The group stages of ESEA South Africa Season 26 have come to a close. As expected, South Africa’s top two, Energy eSports and Bravado Gaming are neck and neck with each other at the top of the log. Energy took the top spot due to winning against Bravado earlier in the competition. The playoffs will be running for the next three weeks. It starts with the quarter finals due to be played in the 24 hour window between Wednesday the 29th of November at 8:30pm and Thursday the 30th.

Business as usual for Bravado and Energy then? Goliath?

Not quite. In the final round of regular group play, African Champions Energy lost to Goliath Gaming after a 13-2 first half in Energy’s favour, going down 13-16 eventually. To be fair to Energy though it was on Nuke, which is a map neither team play very much or favour. Energy will be annoyed at having let this one slip along with their perfect win record this season. They nonetheless should be considered favourites for the title going into the playoffs. Energy are still Africa’s best.

That takes nothing away from Goliath though. They have shown rapid improvement since ESL Africa Season Two and in my opinion are pushing Big 5 eSports for third place in South Africa’s unofficial CS:GO rankings. Their approach heavily favours emphasizing their skilled aimers over complex tactics which works well for them against lesser teams. I don’t feel it’s necessarily going to lead to regular victories over the top two however, but they are still very dangerous. It must be noted that they are still a relatively new team and have not yet hit peak form.

The leaderboard heading into the quarterfinals.

Something that I noted with some interest, is how many round losses Energy have suffered in the championship in comparison to their closest rivals considering their superior win record. With a RF (Rounds For) score of 253 and a RA (Rounds Against) tally of 110, it would indicate that despite their win record they have not as consistently dominated their opponents on the scoreboard as Bravado.  Bravado only conceded 66 rounds  across the whole tournament indicating far greater winning margins on average. Not a huge amount can be inferred from this, but I found it an interesting factoid nonetheless.

Bravado seem to have shaken off the malaise they were suffering in the ESL Africa Season 2 Final at rAge versus a rampant Energy side. They are back to their typically indomitable selves. Sonic particularly underperformed heavily in that match, but has returned to top form online in the ESEA league. What must be a worry for Bravado is how long it has been since they last won versus Energy. One has to go back to their victory in the previous ESEA season’s final or ESL Africa Season 2 online group stage play where the teams split the best of two series. That was all online however. While the playoffs of ESEA Season 26 are of course online, it must be a blow to the psyche that they have only once beaten Energy in an offline final since former teammate Robby “Blackpoison” Da Loca moved to their fierce rivals.

Bravado at Orena’s ESWC Qualifier. Photo courtesy of Maddmatt.

What about the rest?

Big 5 are still looking like a real force in local CS:GO and should be Bravado and Energy’s closest challengers. Their strong fundamentals, excellent teamplay and low risk approach along with Alexander “Spartan” Lazarides’ continued red hot form have separated them as the best of the teams below the top two.

Despite winning VS Gaming Masters 2017 in October, Damage Control are still lagging behind Big 5 and Goliath. They are looking a little better than they were a few months ago and individually their players have returned to a richer vein of form. The problem for them is that Big 5 and Goliath haven’t exactly been sitting on their hands and have been working to close the gap to the top two. It didn’t help their cause that they dropped some matches due to the unavailability of some of their key players at points during the competition.

Spartan eSports’ core have performed well online in other competitions this year under other MGO names and should pose a challenge. I can’t however see them beating one of the top five teams in a best of three series. Should that happen and they make it to the semi finals, it would be a massive upset. I don’t see it happening.

Exdee have had a good season online after some roster upheaval during ESL Africa Season 2. They’ve got a very loose style to the game with plenty of highly skilled players. On their day they can look amazing because of the amount of raw aim they have available to them. While they no longer look rudderless without Daniel “Spoof” Van Wyk’s leadership, I don’t feel they have enough in the way of plan B from a tactical perspective if the teams they run into can match them on the skill front. Which the top four teams absolutely can. I do think though that they are stylistically similar to Goliath in a lot of ways which could lead to a close matchup. They could even upset them depending on the maps.

xAstris is a bit of a mystery to me. I know a few of the player names from retake servers, pickups and matchmaking. They are an unknown quantity, but I don’t see such an inexperienced outfit being capable of toppling any of the teams above them in this playoff bracket. They have the hardest job in taking on Energy. Ouch. xAstris won’t come close to winning, but I hope they come through the experience with a positive attitude having learned a few things going against the best. 

Quarter Final Matchups & Predictions

Wednesday 29 November, 8:30pm: Energy eSports vs xAstris

Energy: 2 – 0

Wednesday 29 November, 8:30pm: Spartan eSports vs Big 5 Esports

Big 5: 2 – 0

Wednesday 29 November, 8:30pm: Goliath Gaming vs Exdee

Goliath: 2 – 1

Thursday 30 November, 8:00pm: Bravado Gaming vs Damage Control

Bravado: 2 – 0

Will there be streams?

It is likely ReCo1LZa and ISO_Wolf will cover at least a game or two. Keep an eye on their Twitter profiles for updates. Anthrax and I are targeting the Bravado vs DC game, but due to unreliable internet of late for both of us we can’t promise unfortunately. I’ll try to tweet during the course of the day on the status of community streams of these games.

Good luck to all the teams in the playoffs!