It's time for the playoffs in EQL12 and I've written a short preview of what's going to go down in divisions 1 & 2, as well as some predictions for the individual games in each competition.
This promises to be the most exciting and evenly contested Division 1 playoff for a few years.
The Viper Squad (tVS) have lost their aura of invincibility, having lost to
Slackers (SR) 3-2 in the QHLAN14 final and 2-1 in the regular season game. As a result, this competition is really there for the taking, and any one of four teams has a genuine chance to win it. When was the last time you could honestly say that about a top level Quakeworld 4on4 competition?
SR's recent wins over tVS make them marginal favourites for the title. They cruised to #1 spot in the division, losing only 2 maps along the way. In recent years they have had some instability in their lineup, but this season they have a stable four of En_Karl, ParadokS, Murdoc and Zero. These four give a great balance of shrewd strategical gameplay and frag-racking brilliance, and their strengths mean that they are not weak on any map. Murdoc has become one of the best DM3 players around, while Zero has really impressed me in recent seasons as he has made himself into one of the best players on E1M2 and DM2 (side question: if you were making a team of the best non-Scandinavian European 4on4 players, who would be in it?). Oh, and then they have Juan "Striker" Aranda on the bench, a player with a great history in big games, nerves of steel and buckets of skill as well.
tVS are very close to SR, and only a fool would rule them out of things at this point. I don't know what the situation is with Xantom, but it is pretty clear that he is an important cog in their teamplay machinery. With him back in the line-up, their chances of holding on to their EQL crown increase significantly. Diki is also a fantastic 4on4 player, but Xantom seems to bring extra balance to the play, and acts as an excellent counter-foil to Milton. Not much can be said about Milton that hasn't been said before, but I'm starting to believe now that he is the best of all time. I have watched a lot of big games and have at some point seen all of the greats playing 4on4, and I don't think I have ever seen anyone who combines brilliant, accurate movement (example: how easily he executes the rocket-jump to high on DM2) with clinical aiming and robotic item timing. Watching him play QW is like reading William Blake or listening to Rachmaninoff.
The final will almost certainly be an SR-tVS match-up. SR seem to have the beating of tVS on DM3, but DM2 and E1M2 have gone either way in the recent matches. The final will be best of 5, and assuming neither team wins 3-0, we will almost certainly see CMT1b and CMT4 in action. I don't know enough about either team's proficiency on those maps to comment...
Fusion (F) and
Suddendeath (SD) also have a good chance of winning the title, if things go their way. Fusion are certainly weaker for the loss of Moltas, but the addition of Xterm (lacsap) is a good one. If they can field their best line-up in the finals (i.e. if Xterm and Nitram both play!), then they are capable of winning maps against any team, as they showed by taking a map from tVS in the group matches. They appear to have a weakness on CMT4 however, and this is something that tVS or SR would exploit in a final game, in my opinion. Suddendeath have really impressed me during the regular season. I remember watching them rise up from the lower divisions a few years ago, and it is great to see them playing at this level now. In the regular season, they took a map from SR and F and ran tVS very close over two maps. Once again I fear their downfall could be the so-called "Kenya" maps - they lost their only play of CMT1b and recorded just 1 win from 3 on CMT4. Slackers vs CCCP
CCCP have boosted their roster with the addition of Moltas, and will certainly be no pushover for the QHLAN champs. However, SR are very active at the moment and are practicing hard. In their current shape, it would be a surprise to see them even drop a map to the Russians.Prediction: 3-0 to SR The Viper Squad vs QuakeKlan
QK ran tVS close on E1M2 during the regular season, albeit with tVS fielding an unusual line-up which included Diki and Maga. With a more normal line-up, tVS should have no problems taking this one home without conceding a map.Prediction: 3-0 to tVS Fusion vs TeamKillers
I have watched with interest the rise of TKs through the divisions over the last couple of years, partly because they have a couple of Brits, but also because they have a great attitude and a real willingness to practice against good teams, even if it means taking the odd reaming. They have no real superstars, but are a good demonstration of what you can achieve if you work hard and develop a solid team ethic and good tactics. I've been really impressed with the improvement in DDK, and think he could be the first top-level UK player in QW we've seen for a few years before too long...
TKs have been practicing hard of late, and although the regular season match ended 2-0 to Fusion, I fancy them to sneak a map on either CMT1b or CMT4. Fusion should be too strong for them on the TB3 maps, though.Prediction: 3-1 to Nitram & co Suddendeath vs Sauna
This is the hardest match to predict, as you would expect given that it is 4th vs 5th. SD finished higher in the table, but Sauna actually won this match in the regular season, 2-0. Darkki and HLT are really solid players on TB3, and SD will have to be at their very best to win this. As mentioned above, SD are not too hot on the CMT maps, so there may be an opportunity for Sauna here. I don't know too much about them on these maps, as they only played CMT1b once during the season, where they beat TKs.Prediction: 3-2 to Sauna in a tight, exciting encounter!Division 2
My own clan,
Osams, found ourselves in Division 2 after placing 2nd in Division 3 last season. We knew it would be tough going and it proved to be the case, as we only managed to win 1 map out of 15. Our most winnable match was the one vs
Demolition Clan 2, but we were forced to play that game without our star player Steppa because DC2 only became active late in the league, and the night we happened to arrange for, Steppa was ill. As it was, we had 2 close maps and lost 2-0. Elsewhere, I felt we could have won DM2 vs
Chosen, E1M2 vs
Cross Defenders and DM3 vs
O Clan. We need to step back and work on our strategy on a broader level, and also on a smaller scale as well, if we are to avoid another embarassing season in EQL13.
As for the playoffs? It's a very tough call.
Bad Luck Troopers deservedly finished top of the pile in the regular season, beating 3rd placed
SSC but losing to 2nd-placed CSN. BLT's solid teamplay on all 5 maps will make them tough to beat in the playoffs. SSC will also be there or thereabouts, and with a good knowledge of the CMT maps they will also be very tough opponents. CSN should join these two in the semis. If they field their best line-up, which is probably Flamer, Pyta, Hooraytio and Rkd (who is this Rkd guy by the way, and where has he come from?), then they are my favourites for the tournament - they just don't have a weak map and they have a solid all-round teamplay game. I expect to see Fix's Merry men, aka
In A Blaze in the semi-finals as well. BLT vs DC2
No question here, BLT will be too strong for the Poles and unless DC2 can sneak a DM2 win, they will be going home empty-handed.Prediction: A comfortable 3-0 for Knave & co CSN vs O Clan
The transfer of Marvel has no doubt strengthened this team of Americas-based high pingers, but CSN's routine and class should be too much. Marvel will help his boys on the UK favourite CMT4, but it won't be enough.Prediction: 3-0 to CSN SSC vs Magnum 44
M44 are a hard team to predict, as every now and then they do something that surprises everyone and beat a team they should have no right to beat. But SSC's experience and knowledge of the CMT maps should see them home here, albeit for the loss of the M44 stronghold, DM2.Prediction: 3-1 to SSC In A Blaze vs Cross Defenders
As with division 1, 4th vs 5th is the toughest to predict. CD are actually quite useful on CMT4, but then again so are In A Blaze. The Finns won a tight group encounter 2-1, taking home DM3 and DM2 to CD's CMT4, and on that basis I would back In A Blaze to take this one, on the basis that they should also win E1M2, a map where CD struggle (as I witnessed first-hand when I was top-fragger vs them in the groups!).Prediction: 3-1 or 3-2 to In A Blaze, depending on how CMT1b goes