It’s safe to say not even the biggest Heroic fan would have predicted them to win ESL One Cologne’s European bracket, and their run has to be considered one of the greatest upsets in modern Counter-Strike history. How does it stack up against the era-defining surprises of the past? Take a trip down memory lane with us and enjoy a few legendary CS:GO clips with all the crowd noise we wish we could have right now!
“holy fuck the chip spam worked” – this was the highest-rated Reddit comment after an incredible performance by the Ninjas, still featuring all but one of the legendary core on what was perhaps their last great adventure. It was one of the most improbable of title defenses as they topped Group A featuring SK and Astralis, beating the Brazilians 2-1 before setting up the grand final matchup with the still indomitable karrigan-led FaZe Clan side. It was their first title since the previous year’s Oakland event, and even though the international team crushed the Swedes on their own map picks (16-7 on Inferno and Overpass), losing on Cobble and Train set up Cache as a decider where Xizt turned back the clock with an incredible individual performance, as his team clinched multiple eco rounds to crawl to the title.
Even though it’s only been three and a half years since then, most of the players involved in this monster match are way past the point of competing on a stage of similar stature. With mousesports out of the top ten and the Dignitas core sinking far below the sightlines, only NiKo and rain remain near the top from this ten. Are you feeling old yet?
For a team that lost to Movistar Riders in the qualifiers of the Europe Minor qualifiers just as we were entering into the online era (not to mention their joint-last finish in ESL Pro League Season 11, albeit with a 2-3 score and on tiebreakers), rising to the top of the pile was nothing short of sensational, especially once you consider what followed after. Pulling off the ultimate comeback against a surging G2 in the grand final of DreamHack Masters Spring 2020 turned out to be a mere sign of things to come.
Still, the BIG core already has some decent pedigree thanks to deep Major runs in the past, and at the time you could still argue that the online results shouldn’t be taken so seriously, which means tabseN and co. can’t quite push past some of the other candidates on this list.
It was August 2018, just as the teams emerged from the dark wilderness of the player break. With the Major looming large, the stacked field in Stockholm seemed like a harbinger of things to come. Instead, it brought surprise after surprise: group stage eliminations for fnatic and NRG, defeats to FaZe Clan and Na’Vi in the quarter-finals, then the rest of the madness.
North actually topped their group ahead of Astralis, winning 2-1 thanks to an overtime win on Mirage despite a huge comeback masterminded by gla1ve. They then demolished Na’vi with a 16-3 Train and a 16-9 Inferno, but it was perhaps their win over mousesports which highlighted their newfound resilience the most: despite a 16-0 loss on Dust 2 to open the series, they clawed their way back with a 16-14 win on Inferno, securing their spot in the grand final with a 16-12 Mirage game.
There’s no better way to put it: they demolished Astralis on Dust 2 the very next day, winning 16-1, and even though they lost their own map pick of Train 16-6, they still had the fortitude to close out the series on Overpass with ten out of twelve T rounds in the second half. Watching from home, it felt like entering a mirror universe.
Of course, we all remember what came next: Astralis dominated the FACEIT London Major immediately thereafter as North crashed out the New Challengers Stage due to losses against HellRaisers, Team Spirit and Vega Squadron. They have not made it to the final of an S-Tier event since then.
Perhaps this choice is controversial. Wasn’t North America’s only Major title one of the biggest upsets in CS:GO history? Well, yes, which is why it makes top three on our list. However, what most of us don’t recall anymore is that even though Cloud9 (and NA teams in general) had a horrible record at the Majors, the Skadoodle/RUSH/Tarik/automatic/Stewie2K quintet was ranked fifth in the world, ahead of fnatic and G2. They made it to the semis of the aforementioned IEM Oakland event shortly before they went to Boston, and had quite a few other deep runs on their resumé in 2017, which means that as incredible as their accomplishment was, Heroic’s run was even more out of the blue than FaZe Clan’s most painful defeat.
Still, there’s always that Inferno B hold to savor.
It’s remarkable how quick the rise of this Heroic roster was. This is only the fourth tournament they competed in with this particular lineup, and they only survived the group stage thanks to a head-to-head win against the basement dwellers of North, losing to Team Vitality in the first playoff round soon thereafter. Just as BIG scored their first big win, they finished 9-12th. This placed them in 24th on the HLTV rankings at the time.
What came since then was nothing short of spectacular, with a fourth-placed finish at cs_summit 6 followed by a silver medal at DreamHack Open Summer 2020’s European bracket, with two losses to BIG over the course of the event. And now? The five plucky Danish heroes slayed each and every dragon in their path, and even if HUNDEN fell by the wayside, their dominant run through the playoff makes them the team to watch going forward in the online era.
And yet, there’s nothing more incredible – or depending on your point of view, a bigger fluke – in CS:GO tournament history than Gambit’s Major win in Poland, a team stuck in fifteenth place on the HLTV rankings at the time that also lost “every online match and practice” during the run-up to the set-piece event. It’s no wonder the two Majors with the most unexpected winners featured the most variance due to a best-of-one unseeded Swiss group bracket: Gambit earned their spot in the playoffs thanks to a 16-10 win over a mousesports side still featuring lowel, an impressive 16-6 against G2 and a 16-11 win over a VP side on the tail end of their glistening careers. They followed this up with a straightforward 2-0 against the recently reassembled legendary fnatic lineup which was still shaking off the effects of its recent GODSENT-infusion (only to be torn apart by FaZe swooping in for olof), following up with the series of the tournament in their close-fought 2-1 win over Astralis. The final against the rookies of Immortals felt like an undercard battle of lightweights, though it did have its fair share of legendary moments.
Boom. Sour grapes or not, zeus’ redemption arc and fulfilled promise remains one of the most appealing storylines of CS:GO history, and a historic upset we won’t see topped anytime soon.
Photo credit: HLTV