The online portion of the Fall Split has come to a close, and we now find ourselves staring down the supple curves of an intriguing Gauntlet. This split’s Gauntlet is decidedly less Gauntlet-like, and is more “just a ladder”-like. Pretty disappointing, all things considered. Still, there are a lot of great teams with an opportunity to make Super Regionals, and just one from each division gets to go. Our record was again 8-4 for the week, bringing us to 35-21 (62.5%) on the split, and 113-72 (61%) for the season.
In the Spring Split, the Gauntlet was a LAN, and each division took the course over a single day – acknowledging the cross-division finals and wild card game took place on a different day. The bottom teams had to play a grueling schedule across a long period of time in order to win out, while the higher seeded teams had to play fewer. We saw the results of the fatigue in action during the Spring Split, as Oxygen Supremacy came close to making it all the way through, but stumbled at the end after hours of play. The adjustments we see this time around are two-fold:
- Each division plays two games each day, greatly reducing the endurance aspect of the format
- The Gauntlet is played entirely online – presumably due to cost, but it does affect the previous dynamics
The intent is to showcase the lesser teams and put more pressure on the better teams. It’s just a very different approach than we saw before. Having a day break between the series might actually kill momentum for some teams. We’ll see.
Two Big Teams, One Tiny Spot
There is little question the most excitement looks to be from the EU Gauntlet. NRG Esports (EU) – the two-time defending world champions – didn’t place in the top four. They didn’t even finish fifth – they finished sixth. The team has struggled all split – finding themselves outside the top two in Spring Split, but managed to qualify as a wild card into the Spring LAN. This time around, things look very different. Of the three other SPL teams in the Gauntlet, NRG split with two of them. NRG has to win two sets to make it into Super Regionals as a wild card for the group stages – a task that looks difficult against a Valance Squadron (EU) team with something to prove. The odds of one of these two teams taking home the victory are high.
The smart money is still on NRG, even after their unceremonious decline over the season. Valance Squadron has a reputation for coming up short for it matters – really following Funballer (Hunter – Valance Squadron) from his previous teams – OrbitGG springs to mind. Time after time, Valance Squadron has held their fate in their own hands, and come up just short. The same can be said of NRG this season – particularly this split – but NRG still has a better track record than Valance on this front. The question is really this: do you think NRG is less reliable than Valance? Your answer there should determine your choice for the winner of the EU Gauntlet.
Victorious Secret vs. Burrito Esports: We saw this match-up at the beginning of the split, and it didn’t work out for Victorious Secret. Burrito has had a full split to develop further against better competition than Victorious Secret faced. That doesn’t mean this is necessarily a foregone conclusion – particularly with how shaky Burrito looked during week five – but Burrito holds the advantage, here. The mid-jungle and jungle-solo pairings are what to watch closely in this set. This is likely to go the distance, but look for Burrito Esports to advance. Winner: Burrito Esports.
Set 1 Winner (Burrito Esports) vs. The Papis: The second set of the day should be a repeat of the week five match-up between Burrito and the Papis. It would be easy to say this is going to be a repeat of what we saw then…and that’s not unreasonable. However, look for the set to go the other direction, this time. The set wasn’t a blow-out in week five, and Burrito has looked like the better team more consistently than the Papis have looked like the better team. The Papis have a higher ceiling when firing on all cylinders, but Burrito continues to learn from their previous games and make small, steady strides to be a more complete team. They aren’t there by any stretch – and aren’t likely to get there given the current rules for Season Five – but it still matters from a comparative perspective. It’s a gamble, but not a bad one. Winner: Burrito Esports.
Set 2 Winner (Burrito Esports) vs. NRG Esports: A rematch of a set earlier in the split that saw each team taking a game from the other. That’s right, Burrito took a game from the defending world champions. We all saw it. So that means this should be a tense repeat of that set, right? Probably not, but it’s possible NRG has issues to sort out. When they look good, they look very good. Right now, it’s a combination of figuring out what their win conditions look like, and how their team fights happen. Adapting (Jungle – NRG Esports) is a very different jungler than CaptainTwig (Jungle – Obey Alliance). That drastically impacts the methodology of engagements and pressure. ManiaKK (Solo – Obey Alliance) wants to go in, push, and force the enemy away. Adapting prefers to play a stick and move/pick and roll style of engagement. Figuring out how to mesh hasn’t happened, quite yet. Still – despite everything – there is something deep within that says NRG isn’t going to miss out on worlds. Winner: NRG Esports.
Set 3 Winner (NRG Esports) vs. Valance Squadron: The problem with the sets during the online split is they are only two games. Two games is enough to draw hasty conclusions and wild extrapolations. It is only rarely enough time to know for sure if certain teams are better than other teams. eUnited (NA) better than Noble Esports (NA)? Sure, two game sets can tell us that. Is Noble Esports just a flat out better team than Team Cryptik (NA)? Two games probably won’t tell us that. In the case of NRG and Valance, it certainly did not tell us that. All we know for certain is each team has been woefully inconsistent – dropping games to teams they should absolutely have beaten. That’s life. So with both teams being so inconsistent, what’s the most likely outcome? Honestly, the most likely outcome is for Valance to fold under pressure and drop the set to NRG. Valance playing well is one of the better teams in EU, but they can never seem to do so consistently. Based solely on past performances, it doesn’t look good for the Valance Squadron boys. Winner: NRG Esports.
Salsa Squadron vs. Team Allegiance: As bad as Team Allegiance has looked – and they have looked bad – very few of the games are runaway blowouts. This matters when classifying Team Allegiance as the “worst” of the SPL. Yes, they ended up on the bottom, but even then they aren’t truly a bad team. That matters in this situation, where they they are facing a team from the Challenger Circuit. While it’s easy to just bet against them, you shouldn’t. They will pick up the win, here. Winner: Team Allegiance.
Set 1 Winner (Team Allegiance) vs. Team Cryptik: Here’s where betting against Team Allegiance is likely to pay off. We have seen this match-up recently, and we’re likely to see the same results this time around. Team Allegiance will breaking up if they don’t get to worlds, without a doubt. Some of the members are likely to retire. Be prepared for this to be the last set they play as a unit. Winner: Team Cryptik.
Set 2 Winner (Team Cryptik) vs. Noble Esports: Noble has looked a lot stronger in recent weeks, while still managing to come up short. We never got to see this particular match-up during the online portion of the split due to the fact Team Cryptik had entirely different team members back then. This time around, both teams are much better than they were at the beginning of the season – by hook or by crook – so the match-up should be a lot better. The key for both teams is the late game. Neither team is great at closing out a game, and the amount of errors made – particularly around objectives – is staggering. Of the two teams, Team Cryptik is better equipped to learn from their errors and make better calls. Cryptik has a higher skill ceiling than Noble Esports, and is frankly more likely to be hungry to prove themselves. Cryptik isn’t going to be around in the SPL for season five unless they make some noise, and this is where they can start doing it. Winner: Team Cryptik.
Set 3 Winner (Team Cryptik) vs. Team Vigilant: Team Vigilant ended the online split poorly. They had a roster shake-up, and then some fairly public disappointment from the team captain. Will this lead to even further roster changes? It’s not clear if that is possible, so who knows. Assuming things don’t change, we’ll see a similar situation to what we saw in week five – a close set between these two teams. In that set, there was no defined winner, but if the set did go one more game, it’s not difficult to imagine that Team Cryptik took home the win. Team Vigilant has been struggling, and their win against Cryptik was decidedly shaky. Of course, Cryptik losing to a shaky team isn’t exactly confidence building, but here we are. A rematch still favors Team Cryptik, even as fatigued as they are likely to be by this point on Sunday. Winner: Team Cryptik.