The Major is done, and major moves are happening. Today, one of the world’s top teams lost a core member, seemingly out of the blue, as Markus ‘Kjaerbye’ Kjærbye announced he is leaving Astralis and joining North with immediate effect. While it was widely known that the Astralis guys had come to the end of their contracts, and had not re-signed with the organisation yet, it seems that this move came as a real surprise to his team mates.
Astralis started 2017 as the best team in the world, winning the ELEAGUE Major over Virtus.pro and generally looking like the new breed, but over the course of the year time and the continued brilliance of their peers chipped away at that. SK Gaming regained their spot as the best team in the world, and illness meant star turn Nicolai ‘dev1ce’ Reedtz was forced to sit out a number of events, and results dropped off.
The initial reaction from this team mates seems to be surprise and some anger, with tweets from his in-game leader Lukas ‘gla1ve’ Rossander and coach Danny ‘zonic’ Sørensen both expressing how blind-sided they feel. To his credit Kjaerbye is never one to hold back either, with what looks like a parting shot aimed at gla1ve’s leadership, but you must admire his confidence to leave the world’s third best team for one not currently in the top five.
There will be other factors at play, of course, with North owned and financed by Danish top division football team FC Copenhagen (which they referenced, or at least their footballing background, with a cheeky announcement video). Their players are reportedly on a wage that already puts them ahead of the average pro player in the Danish top division, leading some to comment that they are amongst the most overpaid people in esports. This may seem cruel, but to this point, North have achieved exactly one tournament win, at Dreamhack Malmo, which came with its own idiosyncrasies.
There was immediate speculation as to who would replace Kjaerbye on Astralis, with the obvious answer seeming to be Kristian ‘k0nfig’ Wienecke, who was recently benched by North. Some have pointed to leaked chatlogs from a few months back where the swap was discussed by team members, but the question would then be why the Astralis players reacted with such shock and disappointment if they knew the move was on the cards.
What is certain is that this will precipitate the anticipated Danish shuffle, but it was not the way the experts expected it to go. Normally the top team in a region, which has to be Astralis despite their recent struggles, will farm from below them and the rest can pick up the scraps, but the massive funding behind North means that is not the case, and there are two massive teams in that nation at least financially. Some might also say it’s been too long since Astralis were a top side for them to still hold the crown.
How the organisation responds will be fascinating, with the other players still not having signed new deals, but this surely marks a turning point for the ‘player owned’ org. The talent on the team is undeniable, and 2017 served as proof of concept, so it just depends if they have the motivation to rebuild after this body blow. If not, there are four outrageously talented free agents available, and that could send shockwaves through the CS:GO world.