ESL One Cologne -- one of the most prestigious Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournaments -- marks the beginning of the circuit before a break in late August, which means teams have had time to practice. We've gauged the strength of the teams in an effort to predict how many new rosters attending will perform relative to veteran lineups at the top of the scene.
Astralis is well on its way to solidifying itself as one of the greatest CS:GO lineups of all time. Having now made four finals in a row and winning three of them, Astralis sit firmly in contention. It is a team that embodies the fundamentals as well as the ability to innovate. The depth of Astralis' playbook matches that of its map pool and sources of firepower. While it has been proven that Astralis isn't invincible, it takes an insane effort to take a map off Astralis let alone a full series. It is clear Astralis is a favorite for this event and it will take either a huge blunder from the Danes or a Herculean effort from one of its opponents to knock it down.
Due of the absence of Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer Gustafsson since April, FaZe has played with two different stand-ins since. Yet despite roster instability, the results keep coming. It's a true testament to in-game leader Finn "karrigan" Andersen's ability to lead new teams that FaZe has won two big events with two different stand-ins in three months. While Na`vi is chomping at the bits, FaZe has two titles while the CIS team only has one big one so far. In an ideal world, these two teams would meet in the semifinals to settle the score, but for now, the superstar skill of FaZe and its ability to upset Astralis carries it to a No. 2 placing coming into Cologne.
Na`vi lost out on the No. 2 spot by a razor thin margin, and I expect many will be surprised that FaZe upstaged them here. But while this roster has had consistent placings throughout the year, it has glaring issues that remain unfixed. The liability of Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko and Ioann "Edward" Sukhariev as individual players continues to be a concern, but more importantly Na`vi's talent for throwing away man-advantages cost them many a round. While it can recover from these disastrous hiccups against teams lower in this list like mousesports, it will have no such luxury against FaZe or Astralis, both of which play with much more polish.
4. Team Liquid
"America's team" enters Cologne with some uncertainty looming over head. After a fantastic performance at the EPL Season 7 to make up for the disaster in Marseille, Liquid took another dip at StarSeries. The follow up to this was a great performance at the ECS Season 5 Finals where it took second place to the world's best. However, ESL One Belo Horizonte was quite a rough showing taking huge map losses to both Mousesports and FaZe with both opponents using stand-ins. The talent and strategic depth is certainly there for Liquid, but it is difficult to know what version of Liquid will show up given the pattern of recent results. Map pool will be a big question as it has struggled on Mirage lately while also having to worry about mixed results on Train and Nuke in particular. It also has little experience on Overpass in recent times. If Liquid shows up in shape it certainly will make a deep run, but if not there is a solid field at this event that's more than capable of punishing poor form.
These are frustrating times for mousesports as its roster is in turmoil. It has been announced that mouz will bench Martin "STYKO" Styk and play Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski moving forward. To add to the confusion, mouz has had its best placing in a long time with a stand-in for Tomáš "oskar" Šťastný, usually considered its best player. With the future of the roster uncertain and a steady decline before reaching the finals of ESL Belo Horizonte with a stand-in, it's hard to bet on mouz right now. That said, the team continues to beat those beneath it in the rankings, and the team gets points for being consistent in that regard.
This will be the second event NiP will attend with its new roster, having removed William "draken" Sundin in favor of former Fnatic player Jonas "Lekr0" Olofsson. The team had it rough at its first LAN, getting eliminated early by Tyloo in a best-of-three series. That said, given recent results at StarSeries with the previous roster and poor play from the teams below it in the rankings, this team earns a respectable No. 6 spot on our list. Beyond past results, this roster is pretty exciting because it carries four aggressive riflers. This roster composition will force NiP into a loose and lopsided style that should lean heavily on brute force, a style that has been generally lacking for the Top 10 recently.
Now rebranded as MIBR, the former SK team has had a rough go of things in 2018. Despite marginal improvements over the past few LANs, SK has lost a lot of best-of-three series to Top 10 teams, and have only earned a single significant best-of-three series in recent memory, against Team Liquid at StarSeries. It's tough to rank MIBR below NiP given the roster change, and the choice was divisive here. That said, given the fact that NiP has only had a single roster change and that the Swedes had superior results prior to removing draken, we settled on placing SK at No. 7. In truth, this placing speaks not so much to the play of the teams above but to the atrophied state of MIBR.
Not even two months ago, North was down in the dumps losing best-of-three series to Imperial. Getting more comfortable with the new roster, MSL and company have finally gotten their feet under them. Now reliably beating teams below the Top 10 like Red Reserve, Hellraisers and AGO, North has earned more respect than it gets. Some may argue that the Danes should even rank above MIBR, but recent losses to NRG and Optic on LAN suggest North has not transcended the Tier 2 quite yet. But there's no better opportunity to prove us wrong and breach the Tier 1 than ESL One Cologne.
Despite having two titles under its belt this year, Fnatic couldn't keep the band together. For whatever reason, in-game leader Maikil "Golden" Selim and key fragger lekr0 have been removed in favor of AWPER draken and new leader Richard "Xizt" Landström. The move is horizontal at first glance, since it's hard to see how the team will improve from this change. That said, it's possible that the new leadership jives well with the team's veterans, and draken may well have a resurgence in a new environment. These are merely possibilities however, and it's hard to be optimistic about a team willing to cut its young players in the midst of success.
Some met G2's stamp of approval on the Kevin "Ex6TenZ" Droolans project with open arms, others with mockery. The new team has played one event so far, with mixed results. While star AWPer Kenny "kennyS" Schrub found his form; shox, recovering from injury, did not. This LAN will be a big test for G2, as anyone below Na'vi in the rankings will be vulnerable. If G2 is to make a run and become a good team, Cologne is the best chance it'll get. With the scene so fragile, G2 could leapfrog most of these teams with a strong performance. That said, that is a conditional it has yet to meet, since strong performances have been hard to come by for the French over the past six months. This is G2's big chance to break the trend.
Cloud9 is coming into Cologne in a similar position to its last event, a team still in transition after going back on the decision to bring in a new in-game-leader and perhaps a new philosophy on the game. At the time of writing, C9's fifth player remains unconfirmed, with rumors of STYKO being the most likely candidate. Whatever the case may be, this tournament is a write-off for a Cloud9 continuing an awkward transition between its previous roster with Pujan "FNS" Mehta and whatever the future may hold.
Renegades has been in a bit of a free fall lately after issues surrounding leadership with a huge piece of that being the departure of coach Aleksandar "kassad" Trifunović. After a solid run on home soil at IEM Sydney, the last three offline events for the Renegades have been severely disappointing. In particular, the team didn't even look competitive at DreamHack Summer only winning combined 24 rounds across three maps. Recently Renegades brought on Steve "Ryu" Rattacasa as a coach and even appeared to be open to trying a new IGL. Considering these adjustments and recent form, the Renegades enter Cologne quite the underdog.
Gambit's spiral downward has continued with recent offline series losses to Windigo fielding two stand-ins at Zotac and an unproven Imperial at DreamHack Summer. Outside of beating Cloud9 and Liquid at Marseille, Gambit has struggled to show anything remotely impressive this year on LAN. Player form has plagued this team outside of Rustem "mou" Telepov and star Abay "Hobbit" Khasenov who seems to be in better shape thanks to giving up the IGL role and returning to his old spots after the departure of Denis "seized" Kostin. Nikolay "mir" Bityukov hasn't really fit the bill yet from his Vega Squadron days and it is hard to know if he can given the current environment. Gambit at times straight up look lost which is no surprise given the game of musical chairs the team is playing with the in-game-leader role.
To be quite frank, BIG has not played enough with their current lineup to have a good idea of where it's at and where it's headed. Most events have included using a different fifth. BIG's one LAN, ESL One Belo Horizonte, was not that inspiring with the only real point of interest being it was at least competitive in losses to Team Liquid. There seems to be some upside with new addition Owen "smooya" Butterfield looking good in most games. Johannes "nex" Maget and Johannes "tabseN" Wodarz have also been fine for the most part, but it is hard seeing them outperforming the stars on many of the teams ranked above them.
During the springtime, we saw Aleksi "allu" Jalli return from a hiatus from competitive play to rejoin ENCE, the top team from his native Finland. ENCE hadn't done much of note since his departure but adding a top AWPer seems to have revitalized the team. At their first LAN, ENCE proved to be capable of beating Tier 3 teams in AVANGAR, LDLC and Kinguin. While this success is a good sign, it also lost a best-of-three to EnVyUs, which hints that ENCE may not quite reach a Tier 2 level.
16. B.O.O.T [dS]
On every ranking list someone has to be on the bottom. This time around it has to be B.O.O.T dreamScape. While it has looked a bit improved within their region having qualified for both IEM Shanghai and Cologne (which included series victories over MVP PK and Tyloo), there hasn't been that much else going for the team. The majority-Singapore squad has often fallen flat once it hits the offline stage of a tournament. It is hard to see things being much different at an event of the magnitude of ESL One Cologne.