Redemption for Swag
Anyone who follows North American CS even casually will know the story of the ill-fated iBuyPower lineup in 2014. iBP was the team who threw an online league match for skins before a decent salary was even a pipe dream in most pro player's minds. The team was widely considered the best in the region before the drama and subsequent permanent bans from Valve events that followed. Braxton "Swag" Pierce was the youngest member of that lineup and was considered the biggest loss in potential talent when the bans were handed down.
Brax was still active in the scene while banned, he competed in Rank-S and FPL matches nightly and continually showed he still had the love for the game and competition. However, it must've been depressing for him to not be furthering his career in a team environment all because of one mistake at such a young age. Valve showed no mercy however and still haven't lifted the permanent bans from Valve events on the iBP players.
It would be the tournament organizers that let common sense prevail for once as ESL, in July of 2017, announced that they would lift all match-fixing bans that preceded February 15, 2015. Other tournament organizers soon followed suit and Brax was given his second chance. He has not let it slip. Swag posted a 1.22 HLTV rating over the last three months and was chosen as an All-Star for MDL this season for his performances with Swole Patrol. Second chances aren't a rarity in Counter-Strike, but rarely do they leave you with that warm fuzzy feeling that this story does. Here's hoping Valve will re-think their position on the iBP bans and we will get to see Swag and Steel challenge the best in the world at Majors again one day.
Swole Patrol Masterclass
Swole Patrol is undoubtedly the feel-good story of NA MDL this season. The lineup finished an impressive regular season with just one loss while dealing with roster drama towards the end of the season. Freakazoid's brother, and the reason Swole Patrol was created, Cooper, went to eUnited with just a few matches left in the regular season. This left the rest of the lineup reeling to find a replacement. The Twitter and Twitch drama that followed was well documented and probably unnecessary, but it certainly created juicy storylines.
eUnited loaned their benched awper Ace to Swole Patrol to finish the season which helped to soften the blow. Ace took his new chance with both hands and posted a positive rating on 13 of the 15 matches he played with Swole Patrol. You have to feel great for Freakazoid as well who created the team to try to make Pro League with his brother by his side, but after that fell through he stuck around to finish what he started as Swole Patrol cruised to the Pro League against cantwinalan 2-0.
OpTic get it done
It wasn't pretty in any sense of the word, but the OpTic lineup showed once again that they have no quit in them. Down 5-13 on the third map of their opening series against AGO, it would have been easy for the Danes to give up and fall short for what seems like the 100th time this year. Instead, they came storming back and won 14 of the next 17 rounds to win Mirage in overtime.
They then met Virtus Pro, victors over Kinguin 2-0 the previous day, and OpTic proved too much for the Polish squad as they won both Nuke and Mirage 16-10 to secure their spot in the expanded European Pro League next season. There will be tougher tests approaching quickly as OpTic begin their Major cycle next week in the closed qualifier for the Minor, but OpTic finally have some solid momentum and they may finally be finding their groove as a team.
One of the most beloved lineups in Counter-Strike history, Virtus Pro, was long overdue for a lineup change, but it still feels strange seeing TaZ not wearing the Virtus Pro jersey at events. TaZ was the first to go from Virtus Pro in February of this year amid rumors of a toxic team environment towards the end. That will make Kinguin's 2-1 victory over Virtus Pro all the more sweet for TaZ as it not only secured his teams place in Pro League next season but ensured Virtus Pro would stay in MDL for another season at least. Morelz has been poor for VP since joining full-time in September and this leaves Virtus Pro with more questions than answers heading into 2019.
Few outside of the nV Fanbase gave this thrown together mix of former big names and young puggers much of a chance going into relegation. Personally, I wasn't sure if they would win a map, but with Xotic LAN-dodging for the second time in his young career, it meant their opening opponents, cantwinalan, would be without one their star players. nV took advantage as Cutler brough back memories of yesteryear going +22 over the three maps to carry nV to a narrow 2-1 win. They followed it up with a 2-1 win over Singularity the next day and booked their spot in Pro League again next season. It will be job well done for Hastr0 and nV management, but I would be very surprised if this five stuck together next year. Look for nV to build a solid core around Nifty.
How do you feel about EPL relegation this season? Comment below!