With the FACEIT Major now behind us, we take a look back and reflect on the teams who caught the eye and the ones who were not nearly as successful.
There was no shortage of surprises throughout the three weeks of the event, starting with the New Challengers Stage, where North could not build on their DreamHack Masters success and fell flat, while Europe Minor champions NiP cruised to a perfect 3-0 record, with Astralis being their final victim.
The New Legends Stage saw five teams who had placed top eight in Boston eliminated, including defending champions Cloud9. compLexity strolled to a 3-0 run, while highly-rated duo FaZe and MIBR had to work hard to avoid elimination.
The earlier stages had seen plenty of overtimes and nail-biting matches, but the playoffs were rather straightforward, with only one out of seven matches going to a third map. In the end, Astralis secured the title following a comprehensive 2-0 victory over Natus Vincere, and Nicolai "device" Reedtz picked up the MVP medal - his third so far this year - after inspiring the team to a memorable campaign with a 1.26 rating over the New Legends and the Champions stages.
This isn't even their final form.
As if comfortably winning a Major - and 2-0'ing the world's #2, #3 and #4 along the way - isn't scary enough, consider this: Astralis didn't have to dig very much into their preparations for the event to win it in convincing fashion. According to the Major's HLTV and Betway MVP, device, the undisputed No.1-ranked Danes can 'do even more, which is scary', a sentiment that was echoed by the analyst desk after the team's walk-over final against Natus Vincere.
It's well known at this point that Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander's men spend hours, days and weeks to perfect their craft, and that they approach being the best team in Counter-Strike as a job, meaning they show up every day, practice in controlled fashion and ensure that no individual comes before the unit. This leads to an overabundance of strategies and ways of approaching matchups that no other team in CS currently has, and also begs the question of how good this team can actually become. If they're not depleting their resources to win the biggest event of them all, where should we actually place their ceiling?
While Astralis' playoff run was perfect, as the team didn't drop a single map in the knockout stages of the Major, they did not leave the Swiss stages unscathed. But it took an excruciating quadruple-overtime performance from NiP as well as a nail-biting Inferno game from Liquid for the Danes to fall, and they even came from a 2-13 deficit to force overtime against the North Americans.
The first player to hoist the trophy in London was the newest addition to the team, Emil "Magisk" Reif. As the only member without a Major title at that point, the team in true unified fashion let the rifling talent be the first to put his hands on the prize. The addition of Magisk and his seamless assimilation into the team by gla1ve and coach Danny "zonic" Sørensen are a major part of Astralis' recent success, a fact that his impressive 1.25 rating from the last two stages of tournament proves.
As the discussion about whether we are living the 'Astralis Era' rages, one thing remains true: we haven't seen a team work this hand and so convincingly reap what they sow in a long time in the history of CS:GO.
Despite faltering in the grand final, Natus Vincere looked frightening to play against. Their double-punch duo Denis "electronic" Sharipov and Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev were the highest-rated players of the entire tournament at 1.36 and 1.34, respectively, with the pair stepping up in every game to garner a positive rating on all maps outside of the grand final against Astralis. Only the Danish champions were able to shut down the dynamic duo and put their numbers in the red, which is a testament to their strength, with Natus Vincere having beaten high-profile teams such as MIBR and FaZe en route to the final. The Ukranian side definitely could have performed better in the ultimate match, but their aggressive, 'organised chaos' style of play was shut down by the composed Danes, with s1mple unable to exploit the disarrayed feeling usually caused by Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko's unpredictable calling.
Reaching the final of a Major in convincing fashion was just what Natus Vincere needed, as the team had looked lost at DreamHack Stockholm a few weeks earlier. Confusion had arisen about Egor "flamie" Vasilyev's attendance, and the squad lost to Ghost in their opening match and had to fight hard to beat NRG and take revenge against Joshua "steel" Nissan's men to reach the quarter-final, where they lost to eventual champions, North.
The squad that got to the final in London looks more like the Natus Vincere we had come to know and that had won StarSeries i-League Season 5 and ESL One Cologne. As the team builds an even better game plan around electronic and especially s1mple, it's clear from their performance at the Major that it will be extremely hard to knock them off their #2 placement in the ranking as they have shown that they can beat most of the top 10 teams in convincing fashion. Zeus' men will do battle against several of them in the near future, as they're headed to the Big Apple to play ESL One New York and after that have EPICENTER 2018 and IEM Chicago in their schedule.
This Major was supposed to be theirs. And it likely would have been, if not for the fact that Nick "nitr0" Cannella's men are peaking at the same time as a better-prepared and seemingly more unified Astralis squad, who have become the bane of their existence in recent times, with the Danes leading 16-3 in the games between the pair in the last six months. From the onset of the London event, Liquid had been touted as the team to lift the trophy, which also prompted HLTV.org's Milan "Striker" to take a detailed look at the side's chances to go all the way in London. The conclusion of the analysis was that, apart from Liquid's disadvantage in the head-to-head Astralis matchup, the team simply lacked the experience and the mental strength to pull through when it really counted, as they had often faltered in deciding matches and had only ever won cs_summit 2 when it came to LAN events.
In spite of HLTV.org's prediction about the North Americans' Major run coming true, their performance in London is not to be depreciated. Astralis were the only team to beat Liquid, and only the highly-skilled talents in HellRaisers allowed the European team to take a map from nitr0's side before the semi-final against the dominating Danes. The team's big stars showed up and even went above and beyond recent performances, with Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken, Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski and Keith "NAF" Markovic all managing ratings above 1.15 from the New Legends stage onwards. NAF especially shone at the event, as he managed a 1.24 rating, his best since joining Liquid, not counting the ECS Season 5 Finals, where the 20-year old Canadian superstar reached a 1.30 rating but was eliminated in the grand final by - you guessed it - Astralis.
Liquid had taken time off to prepare for the FACEIT Major, skipping the ZOTAC Cup Masters and DreamHack Masters Stockholm to be able to perfect their craft going into the most important tournament of the season. Considering the team's dominance up until the semis, it would make sense for them to continue skipping some events, something that Astralis and their Major final opponents Natus Vincere have done in the past with great results. It's also important to note that Liquid are also a very young team, averaging 21 years of age, so we definitely haven't yet seen what they are truly capable of, as they will look to capitalise on their impressive Major run and maybe eventually find a way to reach their ultimate goal: winning a deciding match against Astralis at a big LAN event.
Such were the words from compLexity's in-game leader Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz when HLTV.org talked to him the day before the onset of the New Challengers Stage of the Major. The Canadian captain was full of confidence going into the tournament, but there weren't many voices in the community or on the analyst desk echoing the sentiment that the team could actually go far in London. Nonetheless, the squad surprised everyone by qualifying for the New Legends Stage after only losing their opener against Astralis, and later became one of the two teams to go 3-0 in the New Legends stage after beating three big names, fnatic, G2 and BIG, teams who we were all well above them in the rankings before the Major.
Reaching the playoffs of the Major is the best placement compLexity have ever managed, and the experience brought by stanislaw and AWPer Shahzeb "ShahZaM" Khan, mixed with the young talents Jaccob "yay" Whiteaker and Bradley "ANDROID" Fodor, proved a powerful combination that rattled their opponents, perhaps because the North Americans had not played much against top teams on LAN and thus were hard to read, as MIBR's star rifler Marcelo "coldzera" David pointed out in our interview with him before the two teams met up in the first quarter-final. This might also explain why their matches, even in the New Legends Stage, often ended up on Inferno, a map they had clearly practised heavily and on which they managed a 4-2 score throughout the tournament (including a rather close loss against MIBR.)
The buck stopped there for the North American squad, as the Brazilian team would also take Train to eliminate them from the playoffs. One could argue that the nature of best-of-ones favours upsets and lets teams like compLexity get away without giving 'bigger' sides a chance to prove themselves like a best-of-three would. stanislaw and co. have definitely shown that they can indeed 'do damage', but they will need to go back to the drawing board if they want to do well at the upcoming events in their schedule, as the team will travel to New York for the MSI MGA Finals before flying to Kiev to play at Starseries i-League Season 6.
To name a team as "winners" of a tournament when they didn't even make the playoffs might be a stretch, but considering that NiP had not played the last three Majors and had probably the roughest drafts throughout the Challenger and Legend stages, they're worth a mention here. Jonas "Lekr0" Olofsson's men came all the way from the Minor after finding themselves outside of the Major circuits for two years, as NiP had not played on the biggest stage since ESL One Cologne 2016.
The Ninjas beat Virtus.pro and TYLOO before squaring off against the later champions Astralis in a behemoth of a Mirage match that went to four overtimes, where the Swedes finally pulled out the victory and became the only team apart from Liquid to take a map from the Danes in London. NiP then took down the world's #5, mousesports, and had to face challenging teams such as Liquid, Natus Vincere and MIBR to get to the playoffs, three teams that would later go to the semi-finals alongside Astralis, ultimately leading to the elimination of the Swedes.
Coming all the way from the Minor and going toe-to-toe with the aforementioned top teams is something Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund and co. can be proud of as they now seem to have fought themselves out of their recent slump, as the team had gone out in the group stages of ESL Pro League Season 7 Finals, StarSeries i-League Season 5 and ESL One Cologne. While NiP still have some work to do to call themselves a top team again, their run at the Major will most likely boost their self confidence and help them play 'more freely', as Fredrik "REZ" Sterner put it in our interview with him after the squad had secured Legend status.
Vega Squadron: The Russian team impressed once again with their unconventional play style and caught many teams off-guard. Even if, in the end, it was not enough for them to progress to the playoffs, they were still an entertaining team to watch, as always.
BIG: After a disappointing performance in Boston, the German side regained Legend status with some quality Counter-Strike, though Owen "smooya" Butterfield did not get the stage match that he wanted as his team got dismantled by Na`Vi in the quarter-finals.
mouz drew the short straw every round, having been paired with two teams that would go on to reach the playoffs (one of them even going as far as the semi-finals) and one that was without a doubt the strongest of the trio that ended up in the 2-3 lot. But those were all teams standing below them in the ranking heading into the event, and Chris "chrisJ" de Jong's looked well off the pace in every match, only once managing to hit double digits. To make matters worse, two of their losses came on Mirage, where they have won just four of the last 11 LAN encounters, even though it used to be a strong pick for them.
The StarSeries Season 4 champions had already shown some frailties in Atlanta and Stockholm, but it was hard to expect such issues to be exposed like this at the Major. After finishing top eight in Boston at the start of the year, mouz are out of the Major circuit and will now have to qualify via the Minors following Valve's recent changes to the slot allocation - a huge setback for a team that has spent most of the year in the top five in the ranking and that at one point was sitting in second place.
mousesports have reached the final at just one of their last nine Big Events, and it happened in Belo Horizonte, where they were fielding a stand-in. The recent change from Martin "STYKO" Styk to Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski has done little in the way of steering the team back on course, and questions remain about whether the Polish star is the right fit for the team, especially after he recorded in London the worst LAN tournament rating of his career (0.69). Now is not a time for reflection, however, as mousesports are set to appear at ESL One New York, later this week - where they will need to show improved communication if they are to keep this roster for the final quarter of the year.
After 12 consecutive playoff appearances in Major playoffs, three of which resulted in titles, fnatic were made to watch from the sidelines as the eight best teams in London duked it out at the SSE Arena. The Swedish side had looked shaky prior to the event, but only a few expected them to bomb out of the tournament prior to the Champions Stage, given their impeccable track record at events of this calibre.
fnatic were dismantled by compLexity in their opening match after going for a risky Inferno pick - a sign that all was not well. They managed to bounce back with victories over CIS duo Winstrike and Vega Squadron, but were ultimately denied a place in the playoffs by Natus Vincere and HellRaisers.
The Swedish team looked uninspired and devoid of ideas, a far cry from the side who had won IEM Katowice earlier in the year. So it was with no surprise that they were one of the first victims of the post-Major shuffle, with Robin "flusha" Rönnquist being benched after recording the second-worst tournament rating of his career at a Big Event.
Since bringing Richard "Xizt" Landström in, fnatic have only once reached the playoffs of a LAN tournament. They are now languishing in 14th place in the ranking, almost 300 points away from the top five, and it may take a while for them to get back on their feet and start challenging for titles once again.
North were one of the biggest disappointments of the Major as they had travelled to London with confidence running high after winning DreamHack Masters Stockholm, only to crash out in the New Challengers Stage after losing to HellRaisers and to CIS duo Spirit and Vega Squadron.
It is the second time North have flunked at a Major, after previously going out of ELEAGUE Major Boston in the New Legends Stage with a 0-3 record. And just like eight months ago, the poor results seem to be triggering massive changes in the team.
In Stockholm and in London, North showed their tendency to blow hot and cold. With StarSeries i-League Season 6 right around the corner, they will have very little time to fix their issues and develop a new style before the Ukrainian event kicks off.
FaZe are the only team who made the playoffs and still feature on the losers' side of things, mainly because of the team's stature and ranking place - which in the end they could not back up with results as they placed 5th-8th, eight months after nearly hoisting the trophy in Boston.
After a dismal start to their London trip, with a 5-16 thrashing against BIG, FaZe were thrown into the lion's den as they were paired with Natus Vincere - a match they ended up losing after enjoying a 10-5 half-time lead. With no margin for error, they dug deep and still made the playoffs after Nikola "NiKo" Kovač took up the in-game leadership duties, but the damage was done: a quarter-final encounter with Astralis proved to be end of their London adventure.
It is easy to forget that FaZe were the team that fared the best against Astralis in the knockout stages. Finn "karrigan" Andersen's side took 26 rounds against the eventual champions (11 more than both Liquid and Natus Vincere) and forced the Danes to play all 30 rounds on Mirage. No one can take that away from FaZe, but it is impossible for the players and the supporters to be happy with just a top-eight finish. It is now three Big Events in a row where they have not even reached the semi-finals, and it will not be long before fans start calling for changes.
Virtus.pro: With Paweł "byali" Bieliński having one foot out of the door before the event, it was hard to envisage a different run for the Polish team. Three defeats from as many matches will force Virtus.pro to go to the Minor if they want to compete at a Major again - just another painful chapter in what has been a disastrous year.
Winstrike: Unlike Vega Squadron, who gave a good account of themselves and at one point seemed like they could reach the playoffs, the former Quantum Bellator Fire team looked thoroughly out of their depth, giving credence to critics of the Legends system in place at Majors.