It’s safe to say no one could have predicted the way Group B shook out at the BLAST Premier Spring Series, and many of our previous expectations about the state of the circuit have been questioned as we get into the 2020 calendar in earnest. With all four teams putting on a show and memorable performances – for one reason or another – and BLAST themselves righting many wrongs, we emerged from the weekend with plenty to talk about. Here’s what caught our attention:
We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Astralis taking some time off – though this time they weren’t the only ones – and not living up to expectations. With the whole BLASTralis meme doing the rounds last year, it must have been satisfying for some to see the Danes struggle on “home soil”. However, the idea that gla1ve’s men are slow starters is a bit of a myth when you dig into the numbers – both in terms of individual events and on the circuit as a whole.
Astralis only lost their opening match at two out of twenty events in the entirety of 2019 – BLAST Pro Series Copenhagen against FaZe Clan and the memorable ECS Season 7 Finals against FURIA. In 2018, it’s one out of 21: the ELEAGUE Boston Major best-of-one opener against mousesports.
How about long breaks? Again, the narrative doesn’t hold up. Before this event, the Danes played six LANs since the beginning of 2018 where they had at least twenty days off since their previous competitive outing – and won five of their opening matches. Not only that, but they outright won two of the events in question (the Berlin Major and Katowice Majors) and finished as runners-up twice (DreamHack Masters Stockholm and iBUYPOWER Masters 2019). The only two disappointing results came at the aforementioned ECS Season 7 Finals and a 4th place at BLAST Pro Series Miami.
Consider this: last year’s iBUYPOWER Masters was the curtain-raiser for Astralis, the same way as this event was for 2020. They won all their games before the grand finals. Their opponents in that opener? Complexity. It’s a small world.
Ring rust is a real thing and Astralis taking long times off will not help them maintain their performances. Let’s not forget though that their mid-2019 struggles were due to the fact that they weren’t competing in top-tier events while their direct challengers were, and that they were widely praised in 2018 for being selective about which events they attend. The data simply doesn’t bear out the popular storyline that they are slow starters, which makes their losses here all the more remarkable.
Speaking of remarkable storylines, how about the world’s #1 and #2 players propping up their respective teams on the AWP in remarkable fashion? Both sides are still going through the motions as a consequence of their roster change – in Na’Vi’s case, it seems like it took two attempts to get it right –, and though the highlight-worthy performances were there from these individuals, their teams’ overall placing ultimately still seems to depend on whether the supporting cast turns up on any given day. It’s been the same story with Natus Vincere for a very long time now, and the long-term K/D stats on Vitality match this quite well. No individual brilliance can make up for teamplay in a way that it wins championships, and right now it doesn’t seem like there’s a straightforward path for either teams to overhaul the current top five, no matter the brilliance of s1mple and ZywOo if the other eight fail to step up to the plate.
Well, well, well. Jason Lake’s tweet may have been the meme heard around the world, but Complexiti could be on to something here. No one can deny the quality on display in London, but ALEX’s salty post-match remarks struck at the heart of the matter. Is this a one-off or something more? Recall that FURIA’s explosive playstyle ceased to be as effective as soon as their opposition got a handle on their aggressive approach – and as for the long-term impact of strong individual plays, might I suggest the previous segment of this article? Still, no matter how long they can keep it up, this was a joy to watch, and their 10 000 IQ play with Vertigo in the ban against Astralis deserves a standing ovation from anyone interested in the tactical side of things.
With all the shitshow surrounding ESL and FLASHPOINT, who would have expected BLAST to put up the best show in town when it comes to leagues in CS? Gone are the pointless best-of-ones and the simultaneous matches, the problematic round robin setup and the short-termism of it all. If any soft exclusivity-related concerns are brought up nowadays, it’s ESL who are looked at as the black sheep of the flock. The broadcast is also a joy to watch, with top-tier talent, great supplementary content, wonderful sound design and a toned-down version of their old UI which works a lot better than their previous iteration. BLAST Moscow this ain’t.
That said, these weren’t the only changes they made: notably, their previous emphasis on large live crowds has gone up in smoke. Remember the much-maligned “furniture store” event in LA? Their inability to sell out the University of Southern California’s Galen Center and moving to the much smaller HD Buttercup Building pulverized most of their arguments about putting up an inferior esports product in order to cater to the casual live audience – and changes soon followed. Here’s what Nicolas Estrup, BLAST’s director of product and experience, said at the time:
"It came from a desire we’ve had for a long time, to do something as immersive, intimate and inclusive as this, but we hadn’t figured out when would be a good time to try it out. When looking at how we sold out São Paulo in a matter of hours, we could see that we didn’t get the same level of ticket engagement on a broad scale. Instead, we primarily had ticket sales focused on the most expensive BLAST Zone tickets.
That to us meant that we now had the opportunity to tweak the experience for the better, with the focus being on that ticket group but opening up a bit wider to let more people in to this more inclusive and intimate show."
Well, they clearly did. They also dropped the Pro Series brand altogether!
Basically, what seems to have happened here is that the suits at BLAST finally realized it wasn’t everyone else going the wrong way on the highway when it comes to organizing CS events, and the spectacular failure of their North American event (plus perhaps some impact of the leadership changes on the top, plus the community backlash) led to the revamped format. Do you remember how late they teased the BLAST Premier? The first official mention was on September 14, seven weeks before the Global Finals. To me, that signals a fairly sudden shift in direction. The product is all the better for it, but let’s not pretend they did it out of the goodness of their heart.
Photo credit: HLTV