“To the stars; and back”. If ever there was a phrase that summed up Astralis and their journey in the last year or so. The Danish stack had a supposed mental hurdle of not being able to convert their good placements into event victories at the onset.
But, bringing in gla1ve in place of karrigan worked like a charm for Astralis. The former Heroic star, along with zonic, brought in fresh tactical styles combined with more focus on the impact utility usage can make. The improvement wasn’t instant but gradual and definite.
The Danish stack deservedly won the ELEAGUE Major in 2017. Astralis began correcting their mentality and went from being a top-four team to title hopefuls to ultimately title favourites by early 2018.
But, it is after the shocking departure of Kjaerbye and the subsequent addition of Magisk that Astralis became the dominant side they have been regarded as by analysts all over the world.
The newest iteration boasted a win rate of more than 77%, an unprecedented statistic from any team in the modern-day Counter Strike scene. To give it a fair view, the current iteration of Astralis has won almost the same number of games/maps (254) as all of their previous iterations combined (259), but with a staggering difference in terms of losses (74 current vs 153 all former).
What was once thought of as a questionable and desperate decision is now hailed as one of the best in the CS ecosystem. Magisk has now become a key star within the lineup outgrowing the early supposed tertiary role he would be given when he joined.
The Self-Created Pitfall
So, what has led to their downfall? There is a famous quote that goes, “Everyday you do not train, the Enemy grows stronger” that best describes the situation Astralis find themselves in.
The Danish stack chose to skip many events in order to recuperate after their triumph at the IEM Katowice Major, securing back-to-back Major trophies after their win over Natus Vincere earlier at the FACEIT Major in London.
In fact, Astralis attended just 8 events after IEM Katowice 2019, two of which were regulation group stage or qualification events – ECS Season 7 week 1 and ESL Pro League Season 9. Two others were the events (Finals) they qualified through the aforementioned phase. Three of the 8 events were Blast Pro Series circuit events, which for a lack of a better explanation, just does not have an ideal format to be considered part of the professional circuit.
The only Major LAN Event they were a part of since their win at IEM Katowice 2019 was ESL ONE Cologne 2019, where they were handed a beating by ZyWoO and co. in the semi-finals, with Astralis unable to reach double figures in two of the three maps and barely edging Vitality in the map they won.
The Challenger that Dethroned Astralis
In the meantime, Liquid acquired Stewie2k from mibr, who chose to return to being a full Brazilian roster. Much was made of the move, with the North American organisation seeing zews follow TACO back to mibr. But, in adreN, they recruited a coach, who, despite being fairly new to the world of coaching, had a modern view of the game and knew most of the players on the Liquid roster. In addition, adreN was still playing, albeit semi-professionally with Mythic, and would have also taken some gimmicks from teams in the Tier-2 circuit.
What followed suit was a fluent and flexible style of play from Liquid. But, an even more impressive challenge in which they succeeded was to look dangerous on their T sides, and not just due to their firepower. It was down to adreN in part but also to the players who had willingly bought into his tactical briefs.
Liquid overtook Astralis as the new Numero Uno in the HLTV Rankings and deservedly so, after their many LAN triumphs. The North Americans also removed any doubts as to who the superior team was, defeating Astralis at the ESL Pro League Season 9 Finals and winning the event along with ESL One Cologne 2019, where Astralis were also present but succumbed to Vitality.
So now, Astralis, going into the Starladder Berlin Major, have not won a single credible LAN event since IEM Katowice. Unlike other Majors, Astralis are no more overwhelming favourites and now have a target on their back. Astralis have lagged a bit and Vitality, Liquid, ENCE, Natus Vincere and maybe more would not view the Danish stack as a daunting opposition.
Astralis have gotten used to the pressure of winning. But, this is something new for the current iteration. A realm where they do not go into the Major as the favourites is uncharted territory.
Now, it’s not just about winning. It’s about the climb back to the top of the throne. It’s a battle of redemption for Astralis, who will now be under pressure to prove they haven’t lost their ‘golden touch’. The Starladder Berlin Major 2019 will be a battleground worth keeping an eye on.
It could potentially have two great storylines – of Astralis and an unprecedented threepeat or of their self-created downfall and the true crowning of a new King.
As Jon Snow rightly said, “There is only one war that matters. The Great War. And it is here.“