Astralis versus Team Liquid: The World’s most one-sided rivalry

Astralis has won eight straight best-of-three or best-of-five series over Team Liquid. Why is the match-up so skewed in favor of the Danish side?


Photo Credit: (DreamHack)

Team Liquid is a top-three team worldwide, the best North American, and in the process of becoming the best North American team of all time, but Astralis is the best team in the world who are aiming to be the best in CS:GO history, period.

The two sides have played 10 best-of-three or best-of-five series so far this year, with eight of those happening under Liquid’s present lineup with Epitácio “TACO” de Melo. Yet, Astralis have won every single series. Why is there this extraordinary gulf between these two rosters that are nominally so close together at the top of the world ranking? Liquid can beat FaZe, Na’Vi, mousesports, MIBR, Fnatic,  and NRG in series play, so why not Astralis? Why can they never beat Astralis?

Here’s the story of this one-sided rivalry as told through the eight series they have played against each other so far:  

DreamHack Masters Marseille Group D Winners’ Match

This first meeting between the present Liquid and Astralis lineups occurred all the way back in April. It also the first and only time these exact two rosters met before the shift in the map pool a few weeks later.  The pick and ban phase was accordingly unique, playing out as follows:

  1. Liquid ban Nuke
  2. Astralis ban Cobblestone
  3. Liquid pick Mirage
  4. Astralis pick Overpass
  5. Liquid ban Train
  6. Astralis ban Inferno
  7. Cache is left over

On Mirage, both sides locked into a tight, terse battle that ended in a slim victory for team Team Liquid. Nicholas “nitr0” Cannella had won some important AWP v AWP duels in the opening map half and you saw Liquid get enough production out of their star trio outpace Astralis. Still up 15-10, Liquid couldn’t close it out until they reached their fifth and final map point, winning 16-14 and earning Liquid one of their few map wins over Astralis. 

However, the latter two maps were more emblematic of the rivalry more broadly as Astralis breezed through Overpass and Cache with two straight 16-3 victories. Liquid had no answers to T-side on Overpass or CT on Cache. While Liquid won the opening map, Astralis’ Mirage was especially weak at that time, which is why they choose to permaban at IEM Sydney after the Cobblestone-Dust2 switch. Though in Liquid’s defense, this was their first tournament with TACO on the roster, so perhaps some leeway should be given.

Gambit defeated Team Liquid in their next subsequent match while Astralis eventually won Marseille, their first tournament win as a five-man roster.

ESL Pro League Season 7 Group B Upper Bracket Final

Between Marseille and the EPL Season 7 finals, there was another premier-level event, IEM Sydney, which was the first of its kind to feature Dust2. Astralis placed second after falling to FaZe in a best-of-five final, while Liquid did not attend.

At the EPL Finals itself, both Team Liquid and Astralis won a best-of-one and best-of-three to meet each other in the upper bracket of their group. The pick and ban went as follows:

  1. Astralis removed Mirage
  2. Liquid banned Overpass
  3. Astralis picked Nuke
  4. Liquid picked Inferno
  5. Astralis banned Train
  6. Liquid banned Cache
  7. Dust2 is left over

The pattern displayed here much more closely resembles what would become common in future contests. Here, Astralis first pick Nuke versus Team Liquid, which they have done in five of their seven series, while Team Liquid first picked Inferno which they have done just twice.

On Nuke, Astralis won a somewhat comfortable 16-10 game on Nuke, despite starting on the far more difficult T-side.  Now, Astralis’ Nuke has enjoyed universal plaudits  as they sit 24-0 on it at the moment, a record that easily marks Astralis pick as one of the strongest specialist strongholds of all time. And here you can still see in full display what makes them so special on it. If one had to distil the primary capacity of Astralis’ offensive on Nuke, it would be their ability to pull rotations by using sound cues, presence,  and utility in the mid-round to through off the CTs, and also more subtly in the way in which they condition teams throughout a half only to invert those expectations to their own advantage. Over the course of these eight series, Astralis will all six of their games on Nuke.

Moving forward, Inferno was the more one-sided ,matchup,. Despite winning both pistols, Liquid only won 7 rounds total, as they largely failed overcome dominating CT performances from Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth and Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz. However, a positive trend for Liquid you see in both maps is Liquid’s strength with lesser weapons, which has been a staple for them in some later series, namely the FACEIT Major Semifinals. 

But the stronger precedent set by this series would be Astralis 2-0ing Team Liquid. 

Grand Final of the ESL Pro League Season 7 Finals

Following their loss to Astralis in the group stage, Liquid whipped out two of their own 2-0s in the playoffs to meet back up with Astralis in the finals leading to a rare best-of-five series between the two sides. The pick and ban phase played out as follows:

  1. Liquid banned Overpass
  2. Astralis banned Train
  3. Liquid picked Dust2
  4. Astralis picked Nuke
  5. Liquid picked Mirage
  6. Astralis picked Inferno
  7. Cache was left over

Here, you’ll notice that Astralis moved away from first banning Mirage, which was likely due to the confidence borne out from a 16-3 win on it over FaZe in the semifinals. But Liquid’s first pick was the enigma of the series.

Liquid’s went with Dust2 which led to a 16-1 Astralis win, an obvious miscalculation. However, the mistake is illustrative of the knock on effect possible as the pair battles from series to series. If Liquid won their own pick of Inferno in the previous series versus Astralis, the match would have gone to game three on Dust2. Liquid then could have had a better idea of what they were walking into in the grand finals of EPL, and possibly avoid the mistake. Beyond the immediate outcome, the actions and results of each map of each series plays into and informs the larger rivalry. 

As for the rest of the series, if you want the best case against the one-dimensional narrative that Liquid are mentally weak or “chokers,” here it is. After being crushed by Astralis in map one, Liquid energetically jumped back into the series, winning five of the first six rounds on Nuke which eventually led into a neck and neck, back and forth 16-14 win by Astralis, the closest they have ever come to losing untouchable pick

Then immediately after that loss, Liquid again took Astralis to the limit on Mirage this time grabbing their own 16-14 win. While the final map of the series was less of a barnburner, a 16-12 Astralis win on Inferno, Liquid in no way dropped dead or disappeared under the pressure here, in spite of what has been infered from their later performances. 

Grand final of the ECS Season 5 Finals

Coming off this third straight loss from Liquid, with the most recent one being a full best-of-five in a grand final, you might assume this is where Liquid start to bow the head to Astralis. By this point in the Summer, Astralis had undoubtedly become the world number one team with two outright tournament wins and a second place finish at IEM Sydney under their belts. However, Liquid’s pick and ban phase here, exuded none such doubt. 

  1. Liquid banned Overpass
  2. Astralis banned Cache
  3. Liquid picked Mirage
  4. Astralis picked Dust2
  5. Liquid banned Train
  6. Astralis banned Inferno
  7. Nuke was left over

Surprisingly enough, Astralis showed more fear than Liquid. While not as renown as it is now, Astralis’s Nuke already garnered 9 straight wins with two over Liquid themselves by this point in their run. However, instead of trusting their emerging supremacy, they picked Dust2 first over Nuke presumably due to their 16-1 victory over Liquid at EPL. Perhaps fearing Liquid own Nuke that gave the such trouble in the previous series Astralis had to lean on the new Dust2 which seems even more chaotic and upset oriented than the previous version. While Astralis’s Dust2 pick did not cost them here it, almost the exact same scenario come back to bite them in the finals of DreamHack Masters Stockholm versus North. 

For Liquid, their map pick, Mirage, was an easy decision.  In their previous three series versus Astralis,  Liquid had only won two games both of which came from Mirage. Unfortunately for them, Astralis took Mirage this go round in a third straight 16-14 finish. Like a scaled down version of the previous series, Astralis took a commanding 9-0 lead only for Liquid to force their back into as Astralis started to carelessly aggress on Liquid as the CTs. Astrals quickly made it up to 15 after grabbing the pistol round in the second half, but Liquid started to emulate the Luminosity of the famous Liquid-Luminosity semi-final of the MLG Columbus Major. Grinding CT-rounds, Liquid denied Xyp9x two straight clutches to bring it to make it to round 30 where Nitr0 nearly completed 1v3 to send the game to overtime, but couldn’t win the final duel. 

Then, Liquid carried that momentum into the new Dust2, going up 10-5 in the first half only to be summarily knocked aside in the second half as Astralis secured their third premiere title and their fourth straight win over Team Liquid.  

ELEAGUE Premiere 2018 Group 

After missing each other at ESL One Cologne, the pair met again for a best-of-three in a winners’ match in the latest ELEAGUE Premier season. While both teams under-performed relative to their status in Cologne, their head-to-head matchup continued more or less in line with the emerging pattern at ELEAGUE:

  1. Astralis banned Cache
  2. Liquid banned Train
  3. Astralis picked Nuke
  4. Liquid picked Mirage
  5. Liquid removed Overpass
  6. Astralis removed Dust2
  7. Inferno was left over

Here, we see Liquid switching their permaban from Overpass to Train, but that shift, while important elsewhere, doesn’t come matter much within this matchup as this Astralis lineup has never been especially partial to picking Overpass or Train themselves since the map pool change, despite having a strong record on both maps. Astralis also second banned Dust2 curiously, but the bigger story here is Astralis reaffirming Nuke as their go-to pick with Liquid again gunning for Mirage. Astralis would pick Nuke first in this series and every remaining series while Liquid picked Mirage first in this series and two of final three.

On Nuke, the result was more-of-less what you would expect: 16-12 win for Astralis. While in all three Nuke games so far, Liquid have racked up a fair number of round wins, but in this rivalry Liquid  have the ever won their on CT-side convincingly. In this match, Astralis won 9 of 10 CT-side rounds while Liquid won just 8 of 15. 

How do Astralis get 7 or more T-rounds versus Liquid every time? Well, here Astralis took the pistol round with along with two gun rounds and the resulting anti-ecos to win first seven rounds of the half.

 Astralis won the first gun round with Magisk quickly going around outside to pincer through garage leading to an easy confiscation of the upper site. Then, Astralis secured round six with an early AWP pick through squeaky and winning a few more duels picks outside. Perhaps Liquid went into this matchup willing to cede to much map control rounds  or perhaps ELIGE did a more job of containing and confronting Astralis early in this map. Either way, even though Liquid recovered and won out the half, seven rounds is more than enough for Astralis on the way to 16 when you consider the heavy CT-bias of Nuke. 

As for Mirage, unlike the last three gun rounds, Astralis took a win here fairly comfortably, 16-8. Even after losing the opening pistol round and the following two subsequent rounds, Astralis won the half 9-6 thanks to some weird flubs on the team Liquid side. Then, Astralis again out-performed Liquid on their T-side to take the map, their fifth series win over Team Liquid, their third 2-0. 

ELEAGUE Premier 2018 Grand Finals

Like the ESL Pro League Season 7 finals, we again see Astralis meeting up with Liquid again in the finals after vanquishing them earlier in a winner’s match. And just like the EPL grand finals, Liquid changed their pick and ban phase based on the prior engagement. Here is how the pick/ban played out in the finals:

  1. Liquid removed Train
  2. Astralis removed Cache
  3. Liquid picked Inferno
  4. Astralis picked Nuke
  5. Astralis removed Mirage
  6. Liquid removed Overpass
  7. Dust2 was left over

Liquid went for Inferno instead of Mirage leading Astralis to second ban Mirage and instead have Dust2 show up as the possible map three decider. While you might be sympathetic to Liquid for moving away from Mirage given their previous two losses, looking at the matchup through a wider lense it’s hard to imagine why they would pass on the only map they have ever beaten Astralis on and where they still had an even 2-2 record versus them at the time

The decision even looks worse when you look at how Inferno played out. Here again, we see yet another slow start from Liquid, this time clocking in at a nigh -273 degree Kelvin sort of level, losing all 14 of the opening 14 rounds. While there were some breathtaking individual plays by Gla1ve and Magisk in this half, Liquid seemed too timid to give themselves a chance on their own T-side. In too many round they ceded any iota of banana control to Astralis which lead to multiple four or even five-man stacks when they eventually made their attack on the A-site.

Instead of “chocking”, if you were to assign a physiological malady to Liquid. perhaps it’s more accurate to describe them as a team that is overly show or fearful or timid at the start of the match but gets it together and excels under a tension of stress of the match itself. 

With yet another seven-round T-side for Astralis on Nuke and a dominating CT-side, the danish roster cruised to their third Grand final win over Liquid and their easiest 2-0 yet.  

FACEIT Major Semifinals

While this last result looked bleak even in the context of a one-sided rivalry, a not so silents minority of fans, analysts, and scene figures predicted Liquid to defeat Astralis and take the world championship belt at the FACEIT Major. 

But those predictions probably had more to do with Astralis than Liquid themselves. A week earlier at DreamHack Masters Stockholm, an event Liquid didn’t attend, Astralis lost two best-of-three series after a up and down year in the waning days of MSL’s leadership. Then, in the Swiss of the New Legends stage as  Liquid found their third map win versus Astralis in a best-of-one match. For once, Liquid got off to their own red-hot start winning thirteen rounds in the first half, and even through Astralis worked all the way back in the second half to take it to overtime, Liquid scrapped it out to find a 19-15 win.

Once they meet again in the semi-finals,  we saw an almost perfect replica of the pick and ban phase of the ELEAGUE grand final save Liquid picking Mirage instead of Inferno.

  1. Astralis removed Cache
  2. Liquid removed Train
  3. Astralis picked Nuke
  4. Liquid picked Mirage
  5. Liquid removed Overpass
  6. Astralis removed Inferno
  7. Dust2 was left over

But Astralis took yet another match win 2-0, seemingly without breaking a sweat, winning  Nuke 16-8 and Mirage 16-7. While the casters and analyst desk paid lip service to the idea that the Nuke game was closer than the scoreboard suggested, Astralis won 9 T-rounds in the first half with Liquid could only cobble rounds together off scrappy low-buy or force-buy rounds. But when you consider the dominance of Astralis over Liquid and the entire playoffs, challengers could only be crowned with silver linings.

But a week later we saw Liquid fail in the Finals of ESL One New York, losing 3-2 to mousesports with Snax. And in that series you saw the tendency of Liquid to avoid risky or even scenarios and try to win from a point of strength, On Inferno, you saw them constantly over-stack sites as the CT-side and on Dust2 Liquid failed to close out the game after passing over retake after retake as mousesports gradually took back control.  

IEM Chicago Grand Finals

Perhaps, it is this tendency to play it safe. to wait, to avoid risk long enough to find the perfect moment, has been reflected in the pick and ban phase throughout the latter half of the series. Perhaps in the FACEIT final, Liquid should have given up on their playing Nuke, banning it first instead. While it might be uncomfortable for Liquid to play Overpass, their former permaban, or Train, their current permaban, it wouldn’t be comfortable for Astralis either. They do not those anymore either. If Liquid banned Nuke and Astralis themselves played to their own comfort and first pick Dust2 instead, perhaps the series could have landed on the three maps Liquid seem to prefer to play versus Astralis the most: Dust2, Mirage, and Inferno.  

If they had been more willing to try more radical approaches to the pick and ban phase in non-previous matches, perhaps they could have found better way to run the pick and ban phase. 

Like the early stage of the FACEIT Major,  Astralis came into Chicago’s grand finals apparently off-peak. They placed third at BLAST Copenhagen 2018 and lost to FaZe in a best-of-three in prior to the playoffs. . The pick and ban phase went as follows: 

1. Liquid removed Train
2. Astralis removed Cache
3. Liquid picked Mirage
4. Astralis picked Nuke
5. Liquid picked Inferno
6. Astralis picked Dust2
7. Overpass was left over

Best-of-five instead of best-of-three aside, it was a standard affair that had the standard result, Astralis took the series in three games, yet again undefeated.  While Liquid lost a narrow 16-14 game on Mirage with Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken having a stunning superstar plus performance, the remaining games on Nuke and Inferno were blowouts. 

Liquid lost all six best-of-threes and both best-of-fives, only winning two maps total, excluding the FACEIT best-of-one.  FaZe has two series wins over Astralis this year, Na’Vi has two, North has two, and G2 even has one from the Starladder and I-league Season 4 Swiss.

The question was “what’s wrong with Liquid?” But maybe that’s the wrong question. In the attempt to explain it, to try to figure out this why this rivalry is so one-sided there is this inevitable tendency towards criticising Liquid whether that be their mentality, play style, approach, or players. But maybe we’re making a fundamental mistake in assuming that Liquid actually can beat Astralis.

If Astralis are significantly better than Liquid on every map in the pool, save Cache, does it really matter what Liquid what Liquid do in the pick and ban phase? If Astralis have a better mentality, the more refined play style, and the better players, maybe this rivalry is simply bound to be one-sided. This Astralis roster could go down as the best ever in CS:GO, after all. 

But surely, Liquid have to try. Somewhere inside themselves, they have to be sick of waiting, of avoiding conflict, of losing.  The Major grand final and the IEM Oakland grand final looked like the right moments, and they went with the rights picks, but again, and again it did not work.  Maybe sooner or later the discomfort of losing yet another match will exceed the discomfort of finding a new way to win. To challenge Astralis, perhaps they have to challenge their own perceptions of their themselves, what they are capable of and what they can achieve. 

Here’s an over-quoted cliche supposedly said by Albert Einstein, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Here’s a better one from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. A great person does not have to think consistently from one day to the next.”

But the best, of course, GBJames already told Liquid a few years ago, ” Just make a play that makes your dick hard.” 



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WallabeeBeatle

CS:GO cartography enthusiast and writer.

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