As the dust settles over Katowice, and most likely Copenhagen too, we stumble bleary-eyed into the morning after the night before. Sunday 3rd March, 2019, saw the Danish CSGO line-up cement their place as the greatest team in the history of the game, defeating ENCE on this occasion to take a third Major title. The fallout from that win is still in the air, but there are a few conclusions we can draw, one of which appears to be about how you build your team.
At the start of 2018, we were fully in the era of the international superteam, with FaZe Clan expected to go deep into the Boston Major and mousesports dominating rivals on Mirage and beyond. Gone were the days when five Swedes, Frenchies or Brazilians were king of the CS castle, now all you needed was sick aim, some basic team play and the ability to call out spots in English and you were set for a spot in a top five team.
Skip forward 12, or more like, 14 months, though, and the story has changed, with the two main superteams in shambles and the scene dominated by teams that share more than just an ability to win gunfights. FaZe and Mouz tore themselves apart with infighting and egos, and sit in a state of disarray, with groups of Finns, Danes, Brazilians or Swedes coming to the fore with their shared values and cultural similarities.
Of the final eight teams at the event, four were from a single, shared nationality, with a further two being made up of players from nations that can essentially be considered culturally very similar and another having a four plus one. The four were NIP, Astralis, ENCE and MIBR, with both Na’Vi and Team Liquid having teams drawn from neighbouring countries (Russia/Ukraine and USA/Canada) that share language and culture to some extent, making them essentially the closest thing you can have to a single nationality team without actually being that.
The seventh side, Renegades, might seem like they disprove the theory, but when you consider 80% of the team is from Australia or New Zealand, and the fifth is a Norwegian who has been with them for a long time now it’s clear even they have created a group with shared values and understanding, and it’s paying off. The final, and emphatically non-homogeneous roster is FaZe Clan, created of some of the most amazing parts in CSGO, and currently incapable of playing elite level CSGO. But why?
Boring, boring greatness
Without going into the specifics of the players involved, it’s hard to say this is the exact reason for the failure and success of the teams in question, but there are definitely observable trends in the way that teams have been built. Defeated finalist ENCE are a fantastic example of a team that has come together, and very much exceeded what looked like the sum total potential of the five parts they are working with, a description that actually fits the greatest team of all time very well too.
While they are clearly the best team in the world, and maybe ever, the individual players on Astralis are by no means the most gifted in world CSGO. The likes of s1mple, NiKo, coldzera and even ZywOo may have more natural talent for CS than someone like gla1ve or Xyp9x, or even dev1ce if we’re being honest, but that counts for naught when they meet in bracket. The way the five men of Denmark work together means that no level of individual excellence able to fluster them, at least up until now, which is a result of their own work.
This is also a big part of the reason they are labelled boring in comparison to the FaZe side that dominated ESL New York once upon a time. To the casual fan, it is hard to get that excited, as Astralis don't rely on the flicks and tricks that keep 'better' players in games, instead choosing to win with percentage shots fashioned through planning and team play. If you have a deeper understanding of the game, that is thrilling to watch in a way too, but it is harder to explain or translate for the casual fan.
The game has changed
The fact is that Astralis have moved CSGO forward themselves by working on the tactical side of their own game, and therefore forcing every other team to either match their level or flounder in the lower reaches of the scene. That increase in tactical complexity has raised the pressure on communication as much as anything else, meaning teams with a shared first language and to some extent even shared cultural values had an innate advantage in pressure situations.
At the top level, a lot of the information required is given, of course, but CSGO moves at an incredible speed when the action heats up and the ability to play off each other under pressure is what really counts when winning trophies. Any two of the five Astralis players are more than capable of winning 2 v X situations, partly because of that extreme understanding and communication, built on hundreds of hours of practice and a commitment to play the game in the most optimal way.
They are of course also fine individual players, and dev1ce, Dupreeh and Magisk have top tier fundamentals, but it’s the mental strength that sets Astralis apart, and looks to have reformed the pro scene too. ENCE, MIBR and the other challengers know they have to match the mentality and professionalism of the Danes to stand a chance, while, hopefully, the five-man international superteams are finally starting to realise that being the best player in every deathmatch no longer counts at the top level.
Pictures: Copyright ESL | Adela Sznajder