The group stage of the EPICENTER 2019 is behind us, meaning the list of six finalists is complete and with it the schedule for the final stage of the tournament, which is set to take off this Saturday, December 21. But before we get too ahead of ourselves, let's look at what happened on day three of EPICENTER.
EHOME vs Heroic
EHOME and Heroic stepped into the arena in the early hours of Thursday, where we witnessed the most one-sided affair of the tournament, with Heroic making short work of EHOME to advance into the decider match.
The Chinese roster started the series well as they managed to contest Heroic at the onset of Inferno, to claim a 4-2 lead, but were unable to keep their wheels spinning as they fell flat in the rounds that followed. Heroic resurged in form and pocketed eight out of the remaining nine rounds to enter the second half 10-5 up. After the switch, EHOME were looking for a fresh start, which never came. Instead, it was Heroic who made easy work of them with six successive rounds to seal the first map of the series.
After a stellar performance on Inferno, Heroic went into their own map pick of Nuke were a mix of confidence, momentum and superior quality earned them a breathtaking 16-1 win. EHOME on the other side failed to make any noise, much like in their 1-16 defeat on Nuke against Vitality earlier on Tuesday. With a phenomenal display of skill, Heroic decimated EHOME and booked their appearance in the decider match, where they were to meet with NaVi later that day.
Virtus.pro vs forZe
In group B, the elimination match featured two old friends - forZe and Virtus.pro, who put up a show which won't be easily forgotten by the CS:GO fans.
The series kicked off with two CIS sides clashing on Train, where forZe needed only 19 rounds to secure a commanding 16-3 win, which set them up nicely to finish the series early. Andrey "Jerry" Mekhryakov and his squad kept their momentum going into Inferno, where they decimated Virtus.pro on T-Side with a 12-3 first half, meaning they were only four rounds away from securing a ticket for the decider match. However, Virtus.pro had other plans. The former AVANGAR squad found their rhythm after the switch and put up an impressive run of 13-1 to turn the score upside down and force Vertigo.
Despite dropping the ball on Inferno, forZe stabilized and remained their composure as they headed to Vertigo. With a solid defence, forZe managed to fend off Virtus.pro with varying degrees of success throughout the first half which saw them come up short of one round (7-8) ahead of the switch. While the match remained close throughout the first 15 rounds, forZe found their stride while on T-Side, where they put up an impressive run of 9-2 to win the map at 16-10 and seal the series at 2-1.
All in all, it was an exciting clash between two CIS giants who at very least offered the home-crowd a match they will go on to remember for a while longer.
Natus Vincere vs Heroic
After both elimination fixtures concluded, it was time for the first decider match to take centre stage, featuring NaVi and Heroic, who already met in the opening matches on Tuesday.
Despite being considered as the underdogs, Heroic made sure to not go down without a fight and with their persistence and endurance caused Kirill "Boombl4" Mikhailov and his squad many headaches.
The series took off on Nuke, where we got to see NaVi crash and burn once more. After securing the first round, NaVi lost three in a row, before they responded with two of their own. But before they got a chance to grab a lead, Heroic switched into a higher gear and claimed the first half with an authoritative 10-5 lead. NaVi had their moment of greatness at the start of the second half where they claimed the opening three rounds, but from there onwards it was smooth sailing for Heroic who took the reins of the match in their own hands and won six out of the remaining seven rounds to win the map with 16-9.
After their disastrous performance on Nuke, it was time for NaVi to show what they're capable of, and that is exactly what they did. Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev and co. switched into a higher gear and started performing on the level everyone expected them to. On Train, NaVi kept a firm grip of the match as they secured a 10-5 lead ahead of the switch, to which they added a remarkable 6-1 run on CT-Side to tie the series at 1-1. Both s1mple and Denis "electronic" Sharipov were just phenomenal, earning a rating of 1.80 and 1.76 respectively to carry their team to victory.
Inferno, which was the third and last map of the series proved to be slightly closer in terms of the final score, but in all fairness, the overall flow of the game remained mostly the same as on Train. NaVi entered the first half with all guns blazing and won 12 rounds straight before they hit some resistance from Heroic. Nonetheless, it was way too late for the Danes to come back into the game. NaVi ended the first half 13-2 up and needed only 10 more rounds in the second half to claim their second win with the scoreboard showing 16-9 in their favour.
Evil Geniuses vs forZe
Vincent "Brehze" Cayonte got his visa issue resolved, meaning EG were heading into their bout against forZe with a full roster, which put a lot of expectations on their shoulders, to deliver and secure a spot in the final six.
The first map of the series was Nuke, where teams entered an exciting back-and-forth forcebuy war, which ultimately ended in EG's favour who came out ahead 9-6 by the half time mark. Although forZe claimed the final three maps of the first half, they failed to keep their momentum going into the second, where EG went on an undefeated seven-game streak to swiftly finish the map before entering their own map pick - Mirage.
The two sides continued with their forcebuy war from Nuke, however, it was the Russians who were coming out ahead this time. One map after another, forZe started to slowly accumulate a substantial lead and before EG got a chance to realize what's happening things got out of hands, as they found themselves in a 1-14 hole heading into the second half. There forZe finished what they started, equalized the series at 1-1 and forced Inferno.
EG started Inferno strong and won the opening two rounds, however, things quickly turned sour for them as they got hit with a dominant 6-0 run from forZe, which gave them enough momentum to end the half 9-6 ahead. Filled with confidence, forZe never lifted their foot off the gas and barely six rounds into the second half, they found themselves 14-7 up. EG had a moment of greatness when they won three in a row, but in the end, they only delayed the inevitable. ForZe won the map with 16-10 and sealed the series at 2-1 to secure themselves the higher quarter-finals seed.
With group stage behind us, all there is left to do is wait until Saturday, December 21, when Heroic will lock horns with forZe, while EG will flex their muscles against NaVi in the second fixture of the day.