By the time the StarLadder major in Berlin rolls around in September, Astralis would have attended only four big international LANs over nine months: IEM Katowice, ECS S7 Finals, EPL S9 Finals, and ESL One Cologne 2019. They would, having been in São Paulo, Miami, and Madrid though, attended three BLAST events over a much shorter three-month period.
This is an unprecedented low-volume workload for the best CS:GO team in the world.
As fans, we’ve been spoiled with the status quo of dogged top-tier competition for a long time. We’re used to watching the top two to three teams in the world duke it out in intense international combat fortnight-to-fortnight. SK Gaming and Fnatic built their respective cases as best teams in the world on the back of a consistent pattern of dominance paired with an intense schedule.
These historically great teams would go LAN to LAN and walk away with trophy after trophy. SK racked up three titles in the three weeks alone leading up to the Krakow major in 2017. Fnatic played nine big international LANs in a little over three months in the lead-up to ESL One Cologne 2015 – which they ended up winning.
There’s been no time when a team as good as Astralis has played so little. But at the same time, there’s never been a team as good as Astralis.
Their success as a team is clearly built upon their intensive preparation and carefully planned schedule. It also helps that our perception of their success is limited to the events which they attend. So by limiting the amount of times we get to see them, an increased weight is put on each performance. Given that they have a habit of winning every event they attend, this creates the perfect environment to establish an era.
But this dynamic can easily go the other way. Right now, their choice to hand-pick tournaments they want to attend looks like a genius move because they win the events they pick. In the future though, this mightn’t be the case. That increased weight that comes with every event they win applies more so to every event they lose. They have everything to lose, in this sense; live and die by the sword.
As we saw at BLAST Miami, they are definitely capable of losing a string of best-of-ones – especially as the year goes on and teams like MIBR, FaZe and Liquid start getting their act together. Sprinkle a couple of series losses early in the playoffs at an event like ESL One Cologne in the mix and a recipe for a collapsing era quickly begins to brew.
Unfortunately for them, Na`Vi seem to be mirroring their approach, as they will skip Dreamhack Masters Dallas, IEM Sydney and the ECS Finals. Their main competitor won’t be trying to slaughter their way through crowds of contenders to maintain form - as has failed in the past. Instead, they will be stalking, taking their time, and looking to meet Astralis fully prepared and when it matters most.
So while Astralis rose in a fashion we’ve never seen before, and has maintained their spot in their own unique way, one can imagine that their fall from grace will be similarly ground-breaking. With more weight being put on each event due to the lessening amount that have the Danes and Na`Vi in attendance, the door is being opened for the rest of the top ten to develop their game. Sides like ENCE, Renegades, Fnatic and NRG are now afforded a deeper chance into tournaments with less of an overbearing pressure being exerted by the best and second best teams in the world. They’ll have more opportunities to play more evenly matched opposition and, as such, will evolve their game faster than it has historically.
The method of skipping events has worked for Astralis so far, but it’s not without its downsides. While it allows them more time to rest, it gives others more chance to improve and evolve. It also makes each potential loss that more devastating as there are fewer reference points to justify it away.
They revolutionized this approach and showed us why it’s great. In this sense, they will go down in history as pioneers. But there may come a time where the downsides of skipping maybe too many events becomes apparent. And in this sense, as time goes on, they may be remembered more as a warning than anything else.