The headlines of 2019: a mid-season recap
We have arrived at the halfway point of the season, which gives us a chance to look back at the first half of 2019 and reflect on its biggest stories as we turn the calendar from January to July.
January - MIBR and FaZe with changes
2018 came to an end and two struggling giants were one man short. Having just swapped Jake "Stewie2K" Yip for Epitacio "TACO" de Melo and Wilton "zews" Prado with Liquid at the end of the year, MIBR were in the process of returning to a fully Brazilian lineup following their gamble with the American members and Janko "YNk" Paunović, which had seen them stagnate and lack big titles. As the calendar turned to 2019, Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo's side revealed the return of João "felps" Vasconcellos, recreating SK's lineup which had won five titles in 2017.
FaZe, in the meantime, had just benched Finn "karrigan" Andersen in what was a much-anticipated move, as the Danish veteran had no longer been performing in-game leading duties ever since Nikola "NiKo" Kovač took over halfway through the FACEIT Major. It wasn't a leader that they found to fill the gap at the time, however; Dauren "AdreN" Kystaubayev joined up with the European side as a stand-in due to the imminent roster lock ahead of IEM Katowice for a period that ended up lasting until May, while YNk became the team's new coach.
Liquid clinch first series victory over Astralis
While the Minors were going on in Poland, the first event of the year featuring a number of big teams took place across the big pond at iBUYPOWER Masters, including Astralis and the new Liquid with Stewie2K. The Danes had established themselves as a massive thorn in the North American team's side, holding a 10-0 record in series throughout 2018 against their previous lineup with TACO, but the new-look Liquid started their fresh slate with the first series win versus their long-time rivals in the grand final of the tournament.
February - mousesports break up after Minor debacle
As the Major cycle progressed, it was already beginning to take its toll on some of the teams who went out earlier than expected, and there is no better example than MOUZ. The return of Martin "STYKO" Styk at the end of 2018 had done little to bring the European side back to title contention, but Chris "chrisJ" de Jong & co. still regularly competed for playoffs finishes until the new year came around with the Europe Minor.
There, as massive favorites to advance to IEM Katowice, mouz failed to pass the group stage after two losses to Valiance (now CR4ZY), which resulted in the team breaking up at the beginning of February. Initially, they were meant to rebuild around the star trio, Miikka "suNny" Kemppi, Robin "ropz" Kool, and Tomáš "oskar" Šťastný, but in the end only the Estonian stayed and chrisJ was brought back, creating a new lineup by combining young talent and veteran leadership with the addition of David "frozen" Čerňanský, Özgür "woxic" Eker, and karrigan.
StarLadder awarded their first Major
Halfway through IEM Katowice, the next cycle was announced, as one of the biggest and longest-standing organizers who had not yet hosted a Major, StarLadder, were given the go-ahead by Valve to organize the event in Berlin. The news marked the return of Majors to Germany, where such a tournament had last been held in 2016 with ESL One Cologne.
New ECS format announced
February also marked a continuation of a significant shift towards less online Counter-Strike between the top teams following ESL's move for a LAN regular season in Pro League. FACEIT responded with a revamp of the ECS format, moving away from a typical league setting to a series of five tournaments in the two regions and allowing the teams to pick and choose between them according to their schedules.
March - Astralis tie fnatic's Major records
IEM Katowice came to a close at the beginning of March, with Astralis becoming the third team to win back-to-back Major titles and only the second to win three Major titles overall, equalling the two records broken by fnatic in 2015. Even though the year began with the aforementioned iBUYPOWER Masters loss, Astralis proved why they were the best team in the world again, following up an incredibly dominant 2018 with a massive Major run in which they only lost one map in the group stage, beating a surprising opponent in ENCE in the grand final.
New economy introduced
The third month of the year brought a huge gameplay update, addressing several crucial aspects of the game, which included a reversion of the AUG's price back to where it had been pre-discount back in late 2018 and an increase of magazine size for the M4A1-S, but most importantly a change of the economy, which had mostly remained untouched since CS:GO's beta beginnings. The update introduced a new way the loss bonus was calculated, with round wins only decreasing the bonus by one instead of resetting it completely. At the time, there was no cap on the loss count, which meant teams could stay at the $3,400 loss bonus despite winning a round beforehand, but in May a cap of five rounds was introduced.
Cache out, Vertigo in
Another crucial update followed at the end of the month with an Active Duty map pool change from Cache, which had been a part of it since ESL One Cologne 2014, to Vertigo. The new map was met with controversial opinions, with some condemning the map because of its uncommon layout and very quick pace and others welcoming the introduction of such a different environment.
April - Astralis complete a full year at the top
On April 23, Astralis became the first team to remain at No. 1 for an entire year ever since we introduced the global ranking in 2015, clinching the peak spot after their first triumph together at DreamHack Masters Marseille 2018 and staying there for the full 365 days — and more, as they kept that spot until late May.
Read more - A year at the summit: how Astralis wrote history
For their dominance during an entire year, over the course of which Astralis won both Majors, 10 out of 15 Big Events they attended, and an Intel Grand Slam, showcasing an unrivaled level of teamplay and individual form to earn such a status, the Danish powerhouse were touted as the best team to ever grace the game.
Na`Vi and FaZe pick up stray wins in Shanghai and Miami
Despite that feat, April went down as a short interim period between eras. Astralis were just beginning to fall off while Liquid had yet to start their fantastic run, and Natus Vincere and FaZe took advantage of that by picking up a win each at that month's Big Events. Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev & co. clinched their first (and only) big title of the year in Shanghai, where their biggest rivals were conspicuously missing, and NiKo's side grabbed an unlikely victory in Miami over both Liquid and Astralis.
May - Na`Vi replace Edward with Boombl4
Another era of sorts ended in May, when Natus Vincere made their first lineup change in 18 months, with one of just two remaining members of the original 2009 Na`Vi squad, Ioann "Edward" Sukhariev, leaving the CIS giants to make room for new blood in Kirill "Boombl4" Mikhailov. For the first time in years, the Ukrainian veteran fell out of the best team in the region, joining up with Winstrike on loan with a new challenge ahead of him; to learn a new trait as an in-game leader.
The move came at a point when, after the Shanghai triumph, Natus Vincere didn't make it to the grand finals of two consecutive BLAST events in Miami and Madrid and ended the disappointing run of form with a huge failure in the regular season of ESL Pro League Season 9, losing favorable matchups to North and Heroic in the second group stage.
ENCE end Astralis' Nuke streak, become the first Finnish team to win a Big Event in CS:GO
BLAST Pro Series Madrid should be remembered for its two massive storylines at that point of the CS:GO landscape. A Finnish team had never won a Big Event in all of CS:GO's seven-year history until then, but it was getting clear that if someone could do it, it would be the ENCE team that went on a huge upset run at IEM Katowice to make a final appearance at a Major and kept contending for deep finishes at the following tournaments.
The Spanish event was the one. Aleksi "allu" Jalli's team brought home a gold medal from Madrid after taking their revenge for the Katowice grand final with style, beating Astralis in the title decider and making another piece of history by ending their Nuke streak in dominant fashion at 31-0, denying the Danes a chance to tie the original NIP team's 32-0 record on the same map from the first year of CS:GO.
Valve set Major dates two years ahead
Valve made a huge step towards a more organized approach to scheduling and hosting the Majors, announcing the exact dates of the 2020 and 2021 tournaments sponsored by them to help organizers work around the biggest tournaments of the year and prevent further clashes from happening. After the scheduling of the FACEIT and especially StarLadder Majors, which happened on a period directly after the established player break in August, was met with much criticism, the next two years will see the Majors take place in May and November, closer towards the middle of each part of the season.
Liquid break big-event curse
One of May's Big Events, IEM Sydney, finally saw Liquid break the curse that had been haunting them for years, particularly in 2018 and in the beginning of 2019, when they lost eight big-event finals including two in which they were big favorites, to MOUZ at ESL One New York last year and to FaZe at BLAST Pro Series Miami this year. That poor streak came to an end at the beginning of May in Australia, although not before the North American side went through an excruciating best-of-five grand final against fnatic in another favorable encounter.
June - Liquid become the first NA team at No. 1
Having broken the curse, more firsts followed for Liquid — literally. Winning IEM Sydney and DreamHack Masters Dallas, which Astralis as the No. 1 side at the time skipped, meant that Keith "NAF" Markovic & co. would become the first North American team to reach the coveted spot at the top of the ranking on June 3, immediately after the latter title run. The closest anyone from the region came to being considered the best team in the world before this iteration of Liquid was the Cloud9 team that won the ELEAGUE Major at the beginning of 2018, after which they briefly resided in the No. 2 spot.
The AUG saw a continuous increase in popularity ever since its price was reduced and once players got a taste for it, not even Valve's update from March that reverted its price back to the original $3,300 prevented the weapon's rise in usage, which tripled both M4s by June. Balancing the AUG further to combat its overwhelming defensive power, Valve reduced some of its base stats such as the rate of fire and unscoped accuracy.
The French rise
After a long stagnant period within the French scene dating back to early 2017 — the last time two French teams were in the top 10 at the same time before June 2019 —, the best teams from the country have returned to some of their former glory, with Vitality and G2 both enjoying some time in the spotlight at the halfway point of the year.
Led by Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut's incredible talent and sheer firepower, which has earned him three MVP medals in his rookie year already, the bees have won two top-tier events at cs_summit 4 and at ECS Season 7 Finals. Meanwhile, Kenny "kennyS" Schrub & co. made waves with a runners-up finish at ESL Pro League Season 9 Finals, where they took Nick "nitr0" Cannella's team to their limit in a tightly contested grand final featuring three overtimes.
Astralis suffer first group stage elimination outside of BLAST events
After Astralis lost their spot at No. 1, things began to spiral out of control for the team that had once been so dominant, with Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander's side suffering a big blow in the form of their first group stage elimination outside of BLAST events (where only two teams advance) at ECS Season 7 Finals. In London, they got stunned by the up-and-coming FURIA team, who beat the Danish squad twice en route to the playoffs.
July - Liquid win an uncontested Intel Grand Slam season
Liquid were quickly picking up speed in the meantime, adding to IEM Sydney and DreamHack Masters Dallas two more Grand Slam victories in a row at ESL Pro League Season 9 Finals and at the most competitive non-Major event of the year, ESL One Cologne, thus completing the second Intel Grand Slam Season uncontested within an unbelievable five months from its first tournament, IEM Katowice. The North American team went on to equal another one of Astralis's feats by winning six Big Events in a row later in July, with trophies at BLAST Pro Series Los Angeles and IEM Chicago capping off a fantastic first half of the season.
coldzera steps down from MIBR
As the first half of the year was drawing to a close, MIBR's fully-Brazilian dream was failing, with more changes in Lucas "LUCAS1" Teles replacing felps doing nothing to help the team get out of their rut, which saw them exit three tournaments in a row in the group stage. Meanwhile, their compatriots FURIA, who repeatedly denied the bigger organization a chance to steal one of their players, overtook them as the best team from the country with impressive results at DreamHack Masters Dallas and ECS Season 7 Finals.
Marcelo "coldzera" David had grown disappointed enough with the lacklustre results and instability in MIBR that he requested to be benched so that he can look for a new challenge. The superstar's wish ended up being granted while the team chose to play the last tournaments of the season with zews, who will also play at the StarLadder Major.
daps builds a new Cloud9 roster
Throughout most of 2018 and 2019, Cloud9 were going through one long period of roster insecurity, changing the lineup nearly every month whether by choice or forces of nature, and the team deteriorated to a point where they didn't even make it past the first rounds of the Americas Minor North America closed qualifier in mid-June, losing series to New Identity and The Quest.
That was the last straw for the entire team, who disbanded after a last tournament together at ESL Pro League Season 9 Finals. Having been replaced by Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz in NRG, Damian "daps" Steele took it upon himself to create a completely new project, bringing together a former teammate of his in Oscar "mixwell" Cañellas, ex-Ghost's Kenneth "koosta" Suen and young talent Tyson "TenZ" Ngo, with the lineup then signed by Cloud9 and finalized with the only remaining member of the previous roster, Timothy "autimatic" Ta. The new-look C9 went on to play their first tournament after a short amount of time together, showing promise at BLAST Pro Series Los Angeles after placing fourth, beating FaZe and holding MIBR and NRG to draws.
What have been the biggest stories of the year so far for you? Let us know in the comments below.