Photo: By Helena Kristiansson for ESL and StarLadder
Every competitive scene is like a ladder. Every team and player continues to climb one rung at a time. Some rise, some fall, some get back up, but regardless of where a person is on the ladder, the goal is always the same. To get to the heights of the world. Once there, a team or player is cemented as the world champion and becomes the envy and goal for all those below him. Should a team or player hold their spot for a long period of time, they start to transcend history. They are no longer just great, they are historically great. They have gone beyond the realms of men and into the very cosmology and fabric of what we define as greatness. In 2018, two entities have risen to such heights and have become the centers of CS:GO competition. Astralis and s1mple are the two suns of the CS:GO universe and the entire competitive scene revolves around their greatness.
The Age of Astralis
By the end of 2018 and going into 2019, Astralis have no rivals. They have killed them all. The lineup of: Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz, Peter “Dupreeh” Rasmussen, Andreas “Xyp9x” Hojsleth, Emil “Magisk” Reif, and Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander is a team that has conquered the world long ago. Their era started at DreamHack Marseille 2018 where they put on one of the most dominant tournament performances of any team in CS:GO history. That was the shot heard around the world as Astralis came trumpeting to the top of the CS:GO scene through their perfectly balanced roles, tactical innovation, utility usage, and team system.
In retrospect, that tournament was the advent of a paradigm shift both on a macro level and tactically inside the game. Astralis as an organization had built up multiple systems of support to get their players to perform at a consistently high level at every tournament. They’ve had psychologists, nutritionists, a strict schedule, and more to make sure that they can continue to be number one. The face of all of this was Danny “zonic’ Sorensen, the coach of Astralis. He has come to be the father figure in the team as he helps the team on both an emotional level and a tactical level. Whenever the players are having trouble they can go to him for help. As a tactician, he is someone who enforces a level of detailed thinking as he demands good reasoning for every piece of utility used in the game and this has become one of the defining points of Astralis as a squad. As a leader, he can help gla1ve get extra time to practice individually by calling for the team in online games, which allows gla1ve to focus on his individual practice more as well as get more ideas about how to improve his own calling.
This entire system combined into the most dominant single year any team has had in CS:GO. After DreamHack Marseille to the end of the year the team has won nine international LANs, gotten second at two others, three top 3-4 placings and a single top 8 result. Through that entire period, they won a Major, become the first to win the IEM Grand Slam, and broke multiple records. They went undefeated on Nuke 27-0, dev1ce accrued the most MVPs of any player in a single year of CS:GO.
What was most incredible to me was the sheer amount of growth they continued to make event after event. As a team, they continued to tactically innovate and bring new ideas to the game event after event. In the latter half of the year after the FACEIT Major victory, Astralis proved their incredible mental fortitude and ability to play under pressure at IEM Chicago, ECS Season 6 Finals, and BLAST Lisbon. At Chicago Astralis played an epic best-of-three series against Fnatic where they pulled out a miraculous comeback against them in the third map of the series and were able to defeat MIBR in an incredibly close finals at ECS Season 6 Finals. At BLAST Lisbon, they lost the first map of the finals to Na`Vi on Overpass, but were able to easily close out the series 2-1. What made that finals special was the amount of pressure that should have come from their map veto selection.
In that particular map veto, Astralis decided to pick Cache, usually their own permaban, against Na`Vi as their first pick. The reason they did this was because Na`Vi had decided to ban Nuke against Astralis and hoped to float Cache to the second veto phase, however Astralis decided to use it as a punish pick against them. After losing on the first map 7-16, they could have felt pressure on playing on Nuke against Na`Vi, but instead tore them apart. As a team, they had conquered the world in almost every significant way possible in 2018. Almost.
The Superlative s1mple
The only field that Astralis were unable to dominant in was in individual performance. The best player of the year easily went to Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev. In 2018, s1mple had a year the likes of which we had never seen. He was the superstar player of Na`Vi and his individual performance was so incredible that I dubbed the first four months of 2018 the “s1mple Era”. That designation is usually reserved for teams that become the best in CS:GO for a prolonged period of time, but during that period it was close to a parity era. While FaZe were the best team, they were unable to win the critical titles needed to close in on such an era, whereas s1mple’s superlative skill was so incredible that it was the defined that period of play.
What made it even more incredible was just how bad Na`Vi was at the beginning of 2018. They were completely lost in terms of team cohesion. The team had yet to figure out what role Denis “electronic” Sharipov should play. On top of that both Danylo “Zeus” Teslenko and Ioann “Edward’ Sukhariev were having historically bad individual performances. It was only through the raw might of s1mple that they were considered a top team in the early parts of 2018. S1mple’s hard carry performance of that period was the absolute best I’ve seen from any single individual superstar in CS:GO history.
To properly frame how incredible s1mple was during this period, we have to understand and break down what impact means in CS:GO. Lebron James once said that, “Two points is not two points.” He then proved why when he broke the back of the Toronto Raptors. There are multiple times in a CS:GO game where a kill is worth more than a kill. In the case of CS:GO, I’d say the most impactful things a player can do is as follows: win the pistol round, win a forcebuy round and break the economy of the opponent, get an untraded opening pick, win a clutch scenario.
S1mple not only did all of these things, he did the time and time and time again. If he was on the AWP he consistently pulled out incredible opening duels against the world’s top teams and players and no one (outside of Astralis) could do anything to slow him down. On a rifle he was equally effective on both the T and CT-sides of the map. He was one of the best pistol players in the world and there were maps where he outdueled AWPers with a deagle. In forcebuy situations, s1mple consistently kept getting double or triple kills which broke the economies of whatever team he was facing. In the highest impact moments of the game, s1mple delivered again and again and again.
If individual performance wasn’t enough, then there is also the fact that s1mple fixed his Achilles heel. S1mple was always an incredible player, but the early parts of his career had him shuffle around multiple teams because he was too tough of a personality to work with. In this year though, he was an incredible teammate in Na`Vi. While it’s hard to tell from the outside, consider the extenuating circumstances. S1mple was putting on solo carry performances at a level we had never seen while playing with players who were individually having some of the worst tournaments of their careers. MIBR wanted to recruit s1mple and have him join the team and it looked to be a done deal, until it wasn’t. He could have stomped off to his tent like Achilles and stopped trying, but he instead redoubled his efforts and become an even better player as 2018 rolled along, despite already being the best player.
A Universe with Two Suns
As the 2019 season begins, it is clear that CS:GO revolves around the axis of two superpowers. Two entities that have come to define the entire scene through their greatness. Astralis is the best team in the world and a team that is chasing for the title of the greatest team of all time. S1mple is the best player in the world and a player that could well go down as the greatest in history. They are the two suns of the CS:GO universe and all levels of success are overshadowed by the luminescence of what they have accomplished.