ESL Road to Rio – European Playoffs – May 15, 2020

     The upper bracket of the Road to Rio European Playoffs will come to a conclusion on Friday. FaZe will be taking on Astralis to decide who moves on to the grand final and who has to go play in the lower bracket final. The loser of Astralis/FaZe will play the winner of G2/Vitality. Thursday wasn’t bad to us. NiP lost 2-1 to Vitality in a series that featured three overtime maps. They just weren’t able to get the job done when it mattered. Heretics and G2 went to a third map so we got a unit back from them. We finished the day 1-1 for -0.5 units. We’ll hope to get that back on Friday.

Vitality (-140) vs G2 (+110) – 10:30am EST – Lower Bracket Semi-Final

     We have two French organizations facing off in the semi-finals of the upper bracket. The winner will move on to face the loser of the Faze/Astralis game in the lower bracket finals. Vitality finds themself in this spot after a huge win against NiP. Every map they played in went to overtime, but in the end Vitality secured the win. Their experience certainly showed against the much younger NiP squad. G2 squeaked by Heretics in a match that they were huge favorites in. G2 looked good at the start of the first and second map but ended up blowing big leads in both of those matches. They were able to win on Nuke, but lost after having a 13-4 lead on Dust2. G2 kept blowing man advantages and allowing Heretics to win rounds they had no business being competitive in. That is kind of the story of G2 all throughout Rio as it seems there’s some issues in that camp. If they don’t change their ways in tomorrows match I expect vitality to be able to punish them more often than Heretics was able to.

     At the last time these teams met was just over a year ago. Vitality won that meeting by a score of 2-1. The only map G2 won, Overpass, went to overtime. Vitality won on Nuke by a 16-14 scoreline before winning the third map, Cache, 16-5. Each team finished Road to Rio group play with a 4-3 record, but Vitality came from the more competitive group. I would have to say that Vitality is in better form, especially after watching G2 lose to North with a coach, get blown out by Astralis and crumble with big leads against Heretics. Vitality has only gotten stronger as Rio has rolled on. They are 5-1 over there last 6 matches including wins over Fnatic and NiP. I expect each team to stick with their regular first bans. Vitality will ban Train and G2 will ban overpass. Vitality should also stick with their regular map pick of Nuke. G2 has looked shaky on Nuke over the last few months. G2 will most likely chose Dust2 as there first pick, although they may be hesitant to do so after dropping that map to Heretics. Vitality also has a ton of experience on Dust2 and tends to pick it for their map when Nuke is banned. If they veer away from Dust2 then I would expect them to pick Vertigo. The only loss they’ve suffered on Vertigo in the past few months came against Astralis. If they don’t go with Vertigo, Vitality will certainly use their second ban on it. This would force G2 to pick between Mirage and Inferno for the final map. If Vertigo is the second map picked, then Vitality will surely ban Inferno and force G2 to pick between Mirage or Dust2. The latter would give Vitality the largest edge in terms of map pool.

     My play on this match is going to come down to what I’ve seen from each of these teams over the past few weeks. G2 just hasn’t quite looked like themself. I figured their name would be enough for them to be listed as a short favorite. The fact that bookmakers listed Vitality as the short favorite tells me all I need to know. Vitality has been the better team throughout the Road to Rio. G2 may be better once we get back into LAN tournaments, but something has looked seriously off in that organization. This play comes as more of a fade against G2 with a team that is certainly capable of getting a win. *Update* My play on this match came in just before the match started on Vitality at -120. 

Miner’s Money Pick: Vitality (-120)

Astralis (-235) vs FaZe (+165) – 2:00pm EST – Upper Bracket Final

     The upper bracket finals features the one seed from each group in Astralis and FaZe. Each of these teams have been extremely strong throughout Rio. FaZe is undefeated up to this point. Astralis lost early in group play to Fnatic, but enters this match on a six game winning streak. FaZe took on NiP in their first match of upper bracket play. They beat NiP 2-1 after 107 rounds of play. Astralis had their first match against G2 which they won decidedly. I think this will be each of these teams biggest test in Rio and wouldn’t be surprised to see a rematch in the grand finale.

     These two teams have plenty of history against each other with Astralis winning 23 maps to FaZe’s 12 maps. Those matches took place over the course of almost three years so a lot of those results aren’t relevant to the current rosters. With current rosters they have met in three best of three series. Astralis hasn’t dropped a single map to FaZe over those three series. They’ve also won almost every map in blow out fashion. FaZe only reached double digit round wins in one of the six maps they played against this Astralis lineup. That came in their most recent meeting as Astralis won Nuke 19-17 before moving on to win Overpass 16-4. Astralis dominated the series prior to that winning 16-0 on Dust2 before winning 16-2 on Nuke. FaZe has certainly looked like a new team throughout Rio, so I wouldn’t expect to see quite the blowout that has happened in the past.

     I believe Astralis will be making the first map ban/pick due to the fact that FaZe has a better record at Rio and they’re each one seeds. Astralis will go with their insta-ban of Mirage. This hurts FaZe as Mirage is easily their best map. FaZe should stick with their insta-ban of Vertigo. If they stray away from that I expect Astralis to punish them for it and pick Vertigo with their first pick. Considering that’s unlikely, I would expect the Astralis first map pick to be Overpass. FaZe struggles at Overpass and Astralis has beaten up on them there before. FaZe has an extremely difficult decision to make for their map pick. Other than Mirage, they tend to go with either Dust2 or Nuke for their first pick. Astralis usually picks Nuke as their first pick, so I doubt FaZe will chose that and give Astralis the chance to start on the CT side. That would leave them with Dust2, but the last time they took on Astralis on Dust2 they lost 16-0. They would have had to make some major adjustments to feel confident going there. The last feasible option would be to play Inferno, but Astralis is a perfect 4-0 on Inferno at Rio. I guess they could roll the dice and pick Train but giving Astralis the CT side on Train spells disaster.  In this situation they should go with their most confident map which would have to be Nuke. If that is the case, Astralis should use their second ban on Train. That would force FaZe to pick whatever they see as the lesser of two evils between Dust2 and Inferno. I would not want to be making the decisions in the FaZe camp for this one.

     Throughout group play I’ve been saying that I can’t wait to fade FaZe come playoffs. I haven’t bought in to their winning streak as the level of competition just hasn’t quite been there in Group B. They were barely able to squeak by NiP and Astralis surely has the ability that NiP lacked to close this match out. I was a little surprised by the line the book makers set for this one, but it only further cements my feeling that FaZe’s win streak will come to an end in this one. I think FaZe’s name still carries some weight in the eye of the public especially considering they’re undefeated thus far. Considering FaZe is such a big dog I’m hoping the public will jump all over them and drive down the Astralis line a bit. I’m going to wait until just before the match starts to back Astralis, but I would be comfortable playing the line where its at now if you aren’t the patient type.

Miner’s Money Pick: Astralis (-235) *2u*

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