The headlines of 2018: An end-of-season recap
As the year draws to a close and teams take a deserved break before the action returns in January, we look back at the biggest stories and headlines of the last five months of 2018.
August - North win DreamHack Masters Stockholm
The first part of 2018 spelled hardship for the Danish side in spite of the highly publicised addition of Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye in Febuary. North's results varied wildly throughout the first months of the year, but in Stockholm, everything seemed to click for the Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen-lead squad, as they brought down heavy hitters such as Natus Vincere, MOUZ and their rivals in Astralis to lift the trophy.
Shortly before the Swedish event, the side had gone through significant changes, bringing in Nikolaj "niko" Kristensen to replace Daniel "mertz" Mertz, which prompted a role switch that saw in-game leader MSL pick up the AWP. The Dane went on to claim the HLTV.org/betway MVP award in Stockholm, admitting that "no one would expect him to do well" in the role.
Virtus.pro announce the departure of byali
After four and a half years in Virtus.pro, the organisation announced that Paweł "byali" Bieliński would only stay in the lineup until the end of the FACEIT Major. The 24-year-old would be the third member to leave the legendary lineup that won both the hearts of many CS:GO fans as well as the EMS One: Katowice Major in 2014, after Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas was benched in February and Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski was acquired by MOUZ in June.
September - Astralis lift another Major trophy
The second Major of the year looked to be a highly-contested event, as Astralis, Natus Vincere, FaZe and Liquid all looked like contenders, each team barring the North Americans having won a Big Event over the summer.
In the New Legends stage, the Danes kicked things off by beating Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko's troops in a close best-of-one before comfortably moving past Vega Squadron 16-4 and thrashing MIBR 16-0 to go 3-1 in the Swiss system, their sole defeat coming in an overtime loss to Nick "nitr0" Cannella's men.
Everything was in place for intense playoff matches in the New Champions stage, but Astralis would shift into a higher gear to completely destroy any opposition in their path, as Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander's men bested all the aforementioned Top-5 contenders without losing a single map, Natus Vincere having to swallow 6-16 and 9-16 losses to the Danes in a one-sided grand final.
To relive the playoffs of this year's second Major, you can visit our "Best photos of the FACEIT Major New Legends Stage" collection.
North bench MSL
Only days after the conclusion of the London event, where North disappointed by going 2-3 in the New Challengers Stage with losses to Spirit, Vega Squadron and HellRaisers, the organisation announced that MSL would no longer be leading the team. In his place, Casper "cadiaN" Møller was brought in after having impressed North by leading Rogue from the depths of ESL Pro League at the beginning of the year to nearly qualifying for the New Legends Stage of the Major. Simultaneously, North brought back Nicklas "gade" Gade, who had been loaned out to OpTic, with temporary stand-in niko moving in the opposite direction.
mousesports take ESL One New York with Snax
Everything looked in place for Liquid to finally lift a Big Event trophy in the Big Apple after comfortably taking down NRG, G2 and HellRaisers on the way to the grand final, in which they enjoyed a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series and a 13-4 lead on the fourth map.
But Chris "chrisJ" de Jong's men had other plans, as they completed an epic comeback on Dust2, winning the map 19-17 to even out the series, before comfortably taking the Mirage decider 16-8 to lift the trophy.
In spite of the loss, Liquid's young star rifler Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken won the MVP medal in New York, making it the third time in 2019 in which the award went to a player representing the losing finalist, after Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev had won the medal at StarSeries i-League Season 4 in February and DreamHack Masters Marseille in March.
flusha goes to America
After having recruited Martin "STYKO" Styk from MOUZ on loan to complete the team, Cloud9 turned to a different type in the fnatic legend Robin "flusha" Rönnquist ahead of BLAST Pro Istanbul. With the move across the Atlantic, flusha followed in the footsteps of compatriot and former teammate Maikil "Golden" Selim, who had been hired by Cloud9 in August.
October - forsaken cheating scandal shocks India and the world
After completing their goal of expanding their already far-reaching presence in esports, the OpTic organisation made headlines in the summer by revealing an all-Indian roster. Vowing to "be a pioneer in the Indian Counter-Strike space that identifies and nurtures talent from the country’s immense player base", OpTic put the team together by holding open tryouts and scouting out players for the team in partnership with local organisations and talent.
But everything came to a sudden halt in October, as a member of the freshly-minted team, Nikhil "forsaken" Kumawat, was caught red-handed using cheating software at the eXTREMESLAND 2018 Asia Finals in China.
OpTic India were immediately disqualified from the event, with the North American organisation releasing the roster later that same day. ESL India later confirmed that forsaken had also been cheating at their Premiership Fall event in September, after finding identical cheating software in the hard drive used by the 23-year-old at the tournament. He would later receive a five-year ban from all ESIC events, admitting in a statement that he "was never confident in my aim, so to compensate that lack of confidence I had to choose the wrong path."
Former Major winners and a rising star form Vitality
Over the summer, speculations as to what the future held for former Major winners Nathan "NBK-" Schmitt and Dan "apEX" Madesclaire intensified, after the duo were benched in G2 as Richard "shox" Papillon revamped the team, bringing in Kévin "Ex6TenZ" Droolans and Edouard "SmithZz" Dubourdeaux in their stead.
After playing under the Waterboys name for a while, the duo were signed by French esports organisation Vitality alongside Vincent "Happy" Schopenhauer, Cédric "RpK" Guipouy and the promising talent Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut as a new challenger in the French CS scene.
fnatic add twist and Brollan
After the benching and later departure of flusha, fnatic turned to Red Reserve to replace the 25-year-old by bringing in the young star Ludvig "Brollan" Brolin, with Adil "ScreaM" Benrlitom filling in for the team on an interim basis.
Earlier in the month, the Swedish side had signed another Red Reserve player, Simon "twist" Eliasson, to replace AWPer William "draken" Sundin, who had only been with the organisation for four months after being recruited from NIP.
STYKO comes back to mouz
Despite MOUZ winning ESL One New York with Snax, not all as well with the team, who recorded several mediocre results, including a last-place finish in the FACEIT Major's New Legends Stage and a 9th-11th place at StarSeries i-League Season 6. The team ended up benching the Polish talent to bring back STYKO, who had been playing with Cloud9 since June.
FaZe win EPICENTER
With Astralis deciding to sit out the Moscow event on the back of a "tough period for the team", schedule-wise, Natus Vincere, Liquid and FaZe once again looked set to battle it out to win a Big Event. The latter team would come out on top after besting the recent StarSeries i-League Season 6 winners ENCE and Zeus' men in the group stage before completing a flawless playoff run, in which they took down NIP and Liquid before once again 2-0'ing Natus Vincere to lift the trophy after a tough period following the return of Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer, with dissappointing placements at ELEAGUE Premier, DreamHack Masters Stockholm, the FACEIT Major and ESL One New York.
November - Astralis win IEM Chicago and ECS Season 6 Finals as device breaks MVP record
The Danes started the month with a disappointing showing on home soil in Denmark, as they failed to reach the grand final of BLAST Pro Series Copenhagen after losses to Natus Vincere and NIP in the group stage, before watching s1mple and co. take the final in a win over Jonas "Lekr0" Olofsson's Ninjas in the Danish capital.
The result would quickly fade in their memories, though, as they flew to America to participate in and win both IEM Chicago and the ECS Season 6 Finals, having spent the period between the two events bootcamping at compLexity's facilities in Frisco, Texas.
In the Windy City, Astralis would get off to a great start in the group stage with victories over MVP PK and North, before being stopped by FaZe. In the quarter-finals, they made quick work of MOUZ to move to the semi-finals against fnatic, who, with the new recruits twist and Brollan, took the Danes to the limit in three maps, the decider, Inferno, resulting in one of the most intense overtime games of the year. Once again locking horns with Liquid in a grand final, Astralis were far too strong for the North Americans, winning three maps in a row in the best-of-five series.
At the ECS Season 6 Finals, the Danes would win another grand final without dropping a map, as they beat MIBR 2-0, with the second map, Overpass, turning into an overtime slugfest that ended 22-20 in favour of gla1ve's men.
Nicolai "device" Reedtz was named the HLTV.org/betway MVP of both American tournaments, breaking the all-time record for most accolades with 11 medals received throughout his career, surpassing Kenny "kennyS" Schrub and Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund.
kioShiMa joins C9
With Cloud9 bringing in the Frenchman, many CS fans were quick to point out that, since the American organisation had already brought in the Swedes flusha and Golden, the team would now be considered European, only retaining William "RUSH" Wierzba and Timothy "autimatic" Ta from the American lineup that had famously won the ELEAGUE Boston Major in January.
Fabien "kioShiMa" Fiey had already stood in for the team at BLAST Pro Series Copenhagen and in the ESL Pro League after being released from Envy in June.
G2 make changes yet again
After the G2 roster was revamped in June, when Ex6TenZ and SmithZz were brought back to the fold, the duo were released again in late November after the team couldn't find their groove, never placing above 5th-6th place in the seven LANs the lineup played. In their place, G2 decided to bring in two yet unproven players in Audric "JaCkz" Jug and Lucas "Lucky" Chastang, the duo coming from 3DMAX, whom they helped qualify for ESL Pro League Season 9.
December - Astralis become first Intel Grand Slam winners
With wins at DreamHack Marseille, the EPL Season 7 Finals and IEM Chicago, Astralis only needed one more victory to complete the four out of ten victories at MTG events to win the million dollar prize.
In Odense, Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth and co. beat ViCi, HellRaisers and Liquid to reach the semi-final, in which they made quick work of MOUZ, with device garnering a massive 1.75 rating in the 2-0 win over chrisJ's men.
Liquid found themselves in a grand final against the Danes for the fifth time this year, and once again, the task was insurmountable for the North Americans, who claimed first blood in the series but then lost three maps in a row. With the win, Astralis cemented themselves as the undisputed kings of 2018, with (fake) gold bars representing the one million dollar prize that came with the Intel Grand Slam victory.
CS:GO becomes free-to-play, gets a BR mode
In one of the most hyped up updates in recent years, Valve announced early in the month that the game had become free-to-play, a move that, as expected, has brought in many new casual players. Valve had previously hinted that they would indeed make the game free with previous updates that allowed newcomers to utilize certain parts of the game free of charge, including playing offline and spectating matches.
What also made waves in and outside of the community was the release of a Battle Royale mode called 'Danger Zone', which sees up to 18 players compete on an all-new map called Blacksite in a manner that resembles most of the well-known BR games while retaining the unique gunplay and tactical elements of the competitive mode.
Virtus.pro cease operations and rebuild
After further disappointing results towards the end of the year, Virtus.pro General Manager Roman Dvoryankin decided to put a halt to the team's participation in competitive play, the latest blunder being a failure to qualify for the Europe Minor after a loss to x-kom. With Jarosław "pashaBiceps" Jarząbkowski and Filip "NEO" Kubski as the only remaining members of the legendary lineup, the organisation decided to rebuild the team entirely "around young players", stating that they would stay out of competition until further notice.
Ten days later, Dvoryankin revealed to HLTV.org that the new roster going into 2019 will consist of byali, Michał "MICHU" Müller, Michał "snatchie" Rudzki, Mateusz "TOAO" Zawistowski and Snax, who was brought back from MOUZ.
karrigan benched by FaZe
Having told Danish news site tv2.dk ahead of BLAST Pro Copenhagen that his head was on the 'chopping block' because of FaZe's less than optimal results this year, Finn "karrigan" Andersen was moved to the bench in mid-December. During his time with the team, the 28-year-old won seven trophies, including ELEAGUE CS:GO Premier, ESL One New York and IEM Sydney. The move to deactivate karrigan came months after Nikola "NiKo" Kovač had taken over in-game leading duties while at the FACEIT Major, where FaZe had barely made it to the playoffs.
ESL Pro League goes to LAN
This year, the ESL Pro League and ECS came under heavy fire from fans and players alike, as the obligation to fit online games into an ever-busier LAN schedule spelled trouble for both teams and tournament organisers.
After the conclusion of the eighth season of ESL's Pro League, the company revealed that next year's league will feature a new format for the European and North American divisions. Teams will travel to LAN to play a compressed version of the league in an effort to decrease the number of matches played and further the competitive integrity of the tournament. For a more detailed explanation of the change, click here.
MIBR, Liquid trade Stewie2k for zews and TACO
Perhaps the biggest roster move of the season came right as the year was running out, as Wilton "zews" Prado and Epitacio "TACO" de Melo moved back to a Brazilian set-up with MIBR. In a video released by Liquid, the organisation revealed that the Brazilians themselves had asked to be transferred to shortly before the ESL Pro League Season 8 Finals.
In return for TACO and zews, MIBR transferred Jake "Stewie2K" Yip to the North American organisation after having brought him in to play alongside the Brazilian core in late March. Replacing zews in the coaching position is Eric "adreN" Hoag, who played for the team from January 2015 to May 2016. MIBR are believed to have finalized their new all-Brazilian squad by bringing in INTZ's João "felps" Vasconcellos, who played with the other four members of the team under the SK banner during 2017.
Minor and Major teams make last-minute moves
With the roster lock for the IEM Katowice 2019 Major and the Minor leading up to it set for January 1, teams with spots in either event spent the last part of December finalising their rosters. The Germans of BIG signed ex-Space Soldiers star Ismailcan "XANTARES" Dörtkardeş to replace Johannes "nex" Maget, who will undergo surgery on a wrist problem, while Vitality replaced Happy with Alex "ALEX" McMeekin, who comes from a succesful 2018 run with LDLC.
After teasing the move for several days, Complexity signed Ricardo "Rickeh" Mulholland and brought in veteran Jordan "n0thing" Gilbert on a temporary basis, replacing Bradley "ANDROID" Fodor and Jaccob "yay" Whiteaker, who had been benched earlier in the month.
Cloud9, who won the Major with an all-American roster in January, looked at several upcoming North American talents before settling on Jordan "Zellsis" Montemurro. With only autimatic and Rush remaining from the lineup that lifted the trophy in Boston, it is still unclear whether they will retain their spot for Katowice, with the rules stating that a team need a core of three players to keep their spot.