Beginning next week, 16 of CS:GO’s finest teams will venture to the Lanxess Arena – infamously known as the ‘Cathedral of Counter-Strike’ – for the fifth iteration of ESL One Cologne. Year over year, the tournament highlights the best Counter-Strike has to offer from premier gameplay to a simply unmatched atmosphere of impassioned fans. With $300,000 on the line and a playbill complete with every heavyweight in the game’s competitive division, the event is already shaping up to meet the expectations of its predecessors. We’ll arm you with the best betting tips and outlooks ahead of Cologne in this week’s ESI Gambling Report, powered by VIE.gg.
ESL One Cologne is one of Counter-Strike’s most distinguished tournaments, and this year’s trial comes during a particularly exciting time in the game’s competitive panorama. Last season’s theme revolved around Danish juggernauts, Astralis, as the be all end all of the game. Considered lightyears ahead of international competition, the Danish band ushered in an era of their own, remaining virtually uncontested for an entire year.
Halfway into the current season however, there’s a new king hailing from the West – Team Liquid. Despite having played runner-up to Astralis for nearly the totality of 2018, the latest configuration of the team has been unconditionally on fire since ringing in the new year. Beyond a few blemishes, the North American powerhouse has netted four LAN title finishes including three out of the four events that would herald Liquid as the Intel Grand Slam Season 2 champions – Cologne being a shot at the fourth.
Although the list of contenders is nothing short of star-studded, the chronicle in Cologne will be a tale of two titans, and the results here will communicate a telling expectation for the remainder of the season.
A tale of two titans
All eyes will be on Astralis and Liquid at ESL One Cologne as the two undisputed best teams in the world; any outcome outside of this would genuinely prove to be a thriller, and an equally as astonishing feat for whomever is able to topple either of them.
For Liquid, the team has seen a massive renewal in performance since signing Jake “Stewie2K” Yip in late-December. In many ways, the US-born fragger has helped the North American company unlock their full potential. Under the seasoned command of Nicholas “nitr0” Cannella, the young gun is able to combine Liquid’s patient and passive play style with flairs of his signature explosiveness that makes for a deadly compound. Beyond firepower inside the server, Stewie’s overloaded confidence is thought to have helped Liquid swagger the best of themselves; overcoming what had become habitual second place finishes, the American’s mentality has been positively infectious throughout the team.
One blistering overtone in Cologne is that Liquid will have a shot at seizing the Intel Grand Slam trophy – after winning the previous three qualifying events in succession, nonetheless. Considering Liquid’s pace coming into the tournament and everything at stake for them in Germany, it’s impossible to assume they would bring anything short of their best game to the Lanxess Arena. In the very least, we’ll buy in to the enthralling narrative they’ve provided.
Months and months went by as teams and analysts desperately tried to uncover strategies to topple Astralis in competitive play, but to no avail – the Danes were plainly too strong. While other teams in Counter-Strike have had eras such as Fnatic and SK Gaming, Astralis had revolutionised the way the game was played at the top level. In excess of groundbreaking strategies and being in-game tacticians in every sense of the term, the band had a certain toughness to them that couldn’t be speared. Though, the current status quo has been shaken up quite a bit since.
Once praised for passing up on tournaments in the interest of their player’s health, the suspected key to their prosperity has appeared to have had a severe negative backlash. It’s a larger question altogether why Astralis would pass up pivotal events such as IEM Sydney and DreamHack Dallas (both part of the Intel Grand Slam series) and let Liquid bypass them in global rank in uncontested fashion; more of a pressing issue however, is that the Danes are missing out on consequential tournament experience in an ever-developing Counter-Strike landscape. In short, they’re entering major tournaments unpracticed and dull comparatively to rivals, Team Liquid, and others.
Astralis have at least found themselves in a handful of LAN skirmishes this month, which should ward off some of the rust they’ve collected over the last few months. Though, it’s somewhat difficult to get fully behind them as they’ve suffered defeats to Liquid, NRG, and FURIA in the last few weeks alone. On the flipside, Astralis is a team that is certainly capable and as the superstar core has remained the same, there’s plenty of basis to believe a title finish is possible for them in Cologne.
A sea of talent
Overlooking the storyline between the two aforementioned giants, there’s no famine of outstanding talent at Cologne this year – literally none. The tournament features nine out of the ten top teams in the world among a pool of 16 with the remainder sitting within the top 30 (outside of MVP PK).
Launching just six months ago, Vitality has quickly become one of the most respected names in the space. Boasting a roster topped with French talent including 18-year old prodigy, Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut, the unit has most recently clinched a first place finish at cs_summit 4, where they trounced Liquid in the grand finals.
The all-Brazillian roster has easily become one of the most electrifying teams to watch; from stormy plays to gritty reislience in the wake of top-tier teams, FURIA has proven they can hang among the best. Though the team has some way to go before being considered an elite challenger, it’s incredibly evident the group has a bottomless hunger to grow.
Although Na’Vi has seemed to slip out from conversations of winning substantial LAN tournaments, this is a team you can truly never discount. At its core, Na’Vi has an utterly first class group of players that, when synced up, has proven to be unstoppable. Over time, the CIS competitor has matured into being a wildcard to some extent – but with that in mind, there’s no telling when they’ll actually show up in full force.
Albeit the list of quality teams in attendance at ESL One Cologne would be far too exhaustive to examine in thorough approach, we’ll settle in saying this is rightfully one of if not the most anticipated tournament on the Counter-Strike schedule outside of the Major. Whether watching for fun or having a risk, ESI reminds you to bet responsibly!