What a weekend. Scotiabank Theatre saw 3 great days action-packed with League of Legends, Starcraft, Dota 2 and CS:GO matches. Being at the CSL Grand Finals was a mix of great games and great company; this was my first real eSports event and I was glad to see the scene roaring and growing exponentially. There was passion in not just the players, but the crowds that backed them. But while Canadian teams were claiming titles left and right, Baruch college’s CS:GO team refused to acknowledge a Northern super-region. Sure, all the games I’ve watched were great, but let’s be real; the CS:GO final stood alone as the most hype, the most explosive and the one with the loudest crowd. Why would that be? Because while the semi-finals might have been a little lackluster, CUNY Baruch vs UBC was the best CSL match I’ve seen yet.
UCLA vs CUNY Baruch
UCLA was a team that rightfully secured its place in the top four. It has boasted star players of different kinds, and those same players have boasted having better skill and aim than any other team. That’s why it was so disappointing seeing them shut down heavily by team ‘Fiven’, who looked like they were just playing with their food. On Overpass, Baruch’s map pick, the pistol round was quickly finished with UCLA coming out ahead. But Baruch didn’t need rifles to win rounds. Force buying into the second round granted them a win right back and from there they snowballed on the T-side, capitalizing off of the weak CT-side economy of UCLA. Baruch was demolishing UCLA; they were clearly out aiming them, but also playing slow when they needed to and aggressively together as a unit.
Fiven’s David ‘Toy’ Han, who usually not only leads in score but also leads in calls, was lurking over on the B-side of the map while his teammates played around the bathrooms and long area of A. They occasionally prodded the defenses, testing the waters (sometimes literally) and the picks would come to them, or Han would figure out that B was open and call rotations. UCLA’s answer to aggression was aggression from their own side, often stacking the connector area and picking off a Terrorist lurking there. But unfortunately, that only did so much as, when faced with a fully loaded ‘Fiven’, they stood no chance holding sites.
Baruch ‘Fiven’ discussing their match
Los Angeles’ own map pick was harder on them than Overpass was. Maybe it was nerves or something, but it felt like Connor ‘cjen’ Jennison’s boys had no real execution strategies on the T-side. They would just 5-man rush A and get picked off by the site holders, and when that didn’t work they resorted to grouping up in the B apps only to leave a pile of corpses there later on. I saw things that really triggered me; a 5 man rush into A on a full buy that consisted of nades, when none of these nades were used to deny vision or force CTs out of position. Really, it just showed me and the crowd in general how superior Baruch College are; it really did look like they were just playing with UCLA, casually having fun like it was any other pug. There were even teamkills around the last few rounds. The map ended 16-2, just an abysmal score for UCLA, especially on the map the team picked. As they always have, Baruch College decimated yet another opponent and made us wonder if there would ever be a worthy challenger. With a 2-0 overall, ‘Fiven’ moved on to the finals.
UCI vs UBC
As the castors described accurately before the second semifinals, both UCI and UBC were the two teams that really put in the work when it came to practices. Because of this, their best of three matchups was a lot more to do with strategy and teamwork. It was Danny ‘Mahone’ Hsieh’s UBC vs James ‘Strawberry’ Pirelli’s UCI and while UBC was favored to come out on top, Irvine was not about to give up without a fight. Sadly their fight on Train wasn’t as strong as we expected. A map that can be tricky to play around, Train lends itself to chaos and corners of hiding
Counter-Terrorists who prey on unsuspecting Russian terror groups. UBC was rolling on the defensive side, with their leader Hsieh pulling off a 4k on the pistol round and another on an anti-eco. You could hear Hsieh shouting in excitement as he wiped out the incoming attackers. And he wasn’t the only one making noise, the crowd was definitely on UBC’s side; friends and family would scream and cheer every time the British Columbians made plays.
One of the most devastating setups, what really caused UCI to only have 2 rounds by the end of the first half, was Trevor ‘strata’ Mah’s AWPing, along with a secondary AWPer assisting him (I think it might have been Brian ‘ChuanKwaiWOW’ W). You could tell that UCI was struggling to find a solution to these long range beasts thinning their numbers. On Train, it can be quite difficult with AWPs, as there isn’t much space to move around and the choke points are numerous. If only they had more rounds to give up because their CT-side wasn’t bad at all. They stopped UBC’s attacks most times and prevented the bomb plants for most of them.
University of British Columbia
Things were different on map 2; here, UCI looked like it could hold its own against the crazy Canucks. At first, their defenses faltered (CT-side first half) and an iconic round was when it was a 2v2 and UBC was on the A bombsite. They hadn’t planted the bomb yet so they faked going down ‘bank’ to rotate to B. Sure enough, UCI fell for it and the bomb site was left wide open for UBC to set up post plant positions and ultimately win the round. But, quickly, Pirelli made some changes and led his team to a resurgence and an 8-7 half after being 2-6 at one point. In fact, Pirelli was doing work leading his team not just in communications but also in frags; he ended the match with 28 kills, quite a ways from the next player. It is unfortunate, though, that he had to compete with UBC’s Miguel Luis ‘Impetuous’ Valenciano, who dropped 33/14 at the end of the map. If only UCI’s players were a bit more alive in the second map it could have gone to a third. Zhouxing ‘xinkong’ Cai was one of the star players that Pirelli brought in to offer some insane firepower to the new roster so it was sad to see him severely underperform on both maps. It could have been a totally different outcome, but perhaps Cai was new to performing on stage.
Grand Final: CUNY Baruch vs UBC
After a relatively underwhelming couple of semi-finals, I was ready to see some amazing Counter-Strike. UBC and Baruch were not just finalists, they had shown they were undoubtedly the top 2 teams in CSL CS:GO. Each believed they were number 1, though, and they would fight till the end to prove it. The final was exciting in all aspects; it was back and forth, the players were loud and ecstatic and so was the crowd, and it was down to the wire on each map. You could hear players shouting ‘Nice!!’ after every success, every clutch and every crazy force buy gone right and the crowd, who happened to be very UBC biased probably because it was Canadian soil, roared and clapped approvingly after the Hsieh’s team claimed a round. They also gasped shockingly when Baruch College hit insane shots.
By now, Baruch had mentioned being very comfortable on Overpass, so it made sense for them to pick it. And as always, they lost the pistol round only to force up and deny UBC the anti-eco round. With how insane the level of skill is on Baruch, UBC should have anticipated and respected deagles and tec9s that can tear off their heads in moments. After an 11-4 half I thought surely Baruch have got this match down no problem. Boy, was I wrong. UBC made an amazing comeback on their own T-side. For once ‘Fiven’ looked like they were getting outclassed, as UBC’s executions were on point on both sites. Victor ‘Food’ Wong would answer by purchasing an AWP and going for mid picks early in the round and very often it resulted in a man advantage for Baruch. Alas, UBC could still come out on top in certain situations and they beautifully displayed what lots of team practices can accomplish during crunch time.
For the entirety of this map Richard ‘richie’ Wong was a God. He carried and led the comeback all the way, finishing with a whopping 36 kills and outfragging everyone in the server. The competition really did come down to the last round. Baruch had their backs against the wall on CT-side. They just couldn’t figure out how to stop the attacks.They had to win their own map because a cache win against UBC was less likely. What’s more, the crowd was definitely rooting for the other side, and each time a round was given up ‘Fiven’ got a taste of the pressure ( I remember a very intense David ‘Toy’ Han sarcastically cheering along with them) Suddenly out of nowhere, a round where Han and Wong both had deagles results in an upset and they are back in it. 14-14 and the crowd was on their feet. CUNY Baruch would push themselves to the limit to secure Overpass 16-14.
Cache was UBC’s pick and also their best map by far. Undefeated on it, their mindset was as strong as it can be and they did not let the close result of the last map bring them down. As we’ve seen so far, UBC are Gods on pistol round and sure enough, they take it on Cache as well. The big difference here is that, for once, they played the anti-eco round perfectly and secured another two rounds after. ‘Fiven’ would answer by winning the first gun round, but it wouldn’t last. The Canadian T-side reigned supreme for a time, and the score was a reversal from the beginning of Overpass. I remember lots of 2v3 situations this time around, and they mostly happened at the A site. Those were so exciting that gasps from the crowd could be heard anytime a player fell. I also remember a few rounds where Danny ‘Mahone’ Hsieh was lurking and impatience got the better of him while he was trying to fake for his teammates who were setting up for a B attack.
Pro player David ‘Toy’ Han was actually underperforming on Cache, and for most of it Samson ‘Yudickmesiter’ Fu was leading the way in frags. As most Counter-Strike players know, IGLs face great difficulty putting up kills for the team while calling, and Han needed to call more than ever on Cache. This time, the carry was getting carried, as he counted on Fu and the gang to keep them in this. Once T-side came rolling around, Han would get back into fragging and assist his star players in fast paced B-site rushes, where the players were easily caught off guard. Smart economic saves meant UBC got more chances at playing full gun rounds but it didn’t mean much when Fu was hitting nuts shots. Fans had their head in their hands as they prayed and waited for a turnaround, but all they could hear were shouts of victory on the Baruch College side of the stage. 16-12, the Canadians fought as hard as they could, only to fall to a group of friends who rely mostly on individual skill and who barely got together to practice. The same group that broke so many teams down and ruined dreams of winning the competition now caused the same fate to the crowd’s beloved University of British Columbia.
Champions of CSL CS:GO
As the final round was played out, the Baruch players got up, shook hands and patted each other’s backs. The crowd gave out a silent sigh of disappointment but nonetheless clapped and acknowledged the ‘Fiven’ squad for playing amazing Counter-Strike. The players shook hands, with smiles on Baruch and discontent on UBC. It was a great run for both teams, and it is sad to think that British Columbia captain, Hsieh, will not be returning to the scene due to graduating this year. His influence on the UBC squad was huge; he changed the roster and brought in a solid lineup, he made his team practice, scrim and compete for hours, they put in the work and while they placed second they still accomplished a great deal.
Baruch College has long been a huge contender for the title. They have beaten difficult opponents with no sweat to their brows visible whatsoever and they were the only team at the event that seemed like they had no support from anyone, just one player’s girlfriend. Heck, they didn’t even have team jerseys while every other team did. Yet they overcame all odds, they outclassed and out skilled everyone and they put up one hell of a show in the process. CUNY should recognize how great these players are and establish an esports scene behind them. They’ve come far and wide and they’ve delivered; they deserve the respect and fame that comes with being number one in a league. An entire of season of CSL Counter-Strike came to a close once the players stood around the cameras and received their prize check. I am glad to have been a part of it, through its ups and downs, and the final was everything I ever dreamed it would be; in some cases more exciting than a pro match because I had talked to and gotten to know some of these players.
Hopefully, some of you have seen how great CSL teams can be and will be sticking around next season to witness the rise (or fall) of new or old teams occur once more. Till then, I’ll be wearing my CSL Toronto T-shirt and grinding out matchmaking. GG.