BLAST Premier Fall Groups returns to kick-start competitive CS:GO now that the player break is over. Every Counter-Strike fan has been eagerly awaiting this tournament, mainly due to the amount of roster updates we’ve seen since the BLAST Premier Spring Final took place in early June. What’s most surprising isn’t just the number of changes, but the changes themselves. NAVI dropped three players, Team Liquid now have a European core, and Team Vitality replaced Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen after winning the Major.
Our first group consists of Vitality, Evil Geniuses (EG), Ninjas in Pyjamas (NiP), and Complexity Gaming. Here are the changes each team have made since we last saw them play:
- Vitality - removed Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen, added Shahar "flameZ" Shushan
- Evil Geniuses – removed Vincent "Brehze" Cayonte, Sanzhar "neaLaN" Iskhakov, Ismail "refrezh" Ali, Jerric "wiz" Jiang, and Daniel "Vorborg" Vorborg, promoted Evil Geniuses Black
- Ninjas in Pyjamas – removed Aleksi "Aleksib" Virolainen, added Hampus "hampus" Poser
- Complexity – removed Justin "FaNg" Coakley, added Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski
The first match of the event is Vitality versus Evil Geniuses. This is going to heavily favour Vitality, not only because many consider the “flameZ” transfer to be an upgrade, but also due to the fact that Evil Geniuses have just promoted their secondary team to the main stage. The only player that remains from the previous line-up is Timothy "autimatic" Ta. Given that the majority of the players in this line-up have been playing North American Tier 2 CS:GO, it’s unlikely they will achieve anything against a Major-winning side.
Evil Geniuses have put themselves in a tough spot by trying to create an ecosystem that will allow North American Counter-Strike to grow. Due to this, any rumours of signing players from overseas has caused them to be hit with an incredible amount of backlash. It’s no secret that North American teams struggle in the higher echelons of the competitive scene, so an endeavour like this is admirable, and could help the scene develop. So far, this just hasn’t been the case for EG, but the system won’t work if they give up now. Hopefully this is a fresh start for them, but for the time being we can continue to assume they’ll be the partner team we write off.
The second matchup for Group A is Ninjas in Pyjamas versus Complexity. This is going to be an interesting game, as NiP have changed leadership since we last saw them. In most cases, this would be considered a drastic transfer, but due to it being the return of a player that was formerly the team’s In-Game Leader (IGL), the team should adapt quite quickly. As much as “hampus” deserves a place in this team, I personally believe the issue for NiP goes much deeper than leadership. Fredrik "REZ" Sterner, Ludvig "Brollan" Brolin, and Kristian "k0nfig" Wienecke are known to have some of the highest ceilings in the game, but have all struggled with consistency issues since joining NiP. I think this comes down to problems with team roles more than anything.
Their opponent, Complexity, have also made a change this summer, but theirs is a much clearer upgrade. The addition of “EliGE” is any North American team’s dream. Having been on Liquid since 2015, some believed he would never leave, but unfortunately, plans for them to go European forced him to make the switch. Despite his drop off since the online era of CS:GO, “EliGE” is still a star player, and one of the few from the region that many believed could have cut it on a European team. This a fantastic move for Complexity, and it could spell danger for the Ninjas. Don’t count out North America just yet!
Our second group consists of Heroic, BIG, NAVI, and Astralis. Here are the changes each team made since we last saw them play:
- BIG – removed Josef "faveN" Baumann and Nils "k1to" Gruhne, and demoted Marcel "hyped" Köhn. Added Mateusz "mantuu" Wilczewski, and promoted Elias "s1n" Stein and David "prosus" Hesse
- NAVI – removed Denis "electroNic" Sharipov, Ilya "Perfecto" Zalutskiy, and Andrij "npl" Kukharsjkyj, added Aleksi "Aleksib" Virolainen, Justinas "jL" Lekavicius, and Ivan "iM" Mihai
- Astralis – removed Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander, demoted Alexander "Altekz" Givskov, added Victor "Staehr" Staehr and Johannes "b0RUP" Borup
Heroic are one of three teams at this event who haven’t made changes. Heroic face BIG in their first match, a team that have taken a step in the direction of international CS:GO by adding Polish AWPer “mantuu”. Having won the last event before the player break, I don’t think we’ll see much change in the Heroic formula, which means BIG are going to be in for a rough time. Not only are they having to put a new line-up to the test, but two of their new additions are promotions from their Academy team. This will be a lot of pressure for “prosus” and “s1n”, although “s1n” has previously stood in for BIG, so he has had some experience with the team. Not only that, but “mantuu” hasn’t played a professional match since June 26, 2022. After a year out of playing at the top level, it might take him an event or two to get back into the swing of things. BIG will have a better fight if they play Astralis in the lower bracket, as the odds predict, but Heroic would have to start extremely slow at this event if they are to be beaten by a new line-up.
The second match in Group B is NAVI versus Astralis. This is a match where both teams are under new leadership - although less so for Astralis, with Benjamin "blameF" Bremer having previously called for the team on certain maps. This will be one of the more interesting opening matches. Many are wondering whether “Aleksib” will be able to manage a superstar like Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyljev. It has become a well-known fact within the community that “Aleksib” doesn’t make it very far in teams before he is replaced. This could be his final stop in a truly big organisation if results aren’t seen. Many were surprised by the announcement that “electronic” and “Perfecto” were leaving, but the new additions have been some of the best performers from the recent BLAST.tv Paris Major.
Astralis seem to have made their changes in preparation for the future. The once-dominant Astralis, that at one point could have been considered one of the greatest teams of all time, now only have one player left from this era. Nicolai "dev1ce" Reedtz is the last man standing, surrounded by a new set of Danish youngsters looking to make a name for themselves. These are another set of moves that will take some time to develop. I don’t see Astralis having immediate success, but a fresh start and new leadership could do this team some good. Considering firepower alone, this should be a NAVI win. It would be a nice surprise if Astralis can bring in a new tactical element to their game to catch NAVI off guard, but with so little time to prepare, and from a new line-up, this is unlikely.
Our final group consists of FaZe Clan, OG, G2 Esports, and Liquid. Here are the changes the teams have made since we last saw them play:
- OG – removed Shahar "flameZ" Shushan (via contract expiry), Adam "NEOFRAG" Zouhar, and Abdulkhalik "degster" Gasanov. Reinstated Nemanja "nexa" Isaković, and added Iulian "regali" Harjău, Nils "k1to" Gruhne, and Dion "FASHR" Derksen
- Liquid – removed “EliGE”, Nicholas "nitr0" Cannella retired, added Aleks "Rainwaker" Petrov and Robert "Patsi" Isyanov
The first match in Group C is FaZe versus OG. FaZe are one of the other teams at the event who have opted to make no changes, so it’s going to be interesting to see how well they do going into the end of the year with their previous roster intact. Will it be the right decision? They’ve struggled with their form over the last few months, but with no Major to play for in the second half of the year, maybe the pressure is off. That being said, this OG line-up is extremely mediocre at first glance. Excluding “regali” and “nexa”, who hasn’t even played in the last three months, this team average a 1.01 rating. Considering “nexa” is the IGL, this average should only go down. However, ratings aren’t everything, and we may get to see “FASHR” take on a role that allows him to make use of his sharp aim. Considering FaZe beat OG twice in the spring edition of this tournament with the latter having an arguably stronger roster, I’m not setting my expectations high for this line-up.
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The final opening match is G2 versus Liquid, which will be a tough match for Liquid to play with two new players. One of the benefits of the player break for Liquid was that Mareks "YEKINDAR" Gaļinskis was given time to develop himself in the IGL role he will be taking on full time. Many have disagreed with this decision, as he has been the majority of the firepower in this Liquid line-up, and there’s every chance they will lose this by having him take over as the IGL. Even if he has been able to develop under the guidance of Damian "daps" Steele, this has yet to be put into practice at an event. Much like some of these other teams that have changed leadership, I think Liquid will need time to figure out how they want to play. As the organisation regarded as the last hope for North America, it’s certainly a big step going European.
Having said all of that about Liquid, G2 are no stranger to an upset. They are the final team to not make a change during the player break, and I think this is exactly what G2 need. Leadership has been the problem for this line-up, and the fingers are usually pointed at Nikola "NiKo" Kovač. Keeping their squad as they are gives them more time to iron out the kinks they discovered after their IEM Katowice win. I wouldn’t completely disregard Liquid in this opening match, but G2 should be winning this after having the player break to compose themselves.
- Read: Crazy CS:GO Major Stats