ELSA CPL European Championships coverage
Article - EuroGamer was on the scene as pro-gaming arrived in London last weekend
Since coming under new management last year the European branch of the CPL has run tournaments in Germany and Holland, attracting some of the top names from around the world as well as the best local European talent. Last weekend they arrived in London for their third event, with Counter-Strike and Quake 3 Arena teamplay on the cards and €30,000 in cash prizes up for grabs. The real excitement was to be in the Quake 3 contest, with the likes of Germany's Schroet Kommando and Unmatched, Italy's Tulls, Sweden's Ice Climbers and home teams UNR and 4Kings all battling it out for the €5,000 top prize.
Index Introduction 2 Background Sunday Morning Semi-Finals 3 IC vs SK - CPM4 IC vs SK - Q3DM14 4 UNR vs U - Q3DM7 UNR vs U - Q3DM14 Finals 5 UNR vs SK - Q3DM14 UNR vs SK - Q3DM7 UNR vs SK - CPM4 6 IC vs U - Q3DM6 IC vs U - Q3DM7 7 IC vs U - CPM4 The End Wrap-Up 8 Ralf "Griff" Reichert interview
We headed down to the Novotel International Center in Hammersmith yesterday to see four of Europe's top teams in action in the final rounds of the tournament...
The entrance to the ground floor exhibition hall where the event was taking place was hidden away at the back of a multi-storey car park for some reason, and as I threaded my way through the coaches I ran into UNR team mascot and occasional coach Pumpkin, who was talking to somebody on his mobile.
That somebody turned out to be Blokey, who had gone home to Brighton for a proper night's sleep and was now stuck on a late-running train on his way back to London. Luckily for UNR he wasn't alone. After late finishes on both the Friday and Saturday nights the hall was ominously quiet when I arrived there at ten o'clock on Sunday morning, and unsurprisingly things got off to a slightly late start as the last of the stragglers arrived.
By this point most of the players were already relegated to the role of spectators, with just four teams left in the Quake 3 tournament. Britain's 4Kings had been knocked out early on by top Italian team Tulls, but UNR had come through in one piece against the other Italian clan at the event, Lag, and gone on to defeat number four seeds Cyberfight in the quarter finals. It was obvious they were on top form this weekend, but with tourney favourites Unmatched facing them in the semi-finals it was going to be a tough fight.
Meanwhile in the other semi-final, Ice Climbers would be taking on Schroet Kommando. Both teams had been given close calls in the previous round, with IC taking Tulls 150-157, 114-110, 140-94, while SK struggled against number six seed Vikings, eventually coming through 107-94, 81-104, 117-110.
Each round would be played as the best of three, with each team picking one map from Q3DM6, Q3DM7, Q3DM14 and CPM4. If both teams won a map, one of the two remaining maps would be picked at random for the decider. Each game was twenty minutes long, making for a bruising encounter.
IC vs SK - CPM4
First up were IC and SK, fighting on the custom map CPM4. Some of the teams obviously hadn't been practising this one hard enough, with SK demolishing Tulls by quite a margin on CPM4 in the quarter finals. This time round things would be much closer though.
SK got off to a good start, with Toxic becoming IC's leading bullet-catcher in the early stages, getting killed three times in the first minute. The Germans seemed to have gained the upperhand in the arms race, and used the weaponry advantage to stretch out a ten frag lead in the early stages. By the third minute things had quietened down a little as both teams regrouped, but SK continued to slowly pull out their lead until they were fifteen ahead.
IC's Panicore lead the fight back as a battle broke out in the quad area, his rocket launcher rampage helping the team to claw back five frags from SK as screams of "get quad, get quad!" echoed around the tournament room. Toxic managed to grab the power-up as it spawned, but despite running across the length and breadth of the map he couldn't find anyone to kill! He finally picked up a couple of frags in the rocket launcher room, but as half time approached IC were still ten frags behind.
They were slowly fighting their way back into the match though, and at eleven minutes Panicore picked up the next quad, grabbing three quick kills with it before accidentally hitting one of his team mates. IC were just two points adrift now. A minute later Panicore charged back in for another quad, but this time SK were waiting for him. He took down one of their players, but was killed as soon as he picked up the quad. There was just a single frag in it, 72 : 71 to SK.
IC were grinding SK down now, and about fourteen minutes into the game they took the lead as one of SK's players blew himself up. SK weren't about to lie down and die though, and the Germans flooded into the rocket launcher room en masse, taking out Panicore in the process. There was just one or two frags in it either way as the game passed the three quarters mark, and IC were getting excited, shouting at each other over the din of rockets and shotguns as they finally started to pull ahead.
SK couldn't get back into the game, and in the last couple of minutes IC took advantage of their desperation, picking up more frags and eventually taking the game by a deceptively comfortable sounding 107 : 94.
IC vs SK - Q3DM14
IC had picked up the early lead, going ten frags ahead by the seventh minute. As I reached the game a quad run was underway, although bizarrely the entire IC team were romping around in a pack with the quad guy at the rear where he couldn't do anything. Eventually the quad holder did peel off, but with the power-up running down he was killed before he couldn't actually use it. One of the more unusual (and unsuccessful) tactics I saw this weekend...
The next quad was equally strange, with SK's Kane and IC's Panicore trading pot shots down the length of the corridor leading to it. Eventually Panicore (who had been standing next to the quad the whole time) decided to pick it up and charg down the corridor to shaft Kane. The German player respawned and came right back at him just seconds later, bouncing up into the quad area from the pit below, only to be killed by Panicore again. IC maintained their lead as the game went into its second half, staying ten to fifteen frags up.
As the quad came up again at the eleven minute mark there was a chaotic scramble around it as everybody piled in from all directions. One of IC's players finally grabbed it from amongst the battling teams, but in the confusion following this Panicore managed to shaft one of his own team mates by mistake, and then blew himself up with a rocket launcher. Doh! Despite this attack of brain fade, IC had built up their lead to twenty frags by this point and stayed ahead as the game entered its final quarter, with Toxic going on a quad charge with the lightning gun to stretch out the lead still further.
In the final minutes SK fought back desperately, but this only added to IC's tally. With Toxic dominant at the end and team mate Phantom also on a roll, IC finished the game with a commanding 108 : 67 lead.
UNR vs U - Q3DM7
Unmatched had taken a slender lead over UNR in the first few minutes of the game, but things were beginning to turn sour for the Brits. Despite the best efforts of UNR they were clearly losing out to the Germans, who had extended their lead to a comfortable twenty frags by half time.
Wherever one of the UNR players went, there always seemed to be two or three Unmatched players waiting for them, usually toting plasma guns and itching to use them. It was turning into a rout, with the Germans pulling out a dominant fifty frag lead by the fifteen minute mark. UNR kept fighting, but it was too late to overhaul that kind of deficit. Rude grabbed a quad and made it count, picking up four kills and finishing off with a couple of rail kills after it had run out, but even after all that the team was still forty behind.
Luke got the next quad only to be railed across the red armour courtyard, and although UNR got within 35 frags of Unmatched at one point, there was nothing they could do this far into the match and the Germans were soon pulling ahead again. With the game as good as over, Blokey and Zyx indulged in a little boxing in the basement area, ducking and diving with their gauntlets until Zyx eventually managed to land a killer blow. Unmatched flooded on into the quad courtyard and grabbed the power-up, scything their way through UNR. The final score was 135 : 88.
UNR vs U - Q3DM14
The second match was somewhat closer, with Unmatched just 37 : 33 up at the nine minute mark. Luke got the quad at eleven minutes, playing it cautious at first before charging into the red armour courtyard, but UNR were ten down by now as Unmatched started to stamp their authority on the game.
Luke launched a flurry of rockets at the Germans in the pit below the red armour as the game approached its final quarter, killing one outright and knocking another off the ledge and into the red mist, but as they reached the fifteen minute mark Unmatched were still 65 : 50 up. UNR kept trying hard, grabbing the red armour two minutes from the end while Luke went off another rocket launcher rampage, only to be reduced to a sticky red mess on the floor by a stray grenade from a German pill spammer. The Scotsman (renowned for his colourful vocabulary) exclaimed something not really suitable for printing on a family site.
UNR got the deficit down to ten frags at times in the final minutes, but Unmatched held their own and took the match 91 : 76. Close, but no cigar.
UNR vs SK - Q3DM14
And so Britain's top clan found themselves facing Unmatched's countrymen from Schroet Kommando, fighting in the play-off for third place. The first game started off looking good for the Germans, with SK grabbing the first red armour and taking down UNR's quad carrier before he could do anything with it. UNR made a lunge for the battle suit next, but SK managed to hold them off, grabbing the suit and the quad in quick succession and sending the Brits packing. After four minutes SK were 27 : 11 ahead.
UNR managed to get the next suit, while SK grabbed the quad. The two buffed players soon ran into each other, with the quad coming out triumphant and ending Luke's run with the suit. A couple of minutes later it was all action again, with Luke once again grabbing the suit and then standing back to watch as one of the SK players arced gracefully past him through the air, vanishing into the red mist below the ledge. Luke managed to grab the quad as well, but despite all their hard work UNR were still fifteen frags down.
UNR were making good use of the power-ups in this game, with Blokey beating Para to the suit, blowing him with a well-placed rocket as he dropped down from the room above the ledge. Grabbing the suit and then heading off for the quad as well, Blokey got a good run of kills before diving off a narrow ledge into the red mist for no obvious good reason. At half-time the score was 49 : 36 to SK.
Luke got the next suit while Blokey held off SK's quad carrier at the other end of the map, and UNR put in a solid push to come within eight frags of the Germans. As the next quad was about to spawn, Luke picked off Kila with his rail gun from the far end of the corridor, but before he could move into position he was over-run by Kila's shaft-toting team mates, one leaping in through a window at the side of the corridor while the other emerged from round the corner in the quad area.
Things were getting awfully close now though. With just three minutes left to play Luke went on a shotgun rampage and Blokey grabbed another suit for UNR, an all-out blitz from the team giving them the lead! SK were soon back on top, but it was too close to call now with less than two minutes to play. Luke picked up the last battle suit of the game and earned himself two more frags, only to take a dive into the red mist. With thirty seconds left the scores were all even. As SK began to edge ahead again, UNR put in one last push from the quad through to the red armour. The Kommandos were waiting for them though and the Brits went down in a blaze of gunfire. Final score, 99 : 91 to SK after a very close match.
UNR vs SK - Q3DM7
Unfortunately the finals had already begun by this point, and as the games overlapped I missed most of the rest of the UNR's battle against SK. It was certainly close though, with SK just a few frags ahead after fifteen minutes of play on DM7.
"Keep flooding", UNR's coach shouted excitedly as the Brits started to haul them in, only for Rude to point out that "we're not flooding anything". It's the thought that counts though and UNR were pushing hard, eventually taking the lead. A big scrap over the red armour two minutes from the end saw UNR coming out on top after something of a bloodbath, and it was all over for SK. Final score was 130 : 117.
UNR vs SK - CPM4
With each team picking up one win the play-off went to a decider, with CPM4 the randomly chosen venue for the third and final match. Neither team had played on CPM4 so far in the tournament.
Again, because of an overlap with the final happening at the other side of the room I missed most of the game, but UNR had built up a fifteen frag lead by the final quarter. It was all proving too much for Pumpkin, who I found cowering behind a pile of cardboard boxes next to the play area, unable to watch. He needn't have worried though. With just a minute to go SK flooded the quad area, but UNR managed to hold them off and it was Luke who picked up the final power-up of the match. In the end the result was a comfortable 109 : 89 win for the Brits, placing UNR third in the competition.
IC vs U - Q3DM6
Meanwhile across the room Ice Climbers and Unmatched were battling it out for the grand prize. Unmatched had picked up an early five frag lead on the first map, but with three minutes gone IC were fighting back hard. In the space of a couple of minutes the game had turned around completely, with a run of kills from the Swedes giving them the edge.
Unmatched had met their match, and were looking decidely shaky at times. At one point IC's Gopher took on three Unmatched players single-handedly on top of the pillars, taking down one with his shaft before the others managed to overpower him. By half time IC were ten frags up, and as they sniffed victory their shouting became a deafening roar. A fierce battle over the next quad saw one of the Unmatched players grabbing the power-up but unable to make it count in the melee, and as he went down the Swedes unleashed an intimidating string of expletives in their native language, their coach pacing up and down the row behind them like a caged tiger, urging them on.
The Germans tried to fight their way back into the game, rushing the quad room again with thirteen minutes gone, but even after an all-out shaft attack they were still ten frags down. As the game went into its final quarter IC seemed dominant, pulling twenty frags ahead at one point, only for Unmatched to slowly close in again in the final minutes. Their efforts were in vain though, and as the game ended they were still ten frags down on the Swedes, 140 : 130.
IC vs U - Q3DM7
IC were wrong-footed at the start of the game, with Unmatched racking up a 9 : 1 lead in the first minute, and although Toxic managed to grab the first quad the Unmatched players took him down before he had travelled more than a few pixels from the power-up's spawn point. Toxic was soon back up and about, only to charge headlong into a rocket launcher toting German in the corridor to the red armour courtyard. The German fired, the rocket exploding at point blank range and blowing up both players in a shower of gibs. With two minutes gone Unmatched were 13 : 9 up.
IC were pushing hard though, and as the next quad came up Toxic was back for more, fighting his way through a gaggle of Unmatched players to grab it and head for the red armour, only to be melted by a hail of plasma when he got there. After respawning he returned to mop up what was left of the Germans with his machinegun though, and IC took the lead. Another quad for Toxic helped take the score to 35 : 26 just past the five minute mark.
The next quad went to Unmatched's Zyx, but while he went on the offensive the Swedes were rounding up his team mates to pull out a promising twenty frag lead over the Germans. Meanwhile Toxic was on a roll with his trusty plasma gun, chasing Stelam through the teleporter to the megahealth to finish him off, and then jumping across the narrow ledge along the side of the stairs to reach the other end of the arched room, popping out behind Neok. A couple of minutes later Toxic was back with a railgun, pulling off a spectacular shot by leaping sideways across the top of the flight of stairs and picking off a German player who was standing at the bottom, half hidden behind one of Toxic's team mates.
Everything seemed to be under control, but Unmatched weren't about to go down quietly. IC suddenly found themselves on the receiving end of a torrent of German ordinance, with Toxic swearing like a trooper he was killed three times in quick succession. Suddenly Unmatched were back within ten frags of the Swedes, and pushing hard. IC were crumbling under the onslaught, with Unmatched amazingly taking the lead back with just four minutes to play. IC were getting careless now as the pressure mounted, with Stelam picking up three easy rocket kills near the quad ledge in a matter of seconds as the Swedes lined up to wander into his line of fire one after another, like sheep to the slaughter.
With just a couple of minutes left to go Unmatched were five frags ahead, but IC were starting to calm down and fight back now. Soon it was all even again. IC headed for the red armour while Unmatched managed to grab the final quad of the match, but their carrier was dead before he could put it to use. The Germans were edging ahead now with only seconds to play, and IC just couldn't find them to pull it back. In the end it was 117 : 110 to Unmatched.
IC vs U - CPM4
And so it all came down to a decider, and as with the play-offs between SK and UNR it would be on the rarely used CPM4. Unmatched got the early lead, 4 : 0, but IC came right back to equalize at 6 : 6 after the first minute. It was the Swedes who emerged on top eventually though, with Gopher and one of his team mates making a shaft sandwich with Zyx as the over-cooked meat in the middle, helping to take the score to 21 : 16.
For a while everything was quiet as the two teams regrouped and restocked after the chaotic initial encounters, finally emerging to fight over the quad. IC were in place to take the quad, but annoyingly one of the Unmatched players was standing just below lobbing grenades into the room at random. One of the IC players finally summoned up the courage to charge in through the barrage and grab the power-up, extending the team's lead to a dozen frags.
Unmatched were on the run now, with Slinger dashing for cover as Gopher tried to give him a good sound shafting, only to drop dead just inches from the safety of the teleporter. With seven minutes gone it was now 38 : 21 to IC and they looked to be in a dominant mood, Toxic again letting rip with a less than polite stream of Swedish at the top of his voice. Unmatched managed to get back within ten frags at one point after a shaft raid on the red armour, but IC soon had control of the situation again and started to pull out their lead a second time.
Just after half-time Neok picked up the quad for Unmatched and managed to get back a couple of frags, but IC had soon taken him down and held their lead. Unmatched were getting rattled now, and as Gopher's rocket reduced Slinger to a thin red mist, an impressive sounding torrent of German swear words echoed over the partition wall from Unmatched's area. They were fighting back hard, but IC were 71 : 61 up after thirteen minutes of carnage. Unmatched got that deficit down to just six frags at one point, but IC held on as Gopher and Stelam played cat and mouse near the quad, ducking back and forth around a corner to take pot shots at each other with a shotgun before Gopher finally managed to pump enough lead into the German to finish the job.
It was beginning to look like it was all over for Unmatched, with IC 88 : 75 up with three minutes to play. Unmatched tried rushing the rocket launcher room, but IC flooded in from the top balcony to push them back again and came out with an extended lead. It was too late for Unmatched now, and IC went on the defensive as the final seconds ticked away. IC took the game 100 : 89 to cheers and applause from the spectators around the corner, and a triumphant roar from the team coach.
And that was it for the Quake 3 contest, although the Counter-Strike finals dragged on a little longer. Ice Climbers had come out on top to take home the €5,000 prize, with Germany's Unmatched getting €3,000 for second. UNR had surprised many by picking up €2,000 for third place, putting in one of their strongest performances to date, while SK had come home fourth with €1,500 to show for it.
Further down the field Russian team Cyberfight had finished fifth, with the Danish Vikings in sixth, Italy's top clan Tulls in seventh, and Against All Authority Red from France rounding out the top eight. The competition had certainly been tough, and the spectator area was well served with projector screens showing matches and interviews with the competitors and sponsors, co-hosted by level designer turned Playboy model Stevie "Killcreek" Case.
The only real disappointment was the BYOC area. Originally there had been room for 300 players to bring their own PCs along, hook up to the LAN and enjoy some lag-free gaming. Later this was reduced to 150 and entry to the event was made free, but in the end only a dozen people bothered to show up. Given how rare it is for there to be a LAN party of this size in central London, you have to wonder what went wrong.
Otherwise the event had been a roaring success though, and the CPL-Europe battle bus is now heading back to Germany ready for their fourth event in less than twelve months, a €27,500 tournament in Berlin.
Ralf "Griff" Reichert interview
On our way out at the end of the event we ran into CPL-Europe head honcho Ralf Reichert, aka Griff. Formerly involved with Challenge-EU and German clan Schroet Kommando, he now works full time on bringing the CPL's brand of pro-gaming to the European market.
Originally run (almost into the ground) by a completely different team based in Denmark, the CPL finally got off to a flying start in Europe after the new management moved in last year. "It's going pretty good so far", according to Griff. "We learn quite a lot with every event, and we are really looking forward to the Berlin and France ones where we will try to improve again."
Indeed, this weekend's event in London was arguably their best ever. "From an organisation point of view it was a huge improvement over the last event. We had very, very minor flaws, but everything seemed to go smooth for us. I had pretty much a relaxed weekend; everyone knew exactly what they had to do and worked quite independently from me."
Next on the calendar then is Berlin, which brings its own unique advantages and problems. "There's a huge exhibition in Germany, the IFA", Griff explained. "It's a consumer electronics exhibition, and we will be right above it in the exhibition center there. That will be Counter-Strike and Grand Prix 3 - we won't do Quake 3 there because of the legal problems in Germany."
It's bizarre that a game involving railguns, robots and aliens has such tight controls on it in Germany, while it's perfectly alright for CPL-Europe to run a competition based around Counter-Strike, a game featuring realistic present day settings and weapons. But vagaries of the German indexing system aside, it does give them a chance to try something completely different, and Grand Prix 3 might attract a whole new audience to the CPL.
November will see the CPL's fourth event of the year, taking place in France just a couple of weeks before the American crew's CPL World Championship and so acting as a perfect opportunity for teams to warm up for the competition. But what about next year? "The plans are not 100% set for next year, but what we already know is that we're going to have four events again, which will most likely be in a pretty similar way to this year. We're going to start the planning for that after the Berlin event, so that we try to have an official schedule for next year at the end of the year so that everyone can planning."
Pro-gaming is certainly growing here in Europe after a relatively slow start over the last few years, and with many of the world's top teams already based in the area the future is looking good for European gamers. "There will be better events, bigger events", Griff believes. "But it's not like it's going to explode from one moment to another. It's just a really really smooth development. And we're on it."