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The mad rush for the final qualifying slots finished earlier this month, and the top eight have been divided into two pools for the 2023 Winter Group Stage Draw. In this weekend’s action, first up we’ve got Heretics taking on SK Gaming.
Debutants Heretics, who replaced Misfit Gaming in the LEC after buying their franchise slot in early 2022, have huffed and puffed their way through the first round. They lost more than they won and finished sixth. They ended the first round with two losses and are desperately searching for rhythm and a winning combination. This is the same team that was ambushed by G2 Esports not long ago, when they set a record for the fastest game of the split in week two.
So coming into the group stage, which is being played in a best-of-three format, there was considerable doubt over them. But even in defeat, they managed to impress against Team Vitality. In the one game they pocketed, Heretics dominated from start to finish with Mersa being involved in as many as 12 assists, while Jackspektra landed 8 kills, 0 deaths and 5 assists.
They’ve very rarely exerted dominance of this kind, so when they did, it was a pleasantly surprising and shocking alike for fans and the opponents. They’d look to do more of the same going forward.
While SK Gaming are a pedigreed team, that Heretics can from time to time surprise like this means the odds aren’t so heavily stacked against them even if they aren’t the favorites.
If they need better fortune going ahead, they will need a lift collectively. Jankos, their star jungler, has had a mixed bag of returns so far, landing 3.11 kills, 3.33 deaths and 8.67 assists on an average. He has been outdone by Mersa, who has averaged 10.33 assists.
Individually, they’ve had players showing spark time and again, but haven’t been able to conjure a winning formula. All said, Jankos has a proven track record of bouncing back when pushed to a corner. Among the more decorated junglers in the LEC, Jankos was a back-to-back MVP across the summer and spring of 2019 and 2020 respectively.
He’s also been part of 300 wins, the only player in the LEC with such a glittering record. He’s an example of how champions go through troughs. This has been a trough. Can he overcome this iffy form and turn it around for his new outfit?
It’s been patchy, and not the same ever since that pentakill for Nisqy that helped MAD Lions mount a stunning comeback. And on current form, they are well off the pace and will need something special to beat SK Gaming, who were one game off the leaders, and ended with six wins and three losses. Two wins on the bounce to finish third in their league engagement puts them in a good position moving forward.
This means SK Gaming are also the punters’ favorites here. A team still learning the ropes amid stifling competition, Heretics haven’t done too badly. But it’s just that when they’re up against an experienced outfit such as SK Gaming, the chances of people punting outlandishly is a lot less.
SK Gaming have the simple matter of bouncing back from a deflating 2-0 loss to KOI to open their group stage. It was a game where they stood no chance, with KOI towering over them from get go. In the first game, they surged to an early-gold lead and eventually had nearly 13k gold more. In the second, that difference was only marginally smaller.
Astralis have been abysmal to say the least. If an eighth-place finish in the first round had them barely qualifying for the group stage, a big loss in their first game against MAD Lions has them licking their wounds.
BDS didn’t fare significantly better, but in racking up five wins in the group stage, there were shades of dominance that they needed to try and sustain over longer periods to challenge the top of the class sub as Vitality or MAD Lions. But like Astralis, BDS too are coming off a loss in their opening game, so this game will definitely allow one of them some leeway as they build towards the later stages of the competition. And purely on current form, BDS are the favoured to pocket points from this contest.
Despite performing creditably well last split with a strong core group of players who exceeded expectations, Astralis were touted to finish 10th this time around. Those predictions seemed to be on track when they started with five back-to-back losses; each bigger than the other.
As a team, such a start can often be a recipe for a disastrous season. But over the next two weeks, they had some games where they totally caught the opponents off guard and managed to surprise everyone. Ask Excel, they’d vouch for it.
That they made it through to the group stage itself should count as a victory to the team that was rumored to be on its way out ahead of this season. That they’re still around, fighting and trying to banish perceptions is in itself seen as a morale victory.
With an interest in strategy and mathematics, applying that to sports writing was the natural progression. A writer at night and the founder of a gaming company, Nikhil’s previous experience includes working with ESPN for five years. His specialization includes soccer, basketball, tennis, and esports betting. Email: [email protected]More info on Nikhil Kalro
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