Counter-Strike is heading to the UK this weekend. The grand finals of the Esports Championship Series, or the ECS, will play out in the SSE Arena, Wembley over three days.
Eight teams, four from each of the NA and EU regions, have made it to the playoffs by coming out on top after eight weeks of group stage play. They've been split into two groups of four that'll play out using the usual GSL-style bracket format. Two teams from each group advance to the semifinals.
Games begin at 12:15 BST / 13:15 CEST on Friday. Here's a short primer for each of the two groups.
Group A is likely the thoughest of the two groups, given that the top North American talent is stacked here. Luminosity Gaming is the best team in the world currently, with MLG Columbus and the ESL Pro League season 3 finals among their recent wins. Joining them from the US is Team Liquid, who've recently upgraded their line-up by bringing in jdm64, one of the top players from the US, alongside Danish rifler Pimp.
From the EU side, Ninjas in Pyjamas have shown no signs of slowing down after they got back on track this year. Though the team surprisingly lost to Immortals at DreamHack Summer this past weekend, they looked determined and comfortable throughout the tournament. Rounding out the group is G2 Esports. They were in a terrible slump earlier this year, but have surged since then and surprised many with their strong performance in the ECS.
Meanwhile, the biggest question in Group B is whether Astralis or Fnatic will take first place. Superstar Olofmeister is back on the Fnatic lineup after taking months off to recover from a wrist injury, and he's been playing well since his comeback. Astralis have brought on Kjaerbye, who's clearly added some much needed firepower to the team. These teams have a long history with each other, and either of them can beat the other on a good day.
Forming the other half of the group are to North American teams who haven't made any waves at big events. Team SoloMid have yet to prove themselves at an international tournament. And while Cloud9 have had their moments in the past, recent results in both domestic and International events haven't been impressive by any scale. Neither team looks able to take down Fnatic or Astralis, and you're not making it out of this group without doing that.
Whoever wins the finals on Sunday will go home with a $750,000 cheque.
Here's the schedule for the opening matches. Go to the ECS website for more details. All times BST, so add an hour if you're in mainland Europe.
12:15-13:30 Luminosity-Nip Gaming
13:30-14:45 Team Liquid-G2 Esports
14:45-16:00 Winner A.1-Winner A.2
16:00-17:15 Astralis-Team Solomid
17:15-18:30 Fnatic-Cloud 9
18:30-19:45 Winner B.1-Winner B.2