The tournament, the largest in Europe to date, was defined just as much by who didn't make it to the finals as it was by those who did. The juggernaut squads of G2 Esports G2 Esports Europe Rank #7 and FunPlus Phoenix FunPlus Phoenix Europe Rank #11 were so widely favored to face-off in the tournament's finals that it in some ways felt predestined.
Instead, each team was stopped in the semifinals in three-map upsets by rising squads. Team Heretics became the first team to defeat G2 in a Bo3 series in Europe's first semifinal while SUMN FC followed by dominating the event's new favorites in the final two maps of their series.
Europe has had a dearth of high-profile tournaments since Team Heretics finished their roster in early October, denying the team — and their grand finals opponents — an opportunity to prove themselves before First Strike that they are on the same tier as Europe's very best teams.
As a result, many dismissed the roster as underdogs to G2 and FPX — this despite the fact Team Heretics have only lost one match, a Bo1 to Ninjas in Pyjamas in the First Strike qualifiers, coming into the main event. But in each and every match, the grand finals included, they showed why outsiders shouldn't have taken them likely.
They flexed their muscles to start the grand final, easily taking Ascent on a 13-1 score. While SUMN FC fought back in the second map to tie the series 1-1, Team Heretics were able to once again show they were fully in control of the series by winning the third map with a comfortable 13-5 and then jumping ahead to a 10-4 lead in the fourth map of the series, Bind.
SUMN FC once again showed resilience by winning seven of the next eight rounds to tie the map up at 11-11. A pause was able to halt SUMN's momentum, however, and Team Heretics took the lead again with a round win. A technical issue looked poised to turn around Team Heretics' newly regained energy, but the team's nerves remained steeled and they closed out the map and the series by winning the final round and taking Bind 13-11.
nieSoW was the team's statistical star throughout the tournament, leading them in ACS and K:D and trailing only nukkye for average damage per round. His ACS of 243.9 was the fifth highest among all players in the main event and K:D of 1.35 was third highest across all players.
But in reality, Team Heretics' success was a team affair. lowel , who remained on Sage the entirety of the main event, was crowned the tournament and grand finals MVP on the broadcast. The support from pAura and AvovA set up kills both for the team's highest fraggers and for themselves.
nukkye had the best statistical performance of the grand finals with a 285 ACS with 184.2 ADR. He shined on all of the maps Team Heretics won on, whereas nieSoW tried to carry the team in the one map they lost.
While Team Heretics stole the show and proved themselves to be at the level of Europe's superteams, SUMN FC also showcased their ability in the tournament despite the grand final loss.
Much like Team Heretics, SUMN FC had few opportunities to take on Europe's established juggernauts prior to First Strike. They had just one match with FunPlus PhoeniX prior to the tournament, a grand final match in which they lost 2-0.
So, they too were overlooked in favor of the more well-known rosters prior to the main event's start. But they possibly had the most to gain for a strong performance — they were one of four unsigned teams to play in Europe's main event and the only one of those four teams to make it to the final four.
While they will surely be disappointed to finish second after beating a team as good as FPX, they ultimately lost to the team that undoubtedly proved to be in the best form for the tournament. All three teams Team Heretics beat could make an argument for being a part of Europe's top five, including their quarterfinal opponents, Team Liquid.
After the grand finals, loWel was asked on the broadcast if he thought winning the tournament meant they could claim to be Europe's best team at the moment.
Of course, he said yes. And as many arguments you could make for G2 Esports and FunPlus PhoeniX for their track records of greatness, loWel and his teammates deserve their time in the sun. They earned it.