The PGL Krakow Major was supposed to be the fight for the crown, the final battle between SK Gaming, FaZe Clan, G2 Esports and Astralis for supremacy in the Counter-Strike scene. If any of those teams had won, we would currently be praising them as the unquestionable best. Instead, a string of bad draws and bad performances left the road wide open, allowing Gambit to claim the Major trophy.
Here we are a month later and the question still hangs in the air. With Gambit losing its leader and showing little in the way of sustained dominance, these four teams remain the best candidates to create a legitimate dynasty in the vein of 2015 Fnatic or 2012-2013 NiP. Who among them will claim the title as the best team in the world in CS:GO’s most competitive era? Here is how they currently rank.
First: Summit, IEM Sydney, ESL One Cologne, ECS Season 3 Finals, DreamHack Summer
Second: DreamHack Las Vegas
Top 4: ELEAGUE Major, ESL Pro League Season 5 Finals
Top 8: PGL Major
As a team, SK is the most skilled lineup in the world. Despite a few bad events earlier in the year, the roster’s stumbles can be attributed to a transition period as felps was integrated into the system: SK was still deliberating whether it was better to make felps a star player and play around his style or have felps play a team-oriented role. Ever since the pieces snapped together, SK has run a bulldozer over the scene.
SK has arguably the two best players in the world in fer and coldzera. On top of that, the team plays a hybrid style where the roles are set yet the style is loose: the players know how to react to any situation without being paralyzed by routine. SK becomes noticeably stronger in tight games as every member of the team is capable of heroic plays. The only weakness is a bad matchup against G2 as for whatever reason, G2 has the upper hand in the head-to-head record.
If this was prior to the Kraków Major, I’d say SK was still head and shoulders above everyone else for the opportunity to claim an era. But the Major showed a second possible vulnerability for the team: Astralis.
Astralis defeated SK in the quarterfinals of the Major and during the series, Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz knew everything FalleN was going to do before FalleN decided on a course of action. Was this a one-time thing? Or does Astralis have insight on how to dismantle SK’s way of approaching the game? While I still favor SK as the most likely candidate, there are two teams that have proven they can stop them.
First: ELEAGUE Major, IEM Katowice
Second: StarLadder Kiev
Top 4: DreamHack Las Vegas, IEM Sydney, ECS Season 3 Finals, PGL Major
In terms of results, Astralis is the most consistent team in the world. Since forming this roster, the Danish squad has never finished before the semifinals at a LAN event. On the other hand, its two big victories occurred during the early months of the year and as time goes on, they seem to be getting outstripped by other teams.
Among the four teams listed, Astralis is arguably the weakest in terms of individual talent. I’d say every other roster has more firepower and would beat Astralis if a game devolved into a mindless back-and-forth exchange of bullets. But Astralis can still fight back because it doesn’t allow games to unfold in that fashion. The players are each as competitive or better than their counterparts at playing specific roles within Astralis’ system. So when it comes to Astralis, its chances at surpassing the others depends on how resilient the system is and how congruent the roster’s individual skills are within it.
The pessimist within me is worried. None of Astralis’ players except for dupreeh is displaying the same form as earlier in the year. Dev1ce showed he could be a superstar player in his series against SK at the PGL Major, but he didn’t come close to replicating that feat against Gambit. The Kjaerbye-gla1ve combo hasn’t been as explosive as it was at ELEAGUE Major, and Xyp9x is not winning every single clutch that comes his way.
But form comes and goes. Should one or two of Astralis’ players reclaim their old form, it could signal the Danes’ return as the best team in CS:GO.
Results with previous roster:
First: StarLadder Kiev
Second: IEM Katowice, IEM Sydney, ECS Season 3 Finals
Top 4: ESL One Cologne
Last: PGL Major
Prior to the PGL Major, FaZe was the de facto second best team in the world after SK. FaZe had been to the finals of four consecutive tournaments and reached the semifinals of the fifth. If the team had made the playoffs or a deeper run into the Major, perhaps we would be enjoying the sight of the original squad tearing things up in ESL Pro League. But FaZe bombed out completely. A second potential factor is that the previous FaZe never beat SK and as SK is one of the best teams in the world, it is a team FaZe must beat to ascend to the top. So FaZe had both bombed the Major and still had no answers to defeating the SK juggernaut.
The answer was to inject more strength into the superteam. FaZe elected for more firepower to solve its woes by recruiting GuardiaN and olofmeister. The immediate concern is how the hell are they going to make all of these players work as a harmonious unit? But karrigan is a leader who built a car from junkyard scraps, and though it doesn’t seem feasible, I won’t bet against him.
If he is able to get these players on the same page, united under his leadership, we could witness the most skilled lineup in CS:GO. But that is a big if.
First: DreamHack Tours, ESL Pro League Season 5 Finals
Top 4: DreamHack Austin
Top 6: ECS Season 3 Finals
Top 8: StarLadder Kiev
9-11th: Kraków Major
G2 is the odd team out. It doesn’t boast the results to be included in this list, and realistically I shouldn’t be rating this team so charitably as long as it continues to be erratic. But the sheer amount of skill and flashes of potential we’ve seen makes G2 the clear pick for fourth best team in the world. On top of that, G2 has a good matchup against SK, meaning the bracket breaks the right way, G2 can still win a tournament.
The current problem is that G2 doesn’t have the tactics or system to match the likes of the other three teams on a consistent basis. Shox is the in-game leader, but so far he hasn’t molded G2 into a more stable squad or elevated individuals within the team. Although there is a potential roster change the team could attempt, it would require an existential crisis for G2 to actually enact it. As that’s not likely to happen, the only way I can see this team becoming the best is to fulfill the promise made when this roster initially formed — namely to use the team’s more versatile players to change the style if it became outdated.
In this particular case, G2 needs to change the way its game is built in two ways. First, G2 must go more all in on kennyS and not only revolve its strategy around him, but also the in-game economy. Second, shox needs to put himself into play as the second star so that he can have massive impact like he did in 2016. If those two conditions are met, I think G2 still has a shot at being the best. If not, G2 will have to consider why it exists as a roster.
Cover photo by Helena Kristiansson/ESL, eslgaming.com