IEM Rio CSGO Major failure sparks Astralis revolution

Adela Sznajder/ESL Gaming via ESPAT

Just days after failing to qualify for the IEM Rio Major, Astralis have begun the process of cleaning house. The question is: Where do they go from here?

We all knew how it was going to end — the only question was when it was going to happen.

All the tell-tale signs were there. The lack of intensity, the constant speculation about Asger ‘Farlig’ Jensen’s future, the disappointing form of the team’s two veterans, the over-reliance on Benjamin ‘blameF’ Bremer.

Astralis hoped that, somehow, the team would be able to weather this storm and still qualify for the Rio Major. After that, there would be time to analyze the state of the team and what the future might hold.

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Helena Kristiansson/ESL Gaming via ESPAT
Astralis crashed out of the EU RMR with a 1-3 record

But when Kristian ‘k0nfig’ Wienecke, Astralis’ second star, fractured an ankle in a scuffle in Malta and was ruled out of the RMR, the writing was on the wall. The Danish team looked predictable and toothless in the qualifier, where they were eliminated after losses to Ninjas in Pyjamas, Bad News Eagles and forZe.

The IEM Rio Major is the first Valve-sponsored event that Astralis will miss since the organization’s inception, in 2016. The failure to qualify is a significant blow for Astralis, the winningest team at Majors, with four titles. It also ends Andreas ‘Xyp9x’ Højsleth’s streak of Major appearances, leaving Vitality’s Peter ‘dupreeh’ Rasmussen as the sole player who, barring a last-minute setback, has played at all 18 Majors.

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Astralis’ management has wasted little time in making changes. After terminating k0nfig’s contract, they are now moving on from head coach Martin ‘trace’ Heldt. “More measures”, the Danish organization added, will be introduced in the coming weeks.

The situation is so delicate that it warranted a comment from CEO Anders Hørsholt. Normally, Kasper Hvidt, Astralis’ Director of Sports, is the spokesperson for the organization when it comes to changes to the CS:GO team, their crown jewel. Even in Nicolai ‘dev1ce’ Reedtz’s transfer to NIP in April 2021, Hvidt was the only senior Astralis figure who came out and commented on the loss of the organization’s biggest star. “Naturally, saying goodbye to a player like ‘dev1ce’ will be a challenge short term, but changing players is part of the game and we are well prepared,” he said at the time.

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Those words now stand in stark contrast to the impressions that the team has made since losing dev1ce, forcing the CEO to step up and send out a strong message.

“For too long we have not delivered a clear direction,” Hørsholt said. “Going forward, we will be making changes with a focus on the long term, so that we will once again live up to the expectations that we, our partners, and the world around us rightly set.”

Why Astralis are not in a hurry

As Astralis look to overhaul their squad, the biggest question is which players they should build around. The obvious answer is blameF, who, despite the team’s shortcomings, has looked like an elite player all year long.

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gla1ve, too, should be a lock, because of his IGL pedigree and the respect that he still commands in the scene, which could play a key role in convincing players to join a team that has long stopped being synonymous with winning championships. Still, his erratic form — a far cry from the heights he hit in 2018 — is a cause for concern, as is the fact that he has struggled to find a winning formula without dev1ce.

That could be solved if reports of dev1ce’s imminent return to Astralis prove correct. But if the finer details of the transfer are not hammered out soon, Astralis risk watching the deal get hijacked as other teams will certainly look to make changes after the Major.

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Helena Kristiansson/ESL Gaming via ESPAT
Farlig has struggled to be a difference-maker for Astralis

As things stand, Farlig seems to be nearing the end of his time with Astralis. He is an improvement over Philip ‘Lucky’ Ewald but still not the type of impactful AWPer that the team can play around — which puts them at a clear disadvantage against most top teams. As criticism reached new levels with each passing tournament, Farlig seemed unable to block out the noise. “I’m obviously doing my best to ignore social media because there’s more of it when you’re in Astralis,” he said in a July interview. It hasn’t helped that reports of Astralis’ interest in dev1ce have come out on the eve of key tournaments.

Xyp9x’s future in the team remains a question mark. It’s impossible to ignore that his game has left much to be desired this year (0.95 HLTV rating and 0.85 Impact), but Astralis still see him as an important piece of the squad, one that just last year signed a mega-extension keeping him tied to the organization until 2025.

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There is also a significant void to fill in the coaching role with trace out of the picture. Astralis have suggested that Nicolai ‘HUNDEN’ Petersen could begin working in a more direct capacity with the team once his ESIC ban expires in August 2023, but until then, a new coach is required to help restore some order to the chaos.

In the end, this is a problem of Astralis’ own making. They have watched as players like Fredrik ‘roeJ’ Jørgensen, Jakob ‘jabbi’ Nygaard, Valdemar ‘valde’ Bjørn Vangså, and Victor ‘Staehr’ Staehr have switched teams in recent months and gone on to book tickets to Rio. In some cases, there were doubts about the players’ ability; in others, concerns about whether they had the necessary mental fortitude to play for Denmark’s biggest team, one that is constantly under scrutiny by a large fanbase and the country’s media.

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The biggest issue with having to rebuild during a Major is that most interesting players will be attending the event, leaving you with no chance to test things out for a number of weeks. But Astralis should not be in a hurry to finalize their lineup.

Michal Konkol/BLAST
Astralis will almost certainly miss the BLAST Premier Fall Final at the Royal Arena

The failure to qualify for the IEM Rio Major might end up being a blessing in disguise. It will give Astralis the time, and the motive, to carefully plan their next steps and end their cycle of Band-Aid solutions to chronic problems. Their next event, the BLAST Premier Fall Showdown in just a week, is already a write-off — a huge blow as it means that they will miss out on the season finals at the Royal Arena in Copenhagen, the organization’s home turf.

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With nothing left to fight for in 2022, Astralis might as well focus on building a long-term blueprint. From Hørsholt’s words, it seems clear that Astralis will put time, effort and money into building a title contender in 2023. This is the chance for them to start a new era and build a team that can step out of the shadow of the Major-winning lineup, once and for all.

“No one will ever reach that level of dominance, but that does not change the task on hand: We must restore clarity in the way we do things, and we must return to a position where we are in the fight for titles and top positions,” the Astralis CEO said. “It won’t happen overnight, but the work has begun.”

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