The headlines of 2019: An end-of-season recap
As the year draws to a close and teams begin to recuperate following an intense slew of events, we take a look back at some of the biggest stories and headlines for the latter half of 2019.
August - DMCA debacle at the StarLadder Berlin Major
The player break at the start of August marked the first quiet period after what had been an incredibly packed circuit, giving teams the opportunity to take some well-deserved time off and prepare ahead of the start of the StarLadder Berlin Major.
For FURIA and Complexity, that preparation failed to pay off as they were both eliminated from the New Challengers stage of the Berlin Major in 12-14th place, with the Brazilian team not able to live up to the hype they had built following strong showings at DreamHack Masters Dallas and the ECS Season 7 Finals. Complexity, meanwhile, were faced with the ire of team owner Jason Lake, who was quick to take to Twitter after the team's elimination in a now-infamous tweet that began a roster rebuilding effort for the organization.
The StarLadder Berlin Major also drew attention to broadcasting rights for Major tournaments as a number of notable community figures found themselves at the behest of the Ukrainian-based organizer, resulting in streams being taken down via DMCA notices despite the same streamers never having an issue broadcasting previous Majors. It was not until over a month later that Valve officially responded to the situation, clarifying that, while the Major organizer has always been the only party that had the license to broadcast the event, it is "expected to work with streamers in order to provide viewers with access to valuable alternative content and underserved languages, whether through official streams or otherwise."
ENCE sign sunNy
In what has since become one of the most criticized roster changes in history, ENCE announced that they would be benching in-game leader Aleksi "Aleksib" Virolainen in order to bring on Miikka "suNny" Kemppi following the end of their run in Berlin. While the addition of suNny was a welcome change to a team that had seemingly reached their limit and begun to plateau, the removal of Aleksib was immediately questioned as ENCE had risen to prominence primarily off of their tactical diversity, in-game reads, and utilization of team play - factors that were primarily attributed to the Finnish captain by the majority of onlookers.
gob b announces retirement
August marked the end of an era for one of Counter-Strike's most renowned names as 32-year-old Fatih "gob b" Dayik announced his retirement from competitive play. The German in-game leader had been the captain of BIG since the team's formation at the start of 2017, although his legacy dates much further back, including stints on mousesports in CS 1.6 and in the early years of CS:GO. With his retirement as a player, gob b transitioned to a managerial role in BIG, leaving Johannes "tabseN" Wodarz to pick up the in-game leader mantle in his stead.
NiP under scrutiny by WESA
One of the most storied organizations in Counter-Strike history, Ninjas in Pyjamas came under fire as allegations of withheld prize money, unfair contract clauses, and mistreatment of former staff members were leveled at current CEO Hicham Chahine, and later at former CEO Emil "HeatoN" Christensen. The accusations were first brought to light by Robin "Fifflaren" Johansson in a lengthy interview with Richard Lewis, with his former teammates Richard "Xizt" Landström and Adam "friberg" Friberg backing up the allegations. The Ninjas in Pyjamas management were cleared of wrongdoing at the end of the month by Ian Smith, a sports lawyer and Commissioner of the Esports Integrity Coalition (ESIC) who was enlisted to investigate the claims on behalf of The World Esports Association (WESA). Further details regarding the resolution of the report can be found here.
September - Astralis make history with fourth Major title, third in a row
The StarLadder Berlin Major concluded at the start of September, seeing Astralis end a five-month long dry spell of trophies as Nicolai "device" Reedtz, Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen, Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth, and Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander earned their fourth Major victory. The win also saw the team become the first to win three back-to-back Major titles, a crusade that began for the Danish squad following the addition of Emil "Magisk" Reif in early 2018. Astralis took down their North American rival and tournament favorite Liquid to kick off their bracket run, going on to notch 2-0 victories over NRG and AVANGAR to take home the trophy. In the playoffs of their three back-to-back Major wins, gla1ve's troops now boast an unrivaled 18-0 map record, further illustrating just how dominant the Danish roster has been over the past year in what was previously a stage of the event that the core trio of device, Xyp9x, and dupreeh struggled to surpass.
ESL Pro Tour and BLAST Premier details revealed
After a handful of reports emerged amid murmurs of 2020 leagues possibly utilizing exclusivity rules for their competing teams, the first official details of ESL's Pro Tour and BLAST Premier were announced by the tournament organizers.
The ESL Pro Tour was revealed to be a global circuit of events organized by ESL and DreamHack, with events split into two tiers — Challengers and Masters. The former would serve as a platform for upcoming teams to reach Masters-level events, and included DreamHack Open stops, ESEA MDL and the ESL National Championships. Tournaments with more than $250,000 on offer, including the ESL Pro League, ESL One, IEM and DreamHack Masters events, comprised the upper echelon of the circuit, with ESL's staple events in Katowice and Cologne both set to increase their prize pools to $1,000,000 following the conclusion of IEM Katowice 2020.
A report from Dexerto brought attention to exclusivity rules that had been added to an agreement for some teams competing in the ESL Pro League, restricting them from playing in any other tournaments or leagues during the EPL League Season while also limiting their involvement in tournaments other than the Pro League, Valve competitions and online qualifiers to 60 days per calendar year. In the same blog post that addressed broadcasting rights for Majors, Valve took a stance on those exclusivity rules, declaring that they were "not interested in providing licenses for events that restrict participating teams from attending other events."
Later in the month, BLAST revealed its own plans for a league in 2020, called BLAST Premier. The circuit will see two seasons play out, in Spring and Fall, each running for a three-week period. The tournament organizer promised a change to the format, involving more best-of-three matches, multiple ways of qualifying, and offering the ability for any team to advance to the Global Finals. During the Spring and Fall seasons, twelve teams will compete in three groups, with two teams from each advancing to the seasonal finals. Two additional teams will earn spots at the finals through a "showdown", with further details yet to be announced.
Post-Major shuffles galore
The end of the StarLadder Major also brought about one of the most volatile transfer periods to date, involving an extensive list of free agents and benched talents on a variety of teams. A handful of changes were already confirmed heading into the Major, including ENCE swapping in suNny for Aleksib and MIBR adding Vito "kNgV-" Giuseppe as a replacement for Marcelo "coldzera" David, but a number of other top teams looked to make adjustments to their roster following lacklustre showings in Berlin.
One of the most notable changes saw the French titan of Vitality bench veteran Nathan "NBK-" Schmitt while the Major grand final was underway, citing a difference in ideologies between the player and Alex "ALEX" McMeekin leading to mounting tensions on the roster. Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut and company weighed up the decision of signing Fabien "kioShiMa" Fiey, who was a free agent following his release from Cloud9, and G2's Richard "shox" Papillon, opting to go with the latter player after coming to a transfer agreement believed to be worth between $350,000 and $450,000.
The end of the Major also marked the end of an era for Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko, who announced that he would retire from professional play following Natus Vincere's appearance at BLAST Pro Series Moscow. The move did not come as a surprise as the Ukrainian in-game leader had announced his intentions to retire in 2019 a year prior, although the change was spurred on earlier than expected as Zeus "felt lost" in-game while competing at the Major. Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács made his return to Na`Vi as he was enlisted as Zeus' replacement, with the team also seeing Andrey "B1ad3" Gorodenskiy transition from the team's esports director to head coach in a bid to help guide Kirill "Boombl4" Mikhailov in taking over leadership duties. Over on FaZe, GuardiaN's replacement came in the form of 18-year-old Latvian up-and-comer Helvijs "broky" Saukants, while Nikola "NiKo" Kovač finally found himself united with coldzera after the Brazilian talent was bought from MIBR as a replacement for another veteran, Filip "NEO" Kubski.
Additionally, Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund found himself ending an era of his own as he stepped down from the only CS:GO team he had ever played on, Ninjas in Pyjamas. The player's future had long been uncertain as the organization had put out a vague announcement three months prior about moving the 29-year-old out of an active player role, but it wasn't until the end of the month that GeT_RiGhT truly parted ways with Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg, bringing an end to a nine-year long partnership.
Ninjas in Pyjamas were not the only Swedish side to make changes to their roster as fnatic made moves of their own, benching Simon "twist" Eliasson and Xizt after the organization missed out on a Major for the first time in their history following a failed Europe Minor campaign. Rather than looking elsewhere, the team instead turned to two of their former players in the form of Robin "flusha" Rönnquist and Maikil "Golden" Selim, both of whom had spent a period of the year under the Cloud9 banner in North America. The former had taken a break for a number of months following the sudden passing of his mother, while Golden had found himself benched as Cloud9 continued to struggle to find a winning roster formula. The return of the duo was a welcome change as the team had previously found success with Golden in tow, winning IEM Katowice 2018 and the WESG 2017 World Finals.
Finally, G2 made an ambitious change to their team after parting ways with shox, also opting to replace Lucas "Lucky" Chastang in favour of a CR4ZY duo in the form of Nemanja "huNter-" Kovač and Nemanja "nexa" Isaković - a move that saw the team switching over to communicating in English.
Evil Geniuses return to Counter-Strike with NRG signing, debut with ESL One New York victory over Astralis
Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz's troops claimed revenge against Astralis for their semi-final defeat during the StarLadder Berlin Major at ESL One New York, making a run to the title after debuting at the event under a new organization in the form of Evil Geniuses. A stellar showing from Vincent "Brehze" Cayonte helped to power the North Americans to a 3-1 series victory over Astralis, with both teams immediately making their way to the airport and just barely making their flights following the conclusion of the series as DreamHack Masters Malmö was set to get underway in less than 48 hours.
The short window of time between events was not the first, nor the last, in what became an extremely packed tournament circuit at the end of the year, with Liquid and Astralis encountering a similar issue in November when they were forced to find new flights to the ESL Pro League Season 10 Finals after their ECS Season 8 Finals bout resulted in missing their first.
October - fnatic reunion sees success in Malmö
After finding themselves knocked down to the lower bracket following an opening round loss to ENCE, fnatic quickly composed themselves as they fought past TYLOO, G2, and FURIA to earn a playoff berth at DreamHack Masters Malmö. A win over their Swedish countrymen from Ninjas in Pyjamas kicked off a playoff run that saw flusha and company add a 2-0 series victory over Astralis in the semi-finals, with the team edging out a three-map series against Vitality to lift a trophy for the first time in nineteen months.
EG and Astralis battle for No.1
Astralis reclaimed the title of the No. 1 team in the world just one week into October, a result of consistent top placements, victory at the StarLadder Berlin Major, and Liquid beginning to lose points they had held from their title victories. Liquid, meanwhile, found themselves sliding down into fourth place after hitting a rough patch by placing 5th-8th at the Major, 3rd-4th in New York and 9th-12th in Malmö — a far cry from their six consecutive Big Event victories earlier in the year.
Instead, another North American squadron rose up to contest the Danish powerhouse in the form of Evil Geniuses. Despite falling in the group stages of DreamHack Masters Malmö to kick off the month, Evil Geniuses were able to rally back by taking home the StarSeries i-League Season 8 title by claiming a win over fnatic in the grand finals, earning themselves enough points to oust Astralis from first place in the rankings, a position which they held until gla1ve led his men to success at IEM Beijing in November.
Cache remake released
The old version of Cache was finally replaced by a remake in mid-October, done by creators Sal "Volcano" Garozzo and Shawn "FMPONE" Snelling. The map had first been unveiled as part of a showmatch at ESL One New York after being worked on for well over a year, and utilized a distinctly different color palette from the majority of other maps as it took on a greenish hue. Changes to the A bombsite, squeaky, and mid were immediately apparent, although smaller tweaks have left room for teams to play around with — something which Volcano stressed was part of the redesign process for the map. Cache has yet to return to the competitive pool, although it has become a hot-button topic as to which map will be replaced when it does.
100 Thieves sign Renegades
With their previous foray into Counter-Strike by signing the PGL Major Krakow runner-up Immortals roster being woefully cut short before they could play a single match in early 2018, 100 Thieves finally made their second entry into the game in October with the signing of the Renegades roster. The organization's founder and owner Matthew "Nadeshot" Haag had flown out to the StarLadder Berlin Major in hopes of signing a "championship-caliber roster", finding a fit with the Australian squad, who had reached the semi-finals of the event — their best-ever placement at a Major.
Luminosity, OpTic disband
While a handful of new names began to make entry into Counter-Strike, two familiar names in the form of Luminosity and OpTic announced that they would be parting ways with their teams. Neither organization had found much success in recent months, with the Brazilian roster of Luminosity last managing a second place finish at DreamHack Open Valencia 2018 and OpTic being the runner-ups of cs_summit 3. The Luminosity members quickly went their separate ways following the release, while three players on OpTic still await buyouts or the expiry of their contracts.
November - Complexity complete the juggernaut
Jason Lake's rebuilding efforts came to an end in November as Complexity finalized their team, cutting everyone but Owen "oBo" Schlatter from the roster following the team's exit from the StarLadder Berlin Major. The building blocks had begun to stack up when the organization acquired Benjamin "blameF" Bremer and William "RUSH" Wierzba from Heroic and Cloud9, respectively, before parting ways with Rory "dephh" Jackson, Hunter "SicK" Mims, and Shahzeb "ShahZaM" Khan over the following weeks.
The final two pieces of the puzzle were solved when another Dane, Kristian "k0nfig" Wienecke, was enlisted alongside Bulgarian talent Valentin "poizon" Vasilev. The overhaul led Complexity to miss out on the second group stage of ESL Pro League Season 10 Americas as a result of the two final additions having played under different organizations earlier in the season, leaving the team plenty of time to practice as they prepare to showcase their talents in 2020.
Krieg receives price nerf; Galil, Famas adjustments made with new operation
The SG553's price was finally reverted to $3,000 after it had become the go-to rifle for much of the year, spawning an outcry from the community for a nerf as more and more players had begun to make use of its versatility, first-bullet accuracy, and range. The price revert did little to dissuade use of the rifle, although that was exactly Valve's intended outcome when the price of the AUG and Krieg were first reduced in October 2018.
Read more - Meta changes: SG553, Galil & FAMAS update
In combination with the price revert for the SG, the price of the Galil and Famas was dropped by $200 in an effort to make both rifles a better option for rounds where teams are strapped for cash. Additionally, the first operation in over two years was added to the game in the form of Operation Shattered Web, featuring "agent" skins that offered players the ability to use different models in-game.
December - Astralis and mousesports close out the year strongly
Astralis looked back in form as they ended 2019 on a high note, winning three titles to close out the year. At IEM Beijing, Astralis' success was powered by a stellar showing from in-game leader gla1ve, who averaged a 1.48 rating over the course of the event to earn himself his first MVP medal. Not to be outdone, device added a fifteenth MVP medal to his cabinet by aiding Astralis to an ECS Season 8 Finals win in Arlington, Texas, extending his lead over GeT_RiGhT and Kenny "kennyS" Schrub, who have ten each. A loss to MOUZ in the semi-finals of the ESL Pro League Season 10 Finals may have disheartened the Danish team momentarily, but they quickly bounced back as they closed the year by taking home the BLAST Pro Series Global Final trophy in Bahrain, firmly establishing themselves at the top of the rankings once again.
Meanwhile, MOUZ found form of their own as they won three tournaments in a row to close the year, notching victories at the CS:GO Asia Championships in Shanghai, the ESL Pro League Season 10 Finals, and cs_summit 5. A runner-up finish at EPICENTER 2019 saw the team only narrowly miss out on closing the year with four back-to-back titles, but the strong showing helped to jettison the squad up to No. 2 in the rankings as they look to continue adding trophies to their cabinet in 2020.
ESL Rio Major announced
The first Major of 2020 was unveiled as the year drew to a close, seeing ESL once again take up the mantle to host Brazil's first Major event in Rio de Janeiro. The country had previously played host to the ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals, ESL One Belo Horizonte and DreamHack Open Rio, and will now offer Brazilian fans the ability to celebrate Counter-Strike at its highest level in May 2020.
MIBR sign meyern
The addition of kNgV- failed to bring about improved results for MIBR, leading to another change for the Brazilian squad as they parted ways with Lucas "LUCAS1" Teles to bring on Ignacio "meyern" Meyer from Sharks. The 17-year-old talent had been on the rise during the year, averaging a 1.19 offline rating prior to being picked up by Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo's squad, who debuted with a last-place finish at cs_summit 5.
OG and Gen.G make first entries into Counter-Strike
Another two new names graced the Counter-Strike scene in December as OG and Gen.G both made entries into the space. OG reportedly began to build their roster soon after the StarLadder Berlin Major using Aleksib and NBK- as the building blocks of the squad, adding Valdemar "valde" Bjørn Vangså and Issa "ISSAA" Murad to the organization's docket not long after. It was in finding a fifth that OG hit a snag as, while initially intending to pick up rising Finnish talent Elias "Jamppi" Olkkonen, talks reportedly fell through due to possible ties to an old Steam account with a VAC ban. The international squad eventually settled on Mateusz "mantuu" Wilczewski, making their debut at cs_summit 5 with a 3-4th place finish.
Meanwhile, Gen.G set their sights on North America as they acquired a trio of former Cloud9 players in the form of Damian "daps" Steele, Timothy "autimatic" Ta, and Kenneth "koosta" Suen. Sam "s0m" Oh was brought on board from Envy while SicK stood-in for the team during their efforts in the IEM Katowice 2020 NA qualifiers. Gen.G advanced to the closed portion of the event on their second attempt, and ended the year by announcing the signing of Hansel "BnTeT" Ferdinand from TYLOO — offering the Indonesian star a new challenge as he looks to scale new heights heading into the new year.
VP sign AVANGAR
Virtus.pro at long last put an end to their Polish project, allowing one final swan song at cs_summit 5 — where the team were eliminated in 3-4th — before releasing Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski and company in favor of a new endeavor. The organization signed the StarLadder Berlin Major runner-ups from AVANGAR ahead of their appearance at EPICENTER 2019, although the name change did not help the team find immediate success as they were eliminated in last place following defeats to MOUZ and forZe.
ZywOo powers Vitality to EPICENTER victory
The Frenchmen of Vitality ended the year on a high note as they took home their first trophy since adding shox at EPICENTER 2019, claiming a 2-1 victory over MOUZ in the grand final. ZywOo continued to be the beacon of success for his side as a career-high 1.53 Big Event rating saw him net his fifth MVP award, further adding to what had been an incredible breakout year for the 19-year-old.