Yes — you really did read that title correctly. No — this wasn’t a Call of Duty tournament. Yes — a North American team really has won ELEAGUE, and a giant $400,000 USD check to cash for their efforts. OpTic Gaming consisting of; Tarik, Mixwell, Stanislaw, NAF, and Rush, have managed to do the impossible and upset a stacked field of 15 other elite teams to win ELEAGUE Season 2. However impressive and unlikely their victory, the journey of how they reached the finals is the real story here.
Let’s start at the beginning and look at the group stages. OpTic had an uphill battle right from the start, having to face Team Dignitas, Fnatic, and Team EnVyUs in their group. On paper, you would likely see Team Dignitas and Fnatic breezing through the groups, but even this early on in the tournament the stars began to align for The Green Wall. Fnatic due to tournament rules regarding roster changes was forced to play with their coach Jumpy as a fifth. Even though they were gimped on firepower, Fnatic was still able to beat OpTic in a BO1, forcing them to face Team EnVyUs in a B03 to remain in the tournament.
OpTic very happy with how the vetoes turned out, were able to land both Overpass and Cobblestone in the map pool, which garnered dominate victories over Team EnVyUs to win the B03 2-1. Team EnVyUs has been out of form for quite some time now, so it’s not surprising to see those scorelines. Now faced for a rematch from earlier in the group stage, they took on Fnatic again in a B03 this time. Learning from the previous match, the boys in green once again were able to get Cobblestone as the first map pick, pushing them to another sweeping victory 16-5, giving them high spirits heading into Dust II where they were able to close out the series 2-0. Now even though they pulled a miracle and made it out of groups, it doesn’t come without asterisks. They didn’t need to play against Dignitas, and they beat a slumping Team EnVyUs and a Fnatic without their star player to make it through.
Heading into the quarterfinals OpTic hit the lottery, drawing mousesports, the weakest team of the remaining seven teams they could have faced. Mousesports actually ranking below OpTic Gaming at #14 according to HLTV, was the only other non-Top 10 team left standing in the quarterfinals. With strong performances coming from Rush and Mixwell on both maps, OpTic was able to advance cleanly into the Semifinals 2-0 after winning Train and Cache with excellent t-sides. The stars kept aligning for the last North American team remaining in the tournament, after NA favourites Cloud9 were eliminated in the group stage.
After winning their series, OpTic held onto their lucky rabbit’s foot once again while watching the FaZe Clan vs Virtus.pro series, as FaZe upset the Polish giants 2-1 to advance. GabeN and the Counter-Strike gods continued to shine on OpTic as having to face Virtus.pro in the semifinals would have been a sure death sentence, knowing VP’s tendencies to demolish North American teams with ease. With a historic FaZe Clan matchup looming, we would finally see long organization rivals from Call of Duty battle head to head in CS:GO.
The semifinals were another step in the pattern of success for OpTic Gaming. Notably how this tournaments veto system worked in favour of their map pool. With Nuke still being in the active pool, and the ELEAGUE vetoes going Ban – Ban – Pick – Pick – Ban – Ban – Decider, teams were not able to reliably ban their opponents best maps due to the potential of Nuke slipping through the cracks. This heavily favoured OpTic as they demonstrated how strong they were on Cobblestone, Overpass, and Train, meaning the majority of outcomes would at minimum give them a fighting chance against the higher-tier European teams.
With the series against FaZe Clan, this played out exactly as planned. With FaZe picking Train, and Overpass being picked by OpTic, it was only a matter of time until we saw another upset coming from OpTic Gaming. A dominant victory after a lopsided 12-3 start on the terrorist side of Train sealed the first map for the boys in green. Already having walked over EnVyUs earlier in the tournament, Overpass went OpTic’s way after a strong CT hold preventing FaZe from ever getting a real footing in the first half. Closing the map out 16-10, and the series 2-0, OpTic continued their odd streak in this season of ELEAGUE and managed to squeeze their way into the finals due to a bit of luck and great performances from their core players.
Astralis – Trials and Triumphs
Before we step into breaking down the finals, it would be unjust to not take a look at the long and treacherous road Astralis took to get here. Possibly even crazier than the OpTic story line, Astralis amazed the world with some even more spectacular feats this season.
First off we need to put the team composition in perspective. Having only two weeks practice with their new in-game leader gla1ve, the shoes of the long-term face of the franchise Karrigan looked too big to fill for the danish team. They also happened to fall in the group of death, with SK and Na’Vi in Group C. With the #1 and #6 teams respectively looking to advance, Astralis would need a massive upset to make it out of groups. Well, whether it was sorcery or skill, Astralis actually exited the group 2-0, creating a tidal wave of buzz after narrowly defeating SK on Overpass. That alone was a gigantic accomplishment for the Danes as they previously always struggled against SK, losing to them 3 times on Overpass in recent history.
In the quarterfinals, things didn’t get any easier. They were pitted against NiP, the #2 ranked rival who has bested them on many occasions. After dropping a close first map on Cobblestone to the in-form Ninjas, Astralis bolstered back and dismantled the swedes with precision 16-2 on Train. With the series tied, it went down to nail bitter on the Overpass where Astralis were able to hold a slight lead on the CT half, giving them enough room to close out the map and the series. So they have already defeated the top two ranked teams in the world at this point, how much harder could it get?
How about a rematch with SK Gaming. Better yet, how about you play the best team in the world on their best map: Train, which coming into this matchup SK had a ridiculous 17-0 streak running and an overall 85% percentage win percentage on (the highest of any map and team in CS:GO). Now this B03 is what really shocked the world. Astralis won their map pick Overpass 16:11 on the back of Xyp9x being on fire the whole game. Heading into the brick wall that is SK on Train, Astralis did the unthinkable. They were able to completely shut down SK on CT side, with Kjaerbye and Device putting up impressive stats while keeping fnx and Taco ineffective as entries. With a convincing 12-3 half for Astralis, 4 rounds on T was just barely feasible against the SK roster as Astralis upset the highly favoured winner for the entire tournament.
Regardless of the outcome of the finals, Astralis were the real winners in my eyes. They accomplished more this tournament and shredded (at least for the time being) the old label of “Choke-stralis” against the Top 5 teams. However, what came next as they faced the underwhelming rank #13 underdog in OpTic Gaming is too bizarre for even the most astute analysts to predict.
Thank goodness skin betting isn’t heavily practiced anymore, as people would have been wagering everything and the kitchen sink on Astralis in these finals. To say this was David vs Goliath would have been an insult to David. OpTic who through multiple lucky coincidences made it to the finals in possibly one of the easiest paths ever in a large tournament were now faced against what seemed an unstoppable danish team who took out the top 2 ranked teams in the tournament. No one favoured OpTic Gaming. Analysts, players, fans, even Tarik was quoted that they knew they were underdogs. Yet, he saw that as an advantage, he knew there was no pressure on them. Everything was on Astralis to prevent the arguably third-best team in North America from winning this -title they had worked so hard to get.
What happened next set in stone one of, if not the largest upset in CS:GO history.
Remember how we said OpTic were showing their prowess on Train, Cobblestone, and Overpass? Well, that’s the exact map selection we ended up on in these B03 Grand Finals. Astralis choosing to veto Cache first left all three of those maps ripe for the picking. The first map was all Astralis and their strong Train t-side which they have brought up after upsetting the most dominant team in the previous series. Device continued to show why he’s likely the best-underrated player in the scene currently, displaying the consistency he’s brought to Astralis in 2016. With a heavy head start 11-4, Astralis were able to string together enough CT rounds to easily close out Train 16-9. Something to note was NAF going +7 K/D, which is odd to see him putting up high stats over the teams “on paper” star players.
Map two, Cobblestone. I’m sure if Astralis had a time machine, this would have been their first veto. Hindsight is 20/20 however, and OpTic was in no way broken after map one. A complete 180 happened on Cobblestone, as the aggressive and well-executed T-Side from OpTic was too much for Astralis to handle. Tarik, Rush, and NAF were all performing at their peak on this map with all 3 of them being over 100 ADR and a +29 K/D spread between the trio. Xyp9x also had a rough game trying to hold down the A site, ending the map at -17 after OpTic regained their foothold in the series winning 16-6.
Map 3, Overpass. The tiebreaker — one map for $260,000 — the difference between first and second place. OpTic could taste the victory, and Astralis began having those regular flashbacks of just almost crossing the finish line and falling short. Enter the normally unsung hero: NAF. Clearly, the Brisk Mate kicked in for our fellow Canadian, as he went absolutely bananas in these grand finals. Now if I asked you to guess which player could have a +20 K/D, 113.3 ADR, and a 1.85 rating, most would guess Coldzera or Olofmeister of 2015, but those are the exact stats NAF was able to put up. Mixwell and Stanislaw also had a lot of impact, but NAF looked to be on an entirely different level as he picked Astralis apart. OpTic on the back of NAF’s amazing performance, win Overpass 16-11 over Astralis to win Season 2 of ELEAGUE.
Words really can’t do this series justice. If you haven’t watched it yourself, YouWrong has cut together the entire series down to 24 minutes for your viewing pleasure:
So what does this really mean? Is OpTic now a Top 10 team that can contend for a major? Are they even the best team in North America? Not yet. A lot of things fell in favour for OpTic for them to go on this insane run. They faced slumping or disadvantaged teams in the groups. Luckily drew the best matchup possible in the quarters and semis, and were given a favourable map pool in the finals against a team with a fresh roster change. They managed to win this season without ever having to face a Top 5 ranked team, so as much as they stepped up and won all the games necessary, they definitely got a little assistance from lady luck.
One thing we CAN learn from this tournament, is that OpTic is serious about improving and CAN win series against Top 10 European teams. They have a talented roster with enough fire power to start being a real threat, as long as they can bring some consistency to their results. Overall it was super exciting result, especially for a North American team to win such a large event on home soil.
Only time will tell whether this was a fluke or some foreshadowing of what is to come from OpTic Gaming. With the ELEAGUE Major Qualifiers starting in the coming weeks, that will be a perfect test for OpTic to see their true colors.
Bryan is a contributor for AYBOnline. His opinions are his own.