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Strange as it may seem I'm picking Na`Vi as my most prominent favourite to win Group A because of the other teams in the group, not by virtue of anything Na`Vi themselves have done. The Ukrainians have famously been anything but dominant in group stages, all that is assured is that they get out of them, they seemingly never win them. Na`Vi is a team which has always heated up as a tournament went on and are one of the few active teams who legitimately bring their best performances in the semi-final and finals, which helps account for all those titles they've won.
The key reason I pick them first for this group is because SK have the unknown quantity in trace, meaning I can't bank on them being stable against every team and ESC hasn't even been to an international LAN in around 3 months. So considering the other opponents in the group and Na`Vi's very solid map strengths relative to those teams I expect them to definitely qualify for the playoffs and most likely in first place.
When Na`Vi faces SK one has to pick the Ukrainians as favourites going in since SK has made a pretty radical change in going from Delpan to trace, one which doesn't really change any maps into SK's favour against Na`Vi. The latter is a problem since unless the Ukrainians decide to mess around with the maps SK will be at a slight disadvantage on a few maps and forced to drop others due to being worried by Na`Vi's power on them. Vs. ESC Na`Vi are solid favourites, they seem to have the Poles's numbers when it matters. mouz looked appalling in Kiev and TyLoo would need something miraculous from Savage to get a map win.
That leaves Anexis, who are probably the team with the best chance of upsetting Na`Vi outside of the big two (SK and ESC). Even so that would be an upset, so I have to pick Na`Vi as favourites for all five games.
The funny thing about the way this group has been drawn is that it means SK were in the ideal position to take a risk on bringing in trace. The SK of 2011 was so incredibly stable it only ever lost to two teams during the entire Delpan era: ESC and Na`Vi. Against anyone else it was a guaranteed win for the Swedish team. That they have drawn the only two teams who beat them means even with the Delpan lineup it's far from certain they'd be progressing out of the group in first place.
With that said I would have had them as favourites to win the group with Delpan, that lineup was one where you knew exactly what you'd get from them against all opponents. This new lineup can't be afforded the same kind of expectation since we have no idea how they will use trace and how he has been integrated into their setups. It's also worrying that they've taken a very early bootcamp and then since then been streaming and playing gathers online individually. This is the biggest tournament of the year in every respect so to bring any new players in is a risk, even moreso when you had a very solid team as it was.
Without getting into my thoughts on the Delpan removal and trace addition too in-depth, I already did that in a video the week the move took place, I expect SK to still be solid enough to get out of this group, and likely in second place. ESC has gone long enough without LAN play that the Swedes should still be favoured to beat them. I actually think in terms of maps the Delpan lineup was a slight favourite over the Poles. With trace it's tough to know which maps they've improved or lost an edge on but SK is a strong Swedish team and shows the hallmarks of being strong on the maps those kinds of teams have been strong on.
I do think there is a lot of pressure on trace but I'll also be interested to see if this introduction can take some of the weight off GeT_RiGhT's shoulders, in terms of putting up numbers, and reinvigorate f0rest to have a big tournament, in a similar manner to the way past recruitments of top players had that effect on the all time great Swedish star.
Last year ended in a mixed manner for the Poles. At Dreamhack they fell to a Lions team they were better than and then they put themselves in a terrible position in the third map of the WCG final. Fortuitously for the golden four they found their way out of the fire against SK and won that gold, granting pasha his first taste of major international gold. Then there's been nothing to see or read about them since. Their online performance saw them fail to qualify for IEM VI Kiev, quite unsurprisingly. The Poles are notoriously bad online in relation to how good they are on LAN, coupled with the fact teams like Lions and fnatic become stronger online in those kinds of circumstances.
Nevertheless they once more found their way into the tournament via the backdoor, something they have managed to do at this tournament an amazing number of times. Now they are in the tournament I still have them as one of the three elite teams in the world (along with SK and Na`Vi) and when you consider that SK's spot in that bracket could be questionable if things go badly in Hannover then ESC could find themselves one of a two-horse race in 2012.
It's no secret that the Poles shine at the major tournaments and when you consider their aptitude for winning the first map in Bo3 series one could wonder why that doesn't translate over to dominating group stages. It doesn't though and thus I think they'll likely come out of this group in third, with second a decent possibility. I think they definitely will get out though. Being as I have them losing to Na`Vi and likely losing to SK I think the only other team they should be worried about is mouz. gob b's men have a solid tactical style to matchup well with ESC, though I still expect ESC to win that match.
Anexis and TyLoo will be wins for them so a win over mouz will be enough to get into the playoffs. Then, as crazy as it seam, it won't matter that they came third or second since whoever they face from Group B they will be a favourite over. That's a pretty rare but also curious situation to arrive at.
I wasn't on the hype train that was at max speed after zonic joined. For me you can't pluck a player like him, who has played for one team for so long, and throw him into a totally different lineup and expect it work immediately. Especially since mouz's strong point was always having people knowing exactly what they were doing tactically. Kiev was such a bad performance that to some degree it feels like I have to expect more out of mouz this time around. With that said I think they've drawn a terrible group.
In the other group they'd have been right there in the mix vying for a playoff spot, but in Group A they face the three best teams in the world. The Germans' best chance to get a win against the big three is against ESC, thanks to gob b's reading skills and his team's disciplined style of play. On the right map, say inferno for example, mouz has the style to pick apart the aggressive CT pushes of the Poles. So if they can match ESC skillwise on their own CT half then it's a possibility to win that map. Anexis might pose problems for mouz since I think the Danes might actually be more skilled man-for-man.
Anexis has had the same pattern for as long as I can remember: they win a map off a team better than them then lose out and don't qualify for the playoffs or don't move on in a playoff series. This is really a terrible group draw for them, had they been in Group B they'd still not be favourites to move on but at least they'd have a lot more parity with the top teams and depending on map they'd legitimately be fighting for that third spot. I actually like some of the Anexis players in-game but they face the problem of not being better than any of the top teams in any area: tactically, teamplay-wise or skill-wise.
That means a lot has to go right for them and simultaneously something has to go wrong for the big teams they play. At this event I don't see them making it out of the group, they should be able to beat TyLoo but that's not saying much and also isn't an absolute lock.
It's tough for me to see the name TyLoo and not think of the famed Chinese lineup of 2009-2010. The problem with thinking of TyLoo now is that everything which made that team something special in terms of a Chinese team is also completely missing from this lineup. Firstly they have no alex, the only Chinese player I've ever seen who actually seemed to have a legitimately high level understanding of tactics, how to structure a lineup and how to use his players. He was almost European in his approach, which is incredibly rare in Asian CS. There's also the loss of GoodRifle to account for, the player who seemingly always came with a big game when TyLoo needed it.
TyLoo has gotten a much better player in Savage than they ever had in their most famous lineup but that really doesn't come close to evening things up. Even with Savage going nuts they can and likely will still lose, especially in this group. Swap them into Group B instead of semXorah and maybe they can take 2 maps on a good day, hard to see how they can get even that many in Group A. And two maps isn't going to cut it in terms of the playoffs if we're being reasonable.
Conclusions and summary
Na`Vi, SK Gaming and ESC are my strong favourites to qualify from Group A, and in that order. After them mouz will need a really strong day, which I've yet to see from them on LAN with zonic, to get a crack at that third spot. Even if they beat ESC which map will they be able to play Na`Vi on and beat them? How will they possibly beat SK unless the Swedes are completely out of sorts? It's a very tough road for mouz as the lone dark horses of the group. Anexis have an even bigger hill to climb and no history of consistency, so even an upset win might not ensure they get through.
What's worth noting is that I actually think the big three of this group are still the best three teams in the entire world. As a result I fully expect all three to get out of the group and progress to the semi-finals, making up three of the last four teams. Anyone they face is an underdog to them, by however slight a margin, so I would expect the two finalists to come from this group.
An in-depth preview of Group B will go up tomorrow.
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@Thooorin on twitter.
2001-2002 Pro-cybernews (Editor-in-Chief)
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2010 e-Stars Seoul (SK Gaming)
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