The PGL Major in Kraków, Poland, has its playoff bracket set and it's a mix of old Counter-Strike: Global Offensive elite, the teams that replaced them in the upper echelon, and a couple of new lineups with potential.
After a grueling five-round group stage that provided plenty of upsets and explosive starts, the final eight teams are Gambit Esports and BIG at the very top of the standings, followed up by SK Gaming, Astralis, North, Fnatic, Virtus.Pro and Immortals.
Up to this point, Gambit Esports and BIG were the stories of the tournament. Both ended the group stage with flawless 3-0 records and upset a couple top-five teams. Gambit Esports ran through their three opponents, mousesports, G2 Esports, and Virtus.Pro, behind the phenomenal fragging ability of Dauren "AdreN" Kystaubayev.
BIG dominated FaZe Clan and squeaked past Cloud9 and SK Gaming. With the shotcalling of Fatih "gob b" Dayik and a balanced attack from Nikola "LEGIJA" Ninić, Johannes "tabseN" Wodarz and Johannes "nex" Maget, the team posted a consistent performance, regardless of opponent.
While these two teams were the talk of the group stage, the playoffs may be another matter.
The playoffs will also feature a couple of teams with a lot of Counter-Strike history: Fnatic and Virtus.Pro. Most of the Fnatic team members who dominated 2014-15 were brought back to find out whether the winning formula still exists. As for VP, it's one of the longest lineups to stay together in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. As it stands, both teams need a deep tournament run to prove that the current lineup equals success, but if either team falls quickly in the playoffs, it could mean a roster overhaul.
The favorite: SK Gaming
The Brazilians are back on top of the professional Counter-Strike world and they're firing on every cylinder. Behind the MVP performances of Marcelo "coldzera" David and their revolving secondary options, this team is without much weakness.
The shotcalling from Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo is elite and the individual skill on the team is second to none. Perhaps the most frightening strength of SK Gaming is its versatility. Whether it's the map choice, the style and tempo of play, or the sheer volume of executes, this is a team with too many options. It's not enough to bolster the best player in the world in coldzera, with the emerging rifle of João "felps" Vasconcellos that prevents teams from truly ignoring the core killers of the lineup.
The dark horse: North
It's about time that North really ride a breakout group stage with a massive Major tournament victory. What better time than now? The talent is absolutely there. It boasts a three-headed monster with Emil "Magisk" Reif, Kristian "k0nfig" Wienecke and Philip "aizy" Aistrup that could rival any trio, and the team's individual skill is elite.
The issue with North is consistency. Despite the veteran leadership of Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen, the execution and the patience varies from map to map. The talent of Magisk, k0nfig, and aizy is undeniable, but whether the trio can put it all together throughout an entire tournament is a debate in itself. Nevertheless, this is the team that should scare every other squad in the Major.