Counter Strike history has seen teams dominate the professional scene for months on stretch. We had the NIP era in the early years followed by the Fnatic era of 2015. SK was the team to beat in 2016 and they won all the majors of the year as well. However 2017 has been a mixture of several top teams so far. In retrospect it’s been only 70 days into the new year but we have already seen several top level CS GO tournaments including the Eleague Major.
2017 has not seen one team dominate the entire scene as in previous years. But we are seeing a number of teams competing at the top for the Number one ranking. Astralis, Virtus Pro, SK and Faze are all staking a claim for the top position in CS GO rankings.
In this series we take a look at the top two teams Astralis and Virtus Pro and what separates them.
The Astralis CS GO roster has never left the top ten since 2014. Their results during their best and their worst performances do not have a big gap between them. A lot of their failures in the past years have come from their inability to finish off matches in big tournaments. It has been acknowledged as one of the reasons why the team could not proceed and win big tournaments. The player based organisation, Astralis have secured the services of and esports psychologist, Mia Stellberg to help them get past their mental block of the playoffs and the “chokers” tag. Their prospects looked positive after winning two big tournaments in 2017. But more importantly they do not choke in the important matches anymore.
Astralis’ victory at the Eleague Major coincided with their return to form. They had not been as strong prior to the Major. Not many expected them to outright win the tournament as opposed to a Virtus Pro & NaVi. With two strong lineups on paper as G2, EnVyUs this major had a high chance of an upset if any of these teams performed up to their potential. Dupreeh mentioned in an interview about Astralis’ return to form at just the right moment for the Major playoffs. NaVi breezed past the group stage at the Eleague Major giving away just 12 rounds in a total of 3 matches during the Group stage. In retrospect that proved to be a big disadvantage for the CIS team. The Eleague Major employed a Swiss format which means that the teams would need to win at least three matches in order to qualify to the playoffs. NaVIś early dominance did not have much importance due to the quality of opponents that they faced in these matches( EnVyUs, Mousesports & SK before the roster change ) was not of the best skill. They got a day off due to qualifying for the playoffs earlier which resulted in a break in their momentum.
Astralis were able to get their game-plan together and had a nearly flawless execution through the tournament. Their win against NaVi in the quarterfinals definitely boosted their confidence to a high level. Admittedly they faced a much easier Semifinals against a lacklustre Fnatic roster which was unable to provide any sort of challenge to them. The finals of the $1,000,000 Eleague Major was an extremely close affair. Virtus Pro play a very high risk high reward style of CS GO. Astralis were able to make a great comeback in the final map in order to secure their first ever Major Victory.
Astralis breezed past their group stage during Dreamhack Las Vegas. They won against Optic and Complexity in single digits. Moving on to the playoffs, Astralis were able to defeat their nemesis NIP. Ninjas in Pyjamas are the team that have proved to be the mental block for Astralis throughout their history in CS GO. Astralis crushed Ninjas in Pyjamas reiterating their stance that they are no longer held down by their lack of confidence especially against NIP. With 6 and 7 rounds respectively NIP did not look anywhere near the elite level team they once were.
The semifinals saw the rematch of the Eleague Major finals. Astralis were unable to break through Virtus Pro this time as Virtus Pro won the match with considerable ease. Astralis looked a far cry from their strong mental gameplay during the Eleague Major. While some might argue, it was Virtus Pro who turned their game on with some really aggressive and confident plays I beg to disagree. Virtus Pro have always had the same style of game since a long time. Their aggressive and high risk style of game ensures that their wins are extremely flashy while their losses look very stupid.
While this tournament was just one tournament ( and the only one ) that Astralis lost in 2017, their weaknesses were on display against Virtus Pro. It was not a close match by any means. Virtus Pro seem to be the only team that has the capability to destroy Astralis in the current scene.
IEM Katowice was heavily criticised for the format. With two of the strongest teams at the tournament out in the Group stage itself, the tournament lost a lot of it’s appeal once the Groups were over. Astralis got some really easier match-ups in the playoffs, thanks to the structure of the tournament. With a bickering NaVi, a mismatched Heroic and a out-of-steam Faze Clan Astralis definitely had a much easier run to the finals of the tournament. It would have been fair to expect both Virtus Pro and SK in the playoffs had the format been different for the tournament.
Virtus Pro nevertheless had a dismal performance in this tournament losing Best of One matches to Heroic and NaVi. This tournament again calls into question the format that was used which provided for a playoff stage which was below par.
Device has been the best player on Astralis since a long time. He has been consistent in his performances even in times when Astralis were in a slump. The Primary AWP’er for the team has settled into his role and executes it with near perfection. Device boasts a rating of 1.30 which frankly is quite difficult to achieve.
Virtus Pro are the crowd favorites by a large margin from the current crop of teams. The love for Virtus Pro stems from a positive attitude and endearing nature of the players. This roster has been together for a long time, it is the longest standing roster in the current CS GO Scene. Their faith and confidence in each other stems from their belief in each other as well as a generic lack of choices from Poland.
The aggressive and high risk game that Virtus Pro plays means that they are either exciting to watch or just fail so hard it gets funny. The nicknames Virtus Plow and Virtus Throw come from similar analogies.
Virtus Pro started off the new year with the WESG 2016 Championship. The $1,500,000 tournament was one of the rare occasions when Virtus Pro lost to a fellow Polish lineup. The semifinals loss to Kinguin definitely came as a big shock as Virtus Pro have always managed to defeat their local rivals even when they are in a big slump. Coming off an off-season in December, it might be attributed to their lack of preparation and form for the new season in 2017.
The next tournament that Virtus Pro attended was the Eleague Major. Undoubtedly the biggest tournament and Major that Virtus Pro have attended, this was one of their best chances to win a major post the IEM Katowice Major several years ago. Virtus Pro faced off against a strong Optic, Gamers2 and Gambit in the Group stage winning each one of these matches. There was a lot of hype around the Gamers2 lineup, which was obviously not based off their performances. But Virtus Pro winning these matches against two teams which were considered as contenders for the Major title definitely put them into the spotlight. Optic and Gamers2 were considered extremely strong at the time. This was obviously a wrong notion as was proved later due to their poor performances henceforth.
The Quarter Finals saw Virtus Pro face-off against North, which looked extremely strong till that moment. North had been consistently qualifying to the playoffs and had won the Epicenter 2016. Virtus Pro were able to jump over that hurdle and into the finals after fending off Fnatic in the semis. The Finals was a very close affair. While the first two maps saw Virtus Pro being able to make it extremely close and splitting the maps with their aggressive gameplay; the third map backfired for them in the closing stages. They let go of a very strong lead with their aggressive gameplay and simply lost out on the economy game. With lesser guns and pistols towards the end of the match, they were constantly playing at a disadvantage. Many would say Astralis did not win the Major, but Virtus Pro lost it. Be that as it may, we will forever have Astralis’ name etched on the Eleague 2017 Major trophy.
Taz threw down the gauntlet for Astralis in future tournaments. The Virtus Pro roster is known for not being beat about losses. They talk openly about their problems and losses and actually work on getting better. Dreamhack Las Vegas had a very balanced Group stage format. Virtus Pro steamrolled through the Group stage. While they did lose to Gambit Gaming, it was more of a challenge to themselves as they decided to play Gambit on their best ( and undefeated till then ) map in Cobblestone. Virtus Pro constantly need to challenge their own game in order to keep them confident. Fielding the same lineup over the years can get quite tiresome and challenging themselves and their game is what rejuvenates the team. The finals of the Dreamhack Las Vegas gave us a brief peek into the potential of the once dominant Brazilian team. But the unpolished SK roster simply could not stand up to Virtus Pro who were determined to win Dreamhack after their narrow Eleague Major loss.
Virtus Pro were the undisputed favorites at IEM Katowice. Not only are they extremely popular but the tournament was held at the Spodek Arena in Poland, the home of Virtus Pro. The tournament however had a terrible format which resulted in two strong contenders at the tournament being ousted in the Group stage itself. Both VP and SK who are extremely talented teams and had a real shot at the title, were removed in the Group stage itself. I have written on several problems with the format of IEM Katowice and how to solve them. I doubt anyone would have had both VP and SK out in the group stage at Katowice had it been another reasonable format. This definitely pulled all competition out of the tournament and Astralis had a easy run till the trophy.
Snax has been instrumental in Virtus Pro’s performances in the past few months. He has been the best player on the team maintaining a 1.32 rating over the course of 1219 rounds. Considering the sample size, this rating is quite impressive.
CS GO is extremely fun and exciting to watch in the current meta. While Astralis do maintain their top position, it is not as big a lead as it used to be. Virtus Pro are definitely breathing down their necks and the multiple close matches have just proven that Virtus Pro might be the counter to Astralis.
However due to Virtus Pro’s play style, it leaves them wide open to counter plays from other teams such as Faze, SK etc. Each team has to evolve and develop their gameplay if they are to maintain their ranks.
The upcoming weeks will be extremely exciting with the Starladder I-League Season 3 Finals coming up soon. We will see a lot of movement in the rankings in the upcoming weeks.
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