Astralis are the best team in the world. Thank God.
This isn’t about fanboyism, national pride, or negative feelings towards other entities in the scene though. It’s about enjoying a true apex predator finally emerging in a space that’s been devoid of one for months. Whether it had been FaZe, or SK, or Na`Vi or Mouz, it doesn’t matter. What is important is that the CS:GO eco-system finally has its top dog. There’s a clear benchmark of what the best team in the world looks like, and from that, we have the driving narrative framework for the scene as a whole heading into Spring and Summer.
Importantly, Astralis aren’t number one just by edging it due to a weighting of results or significance of Bo3 upset. They’re just clearly the best. Astralis’ play against other elite sides looks effortless. They don’t just win a lot of games; they dominate a lot of games. Their CT-side is an obvious point of praise, especially on maps like Cache and Nuke, but their T-sides are just as dangerous and tight. Tournament to tournament, it’s sometimes not apparent before the last map who could be the MVP due to how cohesive they are individually as well as in a macro sense.
They not only have the results, the round differentials, and the on-paper statistics to back-up their claim for the throne, but they have that special characteristic of ‘feeling’ like the best in the world as well. Similar parallels can be drawn to Luminosity/SK in 2016, the special FaZe honeymoon period of late-2017, or even Kjaerbye and gla1ve’s early 2017 Astralis.
What separates Astralis even from these historical ghosts though, is their journey and trajectory to this point. They not only ‘feel’ like the best team in the world in-game, but seem to just be on another level outside of it as well.
They’re the team in CS:GO who have the mindset and resources to constantly push the bar in structuring a team environment and preparation. From hiring their support staff to regularly skipping tournaments to avoid burn-out to the way in which they prepare, Astralis are a team actively transcending what’s before them. They aren’t as much defined by being a CS:GO team as an elite squad of competitors.
When SK went through their 2017 run, it felt as though their dynastical plane was kept aloft through the sheer inertia of their talent and passion. They had by far the most maps played on LAN last year across any team in the world - on stages big or small. Being able to roll wins from sub-250k events like cs_summit, to then, premier stages such as IEM Sydney, to Dreamhack Summer to ECS S3 Finals was key in bolstering their resume. Also benefiting from Astralis skipping Cologne, SK played as much as possible and gained a unique aura of ‘hot’ form as a result. But eventually this heat burns out, and as we’ve seen since Krakow, SK have never looked the same.
It’s as though playing so many games was masking the lack of sustainability of their internal dynamics and style. This idea carries even more weight when we see their current state with their English speaking, half coldzera/half FalleN led system. The sting and danger of their run have left, but the show goes on much the same.
Astralis’ success though, feels more sustainable. Take, for example, Xyp9x’s response when asked about how his team prepares their structured brand of CS against a looser side like Fnatic.
“When you get information you treat it differently whether you are device or dupreeh and whether you’re against Fnatic or Na`Vi. Maybe dupreeh doesn’t need to think ‘this guy is sitting here’ because it will affect his brain, it will affect him differently, maybe we don’t say everything to dupreeh. But for me, I’d like to know everything, I want to hear everything, but maybe another player wouldn’t because it would affect his performance and thinking. And he’d be thinking too much, it’s about finding his and all of our comfort zones.”
Astralis aren’t just looking at how to improve their communication, generally speaking, they’re looking at tailoring an entirely unique system of information sharing to each player. It’s not about communicating more for them, but in-fact, specifically withholding communication more to specific players like dupreeh.
An elite entry player like dupreeh might have a specific, proven way he clears a site or plays a post-plant every round. Being told there ‘might’ be a player in a spot will negatively affect the way he peeks each angle, whereas a clutcher like Xyp9x thrives off information like that. So Xyp9x is saying that Astralis are looking at ways to share specific packets of information to each player individually.
This is the level of evolution Astralis are looking to push in their own play, and it’s unlike any other team in the world.
It reflects the way they destroy other elite teams as well. When Na`Vi has a dominant performance against another top team, it’s very clearly a result of leveraging individual skill of their (super)-stars. While there are many other factors at play, the performances of key individuals (or lack thereof) will almost always define Na`Vi’s big victories.
It’s not as easy though to define Astralis’ big wins with a generalisation. The closest we can get is by saying something like Astralis wins due to their ‘cohesion’ or ‘blend of micro and macro’ which is about as broad a brush you can paint. If we look at each individual, you have a top or at least, a top three contender in each of their respective roles.
Gla1ve is the best IGL in the world and is on the threshold of being undeniably the best IGL of all-time. Magisk boasts some of the best CT-site play and entry prowess in the world. Dupreeh, much in the same boat, also brings a lethal secondary AWP forged in the belly of Dennis’s BLAST Astralis. Xyp9x is the best late-round closer in the game since the fall of Coldzera and plateau of NiKo. And Device remains a threatening international hybrid superstar AWPer who spearheads the Astralis offensive.
The individual form merely informs the layers upon layers of win conditions Astralis has off this solid base. They run an incredibly structured, tight and clinical brand of CS that looks to overwhelm sides with sheer cohesion and comfortableness in macro play. They have gimmicks to spice-up what can be this stiff form of play in nade stacks, many boosts and situational transitions between set-ups. Their allocation of ‘star’ performer can change round-to-round rather than tournament to tournament. Their map pool is deep, even if heavily untested on battlegrounds like Train. And they have the momentum dynasties are built from.
Astralis are the best team in the world. They are the kings, CS:GO is their kingdom and everyone else is forced to look-up and ask themselves the question ‘how do we beat that?’
The answer either lies within the form of Astralis themselves or that of their opponents.
Since neither is satisfactory at this time, the throne proudly flies a Danish flag.
Photo Credit: DreamHack