BLAST Paris Major 2023: Previewing the Champions Stage playoff bracket
by Brian Bencomo
The BLAST Paris Major is heading to the home stretch with the Challengers and Legends Stages now over and only the Champions Stage playoff bracket remaining. Eight teams remain in contention to win the final Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Major as the tournament shifts to the Accor Arena.
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There were plenty of surprises during the first two stages of the competition as CS:GO powerhouses G2 Esports and Natus Vincere (NAVI) failed to make the Major playoffs, and contenders like MOUZ and FURIA went winless. Although favorites such as Heroic, FaZe, Team Vitality and Team Liquid are still standing, Cinderella stories have abounded as Into the Breach, GamerLegion, Monte and Apeks still have a shot to win the Major. To get you ready for the Champions Stage, here’s a breakdown of each of the four quarterfinal matchups and what to expect the rest of the tournament.
Heroic vs. FaZe Clan
Thursday, May 18, at 9 a.m. ET
Photo credit: BLAST
This is the most intriguing quarterfinal matchup as it pits two of the top three teams in the world according to both the ESL and HLTV rankings. It’s also the only quarterfinal matchup between two players who were at the very first CS:GO Major, FaZe’s Finn "karrigan" Andersen and Heroic’s Casper "cadiaN" Møller.
FaZe vs. Heroic could easily be a grand final matchup. In fact, the two teams met in the BLAST Fall Final late last year, which Heroic won 2-1. That has been Heroic’s lone big tournament win over the past six months amid a series of heartbreaking second-place finishes at the Rio Major, IEM Katowice and IEM Rio. Although Heroic have won the last two encounters with FaZe, they had lost three of their previous four meetings with FaZe dating to the start of 2022. Besides beating FaZe in the BLAST Fall Final, Heroic had a dominant 16-7 win over FaZe during the Legends stage of this Major. Martin "stavn" Lund and cadiaN were the standouts for Heroic during the Legends stage, with 1.23 and 1.31 K/Ds, respectively, across 131 rounds and five maps played.
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While Heroic started the Major in the Legends stage and cruised to a 3-0 record to reach the Champions stage, FaZe have been battling since the Major RMR qualifiers. They were the last team to qualify for the Major and lost their first two games in the Legends stage to put them on the brink of elimination. FaZe had to win three straight best-of-threes, including the last one over the vaunted NAVI to reach the Champions stage. This is the same team that won the Antwerp Major last year and the ESL Pro League earlier this year to capture the Intel Grand Slam. Despite how vulnerable they have looked at times leading up to and through the Major, FaZe have won when they needed to. This is a 1-seed vs. 8-seed matchup based on the results of the Legends stage so Heroic should be favored, but only slightly, as this matchup could easily go either way, and the victor will be favored to reach the final.
Into the Breach vs. Team Vitality
Thursday, May 18, at 1 p.m. ET
Photo credit: BLAST
Besides FaZe vs. Heroic, this is the most interesting quarterfinal matchup. It’s England vs. France in Paris, and David vs. Goliath at the final CS:GO Major ever.
Let’s start with the French. Vitality are the heavy favorites, and as the lone French organization with the only two French players at the tournament in Dan "apEX" Madesclaire and Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut, the crowd should be roaring for them at the Accor Arena. Vitality went 3-0 during the Legends stage, beating G2, ENCE and Monte along the way. ZywOo has the top rating at the tournament at 1.38 and the most kills per round at 0.9. He’s one of the greatest players to have never won a Major, and he’s playing alongside Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen who has four Major wins and Emil "Magisk" Reif who has three. Both of those players picked up their Major wins as part of the legendary Astralis lineup that dominated from 2018 to 2019. This team came into the Major hot after winning IEM Rio over Heroic. Anything short of winning the Major would be a disappointment for this squad.
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On the other side you have Into the Breach, who have defied expectations in qualifying for the Major in the first place, qualifying as a Legends team and then reaching the Champions stage. Hardly anyone but their fans expected the 30th ranked team in the world, according to ESL, to be in this situation. ITB are the first and only primarily British roster to ever qualify for a Major. Into the Breach have been one of the best stories at the Major and have proven their run is not a fluke with who they’ve beaten. ITB have taken down FaZe, ENCE and Fnatic. The win over Fnatic was especially impressive considering it was a best-of-three, they lost the first map, and then pulled off two dominant map wins (16-8, 16-4) against a much more experienced roster. Instead of the young Brits crumbling under the pressure, it was the players on the storied British organization who looked out of sorts. Joey "CRUC1AL" Steusel was crucial for ITB in that series with his +23 K/D differential and 1.35 rating leading all players in that matchup. There’s no doubt ITB are heavy underdogs against Vitality, but it would be foolish to underestimate the Brits.
GamerLegion vs. Monte
Friday, May 19, at 9 a.m. ET
Photo credit: BLAST
Nobody would believe you if you predicted GamerLegion would face Monte in the quarterfinals of the Paris Major, but here we are. In a tournament that has been filled with unheralded teams taking down titans in the game, this is the most unlikely playoff pairing. Whoever wins this matchup will be one of the most unlikely Major semifinalists.
GamerLegion are the 31st ranked team in the world according to ESL, making them the lowest ranked playoff team (one below Into the Breach). They seemed destined to exit the Major in the Challengers Stage after starting 0-2, but then won their next three matches to make the next stage. During the Legends Stage, GamerLegion went 3-1, including a victory over Fnatic and a decisive 2-0 over Apeks to qualify for the Champions Stage. Mihai 'iM' Ivan leads all players at the Major in damage per round at 96.4 and has the second-best rating at 1.35, behind only ZywOo.
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Monte are the 22nd ranked team in the world per ESL (but 13th according to HLTV), which makes them slight favorites in this underdog vs. underdog matchup. As first-time Major qualifiers, Monte aren’t used to facing the caliber of teams they’re facing in Paris, but the team has proven it belongs. The primarily Ukrainian roster beat FURIA, FaZe and NAVI during the Legends Stage. The win over NAVI was particularly impressive as it was 2-0 and the second map was a 16-2 thumping. Monte’s win over fellow Ukrainian organization and CSGO titans NAVI is the type of victory cinderella runs are made of. Plus, Monte’s in-game leader Viktor "sdy" Orudzhev was a stand-in for NAVI during the second half of 2022, which makes that victory even more poetic.
Team Liquid vs. Apeks
Friday, May 19, at 1 p.m. ET
Photo credit: BLAST
This is the most North American-centric matchup. It’s not just because Team Liquid are the last NA team standing with two NA players in Nicholas "nitr0" Cannella and Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski. It’s also because Apeks was one of a few European teams to take a trip to North America last year to participate in Fragadelphia, a North American regional tournament hosted at Nerd Street’s own Localhost Philadelphia.
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North American connections aside, at first glance this might seem like a mismatch given Team Liquid’s pedigree. However, Apeks beat Liquid during the Challengers Stage, and Liquid looked on their way to an early exit from the Major after starting 0-2. Meanwhile, Apeks started 2-0 and ultimately went 3-1 during the Challengers Stage with only a loss to G2. During the Legends Stage, Apeks went 3-2 with their most impressive win being a 2-0 against Ninjas in Pyjamas to qualify for the Champions Stage. Against NIP, Apeks came back after being down at halftime at both maps and won both in overtime. Despite being ranked 29th in the world by ESL, this team is more than capable of beating Liquid.
Although TL appear vulnerable in this matchup, their fortunes have changed quite a bit since their 0-2 start. They won three straight best-of-threes in the Challengers Stage to advance and then went 3-1 in the Legends Stage with only a close loss to Heroic. Liquid actually have the best K/D differential at the Major at +77 with Joshua "oSee" Ohm leading the way at +40. Team Liquid are North America’s last hope not only to win this Major but to become the second ever North American team to win a Major after Cloud9’s famous win at the Boston Major in 2018.
Semifinals and beyond
Photo credit: BLAST
The way things have been going at the Major so far, we could get one of the most unlikely final fours in Major history. We know either Monte or GamerLegion will reach the semis, which would be a massive accomplishment for either team as both are ranked outside the top 10 in HLTV’s rankings and outside the top 20 in ESL’s rankings. However, that’s likely where either team’s run will end. Whoever wins between Heroic and FaZe Clan looks bound for the final as they would face either GamerLegion or Monte in the semifinals. Monte did win a best-of-three against NAVI during the Legends Stage, so don’t count them out.
On the other side of the bracket, it’s possible we get Into the Breach vs. Apeks in the semifinals which would be one of the most unlikely in Major history. Apeks have better odds to reach the final four as they face Team Liquid. However, Team Vitality appear to be the strongest team at the tournament and will be the recipients of the crowd buff in Paris. Into the Breach have been a great story thus far, but it will be shocking if Vitality don’t beat them and reach the semis. Whether they face Liquid or Apeks, Vitality should cruise to the final, where they are likely to meet either Heroic or FaZe.
Lead photo credit: BLAST