The EMEA Preview: The Underdogs
“It’s just a difficult tournament where every team in here is really good,” Bacon says. “The results didn’t necessarily surprise me but just the level that everyone has developed to is crazy impressive. That time from LCQ to Champs to now, the game has stepped up so many levels and we definitely need to work on upping our level so we don’t get left behind to match.”
Sliggy is of the same mind. “Honestly, I think our games are gonna be a lot harder than we expected just cause of how good everyone’s looking at the moment.”
After a week of play, EMEA looks returned to the Tac FPS throne that the region has long occupied. The region’s top teams looked incredibly sharp - many of them in varying and unique ways. So, when I write “Underdogs,” I mean it pretty liberally. In Stage 1 VCT, these underdogs have a vicious bite and could drag down any top team that gets complacent.
Liquid’s coaching staff keep keenly aware of that fact as they assess even the teams in the opposite group. These teams might not have the same odds as those returning from Champions or coming off of hot streaks, but they are dangerous - and often uniquely so. In part of the EMEA Preview, Sliggy and Bacon give a rundown on what’s make them strong as well as what makes them worth a watch.
A QUICK READER’S GUIDE:
Glancing at your scrollbar, you can already tell that this isn’t a short walkthrough. Given the depth of the rosters in EMEA, itself the deepest region, there aren’t a lot of fast pathways. Still, if you want the fast rundown of each team, skip to the intros and read those. If you want to look more at the quirks and community buzz, read the questions fully. In case you missed it, this is the follow-up to an earlier piece covering the favorites in EMEA - which you can read here.
If you want to skip ahead, the order goes: FPX, Na’Vi, SMB+BBL, LDNU, G2
Fun Plus Phoenix
FPX and Liquid have long been the teams to watch if you want to catch something unorthodox. Both teams never shy away from experimenting with unique comps, FPX often specifically tailoring theirs around their opponents. The FPX experiment, in general, hinges around their IGL and coach, ANGE1 and d00mbr0s, the brains of the operation.
However, FPX recently shifted identity by picking up Ardiis, the former Liquid and G2 start who popularized the Jett-Op combo. Ardiis, sometimes known by alias icepaperhands, brings more aggression and firepower into the team, potentially adding a layer of flexibility. That layer of flexibility could be the difference, helping the team play the standard comps more reliably when their unorthodox strategies won’t work.
Coming into VCT Stage 1, Sliggy and Bacon have solid hopes for the CIS squad and the old Liquid star. Given the new format and the time it lends each team to prepare, ANGE1 and d00mbr0s should feel right at home, with more room to anti-strat than ever. But, history can repeat itself and FPX could always out-think themselves again.
Looking at FPX, we see them doing a lot of interesting comps, Ardiis on Sova. [...] Do you think these are good innovations, over-innovations, a strength, a weakness?
Sliggy: I honestly prefer him on the Jett but I get when they wanna use it. I’ve never been sold on the Sova on Split. I think it’s really good but I think you have to have a lot of lineups that I’m not seeing these teams have. I think it works but I’m not completely sold that people are doing it right yet. [...] But I also get when you have someone as good as Zyppan on a Raze and you don’t wanna run double duelist because you don’t have enough utility around the map.
Bacon: I think maybe we’re not in the best boat to judge interesting comps at the moment.
Sliggy: Yeah we have something coming up that is um… That’s questionable, shall we say. That literally, for once, isn’t us [the coaching staff]. We gave the players some freedom and it’s interesting. [...] It’s a hard one to make it work, I’ll put it that way but at least our team’s feeling confident, so we’ll back them.
Bacon: I think if you’ve got 5 players who believe in something and a coach that is pumped about it, you can literally make anything work. I think people… not overthink comps but put too much importance on it and sometimes there’s an element of like, “Okay these guys are pumped to play this. They’ll work harder on it, they’ll pull better on it…” The stuff that you lose in running a sub-optimal comp can be compensated for in other ways. Look, if Ardiis is gonna be pumped in finding thousands of shock dart lineups for Sova-Split and combos, it can definitely work.
I think the other aspect that’s interesting with Ardiis as well is that it feels like he’s added another layer to the FPX playstyle where sometimes they’ll be a little bit more freeform. [...] How do you like the look of FPX with Ardiis overall - do you think they’re a deeper team now or do you think it’s a little less coherent?
Bacon: I mean Slig, you’re the one to speak on the man.
Sliggy: When it comes to Ardiis, it’s literally all down to how much time he’s gonna spend. If he spends enough time they can be one of the best teams. If he isn’t feeling it or he’s not happy with his roles, I don’t think they’ll perform to the levels that they should. When this guy puts in enough time, he’s one of the best players in the game.
Bacon: Icepaperhands versus Ardiis, the two personas!
With their recent game, ANGE1 said that COVID had hurt his calling, potentially contributing to how close things go with BIG and some of the messier moments. Did this FPX look off to you, or was this about what you expected?
Bacon: I would take probably the opposite. I really rate BIG and the fact that they beat BIG and it looked - I wouldn’t say comfortable - but they looked in control for it. So I would say the opposite, “Okay, they’re looking decent, they’re looking good.”
Bacon, was there a strength within that game that FPX showed that surprised you?
Bacon: I think the thing with FPX is they always have a good understanding of the other team’s win condition and what the other team is trying to accomplish. I think a lot of that goes down to d00mbr0s and ANGE1 putting time into the anti-strat and I know they’re a team that counter-comps and works around that stuff. Their understanding of BIG, they definitely knew what BIG was trying to achieve in a lot of the rounds so it felt like that was their main strength.
This seems like a format that would benefit them really well.
Bacon: Yeah I think this format is gonna work really well for them cause they counter-comp, they go super heavy on the anti-strat so they’re gonna be super scary to play. [...] I know d00mbr0s is from Overwatch as well and it’s much more similar to that sort of style. So they’ll have experience in this format.
FPX were the new addition to the CIS region, migrating over from EU, but Na’Vi was born in the region - a household name to all CIS shooters. And recently, they’ve been innovating too.
Hard to pin down and easy to overlook for many outside observers, this team is Sliggy and Bacon’s main focus heading into the week. Liquid’s next opponents, Na’Vi looked unusually fierce in their first match where they demolished London United. Bacon credits much of that win from Na’Vi’s own small unorthodoxies - some coming from a Jett that used to play Fortnite (not CS).
Sliggy puts a lot of it on Jady’s shoulder - an 18-year-old wunderkind that Na’Vi recently brought onto the roster. Since then, Jady’s picked up KAY/0 and Na’Vi looks like one of the best teams in the world at playing off the robot. Though initially underrated, Na’Vi is not a team that Sliggy or Bacon intend to underestimate.
[Na’Vi] have gotten a lot of compliments on their spacing, their ability to play off each other pretty well. Do you think that’s a particular strength of Na’Vi and if so, how crucial is it to their success?
Bacon: The thing that I like most about Na’Vi is they’re a very open-minded team - especially some of the things their Jett is willing to do are very different. I’m not sure what his background is but from the outside looking in, I’m gonna take a guess and say he’s probably not a CS player.
Just cause the stuff he’s willing to do, Jett dashing backwards so the KAY/0 flash can come in, are really open-minded. I would say their open-mindedness and their willingness to approach the game in slightly unconventional ways is what’s really cool about them. And I think Jady’s a massive talent.
Let’s pick up on Jady a bit because last interview you also talked about him being a beast. What do you think makes Jady a particularly strong player within this roster?
Sliggy: He’s just a very good overall player. His utility is very good, I think he spends a lot of time on lineups, or at least somebody gives him a lot of lineups. He has a crazy good understanding of multiple agents and his aim is ridiculous. He’s definitely a contender for one of the most underrated players in this tournament. [...] We’ve watched quite a lot of him this week and he rarely puts a foot wrong.
Bacon: He’s a very unique player where you very rarely see good utility with good aim. You kinda get this thing where it’s like one or the other, a smart player or a mechanically good player and he seems to be a unique combination of both of them. He’ll hit a crazy one-tap, do a lineup, and go for the next crazy shot, and then pull back and not overextend.
Do you guys think that Jady looks even better because NaVi is particularly good at implementing and playing around KAY/0?
Sliggy: I think so. At least from what I’ve watched it looks like they make the best use out of KAY/0 honestly apart from maybe C9 in America. It’s kind of on par with them.
Bacon: The Jett follows up on it well and they have some interesting combinations and a lot of lineups as well. It’s not even just Jady’s doing well, it’s like the whole team is doing well to make sure that value isn’t going to waste.
It seems to me like Na’Vi is a little bit momentum-based. They’ll often go on win or loss streaks but more broadly, they have dropped some series to surprising teams - like 5MOKES. How do you guys rate Na’Vi’s consistency as a team? Do you see this as a worry or not really?
Sliggy: Honestly, not really. I think they have some weaker maps, which could be part of that, but the maps that they're good on they look extremely good on. They look like proper tier 1 teams that can take down the best on those kinda maps. So maybe it’s more a map thing.
Bacon: As well, some of those CIS teams are pretty underrated. I think this 5MOKES team is very good. About the stuff in the game, I think it’s more that the game leads to that style naturally with the economy, once you get that rolling it can be quite hard to reverse it. We’re losing our economy, we can’t get a buy, and they’re constantly having ults.
We’ve only seen a small sample size but Na’Vi’s defense on Split has looked pretty strong. Have you guys had any insight into what makes their Split strong?
Sliggy: They’re definitely really good at this map and they have a good comp that means they’re good on the defense side. I think they have a good understanding, a lot of reactive plays.
Bacon: I think the KAY/0 is a new addition that definitely helped them tighten their defense against 5MOKES. I think their comp is very suited to the defensive side, you’ve got a lot of combos in it, you’ve got what I would consider a double sentinel setup. Then a KAY/0 with his nade, a raze with her nade, and the suck to combo everything.
So it’s definitely what I would consider a good defensive comp, then they have a good understanding with some nice setups as well. That combination of factors makes it very scary and also, Split defensive side is one of those ones where you can snowball out of control.
The Turkish Teams
They say that every time someone utters the words, “high firepower” a Turkish Jett player gets their Operator. Everyone knows that Turkey has sick aimers. It’s the land of slick headshots and Jett-Ops but thus far, it hasn’t been the land of Champions.
BBL and SMB hope to change that in this EMEA circuit - but with both teams off to an 0-1 start, it’s not looking great just yet. Still, Sliggy sees a region that truly is coming together under more strategic banners and better-built teams. SMB in particular put on an impressive show on Ascent - nearly beating Acend and racking up an 8-4 attack side that looked lethal.
SMB looks like a new mold of Turkish team where the strategy and set plays rival the firepower and the roster looks set for further growth. If followed, SMB could help Turkey become more than the aimbot region.
On the other hand, BBL is in a bit of bizarre spot. They have a huge potential player in their Jett xqutioner, but they’ve adjusted their roster after one week in the circuit by swapping Muj for Turko. With BBL’s agent assignments already feeling awkward, there’s a question of if this helps or hurts.
Sliggy couldn’t help but think the move was a long-term one made at an odd time, while Bacon noted that Turko could be the jack-of-all-trades the team needs. Either way, both analysts don’t see Turkey as to far behind the EMEA curve. They think the region could catch up.
Let’s talk about Turkey. They tend to be known for their fast, frag-centric play. That’s been the stereotype. Do SMB and BBL strike as a continuation on that, or not so much?
Sliggy: I think so. I’d actually say the SMB team looks more team-based now from what I can see. I would say Izzy is the standout but I do think a lot of them pull up numbers. It’s definitely still very aggressive - the playstyle - but I think there’s definitely more thought and team structure around it.
Bacon: I think they’ve transitioned into a more structured team, where they don’t have 3 Jett Operators now. They’ve picked up some different players and I think role-wise it’s gonna lead to a more tactical style in the long run but I don’t think they sacrificed too much individual [firepower]. I think a lot of those players over in Turkey are just so insanely mechanical that even some of the more strategic players are insane as well.
I think the criticism for Turkey has been there’s an over-focus on aim. Do you feel like that’s true? SMB has looked a lot different but do you feel that’s something that hits BBL or the region in general?
Sliggy: I would say the region in general, yeah. But I think they are getting out of that. I do think a lot of them in the past [did] and that’s why we had such good success against Oxygen and stuff like that because they do rely on a lot of that [firepower]. At least with those teams we found that you can just beat them with a lot of prep.
But I do think they’re coming out of that and that’s pretty scary when they have really good aim and a good understanding of how to play.
The Turkish qualifiers also didn’t see a ton of Chamber or KAY/0. Do you think that Turkey is behind the meta at all?
Bacon: Mmm, I dunno. They have so many good Jett-Ops that maybe running the Chamber, for them, it suits their playstyle more [to have Jett-Op] when they’re that hyper-aggressive. Obviously I can’t speak for a whole region but in my opinion, when you have players that put that much time into the Jett, I can see some of the logic behind not picking [KAY/0 and Chamber] up.
Sliggy: Yeah if I used Izzy as an example, I feel like he’s such a good Jett player I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking him off. He can be a big win-factor, he can just win games on his own. So yeah I don’t think they’re behind on the meta, I think a lot of the time it’s just finding what your team agrees with and then understanding how you make it work.
[On SMB’s more team-based style] Is this a change in style from how SMB was in prior tournaments and do you think this a sign of what’s to come for Turkey?
Sliggy: I think so. Everyone’s just evolving. I think Turkey and these teams have really good players, really high-skill players and I think they need to find what suits and maybe more combos and stuff.
When you look at Fnatic, I don’t think - this is gonna be a flame - outside of Derke Fnatic have the best individual players but their combos and their team play are incredible. So if you could achieve that with the really talented players, [the Turkish teams] will be really good.
Bacon: I do think they’ve always had pretty strong fundamentals. One thing we were saying: It’s not a case of making the perfect call in Valorant, it’s about making a call and everyone being on board. I see a lot of that when I watch Turkey. They’ll make some mental calls but they’re all 5 doing it and they’ll do it no matter what. The fundamentals are definitely there, it’s just a matter of building it up.
What do you guys make of SMB’s Ascent? they got really close to beating Acend on it. What do you see SMB do particularly well or even just differently on that map?
Sliggy: I thought they looked really good. I really liked their attack side, I thought it was crazy strong. I felt like they had a good understanding of how to play the Sage on attack, which I think some teams don’t. In general, they had good map control and when they needed to put fast pressure in and do big hits, they did.
I think they could’ve taken more risks on their defense. [...] They were like 10-4, 10-5 so once you’re at that point and you have a Sage, I felt like they could’ve taken a few more risks. But again, it’s very hard to come back against Acend when cNed’s playing incredibly.
Bacon: I think SMB’s always had a good Ascent. They 13-1’d Gambit in the Grand Finals.
Sliggy: That’s very true, even in pracc when we played them they’ve been very good on this map.
Bacon: Something I see them do, which I don’t see other teams do, is they’ll take A-site and if the other team’s got Killjoy, they’ll send it through the doors, 5-man, and just not let them retake from garden.
Let’s also talk a little bit about BBL. BBL did something that really surprised me at least in that they made a very quick roster change in swapping out Muj for Turko. Though Turko is a known talent, it felt a little bit wild. What did you guys make of the move for BBL and moves like this in general, in the middle of the event?
Bacon: I mean I think it’s mental, to be honest. Switching out mid-event - unless it’s being something in the worlds for a while and you’ve had lots of pracc - is pretty out there. Especially, I’ve always thought Muj had a pretty good level when we scrimmed them and stuff.
Sliggy: Yeah, I don’t think it’s an individual thing from what I can tell. I dunno, again we don’t know the insides but yeah I do think at least the aspect of changing mid-event is pretty wild.
The other thing about this that felt weird to me is that adding in Turko, it doesn’t seem that it helps them a ton with their roles. [...] And this is something that BBL has gotten some criticism for, with having weird overlap for sentinels and things like this. How do you look at them in this group stage?
Sliggy: Yeah it’s hard to tell, I’m not even sure. I don’t know enough about Turko if this is a better move for them or not, but I think when you’re making a big move like this mid-season, you’re probably looking more for the long-term than the short-term.
Bacon: One thing I will say is Turko, in my opinion, is a swiss army knife type of player so the one thing that will help them out is he can be quite adaptable and fill a team’s needs quite a lot. I think he’s played the majority of agents in his competitive file.
The team that Na’Vi beat down. However, one beatdown is far from representative of a team’s true from. After all, Acend rallied from (essentially) losing to Vivo Keyd to winning Champions. While Sliggy and Bacon don’t hold London United quite to that level, they do see enough potential in the team that - on the right day - they could upset anyone.
London United’s core strength comes from a mix of a well-integrated Chamber, one of the strongest Fractures in EU, and a really sharp, well-prepared mix of strategies. They came into the qualifiers with some of the best set plays of the tournament and of the qualifying teams, using Chamber’s utility well to scout and to lure opponents into traps. With additional time to prepare and revise their strats, we could come to see some brilliant maps from the team.
Sliggy is quick to forgive the loss - and to highlight Molsi’s play - however, the team will have some proving to do in the eyes of the audience. With a week of time to devise new strats, they might be able to surprise some people.
Looking at the game that they played, what was something you saw from them that you liked and that you did not particularly like?
Sliggy: Molsi definitely deserves a shoutout. I think he’s been a star player for them. His individual performance at the moment is looking really strong. I even reached out to him and said he’s playing really well.
What didn’t I like? They were quite slow at adapting to some stuff. I think their reactive stuff on their defense side could’ve been a bit better.
In their 2nd qualifier run it felt like they had a lot of refined and interesting strategies. How do you rate their strategic skill as a team and do these strategies hold up well against the next echelon of teams?
Sliggy: I thought their calling was good, I thought their strats were pretty good. The thing that I felt they weren’t prepared for - it looked they just struggled against the KAY/0. I know firsthand, if you don’t practice against an agent that can be as impactful as a KAY/0, it can be really hard to work out how to properly play against it.
From a coaching staff perspective, how do you see this issue? Is it a fairly easy fix? Okay, we drill against KAY/0, we go back to the VODS [...] Or is it something that’s like, “Oh boy this is tough.”
Sliggy: I think it’s a mix of both because the enemy team can mix their stuff up to counter what you’re doing [to beat the KAY/0] but a lot of stuff is early positioning. I think playing the first game of the season can be hard if you haven’t got any data on the other team. So you don’t know where their normal KAY/0 knives are gonna be. [...] It’s the same thing with a Sova, you don’t know where their go-to darts are - if they have standard ones or different ones.
I think the only thing they have to do in the future with that is on-the-fly adaptation or reaction. But that’s a lot of just watching games or playing games, a lot of repetition, and talking over how you approach it.
With London United, with the teams that come in with heavy strat books, do you think that can make them more rigid, or reliant on that prep?
Sliggy: A little bit yeah, but I think there’s a lot of - again going back to the first game of the season - a lot of it is, “Play your own game.” Because you haven’t seen much of your opponent.
Do you think London United improves with the ability to look at their previous week and counter-strat?
Sliggy: Yeah I think so. I wouldn’t look too much into this result for them. It’s the first game for them, it’s a hard game for them, they played something that I think they’re not that used to playing. [When] I’m watching them they’re a super good team. I feel like if they have a really good day they can beat any team that’s in the group.
Though they qualified in the same stint, G2 stands opposite to London United. With G2, it’s less brilliant mid-round calls and utility pieces and more staggering firepower and player strength.
Between keloqz and nukkye alone, G2 has insane talent. With the two now working in tandem, Sliggy and Bacon see a lineup that could grow into one of the strongest teams in the world. G2 is already strong currently - strong enough for Sliggy to predict them over Fnatic (admittedly to troll Mini).
In G2’s current form it’s clear the team needs time to fully gel, regularly appearing slightly out of sync at key moments in the mid-round and having a somewhat shaky map pool. Still, if G2 can keep the synergy strong, the sky could be the limit for one of EU’s most talent-laden rosters.
Looking at the game that G2 played [against Fnatic], what was something you saw from them that you liked and that you did not particularly like?
Sliggy: Definitely something I liked is their firepower. I think, without being disrespectful, taking mixwell out of the equation was a good move for them. I think their duelists are really good.
And then [for a weakness] honestly it’s just a time thing. Sometimes they’re not on the same page with mid-rounding but I feel like that’s just a time thing. I feel like this team has a lot of potential. As long as they don’t make too many roster moves. [Chukles]
Bacon: Exactly what Slig said. The [weaknesses] that are there are just a matter of fact - you can’t really avoid it with being such a new team. They’ll definitely fix those out with time and I think Pipsen’s a pretty good coach and they’re pretty smart players from. It’s honestly a matter of time before they refine. [...]
This leads me to a question about G2’s overall perception and stereotype of the team. That they have a solid macro game but a really good micro game. Very good firepower, duels, these moments. Do you think that stereotype is on point, oversimplification, not true?
Sliggy: It has a bit of backing, honestly. What do you think, Bacon?
Bacon: There’s obviously gonna be an element of truth [to that] when you have no like, clear, obvious IGL. That’s quite a common situation. I think you could pretty much level similar stuff at us. It’s a 5 solid individual team but they don’t have a Boaster or Koldamenta or one of those clear IGLs to control the other stuff.
I would say it’s pretty fair but it’s not a slight on them, it’s a matter of how they’re made up and the other things are gonna counter-balance that.
Sliggy: There’s definitely a distinct lack of good IGLs in Europe so I think, not by choice, some of these teams have to go down this route. [...] It’s something at least the Western regions struggle with.
Talking about G2’s general map pool, they’ve looked a bit shaky on Fracture, Split and even Breeze a little bit. How do you look at their map pool and is this also a sign of a team that just needs time?
Sliggy: I think that’s the perfect demonstration of it. The fact that they look really good on some maps and other maps you can tell they’re just not as drilled on. It’s literally just got to be a time thing. Especially with the new agents coming in and playing against different stuff, on some of these maps you just need reps and if you don’t have the time it’s gonna show.
Bacon: You can’t be good on everything, instantly. It all takes work so you gotta prioritize something. “We can focus on these maps for now. These are the more individualistic maps, maybe we can rely on our natural ability for some of these.” There’s a lot of that.
Shifting a bit to keloqz, it feels like as a Jett, keloqz is not afraid to create space, jump out, die alone in the open if he has to. Do you think that was what G2 lacked without Keloqz? Do you think that was why he fit better than mixwell - or do you think it was other reasons?
Sliggy: I think it’s a lot of what you said. I think firepower also comes into it. I just think that keloqz is better suited to the Jett role. He’s not scared of making plays and sometimes you need people to make plays to make the calling a bit easier. He’s honestly just a super talent, he’s very fast, he’s very good on Jett. He was a lot of what they were lacking, really.
I think this gets talked about a lot with Jett players, how important is it to be playing that style as a Jett - to be holding those forward positions and managing that risk. Is that something that Jett players need [to do] to be really good? Or is it more something we look at a lot because it is just cool to see?
Sliggy: I think there’s definitely a fine line with Jett players for sure. I think it all just comes down to the [fact that] the dash is the best ability in the game. It’s so broken. You can go for these really aggressive picks and if you have this person who’s super fearless and he always hits his first shot even without using the dash, it just creates crazy pressure and the other team has to use way more utility.
It can pick apart certain comps because it’s not like CS where everyone has a flash to get someone off the corner. You have agents that can’t get people off of corners. So when there’s an Op in play and you’re scared that he could be on every single corner, you don’t know where he is, there’s just so much more utility… It adds such a big part into comps, having a Jett that can Op. It’s so good on attack and defense. Like it just doesn’t have a weakness.
Bacon: I think with the addition of Chamber into the game, I think it’s gonna fall into a more proactive style with the Jett because the reactive stuff can often be done with the Chamber and then you get the two trips for it. Being more proactive with your Jett and making space on T-side, I feel like is gonna be more important than it was previously.