The PGL Major in Antwerp will take a short break now that the 8 golden teams have qualified for the Champions’ Stage, the Playoffs. We have some very spicy matchups in the Quarterfinals, and thankfully NaVi and FaZe Clan are on opposite sides of the bracket, so if the star-studded rosters could wade through the resistance of the underdogs, we have a solid Grand Finals on our hands.
To set the mood up for the level of CS we’ll soon witness, let’s walk down memory lane and look into how a historic Major Quarterfinal transpired two years ago.
The Build Up to the Wannabe-Grand Final
Astralis had been in great shape and form at the end of 2018. They were on a high after winning the Major in London against NaVi and ended the year by winning 4 consecutive S-Tier tournaments. And they started 2019 just like that: another Major win. In Katowice, against ENCE.
But after that, they had completely fallen off the grid. A new force was rising silently… till the point it wasn’t silent anymore. A storm was coming from the West: Team Liquid. Astralis hadn’t even made the Grand Final of a single S-Tier tournament after their Katowice victory. Team Liquid, on the other hand, was winning left, right and center.
Victories in Sydney, Dallas, Cologne, Chicago, and of course, the ESL Pro League in Montpellier. Not only had Team Liquid won all 4 S-Tier tournaments preceding the Berlin Major, but they also had become the quickest ever team to win a Grand Slam.
With form so red hot that it might as well had molten into liquid, one map had emerged as their absolute playing field, their trump card: Vertigo. They had a 100% win rate on it since its release in the map pool. 100%.
Team Liquid were ready to win the Major, and even Danish fans couldn’t disagree. Well, clearly 6 professional Danes disagreed.
The Major started not as expected for the two powerhouses. Liquid found themselves 1-2 down after defeats to NRG and AVANGAR. The World Number 4 in Astralis also lost one match against NRG, which means that had Liquid been 3-1 as well, we may have gotten Astralis vs Liquid in the Grand Finals. But now, this Grand Final-esque match was supposed to be played in the Quarterfinals instead. Weird.
Astralis were the major underdogs. Despite the fact that PickEms predictions gave Liquid only a 51% chance to go through, no rational analyst and fan predicted Astralis to win.
But what we didn’t know was that we were about to witness one of the most catastrophic matches and the intellectually girthiest displays of Counter-Strike the world had ever seen.
The Career-Defining, Make-or-Break Match
It was time. Forget the PickEms. Forget the predictions. Forget the bets and the odds.
The twelve people had gathered in their glass booths, and it was time to pick the maps.
Astralis picked… Vertigo. Astralis picked the map Liquid had a 100% win rate on. Astralis had played Liquid’s own trump card against them. The awkward smiles on the faces of the Americans clearly leaked how rattled and tilted they were. The greatest team ever is inviting you to play on your own turf.
So what did Astralis have in mind? Well, we’ll have to wait one half for that.
Astralis started the game on the T side. They kept it simple and basic. No unnecessary fakes, no overcomplicated strats. Everything seemed straightforward so far. The Danes had enough fragging power to earn an 8-7 half win.
They made sure there was no CT aggression early on. Great map control and crossfires in specific spots made sure Liquid did not have any key information early on in the round. This was very important since Astralis had decided not to fake. If they decided on a bombsite, they would exec that bombsite without complications. Partly because of how easily footsteps can be heard on Vertigo, hence rotations are difficult.
Overall, Astralis had made sure the basics of CS were being fulfilled, and using their firepower, they salvaged a good first half without any major intellectual spending.
Then came their historic CT side. Round after round, Liquid found themselves shot in the back or being caught off-guard. Nothing they did was working, and Astralis were shutting them down everywhere. It started dawning on them. Astralis had watched their every demo, they had studied their every move; they had every tendency and strat imprinted in their souls. Astralis had prepared a defense so fine-tuned to Liquid’s T side, that it made the Americans look like Silvers.
One of the first tricks in Astralis’ stratbooks was to exploit the new Vertigo update (where the Ts timings were delayed). The CT aggression from the Danes was relentless, and they responded perfectly to every sound cue and intel gathered through that aggression to carve out a round exploiting Liquid’s weaknesses. Astralis knew Liquid’s tendencies and defaults, their setups, and their weaknesses.
Here are some important and round-winning instances of some of these anti-strats in practice.
As mentioned, the T timings were delayed in the new update, a modification no one batted their eye on, except of course, the legendary Danes. gla1ve running down A Ramp to get into this position was one of the earliest tell-tale signs of what was to come.
In the same round, Liquid established a 3v2 advantage and then rotated to B. dupreeh had taken this opportunity to get into a surprise position to catch the 3 CTs off guard.
In Round 17, Magisk heard NAF breaking the windows and knew there was a presence on A, so he literally ran into Ladder Room. When you’re going on this path, ideally, you are either gonna run into someone watching for you or someone coming back from the other side of the map who’s gonna shoot you in the head instead. Simply put, it’s an exposed exposition to be in, but Magisk doesn’t care because he knows that Liquid will not be watching Ladder Room and instead be doing their thing on A. Magisk’s crazy flank led him to an easy 3k and a round win.
Another instance of exploiting Liquid’s tendencies is this play from dev1ce. dev1ce knew that Liquid had used a molly on him on A Ramp, and since they used mollies deep in A during their hits, there was a great chance that Liquid won’t molly Concrete. So he hid there, despite having an AWP on him. Liquid did not even check his position, and dev1ce waited long enough to get two kills from that position, winning the round single-handedly.
After Liquid figured some of these tricks out and finally won a round, Astralis quickly switched to a new start. They started playing the double AWP setup to maintain good aggression on both bombsites. dev1ce consistently contested on A Ramp and dupreeh on B Stairs with his mollies and smokes.
Astralis forced Liquid into wasting their utility early in the round, and when Liquid actually went for the bombsite execs, Astralis knew Liquid were short on utility and played in exactly those positions where Liquid wouldn’t use it. One example is gla1ve’s unorthodox position in Round 23.
Astralis knew that Liquid get clumped together during mid rounds and don’t stretch their playing area, and hence the flanks, round after round, worked in Astralis’ favour.
It was the greatest counter-strat in the history of Counter-Strike.
That CT side couldn’t have worked any other time, against any other team. It was prepared and learned for this very moment: to dethrone the kings and send them home from the Berlin Major.
The Sad NA Ending
What followed after that legendary match was epic and devastating.
Liquid had already titled and lost themselves after what they had witnessed, and sadly, they would never recover. They fell off completely, both in the match and after the match. They wouldn’t win a single tournament for the rest of the year. nitr0 soon left the team as well.
Liquid, as we used to know in 2019, completely evaporated during that fateful match on Vertigo.
If Liquid fans are increasingly depressed right now, let me remind you that nitr0 did come back to Liquid earlier this year, and the Americans got their revenge as well. Team Liquid defeated Astralis on Ancient to knock them out from the current PGL Antwerp Major in the Challengers’ Stage. Yeah, I know, “how the mighty have fallen.” But of course, Liquid got 0-3ed in the Legends’ Stage, but that’s a different story.
As for Astralis, they went on to face NRG Esports (the squad that would join Evil Geniuses later) in the semifinals and Avangar (the squad that would join Virtus Pro later) in the Grand Finals, the two teams that had defeated Team Liquid in the Group Stage. It was one of the most anticlimactic endings to a Major. That Grand Final was historic because of the scarce audience it garnered. Deservingly so. Astralis defeated Avangar 16-5 and 16-6, an incomprehensible score for the Grand Finals of a Major.
The Danes cleared that very last hurdle, the last challenge to be recognized as the greatest team to ever exist in the history of Counter-Strike: to show up no matter your form.
Astralis was completely out of form and losing left and right in all tournaments preceding the Major, and yet they showed up when it was important. Not only did they show up, but they also blew their opponents away by winning all Playoff matches without losing a single map.
That’s domination. That’s when the world realized what monsters had been bred in Denmark. The most iconic ones.
In 2021, we saw flashes of some of that dominating animal. Natus Vincere. The CIS squad even went one further in the Major by going completely undefeated. But of course, it was just one Major. All the off-server events of the world have distracted and destabilized the Ukrainian-Russian core.
But they had vowed to prove themselves as the greatest team ever.
This is the hurdle they need to clear. With FaZe Clan running absolutely rampant like Team Liquid once did, NaVi need to show up and put the ultimate brake on the international squad. NaVi need to deal with life and show up here regardless.
Fuck the war, fuck relationship issues, fuck everything. They are professionals of the highest quality and mental toughness. This is how they can prove to be the greatest. This is how they can truly take over Astralis’ mantle.
NaVi don’t wanna be the former Cloud9, who once won a Major and then disappeared. NaVi want to be Astralis, and it’s time to be one.