Opinion: What are the Americas' chances at PGL Major Antwerp?
The Major in Antwerp is fast approaching and with Europe and CIS continuing to dominate the Counter-Strike landscape, the chances of making history and bringing a Major trophy back across the Atlantic seems to fall on the shoulders of just a handful of teams. From the experienced Brazilians of FURIA to the rookies of Complexity, the Americas' pool of talent is vast, but is it strong enough to do the impossible and snatch the coveted first-place prize away from the clutches of teams such as FaZe and NAVI? What are the Americas' chances at the PGL Antwerp Major?
FURIA - The jewel in the Brazilian crown
Of all the teams representing the Americas region, FURIA have one of the best chances to make it the furthest. After all, the core of the roster secured a solid 5th-8th place finish at the PGL Stockholm Major last year - the only Americas team to secure a playoff berth - while continuing to post strong showings both domestically and internationally, notably seeing the Brazilians finish 3rd-4th at ESL Pro League Season 15. At the Americas RMR itself, FURIA easily displayed their prowess, not dropping a single map on their way to a first-place finish, enabling the roster to kick off their Major campaign straight from the Legends stage.
Despite their strong showings, however, it's important to note that FURIA's coach, Nicholas "guerri" Nogueira, is currently serving a five-Major ban for his use of the infamous "Coaching Bug". The impact his absence will have on the team is yet to be seen, but the loss of their skipper may hinder their ability to make a deep run in one of the most important tournaments of the calendar year, with Marcos "tacitus" Castilho standing behind the team instead.
Therefore, while FURIA is undoubtedly the best team Brazil and the Americas have to offer at the Major, and with the results to back that claim up, it never is that simple. A missed tactical timeout from their substitute coach, or an inability to translate practice with guerri to the main stage without him could come back to haunt them. Despite these hypothetical scenarios, it can be expected that FURIA will at least be able to repeat their top-eight finish from the previous Major, but any higher will require a FURIA firing on all cylinders with the squad almost certainly needing to take the scalps of some fierce competition as they battle their way through the Major.
Liquid - The end of the teething problems?
2021 wasn't kind to the Liquid boys. Few results to write home about ultimately saw a complete overhaul of the roster, with Nick "nitr0" Cannella returning from his time in VALORANT, up-and-coming AWPer in Josh "oSee" Ohm being given his first big break, and finally French veteran Richard "shox" Papillon being imported from across the pond.
With the influx of these fresh recruits, Liquid have been able to show some results that are undoubtedly better than what the previous iteration of the lineup achieved, with a 5th-8th placement at ESL Pro League Season 15 being the highlight so far. However, there are also signs of growing pains for the newly-revamped squad, such as their abysmal effort at IEM Katowice which bore witness to a Liquid that crashed out in 13th-16th place. While this could be chalked up to the infancy of the roster coming into play, the side also failed in their most recent tournament run before the Major itself, falling to paiN in the North American BLAST Premier Spring Showdown in late April. This is hardly the confidence boost Liquid would be wanting so close to such an esteemed event, but hopefully any last wrinkles have been ironed out in time for Antwerp.
Similarly, with nitr0 returning from a stint in VALORANT, will his calling be able to match that of the competition? After all, this will be against teams that will undoubtedly try to play their best game, eager to make it as far as they can in an event as prestigious as this one. Moreover, this is oSee's first rodeo at a Major and while he is one of Liquid's stars right now, posting a 1.15 rating over 46 maps, there is a question mark as to whether he'll be able to replicate his form thus far once the going gets tough.
Should Liquid's troops step up to bat and perform at the level we all expect, then Liquid do have the potential to make it to the Legends stage, though it won't be an easy ride. Their performances so far at big events have shown that they can sometimes tussle with the very best, and after having a week or so to knuckle down and prepare for the Major, Liquid have ample opportunity to shine. However, with FaZe looking near unstoppable, and NAVI still being a menace even if they've slowed down in recent times, Liquid should be more than content with a top-eight finish, any more is a very welcome bonus.
Complexity - NA's young stars looking to make their mark
Complexity's General Manager, Graham "messioso" Pitt, spoke to Dust2.us during the Americas RMR about how his squad hadn't earned the stickers they used in-game and how the side hadn't etched their name into Counter-Strike lore with their own, hard-earned stickers. But now, they have and they will be looking ahead into making a deep, strong run through the Major itself - potentially all the way - even if that does sound like a far-away dream for now.
Complexity's form since signing with the Dallas-based organization back in January has been mixed, with uninspiring showings at both ESL Pro League Season 15 and BLAST Premier Spring Groups 2022 seeing the boys finish in 17th-20th and dead last, respectively. However this is a squad that has been confined to the domestic North American region throughout much of the COVID-19 pandemic, and missing out on IEM Katowice earlier this year due to players suffering from COVID-19 was unfortunate as it would have provided the squad with some solid practice in an event of that stature.
Thankfully, their run through the Americas RMR was more promising with the NA fan-favorites only falling to eventual victors, FURIA. This will undoubtedly give Johnny "JT" Theodosiou and company some much-needed confidence, but as the name suggests, this was against teams they would have become accustomed to in an era of North American isolation.
Unfortunately, it appears that Complexity's peak is still a work in progress and while any strong showing from the quintet would be a welcome sight, it's more likely that the side will just barely make it out of the Challengers Stage at most, behind their North American foes in Liquid. While this is the Major, and underdog stories are abundant throughout the years, it's hard to believe that a squad with an average age of 21.7 years will be able to do much damage later in the latter stages of the tournament. At the biggest events and on the biggest stages, it is experience that often separates the boys from the men, and Complexity still need time to soak in as much of that as they can before challenging for Major titles.
MIBR - The worst time to slump
MIBR is the team that is more of a question mark than anything else. They did manage to successfully navigate the Americas RMR, edging out their Brazilian compatriots in paiN after a triple-overtime affair and taking down the Imperial project 2-0 on their way to a Major appearance. However, this is roughly where their recent strong showings end with only little victories to write home about from this point on.
Firstly they bombed out of the IEM Katowice Play-In back in February with losses to both Astralis and Movistar Riders. They then went on to fall to Imperial in the IEM Dallas South American Closed Qualifier, a side they had previously beaten at the RMR. To top it all off, their most recent appearance saw them flounder in the North American BLAST Premier Spring Showdown with a 2-0 loss to paiN being quite the sting.
In addition, Renato "nak" Nakano, who helped the Brazilians get to the Major at the RMR, is no longer going to be behind the squad once the Major is underway, with Bruno "BIT" Fukuda Lima tagging along instead. We don't know how instrumental nak was in getting Adriano "WOOD7" Cerato's men to the Major, but MIBR's chances of making it past the first stage are slim if he was the driving force behind their success.
While these results aren't all doom and gloom, MIBR's peak was at the RMR itself, with a decline thereafter. Perhaps they don't want to share their secrets ahead of the Major, but MIBR would definitely like to have seen an upward trajectory in the run-up to Antwerp itself where they could use the confidence and momentum gained to take down the heavyweights they'll inevitably face. Instead, they appear to have fallen off, and it's a case of whether they'll be able to rise again in time for the Major. Given this, it's hard to see a world in which MIBR perform amazingly, and it's looking more likely that the Brazilians will end up finishing bottom of the pack, sadly.
Imperial - Three for three with fnx?
When Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo went public about his "Last Dance" project, many were skeptical. It had been years since Lincoln "fnx" Lau had performed at a Tier-1 level, Fernando "fer" Alvarenga had spent the majority of 2021 on the sidelines and FalleN himself failed to impress during his year-long tenure with Liquid. However, to their credit, Imperial have managed to snag some decent results, netting themselves appearances at not only the Major, but IEM Dallas too, an event that will be just as competitive as Antwerp.
Their run through the Americas RMR was a success, only losing to MIBR who, as previously mentioned, had one of their best breaks as a unit at that event. It was always FURIA who were the favorites, so they won't be disappointed with missing out on clinching the sole Legends spot available. As the Major itself drew closer, Imperial continued to showcase their potential and increase their much-needed confidence by locking in a spot at IEM Dallas after taking down their RMR kryptonite, MIBR, in the South American Closed Qualifier.
Despite these positive outlooks on the potential of this veteran squad, it's important to note that they haven't played any Top 20 team thus far. Their hardest challenge was facing off against MIBR on two separate occasions, leaving with a win and loss in those two fixtures. MIBR are a roster who clock in at 23rd in the world at the time of writing and Imperial will soon be facing off against an entirely new kettle of fish, a calibre of team they haven't yet faced in their time together. For example, Spirit will be their first obstacle once the Major commences, a squad ranked just two spots underneath MIBR and a lineup that has had ample time to practice with other European teams. If they struggled to convincingly take down their Brazilian brothers, what chance do they have against the world's best?
In what could turn out to be a "major" blow to Imperial's arsenal is the news that ESIC's long-awaited Coaching Bug report has been released, leading to three Major-attending coaches receiving provisional bans. With PGL now confirming that Luis "peacemaker" Tadeu is banned from coaching in person at the Major, it could really put a spanner in the works if he's been hands-on in the development of the project thus far. In addition, the 34-year-old is also be banned from playing too, and with the coach also acting as the squad's sole substitute, it's easy to see how this could turn into a recipe for disaster for FalleN and co should any issues arise that would prevent someone on the roster from playing.
The chances of Imperial continuing the "No fnx, no Major" meme are relatively slim. Their victories up until now include zero Top 20 teams, and even the majority of the games they win are against teams that rarely venture outside their native regions. This, coupled with the possibility of a ban hammer swinging down and the packed nature of the Major, leaves very little hope of Imperial making it very far. At most, they'll leave the competition with a win under their belt, but it's entirely possible that the squad crash out at the bottom of the table, even if this seems one of the more pessimistic possibilities.
9z - The biggest of hills to climb
9z were not among the teams most expected to secure their spot in the Major. With the likes of 00 Nation, paiN and Evil Geniuses in attendance, 9z's run was one very few predicted. But, despite the lack of belief from the majority of pundits, 9z managed to find a way to pull off their Cinderella run and get themselves flown out to Antwerp - the first Argentine, Chilean and Uruguayan representation ever at a Major.
Whilst their campaign through the RMR was one for the history books, it's important to note that their opponents throughout the event were hardly their normal selves. For one, they reigned supreme over a Bad News Bears roster that has struggled of late, notably seeing the roster be nearly demoted to ESEA Advanced after a lackluster showing in ESL Challenger League Season 40. They then twice faced a paiN who struggled tournament long, before besting Evil Geniuses 2-1. This is the same Evil Geniuses whose dire performances of late have been their sole talking point so it's not a victory that can set you up for success at the Major.
Moreover, outside of the Americas RMR, 9z have failed to post respectable results, finishing in 3rd-4th place in the FiReLEAGUE Latin Power Spring 2022 BLAST Premier Qualifier back in March after a quick 2-0 defeat at the hands of Imperial. This less than ideal showing continued in late April when the squad once again fell to both Imperial and MIBR in the IEM Dallas closed qualifier. If Imperial and MIBR are slated to struggle once the Major kicks off, it's hard seeing a world in which 9z do any better, especially when the Major often brings out the very best teams have to offer.
In what is yet another negative outlook on their chances at the Major, 9z's coach Rafael "zakk" Fernandes is, like peacemaker, also sanctioned by ESIC and consequently banned by PGL from competing in the Major as a result, leaving the South American squad without their skipper in what is bound to be their most challenging test yet. Once more, much like Imperial, they also have not registered a separate substitute, leaving the lineup in a precarious position should anything go awry roster-wise. With their coach having been a part of the Brazilian Counter-Strike scene for years, the loss of his experience and wisdom could really hit the side hard, throwing even more doubt onto 9z's potential in Antwerp.
While many would love to see a world in which 9z surprise everyone and make it to the Legends stage or beyond, it is almost guaranteed to be a pipe dream. An inability to showcase their potential against domestic competitions alongside a very fortunate run in the RMR ultimately leaves 9z with very little hope in Antwerp, and that's not counting the impact zakk's absence will have. Rather, they'll perform as well as Imperial if they're lucky and at worst, they'll go home without a win to their name. With their debut match set to be against ENCE, a team firmly within the Top 5 rankings, they'll almost certainly need to pull off an even greater fairy-tale run in Antwerp if they're to have any chance at success.
While Europe and CIS are expected to dominate the tournament as a whole, the Americas do have some chances to upset. With Liquid having the right tools to make a deep run irrespective of who they face and FURIA almost certainly being able to secure a top-eight finish, we'll likely see at least some American representation once the Major reaches the final stretch. Whether said teams can go all the way is unlikely, especially with FaZe looking as scary as ever, but regardless, the region as a whole has a few teams to throw their weight behind, eager for them to bring home the bacon once the $1,000,000 tournament gets started on May 9th.