Counter-Strike’s most elite teams are enjoying a well-deserved player break before the dial gets cranked right back up to eleven. In two weeks, the best of the best will clash in Berlin at the StarLadder Major – the 15th Valve-sanctioned Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament as part of the Major Championship series and the second of this year. With an event known to produce strokes of genius and unforecastable outcomes, we’ve decided to take a closer look at the upcoming StarLadder Major in this week’s ESI Gambling Report powered by Vie.gg.
The story thus far
The last high-tier CS:GO tournament transpired three weeks ago in the Windy City at IEM Chicago; the North American powerhouse Team Liquid would take home their fifth consecutive LAN trophy and further cement the supremacy of the team amidst the competitive Counter-Strike circuit. The tournament prior, Liquid would net a title finish at ESL One: Cologne – better known as the ‘Cathedral of Counter-Strike’ – where they would additionally be crowned as the Intel Grand Slam Season 2 champions, reputedly viewed as CS:GO’s most prestigious accolade.
Apprehension wouldn’t be looming too far away for the global leaders, however. One French squad has gone from inception to imposing in a matter of just ten months; having launched its Counter-Strike division in October of last year, Team Vitality has swiftly ascended to the #2 HLTV.org world rank, and they are a force to be reckoned with. Helmed by Alex “ALEX” McMeekin and fortified by 18-year old French prodigy Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut the unit is poised to shake things up in a big way.
And of course, there are the great Danes who will be joining the aforementioned two as Returning Challengers after winning the previous IEM Katowice Major in February. Astralis had brought forth more winning headlines and attention than any team in modern Counter-Strike. The Danes were almost too robust for their own good – swaggering a level of dominance so far ahead of their international competition a narrative was constructed which dubbed the game’s greatest team as being ‘boring’. From ushering in an Astralis era to becoming virtually non-existent this season, the team has skidded far from their former unstoppable state. With the same core team comprised of champions however, it goes without saying that the squad has something prove on this stage.
What Astralis was in 2018 is what Team Liquid represents in 2019. Accolades aside, the North American band has achieved a celestial form and maintained it free of any blemishes in the last three months. It’s fairly easy to get caught up in the narrative and excitement at hand and while there’s something to be said about the duration in which Liquid has perched on the top of the Counter-Strike vista, one thing is certain: this team is impenetrable when playing at their peak performance.
The StarLadder Major is a key tournament for Liquid through the lens of the team’s chronicles. In the last several months, they’ve become the first North American team to achieve the #1 HLTV.org rank, were awarded the Intel Grand Slam, and bested their Danish rivals on one of the most paramount stages in the entire competitive panorama. As Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken simply put following their win at IEM Chicago, “The major is the only thing missing right now.”
Liquid has proven they can perform well over time, although the Berlin Major will unquestionably be a challenge unlike any other the team has sought out and achieved. In light of this team’s laser-focused drive to become the best and stay the best, we’re doubling down and saying this is the year, and this is the tournament Team Liquid banks their first Major win.
It’s slightly unnerving to admit just how far Astralis has seemed to fall out from the limelight despite still being the #3 ranked team in the world – but it’s true. Once believed to be a catalyst in the model of their success, the Danes have absorbed a bit too much free time in passing up tournaments in an effort to keep them fresh. In other words, while Astralis was appearing to sleep, other teams were grappling on cutthroat stages – diminishing the competitive edge they once possessed.
Although, you can’t take away from the Astralis core as a roster comprised of three-time Major winners – the same unit that lifted the Major trophy in Katowice just six months ago in uncontested fashion. Following an extended period absent from key events, the Danes have been through the ringer enough times at this point in their last several expeditions to hopefully shift matters back into gear.
While Liquid has a juicy account dangling in front of them at the StarLadder Major – as does Astralis. A win in Berlin would catapult this team back into the forefront of the scene and pin them as the only team in the history of Counter-Strike to have won four Major Championships. If there’s one word that encapsulated Astralis throughout their most authoritative spell, it’s resilience. Consistently able to battle back tooth-and-nail to win in the bleakest of contexts, the Danes have the tools and the mindset to get return to their championship status.
A race of dark horses
There’s a number of dark horses that will be competing in Berlin on August 23 at the Major. One of those happens to be another famed French squad – G2 Esports. It’d be a longshot to say G2 will be standing in the winner’s circle at the conclusion of the Major – although, this team is brandishing an air about them that offers some promise. Most recently at IEM Chicago, we nearly saw G2 push Liquid to their breaking point in a best-of-three series; despite ending up on the losing end of the skirmish, it was obvious the North Americans were feeling uneasy about being put up against the ropes early as the French were able to steal the first map and barely miss clinching the second. The month prior in June, G2 was able to reach the grand finals on home soil in Montpellier at the ESL Pro League Season 9 Finals. Again, the French clashed with the North American heavyweights in yet another nail-biting series between the two; Liquid was able to narrowly win the series in a tense overtime map and save viewers at home from watching a Vertigo best-of-five decider – still, G2 had shown they can tread in the thick of stiff contention.
The all-Brazillian roster has easily become one of the most exciting teams to watch on the competitive Counter-Strike circuit – and for good reason. FURIA brandishes an explosive and purely unpredictable playstyle has led to a wealth of brash highlights and unthinkable results. A team so visibly on the upswing and with a cast of genuine, down-to-earth players had event attracted an endorsement deal from none other than Nike.
Beyond the lavish new kits, the team can back up its Nike seal of approval with a formidable competitive zeal. Headed by Andrei “arT” Piovezan, FURIA displays a hunger to win seemingly unmatched by any other top-tier team; the drive and belief inherent amongst the Brazillian band has even lead to a five-year contracted binded them until 2024. With a mentality of wanting to consistently outdo themselves, FURIA is getting into gear for a bright future. And who knows, the next chapter of this team’s legacy might be written in Berlin.
The cast of teams in Berlin might be the strongest of any Major yet, and while it would be far too exhaustive to go into thorough detail for each of the tournament’s contenders, we assure you StarLadder will be one for the books. Whether you plan to spectate for fun or for place a few wagers over the course of the event, ESI reminds you to bet responsibly!