Time waits for no man and that is especially true in esports. The evolution of a scene can happen almost overnight and take you by surprise, to the point that you don’t even realise how much things have changed. Just think, 18 months or so ago it seemed like SK Gaming took on Astralis in every other final, with the two clearly leading the way, but a few short months later we enjoy the final of ECS6, where Astralis take on MIBR, clearly a totally different team…
You might think that is a slight stretch, as there are differences between the old SK and the new MIBR, and you’d be right. For example, any of the SK lineups would destroy the current SK team, be they the felps, boltz or probably even fnx teams, due simply to the ease of communication, and for this writer their team was 100% stronger before they kicked TACO. However, it is not as much a story of two teams staying at the top, as one team being the best, and the rest not being able to do anything about it.
Evolution of the best
To be honest, there actually has been an impressive evolution over the past year or so, but it has come from the Danes, and was somewhat forced, like a lizard losing a tail that it didn’t know had been weighing it down. They were trotting along nicely with Kjaerbye as part of the team when his decision to up and leave for North (definitely not for money) forced them into a move. Emil ‘Magiskboy’ Reif was brought in from the cold, and the rest is very much history, with the team dominating the world of CS and winning a Major, too.
What the change seemed to give them was a degree of resilience that had been missing for some time. Where once they were a team of chokers, now Astralis are winning games 16-14 all over the place, making incredible comebacks and looking like they are mentally indomitable. The same ‘clutch’ factor that SK used to enjoy has been cultivated by the Danes, just at the time the likes of FaZe and others have forgotten what it takes to win.
Meanwhile, SK have turned into MIBR, which is a transformation akin to the one Superman makes just before he goes back to work at the Daily Planet and others have gone the same way. FaZe have gone from a galaxy of greats to a confusing mess, Cloud 9 didn’t just shoot themselves in the foot, but mortared their feet from space and other contenders from around that time have disappeared altogether, like G2 or Virtus.pro.
In their place we do have the rise of Team Liquid and to some extent Na’Vi too, but the former seems to have been created in a lab to be the perfect number two to Astralis’ main men, with their team a slightly inferior version of the Danish one. Sure, you can argue there is a slight talent advantage for the NA side, but the results show they are set up to fail when it comes to taking on the best right now.
As for Na’Vi, they have talent to embarrass anyone, with s1mple and electronic as good as it gets, but in big games it seems as though they are not able to guarantee even playing their B-game, let alone hitting top form. With no changes planned on Liquid or Na’Vi either, it looks as though we’ll go into 2019 in the very same shape, as both of those sides have had time to fix any internal issues that may have been holding them back.
No sign of change
What makes this more worrying is the fact that the last couple of events are where Astralis really should have lost, if that were going to happen. They clearly peaked at the London Major, which is the obvious way to plan their year, and haven’t been on top form as the season winds down, but were able to walk away from ECS6 and IEM Chicago with the title anyway, after final wins based more on mental domination than anything else.
If nobody can beat them even when they are giving chances, you can bet that things won’t have improved by the time we get to Katowice, and the Danes are fully focused again. Their nearest rivals seem to be stuck in the mud, meaning that as much as we must give Astralis credit for the year they’ve had, it is equally about the way the rest of the scene has fallen away, leaving the path clear to dominate into Katowice 2019 and beyond.
Picture: Astralis / Twitter