Gone, but not to be forgotten: The legacy of Astralis, the greatest team of all time (Part 2)
Read on for the conclusion of the story of the Astralis legacy, the greatest team to ever grace the servers of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
... Enter Emil "Magisk" Reif.
An era begins
Magisk was an interesting figure at this time in CS:GO, as he had displayed clear talent when playing for the Dignitas team who would later become North, his carry performance in the final of EPICENTER: Moscow attracting particular attention. Since then, however, that team had struggled to build on the promise of the EPICENTER performance, and eventually Magisk was benched.
He joined OpTic's international project alongside names like Aleksi "allu" Jalli, Oscar "mixwell" Cañellas and Adam "friberg" Friberg, but it never really got off the ground. The Astralis call must have come as a relief to the young Dane, as it looked like his career was threatening to hit a dead-end. This was probably the only situation in which a top team was going to come in for him; it was a marriage of convenience rather than anything else.
The first event with Magisk showed some signs of promise; they made the playoffs of a stacked StarSeries event, picking up series wins against top-15 teams Liquid, Gambit and Heroic, and making a show of it with a 1-2 loss against an in-form NAVI in the quarter-finals. They placed top-four at IEM Katowice, and looked good doing it, taking down world #2 SK and world #6 Liquid. Astralis with Magisk in the team looked beautifully balanced, with Xyp9x slotting back as more of a role player, whilst Magisk formed an entry duo with dupreeh on T side and acted as a site anchor on CT. Kjaerbye had seemed to require a bit more space, whereas Magisk was having a better time fitting in as a cog in gla1ve's systematic approach to the game.
Frankly, it's almost bizarre how quickly Astralis became as good as they did. The next appearance at DreamHack Masters Marseille was their breakout event. They crushed it, dropping a single map on their way to a roaring event victory, having taken down four of the top seven ranked teams attending in convincing fashion along the way. Not even an MVP performance from Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev could stop them, as they comfortably cruised through the final despite the Ukrainian AWPer's 1.30 rating. This event marked the beginning of a run of form that we had never yet seen in CS:GO.
Starting with the aforementioned DreamHack, Astralis proceeded to go on a tournament run that looked like this: 19 big LAN events, virtually all with stacked fields, 12 trophies, four top-two finishes, and three top-fours. This spanned an entire year, from April 2018 at Marseille to May 2019 at BLAST Madrid. They did not finish outside of the top-four at a single event, and they won most of them. This streak included two Major wins, the FACEIT Major and IEM Katowice 2019, back-to-back. This coincided with a period of 58 weeks as the world #1 team, from April 23rd 2018 to May 27th 2019.
If I chronicled the entire period in writing, this article would stretch to 5000 words easily, but by simply looking at the resume you can appreciate just how dominant the Danes were from mid-2018 to mid-2019. Not only were they the best team in the world, but they pioneered the meta in doing so, putting together a beautifully coordinated system that had every piece in its proper place, and pushed grenade usage to never before seen heights. This was the first phase of the Astralis era, a superlative 12 months that we will be lucky to see the likes of ever again. It was only brought to an end through Astralis' own hubris, through inactivity and simply allowing other teams to surpass them. One word sums up the beginning of the next phase of the Astralis story, and that is this: BLASTralis.
There is little point rehashing the furore and debate that raged over the whole BLASTralis fiasco. Plenty of videos and articles exist out there on the topic that you can find with a little bit of googling. The essence of it is that Astralis as a team were swept up in a play by their parent company at the time, RFRSH Entertainment, to lock the top teams in CS:GO into an exclusive BLAST tournament circuit (had anyone over at RFRSH ever heard of the term 'conflict of interest'?). As a result, Astralis went through a period from the end of 2018 through to the middle of 2019 where they played mostly BLAST Pro Series events. They skipped out on multiple major LANs, such as IEM Sydney 2019 and DreamHack Masters Dallas, where Liquid won the first and second events that would end up making up their Intel Grand Slam.
They slipped off the top spot in the world rankings during this time, and when they did end their mini-hiatus, they were not the same team; 5-6th at ECS Season 7 Finals, 5-6th at ESL Pro League Season 9 Finals and 3-4th at ESL One Cologne 2019 were the results that followed. They seemed a team that had allowed themselves to go soft, one that was not playing to the level of the aforementioned 12 months of dominance. They had been knocked off their perch by the insane run of form of Liquid, and it was a demise that seemed mostly of their own making. With the Berlin Major just around the corner, and a chance to secure an unprecedented third Major victory in a row, it could not have been a worse time for the Danes to take their foot off the gas pedal.
Of course, Liquid entered the StarLadder Major Berlin as the world number one and favourites. Astralis were still considered a top team, being number three in the world, and a dark horse. A 2-0 defeat in the Swiss stage to NRG did not instil confidence, and a somewhat unconvincing win against CR4ZY to qualify for the playoffs had many doubting the credentials of the Danes. When Liquid were the team awaiting Astralis in the quarter-finals, it seemed inevitable that the NA team would seal their status as the new best team in the world, and defeat the incumbent champions on their way to a deserved Major victory.
In a move that this Astralis team had made their signature with their first successful Major run, they squarely faced the adversity and defeated it head on. They swept Liquid 2-0 in their quarter-final, only to come up against the NRG team that had crushed them in the Swiss stage. Of course, the Danes secured another convincing 2-0 victory, and all this while Nicolai "device" Reedtz is putting up insane numbers. In the end, the final was an anti-climax. A quick 2-0 victory over surprise finalists AVANGAR was maybe not a fitting way for Astralis to complete their impressive run, but it secured them a legendary third Major title in a row, and in the face of difficult circumstances. Yes, maybe circumstances that they had brought upon themselves in some sense, but nonetheless it was a magnificent way to bounce back and silence the detractors.
The second phase
This Major victory ushered in the second phase of the Astralis era, where once again they were the undisputed number 1 team in the world. It was not quite the same level of dominance, and not for as long of a period; they attended 10 big events over the course of seven months or so, taking home four trophies, a top-two, and three top-fours. They returned to the top of the HLTV rankings, and up until the middle of 2020 it seemed we may be in for another year of Astralis dominance.
However, this is not quite the case. At this point, beginning in May, we saw another small pause in the Astralis era, this time brought about by first gla1ve and then Xyp9x taking leave from the team. Magisk takes over in-game leadership duties, and a rotating door of supporting cast members starts to spin, with Jakob "JUGi" Hansen, Marco "Snappi" Pfeiffer, Patrick "es3tag" Hansen and Lucas "Bubzkji" Andersen all getting a chance to don the Astralis jersey for a time.
It wasn't until late October that we saw the Danes back at full strength, at BLAST Premier Fall 2020, and after a couple of tournaments acclimating, they finished the year in style. Starting with DreamHack Masters Winter, they go on a spree of four events where they make the final of all four, winning two of them (including the 2020 BLAST Global Final, which actually happened in January of 2021). This ensured that yet another year ended with Astralis having made it their own, making for a third on the bounce (2018, 2019 and 2020) where the Danes can lay a convincing claim to the title of team of the year.
A sudden, rapid decline
It's tough to say, from the outside, exactly what brought about the downfall of the greatest core to ever grace Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. We know that device decided to leave the team in April, but whether this was going through his head before the start of 2021 or not, we may never know. What is certain is that, even from the very first event of 2021, this was not the same Astralis. Perhaps the inclusion of Bubzkji upset the dynamic within the team; I'm not sure anyone could tell you why they bothered hanging on to him and throwing him the odd token map.
The decline suffered by Astralis throughout this year was tough to watch in many ways. Rather than go out on top, they slowly slipped and stumbled, the inkling of a potential renaissance shown at Cologne merely a flash in the pan, and in the end the destruction of the core, obviously already minus device, seemed inevitable.
What can never be forgotten is the way that Astralis dominated the scene in a way that no team before they had managed, with a consistency and a longevity that may never be beaten. Kudos to you, Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen, Nicolai "device" Reedtz, Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth, Magisk, Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander, and Danny "zonic" Sørensen for being the greatest team that we have yet seen. May your legacy live long in the memory.