Photo credit: ESL/Helena Kristiansson
“When I say G, you say TWO!” “G!” “TWO!” “G!” “TWO!”
An English crowd cheering the French would be all but unheard of in most sports. Even here in CS:GO, where Europe holds a strong sense of solidarity, it still came as quite the surprise. Nevertheless, hearing the crowd erupting into roars of delight at every ScreaM headshot, there was little doubt about where their allegiance lay. And it was hard to blame them as London witnessed one of the most exhilarating demonstrations of force France has given in years.
The ESL Pro League Finals pits the top eight teams from the North American and European scenes against one another. Limited to just four teams from each region, you’d be hard-pressed to find any analyst predicting the likes of G2 to qualify over NaVi in Europe. It’s no secret that French CS has been in a rut for some time now, holding fantastic talent but never quite able to realise their potential. Following the breakup of LDLC, all eyes had been on EnVyUs to carry French hopes forward, but thus far 2016 had only seen France fall further and further from the upper echelon of teams. But where EnVy may be waning, G2 finally seem ready to pick up the pace.
The group stages hosted at ESL’s new studio in Leicester involved some of the most bizarre scenes in CS:GO history. In one round against Astralis, Optic Gaming spawned without a bomb: an event so unusual that the team didn’t realise until they had taken the bombsite.
The event’s opening looked set to provide a tournament of upsets as Canadian team Optic Gaming overcame a sluggish Astralis and, perhaps even more surprising, Luminosity fell victim to G2 on train, historically one of their best maps. Ninjas in Pyjamas just barely survived their encounter with Team Liquid, who failed to capitalise on no less than 12 match points in an all-too-soon flashback to the MLG Colombus semifinal.
Come the weekend, only four teams remained: NiP, Fnatic, LG and G2. In what many had expected to be the highlight of the tournament, fan-favourites NiP faced off against an invigorated LG. Pushing NiP well beyond breaking point, Luminosity looked an entirely different side to the group stages, earning the first spot in the grand final. Hailing from Brazil but competing in NA, LG occupy an unusual position: they’re popular in both EU and NA, but never the main fan focus. This hasn’t stopped a passionate core of Brazilians from cheering their side on, however, no matter where they play. Following their victory, Luminosity’s Captain, Gabriel ‘FalleN’ Toledo discussed his fan-support across the globe:
“It's awesome because the Brazilian fans are starting to watch Counter-Strike again. Us playing well and reaching the top made them start looking for Counter-Strike again. We know that a lot of Brazilians live outside of Brazil… there are a lot of Brazilians in London and they are here watching us play. It feels amazing to see all the Brazilian guys interested in Counter-Strike [and esports] again.”
In the other half, G2 faced Fnatic. Struggling from the loss of Olofmeister, Fnatic still present a formidable opponent that can never be underestimated, as G2 were soon to find out. Suffering an embarrassing 11-0 opening, Fnatic looked in utter disarray. However with the change of half, it seemed the Swedes had awoken, and following an incredible 39 kills by Flusha, they dragged themselves out of the abyss to a map one victory. Fortunately for G2, this form was far from consistent, and over the course of the next two games, the French retaliated. A confident win on Cache led to a tense decider on Train. Missing a crucial Mag-7 shot on defence, Fnatic’s JW was swiftly overwhelmed, allowing G2, the unexpected qualifiers, to push far beyond expectations and reach the grand finals.
Feed the snake!
Photo credit: ESL/Scott Choucino
If there was one talking point for the weekend beyond the matches themselves, it was certainly the home crowd. Indigo at the O2 provided a surprisingly intimate venue for the finals, in a smaller-scale, dimly-lit arena. Up close and personal to the stage, the fans more than made up for numbers through sheer noise and bravado. As the largest prize pool event to be hosted in the UK so far, the developing scene brought fervor in droves. British fans celebrated in the only way they know how, creating unusual and entertaining chants of support while drinking rather too much alcohol—much to the surprise and amusement of the casting team.
While the attitude within the venue remained upbeat and never swung towards aggressive, the often unrelated noise did cause some confusion for the online viewership. During the second semi-final, volume of the game and casters on the upper balcony was low enough that fans became distracted. In scenes reminiscent of a cricket game, spectators began to create a staggering tower of stacked cups across the crowd, all the while chanting “feed the snake!”. Fortunately, this was taken in good spirits, with attention and support returning to the game at crucial moments. At the very least, the UK has shown it can provide one of the most fiery audiences in the esports world, unlikely to be forgotten any time soon.
The grand final: Luminosity Gaming vs. G2
The final match of the tournament was nothing short of phenomenal. Unexpectedly, G2 elected not to ban Overpass, a map widely considered LG’s forte having lost just one of their last ten matches there. The French firebrands clearly had a point to prove however, producing a powerful comeback to take a one-map lead.
Having already defeated LG on Train during the group stages, G2 found themselves faced with a much tougher challenge in the grand finals. Despite an 11-4 lead in the first half, LG struggled to maintain control, calling a timeout at 12-all. Sensing their team’s need, the Luminosity support in the crowd rose to the occasion, filling the arena with voices of support and lifting their side to the win. As each game progressed, it became clear that both sides were near-perfectly matched. Where G2 held fast on Cobblestone, LG fired back on Dust 2, winning G2’s map pick.
In its final appearance in the current map pool, Inferno hosted the most intense finale of year as each team traded round after round before Luminosity took a two-round lead at 14-12. Just as it all looked to be over, G2 countered, winning three consecutive rounds to reach 14-15 and match point. LG, however, were far from finished, decisively driving the match into overtime. At last, it seemed, G2 were exhausted, with Luminosity claiming the crown at 19-16.
The UK crowd had demanded entertainment, and they received the highest pedigree. Finishing with one of the best series of 2016 so far, the ESL pro league has shown that CS is entering one of the most volatile and exciting times of it’s life. Luminosity Gaming have again established themselves as the best in the world, and G2 have finally returned French CS to life in explosive form. Electrifying the crowd, G2’s Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom supplied countless highlight shots, while Richard “shox” Papillon produced not one but two 1v4 site retakes to keep his team in the game. French CS is back, and more exciting than ever.