CPL Qualifiers at The Playing Fields are normally double elimination Quake 3 duel tournaments, so it makes a refreshing change to head down on a Sunday morning and find a Counter-Strike tournament taking place. A more complex, but equally entertaining event, the CPL Holland UK Qualifier is sponsored by AMD and semi-invitational, with eight of the UK's top CS clans fighting for an autoberth into next month's CPL Holland competition. That and the small matter of a £2,000 prize purse.
Of late, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding CS tournament scoring systems, but thankfully there wasn't much to question at yesterday's event. Each match was made up of two twenty-minute halves, with a three-round overtime period if required. The winner was determined by the number of rounds won, but in an attempt to keep things even, on DE maps the Terrorist wins were counted (i.e. how many bombs planted or Counter-Terrorist teams wiped out), and on CS maps, the Counter-Terrorist wins were counted (i.e. how many times all hostages are rescued or Terrorist teams wiped out). A popular rule with players and spectators alike was the decision to outlaw bunnyhopping. Enforcing this was easy, with a verbal warning on sight and possible disqualification if necessary. As shown in the past, team-based tournaments are hard to pull off, and it's actually a testament to the determination of The Playing Fields' staff that this month's CPL qualifier kicked off before noon. The first round took place in a league structure, with two Groups, A and B. Each group's teams faced off against one another to produce semi-finalists, and eventually finalists. The two groups were seeded so that the best teams wouldn't have to face each other immediately. Despite H&D's mysterious absence, the overall quality of team play was very high. Entire teams could be seen hunched over monitors discussing tactics between games.
The most interesting Group A game was 4K versus ECSF on de_prodigy. 4K were clear favourites coming into the game and played as Terrorists first, so it was crucial for them to get a big score in the 20 minutes available. Despite dropping a couple of rounds, they built up an impressive total of 14 wins. Unfortunately for ECSF, the reversal of positions didn't precipitate a reversal of fortunes, and they didn't take a round from 4K, losing 15 : 0 as Terrorists. 4K took nothing for granted though, shooting every corner and shoring up the two bomb sites with multiple heavy weapons and a lot of grenades. Prodigy offers a lot of opportunities for adventurous Terrorist sides, but 4K knew the choke points like the backs of their hands. ECSF never looked like penetrating the deathtrap, even on the occasional rounds when they stole a few kills. Dust, even to this day is a difficult map to win regularly without precision grenading and accurate automatic weapon fire. With bunnyhopping outlawed by the tournament organisers, the winner of the morning's other Group A encounter, cs0 versus -Pro-, was decided by determination. cs0's Terrorists lost 3 rounds but made 11 their own, and gallant in defeat, -Pro- took one round as Terrorists and enjoyed it immensely. The venerable 4Kings continued their domination, beating cs0 decisively on de_nuke. The game was a complete mismatch, with the experience and fortitude of 4K on familiar soil rendering cs0's attempts completely useless. The cs0 guys were distraught, throwing their hands up in the air and muttering unprintables under their breath. Eventually they lost 18 : 0. Switching to Counter-Terrorists, cs0 faired slightly better, managing to defuse the bomb in an early round, but with no Terrorist wins to show for their previous efforts, the game was effectively over when 4K took the pistol round. ECSF versus -Pro- on de_dust2 was a more entertaining encounter, although there was some debate at one point when a -Pro- player accidentally hit the teamchange key mid-round. Dust2 is a relatively new map, having been introduced in CS 1.1, but both teams seemed to know it pretty well. ECSF started out as Terrorists and had the run of the play for a while, amid frantic fumbling of the defuse kit! The game was actually surprisingly close though, with -Pro- setting the pace as Terrorists and struggling to prevent their opponents from matching it. At the end of the day, ECSF beat -Pro- 11 : 6. In -Pro-'s final match in Group A, again on Dust2, they faced 4Kings and expected to go down in flames. Surprisingly though, starting as Counter-Terrorists they took both the pistol round and the second round as well, before 4K gained a foothold and started to dominate, notching up 15 rounds as Terrorists. -Pro- needed 16 to win. Even they thought this was a somewhat unlikely scenario. That said, a few disappointing minutes into the second half and -Pro- did what nobody else in Group A had managed all day - to score a round as Terrorists against 4Kings! An amazing feat? Either way, 4K weren't pleased, and barely gave them chance to breathe for the rest of the match, eventually walking away with 22 rounds. The final outcome using the tournament scoring system - 15 : 1. The final game of Group A would decide who would follow 4K into the semi finals. cs0 and ECSF faced off on de_cobble, the first time the map had turned up at the event. cs0 were optimistic, practicing all sorts of clever tricks prior to the start, but the team was already strained, and showing signs of fatigue. Tempers were short and the game was important. ECSF by comparison were a picture of calm, sauntering around and practicing tactics planned well in advance. This being a decider, the early rounds were tight, with ECSF putting up a strong defence as CTs. The timing of the cs0 offensive was important, and often the team waited until the clock ticked down to three minutes before making a move. Ultimately, cs0 managed to accrue 7 wins as Terrorists, against 7 defensive wins from ECSF. The question of who progressed to the semis would be decided by ECSF's tactics as Terrorists. Although close, cs0 managed to hold ECSF's efforts. The play was tight, and eventually cs0 won by a mere one round.
Group B was stunted slightly by the absence of BME, who decided not to attend but only informed The Playing Fields' staff of this the night before the event! As a result Group B games were a little thin on the ground, with D2C mopping up those that did take place. In the first of the Group B matches, Oz faced M4, and the game was almost as lopsided as the earlier 4K/ECSF encounter. In the first round Oz took up the Terrorist mantle, but only managed to take 4 rounds. M4 fought magnificently, with some excellent use of HE grenades in the corridor sections, forcing their opponents out into the open. After the switchover, M4 proved that they had tactics to suit both sides, taking only a few minutes to surpass Oz's total and finishing with 9 rounds in their favour - more than enough to secure victory. Fresh from their defeat at the hands of M4, Oz faced well known opposition in the shape of D2C on de_nuke. Despite valiant attempts to set D2C a target, they were only able to secure two victories, a figure that D2C overcame within the first couple of minutes of the switchover. Eventually D2C came out with 11 rounds. BME's absence really affected the Group B competition, with a lot of time spent at the bar by members of the other clans during the gaps. Each team only having to play two games, the semi-finalists were decided very quickly, with Oz, losers of both of their matches, forced to sit out the latter stages. D2C and M4, as we predicted at the time, ended up in the semi finals. D2C of course had to face M4, and far from being for posterity, the encounter would decide who played the lower placed team from Group A. In other words, the loser of this match was liable to face the rampant 4Kings. The game was an emotionally charged event - money was now in sight for both sides, playing once again on de_nuke. Although it surprised a few onlookers, D2C fell foul to M4's superior Terrorist tactics, eventually losing 16 : 6.
The semi finals were to be spectacular. D2C faced 4Kings, and M4 faced cs0 (so that's one prediction you didn't get right then, Tom? -Ed). 4Kings started off as Terrorists against D2C and looked a little shaky, but quickly regained their composure. The game was played on Cobble, a map which both clans seemed quite comfortable with. Neither team was able to push ahead particularly though, with the scores tied at five apiece after about eight minutes of play. 4K used two small groups to confuse and disorientate D2C, getting away with some sneaky plants, which they were then able to defend successfully. This tactical approach helped them to set a total of 10 rounds for D2C to overcome. From the yelps of joy emanating from the small row of 4K machines, it was obvious to all and sundry that things were going well after the turnaround. The tactical side of things proved important once again, with only a couple of anxious moments when D2C broke through their defence. With five minutes left, there was virtually no chance that D2C could plant the bomb or vanquish 4K enough times to affect a comeback. "Come on lads, we've got 3:40 left, and they've got to get eight to draw," pretty much summed it up from the clan leader. 4Kings cruised into the final. Final score - 10 : 2. M4 had been hotly tipped but due to a lack of real opposition in their group, hadn't had a chance to shine as yet. Facing cs0 could be considered an anti-climax for them, but their incredible defence proved impenetrable on de_train. Unable to plant the bomb or kill off their opponents, cs0 failed to take a round, and after losing the first couple as Counter Terrorists reluctantly threw in the towel and conceded. EuroGamer extends its heartiest congratulations to the cs0 team for achieving so much however - they were one of two teams that really had what crowd there was behind them.
The final, which took place on de_dust2, was a nail-biting affair. M4 not only did more damage to 4Kings than any other clan had up until that point, but they demonstrated to all that despite early setbacks, they can play to the same standard as the best of them. The game was about strategy and teamplay. But it was also about defending a score, and M4 eventually managed to surprise everyone, not by setting a big total, but by forcing 4K to sit back and wait for an opening. The choke points for 4K's Terrorist round looked like something out of Saving Private Ryan. On the rare occasions that 4K got through to plant the bomb, M4 were waiting. 4K scored most of their rounds as a result of defensive slip-ups. Which says something... With less than a minute to go, it was obvious who the shock victor would be, and 4K threw everything into attack in hope of winning back some pride. Final score was 8 : 5 to M4. The tournament was a lower key affair than a lot of the big Quake 3 spectacles, but it drew its fair share of observers. That said, there was no running commentary, and a single chasecam following each game on the big screen wasn't really enough to keep the punters interested. The quality of the games was very high though, and with the right publicity and better spectator facilities, CS could easily rise to the status of Quake 3 in the pro gaming circuit. It will be interesting to see how M4 get on against the cream of the European crop next month in Holland. Speaking from experience, Swedish clans are usually the hardest to beat, and the team will need to focus on learning the maps, the moves and how to react to every situation they find themselves in. On one final note - congratulations to all who competed!