BLAST World Final preview: A scene in flux


Which of the revamped rosters will end the year with a bang?

Vitality

Vitality should be the favorites for this tournament, plain and simple. They won the BLAST Premier Fall Final, their roster is absolutely stacked with firepower and talent, and they have been the best team in Counter-Strike for the majority of the past year.

William “⁠mezii⁠” Merriman’s addition hasn’t come without some minor issues, for the player himself at least, as he struggled individually at Fall Final and seemed a tad uncomfortable in some of the situations he was presented with in his role on the T side, in particular.

Perhaps improvement will come with time as mezii is fulfilling a fairly supportive and lurk-heavy role, one that requires him to be in tune with what the rest of the team is doing. But there is no doubt his 0.88 T-side rating in the aforementioned tournament was poor, and due to his role it can’t be justified by going in first and dying; only Lotan “⁠Spinx⁠” Giladi took less opening duels on offensive halves.


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apEX: “Replacing Magisk is not going to happen, so the newcomers have to step up”

On the other hand, as Vitality won the tournament, who cares? Spinx has been moulded into an incredibly efficient and effective presence as a hard lurker in his time with Vitality, finding opportunities and gaps in the defense to exploit, and he is also thriving in star rifle positions on defense. With Shahar “⁠flameZ⁠” Shushan cracking open bombsites for fun and Mathieu “⁠ZywOo⁠” Herbaut back to his all-conquering best, there isn’t much mezii needs to do. If the Brit keeps playing like he did at Fall Final and Vitality keep winning tournaments, no one will complain.

Dan “⁠apEX⁠” Madesclaire deserves immense credit for the fact he has taken three different lineups to trophy-winning status this year alone, and he has certainly cemented himself as one of our game’s premier IGLs. Paired once again with Rémy “⁠XTQZZZ⁠” Quoniam, a coach who achieved solid success in his first tenure with Vitality, there can be little doubt that apEX has the tools at his disposal to bag more trophies. The World Final should be yet another locked up in the Frenchman’s cabinet.

Vitality should have their sights firmly set on the trophy

FaZe

David “⁠frozen⁠” Čerňanský’s move to FaZe felt as inevitable as the inexorable forward crawl of time. It wasn’t really a question of whether or not the young Slovakian would make the switch, it was a question of when FaZe’s seemingly inseparable lineup would finally make a change, and perhaps the only reason Russel “⁠Twistzz⁠” Van Dulken did depart is due to some mismanagement by the organization. Fortunate for frozen, perhaps.

One of the major issues for FaZe heading into the World Final is just where frozen fits. In recent times the 21-year-old has basically been a mini-ropz for MOUZ, as he took up Robin “⁠ropz⁠” Kool’s positions when the Estonian himself departed MOUZ for FaZe.


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Official: FaZe sign frozen

It is true that in the earlier days of his tier one career frozen did not fulfill such a passive and lurk-heavy role, for instance in the successful 2019 iteration of MOUZ led by Finn “⁠karrigan⁠” Andersen and featuring ropz, but he wasn’t exactly a Nikola “⁠NiKo⁠” Kovač-like aggressive monster. If we look position by position there is plenty of overlap between ropz and frozen, so whether FaZe opt to simply slot frozen in as a direct replacement for Twistzz, or try and move some pieces around to better accommodate the Slovakian, is a puzzle for karrigan to wrestle with.

If anyone can make a new constellation work in short order, it is karrigan. Famed for his relatively loose approach to calling that emphasizes setting the field up for his stars to shine, as well as his ability to make reads on the fly in the middle of tense situations, there is no doubt that karrigan’s style suits the current situation. He also has a track record of winning tournaments with stand-ins dating back to his first stint with FaZe (anyone remember Jorgen “⁠cromen⁠” Robertsen?), so he knows how to get the most out of the pieces given to him, even with little prep and practice.

NAVI

Natus Vincere are an odd proposition. They were seemingly getting to grips with the lineup they put together in the summer player break, having taken second at ESL Pro League Season 18, only for Oleksandr “⁠s1mple⁠” Kostyliev to depart for a break from play soon after. Ihor “⁠w0nderful⁠” Zhdanov seems to have settled into the squad well judging by Fall Final, but their only series win came against Ninjas in Pyjamas, and the Ukrainian sniper had two poor maps against Complexity.

w0nderful seems to be settling into NAVI relatively well

There is also the small matter of their supposed star rifle signing, Mihai “⁠iM⁠” Ivan: specifically, his inability to perform like a star rifler. The Romanian set the world alight at the BLAST Paris Major with GamerLegion but he has gotten nowhere near that level for Natus Vincere, and at this point it seems unlikely he will ever get there. Valeriy “⁠b1t⁠” Vakhovskiy, on the other hand, has been resurgent recently, and if he can get back to his best iM may not need to pop quite as many heads as was previously expected.

Natus Vincere’s CT side is where they need to make the most headway, as their defensive halves were better only than Heroic’s at Fall Final. A lack of firepower has definitely been an issue in that department, with b1t not producing his best level as the team’s anchor on many maps. Whether they switch him to more active positions or simply bank on an improvement, getting the most out of b1t will likely be their best bet for a deep run at World Final, along with a strong performance from w0nderful.


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w0nderful: The boyhood fan signed in NAVI’s time of need

Cloud9

It finally feels like Cloud9 are cooking with gas. They have a proper IGL amongst their number, Denis “⁠electroNic⁠” Sharipov is back to dominating the server like he owns it, and Sergey “⁠Ax1Le⁠” Rykhtorov seems to be working his way out of his slump in form. There can be no question that the current formulation of the squad is slotting together better than they ever managed without Kirill “⁠Boombl4⁠” Mikhailov at the helm. The problem? Everyone who tries their hand at it sucks with the AWP.


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Boombl4: “On a lot of maps I am the main AWPer”

Boombl4 and Abay “⁠HObbit⁠” Khassenov have traded sniping duties the majority of the time, and both of them are well short of what is needed to compete with the Big Green at an elite level. Generally Cloud9 are only buying the AWP when absolutely necessary on the CT side, seemingly aware of their issues in that department. There have also been team-wide wobbles, such as at BetBoom Dacha.

The Russians were on the brink of a playoff spot in Dubai after battering GamerLegion and slaughtering MIBR on map one, sitting pretty at 10-4 up on map two against the Brazilians, but crashed out of the tournament after that. It was a fairly drastic collapse, and the way they got rolled over by Vladislav “⁠nafany⁠” Gorshkov’s BetBoom in their final series was none too pretty either.

Cloud9 are on the right path, but it is obvious they need a real AWPer if they are to compete at the top and earn the accolades their lineup ought to be aiming for. A World Final playoff berth is well within their reach, and who knows, if they can get Ax1Le and electroNic firing at the same time, they will be a handful for any team.

An effervescent electroNic is Cloud9’s best weapon

ENCE

ENCE took a gamble in picking up Lukas “⁠gla1ve⁠” Rossander, which seems insane to say considering he is one of the most decorated IGLs in CS:GO history. There is plenty of logic behind bringing in a four-time Major winner, and one that by all appearances seems hungry to continue to build his legacy, but it has to be said that his stock is at an all-time low. He also has big shoes to fill, alongside Jakub “⁠kuben⁠” Gurczynski, as the duo have replaced one of the most highly-touted IGL and coach combos in CS:GO history, Marco “⁠Snappi⁠” Pfeiffer and Eetu “⁠sAw⁠” Saha.


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Is a good IGL-coach combo CS2’s next golden goose egg?

gla1ve’s calling was definitely a weakness for Astralis towards the back end of his tenure, although judging by the documentary series that Astralis recently released, it doesn’t seem like he had the full backing of his team by the end. Combine this with his individual struggles and there is real doubt amongst many in the community, including among the better informed, as to whether he can pull it together in ENCE.

The rest of the ENCE lineup is still fantastic. Alvaro “⁠SunPayus⁠” Garcia is one of the most sought-after AWPers in the scene, Guy “⁠NertZ⁠” Iluz is one of the best riflers and incredibly reliable, and Pavle “⁠Maden⁠” Bošković and Paweł “⁠dycha⁠” Dycha are an excellent supporting cast that fit well with the rest of the team. The fact that they are so vocal and, according to gla1ve, good at helping him dictate the way the team play out rounds, perhaps there is enough there to make them competitive at this tournament.


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gla1ve: “I’m not aiming to be a top five team, I want to win trophies”

ENCE’s performance at Elisa Masters was a mixed bag and did little to dispel the doubts hovering around gla1ve, although they had little time to practice. With more time under their belts, maybe kuben and gla1ve will have whipped the squad into better shape. On the other hand, will this squad survive into 2024? SunPayus is reportedly a target for Falcons, rumours (entirely unsubstantiated, mind you) hover around Maden and G2, and gla1ve tellingly stated in an interview in Espoo that part of the attraction of ENCE was that he would get a say in what new players came into the team in the future.

My hopes aren’t all too high for ENCE, but it would also not be massively surprising to see them be competitive.

gla1ve has much to prove

MOUZ

Being realistic, MOUZ are probably a write-off for World Final. They have lost their talisman in the form of frozen, and whilst there is no doubt that the rest of the squad is talented, no one can match the aforementioned Slovakian for consistent star power.

Dorian “⁠xertioN⁠” Berman is a powerful aggressive rifler, but very few can output star numbers consistently in such offensive roles and positions. Jimi “⁠Jimpphat⁠” Salo is a superstar in the making no doubt, but he plays passive roles that require the game to come to him. Ádám “⁠torzsi⁠” Torzsás is back to performing at a high level, something that eluded him for a time, but still he lacks consistency match-to-match. Kamil “⁠siuhy⁠” Szkaradek is a fantastic young IGL with a bright future ahead of him, but he will have his work cut out for him trying to get his team back to their peak level without frozen at his disposal.

If we are continuing to be realistic, Ludvig “⁠Brollan⁠” Brolin is an underwhelming stand-in. Whether this is an experiment with a view to making Brollan’s addition permanent is unclear, but for now he is a temporary stop-gap. The Swede’s stock has fallen dramatically since he was touted as one of Counter-Strike’s rising superstars in 2019 and 2020, to the point where he was much maligned during the end of his tenure in Ninjas in Pyjamas. The fact that a Ninjas in Pyjamas side that has struggled for much of the past two years chose to bench him is not a good look for the 21-year-old. A World Final playoff berth would be an achievement for MOUZ.

Brollan is far from an inspiring stand-in

G2

G2 made one of the least exciting roster moves of the year by bringing Nemanja “⁠nexa⁠” Isaković back into the fold in place of Justin “⁠jks⁠” Savage, particularly considering their tournament-winning exploits this year. nexa didn’t exactly set the world alight during his first tenure with G2, although they did enjoy some modest success, and jks was a fan favorite who seemed to suit his roles in G2 perfectly. As a one for one swap it seems bizarre on the surface, even if jks wasn’t tearing up the server in statistical terms.

The new G2 lineup had a fairly disastrous first outing in the CCT 2023 Online Finals 5 recently, crashing out after losses to Aurora and Guild Eagles. nexa was dreadful individually, Rasmus “⁠HooXi⁠” Nielsen had a few of his trademark stinkers, and whilst Ilya “⁠m0NESY⁠” Osipov was their best player overall, he also had some uncharacteristically poor performances.


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G2 eliminated from CCT Online Finals 5

To be fair, it is probably a tad early to judge this current iteration of G2, but the initial signs are far from promising. There is also an underlying feeling that this isn’t the final form of the roster, even if it isn’t clear exactly who they might bring in, outside of the Maden rumour mentioned by insider OverDrive that NiKo was quick to rubbish. In any case, G2 will likely have to rely on pure firepower to get anywhere in Dubai.

nexa has not started his second stint at G2 auspiciously

Heroic

One can have few, if any, expectations for Heroic. Their lineup is a cobbled-together mish-mash that has had minimal time to practice as the five that will attend World Final. Their stand-in, Jason “⁠salazar⁠” Salazar, hasn’t managed to put up above-average numbers in tier two/three, and their only map wins at Fall Final came against a dead Astralis team. Combine all of this with the fact that Peter “⁠dupreeh⁠” Rasmussen is adjusting to the IGL role, having previously deemed himself “too dumb” for the position, and you get a team that is a likely favorite for an early exit.

If they had procured a more inspiring name for their currently absent AWP position, perhaps one could get excited about Heroic. dupreeh has been in great form since donning the Heroic jersey, and Rasmus “⁠sjuush⁠” Beck has been producing incredible impact on the T side in recent weeks. Unfortunately, the current constellation seems to lack a tad for firepower, and with salazar wielding the Big Green, it is doubtful they have enough about them to garner more than a map win here and there at World Final.





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