World No. 1 Gambit exited IEM Cologne on Friday following a 2-1 defeat to FaZe in the first round of the single-elimination playoffs. The CIS side, who have been at the top of the world rankings for over two months, were left to rue a series of crucial errors that handed the initiative to their opponents, who used their superior LAN experience to stay out of harm’s way and set up a semi-final clash with Natus Vincere on Saturday.
FaZe exhibited the necessary mental strength to respond to setbacks, including an 11-1 deficit on their map pick of Ancient – a gamble that nearly backfired. Then they almost won Overpass after coming back from five map points down in regulation and one in overtime. On Inferno, FaZe were simply a cut above their opponents, who struggled to cope with the pressure of dealing with a team that was outside the top 30 in the rankings heading into the tournament.
“They are the best team in the world, but I saw some weaknesses,” Finn “karrigan” Andersen said after the match. “We also took a huge gamble in the veto, where we could pick Ancient or stay in our comfort zone. Today we had bad starts but we adapted on the fly. I’m proud of my teammates.”
Gambit got off to a flying start, cruising to an 11-1 lead on Ancient, with Abay “Hobbit” Khasenov leading the charge with 16 frags and a stunning 140 ADR. FaZe were struggling for ideas and couldn’t keep up in the fragging department, but they showed some resistance in the final stages of the half to keep their comeback hopes alive.
FaZe carried that momentum into the second half and put some rounds together, forcing Gambit to call a timeout at 11-8 after they were shut down by Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken on the A site. The CIS side looked revitalised after the timeout and secured their first rounds of the half, but FaZe soon regained control of the game. karrigan‘s troops took advantage of their opponents’ mistakes and pulled off numerous multi-kills to secure the map in dominant fashion.
Gambit again came out the brighter side on Overpass and strolled to a 7-2 lead after preventing their opponents from stringing rounds together, but they didn’t really seem to have the game under control called two timeouts in a row after losing rounds. FaZe capitalised on their opponents’ indecisiveness and rode the wave of momentum to bring the deficit to a solitary round before the break.
The second half brought a reinvigorated Gambit, who hit map point at 15-10 before FaZe clawed their way back into the game with some excellent calling and forced overtime, much to their opponents’ frustration. The Russians kept their cool, though, and despite wasting another map point in the first overtime – which included a stellar ace by Helvijs “broky” Saukants -, managed to put the game to bed.
Gambit‘s players breathed a sigh of relief when Overpass finally came to a close, but the respite was brief as FaZe came back swinging on Inferno. The international team ended the first half up by three after a dominant 6-0 run, and then ran amok in the second half following a successful second-round force – courtesy of a timely effort by Twistzz – to deny the world No.1 team a shot at a second ESL Pro Tour Championship level title.
“It’s going to be a very tough task,” karrigan said when asked about Saturday’s clash with NAVI. “We were ranked 37th and now we’re in the semi-finals. Now it’s two games to be the champion of Cologne. At this point, anything can happen. We have nothing to lose, as I’ve said all tournament.”