CS:GO is a mental game, as the saying goes, and it’s a shame that the many considerations about Astralis’ recent conduct and the fragmentation of the tournament scene push what could have been one of the greatest Counter-Strike rivalries to the backburner. An underappreciated aspect of the rise of these two teams is how they both had to shed the “choker” tag at one point, setting up a juicy quarterfinal with just as many demons outside the server as inside of it.
It’s become quite clear that this Astralis is not the same as the one that dominated the world in 2018. The Danes failed to even clear the lowly hurdles of the BLAST events they’ve set for themselves, gave up both their Inferno and Nuke streaks, crashed out of the ECS Season 7 finals against FURIA and failed to clinch the top seed in Montpellier after a defeat to an NRG lineup that’s quite literally past its expiration date. Meanwhile, Liquid have seemingly gone from strength to strength in the circuit, yet also falling to the lower bracket at the ESL Pro League Season 9 finals.
CS:GO fans around the world were hoping these two would meet in the playoffs, but it’s safe to say no one expected this rendezvous to take place in the quarterfinals. This is a tangible opportunity for gla1ve and co. to reset their personal doomsday clock a bit, not quite enough to restore them to where they were in the eyes of anyone, but perhaps the last chance to arrest their decline. After all, there can be only so many elite teams going around.
Mentality is a crucial part of this designation – and while it may seem like history at this point, the players of Astralis were once known as perennial chokers, waltzing to the semi-finals but almost never beyond, a tangible mental block they had to work their way past on their way to greatness. In a way, they benefited from the atrophy of SK the same way Liquid managed to make up ground due to the Danes’ folly, getting a chance to taste victory without having to confront the teams that dominated you up until that point. It’s not just a coach quote that winning is an acquired habit – and for the first time ever, these two teams are going to go up against each other having already figured out how to triumph.
Narrative-wise, the two teams are on opposite trajectories, Astralis falling with the elevator as Liquid are climbing the stairs, meeting somewhere in the middle for a fleeting moment. Historically, top CS:GO sides could not rediscover the magic after dropping from the summit, and it feels like only the memory of the Danes’ inarguably unmatchable peak performance is the reason behind the friendly odds given to them. One thing is for sure: wherever the two teams may be headed, this is not the time to call them chokers. The sole portion of this storyline which remains relevant is that they’ve both managed to get past this particular hurdle, only to run into a myriad of other considerations to deal with. It’s tough at the top, and it’s even tougher in the lower bracket of an S-tier tournament.