Tim Masters looks back on the year in CSGO as 2018 threw up shocks, scandals and sumptuous skills in the server
The year began with a bang in CSGO, as the Boston Major took place in the second half of January 2018. Coming into the event, the majority felt this was finally the time European superteam FaZe Clan would get a Major title, with the five-man unit of karrigan, NiKo, Rain, GuardiaN and Olofmeister looking supreme in the run up.
However, it was Cloud9 that took the title and became the first North American team to win an event of that magnitude, leading to unprecedented levels of optimism around CS in the US. As it turned out, that optimism was short-lived, with the new hope blown apart faster than a spherical space station in a galaxy far, far away and a new dominant force girding their loins in the wings, ready to revolutionise the game.
February was, it turns out, the most important month in recent CSGO history, as one Danish man changed the face of the game as we know it. Marcus Kjaerbye, known as Kjaerbye in-game, took the decision to leave Astralis at the end of his contract, without telling his team-mates of his plans, to move into a starring role with Danish "competitors" North.
The reason for the slight doubt around the term "competitors" can been seen in the results for the subsequent months, where North slowly slid down the rankings until their in-game leader finally had to go. Astralis, meanwhile, picked up Emil ‘Magiskboy’ Reif after the player had endured tough spells at OpTic and other orgs, a move which has turned them into potentially the best team ever seen. Funny how things work out.
March was all about rejection, as the then-SK core found themselves knocked back in their attempts to sign s1mple from Na’Vi and ending up getting Stewie2K to replace TACO, who had left for Liquid on his team-mates’ behest. At the time the American was listed as a temporary replacement and, while that may have been upgraded for a while, it turned out to be very prescient in the long-term.
While all of that was going on, the richest event in the CSGO calendar, WESG, was taking place, where Fnatic would take the prize, granting their in-game leader a temporary stay of execution, but in the end even $850,000 couldn’t save the Swedes from themselves, and Golden’s days were numbered. The team’s plan to replace him with Xist had been put on hold, but would come to fruition soon.
At DreamHack Marseille, s1mple was in god form and took home the MVP, while Astralis won the event in a pattern that would become eerily familiar to CS fans over the course of 2018. The UK’s own smooya officially joined Berlin International Gaming, or BIG Clan as they like to be known, a move that would eventually lead to the FACEIT Major having some of the most confusingly British chanting ever to be seen at a CS event.
There was a tough start to life for Stewie2K on SK Gaming as the move to MIBR for that group became more and more obvious, with the players making it clear they were unhappy at SK. There was also a comeback for a cherish old friend, as Dust2 was reintroduced to the competitive map pool at the expense of Cobblestone.
For the first but not the last time in 2018, May saw Astralis and Team Liquid meet in ESL Pro League finals on this occasion Season 7. With all the best teams in attendance and FaZe Clan sharing 3rd-4th with Na’Vi, the event was stacked and the two best teams made it to the final, where it ended 3-1 in favour of the Danish side, again not for the first or last time in that match-up.
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In roster terms, Spanish nomad Mixwell was told he could explore other options after joining the catastrophe that is G2’s CSGO team, who continued to throw money at increasingly mad schemes. Fnatic finally brought Xist in, while FaZe were forced to play with stand-ins, and looked pretty good doing so, due to Olofmeister needing an extended break from the game to deal with personal issues.
Although it hasn’t had maximum impact to date, June saw the foundation of the Counter-Strike Professional Players Association, or CSPPA for short, a group aimed at representing player rights in disputes with teams and tournament organisers. Esports veteran Scott ‘SirScoots’ Smith worked to help the group get set up, alongside a number of top pros including Xyp9x, of Astralis, and ChrisJ, mousesports’ in-game leader.
London hosted FACEIT’s ECS Season 5 Finals, where, again, Astralis met Team Liquid in the final and, again, the Europeans were supreme, taking the series 2-0 and confirming their place atop the CSGO tree. NRG also made a splash by winning Group B, which was a sign of things to come for one of the most rapidly-improving sides in the game.
July was a month bookended by the old and the new, as it began with ELEAGUE’s CSGO Premier, an event with $1m on the line. In what was becoming something of a habit at this point, Team Liquid once again went to the final, only to lose to Astralis after the tournament had made the crazy decision to see the two teams in the same group as well.
The end of the month brought us ESL One Cologne, an event with far more history than anything ELEAGUE do, but less than a third of the prize money. The cathedral of CS was still a big enough draw for Astralis, FaZe and MIBR to turn up, but they all were forced to play second fiddle to an inspired s1mple. However, the real story of the event was arguably BIG Clan making the final on home soil, and the emergence of British AWP talent smooya.
For some reason, we had an inexplicable player break in August, just a few weeks shy of the London Major, meaning that the world of CSGO was pretty much silent. With the biggest prize of the year on offer and a chance to become world champion laid in front of the players, you’d think they would have spent this time practising, but most chose to jet off for some sun and fun, disregarding the tournament just around the corner.
The month was dominated by the run-up to said Major, with biting in the scene between people who had been hired and those annoyed they would not be working the event. MIBR had just finalised their team, with Tarik and coach Ynk in place, and were setting up to see how far they could go with the international lineup. The answer turned out to be "December".
London’s first ever CSGO Major took place in September, and it’s fair to say things could have gone better for FACEIT. Production issues and poor internet plagued the early stages of the event, with questions being raised about whether a group more known for providing a good matchmaking and smaller events were capable of running an event on this scale.
In the end, FACEIT were saved by Astralis, who stomped the competition and made winning a second Major title look much easier than should have been the case. This time, they beat Na’Vi in the final, while Liquid managed to lose a final to a team that isn’t Astralis, handing the ESL New York title to a mouz team that was about to do a U-turn on their decision to remove STYKO and bring in Snax.
“How long has it been since one esport has all been about a single team? Not even the SKT era of League of Legends excluded other teams from the conversation of who's the No. 1, but Astralis did so with CSGO ... with ease” - Radoslav Kolev, VPEsports
Sadly, the month of October was mainly dominated by the story of OpTic Gaming’s Indian CSGO project and forsaken, their "star" player. While competing for OpTic at eXTREMESLAND Asia Finals, the player was not only caught red-handed, but filmed trying to bat away an admin’s hand as he desperately tried to delete his cheat, codename word.exe, leading to the creation of many memes.
Once the scene had finished competing to see who could display the most righteous anger, the player was handed a five-year band and promptly forgotten about, as is sadly the way. There was relief for FaZe Clan too, as they beat Na’Vi to win EPICENTER with Olof back in the fold, and for a time all looked well in the super team, even if it had taken a mutiny to make it happen.
Arlington, Texas hosted a massive event as their esports arena officially opened to the sounds of ECS Season 6 Finals. The prize money was significant, all the big teams were in attendance, and for once we got a shock. It wasn’t Astralis beating Liquid in the final, but Astralis beating MIBR, who had a resurgent event and looked ready to rock again.
Elsewhere, Blast Pro held an event on Danish soil, and for once the Danes couldn’t win it, with Na’Vi taking the tile. Major winners Gambit started to shed stars as Hobbit moved to HellRaisers, and we saw one of the all-time great 1 v 5s from North’s Valde, playing against NRG on Nuke, where he highlighted just how insanely talented he really is.
Outside of yet another final between Astralis and Team Liquid, which predictably went the way of the Danes, December was pretty quiet, save for a couple of minor issues. The first of those was the biggest prize ever won in CSGO being handed to Denmark’s finest after they won the Intel Grand Slam, and $1m, and the second was the eventual end of a couple of big-name CSGO rosters.
After nearly a year of irrelevancy and poor results, Virtus.pro finally gave up on their Polish CSGO project and released Neo, Pazcha and the rest into the wild, to fend for themselves. Likewise, Liquid traded TACO and Zews for Stewie2K, as the MIBR project is going full Brazilian in 2019, which is a fitting end to a baffling series of decisions.
Picture: Astralis / Twitter