EMEA competition is finally back. After a week's break, six teams hopped back on the server to carry out half of Stage 1: EMEA Challengers' Week 4 games.
Last week's EMEA VCT matches were canceled due to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. Some uncertainty surrounded Week 4's games as Riot announced the games would not start Friday, but later declared three of Week 4's six games would be played on Saturday and Sunday.
Saturday was reserved for four teams from Group B. A Turkish brawl between BBL Esports BBL Esports Europe Rank #12 and SuperMassive Blaze SuperMassive Blaze Europe Rank #19 kicked off the day, with G2 Esports G2 Esports Inactive and Acend Acend Europe Rank #4 playing soon after. LDN UTD LDN UTD Inactive and Team Liquid Team Liquid Europe Rank #3 played the weekend's only Group A match on Sunday.
The Turkish duel began on Split, as chosen by BBL and where both teams have shown recent promise. It was the second game between these two teams and the first one since Turkey's Stage 1: Challengers 1, where SuperMassive Blaze came out on top.
BBL hit the ground running with a 5-0 lead. SuperMassive Blaze scored their first round off a 3K from Eren "Brave" Kasırga, but weren't able to properly contest their opponents' advantage, which garnered them only three more rounds and led to a 12-3 scoreline in favor of BBL.
Thanks to some flashy plays from Brave, Baran "Izzy" Yılmaz and a 1v2 clutch from Burak "glovee" Yıldırım, SuperMassive Blaze managed to tighten the scoreline to 12-7, at which point BBL closed out the game by denying a B push.
Icebox was SuperMassive Blaze's pick. Their new roster has yet to lose on this map, while BBL have lost four games in a row. Even still, there was no clearly superior team in the second map of this series.
In the first half, BBL established a minor advantage over their Turkish counterparts, going up 4-3. SuperMassive Blaze then flipped it around and found their own one-round advantage, eventually ending the half ahead 7-5.
As SuperMassive Blaze switched to the defense, their advantage soon slipped away. For every two rounds BBL found, SuperMassive Blaze were only able to reply back with one of their own, leading to a 13-10 loss that rounded out the series.BBL showed up to Saturday's match incredibly well-coordinated.
To close out Saturday, G2 and Acend were the next two teams heading into the server. This was the first match these two teams played against each other since 2021 VCT's Stage 3, in July. At the time, G2's roster was radically different to what it is now, while Acend's roster isn't.
“I do feel like we have this pressure [on us]. But we are bouncing back from all the pressure, traveling and the adrenaline we had last year,” Santeri "BONECOLD" Sassi said. “We've had a slow start to the year, but things are looking very promising and, lately in scrims we've found good grasp, and I feel like we can bounce back really well going into the playoffs.”
G2 left Acend's strongest map open in the veto, preferring to ban Breeze in spite of their penalty. Acend thus picked Bind, a map where they hold an 87% win rate, losing only six times in 45 played. A strong showing was expected from BONECOLD's men, but G2 showed up with a plan.
That plan enabled G2 to keep it close for the first rounds, tying the map up at 4-4. Acend dropped two more rounds and called a timeout at 6-4, but weren't able to make full use of it. G2 found one more round, with a 1v2 clutch from Johan "Meddo" Renbjörk Lundborg closing out the half 8-4.
As the teams switched sides, Žygimantas "nukkye" Chmieliauskas seemed to be in peak form with a 3 KD, finding six multikills in the first half only.
Acend found two rounds on the defensive half, but G2 shrugged those rounds off and kept marching towards map point. G2 reached an 11-6 scoreline, with nukkye single-handedly taking control of the A site with a Blast Pack dodge that left everyone in awe, acing in the process. Acend replied back with a strong defensive round, but a B push from G2 closed out the map 13-7.
nukkye kept up his great form and, by the time the map ended, had found three more multikills. The Lithuanian player finished the map with 427 ACS and a 90% KAST, as well as nearly 270 ADR.
“I mean.. nukkye did drop 30. Yeah, man dropped a 30-bomb on us and we had a really slow start so it was quite expected,” BONECOLD said. “We are champions, but we are mortal as well. We are really good coming back, we have a lot of experience of coming back into series so we didn't have any pressure losing Bind, because we knew the next two maps would be really good for us.”What do you call this move?
Ascent was up next, picked by G2 as their most played and best map with the new roster. At the same time, Acend held an 80% win rate on Ascent, having lost it only once since the Masters: Berlin quarterfinals.
G2 found the first round of Ascent, but lost the next four. Acend eventually found themselves tied up at 4-4, prompting them to put in a pause and talk with coach Laurynas "Nbs" Kisielius. It only resulted in one round win before G2 secured the half 7-5.
In the second half, Acend showed themselves to be the superior team and dropped only two rounds in spite of a timeout from G2. BONECOLD finished the map off in style, grabbing the 13-9 off a 1v1 win against Auni "AvovA" Chahade and taking the series to the third map.
“We've had a lot of games where we've started off slow and I feel like that was the case today,” BONECOLD said.cNed was the better duelist on Split, with a 2.09 KDA.
The final map of today's series was Split. Acend won this map the last time they played it, scoring a major comeback against Guild. Unlike last time, though, they came bursting out of the gate with a 6-0 scoreline.
G2 finally got two rounds on the board but Mehmet "cNed" Yağız İpek replied with an ace to give his team their seventh point, later wrapping up the half 8-4. After switching sides, it didn't take long for Aleksander "zeek" Zygmunt and co. to reach double digits. From there, Acend only dropped one round before closing out the map 13-5, finding their second group stage win.
“Against G2, we've always had these very, very scrappy games. Both teams play very loose-like and it really shows on the server,” BONECOLD said. “Knowing G2, we got some really good reads going into the last two maps, after a slow start on Bind, and it went pretty much as expected. Some scrappy rounds but we knew we had them on a leash for the last two maps.”
The future is bright for Acend, BONECOLD thinks. They'll still be facing group leaders FNATIC FNATIC Europe Rank #2 , as well as BBL, before the group stage is over. The Finnish IGL recognizes the team has had a slow start to the year and that the remaining games won't be easy, but — after today's win — his men are confident and expect to finish off the group stage with two more wins.
“I feel like we have the culmination of players and staff in a team to really make this a team that can actually make a legacy,” BONECOLD said. “We have some youngsters in the team, we've got all the experience of last year going into two LANs, winning [Masters 1] and the world championship.”
“I feel like this team has it to go on to have a second good year, even a third good year, if we just have the right focus.”
The final game of the weekend was a sole Group A match between LDN UTD and Team Liquid. Both teams had a rocky start to their VCT group stage, each holding a 1-1 record prior to their encounter. This was the first time these two would face off against each other.
“I wouldn't say [the pressure] is overwhelming,” Dom "soulcas" Sulcas said. “We expect ourselves to do really well because we've got such a good roster and we've been doing well in scrims and stuff. I expect that we can meet our standards from last year and go way above and beyond them.”
LDN UTD picked Haven, one of the two maps they've won in the VCT so far. This is also the map where Liquid bring out one of their more unique compositions, featuring KAY/O, Chamber, and Neon.
“We watched their games back and saw they were pretty good,” soulcas said. “They have good ideas, good structure, good players. But we were still very confident that we could beat them. We didn't want to underestimate them because that's when you start losing rounds, and it starts snowballing and you can get tilted. They're a good team.”
Liquid's Haven against LDN UTD mirrored the one they played against Natus Vincere Natus Vincere Europe Rank #1 . Besides playing the same composition, Liquid struggled to establish a strong advantage in the first half. After going 1-4, LDN UTD reeled Liquid back in and only just lost the first half 7-5.
LDN UTD won the first two rounds of the second half, but then dropped several rounds in succession and allowed Liquid to reach 12-7. The Lithuanian squad found their eighth point by running down the clock, but their luck soon ran out and Liquid closed out the game 13-8. A better result than last time, but Liquid seemed to fight much harder for it.
“I think a lot of it was the Breach. It was difficult to fight for the A Main control, because that's what the first half went down to,” soulcas said. “It's really hard to take A against a Breach, I think we struggled there a bit. Their C hits were pretty good, so I think that's why we struggled a bit more than last time.”Chamber is the only Agent you could've pulled this play off with.
Liquid started off the map with a 4-1 lead. LDN UTD then bit back with two streaks of four rounds, going from a three-round disadvantage to a four-round lead at 9-5. That lead was short-lived, as Liquid found their sixth round and called a timeout to make full use of their first point in the second half.
“We were pretty pleased with 7-5 on the attacking side. We could've gotten a way better score because we went 4-1 up straightaway, so we had the momentum going but I think they adapted pretty well,” soulcas said. “There were a few rounds where they caught us off-guard and, in the mid-round, we struggled to make a decision sometimes. I think having a 7-5 half starting on the attacking side was good from us because we have a very defensive comp, so we were very comfortable and confident going into the defensive side.”
That timeout resulted in six more rounds, which put Liquid on match point at 12-9. LDN UTD managed to hold back an A retake on round 22, but Liquid quickly turned it around to close out the series with a 13-10 win. LDN UTD suffered yet another comeback on Split and are now in a much tougher position to reach playoffs.
“We have incredible players and incredible firepower,” soulcas said. “Even when it gets to these tight games where strats kind of go out the window, you can have someone hit an insane 2K, 3K that can win us the half or even the game. I think that really shines within our roster."
Team Liquid are now 2-1 in Group B, but they still have to face group leaders FunPlus Phoenix FunPlus Phoenix Inactive as well as BIG. soulcas expects nothing short of a rough fight against both teams, especially against FPX, pointing out that BIG are a promising squad but have always struggled with deep runs in tournaments.Key plays from soulcas helped Liquid find the series win today.
The schedule for the next week of games is still unknown. Riot has announced plans for a dual broadcast that would schedule Week 5's games with the previously delayed Week 3 games. There are also plans in motion to host this week's three postponed matches.