As the off-season has begun and teams are taking a much-needed break before they get back into action in late August, we look back at the first seven months of 2018 and recap the biggest stories and headlines of the first part of the year.
Just like last year, 2018 kicked off with the ELEAGUE Major. With SK having João "felps" Vasconcellos standing in as Ricardo "boltz" Prass was not allowed to take part in the tournament due to roster rules, FaZe were the main favorites to take home their first Major.
It all turned out differently than anticipated. Cloud9 started their run in the New Challengers Stage and cruised through the first phase without breaking a sweat, but the second Swiss stage proved difficult for them, as the North American side kicked it off with losses to G2 and Space Soldiers. However, Jake "Stewie2K" Yip & co. recovered after eliminating Virtus.pro, Astralis, and Vega Squadron, coming back from the 0-2 start to secure their berth in the playoffs.
In the single-elimination bracket, Cloud9 first disposed of G2 in a one-sided series before defeating the boltz-less SK in the semi-finals. Meanwhile, FaZe continued to confirm their position of the favorites after 2-0 series over mousesports and Natus Vincere, joining the Tarik "tarik" Celik-led squad in the grand final.
There, the European side kicked things off with a closely contested win on Mirage before Overpass went the other way, with Inferno left to decide the winner of the first Major of the year. FaZe were unable to convert a 15-11 lead as the nail-biting battle went to double overtime, with Cloud9 completing the miraculous comeback to give North America its first Major trophy, while tarik claimed the MVP award.
That wasn't the only surprise of the ELEAGUE Major, as G2 broke their streak of group stage exits with a playoff finish, while Quantum Bellator Fire (now Winstrike) shocked the CS scene after making it through the first two stages against all odds, beating the likes of mousesports on the way to the quarter-finals.
Nicolai "device" Reedtz had gone on a medical leave at the end of November last year and it wasn't until before the ELEAGUE Major that he made his return. While Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen kept his temporary role as the AWPer for the Major, device's comeback was slow as he recorded one of the worst tournaments of his career in Atlanta, but he was quickly back in form when he retook the AWP at the end of January.
100 Thieves pull out of the Major
For the first time in CS:GO, the organizers had to deal with a team pulling out of the Major at the last minute, as the new 100 Thieves, whose majority had previously competed under the Immortals banner, weren't able to acquire visas in time. ELEAGUE filled the spot by organizing a last-chance qualifier, which featured the three teams who had lost in the fifth round of the New Challengers Stage, with Liquid coming out on top to claim the ninth spot in the next phase.
The end of the Major often means plenty of roster changes, and this time it was no different. In retrospect, the most important was the abrupt departure of Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye from Astralis to North. That led Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander's team to bring in Emil "Magisk" Reif, and we all know how that turned out; Astralis needed only about two months to start their own era.
Meanwhile, Liquid opted to remove Josh "jdm64" Marzano and welcomed Keith "NAF" Markovic, who quickly went on to become one of their stars. Virtus.pro broke CS:GO's longest standing five-man roster by releasing Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas, who was replaced by Michał "MICHU" Müller, and Dennis "dennis" Edman replaced Richard "Xizt" Landström in NiP to end the longest standing three-man core.
FACEIT get their first Major
A month after the ELEAGUE Major had finished, it was announced that FACEIT had been chosen to host 2018's second Major in September. For the first time, the entire cycle was going to be organized by just one company, with all four Minors also taking place at the same location — at London's Twickenham stadium — to ensure that all teams taking part in the Major itself would have no issues with visas.
mousesports claim first big-event title at StarSeries i-League Season 4
mousesports took advantage of the post-Major shift at StarSeries i-League Season 4, defeating SK, Cloud9, G2, Liquid, and Natus Vincere to claim their first big-event trophy at the end of the month, while Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev secured his first MVP medal of the year despite losing the grand final of the $300,000 tournament.
March saw Epitacio "TACO" de Melo leave SK after realizing he had lost the joy to play. The Brazilians contemplated multiple options, including buying out s1mple and Egor "flamie" Vasilyev from Natus Vincere, but, according to various reports, the deal fell through at the last minute and SK had to find another solution.
In the end, Stewie2K made the transfer over from Cloud9, leaving behind Timothy "autimatic" Ta, who had reportedly received an offer alongside his long-time teammate but decided to stay in the North American squad. Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo & co. soon found themselves struggling with the shift towards communicating in English and extended their streak of group stage exits to four events before eventually making their first playoffs with the American player at ESL Pro League Season 7 Finals, two months later.
fnatic garner $1m+ after triumphs at IEM Katowice and WESG
fnatic took everyone by surprise at IEM Katowice with their first title in two years, since 2016's edition of the same tournament. The Swedes beat Heroic, G2, and Liquid on the way to the grand final, in which they rematched FaZe and triumphed after an exciting finish to the best-of-five grand final, with a red-hot Robin "flusha" Rönnquist pulling off a beastly performance to push fnatic over the line on the fifth map, Train, in overtime.
Maikil "Golden" Selim & co. then topped it off with their second consecutive title at the WESG World Finals with a win over Space Soldiers in the grand final, adding a total of $1,050,000 to their winnings over the course of the two tournaments in March.
shox gets benched from G2
In February, it had come to light that Richard "shox" Papillon would need to undergo a wrist surgery, but it had nothing to do with him getting benched from G2, who did not agree with his radical ideas regarding the roster and decided to try out Oscar "mixwell" Cañellas. Needless to say, the organization would give shox the reins after all, but not before the star player had spent three months on the bench to recover.
After a two-month adjustment period, Astralis started proving themselves as world beaters with Magisk at DreamHack Masters Marseille. In what marked the beginning of the Danes' journey to becoming the best team in the world, gla1ve's team went undefeated — only losing one map in a group stage series against Liquid —, moving past FaZe, fnatic, and Natus Vincere in the playoffs.
Once again losing in the grand final, s1mple received another consolation prize in the form of the MVP award after a carry performance at the French tournament, where he averaged an out-of-this-world 1.52 rating.
olofmeister takes leave of absence
At the very beginning of April, FaZe announced the acquisition of Xizt as Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer had to take a mysterious leave of absence for an undetermined period of time to deal with personal issues. That ended up lasting for nearly four months, as he only returned in mid-July ahead of ELEAGUE Premier.
Cloud9 add FNS, TACO joins Liquid
In response to the surprising departure of Stewie2K, Cloud9 turned to Pujan "FNS" Mehta to take over leadership of the team from tarik. It soon all went wrong after he and the team found "differences in philosophies", and the Canadian in-game leader was transfer listed towards the end of May.
Shortly afterwards, Liquid followed suit with their lineup change, bringing in TACO to replace Lucas "steel" Lopes, who had asked to step down from the team following a six-month tenure with Liquid despite promising results at cs_summit (first place), StarSeries i-League Season 4 (third), and IEM Katowice (third-fourth).
May began with IEM Sydney. Xizt played with FaZe for the second time after Marseille, and it was a redemption story for Finn "karrigan" Andersen's team, who largely played the Asian and Oceanic teams but also defeated Cloud9 and fnatic en route to the grand final.
In the best-of-five final, FaZe took their revenge for the Marseille defeat and bested their Danish rivals 3-0 on the back of Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács's consistent play in one of the closest and most exciting finals of the year, as the first two maps, Cache and Overpass, went into overtime (double overtime on the latter), while Train reached the 30-round mark.
Astralis redeem themselves at ESL Pro League Season 7 Finals
The second big tournament of the month, and the third in a row counting towards the Intel Grand Slam, saw Astralis go on another dominant run to the final, during which they returned the favor as they decimated FaZe in the semi-finals 16-3 on Mirage and 16-6 on Inferno.
In the 2018's first grand final between the Danes and Liquid, Astralis looked to run away with the best-of-five after destroying the North American side 16-1 on Dust2. However, Nick "nitr0" Cannella's team fought back on the next three maps and made it a closely contested series, though to little success, as Astralis ran out victors 3-1.
fnatic sign Xizt, Lekr0 benched
At the end of the month, fnatic brought in Xizt to take over the in-game leadership role, but he didn't replace Golden, who had been rumoured to be on his way out; instead, it was Jonas "Lekr0" Olofsson on the chopping block.
With Astralis and FaZe both skipping StarSeries i-League Season 5, the tournament was destined to go the way of Na`Vi, who had been struggling for titles ever since their win at DreamHack Open Winter 2017. Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko & co. lived up to the expectations, beating SK, mousesports, and the surprise of the tournament, NRG, in the playoffs to grab their first trophy in 2018.
Astralis and FaZe were back in action at ECS Season 5 Finals, this time with the latter team utilizing Jorgen "cromen" Robertsen's services. gla1ve's side once again proved why they are the best team in the world, dealing FaZe another blow in the semi-finals before repeating their win over Liquid in the grand final, hoisting another trophy after going undefeated throughout the tournament.
The Danes were again missing at ESL One Belo Horizonte, with FaZe looking better adjusted alongside cromen the second time around. Nikola "NiKo" Kovač & co. flew past the group stage as well as the semi-finals against Liquid before meeting mousesports, who had Jordan "n0thing" Gilbert standing in for Tomáš "oskar" Šťastný. Though the odds seemed against Chris "chrisJ" de Jong's team, the Dutchman put on a great show to help his team secure two maps, before ultimately conceding the best-of-five series to FaZe, who claimed their third Intel Grand Slam win.
shox's return to G2's active roster meant a restructuring of the squad. After a couple of weeks during which he contemplated the changes, Dan "apEX" Madesclaire and Nathan "NBK-" Schmitt got the boot, while Edouard "SmithZz" Dubourdeaux came back as an active player following a year-and-a-half long period as the team's coach. To fill the last gap, the trio of shox, Kenny "kennyS" Schrub, and SmithZz reunited with their ex-teammate Kévin "Ex6TenZ" Droolans.
fnatic and NiP continue shuffle
Still unsatisfied with the changes, the top two Swedish teams proceeded to swap players in June, with Lekr0 taking William "draken" Sundin's place in NiP, while the AWPer was transferred over to fnatic and the "extra" in-game leader, Golden, was left out in the cold.
mousesports replace STYKO with Snax
June's roster swaps continued with mousesports, who said goodbye to Martin "STYKO" Styk towards the end of the month to allow for a rather controversial addition of Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski, as the Pole left his long-time home in Virtus.pro following a dismal period.
Players' Association officialized
The players' association had mostly been a project in the works for over a year, which had the aim of bettering the conditions of players and aiding them with legal counsel and guidance in signing new contracts, and it finally came to fruition at the end of June, when it was officialized with around 90 members and some big-name players. like Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth, NBK- and tarik, in the founding board.
July saw Natus Vincere conquer one of the most stacked tournaments of 2018, ESL One Cologne, where the CIS-based squad made a real step towards challenging Astralis for the title of the best team in the world.
Despite a rather shaky group stage, in which Natus Vincere lost to the new G2 and barely survived their encounter with ENCE, s1mple & co. prevailed after taking down fnatic, the Danish powerhouse, and the Cinderella-like BIG in the playoffs. After yet another incredible tournament, s1mple claimed his fifth MVP award of 2018 - as many as the rosters of Astralis and FaZe have combined.
Katowice reclaims Major status
As one of the most established and storied tournaments in CS:GO's open circuit, the staple Katowice event lost its Major status in 2016, when the first Major of the year was given to MLG Columbus. In mid-February 2019, ESL will once again get to host the most prestigious tournament in the Polish city's iconic Spodek Arena.
One of the most important changes compared to previous editions and even previous Majors is that this time, IEM Katowice's group stage — now known as the New Legends Stage — will be held in front of a live audience at the International Congress Center, adjacent to the arena.
MIBR add tarik in boltz's place
Although MIBR looked on the uprise towards the end of their tenure in SK, ESL One Cologne saw the Brazilians suffer a group stage exit at the hands of BIG under their new banner. That led to the departure of boltz, who had been rumoured to be on his way out when TACO left SK, and the reunion of Stewie2K and tarik.
Astralis win ELEAGUE Premier
Losing to Natus Vincere in the semi-finals of ESL One Cologne did nothing but reinvigorate Astralis, who went into the second big event of July, ELEAGUE Premier, and showed everyone who the boss is. With device in peak form, the Danish squad went 8-0 at the tournament, beating Cloud9, mousesports, and Liquid twice to add the fourth trophy out of the last six events to their cabinet.
FaZe's playoffs streak ends at 13 upon olofmeister's return
The same event saw olofmeister return to active duty following a four-month break, but it didn't go quite according to plan as FaZe exited ELEAGUE in last place after close losses to mousesports and fnatic. That ended the European team's playoffs streak at 13 events in a row, dating back to BLAST Pro Series Copenhagen, where FaZe had placed third and only two teams had made it through the group stage.