Astralis: A legend in the making
Astralis' No.1 spot in the world will be put to the test at DreamHack Masters Stockholm, so we went through the numbers and compared the Danes' current run with those from other great teams of the past.
Struggling for titles
To begin the story of Astralis going on one of the most dominant runs in CS:GO's history, we must go back to June 2017, when the Danes' previous roster featuring Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye lost the No. 1 spot. At that point, the reinvigorated SK and the Nikola "NiKo" Kovač-infused FaZe had already begun pulling ahead of Astralis, who had claimed their last title at IEM Katowice in early March and went on to lose to their former teammate Finn "karrigan" Andersen's squad in StarSeries Season 3's grand final and in the IEM Sydney semi-finals.
A new dawn was on the horizon with Astralis out of the running for the title of the best team in the world, which would go on to belong to SK for most of the remainder of 2017 while FaZe enjoyed a brief period in the limelight in October-November after bringing in Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer and Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács.
Although Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander & co. remained competitive for the next six months and stayed in the top-five on the back of deep runs at most tournaments they attended, titles eluded them. They only reached two finals before the end of the year, at ELEAGUE Premier and at BLAST Pro Series Copenhagen, where they played with Dennis "dennis" Edman as Nicolai "device" Reedtz took a break to deal with his ongoing health issues.
While the AWPer was missing for the last three events of 2017 — BLAST, ESL Pro League Season 6 Finals, and ECS Season 4 Finals —, Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen took up the mantle and did well enough with the big green gun that he stayed in the role even after device returned for the ELEAGUE Major in January 2018. The team thought it to be the solution to role clashes between dupreeh and Kjaerbye, which had initially resulted in the former moving to a lurking position, a role device ended up taking up in Atlanta.
The final blow
But it all went horribly wrong. Astralis suffered one of the biggest blows of their history, exiting the Major in the groups for the very first time with the long-standing core of dupreeh, device and Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth. The Danes went home after a 1-3 record in the Swiss stage, only defeating North while losing one-sided matches to mousesports, fnatic, and Cloud9, with device looking in poor shape and out of his comfort zone, ending the tournament with his worst performance in years.
"Looking back now, I must admit that it wasn't the right call, but back then everything just felt so good. When we played with a stand-in and dupreeh was the AWP, it felt good. We had role issues with dupreeh and Kjaerbye, and that is why we did the change, because dupreeh wanted the same role as Kjaerbye and he couldn't have it. So device said that dupreeh could have the AWP and that he could take his role instead. It was a bad decision, but it happens," gla1ve reflected in our interview with him at StarSeries i-League S4.
Before January was over, device returned to his long-time role as the AWPer, but, at the time, the team had no idea that they would have to tackle a roster change as well. At the beginning of February, Kjaerbye signed with North, leaving his former team speechless as they learned about their teammate's departure mere hours before it was announced to the world.
"We were, of course, sad about losing at the Major, but we knew that we had just changed roles and that we could fix our mistakes, so I think that everybody was really motivated to go back and play with the old playstyle, with device as the AWPer. It came to a big surprise to all of us, I must admit, that Kjaerbye decided to go to North. It was nothing that we would ever expect, to be honest," gla1ve said in the aforementioned interview.
With just days left before the ESL Pro League roster lock and a little over two weeks ahead of the next big tournament, StarSeries i-League Season 4, Astralis had to find a last-minute replacement. They found it in Emil "Magisk" Reif, whom the organization quickly managed to transfer from OpTic - the 20-year-old's home for approximately four months.
Promising beginnings with Magisk
Soon it was time for their debut in Kiev, which, all in all, went well for a team that had only had two weeks' worth of practice. Astralis made the playoffs with a 3-1 record in the Swiss group stage after three convincing wins and a loss to G2, and lost narrowly to the eventual finalists of the tournament, Natus Vincere, in the quarter-finals.
"At Starladder you could feel we only had the basics, we didn't have as many strats as you'd normally like, and setups and stuff like that, but I think we did really well compared to what you could expect. I think we had a good chance to go to the semi-finals as well, we maybe even should have on the second map at least, on the third map Na`Vi did destroy us, to be fair.
"I think we're happy with the improvement at StarSeries and I think we learned a lot from that tournament, what we need to fix. We watched every single match together and we wrote down a few things from every match that we had to improve on." - Magisk at IEM Katowice.
Immediately after, they travelled to Katowice to try to defend their IEM title from last year. gla1ve's squad placed first in their group after beating Renegades, SK, and Liquid, the last of whom they had defeated in Ukraine as well, and their journey ended in the semi-finals, courtesy of FaZe.
Over the course of the first two tournaments, it was apparent that there was still work to be done before Astralis could challenge for titles, but at least they knew that the role clashes were gone, as dupreeh returned to his more aggressive playstyle while Magisk got a lot of his old North roles.
"My role in Astralis is quite different [to my role in OpTic], it's more like the laid-back player, the outer positions, like on Mirage I play B apps, on Inferno I play banana, that's quite a good position. In general it's not that I have the positions people didn't want to play, but we made sure dupreeh got the T roles he really wanted, because he's been wanting to get into some of the roles Kjaerbye played a lot, so we gave him what he wanted.
"On almost every map I kind of play the same spots as I used to in North and dignitas, so I played them a lot, I just have to get back into it. That's going to take time, but it's already getting better with each match, I think." - Magisk at IEM Katowice
Reclaiming the throne
In retrospect, it seemed as if it was only a matter of practice time before Astralis would reach their potential. They had over a month to catch up, adding more strategies, setups, and bettering team play with their new player before DreamHack Masters Marseille rolled around. The Danes also gained a lot of confidence online, in which they looked in great form with a 28-6 record over the course of six weeks between Katowice and the French tournament.
In Marseille, Astralis simply looked unstoppable. Not only did the team look much more well-rounded, every player was in great shape, which helped them pull off a fantastic run to their first title in over a year. Beating Space Soldiers, Liquid, FaZe (who had Richard "Xizt" Landström standing in), fnatic, and Natus Vincere, the Danish squad only lost one map to the American team and an average of a little over seven rounds per map over the course of the $250,000 tournament. Astralis reclaimed the No. 1 spot in the rankings on April 23, almost 11 months after they had last stood at the top.
"Everybody has been in the grind mode, even individually, after practice people play a lot of FPL and stuff like that and really motivated, and there's a great attitude when it comes to talking about mistakes. It's not like someone is mad at someone else for making a mistake.
"We have great team conversations and we talk about everything, and we have goals for every practice that we want to focus on and try and implement into our game, and I think that kind of training and practice has been really good for us." - Magisk at DreamHack Masters Marseille.
Astralis went on to display a similar level of dominance for most of IEM Sydney a week later, despite getting off to a slower start with an overtime win over NRG. dupreeh & co. won six out of seven maps on the way to the final, with their opponents failing to reach double digits, before meeting FaZe once more. This time, karrigan & co. were better prepared with Xizt and took down the Danes after three close maps, which saw three overtimes played.
That proved to be only a stumble on the journey to greatness. Astralis were back to winning ways at ESL Pro League Season 7 Finals, pulling off another incredibly convincing run to the grand final, including a tasty revenge on FaZe, who took just nine rounds over two maps in the tournament's semi-finals.
Having beaten Liquid once already in the groups, the Danish heavyweights looked to go undefeated as they stomped the North American team on Dust2 16-1 in the best-of-five final. While that didn't happen, as Nick "nitr0" Cannella's side made it an exciting fourth map after all, Astralis went back home with their second trophy of 2018 and dupreeh claimed his first MVP medal ever, putting behind his reputation for disappearing in the big matches.
At that time, Astralis had attended three tournaments in the last month, and that pace would have continued had they gone to every big tournament on offer. However, to avoid feeling burned out from all the travelling and unrelenting schedules, as well as to make sure they were well prepared for the next tournaments, the team decided to skip StarSeries i-League Season 5 and ESL One Belo Horizonte in June.
"I think it's good for the team, and we talk from experience, with device being sick and all that, so I think it's good to take a break now and then. We had a run with three events in a row with Marseille, Sydney and then Dallas, so we travel quite a lot and that's why it's important that we rest.
"People say that we're riding on a wave right now, that we beat everyone, and that we could have probably won StarSeries, but, in the end, it's not going to be good for you if you just attend every event. You need to give your players a rest at some point." - Danny "zonic" Sørensen at ECS Season 5 Finals.
While that helped Na`Vi and FaZe grab a big title each — and an Intel Grand Slam win in the latter team's case —, Astralis could hardly regret their decision when they hoisted another trophy at ECS Season 5 Finals without losing a single map in the process, adding another grand final win over Liquid, who once again got close but couldn't bring down the giants.
Somehow, device, the MVP of the London event, felt that Astralis didn't play at their best despite winning all maps, perhaps because four of the six maps they played got a little too close for comfort compared to some of their previous runs:
"In all honesty, it was quite a short event for us since it was only six maps in total. We had great preparations because we didn't go to StarSeries and we felt going into this tournament, but I don't think we performed our best. We got off to slow starts in many of the matches and I think the other teams got better throughout." - MVP interview with device at ECS Season 5 Finals
After enjoying a nearly a month-long break thanks to skipping Belo Horizonte, Astralis looked comfortable at the beginning of ESL One Cologne, passing the groups without much drama except for an overtime on Dust2 against G2 in the match for first place. However, Na`Vi, who had been showing their teeth for months, stopped the Danes in their tracks in the semi-finals after a close affair in which Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev didn't even bring his A game, with other players stepping up instead.
Astralis quickly shrugged off the top-four finish and were back to their former selves two weeks later, at ELEAGUE Premier, where they avoided Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko's team and instead met Cloud9, Liquid, and mousesports — all familiar and very favorable matchups, especially Liquid, whom gla1ve & co. had been facing all year long and beating every time. This time was no different, as they met nitr0's team twice yet again, in the groups and in the grand final, and completed another undefeated run for their fourth trophy in 2018.
"Honestly, looking back, when we brought Magisk into the team, I knew it could be really good, but not this good. I said it in an interview previously, this is the best lineup I've ever played in. It's the strongest the core of dupreeh, Xyp9x, and I, have been in. I didn't expect to get this good, this quickly, but we found a really great system that works for us." - device after Astralis' win at ELEAGUE Premier
The second-best start of all time
With their grand final victory over Liquid, the current lineup of Astralis has reached 75 maps played offline. That is enough of a sample size to compare it to some of the best lineups of all time, such as the original NiP roster, the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 versions of fnatic, the various French lineups representing LDLC and EnVyUs, and the Brazilians of Luminosity and SK.
You can see the best 75-map starts in the graphic below:
With a 59-16 record over their first 75 maps (a staggering 79% win rate), the current lineup of Astralis holds the second-best start of all time, trailing only behind the legendary NiP, who had no real competition apart from VeryGames for nearly the first eight months of CS:GO's existence in the competitive scene and racked up an 87-0 streak before suffering their first loss in April 2013.
As you can see, the Danes are ahead of some incredible competition when it comes to the best starts of all time. That includes both versions of fnatic, who had their own eras in 2014-2016, and the current FaZe, whose runs at ELEAGUE Premier and ESL One New York last year set them up for a 19-3 start before they dropped off, among other successful lineups of the game's history.
That goes on to prove just how difficult it is to dominate as much as Astralis have over the last six months, especially considering that they went 13-8 at their first two tournaments with Magisk, StarSeries i-League Season 4 and IEM Katowice. That leaves them with a 46-8 record since their first title run in Marseille — an unbelievable 85% win rate.
How did they do it?
All statistics below are from LAN tournaments since February
Firstly, all of Astralis' players have stayed in great shape for most of the six months they have played together so far. Of course, device is their biggest star and he has been proving that time and time again, averaging a 1.27 rating (the second highest at big events behind s1mple), which is worthy of a top-three player in the world.
However, the trio of Magisk, gla1ve, and dupreeh aren't that far behind with ratings between 1.19 and 1.17, while Xyp9x sits at 1.08. The in-game leader's individual level has perhaps been the most impressive, as you'd have a hard time finding any other player in that role capable of keeping up with gla1ve.
Everyone has their skillset and they are all utilized in a way that fits into their system. device and dupreeh are two of the best players in the world at opening up rounds, with the former boasting 0.15 opening kills per round and a 63.4% success rate and the latter 0.13 opening kills per round and a 57.3% success rate, which makes up half of the team's total of 0.56 opening kills per round.
Astralis' ability to get openings more often than not is well-complemented by the fact that the team has great composure and an amazing understanding of how to capitalize on early advantages, as shown by their FTU statistics; when they got the opening kill, they won the round 81.2% of the time (significantly more than any other team). What's more, they're also one of the best teams in the world at turning around 4v5 situations, of which they won nearly 33%.
When it comes to gla1ve, he's the man for just about anything. He is an above-average player in practically every regard, contributing well to opening kills (0.10 per round) and multikills (0.18 per round), while also scoring a lot of assists (0.16 per round) and clutches (26). But, above all, the in-game leader particularly excels at flashing, making up 0.07 of the team's 0.20 flash assists per round, as well as dealing utility damage with 7.9 ADR of Astralis' 29.0 total utility ADR, with Xyp9x and Magisk also contributing well in that regard with 6.4 and 6.3 ADR, respectively.
That is down to their timely usage of molotovs and grenades, an aspect of the game the that has been focusing on and has come to be known for, with zonic pushing the team to find spots to nade-stack.
"I think it's not a secret that we've been practicing a lot of double nade stacks. It's basically a thing that Danny, zonic, came up with in practice, he was so eager that we had to try this, because he had found some nades and in an official game we kill so many on it, like it was on Overpass."
"It's become a thing in our team now that we have to find so many spots where we can nade, but kudos to Danny, because it was his thing to do, and it worked out, it's shown in the grenade stats and it's shown in the game. It has no risk when we do it and the reward is so high, it can potentially be a kill or someone is left with 10 HP, so it's really insane that we can do it. That's one of the things that we improve on, we come up with innovative things, one of many I would say." - Xyp9x at ESL Pro League Season 7 Finals
Even when it comes to smokes, which we can't gauge in any other way than the eye test, gla1ve has a knack for timings, holding on to his utility until the perfect moment arises, which is something the rest of the team also seems to have a good understanding of and often is the key difference between them losing the round and winning it.
Xyp9x generally gets the least action, the fewest opening kills and multikills, but that's not his job. As the most passive of the five and, in most cases, the anchor player as CT, he's there to survive for as long as possible and clean up rounds with his clutching ability, with 29 clutches to his name. He is, alongside device, the hardest player to kill with only 0.57 deaths per round, and boasts 0.17 assists per round (tied first), which has helped him rack up the most support rounds (rounds in which he got an assist, survived, or was traded) out of everyone; 25.3%.
Looking at the map pool, Astralis have a massive advantage in being able to play all seven maps after the change from Cobblestone, their former go-to veto, to Dust2. And they've been great on most of them, as they're undefeated on Nuke (15-0) and Dust2 (4-0), and also highly successful on Inferno (after improving on it before Marseille) and Mirage as the two most played maps in the map pool. Overpass has been one of their signature maps for a long time and nothing has changed in that regard, with the team having an 11-3 record on it. Their only weakness is Train because of their poor Terrorist side (37% round win rate across six maps), but they've been able to balance it out with an immaculate CT side (71% win rate).
The CT side is actually where Astralis are without a shadow of a doubt the best team in the world. And it doesn't seem to matter which map they play, aside from Cache, which tends to be more Terrorist-sided overall, as they won between 64 to 71% of CT rounds (think 10-5 to 11-4 halves) on each of the other six maps. That is hard to compete with when they can also boast a solid T side, having won 54% of rounds on the Terrorist side since February, which is also a number few teams can touch, namely FaZe and Natus Vincere.
We must naturally also consider the level of competition over that period. There are those who doubt such a run would not have been possible had SK, now MIBR, stayed at their level of late 2017 and had FaZe not tackled roster issues with olofmeister taking a long break in March. And that is a fair objection. Even zonic admitted that there is some truth to it at ESL One Cologne when asked about roster instability towards the end of the season:
"It's kind of both ways because I do believe we are the best team in the world right now, but there is always this factor about "yeah, but we haven't seen them play against FaZe with olofmeister and MIBR is not on their A-game right now". But it's always nice, especially for a guy like me who is particularly very nervous before our games, to play against teams who are struggling against us.
"So I don't mind them spending a little bit more time figuring out how to play as a team. I think that you will see FaZe and MIBR and Cloud9 and all these teams being 100% ready for the Major. I'm pretty sure they will be." - zonic at ESL One Cologne
However, with Na`Vi looking like a legitimate contender for the No. 1 spot and FaZe back with their full roster, DreamHack Masters Stockholm and the FACEIT Major — where Astralis have to go through the New Challengers stage — are shaping up to be a challenge for the Danes. If they win both, particularly the Major title, which is about the only thing they're missing, there should remain little doubt that the current Astralis squad are on the way to becoming the best lineup of all time, or that they can already be called as such.