The ESL One: Road to Rio - Europe regional tournament is kicking off today, Wednesday April 22. The first Regional Major Ranking (RMR) event sees 16 of the top teams competing in the European area clash in what is billed to be the biggest event of the April-May period in the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive calendar. Boasting a 115,000 USD prize pool, the Road to Rio also sees the champions of this online tournament gain 500 points as part of the ESL Pro Tour and 1600 RMR points towards the Rio de Janeiro Major rescheduled to November.
In Europe, the sixteen teams aiming to clinch their qualification points are:
- c0ntact Gaming
- Copenhagen Flames
- FaZe Clan
- G2 Esports
- Team Heretics
- Movistar Riders
- Ninjas in Pyjamas
- Team Vitality
Astralis is the team to watch. Widely regarded as the best team in the world, Astralis are four-time and the current defending Major champion, with three of their four Major titles an unprecedented back-to-back-to-back string of victories. They are likely looking to extend that legacy by claiming a fourth in a row, and clinching first in the Road to Rio - Europe will get the squad their first step towards that goal.
However, this is not the untouchable, unassailable Astralis of old. Ever since that third Major title at Berlin in September of 2019, Astralis have been slipping from their former godly form. Disappointing third-place finishes at ESL Pro League Season 11 and the IEM XIV World Championship earlier this year, as well as an unthinkable 10th-12th place elimination from the BLAST Premier Spring 2020 in February all point towards an Astralis that stands on much shakier legs than their titanic legacy would imply. For Astralis, anything other than first in this tournament will be a disappointment. Even a god may bleed, but it is only a mortal who can be so heavily and repeatedly scarred. It is time for Astralis to show where they lie relative to their historic divinity.
Directly opposing Astralis as the odds-on favourite is Fnatic. A venerable CS:GO organisation and the previous holders of both the Majors-won-in-a-row and total-Majors-won records before the Danes took the scene by storm, the Swedish veterans looked old and ailing for much of the past few years: never lacking for high finishes, but their glory trophy-winning days seemed long behind them. That is until the return of in-game leader Maikil “Golden” Kunda Selim in January of this year.
Golden’s departure from the active roster in 2018 coincided, not by chance, with the squad’s downturn in luck, and his rejoining has similarly seen an upshoot in Fnatic’s successes, culminating with a shocking victory in the ESL Pro League Season 11: Europe finals two weeks ago over mousesports in the grand final. For Fnatic, the Road to Rio is an opportunity to strike while the iron is hot and shape the coming summer as a return of the old guard and establishing themselves as the number one once again. It’ll certainly show that these old dogs can still learn plenty of new tricks; so long as a proven in-game leader is the one holding the whistle.
Other teams to keep an eye on are the fragging superstar squad FaZe Clan; the preternaturally talented but worryingly inconsistent Natus Vincere; the champion contender gatekeeper mousesports; the on-the-brink-of-contender G2 Esports; and the one-man-army that is Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut in Team Vitality.
The Road to Rio will also be the first top-level CS:GO tournament to be played on the most recent patch that includes nerfs to the long-contentious SG553 Krieg rifle, buffs to the AUG, M4A1-S and Desert Eagle, and changes to the map Vertigo. The changes to the Krieg, which has dominated professional Counter-Strike for the past 18 months, are likely to be the most impactful, and is most likely to benefit teams such as Astralis, who flourished most on the Counter-Terrorist side, or teams such as FaZe Clan, stacked with masters of the AK-47 who can now demonstrate that skill disparity over other players. It will hurt teams such as Fnatic, who utilised the Krieg to facilitate strong Terrorist sides to win many duels against players whom they would otherwise stack up unfavourably in a skill match-up.
The Road to Rio - Europe event will run from April 22 to May 17. It features two stages. The first is a Group Stage of two groups who will each play a round-robin best-of-three maps series. The top four teams of each group will advance to the playoffs. The second stage is the playoffs, which will be a double elimination best-of-three. The grand final will be a best-of-five. The games can be viewed on the ESL CS:GO Twitch channel and YouTube channel.
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