You’d be forgiven for thinking thoughts along these lines after witnessing the massacre in Katowice. Though this year’s IEM World Championship event has turned out to be an odd beast in more ways than one, the eerily quiet Spodek echoing all the kills and the screams, it’s tough to shake the feeling that what we’ve witnessed on the servers could become the new norm going forward.
Can you imagine what would have gone through s1mple’s mind as he was handed the trophy by Zeus, the man who couldn’t lead him to lift it over so many years? I’m guessing it was something like this:
Turns out Na’Vi is a much better team when they don’t play 3v5 throughout a tournament. No matter how incredible an individual player is, you just can’t carry that hard in CS:GO to make it to a title with multiple bags of cement dragging you down every single round. Or to put it a different way, clutching a 1vX situation is made somewhat easier when a teammate’s earlier kill reduced X by one – not to mention the possibility that you may not even have to clutch so many rounds in the first place.
However, the playoffs at Katowice showed us so much more than that. Beyond the vintage performances by s1mple, it showed us the terrifying firepower available to this side in those magical moments when everyone is online at the same time. Boombl4's casual 30-bomb on Nuke and Perfecto's perfect half at the tail end of the grand final show there's more to this team than just setting up s1mple to carry them across the finish line. “All of us have insane individual skill”, said the man himself in an interview, and it’s no coincidence he was finally all smiles upon receiving his MVP award.
The notion that you can (or have to) “build around” a star player makes sense – after all, they’re so good it’s worth altering your team structure on the balance of things to accommodate them as much as possible. However, the sad tail end of the careers of Edward and Zeus on Na’Vi seemed to be a lot more about accommodating, well, Edward and Zeus (not to mention kane) rather than the best player in the world.
With Astralis slowly slipping away (winning just six of their last ten best-of-three series with notable upsets along the way), maybe there’s an opening at the top. Now we have a much better idea who’s in pole position to take advantage of it.
There’s always been a cyclical nature to the era-defining CS:GO teams in the past. Fnatic was explosive and skill-based: FalleN’s teams were more on the tactical side. Those who relied on individual skill usually fade faster. FaZe Clan almost broke the game as we knew it but failed to secure their Major title. Astralis followed, ruling with an iron fist until succumbing to hubris early last year, giving room to Team Liquid’s brief but brilliant reign with a record-breaking streak of LAN victories and the fastest Intel Grand Slam title we’ll likely ever see. The Danes roared back the second half of 2019, but they still didn’t get going in the new decade.
Is it time for another skill-based side to take the top, perhaps for an even longer period this time around? If that’s the case, s1mple’s team is uniquely well-suited to the task. It’s not just the incredible performances, but his ability to keep up the grind year after year, with a well-established core of fellow fraggers behind him. Now, with a much better support structure to rely upon, they can right the last two years’ wrongs and challenge for the top spot.
The landscape has shifted a lot since the summer when we were looking at a dominant top two and a floundering pack of wannabe pursuers: right now, we have at least six teams capable of making a deep run in any stacked tournament. Are we all in the house of s1mple right now? No matter the ending, the future is bright for the neutral fan, even if those who have to go up against the man will have to face something quite dark.
Header image by HLTV / gifs from House of Cards