Photo: By Helena Kristiansson for ESL
Astralis built their era on two maps: Nuke and Inferno. Everyone knows the undefeated 27-0 streak on Nuke. That map has created an impenetrable stronghold that no team is willing to face. It has gotten to the point where other good Nuke teams like Liquid and Na`Vi have started to ban the map against Astralis. While Nuke is the crown jewel of Astralis, their inferno has been the workhorse of their dynasty. It is the map that every top team plays in the world and the key swing map for nearly every bo3 series. Since the lineup of: Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz, Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen, Andreas “Xyp9x” Hojsleth, Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander, and Emil “Magisk” Reif have come together, they have played inferno on LAN 49 times. Their record is 39-10. If any team wishes to topple the Astralis empire at the Major, they must defeat Astralis on inferno.
Setting the Record Straight
Astralis have been together for an entire year. In that time, they’ve accrued ridiculous win rates across all of their maps.
Among their map win-loss records, Nuke and Inferno are the most impressive by far. In the case of Nuke, Astralis have become so strong on the map that the few other teams that have play the map at the highest level have opted to ban it against Astralis. This is even scarier when you realize that Astralis are the team that pick the map into a bo3 series and have to start from their T-side, where they wrack up a ridiculous halves that no other team in the world can match.
For all of that though, their inferno is arguably even more impressive. Nuke has always been a peculiar map that a majority of teams aren’t interested in practicing or playing. The same cannot be said for inferno as it is a staple map that nearly every top team lets through in the map pick-ban. Because of that, Astralis have played Inferno the most times of any map in their map pool. Despite all of that information, no team has found a consistent formula to beat Astralis. Even the 39-10 record is misleading as four of the six losses came before DreamHack Marseille when the team was still trying to figure out their identity and playstyle.
If we’re only counting the maps from when Astralis hit their peak form, they are 39-6. Those six losses came from:
Mouz at IEM Sydney 17-19
Na`Vi at ESL One Cologone 13-16
North at DreamHack Stockholm 10-16
Liquid at FACEIT Major 15-19
FaZe at IEM Chicago 15-19
MIBR at ECS Season 6 Finals 14-16
The only time Astralis have been unable to get to double digits was against G2 before DreamHack Marseille. In every other instance, Astralis have been able to at least make a game of it. In the games I stated above, three of their losses came in overtime, two of their losses came in the final rounds of the game, and one of their losses came from Mathias “MSL” Lauridsen, an in-game leader who had to watch 150 demos to crack the Astralis code. Astralis’ strength on inferno is remarkable on both sides of the map.
The Role Breakdown of Astralis T-side
When looking at the strength of Astralis T-side, we first have to understand the basic roles and functions that each player has in the team. In a basic 2-1-2 default, Magisk and gla1ve take banana control, dev1ce is a hybrid player, and Dupreeh and Xyp9x play apartments.
Each player is outstanding within their roles. Magisk and gla1ve consistently read the exact amount of utility needed to take banana control. A problem that other teams have is that they unload too much of their utility early on without much gain. Astralis on the other hand have honed in on the patterns and tells of their opponents, so when a team skimps on the early round utility usage, Magisk and gla1ve can often take banana with just a few nades and save their utility for the later stages.
In the case of dev1ce, he has a more fluid role in this team. He can be the support player for banana, be a supportive AWP by holding mid, be an aggressive AWPer and challenging brackets, or be a rifle player that holds the banana position throughout the round.
Dupreeh is the aggressive solo playmaker and the person who aggressively lurks aps, brackets, and archside throughout the entire round. If Astralis decide to hit the A-site near the end, he becomes the entry-fragger. Xyp9x is the passive wing player on the aps side who can either facilitate Dupreeh or make a play of his own if Astralis are in a down man situation (4v5, 3v5, etc.).
The Methodology of Astralis’ T-side
When looking through all of Astralis’ LAN games, two patterns emerge on their T-side depending on how banana control goes. If Astralis have to expand utility to take banana control, they have four different options:
1 – Do a B execute
2 – Use utility to deny CTs info down banana and do an explosive hit on A from aps
3 – Do a fast A split
4 – Slowly take control of the upper points of banana and brackets, then do a execute on either site.
Option four is Astralis’ bread and butter. It’s been their most successful go to as it gives them the most time to find picks, read the enemy position, and abuse rotations. Additionally, it gives gla1ve the most information and if he gets enough of a read, he can call for a hard anti-strat by the end of the half which often catches opposing teams off guard.
The second pattern is when the CTs play a passive B-site, where they hold their utility and don’t contest early on. In this case, Astralis have far more utility to work with and banana early on. The trade-off though is they have to be wary of banana/bracket mid-round retakes and counter-nades if they execute onto a site. In this particular scenario, Astralis will use their utility to blanket the A-site. They’ll then do one of these options:
1 – Go through with the hit
2 – push into archside and look for a pick
3 – have Dupreeh lurk into arch-side while the rest of the team does a B hit
4 – Have the entire team go B
5 – Do a B split
6 – Do an explosive 4 man hit from aps.
Overall Evolutions to the Astralis T-side Playstyle
Astralis have slowly built up and maintained the strength of their inferno T-side throughout their 2018 campaign. During that period, they’ve innovated utility usage, created different variation of their hits, and have become one of the best forcebuy teams in the world on this particular map. Among the different additions they’ve made to their playstyle, the most significant happened after their loss to Na`Vi at ESL One Cologne.
In that game, Na`Vi were able to win the map based off of their CT-side gamble stacks. In order to solve this problem, Astralis instituted a few changes to their game. First, they started to do a classic Na`Vi style play where they run down the clock to as low as possible before hitting a site. This forces the CT-side to commit to aggressive late-round pushes to try to get some info as to where Astralis is going. Secondly, Astralis started to play more 4-1s at the end of their rounds.
In this screenshot, we see that Liquid have been forced to commit to a 3-2 setup as dupreeh continues to make prescence in the aps, so they are unable to gamble onto one side or another. In the cases when Astralis hit the A-site, dev1ce was the player left at banana to play the lurker role. This style of play continued for the rest of the year.
The third addition Astralis made to their T-side repoitoire was to challenge and get info on archside more often with either dupreeh or gla1ve.
The Role Breakdown of Astralis CT-side
While the T-side of Astralis is the best in the world, the same is also true for their CT-side. Here are the basic rundowns of their roles on the CT-side: Xyp9x and gla1ve play banana, with Xyp9x being the B-anchor. Dev1ce is the roaming AWPer. Dupreeh is the aggressive playmaker in bracket and boiler. Magisk is the pit player.
When examining their roles, I think the three polarizing players here are dev1ce, Xyp9x, and Magisk. Dev1ce has five general positions he likes to go to. I’ve marked them as blue circles on the map.
This creates a headache for the T-side as teams have to play in a different manner depending on where the AWP is playing from. As for Xyp9x, he and gla1ve play a fantastic utility based control on banana which I’ll get into later. In general though, the two of them consistently get more information from banana compared to other banana players in the world and this allows for Astralis to have better rotations. Finally, Magisk, is the best pit player in the world. He is a master of micro-positioning at finding small angles to win passive duels against anyone coming in and also consistently saves his utility till the end of the rounds.
Utility and Deception, The Astralis CT-side
Much like the T-side, the Astralis CT-side starts with banana control. In the beginning parts of their era, Astralis consistently did massive amounts of damage with their HEs, mollies, and smokes. An example of this was at ESL Proleague Finals:
This is a typical screenshot back before teams figured out the utility style of Astralis. In this screenshot, dev1ce had thrown a molly deep down mid, which forced two Marcelo “coldzera” David and Jake “Stewie2k” Yip to either commit to banana control or run away. They committed into the molly of gla1ve and had to use their smoke to put it out. This in turn allowed gla1ve and Xyp9x to use their HEs to bombard them and for gla1ve to push down banana and finish them off.
As time has gone on, teams have been far better about figuring out the HE/molly patterns of Astralis and are far less liable to take massive amounts of damage. What they haven’t figured out though is Astralis ability to mask their intentions.
In a typical Astralis CT-side round, they have two basic patterns. They either smoke down the bottom of banana and top mid or they smoke the bottom of banana and leave top mid open.
In either case, there is little information that the Ts can go off of to try and figure out the setup of Astralis. The primary reason is how banana is controlled. If the T-side push too aggressively, you get a situation where they can all get blown to bits as shown in the previous screenshot with SK. If they take it passively, then they have to figure out what setup Astralis used. Astralis general options behind putting down the banana smoke include:
Leaving gla1ve or xyp9x to jump peek broken wall and rotate to a 4a-b
Leaving dev1ce to AWP from the broken wall and rotate to a 4a-b
At this point, the Ts are in a conundrum as they have little information on where dev1ce is. In this instance, if dev1ce is at broken wall, they need to use utility to get him off of there. If he isn’t, the better option is to dry peek it and save the utility for later. In the case that there is no top mid smoke and they carelessly run up top mid, they can get AWPed by dev1ce if it happens to be a setup where gla1ve or xyp9x is left to control banana. If they push aps, it could be the Astralis 2 aps setup where Magisk and dev1ce hold up in the halls waiting to trade anyone that comes up.
Finally, in the case that the Ts do commit to a long drawn out battle for banana, they are facing a utility war against Xyp9x and gla1ve. Both players are famed for getting being the absolute best when it comes to getting kills through smoke and so a direct action like that often leads into slaughter for the T-side.
If the Ts retake banana passively in the mid-round, they will have lost critical resources, time and utility for some map control. If the Ts try to skimp on utility in retaking banana, they could run into dev1ce’s AWP and lose a player.
The inherent problem with banana and Astralis CT-side as a whole is that hey almost never give the Ts a fair duel. Every piece of utility and rotation they make is setup so that the Astralis players have the best possible chance to get their kills while the Ts have to hit much harder shots or make much harder reads to get a step up on Astralis.
The Antistrat Factor
Another factor that has to consider is Astralis’ antistratting. Astralis are the most cerebral team in the world and are at the cutting edge of the meta when it comes to innovating utility usage and ideas on how the game should be played. They are also a team that often figure out the tendencies of their opponents and themselves to find completely different looks that other teams aren’t expecting.
Among the different games I’ve watched, there are only a few instances of which I’m confident enough to say that Astralis played so far out of their norm, that I’d call it an antistrat. At FACEIT Major against Liquid, dev1ce once holed himself up in cubby and Astralis let Liquid retake banana and then rotated their 2nd B player to A. Once that was completed, dev1ce came out, killed the B player and then Astralis did a B hit. In another instance at BLAST Istanbul, Astralis played against MIBR. In that finals, Astralis opted to use no banana grenades and instead snuck Xyp9x to an off angle down the bottom of banana. So when MIBR decided to take banana with a single player, they had no idea Xyp9x was there and Astralis got an easy kill.
This is another factor to consider when thinking about Astralis’ inferno. Even though they’ve played the map 49 times on LAN and countless more times online, they have continued to find new and fresh approaches that can catch top teams off guard again and again.
Heading to the Major
Every team should know at this point that winning inferno is critical for their success at the IEM Katowice 2019 Major. When we look back on 2018, the two best teams in the world were Astralis and Liquid. Both teams mastered inferno and made it one of their homemaps. As we head into the Legends stage of the tournament, the most important battles of the major will be decided on inferno. In the past we’ve seen teams pull off upsets against Astralis on this map, but never with regularity. Na`Vi had to resort to hard gamble stacks that only ever worked once. North had MSL watch 150 demos, play at a MVP level with the AWP, and comprehensively understand the rotation tendencies of Astralis. Liquid had to play at their absolute peaks of skill to take down Astralis in the group stages of the FACEIT Major.
That is the level that is needed to topple Astralis. If no team can stop Astralis on inferno, then I believe no team will be able to stop them at all. IEM Katowice could very well be decided by which team can upset Astralis in Inferno. If they can’t, Astralis will likely win back-to-back Majors.