The Danish chess match between Karrigan and Astralis could continue at the PGL Major

In one of the great finals of CS:GO history, Astralis squeaked by Virtus.Pro to win the ELEAGUE Major. It was an incredible moment, especially for core members Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz, Peter “dupreeh” Rothmann and Andreas “Xyp9x” Hojsleth. Their attempts to secure a Major title over the years constituted a roadmap of failure and regret, littered with brief moments of hope and depressingly familiar collapses in the playoffs. This time, the veterans snatched the trophy that had eluded them for so long. With the help of young star Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjaerbye and new in-game leader Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander, Astralis crowned itself as the best in the world.

For Finn “karrigan” Andersen, Astralis’ triumph must have been a bittersweet moment. He was one of the few players in attendance who could appreciate the sheer elation and relief tied into the celebration. After all, he struggled futilely alongside them for years, stretching back to their days with Team SoloMid. Yet he was eliminated in the quarterfinals with FaZe Clan, and he watched from the sidelines as his former teammates persevered through all obstacles to take the gold. When asked, Karrigan was nothing but congratulatory. He understood the hard-earned nature of that triumph. But a part of him must have wondered if he would ever stand on that stage, hoisting the trophy into the air.

At the time, It seemed to be a distant dream. After being booted off Astralis with a vote of no confidence, karrigan was picked up by FaZe to become the leader of the world’s most illustrious retirement home for international players. But he soon turned around his team’s reputation as a middling lightweight. Three days after his arrival, he lead FaZe to its best result in 2016. Karrigan managed to drastically improve team cohesion from event to event with little time to practice in between. By early this year, though, it became clear FaZe Clan, while significantly above the days lounging in mediocrity, lacked a necessary element to be a true international threat.

FaZe quickly found the solution to its woes. Nikola “NiKo” Kovac, one of the best players in the world, signed with FaZe and made his debut in mid-February. He proved to be the missing piece to the puzzle — a superstar with the flexibility to slot into multiple roles and the ability to take over a match by himself. Alongside the new member, FaZe had consistent AWPer, Aleksi “allu” Jalli, a third star who specialized in close-mid range combat on certain maps, and secondary star Havard”rain” Nygaard, who boasted highly refined intuition and vicious aim. Supporting them was Fabien “Kioshima” Fiey, a one-time star of the French scene who can still carry FaZe in a pinch. Karrigan no longer had to wonder if he would ever helm a team capable of winning a Major. He knew he had one.

On paper, FaZe looked like a potential juggernaut, but in practice the team was walking against the tides of history. No international mix team (with five players from five different countries) had ever won a Tier 1 tournament in Counter-Strike history. The lack of shared cultural background and inevitable communication issues were supposedly too much to overcome. But in a scene with increasing salaries, it seemed possible to assemble enough talent that could challenge that barrier. They just needed an exceptional leader to bring it all together.

One week after NiKo joined, FaZe went to IEM Katowice and reached the grand finals. They ended up playing karrigan’s old team for the title. Despite losing 3-1, it was a tight series that showed the potential of this new squad.

The first encounter displayed a clear asymmetry between the two teams. Astralis was a classical all-national lineup, and it allowed for the classic synergy that CS teams desired. As a team they had good-great individual skill all across the board, but the lynchpin of their success was a strong emphasis on fundamentals. Astralis had great tactical depth and excelled with the system g1aive had constructed for that particular roster. Meanwhile, FaZe had stars in almost every position but they had to communicate in English as it was the only common ground. Relying on a secondary language meant they had slightly different cultural understandings which could cause hiccups. Hiccups that could cost rounds, rounds that could cost games, and games that could cost series. This is especially important in a game like CS where players are put under high-pressure, fast-paced situations where they have to make the right decision based on information available. FaZe was far more loose and karrigan had to insert structure upon arrival, but his preference is to allow his players to shine.  As a team, they followed Karrigan’s preference of explosive Counter-Strike. They were two opposing ways to play CS, both answers coming naturally from the players and backgrounds that each leader implements. Yet FaZe had only three days of practice time in their first bout. So what happened when FaZe get more time together to work out the kinks?

The next time the two teams met was at StarLadder Kiev. Once again they faced off in the finals. The last time they met, karrigan had vetoed Cobblestone while Astralis vetoed Mirage. This time, the mind games started to sink in as Karrigan gambled that he could anticipate the thoughts of his teammates. Both teams avoided vetoing Cobblestone in the first phase, as if they were daring the other to pick it. Instead, FaZe removed Overpass, Astralis’ best map, while Astralis removed Cache, the single map that FaZe had won last time. FaZe chose Mirage while Astralis chose Nuke. This time FaZe finally banned Cobblestone and Astralis got to choose between either Train or Inferno. Astralis chose to ban Train.

By the end of the map veto, both teams got the maps they wanted, but it ended with FaZe being the victor. They won Nuke and barely edged out Astralis on Inferno in overtime. This time, FaZe’s explosive skill-based style shone through. Although Astralis had the structure, FaZe’s players played at a higher level that tournament and overran Astralis. The overall score between the two teams was 1-1.

The third time they met was at IEM Sydney. In between StarLadder Kiev and IEM Sydney, a “Reflections” interview was released where Karrigan said maybe one of them could be practicing Cobblestone in secret to get the jump on the other team. In the Sydney groups, FaZe played Astralis on Cobblestone. It was complete dominance from beginning to end. Astralis smashed FaZe from the T-side and won the ensuing pistol; by the time FaZe got a T-round the score was 15-7. Astralis ended up winning the map. This should have been the mental edge for Astralis if they met later in the tournament. Karrigan disagreed and in a post-match interview said he was hiding strats.

Gla1ve immediately called out Karrigan, saying, “One thing I can tell you is that Karrigan is definitely lying — nobody is hiding tactics from when you are behind 12-6, that would just be stupid. If you don’t even try to make the comeback, how would you even be able to make the comeback? I know for sure this is a lie, but we will see how the veto goes.”

The two teams met in the semifinals and the vetoes appeared the same in the first phase: Astralis banned Cache, FaZe banned Overpass. But gla1ve decided to call out FaZe’s bluff and picked Cobblestone. FaZe picked Nuke as they had won the last Nuke encounter. Astralis banned Mirage and FaZe got to decide between Train and Inferno. They went for Train.

When Cobblestone started, FaZe started on T-side. With no reason to hide anything anymore, the FaZe team went full throttle and decisively won the half 12-3. A strong resurgence proved too late for Astralis. FaZe ended up closing the game 16-13 in their favor and won the series 2-1. It was another victory for the FaZe side and contrary to most expectations, FaZe had gotten the upper hand in the rivalry.

This time, Karrigan wasn’t above making some banter. He respected his former teammates, but he wanted to rub the salt in their wounds a little as he tweeted:

Dev1ce was not amused:

At that point, it became clear that there was a real rivalry going on between the two teams. While I doubt karrigan holds any ill will towards Astralis, karrigan is still a competitor. He still wants to prove he is the best, and to do it against a team that kicked him must have made it extra sweet.

“For karrigan, it’s a totally different picture,” Rain said. “His really wants to win and his energy level and everything is maxed out when he plays against Astralis. He never wants to lose against them. Every time we lose, like when we lost in Katowice, he’s watching everything and he’s trying to figure out new stuff to counter them. He has this extra will to beat them because they basically kicked him. So in his case there’s a rivalry, indeed.”

Their rivalry will continue on the grandest stage possible. Both teams are heading to the Krakow Major as favorites to win the entire thing. This time, karrigan has a team that is a legitimate title contender. This time, Astralis will not let karrigan get away with any veto antics. While Karrigan and the Astralis players still respect each other, there is something of a sibling rivalry going on. Both sides will enjoy defeating the other with a certain relish that is reserved for friendly rivals or brotherly squabbles. But this isn’t beating your sibling at a game of Uno. Karrigan and Astralis will be puffing their chests at one of the highest stakes tournaments in the world. This is the Danish CS:GO Chess Match.

Cover photo courtesy of ESL, illustration by Raphie Rosen