Road to Cologne: North America sets its sights on a major breakthrough

Rough times lie behind the North American CS:GO warriors, with consecutive bottom finishes, a big roster shuffle and European pro teams openly making fun of their weak competition from across the pond. Now, only a few months later, the NA scene seems reinvigorated and ready to once again turn some heads at the major stage.

Ever since the first major in the Swedish winter of 2013, the North American rosters have been shut out from top four placements - not even hyped veteran teams like Cloud9 at ESL One Cologne last year could make it through, despite showing a lot of promise in nearly every match. More often than not, NiP served as a gatekeeper for the light blue brand, keeping them out of the semifinals in two consecutive majors.

Now the combined forces of North America and Brazilian gunslingers Luminosity Gaming will travel to Cologne to validate the good results and placements from the ESL ESEA Pro League LAN finals at the ESL studios. Back then, Cloud9 reached the grand finals, while the other NA Challenger team CLG made it all the way to the semifinals as well. Twice the red, white and blue was the in top spots - uncharted territory for a big, international CS:GO event.

Stepping out of the shadow

While Cloud9 is going to ESL One Cologne with the goal of extending their streak of grand final appearances, Counter Logic Gaming is looking to step out of the shadows of the bigger NA teams. Since the team came onto the scene in Aspen, they’ve been overshadowed by either the Brazilians from Keyd Stars - now known as Luminosity Gaming - or NA patriarchs Cloud9. Despite good results, statement wins in their home region and good results when traveling, CLG never really got to the stage of being considered big time.

CLG on the march to greatness in Cologne

Their first major tournament performance in Katowice ended against the Brazilians, prompting roster changes. In the midst of the shuffle, CLG came out stronger than before, even though the replacement of their AWP specialist ptr caused something of a beef on Twitter. The public outcry didn’t phase them, however, and CLG continued down their path to find themselves winning in more ways than one. The regular season of the ESL ESEA Pro League NA division was finished with a 14-8 record - some smaller NA invites were successful, but the big win was still missing.

Now the team is ready to pounce on the opportunity presented to them in Cologne, even though the dress rehearsal was botched by all accounts. During the grand return of CS:GO to Intel Extreme Masters gamescom, CLG was one of the participating teams - but sadly also one of the participating teams to not win a single game. SK Gaming, Team EnvyUs and TSM twice proved to be too strong for the North American roster - although the games against TSM and EnVyUs on day two were both rather closely contested.

The thrill of a win, the agony of defeat - CLG experienced both in Cologne

The team have had a few weeks in Germany to bootcamp, iron out all the problems, regroup and refocus. The core of the team is still strong. ESL ESEA showed that they are capable of competing with the big dogs of CS:GO, while the NA qualifier for ESL Cologne showed that they are above the majority of their home region - a flawless record throughout the tournament, staying strong in clutches and composed throughout. Teams like eLevate, Mythic and Team Liquid came close, but could never break the CLG line. In Cologne the Challengers will be much tougher, and a group stage with three major veterans awaits. Favorite TSM was better at Intel Extreme Masters, NA gatekeeper NiP is struggling but still dangerous and Renegades bring the fierce determination of becoming the first Aussie team to reach Legendary team status. CLG has their work cut out for them, but will not back down from the challenge.

Red, white and light blue

CLG and Luminosity Gaming will represent the North American region in Cologne, but the burden of hope, dreams and anticipation is once more with the juggernaut roster of Cloud9. After the team came out stronger than ever following the big NA roster shuffle, new additions fREAKAZOiD and AWP star Skadoodle more than carried their weight on the team. A good mentality, great team atmosphere and no blaming of others for individual fails or botched plays have guided Cloud9 back to the heaven of CS:GO.

It’s been all smiles for Cloud9 lately

Now the runner-up of three consecutive big events is looking to get back on the major stage as a winning team. With sgares and n0thing still in the lineup, Cloud9 is sporting the only two NA warriors who have ever tasted a top four placement at a major CS:GO tournament. As part of compLexity Gaming, they were set to conquer Sweden by storm, ending their run third/fourth against the eventual first ever major champions Fnatic. Since then, the roster moved from coL to Cloud9, while also gradually moving down the placements at major tournaments. From two consecutive top eight placements at EMS One Katowice and ESL One Cologne 2014, DreamHack Winter 2014 and ESL One Katowice marked the deepest fall. Both times the squad failed to make it out of the groups, leaving them without the prestigious Legendary tag and having to fight their way back into the majors through qualifiers.

Luckily for them, the team rallied and never seemed to get that down in response to bad placements, or at least not publicly. The ‘we have to work through this’ mentality brought them a lot of fans and admiration, and now they can reap what they sowed. Hard work has paid off, with Cloud9 now ascending back to being a star team in the CS:GO stratosphere, capable of making deep runs in every tournament.

The three most recent examples were the ESL ESEA Pro League Season 1 LAN finals in Cologne, the ESWC 2015 event in Montreal and the FACEIT 2015 Finals in Valencia. At all of those LAN events, the light blue brand placed second, only losing to the top of the European CS:GO elite. Once it was Fnatic who kept them from the title, once it was Na’Vi denying them a championship on their home turf and most recently it was the Danish power of TSM shattering the NA hopes and dreams in the Valencian sun.

The new Cloud9 roster in action - a success story so far

After those events, the momentum shifted back and forth once more. The runner-up streak snapped in Columbus, Ohio, during the CEVO Season 7 LAN finals, where Polish team got the better of Cloud9 during the semis. A third/fourth place at the most recent event, a very decisive run through the domestic NA qualifier - C9 is looking strong, cool, calm, collected and poised for greatness.

The team around shotcaller and captain sgares is now set to return to Cologne, to the very same place where their fortune turned around during the ESL ESEA Pro League finals. The ESL studios will once more host the NA hope, who are expected to make a deep run into the tournament. Can they live up to expectations or will the weight of an entire esports-crazed region drag them down and out early?

If you want to join Cloud9 and CLG at the biggest CS:GO event the world has seen, there still a few tickets left - be sure not to miss out and grab one here! If you can't make it to the LANXESS Arena for the finals, Esports in Cinemas has you covered and will be bringing the event to movie theaters around the world - grab a ticket here!

For more information about ESL One Cologne, visit the event’s official website, and be sure to follow @ESLCS on Twitter and Facebook for the latest CS:GO news!


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