FaZe the favorites heading into the ELEAGUE Invitational

Havard "rain" Nygaard of FaZe Clan. John Nowak/Turner Sports

With the first major championship of the year still three weeks away at the Intel Extreme Masters Season XIII - Katowice Major 2019, many CS:GO teams still have yet to showcase their 2019 lineups. The recent iBUYPOWER Masters IV event is one that most teams -- with the possible exception of the more aggressive Team Liquid who upset Astralis in the finals -- would like to put behind them as soon as possible. Technical issues and delays plagued the event which, under better conditions, would have been a proper debut stage of some of these new lineups.

Now, they'll be on display in Atlanta this coming weekend at the ELEAGUE CS:GO Invitational 2019 which kicks off this Friday with a $150,000 prize pool up for grabs. It's a smaller stage in the grand scheme of CS:GO events, but no less important, especially for the four lineups of Cloud9, compLexity Gaming, FaZe Clan, and BIG who are all looking to show off recently-acquired talent or how well they'll be able to play with stand-ins on their rosters for the coming competitive year.

"The frustration got to us after the first day," FaZe Clan's Håvard "rain" Nygaard said of his team's disappointing performance at iBUYPOWER Masters IV. FaZe unexpectedly lost to Ghost Gaming twice, which included surprising upsets on Train. Rain admitted that, despite the technical issues affecting all teams, FaZe didn't respond as well as they should have. "How we played at IBP is not how we're going to play at upcoming events."

"As a first event, we were kinda hoping for more regardless of the stuff that happened," coL's Shahzeeb "ShahZaM" Khan said of iBUYPOWER Masters IV. "I think we took away quite a bit from the two maps we played and had some productive talks."

The rosters of C9, coL, and FaZe will be looking to cut their teeth in this four-team invitational instead alongside BIG, the latter of whom was not at iBUYPOWER Masters IV. Many have pegged BIG as a dark horse of the event due to their signing of İsmailcan "XANTARES" Dörtkardeş in December 2018. XANTARES has long been considered the best Turkish CS:GO player and his inclusion on BIG makes them a formidable opponent on paper, especially if Owen "smooya" Butterfield returns to top-tier form.

"He's all about winning," current coL stand-in Jordan "n0thing" Gilbert said. "[BIG] is an interesting mix of skill. They'll be an uncomfortable team to play against."

FaZe are still the favorites to win this weekend, although they too will have to prove their mettle with auren "AdreN" Kystaubayev joining FaZe as a stand-in earlier this month. He'll be with the team through the major in February. rain said that even with the addition of AdreN, Nikola "NiKo" Kovač is still their in-game leader, but that bringing in AdreN allows for a different style of play than the team previously had with Finn "karrigan" Andersen. According to FaZe's Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovacs, incorporating former MiBR coach Janko "YNk" Paunović onto the team has also given FaZe some much-needed discipline and a stricter practice schedule.

FaZe isn't the only lineup that has been tweaking in-game communication and practice. Cloud9, who are looking to revitalize the team after a slow fall from grace, is looking to regain some of the success that they had in 2018 before the departures of Stewie last March and Tarik "tarik" Celik last July. With in-game leader Maikil "Golden" Kunda Selim inactive until the major, this will be proving grounds for how well the team works while trialing Jordan "Zellsis" Montemurro and having Robin "flusha" Rönnquist taking the lead.

"Flusha is now doing the calls," Will "RUSH" Wierzba said. "It's some of the same setups. With flusha it's a lot more slow and methodical."

Look for the ELEAGUE CS:GO Invitational 2019 to be a bit of a Katowice major preview for these teams. With all four lineups in flux, it could be a debut stage that iBUYPOWER Masters IV wasn't for C9, CoL, and FaZe.