Though CS:GO's quickly growing esport scene always had its fair share of rivalries at the top, it often felt like one team was way ahead of the pack, or that two were jostling for the top spot with everyone else stuck in the dirt. Now it seems like the perfect storm of events has brought us at least five teams capable of world-class performances, with a quickly growing bench of challengers further intensifying the fights.
First up, there’s Astralis, the kings of the scene with back-to-back-to-back major titles who only really seem to falter when they decide to take their foot off the pedal. The fact that their semi-final finish at the recently concluded ESL Pro League Season 10 Finals felt like a massive underperformance is really a sign of how excellent this Danish side is.
Everything but a complete triumph is treated like a failure when it comes to Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander and co., with strong individual performances coupled by an excellent tactical understanding of the game often leading to blowout wins.
Their loss against mousesports was a rare aberration in the sense of how big a lead they ended up losing, and you couldn’t help but feel that it had more to do with the history-laden chess match between the two in-game leaders more than anything else.
As for the North American contingent, Team Liquid and Evil Geniuses seem to be on very different trajectories. The former had a brief but impressive stint atop the world with a massive streak of LAN match victories and a corresponding haul of trophies before the player break. They’ve struggled to find their form since then, receding in confidence as a resurgent Astralis defended their title in Berlin at the major.
Meanwhile, the ex-NRG side seems to have found their mojo, partly due to bringing in Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz as an in-game leader (who, lest we forget, had a long history with Tarik "tarik" Celik from the OpTic days) and upgrading from coach to first class in terms of org prestige when EG splashed the cash to join the CS scene with a bang.
Then there’s Fnatic, the faltering Swedish giants who rose to prominence again after reverting their old mistakes. Bringing back Maikil "Golden" Selim and Robin "flusha" Rönnquist seemed like an unambitious stall move at first but turned out to be a stroke of genius instead. It’s no coincidence that the last time they won a big event was also with Golden at the helm, recently promoted from the academy side.
Back then, personality clashes were apparently behind the breakup of the roster, but the added time in the wilderness for everyone involved looks like a good enough reason to cherish what they’ve got. An explosive yet not completely loose style has revitalized this lineup, winning DreamHack Masters Malmö and making two more grand finals and a top four finish at big events since its (re)formation.
Now, mousesports unexpectedly crowbarred their way into the conversation with what was perhaps the greatest underdog run in CS:GO history at the ESL Pro League Season 10 Finals.
Beating EG, Astralis and Fnatic in their playoff run – and only falling short by two rounds against Liquid in the group stage – makes them undeniably part of any such discussion. Once again, Finn "karrigan" Andersen was proven right as so many of us turned out the wrong about his young side.
It’s no mistake that all these sides have excellent in-game leaders and strong team synergy alongside the fragging potential – if anything, the team with the biggest downturn in form is Liquid, the one that arguably relied the most on raw aim to make it to the top.
It’s the complete combination of these elements which separate this quintet from the rest of the field, with ENCE and Vitality notably hurting after letting important players go, Na’Vi still working towards a better equilibrium after removing their long-time IGL, FaZe Clan seemingly lacking the leadership required and 100 Thieves struggling in the direct matchups against fellow top challengers.