Majors return, a legend retires, and the Colossus crashes: A mid-season recap
As the end of the player break draws near, we have put together a list of some of the stand-out moments from the first portion of the year leading up to the end of July.
January — PGL Major announced as Valve implement RMR coaching limitations
After a tumultuous 2020 that saw the ESL One Rio Major pushed back from May before ultimately being cancelled, and the announcement that no Major would take place in the first half of 2021, the CS:GO scene at large was left questioning when news regarding the next Major in the circuit would surface. That uncertainty was quelled just two weeks into the new year when PGL revealed that they would host the next Major in Stockholm, Sweden, with the goal of having the playoffs take place in front of a live audience at the Avicii Arena.
Valve announced soon after that the qualification process for Stockholm would follow a similar format to the Regional Major Ranking (RMR) tournaments from the previous year, with a small number of points from the 2020 circuit carrying over for teams depending on where they ranked on the leaderboard. The game developer also imposed restrictions on the presence of coaches and external organizational staff, stating that they would not be allowed to be in the same room as, nor allowed to communicate with, players while RMR matches were taking place. Bans from appearing at Majors were handed down to coaches that exploited the infamous coaching bug.
GeT_RiGhT steps down from professional play
In what marked the end of an incredible era, Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund announced that he would no longer be competing professionally and would instead turn his attention to streaming and content creation in January. The 30-year-old Swede is one of the most storied names in Counter-Strike history, and he reflected on his lengthy and accomplished career in an interview with HLTV.org following the announcement.
NAVI win BLAST Premier Global Final
Natus Vincere kicked the year off in style as they recovered from an opening loss to Liquid in the BLAST Premier Global Final, completing a run through the lower bracket with wins over Complexity, G2, Liquid, and Vitality before crushing Astralis in a one-sided grand final to take home the title.
Plethora of changes among top 30 teams amid off-season
As is tradition in January, the break in tournaments marked the prime time for roster changes, and a number of moves that were reported at the end of 2020 came to fruition. Envy put their CS:GO division on hold, releasing their lineup after dismal results, while Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken made his way to FaZe and Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo was recruited by Liquid to fill the gap.
A handful of changes among Brazilian teams also took place as the majority of the Vito "kNgV-" Giuseppe-led lineup of MIBR parted ways with the organization, and FURIA picked up Paytyn "junior" Johnson to replace Henrique "HEN1" Teles, who linked up with kNgV-'s new project in order to reunite with his twin brother. The Swedes were unable to avoid changes either, with Robin "flusha" Rönnquist stepping down from fnatic and Jack "Jackinho" Ström Mattsson joining in his place.
February — Gambit claim first big title with IEM Katowice crown
Vladislav "nafany" Gorshkov's troops began to turn heads at IEM Katowice, where they began their run in the Play-in stage and started the main event as the lowest-ranked team in attendance at No. 19. Wins over mousesports, Heroic, and G2 kept the CIS side in contention as they survived their group's lower bracket, but it was in the playoffs that they truly impressed, securing victories over regional rivals Natus Vincere and Spirit before hammering Virtus.pro in the grand final to secure their first big title win.
North cease operations
After four years in esports, North announced that it would be shutting its doors permanently. The Danish organisation, an affiliate of F.C. Copenhagen and entertainment company Nordisk Film, stated that they were unable to sustain against the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the esports industry, leaving seven players and a coach without a team to call home.
mousesports add dexter as karrigan joins FaZe
February brought about the return of Finn "karrigan" Andersen to FaZe, a move that had been long rumored after Twistzz's addition to the European powerhouse and one that reunited the Dane with Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer. In exchange, mousesports looked to Oceania, from where they enlisted 26-year-old Christopher "dexter" Nong from Renegades to take up leadership duties.
autimatic, Ethan depart Counter-Strike
The second month of the year also saw two tenured North American players end their CS:GO careers, the most notable of which was former Major winner Timothy "autimatic" Ta. After the 24-year-old's plan to build a team with flusha and Miikka "suNny" Kemppi fell through, he chose to pursue a career in VALORANT with T1 — a career path Ethan "Ethan" Arnold ended up following as well, leaving Evil Geniuses to join 100 Thieves VALORANT later in the month.
March — The Colossus crashes
Lacklustre results for Henry "HenryG" Greer's 'Colossus' came to a head after the group stage of ESL Pro League Season 13. Cloud9's European project had been unable to consistently secure wins over top teams since its inception and had struggled with roster and role instability as pressure continued to mount for better results. After missing out on a playoffs berth at EPL, the lineup's time together came to an end as the organisation announced they would put their CS:GO division on hold. The players and coaches were put on the transfer list at the time of the announcement but ultimately were released from their contracts in the following months.
ESIC involve FBI in North American match-fixing investigation
The Commissioner of the Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC), Ian Smith, revealed in an interview that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had gotten involved in the ongoing investigation into match-fixing in North America. The reason for the FBI's involvement was due to a secondary group of players who were bribed by "outside betting syndicates" to fix matches.
April — NIP complete blockbuster device signing
In one of the most unexpected and sudden moves of the game's history, NIP announced in April that they had completed the transfer of star AWPer Nicolai "device" Reedtz from Astralis, ending his five-year-long tenure under the Danish organisation's banner. The 25-year-old stated that bringing the Stockholm Major trophy home to Sweden, where he has been living with his girlfriend for some time, was his number one goal.
Heroic win ESL Pro League Season 13 over Gambit
Gambit's chance to add a second Intel Grand Slam tournament win to their cabinet was halted by Heroic, who claimed the ESL Pro League Season 13 trophy just a month and a half following the additions of Rasmus "sjuush" Beck and Ismail "refrezh" Ali to the roster. The Danes went undefeated over the course of the entire tournament but required all five maps in the grand final against a highly competitive Gambit, with Casper "cadiaN" Møller closing things out with an incredible 1vs4 clutch to secure the event win.
Valve update approach to VAC-banned players
Vinicius "vsm" Moreira and Elias "Jamppi" Olkkonen fans rejoiced in April when Valve announced changes to their approach to VAC-banned players and their eligibility to play in Valve-sponsored events. The game developer, who previously imposed a zero-tolerance policy regarding VAC bans no matter the circumstances, decided to allow some of the players to participate in their tournaments. If five years had passed since the ban in question had come into effect, the player would be allowed to compete in Valve-sponsored events as long as the ban did not occur after the player had already participated in a Valve-sponsored event.
May — Train out, Ancient in
The first change to the official map pool in over two years occurred in early May, with Valve swapping out Train for Ancient, a completely new map that had been receiving consistent updates from the developers in the preceding months. With RMR qualifiers already underway, the new map wouldn't be added to the professional circuit until the following month, making its first appearance during IEM Summer.
A controversial rematch and cheating allegations in the first RMR round send waves through the community
The first round of RMR events were played out in their entirety in May, but it wasn't smooth sailing for Flashpoint 3 in Europe nor EPIC League in the CIS region. The former event got off to a rocky start, requiring a match between NIP and Anonymo to be replayed following a highly controversial decision, and its CIS counterpart was marred by a variety of issues. Outside of organizational mishaps, cheating allegations against Akuma began to surface after they claimed wins over Natus Vincere and Virtus.pro before finishing the event in third place. Gambit ultimately finished the tournament in first to grab the largest sum of RMR points on offer for CIS, while mousesports beat NIP in the grand finals of Flashpoint 3, Liquid took down FURIA in North America, MIBR won in South America, and ViCi and Renegades won the Asia and Oceania events.
NAVI win DreamHack Masters Spring
NAVI's second title victory of the year came in DreamHack Masters Spring, where they demolished Gambit in the grand final. Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev continued to be an absolutely dominant force as his team also conquered Virtus.pro, mousesports, FURIA, and Heroic en route to the trophy, with the Ukranian prodigy ending the event boasting a 1.41 rating over 15 maps.
June — Gambit establish dominance with IEM Summer, BLAST Premier Spring Final victories
Gambit further cemented their place as the No.1 team in the world following a pair of tournament victories in June. The CIS side proved more than capable on Ancient at IEM Summer, where Sergey "Ax1Le" Rykhtorov was the difference-maker and earned his second MVP award as Gambit beat the likes of G2, Astralis, Complexity and OG en route to the title. In the BLAST Premier Spring Final, it was Abay "Hobbit" Khasenov who earned the accolade of the tournament's best player, with Gambit completing a flawless run through the double-elimination bracket, dropping just one map to Natus Vincere in the process.
coldzera steps aside and olofmeister makes another return in FaZe
A period of poor form for FaZe culminated in Marcelo "coldzera" David announcing that he would be moved to the FaZe bench as the end of his contract approached. The European combine had been struggling to obtain wins over teams despite the additions of karrigan and Twistzz earlier in the year. To fill the gap ahead of the BLAST Premier Spring Final, olofmeister returned to the team's active lineup, having sat on the bench since February, and it was later announced that he would continue to play for the team in ensuing events on a more permanent basis.
NBK- transitions to VALORANT
CS:GO lost another legendary name in June as Nathan "NBK-" Schmitt revealed he would be moving to VALORANT. The two-time Major champion had spent the past five months on OG's bench, and briefly played as a stand-in for DBL PONEY before ultimately taking his leave from Counter-Strike, ending a career that spanned over a decade.
Kjaerbye announces retirement
Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye, meanwhile, announced that he would be retiring from professional play after having lost the hunger and determination to compete at a top level. The Dane had won the ELEAGUE Atlanta Major with Astralis in 2017 and been declared the tournament MVP at the age of 18, but struggled to return to the same heights after a surprise departure from the team, spending his recent years on North and FaZe finding little success.
July — NAVI reclaim title as No.1 team in the world with IEM Cologne victory
Natus Vincere ousted Gambit from the top spot in the world rankings as they claimed two tournament wins ahead of the player break, starting by beating their regional rivals in the StarLadder CIS RMR to claim a first-place finish. That win was followed by a dominant run at the first LAN event in 16 months, in which s1mple was in a realm of his own, averaging a 1.51 rating over 14 maps as he helped overpower Vitality, Astralis, FaZe, and G2 to close out the first half of the season. The 23-year-old superstar's unbelievable performance ranked among the best ever at a tournament of this stature, with the only players scoring higher ratings at Big Events in the past being Nikola "NiKo" Kovač and Håvard "rain" Nygaard at ESL One New York 2017, Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut at EPICENTER 2019, and s1mple himself at DreamHack Masters Marseille 2018.
fnatic prepare to go international
After spiraling down the world rankings over the last 18 months, fnatic decided drastic changes were necessary to get them back on track. In the first steps towards making those moves, the organisation announced that Maikil "Golden" Selim and Jesper "JW" Wecksell would be moved to the bench, with the British duo of Alex "ALEX" McMeekin and William "mezii" Merriman reportedly arising as candidates to take their place.
zonic considers Astralis exit as gla1ve re-signs for 3 years
July kicked off with a report indicating that Danny "zonic" Sørensen was exploring options outside of the Astralis camp as the end of his contract nears, having grown disillusioned with the team's direction. It seemed as if Astralis were bound for a complete collapse as the contracts of their four-man core (with the exception of Lucas "Bubzkji" Andersen) were also all set to expire on December 31, but it was soon announced that Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander had inked a new three-year deal that would see him remain on the team, with the signing of Tricked AWPer Philip "Lucky" Ewald following not long after.