“Give me a lever and a place to stand, and I shall lift the world.” – Archimedes
The stars of 2018 first blazed across the sky at DreamHack Marseille 2018. Astralis won that event at a level of dominance, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since FaZe’s run at ESL New York 2017. The way they did it however was completely different. FaZe relied on sheer individual skill to brute force their way into victory and in the process made it look like they broke the game. When Astralis destroyed their opponents, it was through the mastery of tactics and teamplay. By the time DreamHack Marseille was done, it felt like Astralis had solved the game. Since then they have gone on to win five more titles (one of which was the Major), two second place finishes, and another top four. The Age of Astralis has come. They are the best team in the world and Lukas ‘gla1ve’ Rossander is the tactical mastermind behind their operation.
For a period of time, from 2013 to the end of 2015, gla1ve looked to become a player lost in time. He had early success as the leader of the Western Wolves lineup, but he and the scene itself wasn’t mature enough.
“I had a hard time making CS my number one focus; I had so many things I also wanted to do besides playing CS. At some point, I just realized that if I want to get anywhere with CS, I had to start taking it seriously and making it my number one priority. Ever since I made that decision, I became much better individually and a much more professional player. “ – gla1ve, in an interview with Tomi ‘lurppis’ Kovanene
That focus became even harder to keep together as CS:GO in 2013 wasn’t even vaguely similar to what it is today. There were no Majors, no big teams, no salaries, and far fewer tournaments. It was hard to justify going all-in on as a career back then. So it’s understandable as to why gla1ve was conflicted.
However there is a burning spirit in all of those who wish to compete. Something that keeps you up at night and makes you wonder “What if?” This is why we see old school players try to make comebacks. Wilton “zews” Prado left SK after helping them win two Majors as a coach because he still had that itch, that question he needed to be answered.
For gla1ve, he spent years bouncing around various mixes of teams. It wasn’t until he played with Nicolai “HUNDEN” Petersen that he truly started to rebuild his game. He describes that moment of time to lurppis,
“Even though I lost hope I never really stopped playing CS besides my three-months long break. Actually I felt more and more confident in my individual game and I think it taught me a lot to not play on a team for some time. When you play on a team as an in-game leader you never really have time to figure out how to become a better player yourself because you are always thinking about how to make the team better instead.”
The time away had allowed gla1ve to find himself as an individual player. This became a boon for him as his individual skill were recognized and he was called up to Heroic, which was a better Danish team at the time. On that squad he was a player with some secondary calling potential. They were a dangerous upset team that looked to be on the verge of breaking into the A-class list of teams.
This caught the notice of Astralis, who were the best Danish team in the region. The team at the time consisted of: Nicolai ‘dev1ce’ Redtz, Peter ‘dupreeh’ Rothmann, Andreas ‘xyp9x’ Hojsleth, Finn ‘karrigan’ Andersen, and Markus ‘Kjaerbye’ Kjaerbye. The team had lost faith in karrigan as a leader as they wanted to play two different styles of CS:GO.
As the team split apart, the players started to look for answers elsewhere. This was reminiscent back when the core of the squad (dev1ce, dupreeh, and Xyp9x) played with Dignitas under Henrik ‘FeTiSh’ Christensen. He was their leader at the time, but by the end of his tenure on Dignitas, it was clear that they needed someone else to take them further. At the time they were choosing between karrigan and gla1ve. In the end, they decided to go with karrigan as he had the better resume.
This time gla1ve got his chance. The time away had done gla1ve good. He had found his motivation for the game, his own game as an individual player, and now the Astralis players were ready to follow his vision of the game. In retrospect, it was the perfect timing. Astralis were at the point where they were ready to listen to the orders of a new in-game leader. As for gla1ve himself, he has finished a critical period of his development. Because he focused on his own game as an individual during that period, it helped expand his vision and abilities as a leader. In 2018, he described this process in an interview with Dekay,
“One of the things that helped me was I took a step down from being in-game leader at some point (in the past), I tried to evolve my own personal game. In doing that I think I became a better in-game leader as well because I could both in-game lead and just play my own game. When I’m not that good of an in-game leader, I’m bad at playing. It combines, right?”
It was a match made in heaven. They needed an in-game leader who wanted to put in a structured style and gla1ve was that leader. Over the years, one of gla1ve’s ex-teammates, Jacob ‘Pimp’ Winneche has continually waxed lyrical about his incredible game knowledge and tactical mind and soon the rest of the world would see why.
The team built up through online matches in the ESL Proleague. Then they went on a spree at the end of 2016 with their debut having them get top 4 at IEM Oakland. They followed it up with a second place at ELeague Season 2 where they lost to the OpTic in rare form. Astralis got their revenge a week later at ECS Season 2 Finals where they beat them to win the title. When 2017 kicked off they won the Major.
It was an incredible feat for the team, especially as the Danes had been searching for the Major trophy for a long period of time. They had multiple chances, but were never able to cross the finish line. Under gla1ve’s system the players were able to find the comfort and tactics they needed to finally win the Major. To understand the impact gla1ve had as a leader, we need to first understand his system. He gives some insight in this interview,
“For me a structured game plan is to make sure that everybody knows what to do, even if they never did it before. So I like to tell every player each round what to do, no matter if we have done it 100 times or never before.”
In that iteration of Astralis, the roles were clearly divided. Dev1ce was the versatile AWPer who could go aggressive or defensive based on what he could intuit or what the system needed of him. Dupreeh was a high pressure lurker. Xyp9x was the support or defensive lurker, the player holding the wings of the map to keep the structure of the game stable. Gla1ve and Kjaerbye took map control together.
After taking map control, gla1ve would make a call and they’d do an execute onto a site using well executed basics. The correct nades, the right spacing, trading, and multiple angles, all in tandem. This tactical style made them the best team in the world in early 2017 with a top four at DreamHack Las Vegas and winning IEM World Championship. It was possible for this iteration of Astralis to create an era, but they were stopped last minute by the karrigan led FaZe as they were defeated in the finals of StarLadder i-League Season 3.
From that point on Astralis were still among the best teams in the world, but could never recover the top spot for the rest of 2017. This was made even harder at the end of the year when dev1ce was sidelined due to injuries that forced Astralis to bring in stand-ins. On top of that role conflicts started to pop up between dupreeh and Kjaerbye. It’s hard to know from the outside when this started. It could have been Dupreeh’s increasing form in the middle of the year and Kjaerbye’s declining form. It could have been when the stand-in situation came and Dupreeh became the main AWPer and this let Kjaerbye have more freedom.
Whatever the case, when dev1ce came back into the lineup, the team tried to rearrange the different roles going into the ELeague Boston Major. They put Dupreeh on the main AWP and dev1ce on the rifle. It was a disaster and so going into 2018, nobody expected Astralis to be the become the best team in the world.
To be fair neither did they as they had planned to keep Kjaerbye and to fix their problems. Kjaerbye had other ideas as he decided to leave Astralis to go to North. This left Astralis forced to fill the void. They player they got was Emil ‘Magisk’ Reif. This inadvertent change has gone down as the single most important roster move of 2018 and has completely changed the landscape and history of CS:GO as a result.
Magisk was the perfect fit for what Astralis wanted. He played the lurker role that Dupreeh used to play and this in turn freed up Dupreeh to play the roles he actually wanted to do within the team. On top of that Magisk’s skill helped alleviate their pistol round problems and he became the best player in certain roles and positions in the world, such as pit on inferno.
Since Magisk joined the lineup, Astralis have become the best team in the world. It took them a little bit to get going, but after they won DreamHack Marseille they have crushed through nearly every team they have met along the way. They are the huge favorites to win the Major.
Throughout this time, the gla1ve system became more refined and clear to understand. While the old Astralis of 2017 was a great team, it was muddied by role conflicts that had Dupreeh, gla1ve, and Kjaerbye not being able to play at their optimal spots.
In the current iteration of Astralis, there are no roles clashes between personnel at all. The more I’ve watched this team, the more I believe that there are three core principles that guide the current gla1ve system. The first is the learning process, the second is role playing, and the third is map control.
Knowing the Xs and Os of the game is only part of what being an in-game leader is. You need to figure out how to get the team on the same page, how to enable them, and how to improve as a squad. This is why things like personality mixes and intangibles can be so critical in creating a team. Why a player like Epitacio ‘TACO’ de Melo was such an integral part of the system in SK.
The learning process is the first principle. Perhaps it’s better to call it a team culture and it can be confused with the second principle of role playing as they are intercorrelated. The best way to get a handle on this is from the words of gla1ve himself,
“Zonic and I have been working on this [implementing an in-game leading style], whereby we need me to be a leader and take control – mostly in-game, but a little bit outside of the game as well. We do this to ensure that people listen to you and you can be commanding with your teammates, with them knowing that they can still occasionally take chances and you won’t be mad at them.” – In an interview with Gosugamers
One of the big questions that many of the smaller teams have (and some of the larger ones) is how do you critique a player without letting it get personal? Everyone at this level has an ego and self-confidence in their own abilities, but because of that they can be stubborn in their ideas and can lash out if their pride is at stake.
In the case of Astralis, I believe it stems from the idea of the role playing aspect of gla1ve’s system. Every player has a critical role to do in the system. So instead of having harsh protocols that everyone must follow, he tries to get them to understand the entire scheme. Rather than thinking of each mistake as right or wrong on an individual level, he elevates the discussion to whether it was right or wrong on the theoretical level of the way they play Counter-Strike.
As Phil Jackson puts it in Sacred Hoops, “Having a clearly defined set of principles to work with reduces conflict because it depersonalizes the criticism.”
While we can’t know what is happening inside the practice room, an interview with Magisk from HLTV seems to confirm the idea that they work on the principles of CS,
“…there’s a great attitude when it comes to talking about mistakes. It’s not like someone is mad at someone else for making a mistake. We have great team conversations and we talk about everything, and we have goals for every practice that we want to focus on and try and implement into our game…We set goals for practice, all the things we want to test, or new strats we want to implement or flashbangs, or whatever. “
Astralis are also thorough in making sure they don’t skip any steps. When Magisk came into the team, they rebuilt everything from scratch. While it was a lot of work, it allowed Magisk to fit right in and become integrated into the system,
“We just wanted to make sure I was implemented into the roles and the strats, slowly building it up, and I think that worked really well for us because we took it slowly. We started with basic CS and could slowly add more strats to every map, which made it pretty easy for me to get into the team because I didn’t really have to get set into everything from the beginning….It allowed me to also start making more individual plays as well because I know how my teammates react in certain situations and that’s just something you have to build up with time.”
Zonic himself seems to play a critical role as well. He is called the father figure of the team and because of the hierarchy and separation from playing in the game, it becomes easier for them to take the criticisms and grow from it. More recently we see this with the innovation that Astralis is bringing to the utility game
“In practice with the boys I kept practically whipping them “Why did you throw that flash? Was there purpose in it? Why did you throw that molotov, the opponent can just step away from it…” There has to be solid reasoning behind throwing these.” – Zonic in an interview with Daniel Ranki
The learning process emanates through everything Astralis do. From the way they approach tournaments to how they think about the game. This in turn is reflected in their roles. This iteration of Astralis has each player in a distinct role that they specialize in. Dev1ce is still the versatile AWPer that can play aggressive or defensive. Xyp9x is still the hard support player that helps enable the rest of the squad. Now Dupreeh is the player that goes for map control with gla1ve. The two of them make the aggressive rifle plays to take over the map and help setup the tactic that they are running. Magisk plays the lurker role and plays more passively. I’d say he is the third option of the team after dev1ce or dupreeh in terms of when he is the one that needs to make the aggressive play to break open the map.
This system and set of principles is then put into practice in their map control style. Astralis play the Xs and Os game, the rotational game, and the utility game the best of any team in the world. They also either have the best player or among the best players per role to do it. This already gives them a good chance to win off their individual skills, but it becomes elevated when put into gla1ve’s system.
Take Overpass for instance. On Overpass, Astralis have different variations and orders of how to take map control which helps them dissect the map. For instance, if they take mid without long control, they have gla1ve, dupreeh, and dev1ce take it slowly while Magisk goes up connector. Or they can have Dupreeh and Magisk take water while gla1ve takes connector. Or they use dev1ce and have a player or two support him in taking control of long while they take control of other parts of the map. They make sure that each role has a part to play within each tactic they make. It also allows them a level of individual freedom as they can call something that they haven’t done before, but because they have built up the idea of these principles, they understand what areas need to be taken, who is best to take them, and how to enable those players to take them.
The CT-side works much the same way. The CT-side is a big more ambiguous as to how much input an in-game leader in the game. However the principles of role play are still enacted here. Astralis make sure that dev1ce has the most resources in terms of the amount of positions, economy, and setups he has. The reason for that is because he is their AWPer and as a tactical team, they more often than not close rounds with a man advantage. In the case that dev1ce doesn’t get a pick, Astralis still gain as the enemy is forced to use utility and time to force dev1ce off his spots. This in turn is critical information that allows Astralis to make the correct stacks or have a slight edge in utility in the retakes.
The rest of the players also fit in their typical roles. Gla1ve and Dupreeh play the aggressive riflers as they are the two players most likely to make first contact outside of dev1ce. Gla1ve uses his intelligence and map awareness to make critical plays in areas like connector on Mirage. Dupreeh is the aggressor on inferno as he can look for early round pick offs or duels. Magisk and Xyp9x round out the team. Both are versatile enough to go aggressive should the situation call for it, but most of the time they stand back and play their spots as anchors either getting multikills or buying time and creating space so that the retake can be successful.
Since gla1ve has come back to the top of the competitive Counter-Strike scene, he has created an incredible career for himself. He was the leader that got Denmark their first ever CS:GO Major. His tactics and system have been revered the world over as some of the most sophisticated we’ve ever seen in CS:GO history. Gla1ve has only joined the top of the CS:GO scene in the last two years. In that time, he has led Astralis to two Majors. He has been the leader of two of the best lineups in CS:GO history. He has been the mind behind the Age of Astralis. He is already in the conversation as one of the greatest, if not the greatest in-game leader in CS:GO History. That is the story of gla1ve. A legacy that is not only defined by his achievements, but by the incredible tactical supremacy that has taken over the world.