Europe saw its second Challengers event this week, Europe Challengers 2. With the last two spots to EMEA Finals on the line – and everyone who failed to make it losing their chance to make it to the Masters LAN in Iceland – things were tense. Along with those stakes, we saw teams such as G2 Esports, Fnatic, and Team Liquid make a resurgence coming into the event, meaning that some of Europe’s biggest orgs were facing off at the fullest strength they’d been in a while. Ultimately, it would be Fnatic and Liquid booking their ticket to EMEA Finals beginning next weekend.
Things kicked off with Team Vitality playing Acend. The Masters champions came into the match as heavy favourites, as Vitality, while improving with their new additions, didn’t seem to really be top-tier material either. However, over the course of an incredibly close 2-map set, Vitality changed all that. Early on on Icebox, Acend were making things happen, with Vladyslav “kiles” Shvets having some monstrous rounds, but Vitality would come back with a reinvigorated defense. Late heroics from Mehmet Yağız “cNed” İpek kept Acend in it, but Vitality took two relatively simple overtime rounds to win 14-12.
Haven was a different story, with both teams stomping on their attack. Consecutive 9-3 halves put us in overtime again, where the story was the same. Two rounds for Vitality and they’d knocked the Masters champions out of Reykjavik contention.
Next up was the always-entertaining El Clasico, reinvigorated in a different scene. G2 and Fnatic had both improved greatly with recent roster changes, and their showdown was set to be a good one. Some technical issues delayed things, but overall, Fnatic started off map 1 very well, not dropping a round on their Bind defense to secure a 13-5 win.
Moving to G2’s pick of Ascent, things were closer. After an even 6-6 half, though, Fnatic began to pull away.
With the score at 12-6, it looked over. G2 managed to make a late comeback happen but it wasn’t to be, and things ended 13-11. Not only were the Masters champions out of the first international event, but the dominant Ignition Series-era team was out too.
The following day began with the newly-signed Team BDS vs Ninjas in Pyjamas, but technical difficulties delayed that game until the end of Liquid-CE Calling. The latter ended up being a pretty big stomp – the German mix had surprised in their qualification and weren’t expected to get much done. A 13-1 on Bind and a 13-8 on Ascent put Liquid through.
This brings up back to BDS-NIP. At the time of the pause, things had been looking good for NIP – they had been squeezing out round wins on Haven to put the score at 10-6. The last map concluded with them easily finding a further 3, for a 13-6 win.
BDS looked revitalized on the successive maps, though. Few would have favoured NIP over them on Split, and accordingly it was a big 13-4 win. Bind, though, was perhaps some unexpected levels of dominance, as NIP failed to get much going.
BDS closed it out 13-6 to advance to the semifinals.
With the last two EMEA Finals slots on the line, stakes were high. Vitality and Fnatic faced off in the first semifinal, and overall things went the way of Fnatic. With their new additions they seem to have found a winning formula, and Vitality just couldn’t keep pace.
Vitality started things pretty well on Haven with a 7-5 attack, but Fnatic’s was much better as they only let Vitality have two defensive wins en route to a 13-9 win. Vitality’s pick of Icebox was a bit closer, but Fnatic didn’t give them the opportunities Acend had and it went 13-10 in Fnatic’s favour.
Next up was BDS-Liquid, in what proved to be an absolute banger of a match. First up was Haven, a map that, in traditional Liquid fashion, was all on the back of Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom. Also in Liquid fashion, they couldn’t close that out despite his big performance, losing 13-11.
Later maps were defined by two players – Travis “L1NK” Mendoza and Elias “Jamppi” Olkkonen. Jamppi woke up from his disappointing first map to become an absolute whiz. He was all over the map, applying massive amounts of pressure and consistently winning duels with his Operator. As for L1NK, he found himself in many clutch situations and winning almost all of them.
After being down on Bind, Liquid came back to clutch out the map, and would dominate Ascent to take the series 2-1 and secure their EMEA Finals spot.
While the first two maps of the Grand Finals, Ascent and Icebox, were close, the later ones weren’t. Early on, Liquid got great value from ScreaM and Jamppi, allowing them to keep Icebox close and win Ascent. As the match progressed, though, Fnatic’s strategic depth helped them come out ahead, as did the clutch factor that seemed to be with them as it had been with Liquid the day before.
Fnatic will take Europe’s third seed for EMEA Finals, and look to continue their red-hot streak for a shot at Reykjavik.
Final Standings for Europe Stage 2 Challengers 2:
1. Fnatic – €15,000 + qualification to EMEA Challengers Finals
Team Liquid – €10,000 + qualification to EMEA Challengers Finals
3-4. Team Vitality – €5,000
3-4. Team BDS – €5,000
5-8. G2 Esports
5-8. Ninjas in Pyjamas
5-8. CE Calling
This, and CIS and Turkish Challengers events, sets the field for EMEA Finals as follows:
Based on history, you have to consider the European teams favourites to advance – going according to qualifier placements would put FunPlus Phoenix and Guild Esports through to Masters. However, no team can be counted out. Fnatic and Team Liquid will have the momentum of their first high placements in some time and the dreaded “honeymoon period” on their side, while it has been some time since we’ve seen Turkish and CIS teams up against European ones. Teams such as Futbolist and Gambit Esports have been tipped for a while as threats to Europe’s best, and this will be their time to show it.