Top 10 teams of 2021
Another year has come and gone, and that means that we can now look back and reflect on the last 12 months to find out who the best teams of 2021 were.
To help us do that, we have gone over the year-long HLTV.org World Ranking by 1xBet updates to find out how teams performed. Just like in the past two years, we looked at rosters of at least the same three core players and used a formula combining the total sum of the points they were able to earn throughout the year and an average amount per event, producing a top 10 ranking of 2021's best teams.
Before we kick off the countdown, it's worth noting that the points were unaffected by roster changes (as long as the teams retained at least three of the original players) or decay, and that the ranking progression in each team's graphic and the video of the ranking evolution only serve as helpful tools to visualize where the teams stood at different points in the year. Due to factors such as the previous year's results, decay, and point deductions from roster changes, it is not an entirely accurate representation of their core's true standing when looking at the whole year.
Another key point to make is that due to the list considering three-man cores, some teams had to be split into two separate entities — the biggest examples of this are Astralis and fnatic, each of whom lost their original core in the latter half of the year after undergoing big changes. Due to the small sample size, the latter versions of the two teams had their average points decreased by a factor to better reflect where they stood among the rest on the basis of just a few events.
Without further ado, dive in to see HLTV.org's list of the top teams of 2021, including a graph of the top 20 and how close or far from each other the teams were:
Having made the bottom of the list in the previous two years, FaZe scrape through in 10th place for the second consecutive time after a tumultuous year for the European squad.
Despite making what was largely seen as significant upgrades to the lineup early in the year, ridding themselves of the ill-fitting Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye and benching Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer to make way for Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken and Finn "karrigan" Andersen, the team struggled to find their identity in the first several months after the changes. A successful run in the BLAST Premier Spring Groups seemed like just a flash in the pan, as over the course of the next five events FaZe would find themselves eliminated early each time, plummeting to an all-time low ranking.
It wasn't until olofmeister was brought back from the bench to replace Marcelo "coldzera" David in June that the international team found a way to solve the puzzling issues. A massive resurgence at IEM Cologne just weeks after the veteran Swede returned saw the struggling squad make it all the way to the semi-finals in one of the most competitive fields of the year, making use of the vast LAN experience the team boasted as they took down more established opposition such as Heroic and Gambit in the late stages of the surprising campaign.
Although the LAN debut in Germany remained the biggest highlight of their year, FaZe gained back some of the lost confidence and looked much more competitive once action resumed after the summer break. Another successful BLAST group stage followed, and despite a shaky group stage run at IEM Fall, the final Regional Major Ranking tournament of the year, the team around karrigan could breathe a sigh of relief as they managed to qualify for PGL Major Stockholm, as well.
The Swedish event itself saw crowds return and FaZe were in the conversation as one of the contenders for a playoffs finish, especially after their flawless run through the first Swiss phase. The European team didn't get to play on the stage in front of an audience, after all, with losses to strong-looking G2 and Copenhagen Flames lineups and a narrow best-of-three in round five against Virtus.pro seeing them eliminated just outside of the top eight.
Failures in series that could have turned on a couple of rounds going the other way continued to plague FaZe at the final two events of the year, too, with Heroic and Gambit standing in the way of what could have been a much more successful ending to 2021 for the European squad. Instead, the year came to a disappointing finish for Håvard "rain" Nygaard and company as they placed 5th-6th at the BLAST Premier Fall Final and 9th-12th at IEM Winter to close out their campaign.
A consistent top-ten team ever since we first released the list in 2018, Liquid make their fourth appearance in the ranking as one of few lineups not to make any lineup changes all year long — at least not until the ongoing winter break began and the North American side revealed plans of a big overhaul of the roster.
They had entered the new season just fresh off bringing in Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo instead of Twistzz, a change that would prove difficult to manage as it brought problems caused by differences in views about the game between the Brazilian and the rest of the roster. Despite in-game leadership bouncing back and forth between the former MIBR AWPer and Jake "Stewie2K" Yip, the team remained competitive at the top of the field, kicking off the year with a couple of deep runs at the BLAST Premier Global Final and IEM Katowice, both featuring highlight victories over then-top-2 team Natus Vincere.
The cracks only began to appear later on in the first half of the season. After Jason "moses" O'Toole made way for the return of former coach Eric "adreN" Hoag, a local victory at 2021's first Regional Major Ranking tournament in North America, cs_summit 8, was the only thing to write home about for Liquid amid a shocking first-round exit at the hands of Dignitas at BLAST Premier Spring Showdown and a group stage elimination at IEM Cologne.
The off-season passed and seemed to reinvigorate Liquid at first once they had the chance to take a breather amidst all the travel back and forth across the Atlantic. Their first appearance in the new season at ESL Pro League Season 14 ended with a run to the top eight, halted only by the infamous 5v1 loss to Heroic's Ismail "refrezh" Ali in a quarter-final decider on Inferno.
But with chemistry still not found as leadership issues plagued the lineup, Liquid continued to bounce up and down over the rest of the year. Qualification for the Major as one of the Legends and for the BLAST Premier Fall Final were the only positives to take away from the next couple of months, and by the end of November it had already been clear that this iteration of the lineup wouldn't last.
Rumors of changes surrounded the North American side as the year was coming to a close, and by the end of IEM Winter they were all but confirmed. The inevitability of a top-to-down overhaul seemed to relieve the weight off the team's shoulders, as Liquid managed to take another big scalp at the BLAST Premier World Final before signing off, sending who many thought to be an insurmountable Natus Vincere team to the lower bracket on the way to a top-four finish at the concluding event of 2021.
For the best team in the world of each of the past three years, it is fair to say that Astralis experienced a fall from grace in 2021. Although they at times showed hints of the same old brilliant lineup, it wasn't enough to push them all the way even once throughout the year as they ended 2021 title-less, a big disappointment for the team many saw as the greatest of all time and that brought home 20 trophies from 2018-2020.
They entered their last year with the four-time Major-winning core as the No. 1 team and faltered in the grand final of the first event to one of their biggest rivals of 2020 Natus Vincere, and from there things seemed to start spiraling out of control for the once dominant Danish powerhouse.
Top-six finishes at IEM Katowice and at ESL Pro League Season 13 followed, featuring important losses to some of the year's biggest risers Gambit and Virtus.pro, and not long after that came the shock departure of Nicolai "device" Reedtz to Ninjas in Pyjamas that left Astralis struggling to find answers to their problems for the rest of 2021.
With AWPing going back and forth between Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander and Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen at first and clearly not fitting either of them very well, Astralis' stock continued to drop, with their only deep run coming amid the return to LAN at IEM Cologne as they made it to the semi-finals. Even the arrival of a full-time AWPer in Philip "Lucky" Ewald changed little, with the youngster understandably being far from the level of consistency and stardom device brought to the team, and to top it all off they kept switching players between sixth man Lucas "Bubzkji" Andersen and Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth, as well as gla1ve for a time when the in-game leader went on parental leave.
Ultimately, after the Danes crashed out of the PGL Major Legends Stage, what had been rumored for so long was confirmed. Emil "Magisk" Reif, dupreeh, and Danny "zonic" Sørensen took their leave and former Complexity duo Kristian "k0nfig" Wienecke and Benjamin "blameF" Bremer came in alongside Alexander "ave" Holdt, forming a new core under the Astralis banner and putting an end to the one that had won three Majors together.
Coming in at No. 7 are Virtus.pro as a team that maintained a consistent presence among the world's best teams throughout the year despite rarely being able to find peak form.
The CIS squad around Dzhami "Jame" Ali picked up where they left off in 2020 when they returned from the winter break at the beginning of 2021, winning their third consecutive title at cs_summit 7 in an undefeated campaign as they began to make a name for themselves as one of the next big teams coming from their region.
IEM Katowice only reaffirmed that notion when Virtus.pro kept up an impressive level amidst an incredibly stacked field, reaching the grand final of one of the biggest events of the year and losing only to two of their biggest regional rivals in Natus Vincere and Gambit, the scary newcomers to the tier-one scene and the No. 1 team for months to come afterwards.
It seemed as if other teams started to catch up with VP's unique playstyle then, as outside of second place at the EPIC League RMR event, Mareks "YEKINDAR" Gaļinskis and company failed to make it deep again for the rest of the first part of the season, nonetheless grabbing a key top-six finish at the concluding IEM Cologne as another one of the year's most stacked tournaments.
Perhaps it was the fact that VP could no longer contend for titles that caused them to exchange Sanjar "SANJI" Kuliev for FORZE's Evgenii "FL1T" Lebedev ahead of PGL Major Stockholm a few months later, but no matter the reason and that the call came from the organization rather than the somewhat perplexed players, it seemed to pay off. A top-eight finish at the Major itself exceeded expectations of the CIS team, who despite being so fresh off changes displayed great perseverance and spirit in Stockholm and continued to do so at IEM Winter, ending 2021 with a run to the top four there.
Ninjas in Pyjamas return to the list for the first time since 2018 with a core that is almost unrecognizable compared to back then, when the organization still boasted some of its legendary members. Only Fredrik "REZ" Sterner now remains from the lineup that placed ninth three years ago and is joined by core teammates Nicolas "Plopski" Gonzalez Zamora and Hampus "hampus" Poser alongside a plethora of players that went in and out of the roster across a chaotic but nonetheless promising year 2021.
The first of several changes in the Swedish squad came early on, when in February the organization decided to release Simon "twist" Eliasson and slot in an academy member for the first time in Erik "ztr" Gustafsson. That version, still featuring Tim "nawwk" Jonasson at the time, only lasted for two months but managed to climb the ranks with a qualification for the BLAST Premier Spring Final and a top-four finish at ESL Pro League Season 13.
It was then that Ninjas in Pyjamas pulled off the transfer of the ages with the signing of device, with whom they had hoped to reach new heights. A runner-up finish at Flashpoint 3 (featuring that controversial Anonymo rematch) followed, showing promise that the Swedes could indeed find their way back to the top after so many years, but it remained their best showing for months to come.
Then came a period full of results that might have been acceptable enough for a team that had struggled to maintain a spot in the top 10 but perhaps not for one that was aiming to get back to winning ways with the blockbuster move. With Linus "LNZ" Holtäng now in the team instead of ztr as another one of the academy additions, a top-four finish at the BLAST Premier Fall Final and a top-eight at ESL Pro League Season 14 solidified the Swedish-Danish combination's hold on a spot within the top 10, but it wasn't much to brag about.
Something finally clicked when the second and last RMR event of the year came and device returned to top form with an MVP-level performance at IEM Fall, leading the way in Ninjas in Pyjamas's first title run in over four years. Perhaps it wasn't the most impressive of victories given that for many others a simple qualification for the Major was the main goal, but it still served as somewhat of a proof of concept that the Danish AWPer made Ninjas in Pyjamas capable of winning tournaments.
It turned out that it was difficult to replicate that kind of form, as the Swedish-majority squad would only place in the top eight at the Major after a shaky group stage run, pulling off a disappearance act in the quarter-final series against runners-up G2. More changes came shortly after, with the rotating academy player experiment coming to an end with the arrival of Patrick "es3tag" Hansen. The addition has so far created more issues than it has solved, but despite language barriers proving hard to overcome, Ninjas in Pyjamas still grabbed a runner-up finish at IEM Winter in between two last-place exits at BLAST Premier Finals with the new member.
Improving on a sixth-place finish from 2020, Heroic round out the top five after the Danish squad consistently competed for deep runs in the majority of the year.
Changes in the team after an early IEM Katowice exit came as a surprise, with Nikolaj "niko" Kristensen and Johannes "b0RUP" Borup shown the exit door what seemed to be a bit too early after a few disappointing runs around the brink of the year, but they bore fruit practically immediately. refrezh and Rasmus "sjuush" Beck made Heroic an instant title contender, and the team went on an undefeated run over the first few weeks of their existence with the new roster, winning ESL Pro League Season 13.
It proved to be somewhat of a honeymoon phase, with that trophy being the only one Heroic ended up clinching all year long, but to say the victory had been a fluke would be an overstatement. Although more finals appearances went on to elude them, Casper "cadiaN" Møller's squad placed in the top four at two consecutive tournaments after that, at DreamHack Masters Spring and at Flashpoint 3, and only then began to falter.
A top-eight finish at IEM Cologne came as the biggest blow to the Danes after many had questioned whether they would be able to replicate their success on LAN, but over the course of the next few months, Heroic would slowly start to shake off the onliner tag. Going all the way to the semi-finals at PGL Major Stockholm and only nearly missing out on a place in the grand final after a close loss to G2 went a long way in helping fix their reputation, and by the BLAST Premier Fall Final it seemed all but forgotten when they made another top-four finish.
IEM Winter didn't do much to help Heroic's outlook once they bombed out of the tournament in last place, losing to huge underdogs GODSENT in the process, but it soon turned out that Martin "stavn" Lund had been dealing with personal issues. The team's biggest star even ended up skipping BLAST Premier World Final and the Danes brought back a former teammate b0RUP, with losses to eventual finalists Gambit and Natus Vincere seeing them eliminated early once more.
G2 come in just shy of the podium steps after a solid year across the board, boasting zero titles but plenty of deep runs and a particularly impressive record at some of the biggest tournaments of 2021.
The team had just decided to stick with François "AMANEK" Delaunay for the year after using a few tournaments in late 2020 to decide whom to keep in the active roster between him and Audric "JACKZ" Jug. Instead, it was Kenny "kennyS" Schrub who did not keep his spot for long into the year, however, as the entry fragger was brought back in lieu of the AWPer in March after an unimpressive start to 2021 that saw G2 finish in the top eight at IEM Katowice.
Despite issues concerning the sniper position, the AWP going from Nikola "NiKo" Kovač's hands to AMANEK's in the end, results improved after the switch. Between May and July, the team never finished outside of the top four, picking up deep runs at DreamHack Masters Spring, Flashpoint 3, IEM Summer, and the BLAST Premier Spring Final. Their success continued after the return to LAN at first, starting with an impressive run to second place at IEM Cologne, featuring a title decider loss to the French-Balkan team's nemesis Natus Vincere.
With the summer break passing, G2's results took a massive hit. They went from always featuring in the top four to finishing last at ESL Pro League Season 14, beating only a barely-competitive MIBR squad in the BLAST Premier Fall Groups, and suffering some concerning defeats at the hands of Copenhagen Flames and Movistar Riders at the Major-qualifying event IEM Fall.
But when they returned to the big stage at the PGL Major itself, it was as if the old G2 spirit came back. NiKo and company went through the Legends stage undefeated and went on to beat Ninjas in Pyjamas and Heroic in the playoffs, only to falter at the hands of their insurmountable rivals Natus Vincere at the final hurdle in a series that will forever be remembered by that NiKo near-miss.
Adding another top four at IEM Winter despite Nemanja "nexa" Isaković missing the event and kennyS stepping in, G2 were heading for a place among the three best teams of the year if it wasn't for NiKo's team's disappointment at the BLAST Premier World Final and the late resurgence of Vitality.
The French squad snatched the third spot away after what was an impressive return to form following an atrocious start to 2021, in somewhat similar fashion to the story of their year 2020.
Third place at the BLAST Premier Global Final marked the last good result for the six-man Vitality era. With early eliminations coming one after another and Valve sticking to their guns regarding the use of more than five players per team, the Frenchmen eventually decided not only to put the extended lineup to rest and bench Nabil "Nivera" Benrlitom but also to part ways with one of their original core members Cédric "RpK" Guipouy as the veteran retired.
The results slowly started to look up with the more time the team had to adapt to the new lineup with Jayson "Kyojin" Nguyen Van, and by the end of the first part of the season they were back in the top 10 after their run to the semi-finals at IEM Summer, featuring key wins over some of the best teams from the early part of the season Gambit and Virtus.pro.
Although IEM Cologne didn't turn out so well for the team, after the break the French machine finally clicked. They reached their first final of the year at ESL Pro League Season 14, just narrowly missing out on the title after a best-of-five series against Natus Vincere that rested on a knife's edge, won their BLAST group, and placed third at IEM Fall to qualify for the PGL Major as Legends. In Stockholm, despite a rough start that saw them go 0-2 after the first two rounds, Vitality ended up making it to the quarter-finals before giving Natus Vincere a run for their money again in the first playoffs round.
With the team seemingly having learned of imminent changes, which will reportedly see them combine with former Astralis trio Magisk, dupreeh, and zonic, the loss of all the pressure only helped their cause. Over the final three events of the year — BLAST Premier Fall Final, IEM Winter, and BLAST Premier World Final — the only team to eliminate the Frenchmen were the undisputed best team Natus Vincere, with Vitality securing another runner-up finish, their first and only title, and third place, respectively, to end the year in style.
When 2020 ended, not many people saw Gambit as a legitimate threat to the top teams. The Vladislav "nafany" Gorshkov-led side impressed at the lower levels in a consistent climb through the ranks, shaking off the Youngsters tag after the organization officially made them the main squad, but it was nearly impossible to imagine them going on a run in which they would win four titles and maintain a spot at No. 1 for nearly three months in the first half of the season.
And yet that is the story of the young roster that deserves to be called the revelation of 2021. Seemingly from out of nowhere, the CIS side won IEM Katowice in February — all in spite of an opening loss to a shaky Evil Geniuses in the group stage — and never looked back, finishing runners-up at ESL Pro League S13 and DreamHack Masters Spring before clinching three more titles back-to-back at the regional EPIC League as well as IEM Summer and BLAST Premier Spring Final.
It was only at the end of the first part of the season that Gambit had started losing steam, finishing only in the top six at IEM Cologne upon the return of LAN play, with the German event providing the first signs that a new CIS king was about to sit on the throne.
Despite the arrival of prime Natus Vincere, Gambit remained an ever-consistent threat. For the rest of the year, nafany's squad would make the playoffs at every event they attended and picked up a couple of smaller titles along the way, at the IEM Fall CIS RMR event and at V4 Future Sports Festival. A run to the semi-finals at the PGL Major also helped them, much like Heroic, shake off whatever LAN jitters they had, and a runners-up finish at the BLAST World Final behind their regional rivals only solidified their spot as the obvious No. 2 team of the year.
At the beginning of 2021, you could be forgiven for thinking this would be just another Natus Vincere year, featuring some titles here and there and a few deep runs that would probably make you think something along the lines of: "If only they could find that last piece, this could be a dominant team." They won the Global Final to start the year, but soon they'd falter at IEM Katowice and at ESL Pro League, and it all pointed to this being a typical NAVI lineup.
Valeriy "b1t" Vakhovskiy had only been the sixth man up until then, stepping in for Egor "flamie" Vasilyev on occasion on some maps, but he got the call up to the active roster on a permanent basis after Pro League. The youngster and former member of the academy team took some time to ramp up, but Natus Vincere already looked like a more stable team initially, securing a DreamHack Masters Spring title in their debut with the new member as part of the main five.
Fifth place at EPIC League, an infamously problematic RMR event where NAVI lost to Akuma on the way, proved to be only a minor setback for the new roster, who went on to play in the grand final of every single event they attended from there on until the end of the year. b1t had proved to be that missing piece they needed to start dominating, becoming a key player for them as Natus Vincere won two more titles before the summer break, including the first back on LAN at IEM Cologne.
The break did little to slow the CIS giants down, with the ESL Pro League Season 14 title going their way as well after a grueling grand final affair against the resurgent Vitality side. A rather unimportant loss to Gambit in an IEM Fall CIS decider followed, before NAVI finally broke their Major curse with an unrivaled run to the biggest trophy in CS:GO at PGL Major Stockholm, becoming the first team to win a Major title without dropping a map in the process.
It looked like the last two events of the year at BLAST would be just a formality for the extremely confident team around megastar Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev. Some challengers still stepped up to the plate, with Heroic putting up an impressive fight against them at the Fall Final and Liquid dealing NAVI their only loss in 16 matches at the World Final, but the CIS squad prevailed each time and ended the year with back-to-back-to-back titles.
At the end of 2021, there is no doubt over who the best team of the year was. NAVI's record across the 15 events they attended counts eight titles and four out of four at tournaments that took place on LAN, two more BLAST group wins, two runner-up finishes, and just one placing outside of the top eight. With a record-breaking amount of prizemoney won to boot, there could only be one winner — Natus Vincere.