Defend the Throne: For Astralis, reaching the top was one thing. Staying there will be another

Astralis has claimed the title as the best team in the world and the throne is theirs. They have captured what few others have — the Major title — and in doing so have taken the throne. Having achieved the highest honor possible in professional play (along with winning ECS Season 2, a runner-up finish in ELEAGUE Season 2 and a semifinal appearance at DreamHack Las Vegas), where does Astralis go next? What is the next goal?

Greatness.

Astralis has all the tools at its disposal. In terms of individual skill, the players match or surpass any professional team in the world. In terms of tactics, they have arguably the best in the world. Danes don’t have that strange swarm mind the Swedes exclusively tap into, but Astralis’ teamplay is still top tier. If there’s any indictment of them, it’s that they can fail under the pressure sometimes. Typical mainstay Nikolai “dev1ce” Reedtz had an underwhelming performance in the ELEAGUE Major finals, but that didn’t matter as Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjærbye stepped up in his place. The team as a whole was able to defeat Virtus.Pro in one of the closest series of any Major in the finals, where the pressure is unbearable and mistakes unforgiving. So even that criticism is currently a minor quibble.

With all of these qualities, Astralis should be able to make this their era, right? Sima Qian wrote that conquest was inherently different from rule, that the qualities to succeed in one did not translate into success for the other. Astralis has worked to become the best team in the world. The competition extolled their victory, praised their incredible qualities and gave them the greatest flattery of all — labeling them as Public Enemy No. 1.

“I think the most difficult part is sometimes when you start winning, the approach the other teams have about your team and players is different,” SK Gaming’s Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo told Slingshot at the Major. “They start watching you much more. They start studying you. They start creating strategies they think will fit against you. They start trying to shape their map pool to beat you.”

Post-ELEAGUE Major, almost all of Astralis’ rivals shuffled rosters. Fnatic reformed the lineup that won six tournaments in a row from the end of 2015 to early 2016. Richard “Shox” Papillon and Kenny “kennyS” Schrub finally teamed up to make a French super team. North acquired Philip “aizy” Aistrup to strengthen its roster. SK upgraded to Joao “felps” Vasconcellos and looks to take back the spot on the top it owned for much of 2016. Virtus.Pro remains an incredible team that can match and beat Astralis if Astralis slips up once. Natus Vincere might have lost in the Major quarterfinals but still has the skill to upset Astralis.

Duncan “Thorin” Shields categorizes the three traits of Counter-Strike as skill, tactics and teamwork. You need to excel in one or more of these aspects to become the best team in the world. Astralis has all three but in each separate category can be challenged. Fnatic, G2, SK and Na`Vi all have rosters with comparable amounts of skill. In terms of tactics, both SK and North can match them; in terms of teamwork, Fnatic and VP are an equal match to Astralis.

From that angle, though, it’s clear Astralis is still the most complete team in the world, but that won’t matter. All of those qualities are what got Astralis to the top spot. They’ll be needed to retain it, but for the next couple of months a new quality will be tested: relentlessness.

Becoming the best is one thing, staying the best is another. You need to look no further than EnVyUs. At the end of 2015, EnVyUs won the DreamHack Cluj-Napoca Major but quickly crashed in early 2016. They won and then they rested on their laurels. By the time they realized the world had passed them by, it was too late, and they never recovered championship-caliber form. Even if you do stay on top of your practice, the era can be ripped away from your hands. This is what happened to SK in 2016 after they won their second Major. The whole world is now out to get Astralis, and it will be up to them to show that they have the will to keep improving, to keep practicing, to keep going further and further ahead of the competition.

Astralis’ relentlessness has already been tested. At DreamHack Vegas, everything had gone smoothly until they rematched Virtus.Pro in the semifinals of the tournament. At the ELEAGUE Major, it was an incredibly close affair that Astralis pulled out by the skin of their teeth. This time it wasn’t so fortunate as VP beat them 2-1. The map score belies the fact that VP stomped them in the first and third maps of the set. It was an uncharacteristic loss for the team with a subpar performance from the supporting roles.

Even with that loss, I still think Astralis are the best team around and are the most complete team in every aspect of Counter-Strike. But that may not be enough as we are headed into one of the most competitive eras of CS:GO. With so many top teams having been formed defending the throne has never been a harder task, but because of that there has never been a greater reward for glory. It is time for the world to take the throne from Astralis, it is time for Astralis to defend it.

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