The ESEA Season 26 Grand Final will be beamed all over the world tonight, courtesy of the fine folk from Mettlestate. First, a retrospective of the Semi Finals that predicated this Final, followed by a preview of the final.

The Semi Finals in Review

Bravado Gaming vs Goliath Gaming: 2 – 0

The first map was Cobblestone, and on Goliath’s map pick, the boys in blue went straight for the jugular. The 16 – 4 scoreline reflects the relatively one-sided nature of the map for Bravado, with a well-rounded team effort in terms of frags across the board. Aided in no small part by Dimitri “Detrony”  Hadjipaschali’s mad 2.03 HLTV rating on the map. Goliath were never allowed a foothold. Bravado powered to a 12 -3 lead on their Terrorist (T) side, which set themselves up for a comfortable victory.

Train was slightly more competitive for Goliath, but with Aran “Sonic” Groesbeek hitting a rich vein of form and Bravado looking dominant overall, it was never going to go in their favour. Bravado claimed map two 16 – 7. MVP of the series has to be Sonic with a Kill to Death Ratio (KD) of 41/19, Average Damage per Round (ADR) of 93.7 and a frankly ludicrous 1.63 HLTV rating. Incredible statistics considering the abbreviated nature of the series. The rest of the team were hot on his heels though. Stefan “Nefan” Smit was the best player for Goliath on 34/38 KD, with some stunning multi kill rounds and his ADR of 92.3 showing how consistently he was dealing damage to his opponents. Bravado move on to the final.

Big 5 Esports vs Energy eSports: 2 – 1

Going into this match, I was quite worried in last week’s preview about how this might go. Principally because Rieghardt “Flexi” Romatski of Energy was unable to play which left team analyst and caster Adam “Wham” Postepski to fill in. With one of Energy’s key players unavailable, it would certainly give Big 5 an opportunity to bridge the gap between themselves and the African champions.

The Shift in Balance

Why would one player potentially sway the result that much? I think the problem for Energy comes in with the positions Flexi holds on  Counterterrorist (CT) sides. He tends to be the small site anchor player – which is to say, he’s one of the more important players on defense. He’s the player they can reliably leave on B bombsite alone if need be and trust that he will delay the enemy sufficiently for his teammates to rotate in to help without dying to soon. You can count on him to get a least one or two kills before being traded. Every round. This allows Energy to be aggressive on other areas of the map without worrying about the B bombsite being vulnerable. I think the closest analog for Flexi on the international stage would be Krimz from the classic 2015/ 2016 major-winning fnatic lineups. Unerringly solid on defense with excellent fragging ability in his own right.

The other element Flexi also brings is the ability to frequently combine with Dominic “Domsterr” Sampaio to push aggressively from the B site and gain map control as well as get some early frags, essentially denying that part of the map to the enemy. This is something Energy frequently does on Cache to devastating effect. While Energy still have enough firepower across the rest of the lineup on T side to deal with Big 5, their CT side without Flexi is severely compromised with a different and lower skilled player in that position. To be clear, this is not Wham’s fault. He’s not a professional player and can’t be expected to perform at this level.

Throughout the match, you could see Energy trying to compensate for Wham. They played a far less dynamic and aggressive CT side than they usually would. They tried to play it safer because they couldn’t trust their B defense and were punished by Big 5. This wasn’t true of the third map, Inferno, where Wham played pit. This is typically the A site anchor’s position as well however on this map and is a crucial spot to hold.

Rieghardt “Flexi” Romatzki at Rush Expo – Photo Courtest of Maddmatt

On T side, Wham was less of an issue with them essentially using him as bait to run in first so they could trade off of him – which is an efficient use of a lower skilled player. He could contribute more on T than CT. It was a match of seemingly tremendous Terrorist halfs and underwhelming CT performances from both sides. However, that was a symptom of Energy’s still potent firepower which was less compromised on T side. This contrasted against Big 5, a team that have had consistently excellent Terrorist halfs throughout the latter part of the year and only lack a little in terms of overall firepower against Energy and Bravado. A factor that would tend to be more readily exposed on the defensive CT side. It was a perfect storm to create the sort of match we saw.

The Actual Match

We started off on Cobblestone, Energy’s map choice, with the match going to overtime with an eventual 19 – 15 victory to Big 5. Map one was punctuated by the aforementioned dominant Terrorist halfs ands relatively lackluster CT sides, with 9 – 6 T sides for both teams leading into overtime. It required 33 kills from both kani & takbok as well as 26 from Domsterr to even get to overtime, out fragging all of Big 5 barring Jean “kustoM” Herbst on 33 kills.

Next up was Inferno and a similar trend continued. This time Energy struck back with a 19 – 15 overtime win going their way. This was after Big 5 came back from an 11 – 4 deficit in the first half to take it to overtime. The regular Energy players delivered massive performances, with all four each getting over 30 frags each to snatch away Big 5’s map pick. This shows the heights the Energy players had to reach to compensate and snatch away the map win. It’s all the more impressive in that Energy rarely play Inferno. They last played it against OG in Season 25 and have had a hard time on the map against Bravado this year.

The third and final map in the best of three, Cache, is a favourite of both teams. Energy are widely regarded as the best Cache team in South Africa at the current moment, but were unable to stem the tide of a confident Big 5, with them closing out the series with a 16 – 12 win off the back of an excellent 12 -3 first half.

The MVP award has to go to kustoM with his consistently good play across all three maps and an excellent HLTV rating of 1.22. Energy’s stats are somewhat skewed of course, but I do want to point out Domsterr’s insane 1.34 HLTV rating and 100.1 ADR.

Take nothing away from Big 5. They came in with their typically sharp and organized T sides and exploited Energy’s weaknesses effectively. It required Big 5 overcoming massive performances in the series from all four regular Energy players to take the win. They did what was required and made it to their first grand final.

Grand Final Preview

Bravado Gaming vs Big 5 Esports – Thursday 14 December, 7:30pm

While Big 5 were able to beat a handicapped Energy, it still took a herculean effort and very nearly still went against them. There is still a gap between Big 5 as the country’s third best team and Bravado, SA’s current second ranked team. If they are to take it to Bravado, they need Spartan to show up in a big way. He had a relatively quiet series against Energy and Big 5 will certainly be looking for more from him in this encounter. They will need their defensive CT halves to be a lot more solid against Bravado as this was a weak point against Energy.

Bravado will have had a serious team talk after their loss at ESL Africa S2 Finals to Energy – Photo Courtesy of Bravado Gaming

For me, their win conditions are decent CT sides, huge performances from all five players and especially Spartan on offence. It’s a mammoth task, but all of these players have worked miracles at various points in their careers. They will need to bring it all together on this night.

For Bravado, their map pool aligns very well with Big 5’s. It’s highly unlikely they’ll be uncomfortable on any of the maps that will be seen in this series. Bravado have the superior firepower man for man and the ultimate not so secret weapon in Sonic. We won’t see the subdued Bravado we saw in the ESL Africa Season 2 Final against Energy. We’re going to see a fired up and highly motivated Bravado side that will want to put this one to bed with authourity.

Big 5 will need to summon the performance of their lives to steal the title away from an ominous looking Bravado. Can they do it? They’ve certainly taken every opportunity given to them thus far. I’m really looking forward to this one.

Where can I watch it?

The match will be broadcast live from The Forge at Mettlestate from 7:30pm on Twitch. I will be joining Barry “Anthrax” Louzada to cast the grand final. In the studio, Sam “Tech Girl” Wright will be expertly hosting the analysis panel. She will be joined by the wealth of knowledge that is George “Geemax” Smith and Christopher “g4mbit” Lautre (also known as Apocalypse from Damage Control). It’s going to be an excellent final.