BIG (+1600)

BIG is coming back to the Major with a vengeance. With their new import XANTARES, they finally have the firepower to compete with the top tier of teams in Counter Strike. After making deep runs in the Major last year, this could finally be their chance to push through to the Championship.

What Needs to Go Right?

XANTARES Needs to Gel

The dissolution of Space Soldiers is something that the greater Counter Strike community had been waiting for since they broke onto the scene in 2016. Ever since, teams and fans alike have been salivating over the young Turkish prodigy, XANTARES. He has been the poster child for “good player, bad team”, even with Space Soldiers’ mid-tier results. It had been theorized that if XANTARES were placed on a better team, he could take a massive leap and turn into a top 10 player in the world.

IEM Katowice is going to be the testing ground for that theory. Gob b is one of the best regarded IGLs in the scene, bringing an average roster to legend status last year at the FACEIT Major London. Their best player at that tournament was Smooya, who is no longer on the roster, and he led tabseN by quite a bit. Smooya went +28 with a 1.32 K/D, and tabseN went +3 with a K/D of 1.09.

Now that BIG is without Smooya, they have one of the worst star players out of the current legends. Only compLexity really has less firepower, as they’re mostly relying on ShahZam and dephh. Effective teamplay, good nade usage, a well thought out system, these are all things that are necessary to play at the level of the other teams in their group (Liquid, MIBR, Astralis, FaZe). These are all things that Gob b brings to the table, and in a lot of cases they should be able to out-call and out-teamplay teams like FaZe and Na’Vi. However, it will not be enough to tackle teams like Astralis and Liquid.

BIG are going to be relying a lot on XANTARES (and tabseN) to meet players like device and coldzera head on, which could be a lot to ask. Space Soldiers went out in last place at the London Major last year, in a 19-15 overtime loss to compLexity. This will be the biggest stage of XANTARES’ life, and there’s no telling how he handles it. Going to BIG was probably best for him as a player, as having that consistent structure, a structure that is one of the best in the world, should help him play at peak performance. BIG needs him to make a jump and take his place as one of the top 10 players in the world.

What Could Go Wrong?

Nex Doesn’t Come Back Right

Late December of last year, when BIG added XANTARES to the roster, nex stepped down due to suffering from wrist pain. The announcement said he would have to undergo surgery, and a return date wasn’t given.

And now, here we are, February of the following year, less than two months after he left the roster, nex returns. Now, I’m no medical expert, but that doesn’t feel like a ton of time for a player to fix an issue that was so significant, he had to step down. Clearly both nex and the org feel he’s ready to rejoin the rest of the team, and I obviously can’t dispute that, as I don’t know nex. But this means he is heading into the biggest tournament in CS:GO, having played only a couple of online games of CS since his surgery. That’s not terribly encouraging.

Evaluating players returning from an injury is never easy, in any discipline. There is, however, some historical records we can look back on to try and guess what nex might look like at Katowice. The two most prevalent examples of this are GuardiaN and olofmeister, two former top ten players who, coincidentally, play on FaZe now as teammates.

In 2016 olof was suffering from a nagging wrist injury, which caused him to miss a couple months at the beginning of the year. He returned to the team for the ECS Season 1 Finals, where he put up what was a terrible performance for him at the time. He had a negative kill differential for the first time since 2015, and his team lost in the semifinals. He followed this up with a better, but still disappointing, performance at ESL One Cologne 2016. He went positive, but his team went out in the semifinals once again. He was one of, if not the best player in the world in 2015, and after his injury he was playing like someone in the late teens, early twenties.

The other notable example is GuardiaN, who suffered from wrist pain in 2016 as well. It seems to have affected him most at MLG Columbus in 2016, where he had his first negative performance in over a year. He bounced back at the next event, ESL One New York, then cratered again at EPICENTER: Moscow.

Both olof and GuardiaN returned to 80-90% of their pre-injury form pretty quickly after their return to the scene. But these were two players in their primes, who were some of the best in the world. Nex, on the other hand, was the second or third best player on a borderline tier one team. BIG can’t afford for him to slip too far, even with the added firepower of XANTARES. Hopefully, for nex’s sake and BIG’s, he returns ready to rock.

They Miss Smooya

Smooya stepped down from the BIG roster early this month, leaving BIG without their star British hybrid. After stepping down, Smooya put out a statement that said he wasn’t happy with the team environment and structure, wasn’t getting the AWP as much as he liked, and didn’t think he was gelling with the team and enjoying himself the way he wanted to.

This isn’t necessarily the worst thing for BIG. If nex plays well it’ll free up more resources (economic and otherwise) for tabseN to take a more commanding role on the team. If Smooya didn’t think it was working, odds are it wasn’t working all that well for anyone on the team.

On the other hand, Smooya was one of the most versatile players on the team. He was a sparkplug for BIG’s T-side and could cover holes where needed. Hybrid players are exceedingly important in modern Counter Strike, as running five rifles is a lot more common now than back in the day. This BIG roster could certainly surpass the old, but it is far from a sure thing.

I like BIG a lot at Katowice. They have a system, they have the star power, they have the experience. If XANTARES plays at the level that the CS scene has been dreaming about, and nex plays at a level that isn’t abusable, they could make waves. Not to mention they’re already legends, which gives them a shorter bracket. I like them a +1600 as an underdog.

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