Soon, a set of new names will be etched onto the trophy that resides in the center of the Lanxess-Arena, the Cathedral of Counter-Strike. It will be the eighth time that a prestigious final will play out in the city of Cologne (not counting the tainted online shenanigans of 2020). How do these teams compare to each other and where would this year’s finalists rank among them? We’ve crunched the VODs and the fragmovies to find out.

2021 – NAVI

No one did it better and it was a great prelude for the flawless Major win that would follow. Don’t let the maps dropped in the group stage fool you: these were dominant performances through and through, and their performances in the playoffs against FaZe and G2 were so potent that they were subsequently banned by the Geneva Convention. Last year’s NAVI stands tall as the squad that finally made it all work and no one could hold a candle on them before ex-Mrs. Boombl4’s arrival.

2016 – SK Gaming

esl one cologne 2016 SK

Arguably the best of FalleN’s squads (and perhaps even performances), this was a dominant showing from the Brazilians in their prime. Only dropping the solitary round to in the semis and keeping their grand final opponents to single digits on both maps, it was one of the most comprehensive wins in the history of Cologne, and the high mark of one of the best teams of all time.

2022 – FaZe/NAVI

esl one cologne 2022 faze navi

Both of these teams warrant a seat at the table when it comes to discussing the best CS teams of all time, but they’re still on their way to the dinner party. NAVI’s IGL rejig is too recent to be judged, while karrigan’s teams are prone to have short times in peak condition, even if this squad seems to be the best-suited it’s ever been to his abilities. There’s also the question of the player break to consider: will these teams make it past the great divide and return in strong form for the second half of the year, or will they pull a Team Liquid?

Speaking of which…

2019 – Team Liquid

esl one cologne 2019 Liquid.jpg

Ultimately, that Intel Grand Slam Season 2 win turned out to be nothing more than a bright spark between two eternities of darkness, but what a spark it was! Liquid were unplayable at their peak, and even with their relative lack of longevity, they were clearly head and shoulders above their compatriots. Then again, one has to wonder how things could have gone had s1mple chosen the safe play over the knife on Dust 2…

2015 – Fnatic

esl one cologne 2015 fnatic

The best teams in the world never know when they’re beaten, and by that metric, there still hasn’t really been a better team than this iteration of Fnatic, even to this day. To be fair, the Tec-9 was a heck of a weapon and olofmeister was a heck of a player. Just like Liquid four years later, their mechanical skill compared to their rivals was nothing short of astounding, but explosiveness doesn’t equal tactics.

2018 – NAVI

esl one cologne 2018 NAVI

This was the stuff of magic, the best individual performances we’ve seen from latter-day Edward and Zeus. The two heavyweights (and by this I mean “heavy weights around s1mple’s neck) each their  in the playoffs to help the team past the post, including the in-game leader’s legendary 30-bomb on Inferno against Astralis. Still, with both players finishing the event in the negative thirties in terms of K/D, it’s tough to argue that it was a well-rounded team, despite the insane round-to-round showings.

2017 – SK Gaming

esl one cologne 2017 sk gaming

As the first non-Major Cologne event, this one is easily forgotten. It wasn’t a traditional top-drawer win from FalleN’s men though, now revamped to include felps instead of fnx. (Insert relevant meme here.) A stumble through the Swiss group stages to squeak by with a 3-2 scoreline, followed by wins over the mixwell-addled OpTic, a FaZe squad still featuring allu and kioshiMa, then a win over Cloud9 in a grand final marred by controversy, which was, let’s call a spade a spade, cheating.

2014 – Ninjas in Pyjamas

esl one cologne 2014 nip

Most likely not even the players in question would argue with this ranking. The term “last dance” gets thrown around a lot, and often in incorrect contexts, but this truly was the twilight struggle of the legendary NiP lineup that was so dominant in the early days of CS:GO competition, winning 87 CS:GO matches in a row.

It’s incredible to think that they were just three rounds away from missing out on a Major title in their careers, and esports history feels a little more whole knowing that they’ve eventually got to the promised land. It was the end for Fifflaren in the servers after that infamous -72 K/D event record, but there’s a reason why the org’s fragmovie is dedicated to him and his efforts.

Images courtesy of HLTV (2014-2016) and ESL (2017-2022; photographers: Helena Kristiansson, Adela Sznajder, Stephanie Lieske, Steffie Wunderl, )