After the ELEAGUE Major, professional Counter-Strike entered the period of superteams. Before the Major, Natus Vincere, Astralis and Virtus.Pro existed as teams that (on paper) were championship contenders. After the Major, SK Gaming, Fnatic, North, G2 Esports and FaZe Clan all went through player shuffles that resulted in some surprisingly stacked teams. In an era of such fierce competition, no one could confidently assert which team would rise above the rest. Five months have passed, and we have had five different teams win in that time. Astralis won the Major and IEM Katowice; Virtus.Pro took DreamHack Las Vegas; FaZe defeated Astralis to claim Starladder Kiev; SK won IEM Sydney over FaZe; G2 took out North in the finals of ESL Pro League Season 5.
Welcome to the parity era, where the top teams seem fairly equal and no one can claim complete dominance. But there’s no guarantee the hierarchy will remain so nebulous. With ECS Season 3 Finals, ESL One Cologne and the PGL Krakow Major, those five teams have a chance to break the stalemate and make it their own. Here is what each needs to do to make that happen.
Astralis was the closest to ending the parity era before it started, having won the ELEAGUE Major and IEM Katowice with a semifinal appearance at DreamHack Las Vegas. Astralis could have clinched the era for itself by winning Starladder KIev, but FaZe had other ideas in the final. Afterward, Astralis fell off a bit by losing in the semifinals of IEM Sydney and failing to qualify for the ESL Pro League Finals. To make this the Astralis era, the Danes need to have a high placing at ECS Season 3 Finals and then win the Krakow Major.
In terms of results, VP had the second best shot after Astralis by taking second at the Major and winning in Vegas. In typical Virtus.Pro style, the team dropped off a cliff for unknown reasons. Through this team’s existence, VP’s essential problem has been a lack of consistency. VP never taps into its full might unless under specific circumstances the players themselves cannot seem to trigger. For them to make this their era, they will have to rebuild with two big victories starting with ESL One Cologne and the Kraków Major.
FaZe seemed to be edging toward a legitimate claim after Starladder Kiev, but the team failed to qualify for the ESL Pro League Finals. Despite that setback, FaZe Clan remains in a strong position. Starladder Kiev is a more prestigious title than either of SK or G2’s tournament wins, and FaZe will attend two big events before Kraków: ECS Season 3 Finals and ESL One Cologne. FaZe will need to win the Major, one of the other two, and make at least the semifinals of the third to claim dominance over the scene.
G2 and SK are the most recent arrivals to the top tier of the elite. G2 had a slow start to the year while struggling to figure out the proper system to complement its new lineup. Meanwhile, SK was in the midst of tinkering its previously successful approach as new star Joao “felps” Vasconcellos threw off the team’s balance. His hyper-aggressive play style clashed with Fernando “fer” Alvarenga’s rise to superstar form, while possibly contributing to Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo’s individual slump. After a few successes and misfires, SK successfully integrated felps into the lineup and changed the structure of the team, which in turn restored FalleN’s form as an AWPer.
Both teams have won Tier 2 tournaments: DreamHack Tours for G2 and Summit/DreamHack Summer for SK. Both have a number of top placings outside of that. Both also claimed Tier 1 tournaments that were lesser victories because of the lack of competition in attendance: ESL Pro League for G2 and IEM Sydney for SK. Both teams will need to aim for a triple crown at ECS Season 3, ESL Cologne and the Krakow Major before we can start thinking about proclaiming them lords of this period.
Many have commented on this era as being one of the most difficult in CS:GO history. Beyond the formation of superteams, multiple Tier 2 teams are capable of upsetting the best teams in a best-of-one or best-of-three. Thus it seemed likely that a parity era could take place, and it has. The greatest distinction of all will go to the team that can end this equilibrium. With three Tier 1 tournaments coming up in quick succession, this is the opportune time for one of these teams to end the narrative and rewrite it for their own glory.
Cover photo courtesy of FaceIt/ECS