Astralis's Nuke: analyzing the 26-0 streak
Currently sitting on a 26-0 LAN record on Nuke, Astralis are seven wins away from amassing the longest winning streak in CS:GO history, so we have taken a look at their play to find out what makes them so good on the map.
Astralis have now stayed undefeated on Nuke for nearly 10 months, since the 16-9 defeat to mousesports at the ECS Season 4 Finals. The Danes have gone on a massive winning streak on the map since this lineup first played it at StarSeries i-League Season 4 in February against Heroic, amassing a 26-0 LAN record in that time, with NiP being the latest victim at the ECS Season 6 Finals, at the end of November.
Twenty-six wins in a row on any map in or out of the current rotation is something completely unrivaled in this day an age of Counter-Strike. The other recent streak of similar grandeur belongs to Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo's lineup that represented Luminosity and SK, a 17-0 record on Train spanning six months in the latter half of 2016 before being ended by Astralis in December of that year.
In fact, 26-0 is currently the second-longest streak on LAN in the history of CS:GO, as Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander's squad only have the original NiP's 32-0 record on Nuke from 2012-2013 left to beat to reach No. 1 in the list of impressive feats of some of the game's best rosters:
Astralis's record becomes all the more impressive when you consider that they played nearly two-thirds (17 out of 26) of those matches against top-five opposition at the time, with just Liquid, Natus Vincere, and mousesports adding up to 15 of them. What's more, the Danish powerhouse have only lost eight rounds on average on the map and only nine times have their opponents reached double digits.
The core of the team of Nicolai "device" Reedtz, Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen, and Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth has always had an aptitude for Nuke with a 26-13 record on it with all of their previous lineups combined, which ranks among their three best maps, historically, alongside Train and Overpass. The latter map is where the trio holds its second-best streak, a 10-0 from their days representing TSM towards the end of 2015.
Only with this version have Astralis had Nuke as their go-to map, however, and they amassed such an increasingly rare record that we wanted to take a look at what makes them so good on the map and why they might just be able to add seven more wins under their belt for it to become the longest winning streak ever achieved in CS:GO.
The CT side is what Xyp9x identified as their "secret" in one of our interviews with him at ELEAGUE Premier due to their setups and understanding rotations.
"I think the secret on Nuke is our CT side, we know when to rotate and when to back up and I think we have the best setups, as well. Nuke is a lot about rotations and getting your communications right. It's really just about the small details that can mess up the round, so you really want to have everything perfectly situated and be aware of all scenarios, like "what do these guys do when they push high?" or all of these kinds of things."
"I think we just played so much together that we know 'if they do this, then we do that,' and many of the other teams have maybe changed players and have to coordinate everything again. I think regarding rotations and communication we're just miles ahead of other teams."
Good setups and rotations are key to any defense, and this is where Astralis rule on Nuke. The CT side shows how comfortable their individuals are in their roles and how they fit them, with their best positionally and utility-smart players, Xyp9x and gla1ve, on the extremities (ramp and yard), device flexible with the AWP, dupreeh as the main vent rotator, and Emil "Magisk" Reif a rock on upper.
The two players on the extremities are pivotal in getting information and stalling the clock by using utility and staying alive at the same time, which helps the rest rotate effectively and create bait setups and crossfires wherever necessary. device roams around with the AWP depending on the setup, either helping gla1ve with yard and secret control or staying closer to heaven to answer a call by Xyp9x, if Astralis want to defend ramp.
They use endless amounts of similar setups, all with a clear goal, and everyone seems to have a perfect understanding of which angles their teammates are holding, as well as the rotations needed to counteract whatever the opponent is doing by creating more bait and crossfire scenarios. It simply looks like the Danes are aware of anything that could potentially happen and are prepared to respond accordingly, keeping their defense very dynamic during rounds as well as between rounds based on the information.
As the coach of a team that has lost seven matches on Nuke to the Danish giants, Wilton "zews" Prado also highlighted rotations and denying Terrorists opportunities to get a pick in Astralis's defensive play, which has plagued Liquid throughout their rivals' undefeated run on the map:
"Astralis play their Nuke very well, I think that's indisputable, no one can say anything against that. On their CT side, they know exactly the timings of their rotations, the gambles that they take are all very calculated. As soon as the ramp guy falls down, device is under heaven, if device is secret, they know where they have to fall back to, he'll always be to that side and the guy can stay on ramp and create a bait setup.
"On A, they always know how to put out their utility, they don't get baited if you break door and wait, they know they have to smoke door, a lot of teams molly and that's how you are able to get picks. With Astralis you don't find those easy situations to get picks. On B, Xyp9x is just amazing, it's so hard to get into that site and by mixing it up, it's just impossible. Not impossible, but they are a step ahead of everybody. I feel our Nuke is insane and we've tried to play fundamentally, we have to take risks against them, but they always seem to be one step ahead."
Winning pistols 60% of the time and being able to either convert the second round 80% of the time — or secure the second-round forcebuy half of the time they lose the first round thanks to well-thought-out close-range setups with pistols — is something that helps Astralis rack up leads early on in halves and set up good economy to be able to keep pressure on with utility as well.
Astralis's FTUs on the CT side speak to their ability to gain advantages and keep them, as they get the opening kill about 66% of the time and convert 5v4s a staggering 86% of the time. Even when things go wrong and gla1ve's team find themselves at a disadvantage, they make sure they don't get pinched from multiple angles and rather scout for information to read where their opponents are heading to stack there or retake together, which helps them turn around situations other teams would find hard to win.
Those numbers trump anyone else's by some margin, and it's almost no different on the Terrorist side, where they only falter in the opening kills department with 53%, which is still significantly higher compared to any other team that plays Nuke often. Although Astralis are more successful on the CT side, the offense is where they really are miles ahead of everybody else with a 64% round win percentage on a map that is significantly CT-favored. They don't necessarily have lots of different tactics on the Terrorist side, but they do use plenty of smaller moves with two to three players to gain control of an area, especially yard, secret, and the back of vents.
Without committing to either bombsite initially, they work methodically from there to get more information and picks in order to get an advantage and attack the bombsite they know is weaker, especially when the players on the other side of the map manage to exploit a gap created by their opponents' rotations forced by the main bulk of Astralis. During this process, they make sure they have enough utility so that when they do commit, they can close off key chokepoints to get into good positions and stall the clock in retake scenarios.
After they use the more methodical approach for several previous rounds, Astralis like to switch up the pace and opt for something quicker to catch their opponents off-guard every now and again, adding another layer of unpredictability to their play.
Now that they've been undefeated for so long, the psychological advantage Astralis have in every match also has to be taken into consideration. Some teams will go outside of their comfort zone to try to surprise them and that can easily backfire, just as it did when Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen tried to antistrat them heavily at DreamHack Masters Stockholm:
"We tried to antistrat them really hard, we knew coming into this game that we needed to do something different from other teams, I've seen teams looking like they didn't even look at a demo from Astralis, so we chose to really go deep on the antistrat this time and it didn't work at all.
"[...] And as T, we tried to antistrat them even harder with nade stacks and going completely away from how we play just to make them feel uncomfortable, but it didn't work at all. We got out of our comfort zone and they played really well, gla1ve pushed the right places and caught us off-guard. So Nuke was just really horrible."
Plus, you also have to look at the fact that none of the elite teams have Nuke as one of their best maps. In part, it's likely because it doesn't make much sense to focus on it when it's the least played map in the rotation. Secondly, some of the very best Nuke teams in recent times have fallen off altogether, like Virtus.pro and G2, or just got worse on the map itself, like mousesports, whose impressive start on it (10-1 in 2017 with the current lineup) has turned to ash since it went through extensive changes in February and May.
Only Astralis have been able to figure out these latest versions of Nuke, while Na`Vi, Liquid, and mousesports are trying to catch up. Nick "nitr0" Cannella's and Chris "chrisJ" de Jong's teams are the only ones who have gotten close in the 11 attempts combined, but even the North Americans have only grown further away from the goal in recent months after a couple of close matches early on.
"Every time we play against them, the stakes get higher because we don't make the same mistakes, and the same mistakes that we were able to catch off them, they won't make them either, so it's kind of a game of cat and mouse, where we have to catch up and at some point overcome it. It's not easy, but I hope we get there. They're insane, it would be quite an honor to be able to break their streak," zews told HLTV.org.
On the other hand, the European side had a 13-11 lead twice in November, and although Astralis came back in the end with five rounds in a row both times, they were able to get so close thanks to some last-minute preparation and an attempt to surprise the Danish heavyweights with new things, according to Martin "STYKO" Styk:
"We created strats just in our minds to try to counter what they are doing and how they're moving around the map to abuse their rotations. We tried to do that, it worked pretty well, we got close. Again, we lost a 1v3 versus Xyp9x, 2v2s against device and Xyp9x... Yeah, it was a close match, it could have gone either way and the only way that we got so close was that we talked about it and we played the things we never practiced before."
"I think if we put more preparation into this practice on Nuke against Astralis, we're going to beat them in Odense if we get a chance to play against them on Nuke. I think we're confident enough to just come up with stuff on-the-fly before the match and implement it into the game so that we're more unpredictable."
gla1ve understands how close their latest scare was at ECS Season 6 Finals and, from what he told us at the event, Astralis will try to approach this particular matchup differently in the future.
"Yeah, the Nuke match was just like last time we played against mousesports. It was 16-13 and they were leading 13-11 and then we got some pretty lucky rounds and we won the game.
"They were close to ending our winning streak on Nuke, of course it would be sad, but we know that at some point we're going to lose it. I think we're going to have a talk about just playing against them on Nuke, what we can do differently."
That serves as a tasty precursor to the ESL Pro League Season 8 Finals, which are set to kick off on Tuesday. With Liquid in their group, and mousesports and Na`Vi also in attendance, either Astralis will defend their streak and come closer to the record, or one of the Danes' biggest challengers will finally succeed and break it. Which will it be?