CSGO10: The rise of Brazilian Counter-Strike (2016)
A jam-packed year of events saw Brazil take home back-to-back Majors, the creation of ELEAGUE and CS:GO on television, and much more.
As a new year was ushered in, so too were a number of changes to the CS:GO landscape as the game began to seriously pick up steam, gaining in both player base and interest in its esports scene. Prize money burgeoned with ESL announcing that Pro League would increase its pay out by $500,000 to $1.5 million, and DreamHack revealing that they would host two $250,000 events during the year, dubbed "DreamHack Masters", with the first one taking place in Malmö, Sweden.
Both organizers were making a concerted effort to compete against Turner and WMG | IME's ELEAGUE ahead of its debut season, with the televised tournament boasting a mind-boggling prize fund of $2.5 million over the course of the year. Valve also kept up with the growing money on offer, quadrupling the pay out from the Major to a mammoth $1,000,000.
Blooming interest in the competitive scene — thanks in part to the notoriety of Turner creating ELEAGUE, but also through organically growing viewership — led to slew of notable organizations pick up rosters, including NRG, Gambit, Echo Fox, and FaZe. The former TSM members also formed Astralis and added Danny "zonic" Sørensen as coach — a historic moment as the organization was one of the first to have shares owned by the players — and transparency was attempted as Nicolai "device" Reedtz and Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth both spoke publicly about offers they had received and what their salaries would be for 2016.
fnatic extend winning streak to six
Two key signings would also go on to have a substantial impact in the coming months and years, one being Ninjas in Pyjamas's signing of Björn "THREAT" Pers as coach, and another with Cloud9 adding Jake "Stewie2K" Yip. Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev also made a surprise move to Liquid, heading over the water as the North American side made an effort to tame the Ukrainian superstar's hot temperament after he had a tumultuous 2015. None of those teams would attend the first big international LAN of the year though, where a Dennis "dennis" Edman-powered fnatic remained in top shape as they took home the crown. The Swedish side had been on a streak of three LAN victories coming into the start of the season and managed to make it four, narrowly beating Luminosity in the semi-finals before easing past Natus Vincere to win the StarLadder i-League StarSeries XIV Finals.
Simultaneously, the regional Minors for MLG Major Columbus played out as teams booked spots in the Main Qualifier, and to cap off the month, Natus Vincere took home a title of their own, winning DreamHack Leipzig over a Luminosity who were truly hitting their stride, voraciously fighting for trophy contention on their own. Championships wouldn't come to Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo's men quite yet however as fnatic extended their streak of consecutive tournament wins to six, winning ESL Expo Barcelona and IEM Katowice 2016, denying Luminosity the win in a 3-0 grand final in Poland.
The Brazilian reign of terror begins
It was at the end of March that the Brazilian side finally broke their streak and surged to victory, winning one of the most important tournaments of the year. As the first CS:GO Major in North America and the first to boast Valve's upgraded prize pool of $1,000,000, MLG Major Columbus was able to deliver on all accounts: it featured a heroic run from a s1mple-powered Liquid on home soil, a team who finally broke their streak of group stage exits at Majors and made it to the semi-finals only to end up encountering a Luminosity that had the indomitable pairing of Marcelo "coldzera" David and FalleN in top form.
Even so, the North American team had LG up against the ropes in the series, leading 15-9 on Mirage and 15-6 on Cache; however, an enormously lucky and game-changing jumping double AWP kill from coldzera went down in the history books and kicked off a comeback on the former map, while on the latter Liquid crumbled entirely as the Brazilian team's grit and tenacity saw them overcome the odds and claw back to win in overtime, pulling off a series victory in two maps. The grand final, conversely, had much less to write home about, with Natus Vincere pushing Luminosity to the limit on Mirage before the FalleN-led side won in overtime and then demolished on Overpass to become the first non-European team to lift a Major trophy.
As play moved into April, Luminosity briefly faltered, the first big tournament after the Major at DreamHack Masters Malmö seeing them exit in 9-12th place following a shock loss to TYLOO. The Asian team surprised opponents at the event with their stylistic differences on some maps, including their passive approach to defending on Cobblestone, but it wasn't something that could help carry them through the playoffs. Instead, it was Ninjas in Pyjamas who reigned supreme, breaking a nearly two-year long trophy drought and winning their first big title since ESL One Cologne 2014. The Swedes had been struggling to compete against the growing tactical prowess of other squads across the scene, but the addition of THREAT was already bearing fruit, helped by the fact that coaches could still talk at all times during the match.
The month also saw FACEIT announce the creation of the $3.5 million Esports Championship Series, their own league in partnership with Twitch that would look to compete with ESL Pro League and offer teams co-ownership and a share of the league's revenue. The competitive map pool also saw a change as a reworked version of Nuke, which had arrived in the reserves pool in February, was moved into the active rotation, replacing Inferno. s1mple also announced he would depart Liquid, and FaZe made their first roster change since picking up their new roster, replacing Mikail "Maikelele" Bill with Fabien "kioShiMa" Fiey. Most importantly though, Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer took a temporary leave of absence from fnatic due to a wrist injury, and remained sidelined until June, returning for the team's ELEAGUE group.
Luminosity took charge from there, bouncing back from their defeat in Sweden as they added two trophies to their cabinet with wins at DreamHack Austin and ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals. The former proved a relatively easy event for the Brazilian side, while the latter required FalleN's side to recover from a loss in their group stage opener by beating Astralis, OpTic, and Ninjas in Pyjamas en route to the grand final. There, it took all five maps for LG to overcome a resilient G2, an Inferno decider going into overtime before the Brazilian side came out on top, thanks in part to a 125-84 K-D and stellar individual form from coldzera.
ELEAGUE begins, Luminosity complete transfer to SK
The end of May brought about the start of ELEAGUE, which dramatically raised the bar for a CS:GO tournament in both broadcast and player hospitality. The 24-team competition would continue to play out over the next two months, utilizing a round-robin group stage at first, and it was one where Luminosity remained a dominant force as they had flawless showing in Group A. While teams took part in the first stage of the league, two other tournaments took place, with G2 claiming revenge over LG in the inaugural ECS Finals while another Brazilian team, featuring João "felps" Vasconcellos and Teles twins Henrique "HEN1" Teles and Lucas "LUCAS1" Teles took home a title of their own at DreamHack Open Summer.
Meanwhile, further changes were introduced to the game by Valve as they began an overhaul of the weapon sounds in the game, improving the fidelity and overall quality in a change that was implemented over the course of the remainder of the year. The ESL One Cologne Major Main Qualifier also played out, with Renegades' elimination bringing an end to in-game leader Chad "SPUNJ" Burchill's playing career as he chose to hang up his mouse.
A blockbuster transfer also unfolded just ahead of ESL One Cologne — after a controversial dispute that began in May between the SK and Luminosity organizations came to an amicable resolution, the entirety of Luminosity's lineup was transferred to the German organization. The timing of the transfer, taking place mid-way through the ELEAGUE season, resulted in another controversy as both teams were disqualified from the competition by the league commissioner, leaving the best team in the world ineligible to fight for the Season 1 title.
FalleN's men go back-to-back
The start of July saw ESL One Cologne play out, in which coldzera remained a stalwart presence for his side; a Brazilian Terminator. The ever-consistent rifler was an immovable object and stellar multi-fragger for SK in their tournament run, which saw them ease past G2 and FaZe in the group stage before moving past FlipSid3, Virtus.pro, and Liquid in the playoffs en route to taking home the trophy. Although Liquid were not competitive in the grand final, they achieved their best run in a Major to date by beating Natus Vincere and fnatic in the bracket stage thanks in part to s1mple, who returned as a temporary stand-in and was immortalized with a graffiti when he dropped from heaven on Cache to win a 1vs2 clutch against the Swedish team.
Big news from the SK camp followed not long after the Major, with coach Wilton "zews" Prado departing the lineup in a bid to once again compete as a player by joining Immortals. Unable to take part in the playoffs of ELEAGUE, the Brazilian team were left looking on from the sidelines as Virtus.pro took the crown instead, beating fnatic after first moving past Ninjas in Pyjamas and MOUZ. The first true tournament break then got underway, but not before Valve sent out a cease and desist letter to skin betting platforms, spelling the beginning of the end for markets like CSGOLounge and OPSkins.
Valve cracks down on coaches in-game leading amid roster changes; PEA announced
Teams began to explore changes once the off-season commenced. Fernando "fer" Alvarenga took a temporary two-month leave from SK as he needed a surgery, while FaZe made a second change to their lineup, adding Aleksi "allu" Jalli in place of Ricardo "fox" Pacheco. Cloud9 modified their roster too, swapping in-game leader Alec "Slemmy" White for Timothy "autimatic" Ta, and another Danish team founded their own organization, bringing about the arrival of Heroic. In September, OpTic went on to swap in-game leaders, adding Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz in place of Damian "daps" Steele in a change that would bear fruit by the end of the season.
Natus Vincere also secured the signing of s1mple to replace veteran in-game leader Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko. The Ukrainian organization intended to have coach Sergey "starix" Ischuk be the caller while stacking firepower on their lineup much like other teams had been doing throughout the year, but that project was swiftly cut down in its infancy as Valve announced they would limit the abilities of coaches, allowing them to only talk during tactical timeouts. ESL wasted little time in implementing the change for their events, leaving NAVI without a true captain at their helm in-game, and other organizers followed suit in the following months. Valve also revealed that the next Major would not take place until January, and that only two Majors would take place in each year that followed.
The Professional Esports Association was also announced, an attempt by a number of North American organizations to create their own exclusive league but one that ultimately failed as by December, players from almost every team that were signed up protested via an open letter, and the league drowned under community scorn.
Packed end to the year
Tournament play resumed in earnest as September got underway, with Immortals winning Northern Arena Toronto to kick off the season. When top tier competition returned, a second trophy went the way of Ninjas in Pyjamas, who won the SL i-League StarSeries Season 2 Finals over G2, and just one week later Virtus.pro took home a title of their own, emerging victorious at DreamHack Open Bucharest with wins over Gambit, Heroic, Dignitas, and Cloud9.
SK were finally looking mortal as they faltered in EPICENTER and ESL One New York the following month, although they still managed deep placements in the tournaments and maintained a dominant streak of wins on Train. The loss at EPICENTER hurt even more as it helped Virtus.pro to usurp FalleN's side from the top spot in the world rankings, but it was one they quickly got back thanks to their consistent performances at events, managing a runner-up finish to Cloud9 at the ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals in São Paulo and passing through the group stage of ELEAGUE Season 2.
Changes to rosters also continued as Finn "karrigan" Andersen was benched from Astralis to make way for Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander, joining FaZe in turn, while Gambit added Zeus and Abay "HObbit" Khassenov in a change that almost immediately bore fruit. The CIS side went on to win DreamHack Winter in November, while Ninjas in Pyjamas won their third and final title of the year at IEM Oakland over SK.
As the year neared its end, the final string of big tournaments took place: OpTic took home the ELEAGUE Season 2 title over Astralis, but the gla1ve-led side managed to claim revenge over the North American upstarts at the ECS Season 2 Finals in dominant fashion, cruising through the event in a foreshadowing of what was to come in the following years. Teams also took part in the Major main qualifier ahead of the ELEAGUE Atlanta Major, which would kick off after the break as the first big tournament in January.
coldzera and FalleN were named the best and second best players of the year by HLTV.org, with two other SK members also making the top 20 list. Despite enjoying a successful 2016 though, the Brazilian team were set to face a stiff challenge in the new year with an Astralis that were on the rise after adding gla1ve — and competition only got more fierce as the calendar flipped to 2017.