Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is in one of its most competitive eras, one I dub the era of Super Teams (at least until we see how it plays out). Eight CSGO teams could conceivably win any premier tournament on their best day. Although Astralis has proven itself the best team so far, Virtus.Pro and FaZe Clan have won Tier 1 tournaments against them. G2 looks dangerous. Natus Vincere has finally solved its synergy issue. Fnatic has been steadily improving since reuniting with Robin “flusha” Ronnquist and Jesper “JW” Wecksell. SK Gaming remains a formidable force despite some clear tactical confusion. North teeters on the edge between championship contender and playoff presence.
But what makes this era even more dangerous is who lurks underneath the elite teams. The second tier of CS:GO is incredibly dangerous. While none can consistently beat the elite teams in a LAN best-of-three, many are dangerous enough to upset them in every conceivable situation. Unlike the powerhouses mentioned above, there is no established hierarchy. It is chaos, but chaos serves as a ladder too. With multiple teams preparing to compete in the upcoming weeks, the best among them will inevitably separate from the pack.
The new CIS hopes after Na’Vi, this is a seasoned team with few accomplishments to boast. While all iterations have had different rosters, the one eternal truth was that HellRaisers could do little more than snag upsets. Judging from recent events, this fixed point might have changed. In the last month, HellRaisers has qualified for DreamHack Tours, DreamHack Austin and the StarLadder Kiev Finals. Most importantly, they demonstrated impressive play at the last event. They beat FaZe, Counter Logic Gaming and Ninjas in Pyjamas in the group stage and eliminated North in a best-of-three to reach the semifinals. The current squad has showed surprising consistency, especially from the formerly maligned DeadFox and their IGL ANGE1. Their current form make them one of the favorites to look out for.
I have them as my pick to top the Tier 2 competition. Heroic has shown a fairly wide map pool and has reliable workhorses in Valdemar “valde” Bjørn and Nikolaj “niko” Kristensen. Marco “Snappi” Pfeiffer has proven himself to be a strong in-game leader and Andreas “MODDII” Fridh is a good supportive player who can occasionally explode with great fragging stats.
My two main questions for this team are Jakob “JUGi” Hansen and their collective experience. The new AWPer of the team has fit snugly into the roster since his introduction, but he wasn’t particularly impressive at IEM Katowice. It’s forgivable that a greenhorn would not show up in his first LAN, and the rest of Heroic played well enough to pick up his slack. Nevertheless, it may prove a problem if he makes such mediocre showings into a habit. That leads to the second question of experience. Heroic has bet the bank on young talent, players with high upside and a lack of exposure to LAN environments. This is a team filled with potential stars, but right now they need to prove they can beat these other tier two teams first.
Gambit is one of my favorite teams as it has a fun mix of old veterans, young stars and a superb clutcher in Dauren “AdreN” Kystaubayev. They shocked the world with their first two appearances of the year at ELEAGUE Major and DreamHack Vegas. Despite being a Tier 2 team they have claimed the right to be called the best Cobblestone team in the world. Overpass is also a incredibly strong pick for them. After a bad showing at Kiev, they were able to take second at the Summit.
The problem is they don’t have much of a map pool to face off against tier one competition. Now that teams know to ban Cobble and Overpass against them, they will have a much more difficult time pulling off these upsets. Gambit’s Cache and Mirage looked quite weak at the Summit. They seem to be looking to build toward Train and Inferno and showed some real strength on Inferno. In exchange, however, their Cobblestone has looked much weaker as they lost to CLG at Starladder Kiev and were destroyed by SK at the Summit. In the pick/bans at Summit, they didn’t pick up the map in three of the five series, which can indicate one of two things. Either they are losing some confidence in the map or they wanted to use this event to try to test the rest of their map pool against the competition. They also didn’t pick Overpass either, but I don’t know what to make of that. The team is fun to watch, but they have a lot to work on before I see them upsetting a Tier 1 team in a best-of-three.
Ninjas in Pyjamas
I can’t help but see NiP as an aging beast. They are missing some teeth, their eyes aren’t quite as sharp as they used to be, and there’s a limp in one leg. The fans still love them, but they aren’t the magical team of years past. This team will never compete with the super teams for titles if they stubbornly continue on this path. Once again NiP has only changed its fifth player in response to poor results, trading out Jacob “pyth” Mourujärvi for William “draken” Sundin. Draken adds a lot of aggression as an AWPer, but this doesn’t solve the fact that the rest of the machine feels tired and old. Patrik “f0rest” Lindberg and Christopher “Get_RiGhT” Alesund aren’t delivering consistent star performances and without them, this team has trouble competing against the top North American teams.
What worries me the most is that their honeymoon phase has progressively shortened after every player swap. The difference now is that this honeymoon period is happening in an extremely competitive time. They’ve shown some good games at both Starladder Kiev and the CS Summit, but a majority of those ended in losses. There are no results to speak of or any single tournament performances that shows much hope for this team. If this is their honeymoon phase, I dread to see what happens when they return to domestic life.
The second best Brazilian team, Immortals has always been on the verge of being Tier 1. What generally stops them is their inability to maintain emotional control. Their members get extremely invested into the game to the extent they cannot handle unexpected failure. When things don’t go their way, they abruptly tilt and end up suffering painful losses. This psychological issue has repeatedly stopped them from qualifying for Majors. One suspects this stems from their origins. All of the players are booted members of previous teams led by Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo, so they may have an ingrained inferiority complex; if they couldn’t make it on the best Brazilian team, they don’t deserve to win against such opponents.
Inconsistency also plagues Immortals. More specifically, Henrique “HEN1” Teles’ mercurial performances prevent Immortals from having a rock solid foundation from game to game. In the previous roster, Ricardo “boltz” Prass and Joao “felps” Vasconcellos were strong enough to carry the team if HEN1 couldn’t reliably connect his flick shots. Lincoln “Fnx” Lau is a different player than felps in terms of game impact. He is a strong player but not the type of aggressive playmaker who can create space for the AWPer to set up shots at leisure. Oddly HEN1 is the only player left on Immortals who does fulfill that function, and you have no idea whether he will hit his peak during a series (or how many times he will find it in a game). As long as their AWPer is a hit-or-miss factor, Immortals is in for a wild ride.
After multiple roster swaps with Fnatic, Godsent has finally ended up with a lineup nearly identical to the original one. Instead of Mathias ”pauf” Köhler, they acquired Joakim “disco doplan” Gidetun, which makes them a formidable opponent on paper. Jonas “Lekr0” Olofsson, Simon “twist” Eliasson, and disco are all highly skilled individuals who haven’t hit their ceilings yet. Andreas “znajder” Lindberg gives them a flex player who will adjust roles as necessary to let the other members shine. Markus “Pronax” Wallsten provides some prestige and innate respect as the in-game leader.
In actuality, the team has struggled to make it all come together. Twist is a great player, but he doesn’t seem ambitious enough for someone of his skill level. Lekr0 still hasn’t shown me the potential he had at DreamHack Malmo. Znajder and Disco are fine, but they don’t have much impact on the game. Pronax may be a good in-game leader, but it is being overshadowed by the worst form of his entire career.
At the summit, Godsent was rinsed out as it only had one competitive map against Gambit on Cache. While I think Twist can be one of the better players in the world, there is nothing else on this team that makes me think they can move forward as is.
This team has some good pieces. Vincent “Happy” Schopenhauer was unable to get the EnVyUs team to work in 2016 relative to the amount of talent that was in the team, which was one of the factors causing the recent French shuffle. Despite that, he has skill and has proven in the distant past that he can lead lesser teams to success. In addition to him, Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom is the third most skilled player in France in his ability to get kills, so you’d expect him to be the superstar. Alexandre “xms” Forté is a rising talent who showed promise on LDLC. There is enough here to see a possibility of potential.
At the Summit, I was hoping to see some answers as to what the future of this team could shape up to be. I didn’t get any. They were stomped by SK and then eliminated in the lower bracket by OpTic. There we saw some promise, but only in halves of each game. Some fundamentals seemed off with overaggressive peaks and the team identity hasn’t become set yet. This team has a lot to work on if it wishes to climb the ranks in the second tier of CS:GO teams.
Cloud 9 is the North American version of what G2 was last year. They have two strong star players in Jake “Stewie2k” Yip and Timothy “autimatic” Ta. Their superstar player (Stewie2k) is also the leader of the team. After that, they hope that one of the other three players can bring enough firepower to put them over the top. Their game plan is to rely on the two stars to dictate the game and if that fails, they have nowhere else to go. The biggest difference is that G2 realized they had hit their ceiling and decided to make a roster change. Cloud9 has been much slower. They have started to show some signs of change as they started to play Nuke and are moving autimatic to the in-game leader role. Also, I didn’t consider the CS Summit result worth noting as they used Braxton “Swag” Pierce, who can never join as a permanent fifth.
This team quickly reached the top at the end of 2016 and while they were eclipsed by Astralis, they were a real championship contender. That all changed after Peter “stanislaw” Jarguz left the team as they plummeted to the depths with not a single win against anyone on LAN in 2017 before the Summit. Fans can blame stanislaw, but in the end one player change in the lineup shouldn’t have such a drastic change in the fortunes of a team. They look desperate as they try to find a right fifth who can replace what stanislaw meant to them.
There is hope in this team as the remaining four players all have the skill to be good. They had a good showing at the CS Summit and no longer looked completely lost without stanislaw with JasonR. I think the key point is that Keith “NAF” Markovic, Oscar “mixwell” Canellas and Tarik “tarik” Celik played much better at this event. Will “RUSH” Wierzba didn’t let the loss of stanislaw get to him, but the others had a dip in form even when you take into account the higher level of competition they had to face. I’m still unsure if JasonR is the right answer tactically for this team as OpTic had a surprise factor on its side, as no one has seen them play with this five at an event yet. I do think James “hazed” Cobb as coach is good for this team both strategically and personality wise. This may stem from the fact that he was former teammates with tarik so they have a working relationship already. Either way, this is the best OpTic has looked since stanislaw left the team.
On paper this team should have always been the best team in NA and a possible contender in the international circuit. In reality they are less than the sum of their parts. Nick “Nitro” Cannella and Joshua “jdm64” Marzano have been unable to find the form that made them top class players in previous years. Pimp willingly quit the team, but Liquid recruited Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken to the lineup. Prior to his joining, the only working two pieces were Jonathan “EliGE” Jablonowski and stanislaw.
After the Summit, the next time we get to see them is DreamHack Austin. The key point to think about this is that both events are basically teasers as this lineup hasn’t been around long enough to have worked out all of the kinks. On paper, Liquid should be the best team in NA, but isn’t that always the story?
A few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have put CLG on this list. But as I’ve added Cloud9, OpTic and Liquid here, I feel obligated to include CLG for reaching a playoff bracket before any of the others. I’ll give credit to Cloud9 in that they almost made out of the much harder group at IEM Katowice. Even then, it’s shocking that CLG was able to make it out of StarLadder despite having much less experienced talent and, on paper, is less skilled than every other NA team I’ve listed. This proves how invaluable a good leader is in making the overall team greater than the sum of their parts and makes me wonder why none of the top NA CS:GO teams didn’t try to gamble by giving Pujan “FNS” Mehta a shot. Despite all of this praise for CLG, I still think the other three NA teams have more potential to get better results through the year. In addition to that, CLG is still a very young team and has yet to prove any kind of consistency to me as Kiev was their first LAN performance in 2017. Still a team to potentially look out for.
There were multiple other teams I could have added. Vega, BIG, LDLC, mouz, Kinguin, Dignitas, Epsilon, and Space Soldiers all come to mind. But I’ve focused on the teams that have the chance to attend multiple LAN events in the future. Should LAN events open up to more teams, the competition among the second tier can be even more chaotic than before.