The StarSeries i-League Season 4 is just around the corner, and it features 16 teams ready to battle it out for the US$300,000 prizepool in Kiev, Ukraine, where the tournament will take place in the city’s CyberSport Arena. StarSeries i-League will use the same Swiss system from Valve-sponsored majors, and a single-elimination best of three, in the playoff matches. 10 teams are invited to i-League, while 6 teams from Europe, North America and Asia, made it through their online regional qualifiers, with 2 teams from each region. All the teams are worth watching, but some more than others, and here are the crews you should be keeping an eye on.
The first American CSGO team to win a Major will look to continue their untouchable form in these two 16-team tournaments. In-game leader Tarik ‘tarik’ Celik put up star-fragger numbers, getting the tournament MVP by HLTV.org in the process. The whole team put in a great performance, and the theory of having a weak player to make the others shine didn’t work this time, as all C9 players averaged a rating above 1.05. Throughout their tenure at Cloud9, the whole team have a rating variation of 0.05, with Timothy ‘autimatic’ Ta at 1.10 and Will ‘RUSH’ Wierzba at 1.05, further lending credence to their good teamwork and coordination. cs_summit 2 saw them lose out to NA rivals Liquid 3-2, after having a one map advantage. They will be hard pressed to continue this form in Ukraine and Poland, but Cloud9 is a confidence-based team, and their confidence is brimming right now. Therefore, we can expect to see more great performances and plays from them. Cloud9 faces the strongest of the Pool 4 teams, Heroic, in their first match at StarSeries i-League. They should take the match win, seeing as C9 won 2-0 against the Danish team at cs_summit.
The PGL Krakow Major 2017 winners had a shoddy Major title defence, bombing out of the ELEAGUE Major before even making it to Boston. They left with a 2-3 record, after losses to Quantum Bellator.Fire, SK Gaming, and fnatic. Their newest recruit Bektiyar ‘fitch’ Bahytov took the heat after getting a 0.76 rating. He was replaced by Denis ‘seized’ Kostin initially in ESEA Premier Season 27, but this became a permanent decision on the 6th of February. seized will undergo a three-month trial period to determine whether he is truly the right player for the team. He has faced scrutiny from fans for his relatively poor performance since the Krakow Major, and Gambit is possibly his last chance to regain his confidence and prove he is worthy of a top team. StarSeries i-League and IEM Katowice will test his mental strength, as the events are back to back.
His support role will be crucial to whether Gambit wins or not, but fellow Russian, Mikhail ‘Dosia’ Stolyarov, could prove even more pivotal to success. He was, statistically, the third best player in the group stage and playoffs at the ELEAGUE Major. However, online matches have not been kind to him, as he has only been able to claim a positive kill/death difference against mousesports in the Katowice qualifier, and the ESEA Premier match against Belarusian team Nemiga. He will be careful not to let this online slump affect him on LAN. Abay ‘HObbit’ Khassenov became the third IGL within Gambit since August 2017, as previously Dosia and Dauren ‘AdreN’ Kystaubayev took the reins. The CIS team must be able to solidify their leadership and roles quickly. seized is the support, with HObbit IGL, Rustem ‘mou’ Telepov AWPer, leaving Dosia and AdreN as general firepower riflers. Further attempts to meddle with the internal roles will hurt team chemistry, and fnatic will be the first proper test for this new-look Gambit, a re-match of the Major decider match.
HellRaisers are an unique team in terms of nationality, as they have two Ukrainians, one Jordanian, a Turk, and a Hungarian. Nonetheless, Kirill ‘ANGE1’ Karasiow will look to make a huge impact offline against top teams. Vladyslav ‘bondik’ Nechyporchuk returned to the HellRaisers squad after a 6-month absence, and this will be his first offline tournament since his return. He was loaned to Chinese team TyLoo for three months, and was set to compete at the ELEAGUE Major, but internal issues inside the team put paid to that. Nevertheless, he averaged a 1.21 rating in his time there, albeit against top teams. His decent performance in the online qualifier helped HellRaisers qualify for StarSeries i-League, garnering a 1.13 rating online. However, the explosive AWPing power of Özgür ‘woxic’ Eker, was even more impressive, getting positive statistics in all three series against Heroic, Vega Squadron, and AGO. The rest of the team averaged a 1.16 rating, while woxic’s rating was 1.49. His star AWPer status will hopefully translate to LAN, and it is the key as to whether HellRaisers can find success at the CyberSport Arena. HellRaisers missed IEM Katowice after a 2-1 loss in the best of three series against North, who also had a recent roster change. The team can put all their energy into i-League, compared to teams like Gambit and SK Gaming who will compete in both i-League and Katowice. HellRaisers will be facing Natus Vincere, to prove whether three Ukrainians are better than two. Online in the ESL Pro League, came out the victor, but offline is a very different story.
The Korean team finished 4th in the Asia Minor, but otherwise, they haven’t had much exposure to international competition. They faced regional competition in the form of Australian team ORDER, and Chinese squad New4, at the WESG 2017 Asia-Pacific Regional Finals. They finished 2nd in Jiaozhou after losing 2-0 in the grand finals to ORDER, but still netted a cool US$20,000, and will compete in the WESG World Finals, one month from now. Right now, their focus is on StarSeries i-League, as they qualified by finishing 2nd in the Asia Qualifier, after beating Flash Gaming in the lower bracket finals. MVP PK will compete alongside Chinese rivals TyLoo at i-League, their first international LAN.
Hae-sung ‘HSK’ Kim and Hyun-pyo ‘XigN’ Lee have been the standout players for the team, both hailing from the now-disbanded MVP Project sister team. XigN, since replacing retired player Beom-gi ‘peri’ Jung on MVP, has contributed to 67.2% map win rate and an astonishing 1.33 average rating. Granted, it is against lower-tier opposition but shows his potential to damage top teams. HSK filled the vacancy left by Seon-ho ‘termi’ Pyeon, after termi became MVP PK’s coach. As the AWPer for the team, he doesn’t have XigN’s high rating, but bar the ZEN League Season 2 Finals, he has had positive statistics in all his events with MVP. His consistency and impact in AWPing will be much needed if MVP PK wishes to fight international opponents.
Min-Seok ‘zeff’ Park, Keun-Chul ‘solo’ Kang and Min-Soo ‘glow’ Kim are experienced players who are there to support HSK and XigN, and set them up to get as many frags as possible. glow and solo are two players who have tasted international glory in CS, winning a 1.6 Major, that of World eSports Masters 2010. They will surely relish the chance to compete at an international LAN again. Expectations are tempered for MVP, as this is a step into the unknown. XigN and HSK competed in StarSeries i-League Season 3, but that was with MVP Project. They’ll be looking to do great damage against their first opponents, Brazilian giants SK Gaming. The two teams have not met before, but SK are 100% the favourites for the match-up.
Renegades put on a disappointing show at the ELEAGUE Major, failing to make the group stage. NAF’s outstanding performance was not enough to push Renegades over the line, and he left for greener pastures with Team Liquid on the 5th of February. The remaining four players welcome Norwegian player Joakim ‘jkaem’ Myrbostad, of former G2 and FaZe fame. It should be noted that he is a stand-in for i-League and Katowice, and therefore, the roster is liable to change after the two tournaments depending on his performance. The roles within the team aren’t defined either, with American AWPer Noah ‘Nifty’ Francis the only certainty. Working with jkaem will be a new experience for Aaron ‘AZR’ Ward and co. Jkaem’s last great performance was at Dreamhack Open Cluj-Napoca 2015, where his G2 team finished top 4, his only Major playoffs appearance. NAF’s firepower is hardly replaceable, and Justin ‘jks’ Savage, Karlo ‘USTILO’ Pivac, and Nifty must step up hugely to avenge their disappointing Major performance. Renegades have not played an official match with this roster, and as such, there is not much to comment in regards to team performance. Only bootcamping, scrims and determination can help them prepare for their game against French titan, G2 Esports.
Team Liquid underwent a double roster change, in a sense. Although Brazilian support rifler Lucas ‘steel’ Lopes joined in November 2017, he was unable to play ESL Pro League S6 Finals and the ELEAGUE Major in Boston. The only LAN events he played for Liquid last year were the ECS Season 4 Finals and IEM Oakland last year, where he had a subpar 0.80 and 0.86 rating, respectively. steel started off 2018 with a 0.99 rating at cs_summit 2. He will need to step up his game in these two tournaments if he wants to keep his place in the North American team. The second signing, NAF, arrived at the beginning of February, from fellow North American organization, the Detroit Renegades. NAF was the highest rated player on Renegades at the ELEAGUE Major: Boston 2018 preliminary stage, and the last StarLadder event, the i-League Invitational Shanghai 2017. Signs suggest that he will continue to be a key factor for Liquid too. His rating at cs_summit 2 was a whopping 1.23, in context of it being his first event. He received his second HLTV.org MVP award as a result.
NAF, Nicholas ‘nitr0’ Cannella, Jonathan ‘EliGE’ Jablonowski and Russel ‘Twistzz’ Van Dulken all contribute to the firepower that led them to the Summit grand finals win against regional rivals, Cloud9. This win is a great boost to their morale, given their roster is relatively new, but i-League and Katowice will be harder for Liquid. Liquid’s current experiment with no main AWPer will be interesting to follow, as they follow Team EnVyUs and Natus Vincere in adopting this team composition after dropping Josh ‘jdm64’ Marzano. With four star riflers and one support, this could be a hero ploy, or a zero. Their first match in these two tournaments see them against Astralis, another recent roster shuffler, and an unknown quantity.
The second East Asian team to participate at i-League, TyLoo lost their chance to make waves at the ELEAGUE Major, and had their thunder stolen by arch-nemesis team, Flash Gaming. The mainly-Chinese team will compete with a new addition to the roster, Kevin ‘Xccurate’ Susanto, hailing from Indonesia. Indonesian players have had troubles procuring visas to enter countries in the past, but no such issue has arisen so far, unlike the issues that befell teammate, Hansel ‘BnTeT’ Ferdinand in Atlanta. The two players formerly represented the country’s top team, Recca Esports and have some chemistry together which will do wonders. However, the remaining three players are Chinese, which could cause some communication problems, although Xccurate has basic knowledge of Mandarin Chinese. He will serve as in-game leader and AWPer of TyLoo, taking over IGL duties from Ke ‘Mo’ Liu. Mo will probably serve as the support of the team, with BnTeT, Haowen ‘somebody’ Xu, and Hui ‘DD’ Wu tasked with getting entry kills and important clutches. Xccurate only achieved a 1.03 rating in a handful of online matches, but LAN gives him the chance to prove himself. In the same timeframe, BnTeT averaged a 1.23 rating, and his LAN form is critical to TyLoo’s placing in both events. The Chinese team will compete in both i-League and Katowice, and they face 2nd place ELEAGUE Major team, FaZe Clan in their first match at the CyberSport Arena.