Team SoloMid (TSM) are already a line-up which have joined the ranks of the historically great teams. Having won three straight international tournaments, admittedly skipping some tournaments between one of them, they join only the classic NiP of 2012-2013 and the current FNATIC, undoubtedly the two best line-ups of all-time, as teams which have accomplished that feat.
TSM’s wins have come with repeated offline BoX series victories over FNATIC, the dominant team of this era and the best team in the world right now. With victory at this week’s ESL ESEA Proleague finals, TSM could make that four straight tournaments and begin a new dynasty in CS:GO history, marking the first time a Danish team was ever the dominant force in the game. Despite the very real opportunity before them and possibility that they will ascend to accomplish such greatness, I think it’s less likely than their collection of trophies might suggest.
The strengths of the challenger
Before breaking down some of the factors that may prevent TSM from becoming the best CS:GO line-up of this era and perhaps of all-time, let’s first acknowledge the strengths which have taken from an also-ran team which repeatedly flirted with being one of the world’s elite teams and has now put them in the possession of three-time event champions.
Firstly, their line-up has one of the highest skill and talent averages in the entire world. A team like EnVyUs can match them, man-for-man, but few others can truly compare on the roster sheet alone. Sure, FNATIC at their peak had a high skill quotient and Na`Vi’s personnel allows them to be very explosive, but TSM have three players who could all be the star of a top eight team (device, dupreeh and cajunb), yet work just as well within the system TSM runs.
That skill factor means that TSM does not have to rely on one or two specific players to the same degree most of the top teams do. As long as one out of that trio has his game rolling, then TSM has a chance and if two of the three are on form, then they match-up well with any team in the world. What’s crucially important about that set-up is that it allows device, the team’s star and most talented player, room to operate on a level where the pressure on his individual play is not as great as it once appeared.
device was famed for being a choker, always buckling under pressure, but, while he has overcome that to degree, it is less than he always has big games when it matters the most and more that his consistency has become incredible. When your best player puts up good numbers game after game and gives you kills in seemingly every round, you have the basis from which to build a championship contender.
dupreeh has always been a reliable second star for device, but it is the adaptation of cajunb in the team which has really put this line-up in this position, in terms of their stars. In other teams, cajun would be the explosive star who either goes off for 25-30 frags or whimpers to a weak 12-15 in a loss, comparable to the GuardiaN of 2014. In TSM, cajunb is not required to be the best or even second best player, so his seemingly one in three games where he is a dangerous force really puts TSM over-the-top skill-wise, while also ensuring he can survive his less hard-hitting performances.
Karrigan, the in-game leader, not only has made a significant mark in improving the flow of TSM’s terrorist sides, which are arguably the best in the entire scene right now and over the majority of the maps, but he also has brought an unexpected and beyond the call of duty level of individual performance. In most games, Karrigan is going to play sneakily and ensure he is in uncomfortable positions for the opponent, using his brain to beat them more than his kills. Every now and then, though, he will have stand-out AWPing performances one would not expect from a lesser player in a team and especially not from an in-game leader.
Xyp9x was once touted as the next star of the Danish scene and one has to imagine that in a line-up like the current Dignitas that he would be delivering such performances. Instead, his mild-mannered personality has seen him cast as the support player of TSM, a role which he has become very effective in. On certain maps and in certain sites, bombsite A on cache as CT, for example, his play is both a catalyst to TSM’s strengths on the map and a wonderful luxury for an already excellent team.
The final quality which ensures TSM are one of the world’s elite teams is that getting their line-up tweaked to be more effective, by virtue of Karrigan’s arrival and device overcoming some of his mental blockages, they have become probably the strongest team in the world in terms of their overall map pool. TSM can legitimately be considered the best or amongst the world’s best teams on inferno, mirage, dust2 and cache. Much as FNATIC’s peak came as a result of teams being willing to play their strongest maps, inferno; mirage and cache, in their case, so TSM have the benefit of knowing every top team will play at least two of those maps against them.
Right now, TSM stand as one of the most skilled, effective and well-rounded teams in CS:GO. So why won’t they become the next dominant number one team?
It’s hard to hit such exceptional heights more than once in a while
FNATIC’s dominance came not simply from playing at their peak level. One could easily argue that they have never been in as dominant form as they were at ESWC and fragbite Masters Season 3. At those two tournaments, no team in the world could stand against them and they seemed capable of even winning over practically anyone on their fourth and five best maps. Such form comes perhaps once in the life-time of a great line-up or very rarely, at any rate. What has made FNATIC a legendary side is that their second and third level of play have been enough to almost always ensure a top four or a finals finish.
TSM has some of that quality and it has been working for them thus-far, but the sample size is still too small to be sure. The TSM which won the PGL CCS was undoubtedly one of the scariest teams we’ve ever witnessed. The way they tore through all of their opposition, including Bo3 and Bo5 series wins over FNATIC, was unbelievable to witness. Most of the maps weren’t even particularly close, as they dismissed one of the most stacked small tournaments of all-time in devastating fashion.
The problem, as it currently stands, is that TSM have never been that team again since Bucharest. The TSM which won FACEIT did so in close fashion, only really looking dominant in their semi-final win over FNATIC. All of the other series were full three map affairs and they were close to losing all of them. The TSM which won fragbite Masters S4 was more comparable to the team from FACEIT. They had five very close maps, out of 11 played, and even lost a series to FNATIC and were thrashed on three maps by that Swedish side.
The point to be made here, is that despite taking home the trophies, even TSM’s best streak of form thusfar has seen them repeatedly playing close maps and series against other top 10 ranked teams, a few notably so. What happens when one of those teams arrives to a tournament in their peak form and TSM is having an off-game for two maps of the series? In many cases, that will be elimination from a single elimination format tournament and no title, perhaps even no finals appearance.
The FNATIC factor
TSM are FNATIC’s Kryptonite, the element which seemingly weakens and can kill the world’s strongest, that much can hardly be denied. The Danes have won four of the five offline series they have played against FNATIC in, since CCS, with two of those series being Bo5, though CCS was admittedly starting with a 1:0 winners bracket advantage. More impressively, TSM have been beating FNATIC across the elite Swedish sides’ best maps and with some consistency.
FNATIC are the greatest inferno team of all-time, yet TSM have won three of their four offline meetings on the map. Once upon a time, mirage was a lockdown stronghold for FNATIC, yet TSM’s masterful T sides have broken that map open to an identical record as inferno. TSM even managed to steal cbblestone in the fragbite final, a map FNATIC is considered the best in the world on and was expected to win, as a niche pocket pocket pick. For FNATIC, one really must question which way they can go in the map pool to get a favourable match-up against device and his men.
With that said, there are a few glimmers of hope for FNATIC. Firstly, they have taken one of TSM’s own home maps, cache, in their single outing on it in the upper bracket of fragbite, their lone offline Bo3 series win over them in this three tournament span. Secondly, they had dominant single wins on mirage and inferno in that same tournament, meaning they might occasionally be able to grab back one of their home maps in future series. Finally, they were able to crush TSM on dust2, considered a strong point for the Danes, at CCS.
Add all of that up and FNATIC have chances, though admittedly are not the favourites, on inferno, mirage and dust2. TSM will likely be scared away from cache, in light of how hard FNATIC won it, and thus it will come down to maps like cbblestone or overpass to decide a series. The two teams have only played each once, and FNATIC has shown proficiency on both, especially as CT, against the rest of the field, so those are yet to be determined as definite wins for TSM.
Yes, TSM are clearly the favourites going into any series against FNATIC, on any maps, something one could not have imagined being able to say about any team in history as short a time ago as even three months. There is still some wiggle room for the Swedes though, which means they should be able to take say one in three series over the Danes. That alone being enough to deny them some titles and open the way for FNATIC to add more trophies to their cabinet. TSM are FNATIC’s Kryptonite, but they may not always kill them.
Difficult match-ups stylistically
Beating the best team in the world in four of your five meetings with them will suggest to some people that perhaps your team is in fact the best in the world. Certainly that feat is monumental and something no other team can boast of, but TSM become significantly less dominant as one looks at their match-ups elsewhere in the scene.
In the portion of 2015 which lay before TSM’s three tournament streak of wins, they played some all-time great series against the mighty Virtus.pro, losing one and winning one. VP were the only team to take a series win off TSM, at FACEIT Phase 1 finals, during their run of trophies. That series, as with the two before the Danes’ ascension, was incredibly close. VP match-up very well stylistically with TSM, both in terms of playing style and map pool.
VP love to play cache and mirage, two of TSM’s strongest maps, and have beaten them on overpass too. Throw in that VP have always had a soft spot for inferno and you can see why Virtus.pro are not only a great match-up against TSM, but one of the few teams who might legitimately be a favourite against the Danish side. Admittedly, VP’s form at Gfinity Summer Masters I was terrible, but they are a team who yo-yo and on their day will give TSM all they can handle.
Na`Vi defeated TSM in a series at StarSeries XII, right before TSM’s run of titles began. Since then, the CIS team has lost all three Bo3 series they have played, but it is the fashion in which they unfolded which is exciting. The two series at FACEIT had TSM winning narrowly, with a close win on cache preventing a 2:0 from Na`Vi the first time and a tight mirage win deciding the series the second time, in a series which would have eliminated TSM in the group stage if they had lost.
At fragbite Masters S4, TSM won a clean 2:0, but the games themselves were anything but clean. Both were overtime victories snatched away by cajunb’s comrades. Against Na`Vi, TSM have lost two of the three overpass games they’ve played during their championship run and three of the four in 2015. inferno has been contested and mirage, a classic Na`Vi map, has seen the Eastern Europeans coming close.
With the addition of flamie, Na`Vi are not too far from TSM’s skill level, they have their own unique tactical style and they have one of the best players in the world (GuardiaN), in terrific form. They haven’t won recently, but Na`Vi will likely always be a threat to TSM in a series. Unless TSM play the map pool more smartly, which may not even be entirely possible, with Na`vi having begun to show signs of dangerous play on train, this will be a marque thriller when the two teams meet. It also doesn’t hurt that Na`Vi are in the hottest form of their careers right now.
VP and Na`Vi stand out as the obvious candidates to be able to upset TSM, but two more teams at least have some value to be mentioned, on paper at the very least. Firstly, EnVyUs are one of the greatest line-ups in history, without a doubt a top five team of all-time. They have not been at championship form for a while, but they have still only failed to finish top four at a single tournament out of 18 played and still look dangerous against all opponents. What is interesting to note is that nV and TSM have not played a series since the Danes became true contenders.
Skill-wise, nV can cause TSM problems and make the game difficult in terms of pure aim duels and aggressive play-making. Even moreso, the map pool gives nV a legitimate chance of being a nightmare for dupreeh and his boys. nV are an elite dust2 team, good on cache and can still deliver the occasional magical inferno performance. If TSM can force the maps away from those, which seems less likely, being as those are TSM’s three favourites, then the match-up could skew more for the Danes, but it’s rare a team who thinks they will better will avoid their best maps.
Finally, it may seem almost laughable to bring them up, in light of their current run of form, but NiP have always given TSM problems. On a psychological level, NiP bring back a lot of bad memories for TSM and device in particular, who have lost out in heart-breaking fashion to the Swedes so many times. Even in their meeting in the FACEIT final, NiP was able to put the fear of god into the Danes, smashing them 16:1 on the opening inferno. The two maps TSM won, to take the title, were close affairs. NiP may not be in good form, but they are an outside chance to give TSM a worrying match-up at LANs.
TSM must hold serve
The bizarre situation TSM find themselves in, is that they must defeat all of the above mentioned names not just to win the tournament themselves, but to ensure FNATIC doesn’t take the title in their stead. If TSM loses to a VP or Na`Vi, then the odds are that FNATIC will take the tournament victory, since FNATIC are a favourite over all of those other teams and the best team in the world right now.
It’s rare any other team has faced such a situation, but TSM not only needs to stop FNATIC each time, they also are behind FNATIC in titles, so they need to over-take the Swedes. With FNATIC attending more events, the titles continue to stack up for olofm’s men when TSM don’t show up to a LAN. TSM have attended the fewest LAN tournaments of any top seven ranked CS:GO team, having only been to eight, where five teams (FNATIC, NiP, VP, nV and Titan) have been to 10 or more. Even of those eight, one was without the services of device, their star.
Expectations for the future
If TSM can hit the form of CCS, then of course they can win titles in CS:GO. Even if they are in the form of fragbite Masters S4, then they will continue to add to their trophy collection and remain one of the two or three elite teams in CS:GO. The problem lies in the fact their games against some of the field not called FNATIC mean they will likely lose some series to those opponents in the future and have a key foe they have yet to even face, in nV.
I would expect that TSM will be the kind of team that win one out of every three or four events. Right now, a team like FNATIC is on a pace more like two out of every three events, assuming they don’t always face TSM and fall to their Kryptonite. TSM will go down as an all-time great team, they already are one in some respects, but it seems unlikely they will become the dynasty who depose FNATIC and reign supreme.
Beyond simply winning, it also remains to be seen if it will just be TSM and FNATIC at the top, since any one of nV, Virtus.pro and the blazing hot Na`Vi seem capable of occupying a three-team top tier. This weekend we’ll get some answers about TSM’s future, as they battle a field featuring FNATIC, Virtus.pro and EnVyUs, going for their fourth crown and the chance to join NiP as the only teams in CS:GO history to win four straight tournaments.
Photo credit: TSM, fragbite, ESL