Since the Boston major, CS:GO has been more defined by its rumours and resulting hypotheticals than actual play. Investigative journalists have had a field day and analysts have been forced to wait and theorycraft. Teams on the fall, rise and plateau are all hastily bolstering their sides with the talent required to compete against the mounting pressure of opposition doing the same. There’s an undeniable urgency and tension in the space while international LAN play is put on hold. A vacant dominating side fuels an arms race of superstars.
To simply give a strat a new look or change timings off a default doesn’t feel adequate in a time where peak s1mple and flamie can’t win their team trophies. It’s as though elite CS:GO competition is evolving to another stage and everyone is hastily looking to consolidate the best talent to survive and dominate in it. If the Boston major was the nuke that triggered a roster-apocalypse, DreamHack Marseille is the battleground of supercharged radioactive mutant predators vying for dominance in the wasteland.
If you’re the best team in the world Marseille is the chance to prove it.
It’s fitting that in a time where SK Stewie2k, G2 Mixwell, and FaZe Xizt are all realities, the teams to beat in Marseille will be Mousesports, FaZe and a Golden-led Fnatic. An unlikely pack of front-front runners in an unlikely time of roster moves. While these three sides might look to don the title of ‘favourites’ they are hardly the most dangerous or scary teams to face at the event. The most terrifying opponent in Marseille will be that of the unknown.
For most, the last big LAN event will be a distant, two-week-old memory. Some of the newer roster will be looking to shake off their disappointing results at both IEM Katowice and StarSeries, refining their play against the grindstone of online CS and intensive bootcamps. Longer standing entities are finally going to be gifted time off to redefine elements of their own game. Breaks from official matches is crucial to evolve and move between styles for long-term success especially against fresh and tougher to pin-down opposition.
If the scariest part about Marseille will be the lack of quantifiable entities, out of all attendees, mousesports most need to become more enigmatic in their approach. Given their now huge bank of demos to analyse, mouz will be contesting with not only a mysterious opposition but also the telegraphing ghosts of their own play. Mouz’s split style of loose, individually focussed rounds from their fragging pack and set exec’s from lmbt has largely been understood. The once hazy and volatile darkhorse is now a clearly defined pack-leader with a target on its back. To be consistent, you need depth. Mouz’s win conditions outside of the headshotting ability of their individual stars also remain surprisingly slim for a team knocking on the door of ‘best team in the world’ status. Mouz’s time in the sun at the top of the scene could very well be cut short in Marseille.
Whereas Mouz needs to shift and evolve, SK will be looking to redefine an entire system of play, swapping out TACO for Stewie2k. Out of all the new line-ups and potentially new-look styles, SK will have the most question marks and the highest upside. Unlike Astralis who will always have a core playing philosophy with gla1ve at the helm, SK’s approach remains a total unknown.
In just the past six months, we’ve seen the Brazilians switch-up everything from spots, structure, style and team-wide roles in a litany of ways, multiple times. Where the more traditional, looser mid-round game of ELEAGUE-Major SK with felps failed against C9, the very stiff, late-round exec focus of cs_summit 2 SK took its place. SK’s goal will be to get Coldzera and fer firing on top-three player in the world form again. The way they structure the team to do this with Stewie2k, however, will be one of the most interesting unfolding stories in Marseille.
While instability defines so much of elite competitive play, the bottom end of the top ten is no exception. Gambit, Renegades and surprisingly, Space Soldiers are all a handful of series away from cementing themselves as consistent staples of international play alongside NiP and G2. With a flurry of smaller $100k DreamHack events cropping up in the coming months, upset performances against top untested LAN rosters could potentially define the grounds for invites and qualifier form.
This is especially true for Space Soldiers who, as of late, have been on a rampage. Their consistent series wins on LAN and online against some Europe’s most established names has put them on a tremendous trajectory. They are the hottest prospect from the underbelly of lower-tiered European CS. DreamHack Marseille will be their first true premier international test since the Major with their new-found individual form on formerly lukewarm AWPer MAJ3R. A key point of concern, however, will be the linearity of the exclusively aggressive impact their star XANTARES manifests and overall sloppy mid-round play. Given the list of issues other teams will be looking to fix within themselves first with new rosters though, Space Soldiers might be able to quietly post upsets.
In a scene that has so much support from both fans, investors and elite players, Marseille is a rare moment in history. There is no undeniable favourite, uncertainty riddles the potential playoff bracket and seemingly, anything is possible. A 2017 Malmo-esq level of play feels almost guaranteed. It could very well be though, that the teams present are merely slightly diluted or marginally improved versions of their past selves. Maybe the cores of players we’ve grown to expect certain things from simply continue on their respective trajectories, unabided by the atmosphere around them.
More likely though, the changes in the lead-up to Marseille will breed a new bank of results and models of expectations. Players we’ve built up one way will be re-framed another. Images of Xizt fist-bumping Guardian and Mixwell looking at the screen of NBK will test our expectations of what’s possible in the space. Undoubtedly, most of the scene’s major narratives all lead to Marseille. It will be a crucible of pressures that will forge history.
Photo Credit: Adela Sznajder DreamHack