The seventh season of StarSeries i-League is soon upon us. Sixteen teams will travel to Shanghai, China to battle it out for the first place prize of $250,000.
The seventh season of StarSeries i-League is soon upon us. Sixteen teams will travel to Shanghai, China to battle it out for the first place prize of $250,000. We should be in for a great one as many of the world’s best teams will be in attendance. Follow along as we break down all you need to know about this year’s tournament.
StarSeries i-League will be underway for the seventh time since it’s inception. The previous six iterations took place in Kiev, Ukraine — but this year we will see a change of scenery as the tournament has been moved to Shanghai, China. The sixteen teams will be competing for the first-place prize of $250,000 and the title of StarSeries i-League Season 7 Champion. The tournament will kick off March 30 and the winner will be crowned on April 7.
Whoever wants to go all the way in China will have to earn it, as the format used for this tournament will be swiss system with best-of-threes all throughout the group-stage, best-of-threes in the playoffs and best-of-five in the finals. As such, it’s unlikely that we’ll see too many upsets here. However, without the number one team Astralis in attendance the title will be entirely up for grabs.
Last year we saw the Finnish side ENCE take down surprise finalist Vega Squadron in a three-map series. A tournament in which the young talent Jere ‘sergej’ Salo earned his first MVP medal. The Finns will look to defend their title against a far stronger field this time around, as teams such as NaVi, FaZe and MIBR will be in attendance. However, they have now more than proven that their run at the major was legitimate as they were agonizingly close to making their second final in a row at Blast Pro Series Saõ Paulo, where they lost out to Team Liquid on round-difference.
Natus Vincere has an excellent track record at StarSeries.
It is perhaps unsurprising to see that Natus Vincere (NaVi) have been successful here historically. The CIS team has finished in the top 3 four out of the five times they have attended, including a win back in season five against NRG. An impressive feat considering the difficulty of the format. In fact, since the new format was introduced, NaVi have finished no worse than second place at StarSeries. The team which features current number one player in the world, Aleksandr ‘s1mple’ Kostyliev, most recently won Blast Pro Series Copenhagen but followed that up by bombing out in the group stages of IEM Chicago in disappointing fashion. NaVi rely heavily on their star duo of Aleksandr ‘s1mple’ Kostyliev and Denis ‘electronic’ Sharipov, but as long as those two are firing on all cylinders they are a dangerous team that could quite easily walk away with the title.
Other teams that have found success here include the likes of FaZe, NiP and mousesports, all of whom have won here in the past. It is worth noting, however, that all of these have since made major changes to their rosters.
FaZe have replaced longtime in-game leader Finn ‘karrigan’ Andersen with Dauren ‘AdreN’ Kystaubayev. The star-studded roster looked questionable at iBuyPower Masters, losing twice to Ghost Gaming — but they redeemed themselves by winning ELEAGUE Invitational just a week later. The international roster also made it to the top 8 at the major, but they looked very shaky doing so — dropping maps to the likes of compLexity, AVANGAR and Renegades along the way. FaZe had another disappointing showing at Blast Pro Series Saõ Paulo and if this form continues, another change could be on the cards.
As for NiP, they will be attending their second tournament with William ‘draken’ Sundin on the roster, who is replacing Dennis ‘dennis’ Edman who has taken a leave of absence due to fatigue.
One team to look out for will be NRG. They will be making their second appearance at StarSeries since first qualifying back in Season 5, a tournament in which they earned themselves a second-place finish. The North American side has gone from strength to strength since adding Ethan ‘Ethan’ Arnold back in January of last year. Since then they have picked up wins at tournaments such as the iBuyPower Invitational, cs_summit 3 and IEM Shanghai. They initially showed good form at IEM Katowice, having advanced to the new legends stage of the major undefeated. However, they disappointingly went out 0–3 in the new legends stage. In addition to the aforementioned entry-fragger Ethan, NRG also have two other young talents in Vincent ‘Brehze’ Cayonte and Tsvetelin ‘CeRq’ Dimitrov. Together they make up a really strong trio of fraggers who all complement each other quite well.
Following the major, NRG opted to pick up Tarik ‘tarik’ Celik who became a free agent after being dropped by MIBR. In-game leader Damian ‘daps’ Steele has been vocal about how his team was lacking in communication and playmaking, two aspects of the game that tarik will most definitely be able to contribute with. NRG have yet to win a tournament of this caliber — but without Astralis and Team Liquid in attendance, they will certainly have a chance to prove that they belong with the big boys.
Another team to pay close attention to will be BIG. The Germans have made a roster change, opting to replace Owen ‘smooya’ Butterfield in favor of Turkish superstar, Ismailcan ‘XANTARES’ Dörtkardeş. The Turk had a blazing start in online matches for BIG, as he led the way in most of the statistical categories in February with a total K/D ratio of 1.35 and an average of 0.91 kills/round as well as 0.16 assists/round — best on the team by a long shot. However, his performance on LAN has been very lackluster so far, as he put up poor numbers at both IEM Katowice and ELEAGUE Invitational. The Turk’s inability to replicate the form that he showed for years under the banner of Space Soldiers is a worrying sign, but the talent is undeniable. If BIG can find a way to implement XANTARES into their system, they will be a force to be reckoned with.
The competition at this year’s tournament will be fierce, but BIG have a lot of the necessary ingredients to cause upsets. They have always been a team with strong fundamentals and a good strategic understanding of the game thanks to in-game leader Fatih ‘gob b’ Dayik. Their utility usage is particularly strong and the stats help support that claim. They led all teams in total Flash Assists per round last year and they were second only to number one team Astralis in total Grenade Damage per round. With the additional firepower that XANTARES brings to the team, BIG now possesses serious upset potential.
Valve has made quite a few changes to the game recently, as we have seen plenty of changes to both the weapon prices and the economy. The AUG has been favored over the M4 for a while now and it is commonplace to see 4–5 AUGs on CT-Side despite Valve opting to revert the price back to its original price point. Interestingly, BIG was one of the first teams to pick up the AUG, which again goes to show that they are not afraid to embrace changes to the meta. With the recent changes to the loss bonus system, we will see far more full-buys as opposed to teams going for ecos as a result of being hard-reset.
At the top of the board, I favor Natus Vincere. They have historically been very strong at this tournament and they looked great at the major despite going out to ENCE in the semi-finals. They looked like a team for once as opposed to the two-man show that we have seen from them in the past. Meanwhile, their main rivals for the title; MIBR and FaZe, have both struggled lately. They also match up very well against the lesser teams in the competition.
With MIBR and FaZe struggling for form, the middle of the board becomes all the more enticing as many of these teams are no strangers to making finals. It is a real possibility that we will see one of these teams in the final, but who that will be is a bit of a crapshoot.
ENCE is the obvious candidate, as they’re coming off an incredible run at the major followed by just narrowingly missing out on the final to Team Liquid at Blast Pro Series Saõ Paulo. They have also proven that they can beat NaVi in a best-of-three when the stakes are high. However, expect their odds to shorten after their recent performances.
Teams like fnatic, North and NiP have plenty of skill to cause upsets, but fnatic and North, in particular, have really struggled since their respective lineups were formed. It is worth noting, however, that North won a best-of-three against NaVi in the final of a smaller tournament in the UK called The Ice Challenge. As for NiP, much of their success has come in best-of-ones and they have a terrible record against NaVi (0–5) since Lekr0 joined the roster, which makes it very difficult to back them.
BIG have got some serious upset potential and they have been known to beat top teams in the recent past. They’re one of few teams to have beaten NaVi, MIBR and FaZe in best-of-threes on LAN. However, that was when smooya was still on the roster. With BIG still struggling to accommodate XANTARES into the lineup, it begs to question if it is too early for them to have success in a tournament of this caliber. Renegades are also an interesting prospect, as they beat FaZe, BIG, NiP and ENCE at the major. However, predicting them to do well would be basing it solely on their performance at the major, as they did not have much to show for prior to that tournament.
Instead, I would look towards NRG who have shown that they can grind out tournaments with this type of format in the past. They have a second and third-place finish at previous StarSeries events, so they are no spring chickens to this competition. Much like BIG, they have proven that they can beat top teams in best-of-threes in the past, as they have beaten teams like Team Liquid, FaZe and MIBR. It remains to be seen how the addition of tarik will pan out for them, but he should be able to help them in a lot of areas where they were previously lacking. They might not have what it takes to beat a team like NaVi in an eventual final, but they have a decent shot at making it there. As such, I like them in the ‘To Reach the Final’ market, where they can be had at longer odds than the previously mentioned teams.