The ELEAGUE Major is just around the corner. Some of the world’s best teams are headed to the Fox Theatre in Atlanta to compete for their share of a $1,000,000 prize pool and for the title of ELEAGUE 2017 Champions.

This major has the potential to be an extraordinary competition as all of these teams possess great talent within them. It is also for this reason, that this major is particularly hard to predict since most of these teams look strong coming into the major tournament. With that being said, I will attempt to provide predictions for the first round of group matches, and then will state who I think will qualify for the knockout stages.

The first round of group matches are as follows:

Game One – Gambit vs. North (ex-Dignitas)

Gambit vs. North is the first matchup of the ELEAGUE major, and it should be an interesting match. Gambit’s acquisition of Daniil “Zeus” Teslenko definitely made their team stronger, as they managed to close out their 2016 on a victorious note, beating Renegades 2:0 to win Dreamhack Winter 2016. They started off their 2017 campaign on the right foot by qualifying for DreamHack Masters Las Vegas alongside FaZe, mousesports, and Fnatic. However, their opponents, North, have had a relatively decent year themselves, with the last quarter of 2016 being particularly strong for MSL’s side. Their most notable finishes include a top 4 placing at Starladder i-League StarSeries Season 2, top 4 at DreamHack Bucharest 2016 and winning EPICENTER 2016, beating Virtus.Pro 2:1 in the finals. Coming into this match, the ex-Dignitas side would certainly be regarded as the stronger team headed into this match-up, however, it is crucial that Gambit is not underestimated headed into the major. They certainly have “upset” potential, and have likely improved since Dreamhack Winter. North should be able to take this match out and start off on a strong foot, provided they do not underestimate Gambit.

Game Two – Fnatic vs. G2

Fnatic has had a rather strange 2016. Dating back to MLG Columbus, we saw Fnatic lose 2-0 to Astralis in the quarter-finals, followed by PlesseN filling in for Olofmeister as he recovered from the wrist injury that forced the team to withdraw from Dreamhack Masters Malmo. We then saw wenton replace Olofmeister’s temporary replacement PlesseN. Olof made his return, and a few months later Fnatic saw JW, KRIMZ and flusha go to GODSENT, twist and Lekr0 joined and wenton came back to the starting lineup. Lekr0 and KRIMZ were swapped once again, enabling Fnatic to retain their legends spot for this major. Finally, to cap it off, disco_doplan replaced wenton.

It has been crazy for Fnatic, the roster movements were certainly enough to confuse anyone. This new iteration of their roster (Olofmeister, dennis, twist, KRIMZ, disco_doplan) is certainly a strong lineup and they have had time to settle in and work together as a team to prepare for the major. This Fnatic side should be able to beat G2 during their initial group stage match up, largely due to the heavy reliance on shox and ScreaM for performances on G2’s side. Whilst shox and ScreaM, and occasionally bodyy have pulled G2 to some great results, Fnatic seems like a more well-rounded side and are less reliant on players to carry them through games, unlike G2. Overall, Fnatic should be able to secure a win over G2.

Game Three – SK Gaming vs. Hellraisers

The Brazilian side had a fantastic 2016, winning back to back majors amongst other accolades they acquired throughout their 2016 campaign as both Luminosity and SK Gaming. However, since the removal of fnx and the arrival of fox as a stand-in, SK have looked rather weak in comparison to their dominant, world-beating form they showed throughout the year. It was evident in the ECS Season 2 finals, they managed to secure a playoff berth, only to get thrashed by Astralis across two maps in a best of three series in the semi-finals. Their shaky results throughout their tournament lifeline could be put down to being with fox for such a short amount of time. With that being said, SK has been boot-camping and preparing for the major ahead, and it is highly possible that they have been working on how to properly utilize fox and finding a way to fit him into their team headed into the major. Considering SK’s preparation time, as well as the quality that their team already possesses, they should be able to beat Hellraisers.

Game Four – Virtus.Pro vs. OpTic Gaming

ELEAGUE Season 1 Champions vs. ELEAGUE Season 2 Champions playing against each other at the ELEAGUE major. It’s almost like it was written in the stars. Virtus.Pro vs. OpTic Gaming has the potential to be one of the most entertaining and most interesting match ups in the first round of the group stage.

Virtus.Pro have had a good 2016, placing in the top 4 for ESL One: Cologne 2016, winning ELEAGUE Season 1, winning Dreamhack Bucharest, placing 2nd at ESL One: New York and EPICENTER.

OpTic Gaming was formed in January 2016 and saw a drastic level of improvement throughout the year. The roster changes which saw the addition of tarik and mixwell come in played a large part in Optic’s glory in the last quarter of 2016 but not without players such as RUSH, NAF-FLY, and even stanislaw. In 2016, Optic managed to capture the ELEAGUE Season 2 title, ousting Astralis in the finals, as well as winning Northern Arena Montreal prior to their ELEAGUE victory. Optic’s players have the capability to explode and change the tide of the game anytime, and that’s a fundamental part of their success.

Virtus.Pro, on the other hand, have a team full of experienced, seasoned veterans that know the game and have competed under different circumstances and scenarios. It will certainly be interesting to see whether the veterans of VP are able to prevail, or the explosive style that Optic’s players can bring out will catch VP by surprise. This match could go either way considering Optic’s recent run of form, with that being said I can see Optic winning, but it will be a very, very tight game, such as a 16-14 scoreline.

Game Five – Na’Vi vs. mousesports

Na’Vi should be able to win this match. Mousesports are a decent side, however, Na’Vi should, as stated previously, win this game. Na’Vi’s side is strong overall and coming up against an opponent such as mousesports may prove difficult if they are underprepared, however, this would be highly unlikely and Na’Vi should be able to seal the deal.

Game Six – Team Liquid vs. Team EnVyUs

Team Liquid have had a rollercoaster 2016, most notably placing in the semi-finals for MLG Columbus and the grand finals for ESL One: Cologne 2016 (top 4 and 2nd respectively). In other events, Liquid had failed to make an impression at all. Team EnVyUs on the other hand, did not have a successful 2016 aside from winning the Gfinity Invitational, however, the resurgence of kennyS was a great sign for EnVyUs. On top of that, the roster change from DEVIL to Sixer proved to be a much-needed change for the French side, as they started to look much more comfortable and seemingly played a stronger style of Counter-Strike. EnVyUs may be feeling slightly more confident heading to the major largely due to them placing first at the WESG Tournament in China. Although the opposition was significantly weaker than the opposition at the major, winning $800,000 after placing first at a tournament is a significant confidence boost. Both Liquid and EnVyUs are strong sides, however, I feel like EnVyUs should be able to win this match, just because they’re coming hot off of a tournament win, and if kennyS plays like the kennyS that everybody is used to.

Game Seven – Astralis vs. GODSENT

Yet another interesting matchup in the group stage. Astralis have been a strong team for such a long time, and have come close to glory but have never really been able to grasp it. That all changed at ECS Season 2. After being beaten by Optic in the finals of ELEAGUE Season 2, it was almost fitting that the North American and the Danish sides would meet again in another grand final so soon. This time, it was Astralis that prevailed and they finally managed to break their trophy drought. GODSENT have had a less than impressive year before the swap and after the swap with Fnatic. Their qualification for the major came as a welcome surprise considering their inconsistencies prior to the major qualifier. This matchup also has the potential to be ridiculously competitive. Based off of consistency with their latest lineup, I think Astralis are going to beat GODSENT in a close match.

Game Eight – FlipSide vs. FaZe Clan

After adding karrigan to their lineup, and with the return of kioshima to the active lineup, FaZe went on a nice run of form starting off with a top 4 placement at the iBUYPOWER Masters and followed it up with a top 4 finish at IEM Oakland. FaZe closed out their year with yet another top 4 finish at ELEAGUE Season 2, and then a top 6 finish at ECS Season 2 finals. Whilst FaZe had a strong end of 2016, FlipSide seemingly has had a strong start to 2017, winning Dreamhack Leipzig. Whilst the teams competing at the Dreamhack event certainly weren’t the strongest, it puts them in a state similar to EnVyUs in that regard – the event is a confidence booster. FlipSide will certainly be heading into this event with a bit more confidence. However, the FaZe run of form came as karrigan just joined the team, now that they have been able to sit down and practice together and run down some strategies, they should be a stronger and more lethal force coming into this major, hence why they will beat FlipSide in their opening match.

So, we have gone through the first eight games, but the question still remains – who will go through to the knockout stages?

Overall Predictions – The Last Eight:

This major is a competition that is incredibly difficult to pick, given the format of the Group Stage and the teams that are participating. Traditionally, the groups are split into A, B, C and D so that its teams are aware of who they are going to play, but with this format, it’s rather random so any team could be playing any other team, and as said previously, the teams attending this major do not make for easy pickings, because there are many to choose from that could qualify, or that could sneak in an unexpected qualification.

Predictions:

Astralis – Personally I feel like Astralis are definite to make it through to the knockout stages of the major. Their strong run of form towards the end of last year was a signal of better things to come. The ECS Season 2 Championship victory was definitely a sign that they mean business, and going forward they are a force to reckon with. At the tournaments they were at, they beat some of the best teams at that tournament whilst climbing up to their high finishes with their new addition, gla1ve. It feels like, with the addition of gla1ve and the subsequent results that followed, Astralis’ confidence has been boosted and an already skilled side that now has a strengthened sense of self-belief is a dangerous thing for their opponents. A strengthened Astralis will definitely make a dent in the dreams of their opponents in this major.

GODSENT – For this tournament, I feel like it is make or break for this GODSENT lineup. This past year for GODSENT has been disappointing, however, they were able to qualify for the major in a convincing manner. This major could be make or break for GODSENT, and it could definitely be the tournament that they do well in, and if they do well in this tournament they will definitely hit the ground running in 2017. The lineup in itself is incredibly talented and should be able to make a mark at this major.

North – The ex-Dignitas side has shown that they are a strong, quality team during and since their EPICENTER victory. I firmly believe that if they beat Gambit they should be able to qualify for a knockout spot comfortably.

Virtus.Pro – The Polish side are up against a tough opponent in their initial group stage match, however, they are a strong side who have had a strong showing for the majority of the second half of the year. The start of this year may have been disappointing for them, going out to Kinguin in the semifinals of WESG, however, a team of skilled veterans should be able to qualify for the knockout stages.

Na’Vi – Although Na’Vi’s year came to a disappointing end, placing lower than expected at ELEAGUE Season 2 and IEM Oakland, Na’Vi have likely used their time wisely to enhance their performance as a team and have studied their possible opponents carefully. A normally consistent Na’Vi will be looking to return to their old, consistent ways, and the perfect way to do it is fresh from their boot camp and straight into the major.

OpTic Gaming – Optic’s impressive run later on in 2016 is form they will be looking to carry through to the major. Despite their opponents being VP in the opening group stage match, Optic are a strong side and have a good chance to qualify, considering they have beaten teams like EnVyUs, G2, Fnatic, and FaZe offline. Since they have beaten these kinds of teams in an offline environment, they stand a strong chance of repeating their victories against these teams and claiming more scalps. Their qualification will hinge on whether or not their players are able to turn up and perform at that high level. Whether it’s tarik, NAF, RUSH or mixwell will have to be determined during their matches but provided these players are able to step up and have a strong showing in their matches, OpTic should be able to qualify from the group stage.

FaZe Clan – FaZe also have a very strong chance of qualifying from the group stage, provided they replicate the level of form they displayed after the arrival of karrigan and the return of kioshima. During their run, it seemed like FaZe went from being scrambled to all of a sudden being structured, and with structure comes solidity. Obviously, from there we saw a drastic improvement in FaZe’s gameplay, which in turn reflected in their results. Karrigan’s ability to change the way FaZe played in such a short amount of time is the reason why FaZe is definitely a threat headed into the group stages of this tournament and should be able to qualify.

Fnatic – The Swedish side has been subject to roster changes throughout the course of the year, and their participation in tournaments has also been rather limited. However, the current iteration of the roster has the potential to qualify beyond the group stage of the major. In particular, the addition of disco_doplan could prove to be key for Fnatic as they head into the competition. Fnatic is more than likely going to beat G2, and should be able to get through to the knockout stage.

That covers the last eight (the quarterfinals).

The semifinals

The semifinals in the tournament would probably be Astralis, Virtus.Pro, Na’Vi and OpTic. As stated previously it all depends on the draw, and basing the semifinals picks off of my predictions, it will be more than likely that Astralis are able to beat the team that stands in their way, the same goes for Virtus.Pro.

Na’Vi are also a strong team and have every chance to get through to the semifinals of the major, and their squad now certainly seems stronger with the addition of s1mple, so it is entirely possible for Na’Vi to do so. Na’Vi have a better chance now than ever to make this major one to remember.

The final pick, OpTic, may come as a surprise to many, however it is something that can happen, provided they have come prepared, and their players are ready to put in the dominant performances we saw in the last bit of 2016. OpTic have played a lot of the teams that are in the group stage, and are also stronger than some of the teams at the major all together. They can secure a semifinals spot if we see the OpTic that we saw at Nothern Arena Montreal, ELEAGUE Season 2 and even ECS. OpTic has the potential to make it to the later stages of the ELEAGUE major. This current lineup is incredibly talented, and has the potential to upset a lot of the better European teams.

The Grand Final:

Astralis vs. Na’Vi

This is the final I had in mind from the word go. Truth be told, it was Astralis vs. ?. After mulling it over, Na’Vi seemed like the logical choice. Na’Vi, with the addition of s1mple have become a stronger team than they already were. A team that consistently placed high in most of the tournaments they played have a chance to go to Atlanta and try and secure the major trophy. Furthermore, Na’Vi have an ace in the hole, in the form of s1mple. He is able to perform in most situations, especially high pressure situations, or situations where the scenario looks bad for his team. Someone like that is a player that most teams wish they had up their sleeves. Additionally, a lot of Na’Vi’s performances may hinge on GuardiaN’s performances. If we see the GuardiaN that we are used to, Na’Vi in the finals is something that could very well happen.

On the other hand, we have Astralis. Astralis have had a fine run of form towards the end of the year and look like a completely new and refreshed team with gla1ve at the helm of the Danish side. Astralis have been dubbed as a team that has the potential to win majors for quite a while now, but have never been able to do so. This time, considering preparation time, perhaps a fresh approach to the game and most definitely a renewed sense of confidence and self belief, Astralis can make it to the finals of this tournament. We saw a dominant, no mercy kind of Astralis towards the later stages of 2016, and that won them a trophy. After winning that, their hunger and desire for success and more accolades is surely stronger than ever, and they will come to Atlanta looking good, hoping to play solid Counter-Strike and full of confidence.

The new Astralis certainly impressed, and their run towards the end of 2016 showed that they had more in store for the tournaments ahead. It is for that reason that I will pick Astralis to be the winners of the ELEAGUE Major over Na’Vi. Players like device have started to show up in key games for Astralis once again, and this is what they have needed, because when device showed up in the later stages of last year, the rest of the team did. He had the padding that he never had before. Previously, device would show up but the rest of his team would not be able to, or his team was performing but device was having a poor game by his standards, and thus Astralis would crumble. Now, since the rest of the team is performing alongside their star player, they have every chance to climb up through the group stages undefeated, through the quarters, into the semis, lift themselves into the finals and seize the ELEAGUE Major trophy.

Astralis can win the first major of 2017.

The ELEAGUE Major starts on January 22 at 10 AM ET on https://www.twitch.tv/eleaguetv