The Thorin Treatment: Astralis Will Win the ELEAGUE Major
In the estiminations of the author, the Danes of Astralis will be the team that leave the ELEAGUE Major, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive's 10th major, with the trophy and their names firmly etched in history as one of the all-time great lineups. So many times before this core has failed at the highest level and seen golden opportunities pass them by, but this time it will be different and with good reason. Here is the thinking on why Astralis will win the ELEAGUE Major.
Cursed to underachieve
The core of Astralis are arguably CS:GO's greatest underachievers, so many times placing well at big tournaments and rightly being considered one of the world's elite teams and yet never even making the final of a major, nevermind hoisting the trophy. For the Dreamhack Cluj-Napoca, the eighth major, they entered the tournament as one of the favourites and even had a favourable bracket draw open up which should have saw them waltz into the final, only for them to be shockingly eliminated before the semi-finals and at the hands of NiP, the old enemy who applied the usual formula of veteran savvy putting pressure upon the Danes and broke them.
What only emphasised the weak mentality of the Astralis core was that they could defeat the very same opponents who bested them at the major in tournaments of a highly competitive nature but not carrying the title of "major". For months they held a head-to-head advantage over FNATIC, history's greatest team, in 2015. With VP they always played fantastic games and it was back-and-forth. They overcame NiP finally and Na`Vi were always their whipping boys. Yet that golden generation of Danish talent failed to ascend to the ultimate height and their slide back down the competitive ladder saw them regress further than their starting point. Eventually they weren't even winning groups, as they always had. In time NiP were beating them even in tournaments that weren't majors. Their window had passed them by.
Writing a new chapter
The addition of gla1ve as the new in-game leader of Astralis has revitalised the core and brought a new look, from top to bottom, to the ailing formerly elite side. Once more Astralis are world beaters, taking down big opponents and now their best ever chance lays before them to grab major gold.
Their first offline event with their new IGL was the group stage of ELEAGUE Season 2. They were placed in a group with SK, the dominant team of the year, and Na`Vi, one of the hottest teams and most skill-laden sides in the game. Astralis won the group and secured a top seed for the playoffs. Before they could embark upon a bracket run they had IEM XI Oakland to play. Winning their group there, with only a close loss to G2 preventing them from a clean sweep in the Bo1s, they skipped straight to the semi-finals. Falling to the infamous curse of teams who follow that path, they would be denied a spot in the final by a gritty performance from SK Gaming.
Despite losing the series 0:2 Astralis showed great potential in the match. SK Gaming were unbeatable on train and riding a stunning 16 game winning streak on the map. Astralis gave them as good a game as anybody had, getting back into a CT side which would have run away from many and then pushing the T side, against SK Gaming's legendary defense - the most difficult challenge in the game, the Danes had the Brazilians at the brink of a defeat. FalleN and company would not submit and came back to steal the map and would win on Astralis' pick to push through to the final.
Back at ELEAGUE, the quarter-finals saw Astralis drawn against NiP - the infamous thorn in their side for over a year. Astralis won comfortably, even giving NiP a tough match on cbble - a map the Danes had permanently banned previously. The semi-finals was a rematch with SK Gaming and this time device and company were not to be denied. This time they won out on train, snapping the streak at 17 and that, combined with the first map win on overpass, had Astralis into a final for the first time in seemingly forever. There they would be upset in unlikely fashion by a surging OpTiC gaming and a once-in-a-life-time series from NAF, the NA team's streaky hybrid AWPer. Once more, the seeds of victory and revenge were present within Astralis' defeat.
At ECS S2 Finals, shortly after ELEAGUE and marking the last big event of 2016, Astralis took the final step up to the top of the podium and won the tournamanet. Sweeping the group, they met SK Gaming in the semi-final for a third straight event. The difference this time was that SK had a stand-in, having removed fnx from their team. Astralis crushed SK with ease and would meet OpTic in the final for a chance to reclaim their honour from the ELEAGUE final. There was no miracle performance from NAF and Astralis cruised to a 2:0 victory and their first ever $250,000 or more prize pool tournament win.
Astralis' form since gla1ve's arrival has been peerless. They have won 16 of the 22 maps they have played offline, giving them a 72.73% win-rate. In group stages they have been monstrous - a massive positive going into the Swiss system of the major - winning eight of nine games there (88.89%). In Bo3 series, which make up the play-off portions of CS:GO's big events, including the major, Astralis are 4:2 (66.67%). Astralis have a losing record on only one map - the very same cbblestone they previously refused to even play.
Tactical aptitude and talent to boot
The Danes have not just applied their combined talents to put up strong defensive sides, a hallmark of their lineups going back to 2013, but the primary improvement has been on the Terrorist side. Astralis are a team who string together gun rounds to win T halves and apply pressure to opponents playing typically CT-side maps, as is most notable on their spectacular train and overpass.
The strength of Astralis' tactical approach stems heavily from the talent within their ranks. gla1ve has not just revolutionised their approach, but he has been a very solid fragging IGL. device remains the star player of the team and one of the most consistent stars in CS:GO, but his AWPing not only racks up big score-lines but now helps carve open defenses with his picks. dupreeh found form at ECS S2 which had not been seen from him since the first half of 2016. Xyp9x is once more clutch in tough situations and one of the most impactful Support players in the game. Kjaerbye finally not only has a place within Astralis, but complements device and dupreeh with a consistent rifle game.
Very few teams in the game can boast as much raw talent as Astralis fields every game and none can point to as many players suited to their role to the same degree as Astralis' currently are.
Strongholds throughout the land
Astralis have the widest map pool in CS:GO right now. On train they stand as the best team in the world, having beaten former number ones SK there and with that team no longer existing in the same form. In seven games on the map their only loss was that narrow defeat at SK's hands. Overpass stands as a strong second map for Astralis, also at an elite level of performance. They are 5:1 on it and with wins over SK on it three times, with the map standing as the other of SK's elite maps. dust2 was once the best map for device and dupreeh's men and it has again been established as a strength, win the team yet to suffer a loss on it in three games thusfar played. Strength on two of the customs and an upset-heavy map like dust2 ensure Astralis can match-up with any opponent favourably.
Their mirage has been a pocket pick offline, but online has been one of their stronger maps. cache came out as a hail mary from SK at ECS, but Astralis took it nevertheless. The only areas of potential weakness in the map pool thusfar have been nuke and cbblestone. nuke has been back-and-forth and the team has shown willingness to play it and not ban it. cbblestone was a specialist map of Heroic, gla1ve's former team - where admittedly he was not the IGL, and so Astralis have tested those waters a few times. Thusfar they have yet to pick-up a win on it, but they seem to be determined to find a way to draw it into their active pool, even if just as a one-off pick against teams who don't play it and won't ban it.
Strong before the game has begun
Powerful T sides and a wide map pool has given Astralis a great starting point to match-up against the other top teams. OpTic have established themselves as a potential rival for the Danes, but the map pool immediately skews towards Xyp9x and the gang. OpTic are a team who want to play train and cbblestone, with overpass growing as another strong map. Against Astralis, train is very likely to go the way of gla1ve's guys, taking it off the table. Overpass is also tough to play against them and likely to be pushed into being a decider. This leaves OpTic needing to try and pick cache and hope for the best, as the Danes are unlikely to let cbblestone through again. That OpTic doesn't play nuke means their ban is somewhat obvious.
SK Gaming already looked to be thoroughly tried when playing Astralis with their full lineup, but with fox in the lineup they find themselves entirely flustered. train and overpass, their two strongest maps, are slanted over to Astralis' side. SK's pick of cache at ECS showed their move into attempting unlikely picks and away from confidence in their previous strengths. SK and OpTic both stand as teams Astralis could well face come the playoffs and they already see advantages stacking up for them before a bullet has been fired.
Na`Vi have the talent to push Astralis, but their T side has been woeful in their last few tournaments. Add in that their form has not seen them making play-off stages and their map pool has shrunk like a raisin and few see the black and yellow taking down our mighty Danes.
The most intriguing match-ups for Astralis are the fellow Danes of North and the ever-present play-off threats of Virtus.pro. North also share one of the widest map pools in the game and crucially are entirely willing to pick nuke when it is available. Both teams share overpass and k0nfig and company's tendency to play mirage means a series between the two, which would already be exciting in the domestic context, has a very good chance of being a three map affair and highly contested. The positive for Astralis is that North's form was much poorer as 2016 ended and their team has not hit the same highs or with the same consistency and device and the boys have managed.
Virtus.pro are the true threat for Astralis, not only one of the world's best sides but also possessed of a wide map pool; a deep map pool; and enough grit to fill a gravel pit. The Poles have been present the playoffs of every major but the first. When they face-off in the bracket stage they always provide a tough test for whoever comes up against them and refuse to be put away without yielding blood from their foes. That Astralis are a team who have a mentality issue in some key moments opens up a weak underbelly that TaZ and his team will aim to get to by virtue of extending games into slugfests or outright rampaging over the Danes early and putting their backs against the wall.
Catch your breath
When it comes to Astralis, the topic of choking is always on the tip of the tongue. As a team the core's collapses are the stuff of legend and haunt a number of them to this day. They are so good that it takes a world class team to push them to the point of breaking, but somehow such opponents have always found their way in between Astralis and the major title. Even device, MVP of ECS S2, found himself disappearing from the server in the IEM XI Oakland semi-final and the ELEAGUE S2 deciding map. The big question for the ELEAGUE Major is who can put Astralis to the test in such a fashion.
That weakness, entirely restricted to the realm of the mind, seems less looming and scary when one considers the events of the past month or so. The three most gritty and difficult-to-put-away teams in the game in recent months have been SK Gaming, Ninjas in Pyjamas and Virtus.pro. SK Gaming are no more, fielding the infamously questionable fox rather than the fnx who helped make them legendary major champions. NiP failed to qualify for the major, taking them out of contention immediately. Virtus.pro remain a team capable of threatening Astralis, but have begun to slump, losing the quarter-final of ELEAGUE to FaZe and the semi-final of WESG to Kinguin, the latter being a loss to a team not even in the top 10 of the world rankings. Astralis may well not even have to face VP, if someone else can take the Poles out for them.
The majors are their own unique spaces in history. Form, talent and everyday logic can seemingly be cast to the wind as the pressure builds until matches become crucibles which test the resolve and character of the great teams competing within them. It's with good reason that the majors have so rarely been won in fluke fashion. The majors are where the great players show the edges, however small they may be, between them and their sometimes equally talented but less sturdy peers. Astralis could fall apart, under-perform or otherwise find their way to watching the final rather than playing in it. Practically every reason counts in their favour, though, and the one which doesn't looks to be lacking appropriate suiters who can make it a reality.
Astralis are too talented, too coordinated, with too wide a map pool and too strong in the less important matches to go out prior to the playoffs. When they hit the playoffs, they have advantageous match-ups against practically every opponent, with perhaps Virtus.pro as the lone exception. This is Astralis' time and they will win the ELEAGUE Major.
Photo credit: ESL, ELEAGUE, Dreamhack