Prior to the Thanksgiving break, Oracle Arena hosted one of largest annual professional Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) events on the West Coast, Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) Oakland 2017. IEM Oakland is one of several international esports events that are organized by ESL, the world’s largest and oldest esports organization, every year. This year’s edition did not disappoint.
This year, ESL spiced things up by introducing the Intel Grand Slam. The first team to win four out of 10 ESL-sanctioned CS:GO events will be awarded a $1 million prize. This seasonlong quest, combined with the already highly competitive professional CS:GO scene, meant that IEM Oakland 2017 could only be all the more exciting.
Twelve professional CS:GO teams were invited to IEM Oakland 2017 to compete in two groups of six. Each group played a round robin in the Intel eSports Arena in Burbank, California, during the week. The top team in each group automatically advanced to the semifinals, while the second and third place teams had to battle it out to decide the other two semifinals teams.
Cloud9 (C9) defeated Gambit 2-1 and SK Gaming made quick work of OpTic Gaming 2-0 to advance to the semifinals against FaZe Clan and Ninjas in Pyjamas (NiP), respectively, on Saturday. The tournament moved to the Oracle Arena for the semifinals and finals to allow for a larger fan audience and more electric atmosphere. Here’s a recap of everything that went down.
Semifinal 1: NiP vs SK
The first map, chosen by SK, was Overpass. SK got off to a great start on CT-side, winning the first five rounds. The lead would eventually balloon to 7:1, at which point NiP took a tactical timeout to try to reset.
“Preparing mentally to being down such a big deficit is one of the things that we’ve actually practiced really hard on,” said Patrik “f0rest” Lindberg of NiP. “We took a timeout, regrouped ourselves, talked a bit, and came to the realization that (SK) was giving us a lot of space on Long-A on Overpass.”
Coming out of that timeout, NiP would change its strategy to placing more pressure on the A-site of Overpass. It exploited a weakness in SK’s CT strategy, which allowed it to get the ball rolling. Even though NiP was down 1:7, it came back to win the half 8:7.
“When we started losing points on CT-side, it was because we gave up a lot of areas around the map, which allowed (NiP) to execute their strategies,” said Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo of SK. “ We were then not able to defend the sites. The lack of initiative cost us the last few points on CT-side.”
NiP then dominated the second half on CT-side 8:2 to win the map 16:9.
“We were never really worried. We knew that we could turn it out, and once we got some air, we kept going and managed to close out the game,” said Richard “Xizt” Landström of NiP.
The second map, now chosen by NiP, was Cache. The first half of Cache was the same story as the first half of Overpass. SK earned itself an early lead on CT-side, highlighted by a smoke defuse by Marcelo “coldzera” David, but NiP found a way to pull it back. The half ended close again, 8:7, but now it was SK with the small lead. In the second half, SK put together a run on T-side to win the map 16:8.
“We might have overthought how (SK) played on CT-side,” Lindberg said. “Then when we were on CT-side, we just couldn’t grasp what they were doing. They just picked us apart one by one.”
Inferno played the role of the decisive third map. Again, the first half was extremely close. The Ninjas went into halftime with an 8:7 lead but came out of it on a mission. All of NiP’s players showed a heightened level of individual play as well as some perfectly synchronized team execution, as in this team-molotov play to take the B-site.
“Going into the second half, we had a very solid plan on what we wanted to execute,” Lindberg said. “We teared (SK) apart over at B, which is where we thought they were weakest at.”
This synergy allowed them to win the final map 16:11, defeat SK and advance to the grand finals of IEM Oakland 2017 on Sunday.
Semifinal 2: C9 vs FaZe
The first map of Train started off fairly even. Both teams were trading the first few rounds back and forth. But after that, it was all FaZe. FaZe is a team with great individual players that simply outclassed C9. The superior level of skill allowed it to win rounds in which C9 clearly outgunned Faze and had a stronger economy, as in this triple kill clutch by Nikola “NiKo” Kovač with the Desert Eagle. FaZe took advantage of its abilities to prevent C9 from putting together any runs, winning the first half 11:4 and then the map 16:8.
“We knew it was going to be a really tough match because they’re probably the No. 1 team in the world right now, and they have five really good players,” said Jacky “Stewie2K” Yip of C9. “That makes it scary for any opposing team because they have the motivation that brings out their A-game.”
Things weren’t much better for C9 when the match moved to Overpass. FaZe came out onto the second map with a bang when Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer Gustafsson started off by tapping down three C9 players in the opening pistol round. FaZe would also continue to show off its skill by stealing more and more rounds. This time it was Håvard “rain” Nygaard who got into the Desert Eagle action.
“It felt like we never got into a rhythm. We never got to get into our own groove and play our own game,” Yip said. “We always traded rounds, and eventually they stopped trading rounds and got some momentum.”
FaZe again dominated the first half 11:4 and then closed out the map and the series 16:6. To the disappointment of many North American fans in the audience, C9 had to pack its bags early, while FaZe advanced to Sunday’s grand finals against NiP.
Grand Finals: NiP vs. FaZe
The best-of-five series between NiP and FaZe in the grand finals of IEM Oakland was a classic slugfest. NiP, the defending IEM Oakland champions from 2016, and FaZe, widely considered as one of the world’s best teams and going for back-to-back Intel Grand Slam victories, put on a big show from the get-go. From the very beginning, it was a game of runs, with both teams trading maps back and forth.
The Ninjas got off to a great start on the first map, Cobblestone, winning the first three rounds on CT-side. FaZe caught up after winning the first full gun round of the match and getting a much-needed injection into its economy. Nevertheless, thanks to a great triple kill hold by f0rest, NiP won the first half 9:6. In the second half, NiP gave Faze a taste of its own medicine by stealing rounds with the Desert Eagle.
“Since pistols are so strong nowadays, people tend to play a little more defensively, and they give up a lot of space on the map,” Lindberg said. “On those eco-rounds, I’m playing with high confidence. I push on maps and I’ve really pushed hard to scout how the enemy team is playing.”
After a sick AK-47 spray by Christopher “GeT_RiGhT” Alesund, the Ninjas closed out the opening map of the match 16:10.
FaZe answered back on the second map, Inferno, winning the first five rounds on T-side and then winning the half 11:4. The rounds were not as one-sided as the scoreline would suggest. FaZe needed some great individual plays to close out some rounds, such as this impressive 1v2 clutch by Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovács with the AWP. NiP would try its best to stage a comeback, led by a quad kill by f0rest, but the individual skill and prowess of Faze would rear its head once again through this eco-round victory immediately afterward. NiKo would put the icing on the cake with a quad kill of his own to close out the map 16:7.
“That’s FaZe for you. Even if you win the first map, they’re going to come back strong,” Lindberg said. “And we prepared for that. We knew it was going to be a battle.”
The series was now a best-of-three moving onto the third map, Train. The first half of Train was another close back-and-forth affair, with NiP coming out on top 8:7. When the Ninjas switched to CT-side, however, it went on a massive run to win its second map of the series. With a triple kill hold by GeT_RiGhT, they won the map 16:10.
NiP went into the fourth map, Overpass, on match point and with an opportunity to clinch the IEM Oakland 2017 championship, but its focus was disrupted when water was spilled on one of the players’ mousepads. The team had to clean up the mess and find a replacement mousepad.
“It affected us more than it showed. That’s why it didn’t look like we were there in the game,” Lindberg said. “We did all the preparations before the map started, and then that happened, and it threw us off.”
The Ninjas never seemed to be able to recover its focus, losing the first half 2:13 and the map 6:16.
“(The spill) affected us a lot,” Landström said. “We tried to stay positive, but once we started losing more and more rounds, it was tough to get back into the game.”
The final, deciding map of the grand finals was Cache. Things were the intense from the very beginning, with another great Desert Eagle play by NiKo.
“Before the match, we specifically told ourselves, ‘We’re going to lose rounds that we’re supposed to win. NiKo is going to get one-shots with the Desert Eagle,’ ” Landström said. “They have the best players in the world. So we prepared for it and didn’t get frustrated.”
This is where the mental toughness that NiP has been working so hard on came into play. It immediately forgot about those types of rounds, which more often than not were great plays from FaZe rather than mistakes from NiP, and moved on to the next round. Xizt stayed true to his word, pulling off a 1v3 clutch that stopped FaZe’s early run after NiKo’s Desert Eagle play. NiP then went on to win the first half 9:6.
The teams traded rounds until NiP reached championship point. NiP would get the upper hand in the round, but Finn “karrigan” Andersen had an amazing quad kill clutch to stall the game for at least one more round. The Ninjas’ mental toughness had to last long enough for it to win one more round, and it would allow them to reset for the next round and win the tournament.
“I’m looking forward to the future because I think we have something special going on here,” Lindberg said. “It means a lot to win this tournament. I just want to see how much farther we can go.”
With the victory, NiP has now put itself in the running for the Intel Grand Slam and for repeats as IEM Oakland champions. The next Intel Grand Slam event will be the ESL Pro League finals from Dec. 5-10. NiP, FaZe, and SK will all be there looking for their second wins towards the $1 million prize. Stay tuned for an exciting and intense CS:GO season.