Astralis has claimed the throne of the Counter-Strike world. After taking second at ELEAGUE Season 2, first at ECS Season 2 and winning the ELEAGUE Major, Astralis has achieved the highest honors in competitive CS:GO. They have not only won tournaments but have forged the foundation to create a dynasty.
The other teams’ response? Crush them, of course. After the ELEAGUE Major, nearly every region shuffled into stronger configurations.
“Our results have not been satisfying to all of us lately, and I guess you can say that these internal pressures test friendships. Unfortunately we did not pass that test.” –Jesper “JW” Wecksell
In Sweden, the Dennis-era Fnatic roster has reunited. The initial split came after ELEAGUE Season 1 because of internal problems, exacerbated by being in close proximity for too prolonged a time. Disgruntlement within teams is not a strange thing, and professionalism dictates that players need to negotiate some type of peace to keep the team running efficiently. Players learn to tolerate each other as long as the payoff is big enough. But Fnatic could not settle for anything less than absolute victory. Between mid-2014 and the end of 2015, they established themselves as one of the greatest rosters of all time. Olof “Olofmeister” Kajbjer, Robin “Flusha” Ronnquist, Freddy “KRIMZ” Johansson, JW and Markus “Pronax” Wallsten developed a level of synergy and individual skill that had never been seen before, and it translated into trophies: two Majors, countless events, unmeasurable mountains of salt. Under dennis they won six consecutive LANs from the end of 2015 to the beginning of 2016, even though olof suffered injuries and JW noticeably cooled down on the AWP. After a 2-0 loss to Astralis in the MLG Columbus Major quarterfinals and a string of semifinal exits, they split.
If animosity dissolved Fnatic, then ambition reunited the team. The team had initially split with olofmeister and Dennis “dennis” Edman remaining and JW and flusha leaving to join pronax’s new team, Godsent. Neither lineup could continue the hallowed legacy of the old Fnatic nor found the results they were searching. This continued despite multiple roster shuffles for both teams. By the Major, both were on an upturn, but improvement was insufficient. So they have reformed to challenge the world once again and show why they were once the most feared lineup on the planet.
The French scene never enjoyed such stability. Consistency is always an illusion: teams flare up and dissipate like sunspots after brief periods of success. At the end of 2015, EnVyUs stood triumphant after winning the Cluj-Napoca Major; in order to do that, the team jettisoned Richard “shox” Papillon and Edouard “SmithZz” Dubourdeaux in exchange for Kenny “KennyS” Schrub and Dan “apEX” Madesclaire. That glory was short lived and after basking in the glory of victory, they fell harder and faster than Lucifer from heaven. They went from a championship caliber team to falling from the top tier, with KennyS the only transcendent player. Meanwhile, G2 took over the spot of best French team and had a brief peak of excellence in the middle of 2016, where the team reached two finals and won ECS Season 1. G2 bought the group of misfits left in the cold after Titan ceased operations, which included shox and SmithZz. Since then, both slowly went downhill while international competition got more fierce. This eventually instigated the third French shuffle, and for the first time ever, the French will have both KennyS and shox on the same team.
SK was the No. 1 team for most of 2016, but its reign was cut short. Instead of winning tournaments, they continually earned top four finishes and finals appearances. Some internal dispute happened within the team, which eventually resulted in kicking Lincoln “fnx” Lau. They had Ricardo “fox” Pacheco stand-in for the Major and afterwards picked up Joao “felps” Vasconcellos to fill out the roster. At the Major, SK made a impressive run to the semifinals: fox was only an average player at the top tier level, but SK showed a level of teamwork and coordination that nearly beat Virtus.Pro in the semifinals. Now they will be getting Felps, one of the strongest Brazilian players, and are primed to make another run to the top reminiscent of the end of 2015. Additionally, SK is just as hungry as any other team, perhaps more so. During their reign of domination, there was always uncertainty regarding their circumstances. They had benefitted from the injuries of olofmeister and Natus Vincere’s Ladislav “Guardian” Kovacs, and some critics doubted whether SK could measure up to the titans of the past. But now they have the perfect circumstances to prove otherwise. We are heading into one of the most exciting competitive era of CS:GO, a time when SK will have to beat the best of the best to take home the gold.
The last three teams had less dramatic Major changes, but all three have the potential to be championship contending teams. North acquired Philip “aizy” Aistrup, former star of Dignitas, while Ruben “RUBINO” Villarroel took a break. Aizy never looked better than he did under Mathias “MSL” Lauridsen’s leadership, and that could prove fruitful now that he’s joined his old friend. Na`Vi is still full of incredibly skilled players who on their best days can out-skill anyone. VP was the runner-up of the ELEAGUE Major and has proven to be the most difficult team to beat on LAN. They are the final bosses of CS:GO, and after all of these years are still an incredible force to be reckoned with. The loss has only made them hunger for the win even more.
Hard lose. @KjaerbyeCS wrote that Astralis underperformed. I promise u here – we will crush u next event, please perform then. GG today
— VP TAZ (@g5taz) January 29, 2017
Six teams have assembled to knock Astralis off their throne. Will we head into another parity era? Will Astralis keep their throne? Or will one of these teams come to take the throne for themselves?
Cover photo courtesy of Turner Sports/ELEAGUE, illustration by Slingshot