Despite only becoming truly established as one of the major esports titles last November, with its first major event, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) has a competitive history extending back to September of 2012, more than two years ago. As the game continues to grow in size, more new fans are created and come into the competitive realm seeking primers to get them up to speed on who is who and what is what. This article series outlines the 10 story-lines every CS:GO fan needs to know in order to be able to appreciate the current context of the game’s top competitive level of play.
1. The dynasty – Ninjas in Pyjamas (NiP)
There is no debate within CS:GO as to who the most successful team in history is, as the answer is unanimously Ninjas in Pyjamas. Formed as a mixture of three CS 1.6 champions (GeT_RiGhT, f0rest and Xizt) and two former CS: Source pros (fifflaren and Friberg), the team announced itself to the world with the somewhat cheesy quote “Five players from two worlds. One team to rule them all”, but soon proved how accurate that statement was.
NiP won their first 10 offline events in CS:GO, spanning September of 2012 to March of 2013, and heading into the upper-bracket final of SLTV StarSeries Season V, the Swedish side were sat on an 87:0 map record in offline competition. Suffering their first defeat and tournament without a first place finish there, NiP immediately returned to their winning ways, winning the next five events over the following three months.
Another stunning upset at ESL Major Series One Summer, this time failing to reach the final for the first time in their history, was seemingly once more a momentary roadblock for the dominators of CS:GO. GeT_RiGhT and company tore off the next three events, bringing their haul to 18 offline titles in 20 events played. NiP were first truly put on the back foot at October’s SLTV StarSeries Season VII, where rivals VeryGames finally defeated them for the first time and took the title. The French side would defeat NiP in the next two tournaments, over the following three weeks.
Being knocked off CS:GO’s top spot could not have come at a worse time for NiP, as CS:GO was about to witness its first major event, truly worthy of the status of a World Championship, as Dreamhack Winter would play host to a $250,000 tournament, with a $100,000 first place place, crowd-funded by players of the game. Four events removed from their last title, questions swirled as to whether the team who had dominated the game’s history would be capable of securing the most important title to date.
In the end, the Ninjas were able to halt their losing steak against VeryGames, in a crucial semi-final date, but were shocked by the underdogs of fnatic in the final, missing out on the first major title. Playing to such a high level and yet losing in the final proved to be the story-line of the next four months, as NiP finished runner-up at the Dreamhack Invitational and ESL Major Series One Katowice, the game’s second major tournament.
At Copenhagen Games, in April of 2014, NiP seemed to have chartered themselves back on course, defeating the same Polish Virtus.Pro team that had beaten them in the EMS final and securing their first international title in more than seven months. Coming out of their drought, they were finish second at SLTV StarSeries Season IX and ESPORTSM, but take a second title at Dreamhack Summer, less than two months removed from CPH Games. Having cemented themselves as the world’s best team, again, NiP promptly entered the worst slump of their entire careers, which endures to this day.
In the three months following Dreamhack Summer, NiP has not only won only one event out of four, but their three losses have seen them place outside of the top four for the only period of their careers. The lone bright spot, proved to be one of the most important for the Swedish side, though. At ESL One Cologne, the third major event in CS:GO history, the team came in on a streak of their first two finishes outside of the top four.
In all three play-off series in Cologne, NiP looked to be the weaker side, went to three maps and largely had to thank the inclusion of the new custom map cbblestone for some of their ability to grind games out. Where the dominating NiP had trounced opponents and always looked calm under the pressure of key moments, this NiP were barely scraping by and being forced to produce miracle rounds out of nowhere. Despite seeming at their weakest, NiP prevailed and secured the first major title in their history, a fitting high point for the most successful team of all time. A month later, NiP were eliminated in the group stage for the first time in their history, suggest ESL One Cologne far from ended their first true slump.
In 35 offline events played, NiP has won 21 titles, played in the final 28 times and finished top four 32 times. NiP are the only elite side not to have made a single roster change in their history.
2. The royal rivals – VeryGames/Titan
Every champion needs a rival, someone who can either beat them or at least push them to their limits, ensuring their victories are the result of some toil and not merely a great team rolling over truly inferior sides. With NiP hitting double digits in titles before losing a series, it was the role of VeryGames (Ex6TenZ, NBK, kennyS, RpK and SmithZz) to be that rival early on. Indeed, in the first four tournaments the two teams both played in, they met in all four finals and each time matters concluded with a NiP victory.
Changing out Source veteran RpK and bringing in rising Belgian talent ScreaM, VeryGames actually found their form dipping, as were unable to make a final at the next four events they and NiP both attended, though the French-Belgian side always graced the top four. VG were able to take their first CS:GO title at Mad Catz Invitational Birmingham, but it came without NiP and some of the other elite sides in attendance. Sometimes facing NiP before the final also ensured they could not continue to at least secure the silver.
The second roster move of their CS:GO campaign came in early May, as sniper kennyS was replaced by rifle monster shox. A second title followed at the very next offline event, EMS One Summer. While this title did not come with the asterisk of not featuring NiP, the French-Belgian side did benefit from the Ninjas losing to Virtus.pro on the opposite side of the bracket, ensuring they did not have to find a way to beat the rival who had never lost to them.
Another title at an event without NiP followed, as they won Mad Catz Invitational Cologne, where much of the tournament had taken place online and NiP had been beaten before the offline stage. At Dreamhack Bucharest, in the middle of September, VG found the most recent story-line of their NiP encounters: facing them before the final and losing the series, once more the theme. This time, with NiP having lost in the group stage and thus been paired with them as early as the quarter-final, VG were eliminated outside of the top four for the first time in their history.
That potentially ominous sign in fact marked the end of VeryGames’ troubles, as they were now to enter the most successful period in their CS:GO careers. The team which had been 0:7 in series and 0:14 in maps against NiP, won the next three Bo3 series in a row against their formerly unbeatable rivals, going 5:1 in maps. That run secured shox and company two titles and three top two finishes, finally establishing VeryGames as the world’s best team, a spot no other team had ever occupied except NiP. Another title followed, as they won MSI Beat It in China, a non-NiP event.
VG’s loss in the ESWC final had been written off a fluke upset, as they had lost to a team with no significant accomplishments (Clan-Mystik) and in a domestic match-up, with both teams primarily hailing from France and the event being played in that country. Going into Dreamhack Winter and the game’s first major tournament, many had VeryGames tipped to win it all. In the semi-final they met NiP and after a tense series the Swedes were able to reassert themselves in the rivalry.
Changing organisations at the end of the year, becoming Titan, and a plan of moving into a gaming house full-time, it was expected that the French-Belgian side was in position to put their stamp on the year. Another seeming fluke began the year poorly, as Titan reached the final of ESEA S15, only to lose two Bo3 and the title to American underdogs iBUYPOWER. Moving into the gaming house the following week, they had their work cut out for them.
At February’s Dreamhack Invitational, Titan went undefeated and took down NiP twice, including a thrilling over-time victory on nuke, to take their first title of 2014 and reassert their claim to the top spot in CS:GO. Going into EMS One Katowice, the game’s second major, some had them pegged as potential champions. Instead, Titan were shocked in the group stage and eliminated outside of the top eight for the first time.
Copenhagen Games saw Titan fail to make the final four and less than two weeks later the roster was changed, as shox left and kennyS returned. With the same line-up as had played in early 2013, the team initially looked to have righted their problems, finished 3rd at SLTV Starseries IX and losing a three map series to NiP, the eventual champions, at Dreamhack Summer. That promise of a new era of Titan, once again a legitimately elite side, seemed to come to fruition at Gfinity 3, in August, as they made a run to the final and a second place finish.
In fact, the next event would end Titan as we knew it. At ESL One Cologne, the third CS:GO major, Titan again finished to get out of the group stage and weeks later news broke that a huge shake-up had begun in the French scene, finished with Titan sporting only two members of their former line-up (Ex6TenZ and kennyS). The other three players (apEX, Maniac and KQLY), all came from LDLC.
Despite many expecting Titan to be weaker than the new LDLC line-up, which now featured former Titan player NBK, the new look Titan triumphed to win the next LAN event, Dreamhack Stockholm, even defeating their French rivals in the final.
3. Danish musical chairs – Western Wolves and Copenhagen Wolves/Dignitas
Denmark was always able to produce top level CS teams in 1.6 and in CS:GO it has been no different. Back when NiP were the dominant force, it was the Western Wolves group (Nico, MSL, Nille, Pimp and gla1ve) who joined VeryGames as one of their early rivals, with the Danish side finishing second at Mad Catz Vienna and Copenhagen games, over the first three months of 2013. Western Wolves were best known for a heavily tactical approach and being centered around the star AWPing of Nico.
Following the first quarter of 2013, the problems began for WW. Losing earlier than expected at Mad Catz Birmingham saw the first roster uncertainly begin, coupled with motivational issues in keeping practice levels up. Losses to the other top Danish sides domestically piled up and the lone bright spot in the next few months was a single group stage win over NiP, where they shocked the world’s best team with the largest upset over them in history: 16:2 on NiP home map nuke.
Shortly after failing to make the final of the Mad Catz Invitational Cologne, the team disbanded entirely. That was not the end of the story for the WW players, though, as pimp and Nico would each have a turn in rivals Copenhagen Wolves later that year. In early 2014, pimp, MSL and gla1ve would all runite in n!faculty, later known as 3DMAX. Lacking their former star, Nico, the team was unable to progress from the group stage of EMS Katowice in March and were equally unimpressive at Copenhagen Games.
With Nico once more reuniting with the core that had made him a star, the team, now under the name formerly occupied by their rival Danes, Copenhagen Games, attended ESL One Cologne. Again failing to progress from the group stage, they proved to be far from the elite side that had impressed so many in early 2013. Losing in the group stage of Dreamhack Stockholm, Nico once more exited the team.
The other core group in Danish CS:GO history was the team that spent the majority of 2013 known as Copenhagen Wolves and the next year became Dignitas. This group is based around the core of FeTiSh, dupreeh and device. Over time, former fnatic player Xyp9x was added and has become the fourth member of their unit. The fifth spot has been filled by the likes of cajunb, Nico, Pimp, wantz, Friis and Aizy, as this group has shown no aversion to roster changes.
Initially in the shadow of Western Wolves and that sides two international top two finishes, the CPH Wolves gang were able to score key victories over their rivals at Danish tournaments in May of 2013. Two top eight finishes at Dreamhack Summer and ESM One Summer, both times taking elite sides (NiP and VG) to three maps, established the team as rising stars.
Despite this promising form, CPH Wolves consistently failing to reach finals and ever secure that major win over a top opponent. 5th-8th finishes littered the rest of their year, including at Dreamhack Winter. The brightest moment was a semi-final at ESM One Fall, losing in three maps to NiP there, but with the two losses quite unconvincing and the lone win a 15:14.
Becoming Dignitas, the story of 2014 had been repeatedly finishing top four, yet failing to reach the final. The team which so often made the quarter-finals and made it no further, found themselves at another hurdle they could not clear. At EMS One Katowice and Copenhagen Games, NiP stood in their way and defeated them. A long break over the Summer meant no tournaments and then it was time for Gfinity in August. Despite defeating NiP in a series for the first time offline, in the quarter-final, the Danes were unable to withstand the force of Virtus.pro in the semi-final, again finding themselves spectators on finals day.
At ESL One Cologne, Dignitas again found themselves in a semi-final, at their second straight major, and again failed to deliver under pressure, this time losing to the new look fnatic in two maps. At Dreamhack Stockholm, last month, Dignitas suffered the shock of losing in overtime to underdog Finnish side 3DMAX and being eliminated from the group stage.
Dignitas’ story-line has been one of the most consistent, in terms of themes: roster changes every few months, reaching quarter-finals and rarely going beyond, then reaching semi-finals and never going beyond and finally, losing close matches deep in tournaments.
For now, Denmark still awaits its first team to win a big international tournament with all the top teams in attendance.
4. The first major champions – fnatic
The Swedish fnatic sides of 1.6 were some of the most successfull in history. Indeed, the organisation were late to switch to CS:GO, as their team was still on top in the previous game and winning every title. When they did switch, the line-up immediately struggled and roster moves became a continual trend. Eventually, after enough time had passed, the organisation gave up on their Danish core and went with a promising group of Swedes.
Those Swedes were formerly known as Epsilon. Made up of players who had helped give NiP some of their earliest online losses, Epsilon’s first significant offline success was their dual finals run in the Summer of 2013, reaching the ESPORTSM and Dreamhack Summer finals, but losing to NiP in both. Those results came with a stand-in, as the core of Devilwalk, flusha, jw and schneider still sought a solid in-game leader and fifth man.
Initially the team thought Swedish veteran and star player MODDII could fill those roles, bringing him in and joining up to represent the fnatic organisation. Reaching the offline portion of Mad Catz Invitational Cologne, in August, and losing to VeryGames in the final seemed a promising result. At Dreamhack Bucharest the young Swedish side was able to defeat NiP in the group stage, but fell to fellow Swedes Lemondogs in the quarter-final.
The next three events were a disaster, finishing fourth, then failing to get out of the group stage and narrowly losing a top four spot at ESWC. MODDII was removed and veteran in-game leader pronax came in. With almost no time to implement anything advanced, pronax was able to help the team finish second at MSI Beat it. Soon after, the team went on their epic Dreamhack Winter run to become the first champions of a CS:GO major, defeating the same NiP, in the final, who had bested them at Dreamhack Summer in the final.
Despite being the reigning world champions, fnatic began to free-fall in 2014. A third place at the Dreamhack Invitational let into 5th-8th place finishes at EMS One Katowice and Copenhagen Games. When the side were beaten twice by SK Gaming, an underdog from Sweden, in the Dreamhack Summer group stage, it was clear that changes needed to be made. Out went schneider, Devilwalk was moved to a coaching position and the team brought in former LGB talent olofm and KRiMZ.
olofm had been the star of LGB, while KRiMZ had been more of a supportive player, but the roles seemed to end up almost reverse in this new look fnatic. KRiMZ has gone on to establish himself as one of fnatic’s best players, while olofm still seems to struggle to find a consistent performance in his new role.
At their first offline event together, Gfinity 3, the team were able to defeat NiP and reach a top four finish, falling in close fashion to Titan in the semi-final. At ESL One Cologne, the team reached the final and seemed a favourite to secure a second CS:GO major, but found themselves on the other end up of an upset in a major final, falling in the third map to NiP. Victory at SLTV Starladder X, without the other elite teams in attendance, gave fnatic’s new line-up their first title.
In the online circuit, following Starladder, fnatic had been dominating to a degree almost unheard of, even eclipsing NiP’s form during their early days. That put the Swedish side in the position of favourites as they headed to Dreamhack Stockholm on home soil. Reaching a semi-final date with the new Titan line-up, they were upset in two maps, the second being a stomp on dust2, and finishing an unconvincing 3rd-4th.
On paper, fnatic’s new team could be the world’s best team, but they still have a hurdle to clear in winning big series over the elite teams deep in tournaments.
5. Even gods can be made to bleed – The Eastern European aimers arrive
The first team to truly strike at the heart of the unbeaten 87:0 NiP was the Eastern European super-team line-up of Virtus.pro (Dosia, Fox, AdreN, kucher and ANGE1). The team had finished third at Copenhagen Games in late March, then early April arrived and by playing at a higher level than an in-form NiP, Virtus was able to defeat NiP in two straight series, 2:0 each time. Following that, there was a drop-off, with the team unable to attend many events, and their chance at becoming the world number ones passed them by.
The story-line of the next few months would be consistently failing to win events, yet also consistently finishing top four. The most significant result came as the team, who had now taken in AWPer Guardian, were able to again defeat NiP in a Bo3, in the semi-final of ESL Major Series One Summer, only to fall to VeryGames in the final.
Along the way, the team changed to a new organisation, called Astana Dragons. With Guardian departed, and ex-Na`Vi stars Edward and markeloff brought in, the team initially seemed to have gotten a spike in their performance, finishing second at SLTV StarSeries Season VII, again falling to VeryGames in the final and defeating NiP along the way. The general theme of this team was to be able to defeat elite teams, particularly NiP, but always lose to other elite teams and fail to win the title or get deep enough to make a true impact.
In Astana, the team gradually went downhill, eventually even falling at times in domestic tournaments and falling as far down as placing 5th-8th in many of the bigger international tournaments. Roster changes continued to be a trend, as Edward left reasonably early into their troubled period, returning to Na`Vi, and more recently the team has let AdreN go and picked up new talent s1mple. For HellRaisers, as they are now called, they now occupy almost entirely the position of the upset kings, providing a dangerous wild-card for the best teams, but often lacking the consistency to make deep runs.
At Dreamhack Summer, the team was able to reach the semi-final and push NiP to three maps, only to then fall flat at ESL One Cologne and fail to progress from the group stage. Dreamhack Summer has been their only significant result of the year at a big international tournament.
HellRaisers are best known for having a lot of skilled aimers and playing very much on the basis of their skills, so when they are hot then they can be a deadly opponents for anyone, but they lack the consistency of being able to grind out rounds when their skills are off or their performances are not matched to the level of their opponents.
Part two of this series will follow tomorrow, outlining the other five story-lines every CS:GO fan should know.
Photo credit: ESL, fragbite, Dreamhack