It’s safe to say no one expected this level of dominance from Astralis after hitting the top spot on the 23rd of April last year, fresh off the back of their impressive win at DreamHack Masters Marseille 2018. At that time, they were still recovering from their shockingly poor showing at the ELEAGUE Major – having only played three LAN events since then and unexpected losing Kjaerbye to North in what must seem like the worst decision from a CS:GO pro player since. To put it all in context, Fnatic were #2 at the time after winning IEM Katowice and WESG, FaZe were trying to make things work with karrigan and Xizt in #3 and tarik was still on Cloud9. A lot has changed since then, but the Danes’ supremacy remained an unnerving constant. They’ve been on top so long that their first tournament win as #1 no longer even shows up as a factor in their HLTV rankings.
It may be tough to imagine for those of us who entered the CS:GO world over the last twelve months, but there were legitimate arguments about how we would never again see an “era” in the game. Professionals are pouring in, there’s too much money, way more teams to fight for the top spot and more challengers than ever. Since SK’s regression, no one was able to fill the void, and it seemed like a void it would remain. Then Astralis shattered every perception of what’s possible in Counter-Strike, both in and out of the server.
It’s easy to forget how dominant that first win at Marseille was. They didn’t drop a single map in the playoffs, crushing FaZe, fnatic (remember, fresh off two tournament wins) and Na’Vi, keeping each of them to a single-digit score on one of the maps. It was clear their ceiling way beyond anyone else’s: the only question was how long they can sustain it. Brief outliers from mousesports and the Swedes didn’t make it seem particularly likely that this would be what kickstarts a new era. Question marks remained after their defeat to FaZe at Sydney in a grand final that defies description: the Danes may have lost 3-0 but the first two maps went to overtime and they’ve lost Train 16-14. It would turn out to be the last time they’d remain in FaZe’s sight.
Two crushing victories followed at the ESL Pro League Season 8 finals and the ECS Season 5 finals, swiftly establishing Liquid as the perennial runners-up before we were denied the big FaZe-Astralis tussle at Cologne by Na’Vi, throwing the Intel Grand Slam into chaos. The marked downturn of karrigan’s side truly began here as they bombed out in last place at ELEAGUE’s CS:GO Premier event at the end of July where Astralis would once again crush the competition, predictably facing Liquid in the final once again. There was no question about their strength heading into the player break.
DreamHack Masters Malmö still remains hard to explain. Yes, Astralis finished second, but it’s inexplicable how they lost to North in two different best-of-three series in the same event. It was an inspired performance by their domestic rivals who also dispatched Na’Vi and mousesports in the playoffs, coming back from a 16-0 defeat on the first map of the semis. They would, of course, fail to make it past the FACEIT Major’s qualifier stage while Astralis ended up winning the whole thing in dominant fashion, once again crushing all their rivals in the playoffs.
This is where the whole BLAST Pro thing starts to muddy the picture: half of their next ten LAN events were played in this circuit, winning three out of five. It brings a sour taste to otherwise excellent performances at IEM Chicago and successful title defenses at ESL Pro League and ECS as well. No one will object to the second-place finish at the mess that was iBUYPOWER Masters at the turn of the year. However, it’s likely that analysts in the future will draw a clear line of Astralis’ pure domination in 2018, following it up with dreams about what could have been in the next year if they were willing to expose themselves a bit more. The Danes won’t be playing a non-BLAST LAN event (excluding the Pro League group stages) for months. No matter how well they’ll continue to perform, their second year atop the rankings is seemingly destined to feel like the straight-to-video sequel to a beloved blockbuster movie.