspective, StarSeries i-League Season 8 could also prove to be a double-edged sword were Evil Geniuses unable to make a deep run in Turkey, as it would caster further doubt on whether they will be able to make the fight at the top a ménage a trois.
Teams are beginning to settle into their changes
Six of the teams that made changes ahead of Malmö will be present at StarSeries i-League Season 8, and with only one tournament under their belts, the post-Major havoc remains one of the key storylines as we hover around the mid-season mark. G2, NiP, fnatic, Vitality, FURIA, and Natus Vincere, will give us further data to understand what is happening in the middle ground after a short break following DreamHack Masters Malmö.
The biggest story concerning changes following Malmö was that of Robin “flusha” Rönnquist and Maikil “Golden” Selim’s return to fnatic, a team that had been struggling to find form despite glimpses here and there throughout the year. Beating teams like Astralis and Vitality in Malmö, fnatic seem to be back in business with a core of four players that have already won together—although they could never make it last—and one of the top European prospects in Ludvig “Brollan” Brolin. The Swedes could be become a solid contender near the top, but struggling to make it stick would not be a new problem for this core. The other finalist in Malmö, Vitality, also seem to be adjusting well to Richard “shox” Papillon, who was brought in as a counter-balance to Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut, taking on the edges of the map and making late-round plays while the youngster takes center stage. If the French side can keep their emotions out of it in the long run, Vitality are a hot challenger to contend for trophies, including the one up for grabs in Turkey.
The other French team, who opened their doors to an international project, are a little bit more of a question mark. By virtue of bringing foreign players with a different CS:GO culture and changing their comms to English, G2‘s progress will be harder to trace immediately, but if we take the new additions pound for pound, G2 should find themselves in a more comfortable position than a few weeks ago, growing pains and all. Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovács’s return to Natus Vincere is also one of the higher-profile signings, and while they did beat G2—albeit barely—in the ESL Pro League Season 10 Europe group stage, the jury is still out on whether that’s the best move the Russian team could have made. Without the highest opposition around, but with plenty of teams battling for real estate deep into playoff brackets, the tournament in Turkey will be good proving grounds for both new rosters.
NiP and FURIA are two teams that didn’t have a dedicated AWPer and have now brought on snipers. In the middle of the field of going into StarSeries, these two are currently far shots to make a solid impact at the event. The Swedes have added Simon “twist” Eliasson, who has taken over from long-time Ninja Christopher “GeT_RiGhT” Alesund and will be trying to bring some stability to a team that had been struggling with impending changes looming for months. Not hot or cold this year, it remains to be seen what kind of impact he can have in a team that has been unable to break into the top. FURIA, the team that said their aggressive style wouldn’t be countered after making waves earlier in the year hitting the #5 rank in the world capitulated and brought on a dedicated AWPer in Henrique “HEN1” Teles as their results started to deteriorate when the surprise factor in their game faded left, faded right, and faded completely. After a 7-8th place in Malmö, it remains to be seen how their style will change in the long run and if it will allow them to climb back up to the top rungs of the CS:GO ladder.
AVANGAR, mousesports, Renegades, and their stable rosters
fnatic and Vitality’s changes seem to have spurred positive results, as mentioned above, making them two of the top contenders in Turkey along with Evil Geniuses, who will be trying to erase Malmö from their memories as they prepare for the StarSeries event. Not far behind are teams that haven’t made any changes and will hope roster stability will give them the resolution they’ll need if matches, which will all be best-of-three, go down to the wire. These are AVANGAR, mousesports, and taking a leap of faith, Renegades.
AVANGAR have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with after becoming Major finalists and BLAST Pro Series Moscow champions. They became the first team to qualify for ECS Season 8 in Europe, and have been showing great overall form despite a large load of online matches as well as tournament appearances. The majority-Kazakh team are putting in the work and seemed to be in an excellent position to keep challenging the teams at the top, but a slip-up at DreamHack Open Rotterdam where they lost the semi-final to CR4ZY casts doubts as they now enter a crucial phase in their growth, one in which they have to become steady contenders and make continuous deep runs at Big Events and beat smaller teams at Medium Events to settle into a very fluid top 5-10.
It looked like mousesports had the potential to become a tournament-challenging team when they made the ESL Pro League Season 9 semi-finals before going out to the eventual champions, Liquid. The European combine have been unable to keep up the rhythm since then, and while they still have plenty of potential, they have slowed down considerably. Wins against the likes of FaZe and Evil Geniuses in LAN series speak volumes of their capabilities, but losses to Virtus.pro or the inability to make deep runs in tournaments also point to a lack of consistency that Finn “karrigan” Andersen’s side will have to figure out before being able to take the next step.
Renegades have proved to be a perennial middle-of-the-road team, sometimes showing a glimpse of improvement and hovering around the top 5, others closer to the 15-20 spots in the ranking. The Australian evergreen had a semi-final run at the Major and were second in their ESL Pro League group falling only to Liquid, but not much activity since the Major makes it hard to pinpoint exactly where the team stands. StarSeries i-League Season 8 will be a good opportunity to see what part of the rollercoaster they are on at this point, slowly making the climb or barreling down at high speed.
MIBR have been struggling for a long time now and it seems that ever since Marcelo “coldzera” David departed the team the Brazilians have been unable to find their peace. They marked the beginning of their new era with a fourth-place at BLAST Pro Series Moscow with two wins, two ties, and a loss, and followed it up with a 3-4th place at the V4 Future Sports Festival where Tricked got the best of them, and will now be looking to start showing they are capable of more. Online, they were unable to beat ATK in ECS Week 2 and they lost a best-of-three series on LAN against local rivals FURIA. These results don’t bode well for their StarSeries i-League Season 8 prospects, but the added pressure of it being a Big Event could help MIBR show their pedigree and exceed expectations.
Astralis’ absence puts North and Heroic in the spotlight as the torch-bearers for Counter-Strike’s most developed region although perhaps reality doesn’t quite match that statement’s grandiloquence as North are #18 in the rankings, the lowest they have ever been, and Heroic are #22. It’s hard to see René “cajunb” Borg making a big difference in the team after being picked up from the now disbanded OpTic as two recent 2-0 losses to Astralis and fnatic don’t help make a case for North. On a more positive note, Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjærbye’s recent run of good form could be a beacon for the Nordic team to rally.
Heroic have been on quite the journey this season, making several meaningful roster changes. The latest one was bringing on Casper “cadiaN” Møller to make up for the loss of their in-game leader and star player Benjamin “blameF” Bremer, which seems to have yielded positive results thus far. The Danes made it to Belek thanks to winning the Europe qualifier, and they also won ECS Week 2, proving their online grind has been on point. Victories over NiP and Sprout, as well as a very close three-map series against Vitality at the ESL Pro League group stage should give some hope that Heroic will be able to compete with the middle-of-the-pack teams in Turkey. As this article is being published, they are playing the DreamHack Open Rotterdam final, another positive tally for them ahead of StarSeries i-League Season 8.