Another turbulent year has gone by, and with everything going on in the world, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the coaching bug scandal has erupted this summer or that the first G2-Na’Vi tango only took place last year. Not quite so: instead, this was a year of transition in pro CS as most top teams opted for significant roster reshuffles as Na’Vi emerged as a clear top one by the end of 2021.
The red star has finally gone supernova. It seemed like a question of when, not if, at the end of 2020, even with the team’s impressive resurgence to close out the previous year. With contracts coming to an end and constant whispers of internal issues, it seemed quite likely that the quintet (plus coach) who revolutionized pro CS would finally part ways.
No one quite expected device to make the leap across the Danish-Swedish border in April, though, a spectacular signing that hasn’t quite panned out for either side since. Astralis have clearly struggled without a top-tier AWPer (as would any other CS:GO side challenging for the greatest honors, to be fair), while the Ninjas couldn’t put together an impactful team over the year.
Whether NiP can build something lasting and permanent off the back of their shock swoop remains to be seen. The rumors of device’s desire to return to Astralis suggest that may not be the case.
2021 indeed turned out to be the year of the CIS region, with Gambit and Na’Vi eating up almost all of the biggest titles of the year. Of course, the two teams in question here are far from equal as far as the honors are concerned, with the side in yellow and black emerging as the clear number one team in the world.
Playing in the sun or in the rain, online or offline, with crowds or without? It doesn’t seem to matter right now, as Na’Vi clearly have it all, pulling off such a dominant showing at the PGL Major that surpassed even what the mighty Astralis of the past managed to do: a truly flawless run without a single map dropped along the way.
It was in no way a fluke either, taking out Heroic, VP and NiP in the Swiss bracket before eliminating Vitality in the quarters. They then bitch-slapped Gambit in the semis and pulled off an epic comeback on Nuke against G2 (in part thanks to NiKo’s now-infamous fluffed shot) to ensure s1mple finally got what he deserved for so long: a Major title.
Despite running low on fuel in the tank and mental reserves, they still kept up the pace throughout the tail end of the year, finishing things off with a lower bracket run at the BLAST World Finals to enter 2022 as the undisputed best side of the year. Shoutout to b1t, the most insane rookie to have ever graced pro Counter-Strike: no team has ever boasted this much firepower as Na’Vi do now. It will take quite the challenger to take them down.
What is there to say beyond LUL? The Cloud9 project fell apart so spectacularly that they completely left the scene, no new bigwig made a mark and the small sides cobbled together from ESEA/FPL phenoms made it nowhere on the big scene. The online era hurt the remains of North American CS similarly to how Chinese and Oceanian sides routinely struggled due to falling far behind on the pro meta, and even if we do return to LANs in regular order, we’ve got a barren wasteland to contend with. EG and Liquid are both looking at wholesale revamps, and the next-best contender is down in 21st in the current (albeit messed-up) HLTV rankings.
Speaking of which, EG’s bumbling at the Stockholm Major was among the most embarrassing CS:GO matches of 2021, and daps’ revelations of the team’s internal workings suggest that this was pretty much a wasted year for the org. It remains to be seen whether the new-look lineup can become the shakeup NA CS greatly needs.
The complete loss of a continent to Valorant (and Valve’s general lack of urgency regarding the state of Counter-Strike in light of this new, serious competitor) was a major sign of concern for fans, and with good reason, but it’s worth highlighting the sliver of light in the darkness. The prodigal son, nitr0, is expected to make his return soon, and the way the failed Team Liquid project pulled off some semblance of a last dance at the BLAST World Finals suggests there might still be a nucleus of a good team lingering in North America.
Perhaps “cement their spot as” would be a more appropriate choice of phrase: even the early pandemic period has clearly highlighted the incredible edge BLAST offer in terms of production value over their competition, and the changes made to their format since the early days made their tournaments truly must-watch CS for any fan.
Compare and contrast their production values with the mess PGL made of the Stockholm Major (what they did to the LAN portion of the event in terms of audio mixing was diabolical) while ESL keeps putting up carbon copies of the same tournament template over and over again.
Add Flashpoint’s pretty obvious demise and near-catastrophic outing at the RMR event, and it’s quite clear why there’s no real contender to their crown. They’re pretty much the Na’Vi of TOs, if you will. WePlay did do an excellent job with the Academy League, and it would be great to see them put up larger events in 2022, but it remains to be seen how much space they can carve out for themselves in the ESL-dominated calendar.
It was two steps forward, one step backward pandemic-wise as we progressed along the Greek alphabet and managed to get at least a few LAN events under our belt this year. The full return to LANs is still further away though, and crowds are still a rarity nowadays at esports events in contrast to most traditional sports.
This means that we still can’t provide a definitive answer about Gambit and Heroic, the two main beneficiaries of the latter half of the online era. (While we’re on the subject, does anyone remember just how solid BIG and the kennyS-emblazoned G2 squads were when the top CS pros were first forced behind their home monitors? Ze Germans are nowhere to be found nowadays, and it is a very different G2 that’s currently making all the deep runs only to lose to Na’Vi at some point.)
It’s clear that both teams are fine challengers, but neither can put up the numbers and the consistency required for the biggest titles, and whether they can keep the good times going in 2022 is a different question altogether. They remained respected competitors, but there’s little to suggest they can be more than that in the future. Shoutout to Gambit for being one of the few top sides that haven’t made roster changes recently!