The New Challengers Stage of the Katowice Major is filled with teams looking to get hot at just the right time.
The expectation is that this first Major of the year will have numerous unexpected results as teams continue to search for chemistry after all the off-season moves.
With eight of the 16 to qualify for the next stage, teams can afford a slip-up or two, but momentum will be the key through the first couple of rounds.
Eyes on Cloud9
One of those looking to ‘get hot’ are Cloud9, something which looks realistic given their unexpectedly-strong performance at the ELEAGUE CS:GO Invitational 2019.
Despite falling in the final to FaZe Clan, Cloud9 were able to show some flashes of brilliance after their fairly poor displays at the end of 2018.
This team could be extremely streaky given their in-game leader situation that sees flusha doing the job more out of necessity than anything, but Cloud9 can continue to look to star autimatic to help carry them through. Still being relatively new to the primary AWPer (sniper) role, autimatic has been improving from event to event and become one of the most dynamic players in the game given his overall skillset.
Players such as kioShiMa and flusha will look to aid him, with the team bidding to continue the positive momentum they have.
They are 27.520 to win the whole Major with Dafabet.
NRG out to make noise
After failing last time out in the Minor for the London Major, NRG were able to qualify this time around and are 19.580 to lift the trophy.
NRG have been a top squad for some time but their gift and curse has been their consistency. As a side ranked fifth to 10th in the world by most, they continually defeat the teams below them, yet lack upset potential against top squads.
This should be the type of event they thrive in, given they get to play at least one best-of-three match and their overall skill is higher than a majority of teams here.
Obviously given their failure at the last Minor with the same squad, this team does, at times, struggle under the spotlight, although they still do have three relatively young stars in CeRq, Brehze and Ethan. The concern for NRG is that this event is filled to the brim with talented squads so they must continue to stay resolved through any form of adversity.
ENCE pegged to potentially surprise
Finnish side ENCE eSports could be one of the teams to take advantage of the best-of-one portion of the Swiss system in operation here.
ENCE have been a fairly stable team, but one with the ability to pull off some upsets given the talent of sergej. Known as one of the most gifted youngsters in the game today, sergej is the type of player who is capable of being a consistent carry threat.
What is brilliant about ENCE is they have the ever-stable allu as another rock to build their team around; they just need some solid numbers from the others to make some noise.
Obviously the best-of-threes, which are either qualification or elimination matches, will be more difficult for this squad, but given the history of upsets at the Major, it is not difficult to make a case about ENCE reaching the next stage.
They are also 27.520 to win the title.
NIP making 2019 debut
One of the largest unknowns entering this event involves Ninjas In Pyjamas, given they have not played an official match since 2019 began.
For the latter portion of 2018, with Lekr0 as the in-game leader, NIP were a decent squad capable of upsets if either REZ or Lekr0 could get it going to assist f0rest. However, given the time off, it is entirely possible NIP have changes to their map pool in store, but the team should still be more reliant on their skill than anything else.
NIP also have a myriad of veterans on their squad who can handle the pressure of the Major which could be a key advantage over teams making their debut at this level.
They are highly-rated by Dafabet, who offer 12.020 about them winning the Major – a price which makes them 6th favourites and the shortest of any of the sides playing in the New Challengers Stage.