Not many would have thought around the time of the first Katowice Major that the eventual discussions about the best-ever CS:GO side would revolve around a Danish team, a Brazilian core and a Swedish roster that wasnâ€™t Ninjas in Pyjamas. Today, Astralis make domination look like childâ€™s play â€“ before them, it was Luminosity who took the world by storm, superseding Fnatic. All three are all-time greats â€“ but can we tell which one is the best?
No two stories are ever the same, but itâ€™s nevertheless quite remarkable how different paths the three top CS:GO sides have travelled on their way towards glory. Even if 2013â€™s DreamHack Winter is an arbitrary entry point, the start of the major cycle nevertheless marks the beginning of the titleâ€™s growth spurt into one of the biggest esports around. Fnatic rose to the top as usurpers â€“ both domestically and internationally â€“ their upset win at the event over NiP a harbinger of things to come. The Swedesâ€™ dominance only seems monolithic in retrospect: it featured three different lineups, many challengers â€“ the Ninjas, Virtus.pro, LDLC and others took turns in the limelight alongside them in the successful search for trophies â€“ until the introduction of Freddy "KRIMZ" Johansson and Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer Gustafsson cemented their status as the alpha males. They were ruthless poachers of domestic talent, the first to introduce a full-time coach, and more than willing to cut talismans like Jonatan "Devilwalk" Lundberg to further push themselves forward. Winning three majors with Markus "pronax" Wallsten isnâ€™t even the string of success theyâ€™re most remembered for. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02I5vVxlJhU Their era came from chaos when such idea of sustained dominance wasnâ€™t even conceptualised in CS:GO, at a time when money started to pour into esports but wasnâ€™t anywhere near the current bonanza. Famously, Fnatic made more money of their two recent tournament wins than during that incredible streak that saw them take down six LAN events in a row starting at the end of 2015. Of course, it was Astralis who eventually ended that streak at MLG Columbus (though weâ€™ll never know what impact a full-strength olofmeister could have had) and already had a historically good matchup against the Swedes even under the TSM banner. And yet, it wasnâ€™t their turn at the top â€“ it was the infamous Brazilian side that quickly went from an anomaly under the Keyd Stars banner into true superstars with Luminosity and SK Gaming. Just like Fnatic, it felt like they were not defeated by a specific team, but by entropy instead, slowly falling away from the standards they themselves set for everyone else.
The CS:GO trifecta
While Fnaticâ€™s success story feels much like a venture capital-infused startup rapidly shedding its innocence, swapping the garage for a slick highrise office, the rise of Luminosity was a one-man project, a vision. No wonder the only accurate depiction is â€œFalleNâ€™s teamâ€, shedding orgs and players left and right while maintaining the same ethos and explosive strategy, not as unhinged as the Swedesâ€™ quintuple one-man show at the end but nowhere near as rigorous as Astralisâ€™ astonishingly effective setup. Meanwhile, itâ€™s the long-term evolution that makes the Danesâ€™ story so compelling â€“ which is perhaps why they were basically cheered to the finish line by the commentariat, desperately looking for a new axis around which to orient themselves. [caption id="attachment_107338" align="alignnone" width="600"] Credit: MLG[/caption] If peak Fnatic was the fire that burned down everything in sight, a single spark able to ignite a comeback out of nowhere, Astralis is pure ice, close to zero Kelvin in temperature, constricting and freezing their opponents in place, denying them from any sort of initiative, let alone a turnaround. While the Swedes were famed for breaking the rules in every respect â€“ the narrative with their incredible comebacks, the economy with their wondrous force-buys and sometimes even the spirit of the rules with the infamous boost on Overpass â€“, Astralis are cold and calculating within the confines of the game, choking out their opposition rather than overpowering them. In retrospect, it feels like Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo and his team mark the midpoint in this evolution, unique tactics anchored by great individual play, still somewhat tethered to this plane of reality but capable of individual magic to bail themselves out if things go wrong. For some, the Danesâ€™ playstyle is boring: the only thing that bored people about Fnatic in their heyday was the predictability of their unbelievable comebacks. The Swedes were very difficult to finish off: with Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander and co., itâ€™s tough enough to get ahead of them at all. It always felt like individual explosive brilliance is the answer to Astralisâ€™ structured setup, itâ€™s no wonder that the two teams capable of giving them a good game â€“ Naâ€™Vi and MiBR â€“ are similarly in the middle of the spectrum, just like the ex-Luminosity iteration of the Brazilian side. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02I5vVxlJhU So how would they compare? The end of the Fnatic era provides a snapshot: Luminosity was on top, not Astralis â€“ making the climb after getting stopped by the Swedes in so many events â€“, and even today, perhaps the Braziliansâ€™ individual skillset infused with a more coherent and tighter tactical approach could essentially make them an Astralis with stronger individual capabilities. But were they â€œthereâ€ when they were the best team in the world? If SixteenZeroâ€™s skill rating history is anything to go by, the Danes broke Fnaticâ€™s long-standing â€œELOâ€ ranking record last April, set when olofmeister was the undisputed best in the world, a young Han Solo of the CS:GO scene, yelling â€œnever tell me the oddsâ€ before charging into battle. It feels like thatâ€™s no longer enough to thrive on the top of the pack â€“ but this very fact is predicated upon how successful Fnatic were. An important evolutionary step in Counter-Strike â€“ and if the same applies for the Brazilians, it makes sense why Astralis feels like the synthesis of everything seen before, truly the strongest side weâ€™ve seen to date. Theyâ€™re the only top side you never really could consider underdogs in the server so far, no matter the circumstances.