Dreamhack Bucharest 2016 was a tournament in which the injured apex predators SK Gaming and the two main hunters looking for their top spot – Ninjas in Pyjamas and G2 Esports – were completely absent. With no elite team present in Bucharest to pin the title of ‘favourite’ to, the field was full of question marks. Would Cloud 9, Heroic and Dignitas continue their red-hot streak of form? Would Virtus.Pro, EnVyUs, and Faze fail to live up to the sum of their insane individual talent once more?
The tournament that preceded Dreamhack Bucharest – The StarLadder StarSeries Season 2 Finals – bore seven of the eight teams present in Bucharest, and was the first major LAN after many teams had experienced recent roster changes and an extended holiday break. As a result, there was a drastic shift in momentum and results between former top-level sides like Na`Vi, Virtus.Pro and the hyped GODSENT roster as they all failed to make it out of groups.
Whilst this vanguard of ‘pre-August holidays’ top five talent faltered, a new rise of skill and hope came from Cloud 9, with former TSM player Autimatic meshing with the NA side, the freshly branded Danes – Heroic, and Ninjas in Pyjamas with stand-in Maikelele playing like it was 2013.
The group stage games came in thick and fast and it quickly became apparent who was there to win and who was there just to make up the numbers. Both Virtus.Pro and Cloud 9 blazed through their respective groups, with Cloud9 showing similar levels of confidence in both their map pool and T-side executes to their summer tournament run of 2015. Just as the Poles and North Americans rose in groups, the dark horses Gambit and Flipsid3 fell short, as not even Blad3’s infamous T-side strategies on Train or a surge of form from Gambit newcomer Spaze could keep them from elimination.
Both Danish sides (Heroic and Dignitas) represented the in-form challenging prospects, whilst Envy and Faze represented teams with immense individual talent but slumping teamplay and lack of results to backup any momentum headed into the game. In the Bo1’s before these series, Envy and Heroic played legitimately the longest professional LAN game ever, with a total of 65 rounds and Heroic winning all the clutches needed to edge out a 34:31 win.
In stark contrast was the Dignitas and Faze series, where the recent addition of allu to the Faze side proved to bolster the already ludicrous individual skill ceiling even higher, with allu having a transcendent performance on CT side in one of the most dominant and dynamic AWP performances in recent memory that helped Faze topple Dignitas in 16:11 fashion.
The elimination Bo3 series bore interesting and similar trends, as both Danish sides actively picked the abused red-headed stepchild of the map pool that is Nuke, both teams relying on an individual star to rise up and drive his team towards the win.
For EnVyUs that star was NBK:
Played one of my top5 bo3 of all time yesterday. Need to bring the fire again ?
… IF ONLY OBSERVERS WOULD LIKE ME
— Nathan Schmitt (@nV_NBK) 18 September 2016
Whilst this grizzled French talent managed to best the plucky Danes in a relatively convincing 2:1 affair, in the other series Dignitas looked to avenge their fallen Danish comrades with a win over Faze. For Dignitas their star came in the form of burgeoning 19 year old aim star k0nfig, who after coming from the abyss of Danish semi-professional play, and surviving cheating allegations, has proved himself to be alongside veteran Cajunb the core fragger and backbone of the Dignitas side.
With supporting clutch plays from MSL and Magiskb0y, k0nfig maintained the highest ADR on the server and proved himself a more than capable duelist, battling some of the historically best mechanical players in the game from all regions of play. With his help, the Dignitas roster breezed over Faze in a clean 2:0 to head into the semi-finals alongside EnVyUs, Cloud9, and Virtus.Pro.
Even though there had been two days of play, the semi-finals were still full volatility and unknowns, with the only real pillow of comfort for analysts being in the relatively predictable map pools in both series. After a surprising pick-ban from Cloud9, it appeared EnVyUs would have the upper hand heading into the Bo3. However, with the same confidence as their group stage games, Cloud9 played out the three maps with a relaxed, blasé, confidence, that was grounded in dynamic CT side play and strong trading in T-side executes.
Both the individual and team play aspects across all three maps were representative of a bid for elite team status. Every single player had their moments of form in the series; whether it had been Autimatic’s 22 kill T-half on Cache against EnVyUs’s terrifying CT side, or Shroud’s 100+ ADR game on Dust II, the mechanical prowess of Cloud9 not only matched, but outshone the world-class calibre of individual talent present on EnVyUs.
Cloud9’s dismantling of the Frenchman on their own maps has elevated them beyond just the best team in North America, but a real elite dark horse to the other top teams.
Virtus.pro were looking to prove which of their most recent results – first place at ELEAGUE, and last place at StarLadder – would be considered the anomaly. Dignitas on the other hand, looked to cement themselves as not only the best but most, consistent team in the currently choppy and erratic Danish scene.
The series was a closely fought 2:1 to Virtus.pro in what was arguably the greatest series of the tournament. On one hand in this Bo3 you have Virtus.pro in full plow mode, working together as a symbiotic unit free of egos, constantly changing the role of AWPing depending on who’s ‘feeling it’, and having their fragging power come from every single corner of the side.
This is poles apart from Dignitas, who had to rely almost solely on an otherworldly performance from Magiskb0y, and a strict system of tactics to keep them in the game. These clashing styles, like tectonic plates, collided to create the most memorable plays of the tournament and show the world a vintage level of aim, strategy and veteran readjustments from Virtus.pro.
In hindsight the final series between Cloud9 and Virtus.pro probably should’ve been both a poetic and explosive game – the newly formed young guns of North America versus the grizzled veterans of the Poles. However, the confidence of Cloud9 that had allowed them to rise to the Grand Finals, quickly turned into arrogance. The North Americans were left with a Herculian-esq task after a terrible map selection.
Even with the nervous butthole clenching of thousands of teenagers in Cloud9 tank tops, the result was as expected, with NEO playing at 1.6 levels of form and grace that asserted his aim an in-game intelligence over the plucky Americans, to not only win the tournament for Virtus.pro, but also remind the world why he is one of the greatest players in the history of the Counter-Strike franchise.
In the aftermath of Bucharest, Cloud9 and Virtus.pro have reaffirmed their rightful places amongst the top teams in the world. EnVyUs are still on a downwards spiral that will probably eventuate in a roster change, and Faze showed one spark of brilliance with allu, that can hopefully be turned into a roaring fire, rather than burn out as all the previous iterations of the roster have. The Danes are still looking strong despite their expected finishes, and should be hungry for more chances to prove themselves to be among the best.