According to SK Gaming's Elo ratings, the group of four are significantly ahead of the rest. The standings look like this:
Cypher: 37-7, 1253 points
rapha: 35-8, 1250 points
Cooller: 38-10, 1218 points
av3k: 29-8, 1210 points
k1llsen is 83 points behind av3k - the top four are separated by just 43 points.
This article, however it may seem, is not based off the premise of our Elo ratings.
For the elite four, being in the top four of rankings is not satisfactory. Being in the top half of someone's predictions is not enough. They each know they are capable of winning any event, against any player, on any continent, and taking the title of world's best player. They also know that anything short of a spectacular showing will give everyone doubts over their next tournament appearance, and although it doesn't drop them out of the high-end predictions, it knocks the perpetrator off the number one spot they each yearn for.
They haven't had the greatest of years so far, though.
Excluding Cooller, they have won a major event each (av3k: DreamHack Summer 2010, Cypher: QuakeCon 2010, rapha: IEM 4 World Championship), but consistency has been a major issue for the group, with rapha being the only one to pull off two consecutive victories. Second, third, fourth and even fifth place finishes are all over the show. The thorns in their side have often been each other, particularly in Cooller's case, but as of late they've been slipping up to duelers outside of their "zone".
The rise of k1llsen
Marcel 'k1llsen' Paul is one of the success stories of the current IEM season. Shocking everyone, he took down av3k and rapha at Global Challenge gamescom en-route to his first international tournament triumph, and stated that he in fact knew what he was doing against the two, as well as dismissing the potential home advantage he may have had. He currently sees himself as a top five player and, leading up to the world championship, thinks he can hit the top three.
Prior to gamescom however, he had a dreadful spree of tournaments. More like fodder than a threat, k1llsen slumped to a subpar finish at DreamHack Summer and ESWC 2010 after a decent showing at the IEM 4 European Finals. He won one map over the two events and dropped off everyone's radar until he miraculously came from 2-0 down to beat av3k at gamescom. Though he admitted luck was on his side, his railgun antics were more than enough to propel him through a barrier that even the members of the elite four would struggle to do.
A new-found desire, sick aim and all the fan backing in the world is enough to give k1llsen a case for stepping into the upper echelon of Quake Live. But he's marred by inconsistency, something that he needs to vastly improve on heading into DreamHack Winter this November and future IEM Global Challenges.
Chances of continuing his performance for the rest of the season: Likely despite his potentially lackadaisical approach to events now he's confirmed for the IEM 5 World Championship.
Joy without a victory
The Italian multigamer Alessandro 'stermy' Avallone kicked off his professional gaming outing in 2001 with Quake 3 and quickly began competing at a high level of competition. He then jumped over to the lucrative title PainKiller, and continued to perform there, tallying up nigh on $100,000 in prize money. Then after a short stint in Quake 4, he played under the CGS franchise San Francisco OPTX as a FIFA player, picking up second place at the 2008 world finals.
Clearly, stermy has an extensive history with FPS titles and has the necessary skills to play more than one game at a high level. His results in Quake Live however are far from what he has produced in the past on other titles, with his standout placements being fourth at DreamHack Winter 2009 and, crucially, third at this year's QuakeCon.
stermy had an incredible QuakeCon, and he didn't even win.
But, throughout the brilliant fourth IEM season, stermy was never really a threat despite his tendency to pull out an upset on more than one occasion. At the Dubai Global Challenge and European Finals he surprisingly topped his groups after winning two difficult games, albeit not in the way he'd have liked. But his two journeys came to an abrupt end at the start of the knockout stages.
That's why QuakeCon was his best event in Quake Live: no groups. Or it could have been down to the fact that nobody had an answer for his precise rushes and devastating aggression. Or maybe that his CTF team was a strong favorite for the competition, instilling some confidence into the mind of a passionate player desperate for a top placing.
For the second tournament in a row he managed to beat rapha, and the match against DaHanG just before that was close but mightily impressive. For a spot in the grand final he had to defeat Cypher, but he fell short, losing 2-1. He then lost a nail-biting lower bracket final to Cooller by the same margin. Both Cooller and Cypher were playing at an insane level of Quake before their grand final encounter, which could easily go down as one of the most impressive set of games in recent Quake Live history, and for "Mr. 5th-8th" to almost snatch a victory off them won a lot of peoples' respect.
He showcased the talent required to join up with the big four, and, like k1llsen, has a great foundation to build off of come the next couple of events. But his past performances are there to remind everyone that you can have a bad day, and for some people, bad days are really, really bad. Whether it's group stages tiring him out or not, his bad days simply need to be a little less worse than they are now: then there will be a vastly improved stermy at every event.
Chances of continuing his performance for the rest of the season: Highly likely.
Zé lone Frenchman
Fnatic's Kevin 'Strenx' Baeza is one of those players who has normal and brilliant days. One day he can be seen utilizing his famed LG for all the right and wrong reasons, while another he can be found down in the dumps after failing to make the playoff bracket of Quake Live's biggest ever tournament.
Without doubt he is France's best Quake export, and has had multiple chances at securing a place among the elite. In Quake Live he has never placed above third, and he holds a myriad of 5-8/7-8 place finishes in some big tournaments. His two most notable performances, the IEM 4 European Finals and DreamHack Summer 2010, are two completely different tales.
The IEM 4 European Finals saw an aggressive and focused Strenx, but it wasn't enough to derail the Cypher train that tore through Germany that weekend. However, what it did create was his now famous match with Cooller. Strenx took a dominant 2-0 lead, only to throw away the remaining three maps and come out $300 down on his Russian opponent.
In their group stage encounter, Cooller let it be known to Strenx that he still has a lot to learn in Quake Live.
It wasn't the catalyst many had hoped for Strenx, who responded by putting in a dismal performance at the IEM 4 World Championship, failing to make it out of group play. He was thrown in with only one member of the elite four and had a real shot at finally making a stand in world Quake after a strong showing just a couple of months before, but was ultimately outclassed on the day.
At DreamHack, Strenx tore through his group and made light work of stermy before meeting up with av3k, who subsequently bumped the Frenchman into the lower bracket. He met a valiant Magnus 'fox' Olsson and after going 2-0 down, won three straight to reignite himself as a genuine contender amongst the best. That's all it took. A bit of resilience and a bit of smart, calculating play, and he was quickly back in the mid to upper tier of Quake competition.
Since then, however, Strenx has under-achieved two events in a row. While ESWC 2010 employed a brutal double group stage system, Strenx's defeat to k1llsen at gamescom was a genuine shock considering k1llsen's reputation at the time and Strenx's earlier performance in the groups. It's merely a case of it being the right day for Strenx, as at QuakeCon 2010 he took Cooller to three maps and displayed hints of the elite level Quake that we see from the main four tournament in tournament out.
Chances of coming back strong and becoming a contender: Unlikely until a well-drilled Strenx consistently rolls into tournaments.
QuakeCon specialist... that's not enough
Two QuakeCons in a row have felt the force of Sebastian 'Spart1e' Siira. In 2009 he almost won it but for a remarkable comeback from rapha.
He rolled through the tournament at a time where Quake Live was in its stride. Tournaments were lined up for months and players had a real incentive to perform at each and every one in the hope for an invite to one of the IEM Global Challenges, and ultimately make their World Championship event.
Straight after QuakeCon 2009 he hit a wall, firstly failing to qualify for the IEM World Championship and then bombing out of DreamHack Summer 2010 early on.
It was uncharacteristic of a player who can think with the best of them and has some of the smartest decision making in the game. Spart1e's fearsome aggression may be so dangerous courtesy of his CTF antics, and that's exactly what was on display at this year's QuakeCon.
He entered it with relatively little expectations. A top six finish would have been acceptable, maybe picking up an upset or two along the way. But when he was met with an in-form Cooller early on, advancement looked grim. Spart1e came from a game down to ease past Cooller 2-1 - yet another elite four member was waiting for him: Cypher.
Spart1e lost 2-0 but battled through the lower bracket before meeting Cooller again, but at this stage in the tournament Cooller was showing no signs of going off course towards the grand final.
It's the extra edge that Spart1e needs in order to gain that reputation as a truly scary competitor. That extra jump to outmanoeuvre someone, an extra rocket ammo pick up to restrict his opponent; little things collectively add up to dump a big heap of confidence into any human.
Chances of placing top three at DreamHack: Unlikely - more around top six/eight. Though on home turf, the competition is intense. Going that extra yard is difficult, although Spart1e knows that a solid performance is required.
The streak-ending American
For a considerable amount of time now, Tim 'DaHanG' Fogarty has been considered the number two player in North American Quake Live. Even when he beat rapha at the IEM 4 American Finals he didn't take over the reigns, and it was a stunning come-from-behind win, too.
The win still holds a degree of notoriety whenever the two meet up, but ever since then it has always ended the same way, and most recently it was on the very same stage, the IEM America Finals, with rapha dominating proceedings 3-0.
It's not his unorthodox style that prevents him from being shrouded in an elite aura. He beat rapha at a time when the SK player was mid-way through his incredible tournament streak, and it is the only speck on a year long spree of first place finishes. It's DaHanG's performances at international events that let him down.
Though he regularly runs into rapha in the early stages of bracket play at international tournaments (IEM 4 World Championship, ESWC 2010), he has not once picked himself up after a loss. At ESWC, Cooller toppled him twice, but despite the games being relatively close it's a case of what if with the Evil Geniuses man. Should he surpass rapha or any one of the four big dogs early on in a tournament, there's nothing stopping the DaHanG that bounced back from a collective 22-2 and 2-0 deficit over two maps from showing up at DreamHack Winter this year.
Chances of making an impact at an international event this season: Unlikely.
Stacked DreamHack and its consequences
Every single result at DreamHack Winter this year will carry significance. Check out the current and incomplete list of participants here.
There are still six spots to be filled on a list that contains every one of the top players in Quake Live over the past year, bar Strenx, whose attendance is yet to be confirmed. Placing in the top six of this tournament will be like placing in the top three at any other due to the fact that all four of Quake Live's biggest names will be participating, and due to the happenings of the last couple of events, each place holds a lot more importance.
Granted, they haven't always been present at the same tournament, but the last time the quartet were grouped up together was at the IEM 4 World Championship Finals - arguably the best and most stacked tournament Quake Live has seen - way back in March. If the four are separated again, the mould can and will indeed been broken, and someone will have to give up their space. Or they can make room for one more.
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THE NEW JERSEY