The StarLadder Berlin Major was supposed to be the crowning achievement of the CSGO circuit in the last few months. They won six of the seven tournaments they attended from May to July and crafted an era. But Liquid’s incredible form has woken Astralis, who made an incredible return to form at the Major.
Astralis in Hibernation
The beginning of 2019 opened with the IEM Katowice Major, where Astralis won their second Major to cap off their era. The lineup of Nicolai 'dev1ce' Reedtz, Peter 'Dupreeh' Rasmussen, Andreas 'Xyp9x' Hojsleth, Lukas 'gla1ve' Rossander, and Emil 'Magisk' Reif had done the unthinkable.
Astralis had established the most dominant era of CS:GO history and won back-to-back Majors.
Those victories sealed their place as the greatest lineup of all time. Standing at the pinnacle of all CS:GO history was overly satisfying as Astralis lost their fire soon and took a prolonged break. They avoided attending S-Tier events and this caused their form to suffer and ring rust to accumulate.
The Astralis machine had seemingly went into hibernation. In the vacuum of their absence, Liquid became ascendant. By the time Astralis realized what was going on, it was too late to stop them.
Astralis failed to get back to their 2018 form and could only watch as Liquid speed ran through the IEM Grand Slam and become the best team in the world. While it was a bitter pill to swallow, Astralis knew that they still had one big chance to stop the hype train at the StarLadder Berlin Major.
The Major Run
Astralis started shaky in the Legends stage. They had two easy wins in their first rounds as they smashed through DreamEaters and G2 Esports, but lost 0-2 to NRG Esports in the third round match. NRG stole an epic map on Train that went to five overtimes, on incredible individual skill.
This loss tilted Astralis mentally and NRG swept them out of the second game. Astralis went on to win their fourth round match against CR4ZY 2-1. It was a good performance, but was not anywhere close to their 2018 prime.
So when the Astralis vs Liquid quarterfinals were drawn, it looked like Liquid was going to run away with the match. Liquid had also struggled in the group stages, but their overall form in the recent months and map pool seemed to be in better shape than Astralis.
Things looked even worse in the map veto, as Astralis picked Vertigo into Liquid. It was a shocking move as underdogs had been using Vertigo to upset better teams. While Liquid weren’t great on the map, they still had a record of 5-0 on it. Before the match started, it looked to be a 50/50 coinflip. Liquid then got to pick Overpass, their best map.
What looked to be a mistake from the outside was actually a clever trap on Astralis' part. The Danes used Vertigo’s architecture and their utility usage to nullify Liquid’s individual skill. This netted them a 8-7 half on their T-side. On the CT-side, Astralis used aggressive smokes, timings, and setups to bamboozle Liquid.
In one of the first rifle rounds, they smoked off A ramp and had Magisk do a quick flank to kill Liquid’s offense. Each time Liquid tried to move forward, Astralis pulled a new trick out ofthe hat, whether it was Dupreeh and Magisk catching Jake 'Stewie2K' Yip by himself near B stairs, performing a late flank, or switching up the AWP angles of dev1ce.
In the second map of the series, Astralis tactically outplayed Liquid. The first half was Liquid favored as they went 9-6 on the T-side of Overpass. Going into the second half, Liquid looked favored to win the map as they were the best Overpass team and their CT-side was the best in the world. Instead the tactics of gla1ve came into play.
Gla1ve is a master tactician, and one of his best attributes is making and ordering executes that can break the enemy’s morale. This is what happened in the second half of Overpass as he ordered hit after hit on the B site. The genius thing about gla1ve is the variation and execution of each subsequent hit.
In the 19th round, he had the team do a dry contact play and slowly walk into the site. In the 20th, he used an execute that blinded the triple stack that Liquid had towards sewers. In the 22nd, he feigned mid control with two smokes and a molly.
This ploy baited Liquid into rotating towards water and when the hit came in, the smokes and flashes isolated the three players at B and nullified any potential crossfires. Astralis then used the same smoke setup but went towards toilets instead.
Gla1ve read that Nicholas 'nitr0' Cannella and Jonathan 'EliGE' Jablownski were playing a more aggressive setup to get more info and could rotate to B if Astralis made the hit. However, such a play made them vulnerable as they couldn’t play more passive positions.
Gla1ve’s calling and executes were a masterclass of tactics. Liquid had no idea how they were supposed to adapt. Astralis mixed up their timings, variations, openings. Each execute blinded a player in the exact spot they happened to hold in each round.
In the 28th round, Russel 'Twistzz' Van Dulken burned to a molly at barrels due to raw indecision. Astralis won the game with 10 rounds off their T-side.
After beating Liquid, Astralis went on to play against NRG. NRG had beat them in the group stage and in terms of pure individual form, looked to be the best in the tournament. The analysts favored NRG to beat Astralis in the semifinals as their form was incredible and they had time to prepare.
When Liquid went up against Astralis, Astralis hadn’t revealed their hand yet. They hadn’t played Overpass in the group stage and their one Vertigo game had them winning 16-5 against CR4ZY. While Liquid could have studied the T-side, many of the CT-side setups couldn’t have been scouted by Liquid.
This preparation cut both ways though as Astralis could review their games against NRG and figure out what went wrong and fix it. Each team had one day to prepare and Astralis used their day better.
On Train, Astralis recognized that they were holding back too much utility in the early round the first time around. In the rematch, they used it early on, denied NRG space and let them fall apart in the late rounds.
As for Overpass, NRG had an informational advantage against Astralis, but didn’t use it. Theoretically speaking, the most obvious counter to Astralis B-executes was to deny them the chance to even get there.
NRG could have tried aggressively attacking and denying monster and water, but instead played their usual game. Gla1ve couldn’t hide his disappointment as he said in an interview, “There are different ways of preparing. Theirs is talking on interviews. Ours is actually preparing.”
Astralis then wrapped up their Major run with a swift 2-0 victory over AVANGAR in the finals.
Astralis are Back
With this victory, Astralis extend their legacy as the greatest of all time. It is this lineup’s third Major victory and they are they have won their majors back-to-back-to-back. For gla1ve, Dupreeh, dev1ce, and Xyp9x it is their fourth Major. Astralis now have the most Major victories of any lineup in history.
Those four players have won the most Majors of any individual in history. This victory also extends Astralis undefeated streak in Major playoffs to 18-0. They have never dropped a single map in the playoffs of a Major.
Astralis have returned to form and their return seems is built on three different variables.
First, the individual form of the players is back on the rise. Dev1ce was a top five player throughout the year, but at this Major he played like he was the best player in the world. Magisk was also in impressive form, while Dupreeh, gla1ve, and Xyp9x are close to where they were in 2018.
The second factor is Astralis' new innovation . If you look historically, the only other five-man lineup who came out of a slump to regain their form was Virtus.Pro. They did it by shuffling roles and learning new maps.
This renewed their identity over and over again across a long four year span together. In the case of Astralis, we’ve seen them change directions in their map pool from 2018. In 2018, they could play everything, but their specialties were Nuke and Inferno.
In 2019, their Inferno continues to be the best in the world, but they lost their Nuke. At this Major, Astralis have taken Vertigo as a specialty map, rebuilt Overpass, and look to be one of the best teams on Train. This change in map pool also coincides with Astralis innovating tactics again.
In 2018, Astralis set the meta through their utility usage. It didn’t take long for teams to copy them, but even so Astralis continued to stay a step ahead of the rest as they came up with more ideas between each tournament.
That evolution stopped in early 2019, but it has returned with a vengeance at this Major.
The third reason Astralis have made a return is spite. Liquid speed-running the IEM Grand Slam and creating an era has lit the competitive fire in the Astralis players. When Astralis beat Liquid, Dupreeh mentioned that his main motivating factor was stopping Liquid from winning the Major rather than winning the Major itself.
Dev1ce echoed a similar sentiment in a post-Major interview saying, “My motivation is to knock Liquid off the top 1 spot”
Liquid have woken a sleeping giant. Liquid’s success in 2019 has lit a fire in the Danes and that has motivated Astralis to return with full force. Astralis have extended their legacy as the GOATs by becoming the most successful Major team in CS:GO history. Now they look to end the young upstarts who have dared to take their place.