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ESL Barcelona: Preview

We are just one day away from the start of ESL Barcelona 2016 and so we introduce our third feature following the interviews with Krimz and Vuggo. The event introduces a new exciting style of format and a list of hopeful challengers. Here's what we'll be looking forward to this weekend.

The ESL Expo Barcelona is presented by the Mobile World Congress and has a venue with a capacity for over 2,500 fans. There will be €75,000 on the line for the eight CS:GO teams who will be attending the LAN. The event will take place from February 19-21 in Hall 2 of Fira Montjuic in Barcelona, Spain.

Format

The most interesting aspect of this event is perhaps the format itself, as it boasts the same style as previously used at IEM gamescom. The difference however, is that the teams will be more involved in the voting process than the community. This will hopefully deter randomness and perhaps increase the competitiveness of the rivalry between the teams. ESL Barcelona starts with a community vote for the first match-up and the winning team will choose the next two teams to play. Playing teams will veto maps rather than the community vote that was used at IEM gamescom. Each team will start with three lives, each loss counts as one life until one team is left standing (seems grisly doesn't it?).

Challengers

Queue the drum roll, it's time for the challengers! Out of the eight teams that are attending the event, there were four teams directly invited: Fnatic, EnVyUs, Astralis, and G2. The other four teams advanced via qualifiers and go by the names of Dignitas, Vexed, gBots, and x6tence. So we'll be separating the teams into the favorites and the underdogs of the tournament. Let's start!


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The Favorites: Fnatic, EnVyUs, Astralis, Dignitas

You're probably thinking to yourself, what makes these teams favorites? To answer that, we'll be considering the different factors involved. Other than my own personal opinion, three of the four teams are on HLTV's top four ranking, while Dignitas sit on the outside at rank 7. All four teams have hit big numbers since the start of 2016. Lately Dignitas has managed to defeat most of the tier 1 teams, both online and at LAN. For a team that has been widely considered an underdog, especially after the loss of Philip "aizy" Aistrup in 2015, they have gone over and above to get where they are now. If I were to place them anywhere, it would be in the top four of this event.

We can't talk about Dignitas without talking about their Danish domestic rivalry with Astralis. Seeing as both of them are strong competitors in this event, it is almost a guarantee of backstabbing to be involved between the countrymen. As was seen at IEM Gamescom, teams love to take sides in order to take another competitor out and there is a good chance that Astralis and Dignitas will be facing off against each other often at the hand of votes from other teams. Astralis has been having a consistent season but is still hanging on the ropes in terms of form lately. They have finished 3-4th multiple times over the past few months, except during the StarSeries XIV, where they placed 5-6th. However, they are no strangers to this format as they attended IEM gamescom and were only bested by EnVyUs in the finals.

EnVyUs is the real question mark here. How will they perform? They are really strong on paper and can pull off big wins because of their strength in the map pool, but at times they can under perform and get outplayed by teams who are considered underdogs. They are, however, the only winners in this type of format. Other than Fnatic, EnVyUs is the second favorite to win the entire thing and is a team to respect and to look out for.

Last but not least, the one and only Fnatic. As linked in the introduction to this preview, we sat down with both KrimZ and Vuggo and talked about their expectations for this event. They both seem to agree that the team is still rather new, that their in-game leader needs practice leading, and that they have a new player to adapt to. However, that didn't seem to prevent them from winning every single event they've attended since the addition of Dennis in November. The boys are up four events to zero, and currently there's nobody stopping them except they themselves. This format might be considered random, but what's not random is that teams will be gunning for an early exit for Fnatic. Anything can happen of course but one thing's for sure: Fnatic will either win their fifth consecutive event or go down fighting.

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The Underdogs: G2, Vexed, gBots, x6tence

Let's ponder for a minute about the attendees and consider one thing: the underdogs are not usually gunned for. Teams will rarely pin a favorite against an underdog unless they want to increase their own chances (or hold a grudge maybe?), so there's a good chance that some of these teams can last a bit longer in order to upset a larger team.

I just want to get one thing straight, I do not consider G2 that much of an underdog. I placed them on this list due to the gap I see between them and the favorites, but their firepower and teamwork could still see them through to the final four. All they need is a good day, and not too many competitors. They have done well online but not as well on LAN lately and they have a tough road ahead of them if they want to get out of their current slump.

Vexed is another lineup that is considered great on paper, but has been failing to achieve results lately. They had fantastic results against both tier 2 and tier 1 teams back in early 2015, but have fallen off the map since against top tiered teams. They have dropped off the HLTV ranking and have a lot to prove. If there is a time, it is now, and this format will definitely favor them.

Next are gBots and x6tence. In terms of firepower, gBots is considered the better of the two because their lineup change in the beginning of 2016 was meant to bring together some of the best that Spain has to offer. However, I honestly don't see either of the teams having a chance at winning this event, even with the random factor involved. It would require really strong teamwork and the strength of their biggest stars to see them hit the top four, and they would also need the  luck of the draw in their favor. They have the advantage of being the biggest underdogs, so either they will be fed off to favorites who have picked "sides" during the event, or be selected for a slurry of different scenarios that might occur during the event.


Is that it then? Far from it in fact, as there are still multiple things to take into account. There are too many factors involved that are doubled by the randomness of the format. In this preview I only talked about recent form and allowed the actual scenarios to play for itself but after the event we can discuss in the recap how the rivalries panned out, whether it be map pool strength, kryptonite between the teams, or who picked what side for this season of CS:GO event drama! In my preview I discussed the favorites which I believe to be EnVyUs and Fnatic with a hint of one of the Danish teams and the advantages of being an underdog in a three lives format. Of course, there is always a chance I will be wrong in a game as competitive as Counter-Strike.

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