As the inaugural season of ELeague begins to wrap up, let's run down the semifinalists: mousesports, a team that's already made it further than ever before in a large tournament, and Virtus.pro, a team that won a 2014 major and whose players have won more premier tournaments in Counter-Strike dating back to 2006 than you can count on one hand.
And yet, it's still unclear which team is favored in the matchup.
Despite being a German team with three players from the organization's home country, mousesports's best player, Nikola "NiKo" Kovac, is Bosnian, and second-star Chris "chrisJ" de Jong hails from the Netherlands. As such, the team communicates in English, which is a clear hindrance for non-native speakers calling out information in split seconds, particularly for young players such as NiKo, who come from a country where people are not often strong English speakers.
In a way, mousesports does not fit the traditional mold of a team; it is as if it has an identity crisis it cannot solve. It lacks the tactical and structured approach of Natus Vincere, having parted ways with long-time in-game leader Fatih "gob b" Dayik in the beginning of the year. But mouz is far from the superteam that Fnatic is. NiKo is arguably the world's best player right now, but chrisJ would not come close to anyone's top 20 list, and it only gets worse from there. The more you think about it, the more heroic NiKo's performance becomes, or the more confused you get.
When it comes to the map pool, mousesports is again in trouble. It can be amazing on dust2 and cache, but has losing records for 2016 on both cobblestone and overpass. On both train and mirage, it is passable -- but only that -- because its inconsistency costs it games on both often. Compare mousesports to its Polish opponent, who can play six maps well, and you only add to the list of things for fans to worry about on Friday.
Yet, superstars often decide games in sports, and the same applies here. NiKo is the best player in the series, and if he can deliver in a fashion similar to how he did in the previous two series at ELeague, mousesports has a chance. Both chrisJ and Johannes "nex" Maget are inconsistent but capable of putting up good halves. Finally, the team's newly minted coach and in-game leader Aleksandar "kassad" Trifunovic can surely work his magic outside of the server. But really, this series will depend on NiKo. Which begs the question: how many series can a 19-year-old win on his own?
The Polish team that won the second CS:GO major in March 2014 has the oldest roster in the game and will soon pass three years without a player change. But whereas personnel-wise it has been eerily consistent, just about everything else about its game has been revamped multiple times. Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski became the team's clear star player in 2014 over Jarosław "pasha" Jarzabkowski, who has all but disappeared. Three players have led the team, with ex-member Jakub "kuben" Gurczynski now helping as a coach.
And while the AWPs keep changing hands, multiple players might at any time pick it up. Very few things are obvious about this team: Snax is the superstar who does what he wants; Filip "NEO" Kubski is, for all intents and purposes, a primary sniper, yet the aforementioned star sometimes picks up the AWP over him; Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas has seen his individual play reinvigorate at the age of 30, but then there are issues. Pasha, who was the face of the team, has gone from a starring role in the "world's best" conversation in early 2014 to a problem, with the high peaks no longer visible. Meanwhile, the team's youngest player, Paweł "byali" Bielinski, has not only stopped improving since showing heaps of promise in 2014, but has gotten worse. Against all odds, it was NEO who was the team's best player in their quarterfinal victory over NiP.
Virtus.pro's current map pool is not very impressive. Its cache and train are inconsistent, dust2 unreliable with few games played, and despite playing the map, nuke has not worked out. The team is very good on both cobblestone and mirage, but will not get to play both of those in this series. In all likelihood, the map veto will end up, give or take, even. With a versatile team and ability to improvise well in-game, that should be fine for the Polish side; after all, it's known for showing up in big games when it matters most, and has a chip on its collective shoulder from this month's major, having been the only team to take a map off of champions SK.
And with all that considered, most -- by a long shot -- still favor Virtus.pro. The peak of its powers remains a level few can match, and fans worldwide expect the team to summon something close to it, simply due to the way it left Cologne at the hands of SK, who will not be in Atlanta. If the Polish team can either play NiKo to a tie, or force him off his game, this could be a landslide. Still, the inconsistency is there, leaving the front door open for an upset loss and another disappointing semi-final exit. As it is too close to call on merits, I must side with the more experienced team: Virtus.pro.