With 2019 over, one of the big questions I had on my mind was who was the better team Astralis or Liquid?
While the community seem to favor Astralis as the team of the year, Keith “NAF” Markovic shared a similar sentiment with HLTV.
For my part, the race was closer than community perception. While I still think Astralis had the better year, in some particular criteria, Liquid was the better team.
Before I start contrasting the teams, I wanted to lay out the overall criteria I wanted to judge them by. The criteria I used to judge which was the best team of the year included: results, consistency, peak runs, dominance, prestige, and competitive context.
Results were the most objective criteria as it measures how well each team did at the LANs they attended. I compared the tournament victories of Astralis and Liquid. In order to do that though I had to make some subjective judgements on my part as not all events are created equal. Winning ESL Cologne was far more important than winning a small BLAST event or a Summit.
To make my process as clear as possible, I separated LANs into three groups: Majors, tier one, and tier two. Majors are self-explanatory. Tier one LANs had the following combination of elements: top teams, good conditions (as far as we know), good format, crowds, and prestige. So a tournament like the Summit 4 which had good teams didn’t have a crowd so it couldn’t qualify as tier 1 event. Lastly, there are differences in quality in Tier 1 LANs. ESL Cologne is the biggest event outside of the Majors and ECS Season 8 should be ranked highly as well as all top four teams were at that event.
Consistency was an offshoot of results as it determined by how good a team was over a prolonged period of time. Peak runs looked at the best tournaments runs of the respective teams to see which of them had the best peaks of the year.
Dominance looked at how strong a team was. Prestige looked at intangible factors accorded to what each of the respective lineups accomplished. Competitive context is the framework I used to make value judgements on the overall results. For me, I split 2019 into two time periods: From Katowice to July (The Liquid period) and from Berlin to December.
I’d argue that the Liquid period was less competitive as there were only three consistent S-Tier squads: Liquid, ENCE, and Vitality. From Berlin to December there were four to five. The main four were: EG, Liquid, Astralis, and Fnatic. The fifth is arguable as while Vitality won a tournament early on, they haven’t been as good since. Mouz has only recently won their big LAN so we won’t know if it’s an up spike in performance or if they will become consistent contenders.
One final thing to note, the head-to-head factor didn’t play that big of a role in my analysis. It only pops up when it affects the actual results of a tournament. For my part, I think the best team of the year is the team that was the best against the entire field rather than any specific team.
Results and Consistency
These are Astralis’ and Liquid’s LAN results in 2019. I split them up in groups relative to importance.
1st - IEM Katowice
1st - StarLadder Berlin
Tier one LANs:
Top 6 - EPL 9
Top 4 - Cologne
2nd - ESL NY
Top 4 - DreamHack Malmo
1st - ECS Season 8
Top 4 - EPL 10
1st - BLAST FInals
1st - IEM Beijing
Tier two LANs:
2nd - IBP Masters
2nd - BLAST Madrid
1st - BLAST Sao Paulo
In total Astralis had 6 trophies in 2019. They won two Majors, ECS Season 8 Finals, IEM Beijing, and BLAST Sao Paulo. They had 3 2nd place finishes: ESL New York, IBP Masters, and BLAST Madrid. They had four top four placings at ESL Proleague Season 10, ESL Cologne, and DreamHack Malmo. They had one top six placing at EPL 9.
Top 8 - IEM Katowice
Top 8 - StarLadder Berlin
Tier one LANs:
1st - IEM Sydney
1st - DreamHack Dallas
1st - EPL 9
1st - ESL Col
Top 4 - ESL NY
Top 6 - EPL 10
2nd - BLAST Finals
1st - IEM Chicago
Tier two LANs:
1st - IBP masters
2nd - CS Summit 4
2nd - BLAST Sao Paulo
2nd - BLAST Miami
1st - BLAST Los Angeles
Liquid had seven trophies: IEM Sydney, DreamHack Dallas, EPL 9, ESL Cologne, IEM Chicago, IBP Masters, and BLAST LA. They had four second places: BLAST Finals, BLAST Sao Paulo, BLAST Miami, and CS Summit 4. They had a top four finish at ESL New York, a top six at EPL 10, and top 8 finishes at the Majors.
If you ignored prestige/status, I’d say that the tournaments that Liquid won had better formats relative to the tournaments that Astralis won. IEM Sydney, Dallas, EPL 9, and Cologne all had more competitive formats than either of the Majors or any of the big LANs that Astralis won. That is a point in their favor, but it’s nullified as Astralis got their results in a more competitive period.
As for consistency, I think Liquid were the big winners for this criteria. When I looked at consistency, I gave 0 points to teams that didn’t attend any notable LANs. After Astralis won IEM Katowice, they didn’t attend a big LAN for two months. During the Liquid era (from May to the end of July), Astralis were a top 5-6 team, but at no point proved they were actual contenders for a title as they failed to make it to the finals of a tier one event during that time period.
In contrast to that, Liquid at the end of the year was a top 5 team, but made it to the finals of ECS Season 8 Finals and BLAST. So while they didn’t win a LAN during that time period, they were still contenders.
When Astralis were the best team in the world, they weren’t as dominant as when Liquid were the best in the world. In terms of overall time period and number of LANs attended, Liquid won out over the entire year. As that’s the case Liquid were the more consistent team during this time period.
When I looked through Liquid’s tournaments runs, the two best were probably ESL One Cologne and IEM Chicago. At Cologne Liquid beat Na`Vi twice, NRG, and Vitality to win the tournament. At Chicago they beat G2, Vitality and ENCE. In contrast to that Astralis’ best runs were the StarLadder Berlin Major and ECS season 8.
At the Berlin Major, Astralis beat CR4ZY 2-1, Liquid 2-0, NRG (now EG) 2-0, and AVANGAR 2-0. At ECS Season 8 Finals, Astralis beat Fnatic, EG, and Liquid.
When I compare those runs against each other, I favor Astralis significantly here. The big contenders during Liquid’s era were ENCE and Vitality and Liquid played them a total of three times across those two runs. In contrast to that, the big players in the end of the year were Astralis, Fnatic, EG, and Liquid. Astralis’ had to beat two of the three to win their Major and beat all three for their ECS Season 8 run. The only other run that was comparable to that was Mouz’s victory at EPL 10 where they beat Astralis, EG, and Fnatic.
Dominance and Prestige
Dominance was another factor that played into Liquid’s favor. They had a brilliant record in mid-2019 as they won 22 bo3s in a row and were undefeated in June and July. In those two months Liquid played at five LANs (Four big LANs and one BLAST) and won them all. Astralis did a great job at the end of the year, but they dropped LANs to EG, Fnatic, and Mouz. So while Astralis had the better peak runs, Liquid were more dominant compared to Astralis.
The final factor to consider was prestige. It is the most subjective criteria as it’s based on how important you feel winning the two Majors was compared to speed-running the IEM Grand Slam and winning ESL One Cologne. While I agree with Matthew “Sadokist” Trivett that winning the IEM Grand Slam is more difficult and prestigious than winning the Major, winning two Majors is still more prestigious than the IEM Grand Slam. That alongside Berlin being such a difficult run made me favor Astralis over Liquid.
The Final Verdict
Here is the final tally. The overall results were fairly similar or slightly Liquid favored. Liquid won out in consistency and dominance. Astralis had better peak runs, won the more prestigious events, and were the best team in what I consider to be a more competitive period. As these are different types of criteria, there is no objective right answer.
Those who consider consistency as the most important value should favor Liquid as they were the more consistent team in 2019. For my part though, I went with Astralis as the prestige of the Majors, their peak victories, and winning in a more competitive era were more impressive to me. Even so, this was a tightly contested race and if a few results change, 2019 could have gone the way of Liquid.