PGL Major Stockholm: New Challengers Stage Preview
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’s next Major, PGL Stockholm, begins on October 26. For the first time in over two years, teams will be competing at the biggest CS:GO tournament there is for a chance at the most prestigious title in the game. In addition, $2 million dollars are up for grabs, as well as ESL Pro Tour and BLAST Premier points. The winners of PGL Stockholm will also automatically qualify for the BLAST World Final later this year.
First up is the New Challengers Stage. The eight Contenders teams will meet up with the eight Challengers teams in a Swiss format. The top eight teams overall will advance to the New Legends Stage. The criteria for advancing is to win three matches, including one best-of-three. Teams can play up to five games with three losses eliminating them from the Major. The list of teams is as follows:
|Astralis||ENCE||Copenhagen Flames||FaZe Clan|
|paiN Gaming||Team Spirit||TYLOO||Renegades|
Additionally, the round one matchups have all been decided based on seeding. In order, they are:
- Astralis vs Copenhagen Flames
- Spirit vs FaZe Clan
- ENCE vs GODSENT
- paiN Gaming vs Virtus.pro
- BIG vs Entropiq
- Movistar Riders vs Renegades
- Heroic vs TYLOO
- MOUZ vs Sharks Esports
Defending the Title
The biggest name team lining the New Challengers Stage is Astralis. The Danish giants narrowly missed out on qualifying for the PGL Major Stockholm with Legend Status. They finished fourth overall in Europe’s RPR standings, 304 points behind G2 Esports before deductions. As such, the defending Major champions two years removed will start their campaign earlier than normal.
Astralis has been a difficult team to pin down over the past year of play. After the loss of dev1ce to Ninjas in Pyjamas in late April, Astralis has been pretty up and down. The majority of their results have been middling for Astralis’s standards. They earned top six finishes at DreamHack Spring and Flashpoint 3. Astralis then faltered at IEM Summer and ESL Pro League S14, finishing 9-12th and 13-16th respectively.
The big asterisk came at IEM Cologne, one of the biggest tournaments in Counter-Strike. For the first time in two years, CS:GO returned to an in-person LAN environment. This tournament featured many of the more experienced, traditional LAN teams showing a positive spike in performance. Astralis was included in this, earning a top four finish and nearly making the Grand Finals.
Astralis are currently ranked 9th worldwide according to HLTV. Even so, there is no denying that few teams can play a Major better than Astralis. They are certainly expected to advance past the Challengers Stage and would not be out of place earning a Champions Stage top eight spot. A fifth Major title is on the line for Astralis at Stockholm.
Europe has a total of eight teams playing in this first stage. Many of them have high aspirations, expecting to make it to the New Legends Stage and make waves. Among those squads are Heroic. This Danish roster is the highest-ranked team in the New Challengers Stage. They’ve been consistently good all year, even earning a trophy at ESL Pro League S13.
Heroic were primed for a Legend spot going into IEM Fall, but unfortunately fell to Movistar Riders in the group tiebreakers, dooming them to a top 12 finish. While this performance might be a bit worrying, the format of IEM Fall Groups was highly prone to upsets and strange results thanks to best-of-ones. Heroic are still one of the stronger squads at the Major and are no doubt searching for a spot in the Champions Stage top eight.
Another European squad hoping to have an impact are FaZe Clan. FaZe were one of the teams who saw a massive revival at the IEM Cologne return to LAN. After countless mediocre performances, failed expectations, and roster turmoil, FaZe Clan seemingly rose from the ashes to take a top four finish at the biggest event yet in 2021.
While they haven’t followed up that performance quite yet, FaZe did show the potential was there. Their Major qualification was also a bumpy road. They had just 248 RPR points to their name going into IEM Fall. Although FaZe bombed out of their group in third, they played their way up to 9th place overall in the consolation matches. After a little help from G2 Esports, FaZe beat out Team Fiend for the final Major spot by 92 points.
Strong CIS Squads
There will be three teams from the CIS region playing in the New Challengers Stage. All of them are certainly strong enough on paper to advance. Team Spirit are the second-highest seeded team overall. They were just 500 RMR points below Gambit Esports at the end of IEM Fall. Unfortunately, the CIS only has two Legend spots which were basically reserved for Gambit and NAVI.
Spirit are no slouches. This team has been going toe to toe with the two strongest teams in the world all year. However, their few international appearances have been less than spectacular. Spirit will need to learn how to adapt on the fly in this Swiss format, especially with multiple EU teams present that have given them problems in the past.
Virtus.pro will also start their Major campaign in the New Challengers Stage. Much like Spirit, VP has grown accustomed to playing against the best squads from their region. When we have seen VP on the international stage, they’ve been fairly consistent. However, their peak at these events has only been top six.
VP has always had a problem with a lack of diverse strategies. For them to be able to find success at the Major, they’ll need to find multiple avenues to win games. It can’t all be on the shoulders of Dzhami “Jame” Ali like it has been in the past.
ENCE’s EZ Return
The recent IEM Fall RMR events that took place in every region were a good first look at all the teams present at PGL Major Stockholm. Not only was it also played in an offline environment, but the prospect of being left out of the first Major in two years forced teams to give their very best. Some surprise candidates rose to the occasion, showing up strong and securing their Major spot.
From Europe, ENCE is back on the map after their performance at IEM Fall. The formerly all-Finnish squad has expanded to an international one. ENCE found a replacement for Aleksi “allu” Jalli in Olek “hades” Miskiewicz in late May. From there, they’ve been ramping back up in recent months. ENCE followed up a top eight finish at ESL Pro League S14 with a runner-up at IEM Fall. The 2344 RMR points they received was enough to propel them from the bottom of the RMR standings to fifth overall.
Riders Ride On
Another team that showed up strong was Movistar Riders. The full Spanish squad only qualified for IEM Fall via a gauntlet of open and closed qualifiers. Their group stage started with back-to-back losses to the two favorites in Astralis and Heroic. However, a win by Sinners over Heroic forced a three-way tiebreaker between them. Movistar came out victorious, qualifying them for the playoffs.
Their first match was against the eventual champions, NiP. Movistar came just two rounds away from a 2-0 win before eventually falling in the third map. Needing a win in the consolation matches to earn enough RMR point for the Major, Movistar swept Copenhagen Flames before beating out G2 Esports in the 5th place game. While they are still unproven on a stage as big as the Major, Movistar are a dark horse to make it to the next stage.
GODSENT to Stockholm
In the North American scene, GODSENT pulled off a similar feat. They had zero RMR points going into IEM Fall and needed a massive run to qualify for the Major. GODSENT came out swinging. They took out every team in their group aside from FURIA Esports to earn a playoff berth. In the other group, paiN Gaming gave them some help by denying EXTREMUM the same. GODSENT secured their ticket to Stockholm by beating tournament favorites Team Liquid 2-0. Although they fell to FURIA in Finals, GODSENT showed that they have upset potential moving forward.
PGL Major Stockholm begins on October 26 at 3:00 AM CT.