Stories to Watch at PGL Major Antwerp: Challengers Stage
The PGL Major Antwerp Challengers Stage begins on May 9th. A $1,000,000 prize pool is on the line at this first Major of 2022. The eight qualifying Challengers and Contenders will meet up in a 16 team Swiss bracket to determine who advances to the Legends Stage. Of these teams, we have a couple notable standouts and many underdog threats.
How “Super” are the Super Teams?
The most notable squads coming into the PGL Major Antwerp Challengers Stage are G2 Esports and Team Vitality. Each of these teams played in separate RMR events and both fell just short for Legend qualification. Now, they must start their Major campaigns the hard way.
Both G2 and Vitality made headlines in the CS:GO off-season by combining the strong cores of their old rosters with strong veterans, or one notable up-and-comer, in order to fix their issues and contend for trophies. We are now five months into 2022, and neither European side has any hardware. The closest endeavor was G2 at the IEM Katowice Grand Finals, but they fell convincingly to a FaZe Clan that has stolen the spotlight this year.
For G2, the pieces seem to be all in place, they are just having some issues connecting consistently. Star player Nikola “NiKo” Kovač is playing fantastically on this newest roster iteration, putting up a 1.25 HLTV rating and 91.2 ADR (average damage per round) over the past six months. Those numbers hardly change if you shift the timeframe to three months as well.
Part of this surge for NiKo is thanks to the addition of the 17-year-old AWP prodigy Ilya “m0NESY” Osipov. With m0NESY holding down the fort with the AWP, NiKo is free to rifle or secondary AWP as he pleases.
The biggest inconsistency on G2 comes with in-game leader Aleksi “Aleksib” Virolainen. The Finnish veteran was brought in at the start of the year and has had mixed looks. Whenever his calling is on point, G2 are a well-oiled machine, able to roll through every team below them and contest at the top. When things aren’t going well in the G2 camp, they’re losing to Anonymo in round one of the RMR event.
Aleksib’s stats are disappointing, as most IGL’s stats are. His value comes in being a source of knowledge and direction for a team full of star power. However, if G2 is getting ran around in the chaotic format of rapid-fire Swiss games, they could have some issues with teams who they shouldn’t. Even so, they should be a sure shot for the Legend Stage, barring a complete collapse. The question is how far can they go after?
While G2 have at least had some success and high placings, Vitality have seen nothing of the sort. This team includes one of the best players in the world in Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut, and half of the winningest CS:GO core of all time in Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen, Emil “Magisk” Reif, and coach Danny “zonic” Sørensen, all from Astralis. Despite all of their accolades in the past, this Vitality’s most impressive result is a single best-of-three win over G2 back in January at the BLAST Spring Group Stage.
Both of the three-man cores that make up this team were part of consistently top five teams in their prime. It seems that things just haven’t quite gelled yet for them as a roster. Everyone is playing beneath their potential. While ZywOo is still a monster, even he hasn’t been able to pull the team back up alone.
Vitality is now outside of the HLTV top 10 teams worldwide for the first time in about a year. Yes, switching up half of your roster is a difficult change to make. Even so, for a team that has this much potential (and cost this much money to assemble), sizable improvements should be made by this point. PGL Major Antwerp will be an important test for Vitality.
ENCE are For Real
There are many teams in the PGL Major Antwerp Challengers Stage that are looking to show that they have what it takes to compete for a title. Many of them showed strong form at the RMR events last month and have momentum on their side. Of these squads, none stand out more than ENCE.
Despite the presence of teams like G2, Vitality, and Astralis, ENCE is the highest rated team coming into the Challengers Stage. While the start of their year was slow, ENCE has since ramped up and become a threat to even the best CS:GO squads. Their surge began at ESL Pro League S15, where they qualified for the Grand Finals and even took a map off of FaZe Clan, a feat G2 couldn’t match at Katowice.
With that momentum, ENCE went on to qualify as the top Challenger at PGL Major Antwerp, only losing a Legend spot to Ninjas in Pyjamas in a three-map tiebreaker game. In the most recent CS:GO outing, BLAST Spring Showdown, ENCE took down Astralis, Copenhagen Flames, and Heroic on their way to a first place finish. Those latter two teams are Legends, by the way.
ENCE is in incredible form. Lotan “Spinx” Giladi, Aleksander “hades” Miskiewicz, and Marco “Snappi” Pfeiffer are all at a 1.10 or higher rating over the past three months. It is very likely that this team makes it to the Legends Stage, and even possible for them to make a run to Champions.
Is North America Doomed?
Only two North American rosters managed to qualify for PGL Major Antwerp, both of them as lowly Contenders. Team Liquid and Complexity Gaming qualified in fourth and fifth place respectively in the Americas RMR.
Now, that doesn’t mean that there is no hope for NA. Both teams went 3-1 in the RMR, Complexity losing to a strong FURIA side and Liquid getting caught off guard in a best-of-one against 00 Nation. Many people expected the classic regional showdown between FURIA and Liquid to decide which team got the Legend spot. Instead, Liquid had to settle for starting in the Challengers Stage.
The lack of confidence in NA Counter-Strike doesn’t just stem off recency bias. The region hasn’t truly contended for an big international CS:GO title in years. COVID forcing everyone to play regionally in 2020 and most of 2021 set the Americas back quite a bit. That said, Liquid do have some positive results in April onward. Notably, they earned top 8 at ESL Pro League S15 with a notable sweep of BIG and a narrow loss to NiP.
It’s hard to tell exactly how good Liquid or Complexity will be at Antwerp. Due to their low initial seeds, they’ll be going up against G2 and Vitality respectively in their round one matchups. We’ll have to see if NA can get at least one team through to top 16.
The PGL Major Antwerp Challengers Stage begins on May 9th at 5 AM CT. The initial matchups are:
Team Vitality vs Complexity Gaming
Bad News Eagles vs Eternal Fire
G2 Esports vs Team Liquid
forZe vs Renegades
Astralis vs IHC Esports
Imperial Esports vs Team Spirit
MIBR vs Outsiders
ENCE vs 9z Team