Who doesn’t love a CS:GO underdog story? The game would be much more boring without the upsets that happen throughout the season.
This year was a wild time for Counter-Strike. Two tier-two teams in different moments, ENCE and AVANGAR, did the unthinkable and finished runners-up at the IEM Katowice Major and StarLadder Berlin Major, respectively. Some bigger teams, on the other hand, surprised everyone when fans and analysts weren't expecting much from them.
Here are the seven best unexpected CS:GO showings from 2019.
7) FaZe Clan: From almost eliminated to winning BLAST Pro Series Miami
FaZe couldn't have started 2019 in a better way. They won the first tournament of the season, ELEAGUE CS:GO Invitational, a smaller event with only four teams. That showing, however, didn't translate to the IEM Katowice Major in February and FaZe bombed out in the quarterfinals.
Things got worse, though, when FaZe finished in fifth at BLAST Pro Series São Paulo in March and were eliminated in the early stages of StarSeries i-League season seven. So expectations weren't too high for their next stop at BLAST Pro Series Miami in April.
Things didn't go well here either, at least not on the first day of the tournament. FaZe lost 16-5 to Liquid and tied against MIBR. On the second day, however, FaZe easily passed through all three adversaries: Cloud9 (16-5), Natus Vincere (16-10), and Astralis (16-5).
They moved on to the grand finals with all momentum on their side and beat Liquid 2-0. Håvard "rain" Nygaard had one of the best individual performances of all time—he had 20 kills and zero deaths at one point on Dust II, the second map. Nikola "NiKo" Kovač won the MVP, though, since he was more consistent throughout the tournament.
6) FURIA: Beating Astralis in ECS season seven finals and finishing runners-up
FURIA played an exciting brand of Counter-Strike in 2019 with a lot of aggressive plays designed by their in-game leader, Andrei "arT" Piovesan. But nobody was expecting them to beat Astralis twice at the ECS season seven finals.
The Brazilians defeated Astralis 16-14 on Nuke, the Danes' best map at that time, in ECS' opening round. Things got even better for FURIA when they faced Astralis again in the Group A decider match. Everybody was expecting Astralis to win a best-of-three series against the underdogs, but FURIA took down the Danes with a reverse sweep.
Everybody aside from arT fragged so much that Nicolai "device" Reedtz's outstanding 75 kills weren't enough. FURIA did the impossible and reached the grand finals, but Vitality were having their best month of the whole year. The French squad defeated FURIA 2-0 and put an end to FURIA's shenanigans.
5) Mousesports: An unproven squad took down the three best teams in the world
Mousesports were just one of the best teams in the world on paper ahead of the ESL Pro League season 10 finals in December. The international squad had mixed results throughout the year and gained a fair share of confidence by winning the CS:GO Asia Championships in November, but that tournament didn't feature all of the best CS:GO teams in the world.
Mousesports weren't even looking like a tier-one team in their first matches. They struggled to beat ATK and were relegated to the lower bracket by Liquid. But Finn "karrigan" Andersen must've done something brilliant after that loss to motivate his team. Mousesports passed through Renegades and ATK to reach the playoffs.
This is where the magic began. Mousesports eliminated Evil Geniuses 2-1 and beat the North Americans 16-0 on Nuke, the last map of the series. They had one of the most entertaining matches of the year against Astralis and eliminated them 2-1 with a 16-14 win on Dust II. Finally, they went on to clean sweep Fnatic in the grand finals.
This triumphant run at one of the most stacked tournaments of the season made mousesports climb through HLTV's world rankings and gain the fifth spot for the upcoming 2020 season. And to think that mousesports were almost eliminated by TYLOO at the CS:GO Asia Championships.
4) Evil Geniuses: Bye NRG, welcome EG
Evil Geniuses surprised most fans in September when the organization decided to enter CS:GO for the first time and bought NRG's roster. The transfer was made just a couple of days ahead of ESL One New York.
Nobody wasn't expecting too much from the North Americans since they hadn't even played in a grand final in 2019, despite finishing top-four at the StarLadder Berlin Major. The players, however, were hungrier than ever and were determined to make this debut one of the best in CS:GO's history.
EG beat FaZe 2-0 in the opening round, took down Astralis 2-0 to qualify for the semifinals, demolished G2 in the semifinals, and reached the grand finals without losing a single map. But they had to deal with Astralis, the three-time Major champions, in a best-of-five series.
Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz and crew were all yelling after clutches and kept the hype going during the series. It looks like the former NRG roster was previously missing a key factor: confidence. They beat Astralis 3-1 to win their first tournament of the year at the first event in which they played under EG's banner. Not even the best screenwriters could have created a better storyline.
3) AVANGAR: AdreN, the amulet
The StarLadder Berlin Major playoffs in September were full of dark horses. ENCE played surprisingly well for a team with a roster change already announced, Renegades reached the Major's quarterfinals for the second straight time and AVANGAR were there for the first time. But every analyst called them the worst top-eight team.
Only one of their players had played on a big stage like StarLadder's, the legendary Kazakh Dauren "AdreN" Kystaubayev. The 29-year-old won the PGL Kraków Major with Gambit in 2017 and was elected the MVP, but saw his career decline after that. He reunited with the CIS players on AVANGAR after a five-month stint with FaZe Clan.
Although AdreN wasn't carrying his teammates like he did on Gambit, he provided the experience boost that AVANGAR needed. The Kazaks defeated Vitality 2-1 in the quarterfinals, which led to Nathan "NBK-" Schmitt's removal right after, and took down Renegades, another dark horse, in the semifinals.
AdreN and crew faced Astralis in the grand finals, but they weren't ready for the Danes, who won their third Major in a row. AVANGAR, however, left Berlin proud of their campaign and won BLAST Pro Series Moscow right after, turning 2019 into an unforgettable year.
2) ENCE: Major finalists, breaking Astralis' streak on Nuke
ENCE won a couple of tournaments in 2018 but certainly weren't considered a top contender in 2019. In fact, ENCE were down 2-0 at the IEM Katowice Major New Legends Stage and were almost eliminated by BIG in their third match.
The Finns, however, survived and started tearing everyone apart. ENCE eliminated G2 and AVANGAR to reach the playoffs in the lineup's first Major. Everybody aside from the Finns thought it was over when they were drawn against Liquid, who had a 3-0 run through the New Legends Stage.
But ENCE took down Liquid 2-0 and proceeded to defeat Na'Vi 2-1 in the semifinals. By this point, many thought that they'd win the Major, just like Cloud9 did at the ELEAGUE Boston Major in 2018.
ENCE's dream didn't become a reality, however. Astralis demolished them and won both maps, but ENCE in some way got revenge later against the Danes at BLAST Pro Series Madrid in May.
Astralis were the heavy favorites to win in Madrid since they already beat ENCE in a grand final before and were sitting on a 31-win streak on Nuke. ENCE broke Astralis' streak and prevented the Danes from tying Ninjas in Pyjamas, who have a 32-win streak. They also won the second map to win BLAST Pro Series Madrid and become the second-best team in the world. That's not bad for a team that six months earlier was ranked the 20th best squad in the world.
1) Fnatic: The giant is back
Fnatic were having a mediocre year when the org opted to bench Richard "Xizt" Landström and Simon "twist" Eliasson in September to bring back two familiar faces, Robin "flusha" Rönnquist and Maikil "Golden" Selim.
Although Golden led Fnatic to two big LAN wins in 2018, he was kicked by the rest of the team, who wanted to play with Xizt. Golden signed with Cloud9 in August 2018, but faced some serious health issues and wasn't capable of making the team work, which caused him to get benched by the North American org in June. Flusha, on the other hand, didn't play a professional match in six months after he left Cloud9 in March.
Fnatic was just recycling some old players, a strategy the org used a few times when it felt that the lineup could use a roster change. Fnatic's revamped lineup made its debut at DreamHack Masters Malmö in October in front of their home crowd.
But the crowd wasn't cheering that much for Fnatic. They were clearly backing up NiP against Fnatic in the quarterfinals. It was unclear if the crowd was going to cheer for Fnatic in the semifinals after they took down NiP 2-1. The almighty Astralis were once again in the way of the underdog. But this time, the underdog won. Fnatic beat Astralis 2-0 and moved on to the grand finals where they faced Vitality.
Vitality was also debuting its new lineup with Richard "shox" Papillon in place of NBK-. But they didn't have the synergy that Freddy "KRIMZ" Johansson and Jesper "JW" Wecksell acquired from many years spent together. The duo combined for 141 kills across three maps. Ludvig "Brollan" Brolin, the youngest player on the roster, delivered the final blow, a stunning triple kill with the CZ-75 to guarantee the trophy for Fnatic.
Fnatic's fairy tale didn't end in Malmö, though. They grabbed a second-place finish at StarSeries i-League season eight and the EPL season 10 finals. Fnatic dominated CS:GO years ago. The org has won three Major championships and became the most hated team in Counter-Strike. But this time, everyone might love Fnatic if they become the best team in the world in 2020.