Outside looking in: The CSGO teams looking to crack the top three

Professional Counter-Strike has entered the Era of the Super Teams. After Astralis lifted the ELEAGUE Major trophy, multiple teams have swapped rosters to try to create the best team possible to win tournaments. Below the frontrunners of Astralis, SK Gaming and Virtus.pro exists a group of four, North, Natus Vincere, FaZe Clan and Fnatic, and here is a look at what separates them from the top three. I’ve ignored G2 for now as they haven’t attended any LANs with their new lineup.

North

Roster:

Mathias “MSL” Lauridsen

Kristian “k0nfig” Wienecke

René “cajunb” Borg

Emil “Magisk” Reif

Philip “aizy” Aistrup

Recent Results:

Top 8, ELEAGUE Major

Top 4, DreamHack Vegas

Top 6, IEM Katowice

Among the super roster swaps, this is the only team that became worse on paper. Ruben RUBINO Villarroel was one of the best support players in the game, and and there were maybe one or two players as good or better in his role. But RUBINO who voluntarily stepped down, so in that lens, aizy was the best possible pickup among the choices available.

This is a complete team at first glance. Magisk and k0nfig are two of the most exciting stars in the game. Both are still inexperienced at this level of competition compared to their peers, but have shown amazing individual performances. MSL is one of the better in-game leaders and has inexplicably improved his individual performance. Cajunb is a consistent AWPer who helps round out the game, and aizy was once a star player who flourished under MSL. North’s map pool is deep; it can play five of the seven available maps, and has even shown proficiency on Cache despite MSL personally hating it.

The results themselves don’t necessarily line up with this story. North hasn’t been in a finals since EPICENTER (back when they were under Dignitas with RUBINO). The community has rallied around the belief this lack of results indicates they are overhyped. I came to a different conclusion while watching the team at ELEAGUE and DreamHack. I still think North has the chance to win a tournament, but they lack in a few areas that have consistently put victory beyond grasp. These weaknesses are what put them a level below the top three currently.

First, they aren’t as mentally impervious as SK, Virtus.pro or Astralis. As a unit, none of these players have ever reached this level of competition in their CS:GO careers except Cajunb. In that respect, they still have a lot to learn. Along the same lines, they seem to have a hard time adapting in a game. Finally, SK is a notoriously bad matchup for them.

Look at the results beyond EPICENTER. North’s only objectively poor placing was DreamHack Bucharest. After that, there’s ELEAGUE Season 2, ECS Season 2, ELELEAGUEeague Major and DreamHack Vegas. In three of those four tournaments, SK eliminated North (though you can ignore ECS because North had a stand-in). Granted each elimination was by a different variation of SK, but if you look at that set of results, it’s clear to me that North’s biggest hurdle to winning a tournament is SK.

In comparison, North matches up better against Astralis and Virtus.pro. Danish team battles are notorious for being coin flips, while North vs. Virtus.pro has been split 50-50. The former RUBINO lineup beat VP at EPICENTER, then ended up losing in very close fashion at the ELEAGUE Major. Although I don’t believe in the “should have” argument, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that North could beat Virtus.pro in a best-of-three.

Even that loss against Virtus.pro showed that North still lacks that extra bit of boldness in its play that lets the team steal games from opponents. You can say what you want about the audacity of k0nfig knifing a guaranteed target in overtime of an elimination match, but that kind of decisiveness is exactly what North needs to take wins over the top three teams.

For me, North is the biggest threat to win a tournament outside of the top three. It’ll come down to two questions: can they can solve/dodge SK in major tournaments? And will they develop the mental grit to win tight games against superior competition?

Na`Vi

Roster:

Denis seized Kostin

Ladislav GuardiaN Kovács

Ioann “Edward” Sukhariev

Egor flamie Vasilyev

Oleksandr s1mple Kostyliev

Recent Results:

Group stage, ELEAGUE Season 2

Group stage, IEM Oakland

Top 8, ELEAGUE Major

Top 8, DreamHack Vegas

Top 6 (at least), IEM Katowice

Of all the CS:GO teams in the world, Na’Vi is the only one that makes me sound unhinged when I talk about them. Na’Vi is the modern riddle of the Sphinx. “Will Na’Vi be a championship winning team?” I look at their games and see that they don’t have consistent firepower. Their stars don’t show up at the same time. Their T-side offense isn’t comparable to the top teams, and their CT-side isn’t strong enough to decide games alone. They are prone to internal conflict and don’t have a world class leader to compensate. While seized has improved, I don’t think it’s realistic to believe he can replace Sergey “starix” Ischuk any time soon.

Then I look at their roster on paper and think, “Fuck it, it’s gotta work somehow.” Na’Vi remains a riddle to the modern viewer, a mystery to themselves. If they can find a way for flamie, s1mple and GuardiaN to go off at the same time consistently, I don’t think any other trio in the world could match it.

You watch their games and think they can’t do it. You look at their roster and come away convinced it has to work somehow. Even writing this makes me sound like I’m out of my mind. I just can’t give up on this roster.

Fnatic

Roster:

Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer

Dennis “dennis” Edman

Freddy “KRiMZ” Johansson

Jesper “JW” Wecksell

Robin flusha Rönnquist

Recent results:

Group stage, DreamHack Vegas

Group stage, IEM Katowice

If Na’Vi made me sound like I’m out of my mind, Fnatic makes me sound like I have Stockholm Syndrome. This particular Fnatic lineup was the best in the world from the end of 2015 through the early months of 2016. They won six LAN events in a row and did it with a minimal reliance on “tactics.” They ran a very loose setup that could outmuscle any team through skill and seemingly telepathic communication.

Even though the current roster is the exact same, they still need to find a way to recover that form. There are still a lot of questions about this team as no one except JW seems to be close to peak form. JW might actually be better, and Flusha has remained a rock, but everyone else has slowly declined. The constant team swapping seems to have taken its toll on the players as their legendary teamwork has yet to resurface, though we only have two event with minimal practice to look at.

I believe this team could be incredibly dangerous. Its strength came from confidence, individual skill and the natural synergy that’s emblematic of Fnatic’s legacy. My belief doesn’t come from any particular analysis so much as from the trauma of picking against them. They will win rounds or games out of nowhere in ways that can only be described as Sith rounds. Other teams can win forcebuy rounds and make you think “Ah that’s too bad.” Fnatic won them in ways that made you feel like they just gut punched the other team.

Unlike Na’Vi, there is no riddle to this puzzle. It will come down to individual skill and finding that X-Factor again. Among the teams here I have Fnatic pegged to go from zero to one hundred the fastest.

FaZe

Roster:

Håvard “rain” Nygaard

Fabien kioShiMa Fiey

Aleksi “allu” Jalli

Finn “karrigan” Andersen

Nikola NiKo Kovač

Recent Results:

Top 4 (at least), IEM Katowice

Is NiKo + good team + good leader enough of a reason to buy into this team? I think so. NiKo is a weapon of mass destruction along the lines of s1mple, coldzera and Richard “shox” Papillon. I understand multiple questions must be addressed (How Karrigan will integrate NiKo into the lineup? How will he utilize this new source of firepower? etc.). We don’t know how NiKo will perform under the pressure of a final. For too long he’s been consumed with dragging mouz into respectability to worry about deep runs.

I was originally reticent to buy into this team until I saw NiKo with a taste of freedom. In his last outing with mouz he showed why he was one of the most highly rated talents in the scene. He dropped 37 kills against Na’Vi on Cobblestone and 36 against Virtus.pro on Mirage. A large amount of them were impact kills that decided the game (in the case of Na’Vi) or nearly stole a map away (in the case of Virtus.pro on Mirage). Jarosław pashaBiceps Jarząbkowski called NiKo Rambo, but now the lone wolf has a strong team and a strong leader. The potential of a good team built around NiKo is too much to ignore.

Slingshot senior columnist. StarCraft and CS:GO expert who pushes narratives over numbers.

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