Come at the kings: Who can dethrone Astralis?
At times, Astralis looked unbeatable in 2018, but some of their biggest rivals have made moves to challenge them for the top spot in the world rankings.
Every great champion goes down, eventually. Back when legendary UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva could seemingly “enter the matrix” in his prime, he looked unbeatable. Right until Chris Weidman caught him and made him look like any regular human being.
We can apply the same concept to esports. Great CS:GO teams like NiP and Fnatic didn’t stay on top for more than a year. The SK Telecom dynasty in League of Legends didn’t last forever. Even some of the greatest StarCraft players of all time such as Flash and sAviOr saw their eras come to an end.
In 2018, Astralis truly set the Counter-Strike world on fire. With their refined tactical system, incredible teamplay, and individual players hitting peak form, they have become perhaps the greatest CS:GO team we have ever seen.
Unfortunately, they find themselves in the reality that no great team lasts forever. Even if no other squad stands out above the rest and rises to the top immediately, it’s inevitable that some of the Astralis players will have a dip in form. With that said, some of Astralis biggest challengers have made moves in an attempt to contend with the Danes.
At the end of the day, the biggest question in the CS:GO scene in 2019 is going to be: Who can dethrone Astralis?
The North Americans are perhaps the team most frustrated by the presence of Astralis. After losing no less than five finals to the Danes in 2018, Team Liquid are certainly looking for redemption. With Epitacio “TACO” de Melo and coach Wilton “zews” Prado deciding to leave the organization, Team Liquid were ultimately forced to make changes.
Adding Jake “Stewie” Yip to the team became a natural choice, as they were able to make a trade with his former team, MIBR. The move is definitely an upgrade in terms of pure firepower, but it leaves some question marks in terms of the dynamics within the team. Stewie is a good player in his own right, but it’s uncertain if he can perform the same supportive elements that TACO did for Team Liquid. Ironically enough, MIBR themselves went for this exact same move last year, as they decided to add Stewie to replace TACO. While it has to be said that there were other problems in the team, it’s difficult to claim that the move worked out for the Brazilians. Perhaps Team Liquid will shift the roles around in a different way, and if they are able to make it all work strategically, they look like an even more dangerous team than last year.
The coaching change leaves an even bigger question mark. Once zews left the squad, Team Liquid looked towards the former in-game leader of the team, Eric “adreN” Hoag for the coaching position. While zews is highly touted by many as one of the very best coaches in the scene, adreN is very much an unproven quantity. The American veteran seems to have a good mind for the game, and is great at explaining his thoughts on it, but coaching a team is a different matter entirely. Whether or not he will thrive in the role is very much down to speculation, but with very few experienced coaches in the CS:GO scene, it’s a gamble that Team Liquid were almost forced to take.
It’s going to be difficult for Team Liquid to play at the same consistent level they did last year, but with the upgrade in firepower, their potential ceiling is higher than ever before. There’s also something to be said for the winners mentality that Stewie brings to a team, and it wouldn’t be a big surprise if 2019 was the year where Team Liquid finally takes down Astralis in a big match. Whether they can do it on a consistent basis is a different question entirely.
To say that MIBR had a rough year would be an understatement. After being the consensus best team of both 2016 and 2017, Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo and his team ended the year without a single trophy from a premier tournament. The experiment of bringing in international players in the form of Jake “Stewie” Yip and Tarik “tarik” Celik ultimately has to be considered a failure.
MIBR has now decided to live up to their name and go back to a fully Brazilian lineup. Both Stewie and tarik are out of the team and have been replaced by Epitacio “TACO” de Melo and Joao “felps” Vasconcellos. This is a lineup that will be familiar to many people as this is the exact same team that managed to win five out of six tournaments in a row in 2017.
One key difference from last time they were together is the coaching position. With Janko “YNk” Paunovic out of the squad, Wilton “zews” Prado has been brought back in to replace him. Having zews in the coaching position has resulted in a lot of success for the Brazilians in the past as he was the coach behind the squad when they won MLG Columbus and ESL One Cologne in 2016.
Going back to speaking Portuguese should be a big positive for MIBR. With their lineups in the past being famous for their team play, having proper communication between all members of the team is vital. Getting TACO back in the team to fill out the supportive roles should also bring a lot more stability to the team, and perhaps his famous partnership with Marcelo “coldzera” David will be back in full force.
While putting a championship winning team back together, along with one of the top coaches in the CS:GO scene brings a lot of positives, there are also some negatives compared to last time they were together. Most notably, the individual level of both Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo and Fernando “fer” Alvarenga has dropped off considerably compared to 2017. At the same time, felps has been out of the limelight for a long time, only attending three big events in 2018. One of those was as a standin at+ the ELEAGUE Boston Major with FalleN & Co all the way back in January. Throughout that time, he even made an attempt at being the in-game leader of INTZ eSports, resulting in his individual level dropping off.
If this lineup wants a shot at returning to the very top of the world rankings, they are going to need at least two of those star names to step up their individual level, and help out coldzera in the fragging department. From a tactical perspective, the combined forces of FalleN and zews resulted in one of the most refined teams of all time back in 2016. If those two can put their minds together and bring back a robust tactical system that alone should be able to get them closer to the top than the year prior.
The lineup that FaZe has managed to put together is perhaps the most skilled lineup man for man in CS:GO history. After removing their weakest link in terms of individual skill, Finn “karrigan” Andersen, FaZe have added former Major MVP, Dauren “AdreN” Kystaubayev to the roster. The sheer amount of individual skill in the lineup always makes FaZe a threat to anyone, but after removing their longtime in-game leader, the European super team still have to prove that they can move on without him.
A key piece in that respect will be their new coach, Janko “YNk” Paunovic. With Robert “RobbaN” Dahlström stepping out of the role, YNk is left with what might be one of the toughest coaching jobs in all of CS:GO. One big advantage that he already has going for him, is his relationship with the in-game leader and star player of the team, Nikola “NiKo” Kovac. Not only was YNk the in-game leader of NiKo’s team in the early days of CS:GO, they also seem to get along very well outside the game.
The tactical aspect of the game has been one of the flaws of FaZe in the past. While it doesn’t necessarily need to be as big of a focus due to the individual superstar nature of the team, FaZe has at times looked more like five individuals rather than a cohesive unit. This is where YNk could end up being a key factor as he might be able to convince NiKo and the others to put slightly more emphasis on the tactical side of the game. FaZe certainly doesn’t need to look towards becoming the next Astralis, but having the ability to mix up their style during the game would be a big advantage.
With AdreN most likely coming in to play more of a supportive role, and fill the gaps in the team, the rest of the squad are the ones we need to look towards when it comes to fragging power. You can always expect big numbers from a player like NiKo, but we need to see players like Håvard “rain” Nygaard and Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovacs find some of their previous form for this team to succeed.
The reality of the situation is that individual skill cannot be something that FaZe has to worry about. That is meant to be the biggest advantage they have over anyone else. Instead, their biggest worry should be the longevity of their in-game leading situation, and their ability to adapt tactically over a longer period of time. If those two aspects work out, there isn’t a scarier team in the world. At least on paper.
How do you feel about Astralis’ challengers? Comment below!