Photo: By Bart Oerbekke for ESL
Astralis have won their second Major and have added another accolade to their ever growing list of achievements including: An era, 11 tournament victories, the IEM Grand Slam, and back-to-back Major victories. Their level of dominance is unprecedented in the history of CS:GO. By the end of 2018, many started to put them in the conversation as the greatest of all-time. By the end of the IEM Katowice 2019 Major, that conversation ended. While the debate has ended, it is worth comparing the Astralis and Fnatic achievements to appreciate the enormity of what Astralis have done.
When doing a ranking like this, the first step is to remove criteria that has no impact on the ranking. The first things to go were online tournaments/qualifiers and money won. In Counter-Strike, online matches shouldn’t have any impact when ranking the greatest teams as a majority of their focus is used to win LANs. I’ve eliminated prize money won as a point of contention as there is little correlation between prize money and prestige (you need only look at WESG to understand why).
Next I picked out the factors that define what it means to be the greatest. The big factors I included were consistency, longevity, peak consistency, number of bo3+ series won against top tier opposition, level of dominance, and performance at the Majors. I did a comparative analysis with the context of the time frame in mind. For instance, someone might point out that top placings at Majors should be weighted more than normal tournaments. While I agree with that statement in principle, when put into practice it doesn’t make as much sense. NiP’s dominance came in a period with no Majors, so that criteria is inherently biased against them if you take context out of the picture. Conversely, Fnatic played in a time where there were three Majors a year and had more chances to accrue more Major results. So while major results are important, the context surrounding the Majors was taken into account.
The next piece of criteria I considered was impact on the meta. This includes things like innovation of strategy, and refinement of strategy. I also noted how many roster changes Fnatic and Astralis ended up causing through their reign as the best team in the world. Finally, I compared the overall strengths of their rosters.
Fnatic’s Tournament Results
The best Fnatic lineup consisted of: Freddy “KRIMZ” Johansson, Jesper “JW” Wecksell, Robin “flusha” Ronnquist, Olof “olofmeister” Kjabjer, and Markus “pronax” Wallsten. The lineup lasted from June 30th 2014 to November 12th, 2015. They played together for about one and a half years.
Their results included:
- ESL One Cologne 2014 – 2nd
- DreamHack Winter – Top 8
- ESL Katowice 2015 – 1st
- ESL One Cologne 2015 – 1st
- DreamHack Cluj-Napoca – Top 8
1st place victories:
- StarLadder StarSeries X
- FACEIT Season 2
- ESWC 2014
- Frabite 3
- ESEA 17
- Clutch Con
- IOS Pantamera
- DreamHack Tours
- Gfinity Master Spring Season 2
- DreamHack Summer 2015
- ESEA ESL Proleague Season 1
2nd place finishes:
- ESEA 18
- PGL CS:GO Championship Kick-Off
- Fragbite 4
- Gfinity Champion of Champions
Top 4 finishes:
- Gfinity G3
- DreamHack 2014 Invitational 2
- MLG Aspen Games X
- FACEIT Stage 1 Finals
- FACEIT Stage 2 Finals
- ESEA ESL Proleague Invitational
- PGL CS:GO Championship Series
In 27 tournaments, Fnatic won 13 titles, 4 second place finishes, seven top four finishes, and two top eight finishes.
Astralis Tournament Results
Now let’s take a look at Astralis tournament results. The lineup includes: Nicolai “device” Reedtz, Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen, Andreas “Xyp9x” Hojsleth, Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander, and Emil “Magisk” Reif. The team has lasted from Feb. 7th, 2018 to now, a little over one year. The lineup is still in action.
Their results include:
- FACEIT Major – 1st
- IEM Katowice 2019 Major – 1st
1st place victories:
- DreamHack Marseille
- ESL Proleague Season 7 Finals
- ECS Season 5 Finals
- ELeague Premier 2018
- BLAST Istanbul
- IEM Chicago
- ECS Season 6 Finals
- ESL Proleague Season 8 Finals
- BLAST Lisbon
2nd place finishes:
- IEM Sydney
- DreamHack Stockholm
- IBP Masters
Top four results:
- IEM Katowice 2018
- ESL Cologne 2018
- BLAST Copenhagen
Top eight results:
- StarLadder i-League Season 4
In total, Astralis have played at 18 tournaments during this time period. They have 11 first place finishes, three second place finishes, three top four finishes, and one top eight finish.
Comparing the Results
I’ll first analyze my first three criteria: consistency, longevity, and peak consistency. Consistency is how often a team delivers good results. Longevity is how long a team stayed as an elite side in CS:GO history. Peak consistency measures how consistently a team played at their peak level of strength.
Fnatic played from mid 2014 to the last quarter of 2015. While they were consistent throughout that entire time span, their peak level of form lasted for the first nine months of the roster’s life span. After that, they continued to be the best team in the world, but were no longer the dominant untouchable force.
Astralis played from Feb. 2018 to now. Their era starts at DreamHack Marseille which they won on April 22nd. From then to now, it has been eleven months. Fnatic have the longevity as their lineup played longer than Astralis by about five months. Fnatic also have an additional nine tournaments played compared to Astralis. Astralis area ahead in consistency and peak consistency as Astralis stayed in peak form two months longer than Fnatic did.
The next thing I looked at was the number of bo3+ series won by each team against top tier opposition. In this case, top tier opposition generally meant teams that could contend or consistently get top four placings. In Fnatic’s era, their primary rivals included: Virtus.Pro, LDLC/EnVyUs, NiP (all three iterations), and Dignitas/TSM. There were also a few other teams to consider like Titan, Na`Vi, and Cloud9. Titan at the end of 2014 was a strong team before Valve banned Hovik “KQLY” Tovmassian. In the summer of 2015, Cloud9 was a notable team as they showed strong form during that period. The third team to consider was Na`Vi, the lineup with Ioann “Edward” Sukhariev, Egor “flamie” Vasilyev, Danylo “Zeus” Teslenko, Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovacs, and Denis “seized” Kostin. This team rose up to become a contender during the last few months of this fnatic lineup.
As for Astralis, their primary rivals included: Liquid, Na`Vi, FaZe, and Mouz. I counted both Liquid lineups: the one with Lucas “steel” Lopes and Epitacio “TACO” de Melo. In the case of FaZe ,I included all three lineups. The original one (Havard “rain” Nygaard, Nikola “NiKo” Kovac, GuardiaN, olofmeister, and Finn “karrigan” Andersen) as well as the stand-in iterations that had Richard “Xizt” Landstrom or Jorgen “cromen” Robertsen. I included Mouz as they were a consistent top four team for most of this time period. Other notable lineups I included were two Fnatic lineups and MIBR. The Fnatic lineup at the beginning of the year which had Maikil “Golden” Selim leading. I also included the Fnatic lineup that played at IEM Chicago as they had a monstrous form at that tournament. As for MIBR, I counted the lineup with Tarik “tarik” Celik, Jake “Stewie2K” Yip, and Janko “YNk” Paunovic as coach. Finally, I counted ENCE at the Major considering the form they were in at that event.
Here are the total tallies of the number of bo3+ series won by Fnatic and Astralis against their top tier opposition.
Total bo3+ won against top tier opposition: 28
Total bo3+ won against top tier opposition: 34
If we were looking at the raw numbers, Astralis is ahead at 34 to Fnatic’s 28. However, it’s more complicated than just tallying numbers. The tournament scene has changed a lot in the last few years with tournament organizers creating far more robust formats that require more bo3 play. Who is to say that Fnatic wouldn’t have won more bo3s against the big teams if the format had allowed it?
Beyond that, the other sticking point to consider is the competition. If you compare the rivals of Fnatic and Astralis, I’d argue that Fnatic’s biggest rivals were slightly tougher than Astralis. This has been a common criticism discussed in the community when comparing Fnatic to Astralis as people remember the Fnatic period as the most competitive period in CS:GO when it came to elite level Counter-Strike. During that period Fnatic played against TSM, Virtus.Pro, LDLC/EnVyUs, and NiP as their big four. Astralis played against Liquid, Na`Vi, FaZe, and Mouz as their big four.
LDLC/EnVyUs was one of the greatest lineups in CS:GO history. TSM was one of the best Danish lineups who had a remarkably good matchup against Fnatic. Virtus.Pro were still Virtus.Pro. NiP couldn’t win, but they were still an elite side. As for Astralis, I’d argue Liquid and Na`Vi is as competitive as any of Fnatic’s four. That Liquid iteration was the best lineup NA ever produced. Once Na`Vi figured out the right roles for their players, they became a potent force and have the best individual player CS:GO has ever seen in Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev. The problem is with FaZe and Mouz. FaZe had roster issues during large parts of this period. Regardless they were an asymmetrical team that relied too heavily on firepower (on the other hand, this gave them the best puncher’s chance of any team in history). As for Mouz, they were a consistent top four team, but weren’t quite as magical as NiP was (barring their performance against Liquid at New York).
While I agree with the sentiment that Fnatic’s rivals were a bit more competitive, Astralis’ rivals weren’t jokes either. Another crucial thing to keep in mind is that there is no objective way to measure the level of the elite sides of each age. The relative parity in 2015 made people think it was harder to win, but that period did not have an Astralis equivalent. Fnatic and Astralis dominated in different ways. Fnatic relied far more on teamplay, chemistry, and individual skill. Astralis great strength comes from their wide balance of tools which includes: skill, teamplay, structure, tactics, innovation, and role balance. Fnatic’s had a polarized way of playing which made for closer games. Astralis on the other hand dominated their opponents and made them look weak in comparison. This further creates an illusion that the Fnatic era was more competitive when in reality it’s likely far closer than people imagine.
Level of Dominance
When comparing the level of dominance between Fnatic and Astralis, I looked at them against the entire field. So I primarily looked at the map pool W-L and their worst matchups. In both cases Astralis came out on top.
This is Fnatic’s W-L record for the seven maps they played:
Astralis W-L record on their seven maps:
While the stats are good for both teams, if you watch the games, it’s clear that Astralis’ win conditions on every map is more consistent than Fnatic. Fnatic got by on the weaker side of the map pool through individual skill and natural team chemistry. While Astralis can use those tools, they’ve also shown tactics, structure, and a clear idea of how to play every map in their map pool thus far.
The bigger differential for me was their worst matchups. Fnatic had two bad matchups during their time as a team: Titan and TSM. Kevin “Ex6TenZ” Droolans tactics and Kenny “kennyS” Schrub’s superstar AWPing characterized the TItan lineup. The beginning of the Titan lineup went 2-0 up in bo3 series against Fnatic and later on still gave them challenges despite roster issues. The other terrible matchup Fnatic had was TSM. They lost to TSM in five different bo3 series during their period together, while only winning one of their own.
In comparison, Astralis’ “worst” matchups are: FaZe, Na`Vi, MIBR, and NiP. FaZe managed three bo3 victories. These are all bad matchups in the relative sense. Astralis is 3-3 against FaZe, 2-2 against Na`Vi, 3-1 against MIBR, and have only lost bo1s against NiP. Even these stats are misleading as the losses that Astralis had often forced everything out of their opponents. FaZe had to pull a miracle to win the IEM Sydney Finals. Na`Vi had to get Zeus to do a 30 bomb, and win losing gamble stacks on the CT-side of Inferno to steal that series.
Overall, Astralis are the more dominant team and this criteria favors them over Fnatic.
Performance at the Majors
CS:GO Majors are the most prestigious events of a CS:GO team’s life. As that’s the case, it’s worth going into how Fnatic and Astralis compare. Fnatic played in an era where there were three Majors a year. Astralis on the other hand played in an era where there were two Majors a year. As that’s the case, Fnatic were able to play at five different Majors: ESL One Cologne 2014, Dreamhack Winter 2014, ESL Katowice 2015, ESL One Cologne 2015, and DreamHack Cluj-Napoca. Their total achievements include: Two first place finishes, one second, and two top eight finishes.
Here are the paths that Fnatic had at each of their Majors. At ESL One Cologne 2014, they beat Na`Vi 2-1, Dignitas 2-0, and lost to NiP in the finals 1-2. At DreamHack Winter 2014 they had the overpass boost in the quarterfinals. At ESL Katowice 2015 they beat Penta 2-0, VP 2-0, and NiP 2-1 in the finals. At ESL One Cologne they beat LG 2-0, VP 2-1, and EnVyUs 2-0 in the finals. At Cluj-Napoca, they lost to EnVyUs in the quarterfinals.
As for Astralis, they’ve only attended two Majors with the current lineup: FACEIT Major and IEM Katowice 2019. They won both. At FACEIT Major they beat FaZe 2-0, TL 2-0, and Na`Vi 2-0. At Katowice they beat NiP 2-0, MIBR 2-0, and ENCE 2-0.
While Fnatic have won more overall bo3s (8-9 depending on how you count DreamHack Winter), they were less dominant overall as they dropped maps. Astralis have only attended two Majors, but clean swept the playoffs and have gone 12-0.
Given the context surrounding both teams, I think this category breaks even. Both have won two Majors each. The argument is between Fnatic’s additional second place finish and two ro8 finishes compared to Astralis’ undefeated streak in Major playoff series. Both are extraordinary achievements and if all context surrounding those achievements were the same, I’d side with Fnatic. However Fnatic played in an era where there were three Majors a year. In contrast to that, Astralis play in an era where there are only two a year. This in turn increases the pressure to perform at the Majors and to stay in top form for a longer period of time. As that’s the case, I thought they broke even in this category.
The last piece of criteria is impact. Fnatic were influential in a number of ways. Olofmeister in particular changed the meta in the way people played certain maps (most notably cobblestone and train). In terms of playstyle, the Fnatic default style that relied on teamplay and fundamental CS. That style of play arguably served as the base model that future teams ended up building their game around, most notably Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo’s LG/SK squads.
While that was impressive, Astralis are still leagues ahead here. If we’re looking at individual players, dev1ce’s mobile AWP style has become the standard by which nearly all AWPers are judged. As a team, Astralis have redefined utility usage in 2018 and now every team has copied their playbook when it comes to understanding utility. Outside of that, they are consistently coming up with new tactics, executes, and setups. Beyond that, they’ve forged a new path with their emphasis on organizational infrastructure that has forced other orgs to start emulating.
While the last bit is unfair to include as the amount of money is completely different between then and now, the overall tactics that Astralis have innovated and refined upon have put them leaps ahead of Fnatic in this category. While it’s hard to say how future generations will view Astralis, I suspect that this lineup will be a cataclysmic event in how we view how lineups, roles, and organizations should be run if a team wants to be the world’s number one.
One final thing to note is how many roster shuffles each roster caused by their existence. This is murky territory as there is no way to credit any top team for causing other rosters to change lineup. However in most cases, top tier teams change rosters in order to surpass the number one ranked team. In Fnatic’s case, these are the rosters that shuffled due ot their existence:
NiP twice (From Robin “Fifflaren” Johansson to Mikail “Maikelele” Bill to Aleksi “Allu” Jalli).
Na`Vi once as they moved Sergey “starix” Ischuk to coach and got Egor “flamie” Vasilyev. EnVyUs once as they changed Edouard “SmithZz” Dubourdeaux and Richard “shox” Papillon for Dan “apEX” Madesclaire and Kenny “Kennys” Schrub
Dignitas once as they got Henrik “FeTiSh” Christensen for Finn “karrigan” Andersen.
Overall that is either four to five changes (depending on how you count the Fifflaren retirement) made that top teams made to get past Fnatic during that period.
In the case of Astralis, they roster changes they caused include:
FaZe made two moves. First they benched Karrigan and got Dauren “AdreN” Kystaubayev and then got Janko “YNk” Paunovic as coach.
MIBR made four moves. They first replaced TACO with Jake “Stewie2K” Yip. Later they replaced Ricardo “boltz” Prass with Tarik “tarik” Celik and got YNk as coach. After that didn’t work they replaced Stewie2K and tarik with TACO and Joao “felps” Vasconcellos. Finally they added Wilton “zews” Prado as their final move.
Fnatic made multiple moves, but I’ll only count the first one as every subsequent roster move was made to save a sinking ship. They tried to replace Maikil “Golden” Selim with Richard “Xizt” Landstrom.
Mouz made two moves. They replaced Martin “STYKO” Styk with Janusz “Snax” Pogorzelski and then replaced Snax with STYKO.
North kicked out Mathias “MSL” Lauridsen for Casper “cadiaN” Moller. While not a top team, it’s notable as MSL’s North is one of the few teams to ever beat Astralis in a finals.
As for Liquid, they made one move as they were forced to replace TACO with Stewie2k. I personally didn’t count it as the move wasn’t made to beat Astralis, but rather because they needed someone to replace TACO on the team after he left.
The amount of roster moves that Astralis has forced from the scene numbers between eight to eleven depending on if you count the coach moves and the Liquid change. In terms of warping reality around them, Astralis are farther ahead than Fnatic.
Overall Strength of Each Roster
The Fnatic lineup of 2014-2015 is still among the best lineups ever formed. Their primary star players during that period was olofmeister and KRIMZ. Olofmeister was the aggressive star player who made plays while KRIMZ was the anchor and rock that created a fantastic consistent base for the team in terms of fragging and team play. JW started off as the big star of the team, but fell off as time went on. Despite that, he was a wildcard factor that added the extra spark that Fnatic needed to surprise their opponents. Flusha was the smart passive player who peaked at the Majors. Pronax was the in-game leader who was fairly low in fragging, but still had good impact. As a leader, his style of play was perfect for what the Fnatic squad needed.
What made this particular Fnatic lineup amazing was that in order to stay relevant for so long was that they consistently played around whoever happened to be in good form at each period of time. Early on it was JW, then it was KRIMZ, at Majors it was flusha, and for the majority of the time it was olofmeister. A final thing to note was that this team was incredible under pressure and that intangible quality was the reason why they won their second Major at ESL One Cologne 2015. Overall, Fnatic’s dominance came from their diverse firepower across players, inherent team chemistry, and insane clutch.
The current Astralis lineup is a different beast. Device is the mobile AWPer. Dupreeh is the aggressive entry-fragger who aggressively fights for map control. Gla1ve is the in-game leader who also doubles as another aggressive playmaker and entry-fragger. Magisk is the passive lurker. Xyp9x is the support player and master clutcher. What makes this team so dangerous is that while each player has a primary role in the game, all five of them is extremely versatility and has a high level of understanding in how they are supposed to play off of each other.
When looking at the team, there is no overlap between roles. This team has the perfect understanding of their CS and this has created the best team play CS:GO has ever seen. What pushes this team over the edge though is their dedication to the craft. Fnatic was a team that stayed on top by playing around whoever was in form during a period of time. In Astralis’ case, they stay on top through constant preparation. Astralis constantly comes up with new tactics, ideas, and setups each tournament.
This ability to update their formula and approach has kept Astralis a step ahead of the competition as they are constantly improving their map pool. When MIBR tried to challenge them on Train in mid 2018, they showed themselves to be among the best teams on that map. When Na`Vi banned cache, Astralis picked it into them and won. At the Katowice 2019 Major, Astralis showed that they had gained even more mastery on Dust2 and used it to punish other teams.
Overall, Astralis have every weapon in CS:GO. They have a good spread of skill across all of their roles. They have the best tactics, teamplay, and structure. In the latter half of 2018, they showed that they could perform under pressure at the highest levels.
When comparing Astralis to Fnatic, Astralis are just a step ahead. What made Fnatic great was that they could play their own game and dominate the field. In contrast to that, Astralis can play any game and come out ahead. Overall, I edge this to Astralis.
When considering the greatest lineup of all time, there is no such thing as an objective judgement. When you break down each criteria, each individual has to weight up how they rank these individual values and the context that surrounds them. For me the argument boiled down to a few points. In the case of Fnatic, they have better longevity as they’ve played longer together (thus far) and played more tournaments. Fnatic also played in an era with arguably better elite competition (depending on how you view each eras teams).
In the case of Astralis, they win out in peak consistency as the indomitable number one, overall dominance, more bo3+ wins against top ranked teams, a better map pool, and a larger impact on the scene as the world’s number one.
After looking through the case for both teams myself, almost all of the criterion is in Astralis favor: consistency, peak form, dominance, impact, map pool, and bo3 wins against top ranked teams. Astralis are the greatest lineup to and no one else comes close.
The Greatest of All-Time
In each esport’s lifespan there is a champion that comes to define what it means to be great. They do something so amazing, so incredible, and so consistently that they become the ones who define what it means to be a champion.
In the case of CS:GO, the first to ever achieve that status was NiP. They dominated the early epochs of CS:GO and came to define what it meant to be the greatest winners of the game. By the time their lineup ended, it was hard to believe that anyone could ever usurp their legacy as the greatest to ever do it.
But Fnatic did. At ESL One Cologne 2015, Fnatic won their second major and crowned themselves as the greatest lineup ever. Despite being the biggest villains of the scene and despite NiP being folk heroes, no one could gainsay them. It was impossible and thus Fnatic entrenched themselves as the new order.
From 2016-2017, people started to believe that it was impossible to ever create an era to the likes of either NiP or Fnatic. The scene had become too competitive, there was too much money, too much infrastructure for any team to ever create an era, much less take the title as the greatest of all time.
In order to do it, a team of players would have to do the impossible. They’d have to do something that no one else could have ever imagined. In a way, it was like the omnipotence riddle, which goes “Can God create a rock so heavy that even he cannot lift it?”
That is what Fnatic had done to the scene. They had created a legacy that was deemed so heavy, that no one could ever lift it and supercede what they had done. But someone did lift that rock. From DreamHack Marseille to now, Astralis have achieved the unthinkable and achieved the impossible. They have dominated the scene in a way no one thought possible, in a manner that no one foresaw. Back-to-back Major victories, the IEM Grand Slam, 11 international trophies across 11 months, two of the most dominant map streaks of all-time on Nuke and Inferno.
Astralis are the best there was, the best there is, and perhaps the best there will ever be.