The stars of Astralis shined above the shining cathedral of Counter-Strike, ESL One Cologne. They were as untouchable God kings of the scene. The best team in the world that had no rivals. Giants of the scene that could not be toppled. The entire story going into ESL One Cologne felt like the final crowning of the Astralis Era and so the question became ‘Could anyone stop them?’ In the end someone did. Na`Vi fought the giants of Counter-strike and have come out victorious at ESL One Cologne.
Among the teams in the world, Na`Vi were one of the few that had chances to upset Astralis as they had the biggest gun in the game, Oleksandr ‘s1mple’ Kostyliev. While Astralis is the best team in the world by a country mile, s1mple is the best player in the world by the same magnitude. However you do not win games by having the best player in CS, you win by being the best team. Astralis showed them the last time the two teams squared off at DreamHack Marseille. At that event Astralis smashed Na`Vi in the semifinals 2-0. It wasn’t particularly close despite s1mple being the best player in that series.
So the crux of the Na`Vi issue was that they needed to become a better team. However it was going to take a long time as Danylo ‘Zeus’ Teslenko has stated this continually through the last year in various interviews. If you look at his time on Gambit, the story was paralleled as it took that team over half an year to become strong enough to win the Major. So far, he has proven good on his words. The team has slowly made the changes they needed. They got Denis ‘electronic’ Sharipov into the team to increase the firepower of the squad after Denis ‘seized’ Kostin decided to quit.
Na`Vi initially tried building around s1mple and Egor ‘flamie’ Vasilyev as the two stars of the team, but eventually came to the conclusion that electronic was more suited for that role. This was one of the critical changes they needed as both electronic and flamie have found far more consistency in their new roles. With s1mple, electronic, and flamie, Na`Vi had a strong core of star players that could match any in the world.
However the remaining roster had issues. Ioaan ‘Edward’ Sukhariev was hitting the worst slump of his CS:GO career. Zeus was a great leader, but as an individual player he was a liability. Entire T-side strategies have been constructed around the idea of exploiting his positions.
But even those problems are slowly being fixed. While Edward and Zeus are not good players in the context of top Counter-Strike, however they are fixing the obvious individual mistakes that made no sense from an outside perspective. Edward is no longer continually feeding kills and taking as many unnecessary aim duels. Zeus seems to work in better tandem with the other team. Perhaps the elongated amount of time this roster has gone through building has fixed the communication issues which in turn have stabilized the game of these two players. On top of that, Na`Vi have started creating a mind game with T-sides that try to exploit Zeus by having s1mple there instead.
Finally and most importantly the Na`Vi side have slowly built up their map pool. They have good maps on Inferno, Overpass, and Mirage. Their Nuke, Train are solid. Dust 2 is on the weaker side of things as it was exposed in the finals of ESL One Cologne. They still have some individual players that can work on it though and Na`Vi’s permaban is Cache.
For Na`Vi it has been a long seven month process for them to build up the necessary teamwork, roles, maps. At the end of that process was the semifinals series against Astralis at ESL One Cologne. The last time the teams had met was at DreamHack Marseille three months prior where Na`Vi had just started instituting the role changes between flamie and electronic. Now three months later, with an expanded map pool, and better communication, it was time for a rematch.
The extended map pool paid off immediately. Na`Vi’s Overpass and explosive T-sides overwhelmed the Astralis CT-side defense and despite winning both pistols, the Astralis team could not hold them back. On the other hand, the second map was a wipe out by Astralis as they smashed Na`Vi on nuke.
The final map was Inferno and it was the critical map of the tournament as the winner of this was likely to win the entire thing given that we now know that BIG upset FaZe. Na`Vi ran up the T-side as Astralis could not stop them and the individual players of Na`Vi overwhelmed them.
However the weakness of Na`Vi bit them back in the second half as they threw away multiple rounds trying to forcebuy into Astralis which gimped them economically for the rest of the game. Their CT-side came down to two things. Individual plays and CT-side gambles. On the 22nd round, Astralis had perfectly forced the rotator to go B with their pressure and they hit the site 5v2. In that moment electronic and flamie stood up and were able to take down three players with them in the defense. In the ensuing struggle, Peter ‘dupreeh’ Rothmann nearly won the round anyway getting four kills before s1mple was finally able to win the clutch.
After that, the Na`Vi side started to use Ct-side gambles and because of that were able to catch and destroy Astralis’ last attempts at making a comeback into the game and forcing overtime. This series was also extraordinary in how well Zeus performed. He had a roll back of the years as he got 31 kills and had massive impact frags with on critical rounds. He hasn’t had a game at this level since 2015.
With that victory Na`Vi were able to end Astralis. They are now the second team to do so since Astralis have rose to prominence as the best team in the world at DreamHack Marseille. After winning the semifinals, Na`Vi were able to close out the tournament victory over BIG 3-1. Throughout this run, s1mple has continued to prove why people hail him as the best player in the world. In addition to that electronic was not far behind and was in the MVP conversation himself. In the cathedral of Counter-strike, Na`Vi have now stood up on the altar as the victors. Na`Vi have the best player in the world, they have a second star that has proven he can play at the top 5, they have a team that continues to grow event after event. They are now ready to take the next step.
Though Na`Vi have won here and have slain Astralis, Astralis still claim the title as the best team in the world. However this victory here shows that Astralis are no longer the only apex predator in the scene. Before this tournament, Astralis ruled over all unchallenged. Standing far above the rest as an eagle above the clouds. Here at ESL One Cologne, they have been shot down by Na`Vi. With their victory over Astralis and the finals trophy, Na`Vi are ready to set their sights higher. It is no longer enough to hunt the lesser game, it is now time to set their sights higher. It is time to hunt the giants and try to usurp their place upon the throne.