CSGO10: The parity era gives way to a new duopoly (2017)
Next up in celebrating ten years of CS:GO is 2017, a year without a lone dominant team but with narratives and showpiece finals aplenty.
There was still a power vacuum at the zenith of competitive CS:GO as 2017 began. The dominant teams in 2016, fnatic and SK, fell off the top spot, replaced by an Astralis side that had been rejuvenated by the addition of Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander in place of Finn "karrigan" Andersen.
gla1ve and company's spot on top was far from secure, however, as the parity era was in full swing with eight teams — Virtus.pro, Natus Vincere, Dignitas, Cloud9, Ninjas in Pyjamas, Gambit, OpTic, and Astralis — all able to pick up an international LAN trophy in the last four months of 2016.
Astralis knew how big of an opportunity the ELEAGUE Major in Atlanta represented. The Major'sroster lock rules meant it was, in effect, a capstone to the 2016 season with several teams — including No. 2 SK, No. 3 OpTic, No. 6 Dignitas (now at FC Copenhagen's North project), No. 7 FaZe, and No. 10 G2 — making changes after the event. GODSENT and fnatic also reverted their now ill-fated decision to split paths in August 2016, a shuffle that ended with the fnatic organisation re-gaining their early 2016 roster that won six tournaments in a row.
Many of these teams were 'dead' before a shot was fired in Atlanta, weakening the field significantly. It was also the first Major in which coaches' input to players was limited, harming the chances of Sergey "starix" Ischuk's Natus Vincere and Björn "THREAT" Pers's Ninjas in Pyjamas. The stars were aligning for Astralis to lay to bed the ghosts of DreamHack Cluj-Napoca and MLG Columbus and finally grab their first Major title.
It was far from an open goal, though, and Virtus.pro were just as popular a pick for the Major title despite losses to Natus Vincere in New York and Dignitas in Moscow. And so it proved; the two favourites of Astralis and Virtus.pro would meet in the Major final, and deliver one of the greatest matches of all time.
The first map, Nuke, is often forgotten, but was a tight match with scores tied at 10-10 and 12-12 only for Virtus.pro to grab the momentum with two eco-round victories. It was tight again on Astralis' pick of Overpass, with a 1v3 clutch (on 1HP) by Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth making the difference.
Train, though, took it up a notch. The Plow stormed out the gates to a 7-0 lead, converting their start into an even stronger 12-6 and then a 13-7 lead with Astralis' economy in tatters. Then, the first of many A executes fell in Astralis' favour, this one with Tec-9s and a crucial Xyp9x 1v1 over Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski. The momentum had shifted and, with the score tied at 14-14, gla1ve called back-to-back fast A executes, stunning Virtus.pro and giving Astralis their first Major.
Astralis' rivalry with Virtus.pro was shaping up to be the one that defined 2017, with the Poles grabbing revenge in the semi-finals of DreamHack Las Vegas before they defeated a new-look SK in the final. Yet, that trophy would be Virtus.pro's last Big Event win with their legendary five-man lineup, a decline fueled by internal issues that immediately reared their head in a group stage exit at IEM Katowice.
An era appeared to be dawning but, like Virtus.pro, Astralis struggled to recapture their early 2017 form during the rest of the year. Instead, the teams that wrote off ELEAGUE Atlanta due to roster locks were the ones to prosper.
FaZe went one better at StarSeries Season 3, defeating Astralis in the final to dent the Danes' era ambitions. FaZe defeated Astralis again in Sydney, in part thanks to a genius veto in which karrigan floated Cobblestone, although they would later be defeated by SK. The Brazilians had struggled since their two Major victories in 2016, but a resurgence in Sydney was a sign of things to come.
One more challenger emerged at ESL Pro League Season 5 Finals: The French G2 superteam, finally with Kenny "kennyS" Schrub and Richard "shox" Papillon under one roof, that beat off SK in the semi-finals and then North in the grand final to throw yet another hat into the ring. The parity era, it seemed, was far from over.
The closest team to breaking this trend was IEM Sydney champions SK, who bounced back from defeat in Dallas to win ECS Season 3 finals and ESL One Cologne — the latter coming against a Cloud9 side that had defeated Natus Vincere in one of the games of the year in the semi-final.
SK went into PGL Major Krakow as favourites after taking their second trophy in a row, with 1000 points on the HLTV team ranking and at full strength. But they crumbled. Early flights needed to be booked after a quarter-final loss to a rampant Nicolai "device" Reedtz — who out-dueled Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo 10-2 with the AWP — and his Astralis side.
Following a string of upsets and with FaZe also bowing out early after an 0-3 record in groups, Astralis were now favourites to retain their Major crown. Even more compelling was the possibility of a rematch against Virtus.pro, with both of the previous Major's finalists heavy favourites in their respective semi-finals.
But something was in the water in Krakow. Virtus.pro were eliminated by the then-ranked No. 10 team in the world, Immortals, while Astralis faltered against the 15th-placed Gambit. Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko and his squad were a solid outfit, with two DreamHack Open victories under their belt, but they were a different beast at the Major in Poland.
Handing Astralis a taste of their own medicine with some devastating popdog and A rushes on the deciding map of Train, Gambit stormed into the grand final and dispatched Immortals in three maps. Zeus, after all those second place finishes with Natus Vincere, had fulfilled his promise and got his Major.
As happened after ELEAGUE Atlanta, several of the top twenty opted to twist rather than stick after disappointment in Krakow. Cloud9 removed Mike "shroud" Grzesiek and Jordan "n0thing" Gilbert for William "RUSH" Wierzba and Tarik "tarik" Celik, MOUZ added Miikka "suNny" Kemppi and Martin "STYKO" Styk, while now Major-winner Zeus jumped ship from Gambit to return to Natus Vincere. Ninjas in Pyjamas removed another legendary figure, replacing Adam "friberg" Friberg with teenager Fredrik "REZ" Sterner
The biggest story, though, came from FaZe. Removing the solid-but-unspectacular Aleksi "allu" Jalli and Fabien "kioShiMa" Fiey, karrigan's squad went for broke by assembling a roster with four players that were their respective teams' superstars. Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács was acquired from Natus Vincere as the star AWPer, two-time player of the year Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer replacing kioShiMa as the team's support player, and with FaZe already housing NiKo — the third highest rated player of the year so far — and Håvard "rain" Nygaard, the new international superteam had name value like no team before it.
Instant success, however, was not guaranteed. They bombed out of DreamHack Malmö, leaving another superteam, the French one of G2, to claim the trophy. At ESL One New York, though, everything clicked into place. FaZe dropped just 11 rounds in their group-stage best-of-ones against Virtus.pro and Astralis before an aggregate 32-7 victory over Cloud9 in the semis. They then swept Liquid in the final with 16-3, 16-14, and 16-4 scorelines. NiKo finished on a 1.70 rating, with rain not far behind on a 1.61. It was one of the most dominant runs in CS:GO history, dropping an average of 5.5 rounds per map.
FaZe barely slowed down at the next Big Event, ELEAGUE Premier, where once again they lifted the trophy without dropping a single map. But there was an elephant in the room — the lack of a win against their rivals from the start of the year, SK. In the next event, with the more passive Ricardo "boltz" Prass replacing João "felps" Vasconcellos on SK, the best teams of the year up to that point met.
After dropping their first map for two events in a 2-1 win over Gambit, FaZe were manhandled by SK in a 1-2 series that featured a 16-2 victory for the Brazilians on Overpass; FaZe were not immortal after all. Such was their mortality, in fact, that they would exit EPICENTER in the group stage after losing to a resurgent Virtus.pro in the decider match. SK, meanwhile, marched their way past Astralis in the semi-finals before outlasting Virtus.pro in a marathon best-of-five with two overtimes in the grand final.
Next time out, at IEM Oakland, SK too showed signs of mortality. They bowed out in the semi-finals to Ninjas in Pyjamas, leaving FaZe as heavy favourites to win the title. Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg and company had other ideas, however, and with a heavy dose of the old NIP magic they defeated FaZe in the final to win what would be f0rest and Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund's last prestigious trophy together.
FaZe, unbelievable front-runners though they were, had shown they could be put on the back foot and they still had not defeated SK with their new lineup — something they hoped to change at a new style of event in November, the very first BLAST Pro Series in Copenhagen.
The event was marred by technical issues on day one but the fledgling tournament organiser still managed to have a memorable event — largely thanks to the heroics of Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen on the AWP while device was out for medical reasons.
In the round-robin best of one group stage, Astralis defeated both FaZe and SK, showing such good form that FaZe settled for third place despite finally besting SK in a straight-up fight. Astralis could not continue their miracle run in the final in front of the home crowd — they were silenced by the bad librarian, FalleN, whose SK side recovered from a map down to hoist their seventh trophy of the year.
Next up was the ESL Pro League Season 6 Finals grand final, where FaZe would once again face SK. Returning to series play SK once again asserted dominance over the Europeans with a 3-1 victory. FaZe then won the last event of the year, the ECS Finals in Cancun, but did so without playing SK — FalleN's squad had finished fifth in the online section of the league, losing out on round difference to Liquid and Luminosity.
It was a shame for SK, in a year where Marcelo "coldzera" David retained his top spot in the top 20 players of the year ranking and Fernando "fer" Alvarenga jumped from 14th to third, that they were not more dominant. Losses to Astralis at PGL Krakow, G2 at DH Malmö, and to Ninjas in Pyjamas at IEM Oakland meant they could still be reasonably unsatisfied by a year in which they won eight trophies. 2017 could have been an extension of SK's era, but roster lock issues, the role clash between felps and fer, and a drop-off online denied them the chance of an undisputably dominant year.
FaZe, too, had reason to be unhappy with a still-excellent year. They achieved more than any other international roster, assembling star-power from all over Europe to become some of the best front-runners the esport had seen. But, having lost their number one spot to SK, FaZe's dominance in New York and ELEAGUE Premier threatened to become irrelevant in the face of their lost finals to Ninjas in Pyjamas and SK.
Early on, there were fears that FaZe's superteam had broken Counter-Strike. But that was before the challenges of an international team set in; with as many superstars as FaZe had, culture clashes and communication issues were inevitable.
FaZe were soon presented with a golden opportunity to take first blood as roster lock rules meant that SK were forced to use felps, the player they cut for boltz, at the first Big Event of 2018: ELEAGUE Major Boston.
FaZe, with their kryptonite severely weakened, were under no illusions: They simply had to become the first international team to win a Major. Their legacy depended on it.