Whisper it, but the first “real” CS:GO event of 2022 is already jam-packed with storylines, even in what is essentially a meaningless group stage played out for the seeding. With all but one of the teams heading into it with a changed-up roster, there’s plenty to figure out among the cavalcade of best-of-ones.
When was the last time a CS:GO team managed to conquer the world without a top-tier AWPer? The answer is never. Fnatic had JW, FalleN’s teams had FalleN, Astralis had device, Na’Vi have s1mple. Even temporary conquerors like the 2018 mousesports squad had oskar going nuclear. It’s clearly non-negotiable at this point in the competitive scene, and the fact that G2 got so close on multiple occasions last year without having a reliable pair of hands on the big green shows just how insane their potential is.
It remains to be seen whether m0nesy turns out to be the world-beater his performances in the kiddie pool suggested (and he was certainly super impressive in WePlay’s Academy League), but perhaps the best part is that he doesn’t have to challenge the s1mples and the ZywOos of the world: simply having a competent sniper in the toolkit of a strong IGL is enough to augment the insane rifling prowess this team possessed for the last couple of years. Having better-defined roles and dedicated specialists will greatly benefit G2 in the long run, and it’s a shame they could only meet Na’Vi in the last chance bracket at this tournament.
With most of the top orgs now chained to permanent invitational spots at ESL and Blast, the longstanding appeal of meritocracy and the open circuit is slowly but surely collapsing in CS:GO esports. There’s no better sign of this than the relative lack of CIS sides at this event: Gambit, VP and Entropiq (#2, #6, #9 in the world) are missing in action here, denying us from some of the best CS played in 2021. It is to the detriment of the scene that there are little to no open slots available here, especially with the ESL-FACEIT merger funded by some shady funds.
FaZe Clan now only need to win a single series in the playoffs to make it to the Spring Finals. Even with all the upheaval around them, this was a quite unlikely outcome of the group stages, even as the games were ongoing. Early on in the day, I was ready to trot out all the old observations about FaZe’s unbearably awful T sides since karrigan’s return, only for them to salvage their Inferno game against Liquid in spectacular fashion. It was really all down to the incredible impact of ropz, a no-brainer of a signing that seems to be paying dividends already.
This roster change also offers us a unique chance to see a direct firepower upgrade, as close to a like-for-like swap as we ever have in the professional scene. Be it an IGL or an AWPer or a support, there’s almost always some sort of role adjustment or communication change required to incorporate a new player. Here, a player with proven pedigree joins an IGL with whom he had a good rapport previously, with both having extensive experience on international rosters (bah god I feel like I’m writing a cover letter for a job application or something), and basically becoming an olofmeister 2.0 in the squad along the way. So far, the showings have been exciting, and that’s all we can ask as fans.
The promise is there too, but it’s way too early to judge off the back of a couple of best-of-one matches: the hype, however, is guaranteed from now on. There’s no way all their games will be nailbiters like the ones we’ve seen so far, but this squad seems to now have the right mix of youthful vigor and creaking experience to make something happen.
Besides, they were one of the two teams to give us a non-Inferno game in Group C, so they deserve special accolades for that (and so does BLAST’s production team for the lovely little gag below).
The fifth wheel and the sixth player, Bubzkji’s entire CS:GO career seems to have been capsized by the awful management of Astralis. You can’t blame an up-and-coming Danish youngster for joining the legendary side at the time when six-player rosters were just about to get trendy for a while, and if you ever need a dictionary definition of contract hell, you’ll find young Mr. Andersen’s image next to it.
It seems like he’s completely out of the Matrix for now, woken from the rigors of competitive play, swapping over to the comforts of a television studio in Denmark, courtesy of TV2 and their insatiable needs for exciting punditry. It’s way too early to call it curtains on the youngster’s CS:GO career though – we’ve seen so many times with players and managers alike in traditional sport that a strong showing in the studio can serve as a decent audition for a way back to the highest levels of play. He certainly deserves this bit of levity after all that (hasn’t) happened.
Still, I can’t forget about IEM Fall where the dupreeh/Xyp9x/Magisk/Bubzkji/Lucky quintet made to four and won their group with a 5-0 record in best-of-one CS:GO matches played. Seeing how the Major went, who knows what would have happened had they initiated the generational shift a little earlier? We will never know whether Bubzkji would have actually been a good fit, which is a real shame. It’s getting increasingly clear that Lucky isn’t, however, through no fault of his own: the reliability required to challenge for the biggest titles simply isn’t there.
One thing is for sure: the contrasting futures of Astralis and Vitality in 2022 will be fascinating to follow. Who knows? Maybe they’ll pick up HUNDEN to match zonic’s talents.