forZe and ESPADA are the early favorites at ESL Rio CIS Minor

By Nick Johnson


Mar 13, 2020

Reading time: 4 min

This year, ESL One Rio’s CIS Minor qualifiers will feature two teams new to the Minor circuit alongside six that have been there multiple times before. WINNERS League Season 3 champions ESPADA will make their debut at the CIS Minor, competing alongside Hard Legion Esports, ForZe, Winstrike Team, Gambit Youngsters, Syman Gaming, Team Spirit, and Team Unique.

ESL One Rio CIS Minor format

Just like the other three Minor tournaments, the CIS Minor format has two groups of four with the top two teams from each group seeded directly into the semifinals. The group stage will eliminate four teams, leaving the other four to duke it out in the playoffs for first place. Losing in the semifinals doesn’t count a team out entirely, however. 

The two losing teams from the semifinals play one another, with the winner of that matchup playing the loser of the winner’s final for second place. Even then, a third-place finish grants a potential spot in the final way to ESL One Rio through the play-in stage.

The first matches of the CIS Minor will be best-of-one standoffs, with the remaining matches all played out over the classic best-of-three series format. Minors are quick and dirty affairs: lose two and you’re out, win three and you’re in. Here are the eight teams that get to fight over the CIS’s dual Major spots or a second chance to sneak into the RIO major through the play-ins.

  • Gambit Youngsters
  • forZe
  • Hard Legion Esports
  • Team Unique
  • Syman Gaming
  • Winstrike Team

forZe should regain 2019 form for Rio’s CIS Minor

forZe should concern every single team attending the CIS minor. In fact, there is a case to be made that it is the second-best team in the CIS region. While the beginning of 20129 hasn’t been kind to the team, its string of 2-0 wins at the DreamHack Open Anaheim qualifiers was downright impressive. 


Going back to December, the all-Russian lineup has wins over Evil Geniuses, FURIA, Cr4zy, and the Heroic squad recently picked up by Fun Plus Phoenix. Anaheim wasn’t a good showing for forZe, but a Minor win could be the push they need to get real tournament experience. If anyone is looking for , forZe taking the CIS Minor is it.

While that may not seem a shocking prediction given that forZe walked away from the StarLadder Berlin Minor in first place last year, both Gambit and ESPADA are capable of toppling a currently inconsistent team.

Gambit Youngsters could be overrated as ESPADA steps into CSGO spotlight

While Gambit insists on calling its roster in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive an academy team, for all intents and purposes, Gambit Academy is very similar to the Gambit roster that won the 2017 PGL Krakow Major. The talent on the team isn’t quite there yet. They’ve still got a promising future, considering the average age of Gambit Youngsters is just 18.

While they are young, the organization seems content to sit on them until they see that Gambit classic flash of success and can be sold off to the highest bidder.  The current roster has been together since June 2019, and there’s little excuse as to why the Youngsters haven’t coalesced into a serious force despite their age. 

They’ll still have to deal with ESPADA, though.

Since taking home first place at WINNER’s League Season 3, ESPADA surprised in the CIS closed Minor qualifiers. The team finished first in Rio’s initial open qualifier and have given Gambit Youngsters a run for their money twice in 2020. Once in a close 2-1 series at the Great Universe Cup’s grand final, and once again at the WESG qualifiers where ESPADA lost 16-13 and 16-14.

They have the talent and leadership to succeed. Both Dimitri “dima” Bandurka and Dmitri “s0tf1k” Forostianko joined the roster at the end of last year and serve as a veteran presence, but the real power on ESPADA is with Abdul “degster” Gasanov.

When degster is on, he’s reminiscent of a Russian Jackie “Stewie2k” Yip, especially when using his preferred weapon in the AWP. But degster can give away early picks to his opponents just as often as he takes them for ESPADA.

CIS Minor shows regional stagnation among teams, rosters

There’s little difference between the remaining five. While Team Spirit added Nikolay “mir” Bityukov and Boris “mafixx” Vorobiev after it dropped out of the StarLadder Berlin Minors last year 0-2, little else has changed with the organization to give fans hope for its success here. While mir can always have an impact on a team, he can’t carry one.

Team Unique and Syman Gaming are in similar positions. Both have enjoyed a strong winter but are generally unremarkable when taking into account their past performances in high-pressure situations.  Their breadth of work is deeper than organizations like ESPADA, but the likelihood\ of either making a run in Rio is small. 

Syman is bound to come out on the wrong side of their deal with Na`Vi for Ilya “Perfecto” Zalutskiy. Perfecto shone in his debut with Na`Vi at IEM Katowice, assisting Natus Vincere in their tournament win. While Syman came in second in Berlin at last year’s Minor, it’s unlikely to repeat that here again.

The ESL One Rio CIS Minor is set to start on April 26 and run through May 2. Alongside the Major slot, the eight teams will compete for a $50,000 prize pool with the number one team taking home $30,000 and the CIS Minor title.


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