Across all the inequities and difficulties present in professional Counter-Strike, surely there is nothing more challenging than being the best. Most top teams have the capacity to get there for a moment, for a tournament, but to remain there, to be the world number over a period long enough to be called an “era” is another thing entirely.
When Counter-Strike: Global Offensive comes to the end, Astralis will be mentioned as one of the greatest of all time. And in that conversation, I doubt that they could be discussed for any length of time without their Nuke pick. It’s the tip of their spear, their ongoing, undefeated home map, a piece a history in its own right.
Since this exact iteration of Astralis formed with Emil “Magisk” Reif, Astralis have won 30 of 36 best-of-three series and one of two best-of-three playoff series. In 28 of those wins, Astralis has either had Nuke first banned against them or won a game on Nuke. With 20 straight LAN wins, Astralis’ Nuke is only behind NiP’s own 34 straight win streak on Nuke going all the back to 2012 and 2013.
However, unlike SK’s more recent 17 game rally in 2016 which featured numerous photo finishes and CT-side comebacks, Astralis have been profoundly dominant on Nuke. In 2018, none of Astralis’ Nuke games have gone into overtime. They have only given up 10 rounds or more rounds 7 times, despite starting on the notoriously difficult T-side 15 times. Overall, they have won 320 of 571 of all rounds played (nearly 68%) meaning that for each win they only have given up 7.55 rounds on average.
So what makes them so good on this map?
First, I think we have to dismiss any notion that Astralis have been able to succeed via one or two simple tricks. This map has been the calling card of the most standout team in the world for almost 8 months. They have defeated world elites Liquid on it five times in a row, and Na’Vi four times in a row.
However, that’s not to say Astralis are not innovative in terms of their utility use or executes. We all know that they are and that’s not to say Astralis don’t strategically outplay their opponents. If you watch the semifinal versus Liquid at the Major, for example, you’ll see their heavy pushes into the lower bombsite all half as Ts led to a five versus five post-plant and a round win when they finally rushed A on the 15th round, despite a very low buy.
Astralis’ Nuke, or the things they do on it, is not some ultra-rare trick pitch that they throw out now and again to befuddle opponents once in a while, it’s the knuckleball they throw out over and over that no one hit. It’s untouchable because of certain fundamental strengths.
On the CT-side, five players seem to be in very effective, comfortable roles. You have Astralis’ best two rifles in terms of pure-skill, Magisk and Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen guarding the often-rushed but heavily choked upper bombsite. Then, you have one of the world’s best small site anchors in Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth playing a similar role in the ramp room, given the classic spot, brief spray, use utility, and fall back pattern of play often used there.
For Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz, you have tons of angles and locations abuse with the AWP whether that be supporting ramp, holding outside, or playing all those ultra-tight angles he seems to prefer in the lower bombsite. Then, ostensibly you might think Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander the in-game leader would be a point of weakness as their frequent point of contact outside, given he often plays more supportive rotator roles on Astralis’ other maps, but he’s garnered many plaudits with his surprise attacks and sprays downs in that role.
But Astralis’ success on the CT-side is more than just having strong players in suitable positions or advanced planning and preparation, stylistically Nuke’s CT-side gameplay falls right into Astralis’ wheelhouse. You could compare it to a hyper-realized version of the way Train’s CT side plays out.
On Train initially, the CTs seem to have huge advantage holding a handful of narrow entrances, but if the Ts gain access to either ivy or make their way out into the yard, the CTs suddenly have to coordinate and position very precisely to deal with the swarming Ts coming at them from a litany of directions. The same pattern plays out on Nuke, if not more intensively, given the entrances and angels up for grabs if the Ts somehow take control of outside or work their way into the lower bombsite.
I don’t it’s surprising that Train was one of Astralis’ leading two maps in 2017 with Kjerby when you consider their dominance on Nuke this year. Like a peak Luminosity/SK, via structure or communication or extensive study, Astralis able to respond to pressure and play the mid-round in that classic so-proper-it’s-almost-aesthetically-beautiful sort of way.
With that said, Astralis’ T-side has been their better half on this map. In terms of raw numbers, Astralis CT-side wins more on average. Out of 209 CT-rounds played, Astralis won 150 times (~72%) while on the T-side they have won 170 of 262 rounds (~65%CT). But, of course, Nuke’s hard CT-bias reframes those figures. The fact that Astralis have only lost more T-rounds than they have won three times in twenty tries is a hard-to-fathom feat.
Unlike their CT-side, Astralis success on the T-side has less to do with certain players being especially effective at taking certain spots or working certain angles or something along those lines, though have to credit Astralis for having one of the better rosters in terms of firepower. Instead, Nuke’s T-side has more to do with Astralis’ indelible identity.
Just as I compared Nuke CT-Side to Train’s, I think Nuke’s T-side gameplay parallels the offensive on Overpass, where Astralis were also famously strong in 2017. While Overpass lacks Nuke’s unique vertical layout, they share quick CT-rotations and large areas where the CT have an initial control which often slowly ceded to the Ts.
For the past two years under Gla1ve, Astralis’ T-sides have been primarily defined by the propensity to play the rotation game. Tell me if this sounds familiar: as Astralis painstakingly moves forward near complete map control as the rounder timer ticks lower and lower, they finally barrage their utility onto their chosen site, only to immediately high tail it the opposite site, perhaps grabbing one entry on a mostly empty site before planting the bomb with only a second or less left to spare. It’s the typical Astralis late round fake.
While you might assume that playing a map like Overpass or Nuke might discourage teams to try to force rotations, quicker rotations will often encourage the fluidity of CT movement and perhaps allows the fakes that Astralis so often use to work. On Nuke, Astralis routinely sets up that smoke wall outside that allows the T-s to either move into secret or forces the CTs to play as if they have. Astralis are especially adept at playing with that typical tension on Nuke, often doing things like sending Gla1ve solo into the lower site to either further the illusion of a presence there or to secure a foothold for a last-second swing.
For all, that’s been said about Astralis’ heady executes and utility usage and map movement, perhaps they are not given enough credit for their ballsy rushes and quick executes that symbiotically are made more effective by and give additional effectiveness to their more famed slow rounds. Also since the change to vents, Astalis has seemed more willing to simply down secret in force and secure lower site given the slower CT rotation from A.
Now, to be fair, all of Astralis’ advantages and achievements on this map have to be put in context with Nuke’s relative map position in the map pool. Unlike Inferno which has perhaps become the game’s quintessential map since its rework, Nuke has been the infamous black sheep of the competitive pool since its reintroduced in late April 2016.
In contrast, SK’s 17 win streak on Train made more impressive when you consider the popularity of that map during that time, especially among top teams. While Nuke has had it’s champions here and there whether that be Virtus.pro in 2016, G2 in 2017, or Astralis now, it has remained a very specialist pick due to certain factors such as the often cited sound issues connected to the map’s layout and its heavy CT-side bias.
While there is a certain meta brilliance in making the map that no one wants to play the one you shove down their throats, the fact that has been no other standout Nuke-specialist in 2018 does sour Astralis’ achievement somewhat. Now conversely, you could argue that Nuke’s pariah-esque position instead inflates the grandeur of Astralis’ streak, as Nuke first bans in best-of-three and fives give Astralis advantages in the pick and ban phase that don’t neatly show up in a tally of Nuke wins. You could also say Astralis’ sheer dominance on the map discourages certain teams from playing the map which limits their rivals on it, and their one-sided record versus other good Nuke teams, such as Team Liquid, falsely delegitimizes a legitimate contender.
But, either way, Astalis’s accolades on Nuke are easily the impressive map-specific accomplishment of 2018. It will be remembered as one greatest specialist streaks of all time, and it’s not over yet.
The Manhattan Project produced a weapon that ended a war and Astralis Nuke’s cemented an Era, but becoming a world leader doesn’t define you as much as how well you use that power and for how long. Astralis already have achieved something historical, something legendary, but there is always that massive, infuriating inch between being one of the best and the best, between the greatest now and the greatest of all time, between the undefeated and the undefeatable.
How do you feel about Astralis’ Nuke? Will they ever see a loss on it? Comment below!
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