MLG Columbus CS:GO Primer

Check out our preview of the biggest Counter-Strike tournament yet: this week's MLG Columbus.

An exciting week lies ahead for fans of competitive Counter-Strike, as we draw closer to the beginning of the largest tournament in the game’s fifteen-year history. Following an official announcement from Valve back in February, all of their officially-sponsored Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournaments will have their prize pools increased to $1 million, up from a mere $250,000 at previous events. MLG Columbus, which kicks off on Tuesday, is the first of these million dollar spectacles.

The viewership and general interest in CS:GO has been steadily rising for the last couple of years, with a staggering 27 million people tuning in for ESL One Cologne last August. Fans and pundits alike have been complaining about the the stagnation of prize pools in the face of these huge increases in the game’s popularity, but that complaint has been firmly put to rest now.

With the stakes higher than ever before, the best Counter-Strike teams in the world will square off in the 20,000-seat Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. You can catch the whole tournament live on Twitch, or check back with us for daily recaps of the main event on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

If you’re a relative newcomer to competitive CS:GO, and want to get up to speed on how this week is going to play out, read on for a rundown of what to expect!

Fnatic at DreamHack 2015 Fnatic at DreamHack 2015

The Teams

Sixteen teams from nine different countries and three different continents will play at MLG Columbus. Eight of them earned their spot by placing well at Dreamhack Cluj-Napoca, the previous Valve-sponsored CS:GO tournament back in October. The other eight qualified by duking it out in the LAN qualifier last month.

The eight “Legends” in attendance, ie. the teams that placed in the top eight at Cluj-Napoca, are:

Team EnVyUs - After winning Cluj-Napoca last Fall, this French squad have fallen on some hard times this last few months. They’ve failed to reach the finals in their last two big LAN events, but they’ll still be a serious contender in Columbus.

Natus Vincere - Largely considered one of the top three teams in the world right now, Na’Vi will very likely make it to the finals of this tournament. The biggest question mark for these Ukrainian lads will be whether they can beat Fnatic, the current top dogs of CS:GO.

Fnatic - Hailing from Sweden, this team is easily the best CS:GO lineup in the world, and it will be a massive upset if they don’t make it to the finals. They’ve won several major tournaments lately, including the finals of ESL ESEA Pro League and Starseries XIV. For every other team in the tournament, Fnatic will be the biggest, scariest threat around.

Ninjas in Pyjamas - A legend in the CS:GO scene, NiP has fallen a long way from their previous dominance. While still a contender, they’ll have a lot of tough matches this week, against teams that have beaten them fairly regularly over the last few months.

Astralis - A relatively new team, formed by members of the old Team SoloMid lineup, this Danish crew has been having limited success of late. They’ll almost certainly make it out of group stages, but it will require an abnormally strong effort on their part to win the whole thing.

FaZe Clan - Another fairly new team that emerged from the ashes of G2 Esports’ old lineup, FaZe has the talent to be a serious contender, but so far hasn’t had the sort of results that their adherents had hoped for. MLG Columbus might be the tournament that brings FaZe to life, but they’re a bit of a question mark at this point. - This Polish team has done big things over the last couple of years, including some major tournament wins, but they don’t seem to be as powerful now as they once were. Expect them to make it out of the group stage, but don’t expect too much beyond that.

Luminosity - A surprising success story, Brazil’s Luminosity has been getting better and better lately. They’re still a slight underdog to teams like Fnatic and Na’Vi, but they’ve got a good shot at making it deep into the elimination bracket.

The other eight teams, dubbed the “Challengers”, are the underdogs who made it into the main event via the offline qualifying tournament last month. In this group we have Splyce, Team Liquid, Counter Logic Gaming, and Cloud9, who collectively make up North America’s best and brightest CS:GO players. Seeing four NA teams qualify for a major is an impressive showing, but all four of them will have a very tough road ahead of them.

Rounding out the list of Challengers are the German mousesports, G2 Esports’ fresh new lineup, a new UK-based squad called Gambit Gaming, and the Ukrainian team currently playing for the FlipSid3 organization. As with their North American cohorts, these squads will all have to pull off some serious upsets to make it into the later stages of this tournament.

The Format

Commencing on Tuesday, March 29, all sixteen teams will be placed into four groups. After three days of group play, culminating in the final group matches on Thursday evening, the top two teams from each group (eight teams total) will proceed to the main event.

With the top eight established, bracket play will begin on Friday morning. All matches from here on will be best-of-three, single elimination matches; the winner moves onto the next round, the loser goes home. By Sunday afternoon, only two teams will remain, and at 1PM local time (GMT -4) the Grand Finals will be played for a first place prize of $500,000.

The Broadcast

MLG has put together a top-tier crew of analysts and commentators, and the whole week will feature the faces and voices of some of Counter-Strike’s best broadcasters. Scott “SirScoots” Smith will be hosting the analyst desk, and will be joined by other veterans of the CS scene like Duncan “Thorin” Shields and ex-Ninjas in Pyjamas player Robin “Fifflaren” Johansson.

On live commentary, the fan favourite duo of Anders Blume and Auguste “Semmler” Masson will be holding it down, with relief from a handful of other commentators who have worked the CS:GO tournament circuit a time or two as well.

There’s a very good chance that the viewership records for CS:GO will be smashed once again this weekend, with ESL One Cologne’s record of 1.3 million concurrent viewers being the number to beat right now.

That should be all you need to know to enjoy what’s sure to be a great week of professional Counter-Strike. As mentioned above, if you miss out on the live broadcasts, we’ll be doing daily recaps once bracket play gets underway, so check back on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening for that.