Familiar faces return to the Pro Circuit stage as Gambit Esports, VP lay claim to the 2 CIS slots at the EPICENTER Major
The final qualifiers for the final Major of the 2018-2019 season are coming to a close now, as the field for the EPICENTER Major is beginning to take form as 14 of the 16 participants are in the process of claiming their places in Moscow. The CIS qualifier had an added level of significance for the participating squads, as the teams in the field were fighting for the chance to play in front of a hometown crowd in Moscow. The qualifier began with 8 teams in the field, but by the time the action ended we had seen those 8 squads reduced to just 2 victorious teams. The duo of Gambit Esports and VP will be the CIS representatives at the season’s final Major, with Gambit Esports making its second Major appearance and fifth total appearance on the Pro Circuit stage this season while VP will be attending its fifth Major of the 2018-2019 campaign. As for the 6 unsuccessful squads in the field, the upcoming Minor qualifiers will provide them with one last chance to earn a place on the Pro Circuit stage before the conclusion of the regular season and the start of the TI9 qualifiers. Before we start looking too far ahead though, we can take a step back to examine how each of the teams in the field performed in this regional qualifiers, with the participants categorized based on their final place in the event standings.
Top 2 (Qualified for EPICENTER Major)
Record: 8-1 (6-1 Group Stage, 2-0 Tiebreakers)
After 3 straight Minor appearances, Gambit Esports is finally heading back to a Major, as the squad put together an absolutely incredible performance against its regional rivals to lock down a spot on the Pro Circuit stage in Moscow. To team lost just a single match throughout the entirety of this qualifier, standing its ground against all of its regional rivals. In fact, the team’s only loss of the Group Stage was one that the team later avenged, as Gambit Esports dropped its match against VP but managed to defeat the squad in the 1st Place Tiebreaker matches to claim the top spot in the event standings. As a whole, Gambit Esports put together an impressive showing in this qualifier, as 4 of its 5 members ended the qualifier with KDAs of over 6. However, the strongest performance for the squad came from Afoninje, as the Midlaner put together averages of 7.33 kills and 7.67 assists on just 2 deaths per game to help the squad lock down an opportunity to play in front of a hometown crowd on the Pro Circuit stage. The question for this team heading into the Major itself will be whether it can continue to play at the level that we saw in this qualifier, as the squad looks to mount one last surge up the Pro Circuit Rankings in the hopes of securing one of the last 4 positions in the Top 12 to earn a direct invite to TI9.
Record: 14-8 (6-1 Group Stage, 0-2 Tiebreakers, 8-5 Playoffs)
For the fifth time this season, VP is heading to a Pro Circuit Major. However, the squad faced a bit more resistance this time around compared to its previous qualifier runs, and even came just 1 game away from not earning a place at the Major at all. The squad looked absolutely dominant against most of its regional rivals in this qualifier, but one team in particular appeared to pose quite the challenge for the CIS powerhouse. Against Na’Vi, VP ended up putting together a 4-6 record in this qualifier that included a full 5 game Grand Finals series against the squad. Considering the fact that VP has time and again proven its strength at the highest level of play, the squad will almost certainly enter the EPICENTER Major as a heavy favorite in front of a hometown crowd. However, the fact that the squad appeared to finally find an opponent in the CIS region that made it sweat a bit is an interesting development in the final days of the season.
Record: 13-7 (6-1 Group Stage, 1-1 Tiebreakers, 6-5 Playoffs)
Throughout the early parts of the Pro Circuit campaign, Na’Vi was looked at by many as a squad that could potentially lay claim to a strong position in the CIS hierarchy behind VP. However, at this stage in the season we had yet to see any team consistently be able to hold down that second place position among the CIS quads, though Na’Vi hoped to change that with a strong showing in this Major qualifier. Though the team ended up falling just 1 game short of the mark to reach the EPICENTER Major, Na’Vi certainly put together an impressive showing against its regional rivals in this event to finish in the 3rd place position with a 13-7 record. Perhaps the most impressive part of that performance though was the fact that Na’Vi was able to hold its own against regional leader VP, facing off against the powerhouse squad 10 times in this qualifier and coming away with a 6-4 record across those matches. Although VP had the last laugh in the end as it beat Na’Vi 3-2 in the Grand Finals of the qualifier, the fact that Na’Vi was able to perform so well against the clear number 1 squad in its region certainly says a lot about where the team stands within the CIS region right now. The next task for Na’Vi will be proving that this recent performance is something that it can maintain moving forward, as the squad will have to once again put together a strong outing against its regional rivals in the upcoming Minor qualifiers.
Record: 7-7 (4-3 Group Stage, 3-4 Playoffs)
Winstrike Team came into this qualifier as a squad with somewhat limited experience with its current roster. However, the team was banking on the skill and experience of some of its veteran players to help lead it to a strong showing against its regional rivals. As it turned out, that plan managed to work out rather nicely for Winstrike Team, with the squad fighting its way into the top half of the event standings with a 4th place finish and a 7-7 overall record. The team’s performance in this event was incredibly impressive, as the team was able to challenge some of the leading squads in the CIS region thanks to some solid and relatively consistent play. The Carry/Mid duo of Silent and Cooman led the way on that front, with the duo combining to average 13.71 kills and 18.57 assists on 6.57 deaths per game across the team’s 14 total matches in this qualifier. In fact, it would appear that the only reason why Winstrike Team didn’t finish even higher in the event standings was due to unfortunate repeated run ins with VP. The team faced off against the regional leader in 6 of its 14 total matches, putting together a 1-5 record. At this stage in the season, it isn’t fully reasonable to expect any team in the CIS region to come out on top against VP with any sense of consistency, and Winstrike Team can hardly be faulted for failing to be the David to VP’s Goliath. With this impressive showing in the Major qualifier though, Winstrike Team has at least set itself up in a relatively favorable position heading into both the upcoming Minor qualifiers, and the TI9 qualifiers as well.
Record: 4-8 (3-4 Group Stage, 1-4 Playoffs)
Though Team Empire’s debut on the Pro Circuit stage had not gone according to plan, the hopes were that the squad’s impressive and relatively consistent performances within its home region would be enough to lift this squad to a strong showing in this qualifier. The team’s play was not particularly bad in this event, with the squad managed to finish in the 5th place position among its regional rivals. However, the squad’s 4-8 overall record left quite a lot to be desired. In particular, the squad struggled against the other ranked squads in its region, putting together a measly 2-5 record against them. The problem for Team Empire is that the team didn’t exactly make the most of its other match ups to compensate for its struggles agaisnt the regional leaders, with the squad putting together a 2-3 record against unranked opponents. Overall, the team’s play in this event could probably be descried as “just okay”, but “just okay” won’t be nearly good enough for this squad to make a return to the Pro Circuit stage before the end of the season. The upcoming Minor qualifier will likely give Team Empire a shot at redemption, but the team is going to have to step things up in a significant way to improve upon this lackluster performance.
Black Hornets Gaming
Record: 2-5 (2-5 Group Stage)
Expectations for Black Hornets Gaming were already fairly low coming into this qualifier, and unfortunately, the team was unable to prove those predictions wrong as it took an early exit from the event. At 2-5 though, the team did manage to put together a somewhat respectable performance considering the fact that it was an underdog across the vast majority of its match ups. One silver lining for the squad in this qualifier was the play of its Carry, as Palantimos managed to put together averages of 7.29 kills and 6.57 assists on 3.57 deaths per game across the team’s 7 total matches. Of course, those numbers ultimately proved insufficient to help lead Black Hornets Gaming to more wins in this qualifier, but having one of your best players step up and put together solid numbers is certainly something that the team should appreciate moving forward. Up next for Black Hornets Gaming will likely be the Minor qualifiers, where the team will take its last shot at earning a place on the Pro Circuit stage.
Record: 1-6 (1-6 Group Stage)
Unfortunately, the transition of the Old but Gold lineup to the Team Spirit organization did not appear to have much of a positive impact on the team’s play, as the squad absolutely struggled its way through this qualifier. The squad’s only win of the event came against FlyToMoon, as team that failed to record a single victory in the qualifier and finished just below Team Spirit’s own 1-6 record. With an average game length of just over 33 minutes, Team Spirit’s matches were mostly one sided as well, as the squad simply could not seem to generate any significant momentum for itself across its match ups. We know that the team’s roster is capable of playing better then this, but the question is whether or not it will be able to turn things around in time to prove that. The upcoming Minor qualifiers will give Team Spirit an opportunity to redeem itself for this shockingly bad performance, but another stumble in that event could spell disaster for this squad heading right into the TI9 qualifier period.
Record: 0-7 (0-7 Group Stage)
Things went about as poorly as they possibly could have for FlyToMoon in this Major qualifier, as the squad failed to win a single match in the event with an abysmal 0-7 overall record. Coming into the qualifier, the expectations were incredibly low for this team, but going completely winless against its regional rivals certainly comes as a disappointment even within the context of its already meager projection. Nothing ended up going right for FlyToMoon in this qualifier, and at this stage it is incredibly hard to think of any sort of silver lining for this squad in the wake of a disastrous performance. The upcoming Minor qualifier could give FlyToMoon a shot at redemption, but after this poor showing the squad may have to make another run through the open qualifiers to even reach that stage.