After FaZe Clan’s fumble, Astralis mercilessly took advantage of the situation to add the Intel Grand Slam’s million-dollar bounty as the crown jewel of their incredible calendar year: their superiority over the field can no longer be questioned, and it perhaps tells us more about the rest of the tournament organizers than anything else that this victory actually turned out to be their greatest achievement of the year even with the many early kinks of the format desperately waiting to be ironed out.

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To the stars

I don’t envy those of us who are tasked with creating day-to-day content about the happenings of the CS:GO scene: how many superlatives are left unused, what can you say about the Danes that hasn’t been said yet? Never have we had such comprehensive long-term domination by the top team over its closest rival as the BDSM-esque story between Astralis and Team Liquid over the course of 2018. Even when they falter, a simple switch of the cogs in the great machine produce something intangible and new: though dev1ce failed to make an impact early on in the series, the quick adaptation of gla1ve and co. and that important swap of the AWP diminished whatever edge their opponents seemed to have after a map and a half.

So what’s next? Perhaps the most impressive element of Astralis’ continued success is how they didn’t fall off the wagon after a “disappointing” (read: they didn’t win the entire event) showing in Copenhagen. It’s clear they keep iterating and improving upon the formulae that got them to the top, and it seems quite unlikely at this point that they will have as massive a dropoff as Fnatic did, consumed by complacence and a lack of motivation after their incredible LAN streak ended. These guys are not going to split up just for the sake of it even if their results take a downturn – and seeing how long they’ve been there or thereabouts, there’s no reason why they couldn’t keep this party going for quite a while longer.

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Slam poetry

There are quite a few interesting takeaways about the Intel Grand Slam to consider now that the storm has settled. It’s a fairly impressive undertaking from a marketing perspective, one of the only promotion ploys of its kind in CS:GO that truly rewards teams that manage to maintain a very high level over the course of a longer period of time – and with an ever-expanding tournament scene and many concerns about fatigue, initiatives like this can go a long way in pushing a certain TO ahead of the pack in the eyes of the elite teams that everyone would like to have at their events.

Clearly, the fact that Astralis decided to skip quite a few of the Intel Grand Slam-compatible tourneys means there’s still a long way to go in terms of incentives – starting with a reworked spoiler system. Currently, the bonus $100 000 was only on the line if a) one of the teams was on 3 out of four wins required and b) they made it to the final. This specific scenario only came up once during the inaugural season (in Copenhagen just before it all ended), and it seems like a wasted opportunity to not offer the same money to anyone who manages to eliminate a team that’s directly in contention for that fourth title win, no matter at what point of the event they’re at. (The triumphs over FaZe Clan would have been all the sweeter thanks to this little extra offering.)

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Speaking of which, while FaZe’s early successes and complete collapse certainly made for an interesting narrative – one which persisted throughout the wider CS:GO landscape but was nevertheless neatly encapsulated by their rise and fall in the context of the Grand Slam, not even making it to Odense –, the fact that Astralis won it all by skipping two of these events, winning four out of the seven they’ve attended cannot be ignored. It’s not a tournament organizer’s job to artificially create an extra challenge for what is potentially the best team of all time, but when the field of teams with even a remote chance of winning is so small, it’s very unlikely we’ll get the sort of photo finish this circuit was clearly designed for. It honestly feels like the men behind this aspect of Last June’s Intel-ESL tech deal truly had the current tennis landscape in mind, with four absolute greats going head-to-head year after year. That rarely happens in the highest echelons of competition, and it’s a real concern that either no one gets even close to the Grand Slam or someone simply sweeps it up under the current ruleset.

That being said, this is still the crown jewel capping off Astralis’ stellar calendar year, and it’s a very ominous sign of the majors’ waning influence. Marred by a high-variance format, an inflexible invite system and an insistence on (almost) equal regional representation regardless of their accomplishments, what used to be the pinnacle of CS:GO esports has become pretty much a sideshow in the scene, with the underdogs fortunate enough to make it to the playoffs once again failing to make any kind of an impact in more skill-testing formats. In this shifting environment, an initiative like this is definitely a masterstroke in terms of putting ESL/DreamHack atop the TO pile – it’s just that there are still quite a few kinks to iron out if they want to make sure the concept lives up to its full potential.