CSGO10: Astralis take over the world (2018)
The CS:GO landscape went through several drastic changes in 2018, both in the game itself and in its competitive scene. From the introduction of the Panorama update to the evolution into free-to-play and the addition of a Battle Royale mode, the game was a very different beast in December than it had been at the start of the year.
ESL also introduced the Intel Grand Slam to the competitive scene at the end of 2017, a $1,000,000 prize purse separate from regular tournament pools for teams that won four out of ten ESL and DreamHack events. The reward would be a hot topic throughout the year as both FaZe and Astralis competed for the jackpot.
The ELEAGUE Major in Boston also brought meaningful change by becoming the first of its kind to fold the Main Qualifier into the main event. The Challengers Stage, as it came to be known, meant all 24 teams would be immortalized in the game with the stickers that had previously been reserved for the top 16 squads. Later in the year Minor tournaments started to be held by the same tournament organizer in the same location as the Major itself to simplify logistics.
The new year started with a bang at ELEAGUE Major 2018, which opened up the season with a blockbuster tournament and the world's best gathered in the American cities of Atlanta and Boston to compete at one of the most important tournaments on the calendar. SK came into the event ranked in the No.1 position, but were required to compete with João "felps" Vasconcellos instead of Ricardo "boltz" Prass due to the Major cycle's roster rules.
Meanwhile, FaZe had business to settle after their disastrous last-place finish at the previous Valve-sponsored event in Krakow. Both teams comfortably made it to the playoffs, with their sights solely on the trophy. Cloud9, the Cinderella team, had a more difficult time and had to recover from an initial 0-2 record to make it to the next phase over the likes of Astralis and Vega Squadron.
The North Americans continued their miracle run in the playoffs, dispatching both G2 and SK on their way to the final against FaZe. In the last match of the event, Cloud9 recovered from a loss on Mirage to force the series into the decider on Inferno as Tyler "Skadoodle" Latham showed his best with the AWP.
Tarik "tarik" Celik's men came back from an 8-13 disadvantage on the CT side of Inferno as Jake "Stewie2K" Yip kept the superteam at bay with several clutch defenses of the B site, including a last-second hold as the sole defender on the B site in round 30 to force overtime. FaZe were out of ideas after two sets of extra time and Cloud9 took home one of the most iconic series in the game's history to claim North America's first and only Major trophy to date.
The scene was quickly enwrapped in the rostermania that follows every Major after the events in Boston. Virtus.pro replaced Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas with Michał "MICHU" Müller, breaking apart the longest-standing five-man lineup in the game's history at the time. In the Astralis camp Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye confirmed his decision to leave and join North. The 18-year-old's last-minute decision to move to local rivals left Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander and the entire scene "speechless."
Kjaerbye's replacement was Emil "Magisk" Reif, acquired from OpTic, and the new-look Astralis took a couple of events to hit their stride as the debut at ESL Pro League Season 7 Europe ended with a 6th place finish, while the following StarSeries i-League Season 4 only resulted in a 5-8th placement — gla1ve and company were knocked out by a resurgent Natus Vincere.
s1mple's scintillating performance powered his team all the way to the final, but it was ultimately not enough to push them over the finish line and MOUZ beat them to the title. The German organization formed an international roster comprising various European players with splendid firepower such as Miikka "suNny" Kemppi, Tomáš "oskar" Šťastný, and Robin "ropz" Kool. They were considered a dark horse at most of the events they attended between the spring and summer, but only managed to claim one other top finish at V4 Future Sports Festival before their lineup was altered.
While Natus Vincere and Astralis started to find their footing in Kiev, FaZe had their first stumble in what would be a slow decline, falling to the Ukrainians in the semi-final. After their exit from the tournament, the European superteam traveled to Poland to compete at IEM Katowice, still looking to claim their first trophy of the year and establish their supremacy on the scene.
Finn "karrigan" Andersen's squad only lost one match on their way to the final against fnatic, but remained the favorites to take the trophy after solid victories over Cloud9 and Astralis in the playoffs. The grand final was a five-map blockbuster that went the way of the Swedes thanks to a fantastic performance from Robin "flusha" Rönnquist, especially in the decider on Train. The black-and-orange then took another piece of silverware at WESG 2017 World Finals, bringing their total earnings in two weeks to more than $1,000,000.
The French dream team of G2 began to fall apart at that time after three months without reaching a semi-final. The squad went through changes and in classic French Counter-Strike fashion it came with its fair share of drama. Richard "shox" Papillon was benched in favor of Oscar "mixwell" Cañellas while Nathan "NBK-" Schmitt took the leadership reins of the squad. It quickly became public that there was a split between the newly appointed in-game leader and the previous one, with shox wanting to cut both NBK- and Dan "apEX" Madesclaire in order to bring back Edouard "SmithZz" Dubourdeaux and Kévin "Ex6TenZ" Droolans. G2 decided to follow the less drastic plan ahead of DreamHack Masters Marseille.
An organization that decided not to take a safe option was SK. The Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo-led core was known for its ruthless roster changes, firstly with Lincoln "fnx" Lau and later with felps. After three months without a trophy another cut was bound to come. In late March it was reported that the Brazilians were looking to replace long-time support player Epitacio "TACO" de Melo with Stewie2K and switch to English communication after the collapse of a deal aimed to bring Egor "flamie" Vasilyev and s1mple to the organization.
Similarly, things were not smooth in FaZe. Defeats at the last three international tournaments took a toll on the superteam, and by the time the tournament in the south of France rolled around, Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer was not part of the active lineup. The Swede took a lengthy leave of absence and would not come back for good until July. To fill the void in the short-term, the team brought over ex-Ninjas in Pyjamas IGL Richard "Xizt" Landström as a stand-in.
All of these storylines collided at DreamHack Masters Marseille, in what became a turning point in the year. Astralis officially took the crown away from FaZe as the Danes knocked them out in the quarter-finals on their way to take their first of 10 Big Event trophies that year.
The Danish utility usage throughout this event and the rest of the year caught the public's attention, as did Nicolai "device" Reedtz's performances which elevated Astralis to new heights. Magisk proved a fantastic signing, a perfect cog in the war machine with incredible anchoring skills and the ability to enter sites alongside Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen. The new arrival proved crucial in the team's victorious campaign in France as they managed to overcome Natus Vincere.
s1mple and company also hit their stride at DreamHack Masters Marseille where they started to cement their status as a contender for second-best team in the world. The Ukrainian star AWPer was firing on all cylinders — even taking the MVP award as runner-up — and his partnership with Denis "electroNic" Sharipov was deadly, but it was often not enough to drag the team through the finish line.
fnatic maintained their run of good placements, finishing in the semi-final behind Astralis while G2 bombed out of the event in the group stage. SK's new project also started off on the back foot as the South Americans left with only one win against Valiance in the first of many disappointing tournament placements during the legendary Brazilian core's decline.
The next big event was IEM Sydney and not much changed in the meantime as only a week had passed since the action at DreamHack Masters Marseille. SK left Australia in last place while Cloud9 continued to not live up to expectations and MOUZ remained too inconsistent to challenge at the very top. FaZe reinvented themselves down under and claimed a spot in the final despite a shaky start to the group stage. karrigan's men played a fantastic BO5, edging past Astralis in the closest 3-0 sweep of the year to finally claim their first trophy of 2018 despite playing with a stand-in.
It did not take long for the Danes to recover as they lifted the trophy from EPL Season 7 finals, adding their second notch in the Intel Grand Slam belt. After that came StarSeries i-League Season 5, which ended with s1mple receiving his first piece of silverware of the year alongside a much-earned MVP medal. Less than a week later, teams gathered again for ECS Season 5 Finals which resulted in the third tournament victory for Astralis and device's first MVP medal since ECS Season 2 in 2016.
On the eve of the summer season came ESL One Belo Horizonte, and without Astralis in the mix and FaZe playing with Jorgen "cromen" Robertsen as a new stand-in, the field was open for a team like MOUZ or SK to have their breakout performance. Instead, Nikola "NiKo" Kovač and company once again came out victorious without their full squad, beating Chris "chrisJ" de Jong's men in the final.
The summer came and with it ESL One Cologne got underway. G2 arrived to the premier event under shox's direction as both NBK- and apEX were replaced by Ex6TenZ and SmithZz in a complete reversal of the previous roster change. MOUZ had replaced Martin "STYKO" Styk with Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski, a transfer that was reported to have costed close to $300,000, and fnatic returned to the Cathedral of Counter-Strike with William "draken" Sundin and Xizt instead of Maikil "Golden" Selim and Jonas "Lekr0" Olofsson.
FaZe, Natus Vincere, and Astralis all made it into the semi-finals as expected. To round up the top-four was Fatih "gob b" Dayik and his crew, who recovered from and early collapse against fnatic by beating Renegades and MIBR for the right to play in front of their home crowd. The Germans thrived in the LANXESS Arena against G2 and FaZe, knocking both out of the tournament to secure a spot in the final. That was only the second upset of the day as Natus Vincere took down Astralis in spectacular fashion with Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko dropping 31 frags on Inferno to bring the series home.
The scene converged again less than three weeks later for the $1,000,000 ELEAGUE CS:GO Premier. The big news coming into this event was the official and definitive return of olofmeister to FaZe after four months of inactivity, although the return of the Swede did not result in an immediate boost in performance — quite the opposite, in fact. They crashed out of the event in joint-last place while MIBR's new lineup with tarik also failed to leave a mark. Astralis lifted the trophy, defeating Liquid for the third time in a grand final that year. The rivalry between the two squads only grew as the months went on and became one of the main storylines going into 2019.
ELEAGUE Premier gave way to the tournament break, a much-needed interval after such a hectic competitive schedule in the first half of the year. DreamHack Masters Stockholm broke the silence in late August and fans were treated to some of the most chaotic, yet entertaining Counter-Strike of the year as North made it all the way to the title after defeating Astralis twice along the way. Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen was the primary AWPer at the tournament, and his performance in the final earned him his first and last MVP medal to date.
Following the shock at DreamHack Masters Stockholm, it was time for the second Major of the year. FACEIT, the company behind ECS, was awarded their first ever Major to be held in London, giving the United Kingdom their first ever Valve-sponsored event.
The tournament in England hosted the return of Ninjas in Pyjamas to the top after missing out on the previous two Major cycles. The Swedish squad finally broke through the online qualifiers and made their way through the Europe Minor to reach the Challengers Stage. They cruised along the first round of groups and secured their spot at the next Major, even taking a victory against Astralis. While the Ninjas celebrated their return to the Legends Stage, historic rivals fnatic declined as they failed to reach the playoffs of a Major for the first time in their history. The squad in black-and-orange have not yet returned to the second phase of a Major since.
Natus Vincere started off in the Legends Stage and made their way to the knockout stage of the Major with only one map loss. FaZe, on the other hand, were seriously struggling to compete in London and dropped to the 0-2 pool before NiKo took over in-game leadership from karrigan. The change injected new life into the European team and they clinched a 3-2 promotion to the next phase. Astralis cruised through the playoffs, defeating both FaZe and Liquid before blowing Natus Vincere out of the water in the grand final. s1mple displayed his lowest match rating of the whole event as the Danes went on to lift the trophy in front of the British crowd, the cherry on top after months of excellence.
ESL One New York was a chance for teams to claim a trophy without having Astralis around to spoil their party. Liquid came in as the favorites and cruised to the final against MOUZ without dropping a map. The North Americans failed to close a 2-1 lead before collapsing on Mirage, the last map of the series, where chrisJ put forth a highlight of the year with his iconic AWP ace on the A site retake in a play that crushed Liquid's attempted comeback and secured championship point for MOUZ.
After months spent on G2's bench, NBK- and apEX were finally acquired by a new organization to the CS:GO scene as Vitality put together a roster comprising of the two veterans as well as big names of the French scene in Vincent "Happy" Schopenhauer and Cédric "RpK" Guipouy. The team also took a chance on a young and exciting prospect by the name of Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut, and with him lifted the trophy at thee smaller DreamHack Open Atlanta.
The later months would only serve to cement Astralis's status as the best team in the world and start to crystalize this period of dominance into an era. Following the Major, the Danes went on to conquer five of the remaining nine big events in 2018, including the likes of BLAST Pro Series Istanbul and Lisbon, as well as the ECS Season 6 Finals.
device wrote his name in the history books at the FACEIT event, claiming his eleventh MVP medal to break the record of most individual awards earnt by a player, previously held by Kenny "kennyS" Schrub and Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund. The Danish marksman eventually extended that number to 19 medals in the following years and maintained the record until June 2022 when s1mple overtook him. The jewels in the seasonal crown were certainly IEM Chicago and ESL Pro League Season 8 Finals, the last two events Astralis needed to win the first edition of the Intel Grand Slam and take home $1,000,000, which they did.
Competition died down going into the winter break and December was a period of change, not only for the teams restructuring their rosters during the off-season, but for the game itself. The most important of which came with a patch making CS:GO free-to-play and massively extending its potential player base, while also introducing the game's own Battle Royale mode called Danger Zone.
Virtus.pro temporarily ceased competitive operations in Counter-Strike, looking to rebuild around new players, and of the legendary Polish lineup that captured the fans' imagination in previous years only Snax made an immediate comeback after being reacquired by MOUZ.
Teams scrambled to make changes during the off-season ahead of the IEM Katowice Major that was already rearing on the horizon. Their aim was to overthrow Astralis. MIBR and Liquid traded Stewie2K for TACO and Wilton "zews" Prado and the North American organization also brought back Eric "adreN" Hoag as the team's coach in a change that would prove a success for the Americans by mid-2019.
karrigan was moved to the bench in the FaZe camp following a disappointing year. The then-28-year-old was forced out of the team he joined two years prior, winning seven big tournaments along the way, six of which them under his leadership. Early on in the year it appeared the international squad had every tool necessary to run away in the competitive scene, but olofmeister stepping aside and the rise of Astralis crushed their dreams of an era.
The Cloud9 team that brought North America to new heights with a Major victory was unrecognizable after several changes throughout the year. Disappointing results and the departures of tarik and Stewie2K to MIBR led the organization to sign several players throughout 2018 that did not spend much time with the squad, only William "RUSH" Wierzba and Timothy "autimatic" Ta remained of the Major-winning five going into the new year.