Well, it’s that time of the year again. We’ve all endured a holiday weekend with the relatives (for better or worse — and given all that’s happened this year we’ll lean toward worse) and are getting ready for the final few days before 2016 leaves us forever. And you know what that means: It’s recycled content time!
In all seriousness, 2016 was a pretty big year for professional Counter-Strike. So much so that we decided to break up our year-end countdown into two lists: One for in-tournament moments, and one for bigger picture storylines. With input from Jarek “DeKay” Lewis and Stephen Chiu, I put together a comprehensive list of the most meaningful moments of the year. Make sure to check back later in the week for the macro countdown, and be sure to let us know what your favorite moments were.
One of only two singular plays included in this list, there’s not much I can say that the clip itself doesn’t. Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev’s bit of magic came during the semifinals of ESL One Cologne, his final tournament with Team Liquid. His brilliance helped Liquid reach the finals of the Major. More on that in a bit.
9. Astralis keeps its legends spot at ESL Cologne while using two stand-ins
This is something that simply shouldn’t have happened. Going into ESL One Cologne, Astralis knew it wouldn’t be at full strength after swapping René “cajunb” Borg for Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjærbye. Valve’s rules for the Major prevented Kjaerbye from playing for Astralis because he played in the Minor with Dignitas, so Astralis entered the Major with a replacement.
Already playing with Lukas “Gla1ve” Rossander as a stand-in (though gla1ve would later become an important part of Astralis’ revival), Astralis was dealt another blow when Peter “dupreeh” Rothmann had to leave the tournament because of appendicitis, leaving coach Danny “zonic” Sorensen to stand-in.
Still, Astralis won a thrilling 2-1 match against Dignitas in the elimination match of its group to qualify for the playoffs and retain its legend status for the following Major. Astralis lost 2-0 to Virtus.pro in the quarterfinals, but the Danish team had far exceeded expectations by that point.
8. Liquid collapses at MLG Columbus semifinals, then makes Cologne final
North American Counter-Strike was so much fun when s1mple played for Team Liquid.
The addition of s1mple to play alongside his friend Spencer “Hiko” Martin propelled Liquid among the world’s elite teams at the beginning of the year. The pair helped lead Liquid to an upset of Fnatic in winning its group, and an exciting win against Counter Logic Gaming in the quarterfinals pushed Liquid to within one match of the finals. And then it all fell apart.
Liquid took a 15-9 lead on Mirage before losing the next 10 rounds. Luminosity took the last six rounds of regulation to force overtime and then won the first four in the extra session to take the map. Liquid then took a 15-6 lead on Cache before enduring the same heartbreaking fate. Luminosity won the final nine rounds of regulation to force overtime and outscored Liquid 4-1 from there to earn a confounding 2-0 semifinal win.
S1mple left Liquid after the Major but returned for one last run at the following Major: ESL One Cologne. In doing so, Liquid finally got over the semifinal hump, beating Natus Vincere in the quarterfinals and Fnatic in the semifinals before losing again to the Brazilian powerhouse in the finals. S1mple’s run with Liquid was anything but boring.
7. Unpredictability rules second half of the year
Professional Counter-Strike is used to dynasties. Whether that was the old Ninjas in Pyjamas teams, Fnatic at the end of last year or Luminosity/SK throughout the middle third of 2016, there tends to be one team that rises clear above the rest in the world to claim the top spot. Given that, the second half of this year would be considered chaos.
Since SK Gaming won its second Major in a row at ESL One Cologne in July, there have been eight tournaments with at least a $250,000 prize pool. There have been seven different winners. The only team to win more than one of those tournaments, Ninjas in Pyjamas, failed to qualify for the next Major. There has perhaps never been a more wide open and unpredictable period of CSGO, as the margin separating the top teams is slim.
The current No.1 team in HLTV’s rankings, Astralis, was 15th just over a month ago. Eight different teams have been in the top five during the same period. The global parity was one of the biggest stories of 2016 and will be one of the most exciting to watch in 2017, especially heading into the ELEAGUE Major at the end of January.
6. Astralis wins ECS Season 2 to cap eventful year of transition
As good as Fnatic was at the end of 2015, Astralis (then Team SoloMid) wasn’t far behind. After founding a new organization early this year, the results started to fade. After some changeover and the aforementioned run at ESL One Cologne, Astralis was at a bit of an impasse.
Then the team kicked Finn “Karrigan” Andersen in favor of gla1ve in the fall, and thus begun the slow rebuild of Astralis as an international power. The results were uneven at first, but Astralis showed flashes, particularly by winning a strong Group C of ELEAGUE and then making the semifinals of IEM Oakland.
After losing in the finals of ELEAGUE Season 2, Astralis completed its resurgence by defeating OpTic in the finals of ECS Season 2 to claim its first win of 2016 and become the world’s No.1 team. The win solidified the effect of gla1ve on the Astralis roster and elevated the Danish team — in the most unlikely manner — back to where it stood a year ago: The top of the Counter-Strike world.
I’ve got nothing to add. Coldzera is incredible.
4. Virtus.pro wins ELEAGUE Season 1
The old guard showed once again why it can’t ever be counted out.
The year didn’t start particularly well for VP, which didn’t even qualify for the ESL Pro League. The Polish club didn’t even appear to be at its best in ELEAGUE, as it fell to EnVyUs in the final of its group and was sent to the last chance qualifier for the playoffs.
From there, VP wouldn’t drop another map. It defeated Gambit and Renegades to get through the last chance qualifier and then defeated Ninjas in Pyjamas, mousesports and Fnatic to claim the Season 1 championship. The win also proved to be the death knell to the Fnatic lineup, as its now-infamous roster swap with Godsent happened two weeks later.
Wiktor “TaZ” Wojtas said after the win he wants to “show the kids that even when I’m 40 I will get to the server and destroy everyone,” and that, obviously, has yet to be seen. But for one weekend, VP reminded everyone why it cannot ever be counted out.
3. NiP fails to qualify for the Major
Ninjas in Pyjamas are synonymous with Counter-Strike Majors. That’s why it was so shocking to see them falter the way they did earlier this month at the ELEAGUE Major Qualifier.
NiP was in that position after a lackluster performance in Cologne, in which a loss to Flipsid3 in the group stage cost the Ninjas their legends status. It didn’t help that the qualifier for the upcoming Major was perhaps the deepest we’ve ever seen, with nine of the top 13 teams in the world present for it.
Still, NiP’s showing was disastrous, especially considering the relative ease of the draw. NiP lost to HellRaisers after beating Renegades. And after a loss to OpTic, NiP was eliminated in an embarrassing 16-2 defeat to Vega Squadron.
The Ninjas had an overall strong year, but it undoubtedly ended with disappointment.
2. North America breaks through
North American Counter-Strike has for so long played the role of Europe’s hapless younger sibling.
The top group of European teams have the strongest history in the game, whereas North America has mostly floundered. Some teams have appeared to emerge in the past, often raising the hopes and expectations of the North American fan base, only to disappoint as the streak of never winning an international tournament continued. Then Cloud9 and OpTic turned the tables on the rest of the world.
With a revamped lineup thanks to the addition of Jake “Stewie2k” Yip and Timothy “autimatic” Ta, Cloud9 went into Brazil and toppled the heavily-favored SK Gaming squad to win ESL Pro League Season 4. After losing 16-6 in the group stages to SK Gaming on dust2, Cloud9 ran through OpTic and mousesports in the playoffs en route to a rematch with SK in the final. C9 dropped the first map before winning Overpass and a rematch on dust2 to defeat the Brazilians in their home country and claim North America’s first international win.
Just over a month later, OpTic doubled NA’s total by winning ELEAGUE Season 2. The Green Wall might have benefited from a fortunate bracket draw, but OpTic still beat mousesports, FaZe Clan and Astralis to earn a win. OpTic followed that up with a runner-up finish (to Astralis, in a rematch) at ECS Season 2 and then qualified for the ELEAGUE Major. Heading into 2017, maybe it is finally North America’s time to shine. Maybe.
1. Luminosity/SK wins two Majors
The Brazilian squad led by Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo reached the playoffs of all three Majors in 2015 but never made it past the quarterfinals. The upstarts, under the Luminosity banner by the start of the year, had been on a slow rise but was desperate for a breakthrough after a consistent string of playoff losses.
It happened at MLG Columbus Major in April and continued through the summer. Luminosity won the MLG Major without dropping a map and followed that up with wins at DreamHack Austin and ESL Pro League Season 3. The roster was bought by SK Gaming and won ESL Cologne, staking its dominance by winning both Majors in 2016.
The second half of the year has not been as kind to the Brazilians, who did not win another tournament and got rid of Lincoln “fnx” Lau in a move that could disrupt their hopes for next month’s ELEAGUE Major. But the rise of Luminosity/SK from Brazilian upstart to the undisputed best team in the world (and successor to the Fnatic Era) and two-time Major champions was the most resounding storyline in a year filled with them.
Cover photo courtesy of ECS/FaceIt, remixed by Slingshot