A question I’m often asked by fans of CS:GO is for a list of the best series or most classic series in the game’s history. Upon sitting down to contemplate which series would make such a list and reflect upon all the great series played in six years of play, I was struck both by the sheer number of series one could recommend and how lacking a single list would be. As such, I’ve decided to produce a series of lists, each with its own theme.
This list features 10 series that every CS:GO fan needs to have seen if they are to have a sense of CS:GO history and the great players and teams that have shaped the story. These are not necessarily all the best or most exciting matches, though certainly some would qualify, but also feature matches where the effect on history or a player or team’s trajectory was the significant factor. Whether you began watching CS:GO six years ago or six days ago, here are 10 series you would do well to watch and reflect upon.
In light of the strong narrative context of the series to be watched and spoilers being impossible to avoid entirely, since even casual fans will have prior knowledge of who won some of these matches and the tournaments they were played in, emphasis has been placed upon giving more vague spoilers and outlining the story unfolding in the matches.
10. The unbeatable Ninjas – NiP vs. VeryGames (ESEA S13 Upper Bracket Final) 
Every school boy who has heard of CS:GO esports knows that NiP won their first 87 maps in a row. Many also know that NiP beat VeryGames in four of their first international tournament finals. This series takes place during neither stretch of time, instead coming right after NiP had first been slain. NiP at won their first 10 tournaments offline, though admittedly a few were against the very best competition. At Starladder Series Season V the CIS powerhouse Virtus.pro, featuring the likes of Russian monster Dosia and current HellRaisers IGL ANGE1, halted NiP’s run of maps won at 87 and titles won at 10, keeping the StarSeries crown in CIS.
NiP’s next tournament was ESEA Season 13 and VP would not be in attendance. NiP’s primary rival would be VeryGames, the original threat to their throne in CS:GO. Four finals losses in a row had seen VG legend RpK retire from the game entirely, not to return for two years, and the team went for more raw fire-power, looking to match the titanic duo of GeT_RiGhT and f0rest, by recruiting Belgian aim-star ScreaM. Not only had VG been unable to get beat NiP even with their new line-up, but they were now failing to even make the finals of events, losing at the hands of others.
ESEA S13 should have stood as VG’s chance to topple NiP at last, finding them hurting from their loss in Kiev, and with ScreaM fully bedded into the line-up. Instead, the upper bracket final match-up between the two teams was the ultimate example of how unbeatable NiP could be over the first 12 months of the game and how tortured VeryGames’ rivalry with them was. Both maps were very close, both saw VeryGames with promising leads and youngster NBK, who would get plenty of revenge against NiP in later years, delivered a superlative performance only to end up a loser regardless.
NiP went on to another big title and would continue to stack championships for five more months, until a different VeryGames line-up finally removed them from the top spot. That VeryGames line-up came about as a result of this tournament, where they later lost in the lower bracket to DaZeD and Hiko’s Quantic Gaming, with star AWPer kennyS being kicked out in favour of rogue star shox.
9. The immovable burden of the impossible sniper – Titan vs. FNATIC (IOS Pantamera Final) 
kennyS had arguably been the best CS:GO player over the latter half of 2014, but his team had not been relevant enough to take many trophies, the lone memorable exception being their inspired Dreamhack Invitational Stockholm II run. In the mean time, FNATIC and LDLC had risen up to become the clear-cut number one and two teams in the game and split the trophies between themselves. NiP and VP remained vital and dangerous opponents too, so kennyS’s Titan were far from the top spot in most tournaments. Disaster struck late in the year as KQLY, another of the team’s stars, was banned for cheating and the team was disqualified from taking part in Dreamhack Winter 2014, the last major of the year.
Following that major, Titan used a manager as a stand-in initially and then got RpK, long-time former team-mate of Ex6TenZ’s, out of retirement to play for them again. With a team lacking in star power, all the other top French players reaping their rewards in LDLC, Titan had to ride kennyS hard to have any chance of victory. That proved a viable strategy, though, as kenny became not just the stand out best player in Counter-Strike, but seemingly the most dominant carry the game had ever seen. Any round in which he had an AWP in his hands was one which could yet be won for Titan, no matter the opponent or the odds.
IOS Pantamera came about in February of 2015. Titan had just finished second at Assembly Winter behind NiP, at a tournament with VP in attendance but the two best teams elsewhere. Prior to that Ex6TenZ and his men had not played at MLG X Games Aspen or Dreamhack Winter, the two big tournament victories fellow Frenchmen LDLC had secured, and FNATIC had won ESEA S17, where Titan had been using a retired player as a stand-in.
Pantamera featured five of the top seven teams in the game, including Titan. Winning the group stage with a record of four wins and one loss, the lone loss being on inferno to FNATIC, Titan sat in the final awaiting their challenger for the trophy. The very same FNATIC would be the one to join them there. Despite being one of the best teams in the world, FNATIC had often had difficulty playing against kennyS and Ex6TenZ teams. When shox had been Ex6TenZ’s main star he had easily been able to defeat FNATIC in the latter part of 2013. With kennyS, Titan had bested FNATIC in the semi-final of the aforementioned Dreamhack Invitational. Even at ESEA S17, which FNATIC had won and Titan had attended in poor shape, kennyS delivering a mega carry performance nearly saw the upset completed.
In this final, a FNATIC team who would win the title, the next major and cement their era faced the most fearsome carry CS:GO had produced. This FNATIC line-up is often acknowledged as the best the game ever saw, but on that day their victory was not the main story, rather it was kennyS’s impossible carry performance being denied the trophy it screamed out for. Of note, was the second map, in which kenny dropped a 50:29 performance of a life-time, only to lose in over-time.
8. The abomination takes over the big apple – FaZe vs. Team Liquid (ESL New York Final) 
FaZe Clan had been one of the best teams in the world over the Spring and into the Summer, winning a notable international title, playing in four straight finals and racking up five straight semi-finals or better appearances in their first five tournaments with young star with this line-up. The catalyst for their ascension in the scene had been the arrival of Bosnian prodigy NiKo, who was no longer toiling away fruitlessly in mouz and was now unleashed to have his carry performances take him to the last day of tournaments and win him his first international trophy.
Abject failure at the major, where FaZe were one of the favourites but had failed to win a game, had seen the organisation gamble on bringing in even more talent, making the shocking signings of olofmeister and GuardiaN, two of the best players in the world over the previous couple of years. Super-teams had a history of failing to live up to the impossible expectations super-star names stacked together will generate and many wondered if FaZe’s initial flop, failing to get out of the group stage at Dreamhack Masters Malmo, signalled as much would be this new line-up’s fate. In a team spoiled with riches, if they were to find success then it would be not be in a similar fashion to any other team in history.
At ESL New York, the very next tournament after Malmo, FaZe showed the other end of the spectrum of possibility for a line-up of this calibre. Without losing a single map and almost never even letting opponents get to double digit rounds won, FaZe rolled over the field with such force and fire-power that the world held its breath for a moment and wondered if Counter-Strike as we knew it had been revolutionised entirely.
At the heart of this epic run was NiKo, who was the star among stars and posted an absurdly high 0.99 Kills Per Round average alongside an equally preposterous 0.41 Deaths Per Round average, which was enough to have one wondering if it had been a typographical error.
It’s not as if FaZe’s opponent in the final was without note either, as the Team Liquid squad who met them there had defeated SK Gaming, the world’s number one ranked team, in the semi-final. Indeed, this was the second tournament in a row they had accomplished such a feat. Earlier in the tournament they had also beaten Astralis, another elite side, in a Best-of-3 (Bo3) series. Doing it all with star performances from youngsters Twistzz and EliGE, as well as strong fundamental tactical play, Team Liquid looked to be the right team to finally make FaZe play some normal Counter-Strike and stop the juggernaut.
FaZe paid no mind and crushed the final 3:0 in front of TL’s home crowd, only the second map showing any parity to speak of. FaZe were a line-up that seemingly should not have been, according to the traditional rules of team building, and in New York they showed themselves every bit the ungodly abomination as King Kong or Godzilla.
7. Cold dish buffet – EnVyUs vs. NiP (StarSeries Season XII Upper Bracket Final) 
This was an nV squad with players highly motivated not just to win trophies but also to defeat NiP. Happy’s previous LDLC line-up had been heart-broken by semi-final defeat at the hand of a truly magical NiP run at ESL One Cologne 2014. NBK and SmithZz had been part of the VeryGames line-up who had been unable to beat NiP offline for over a year. The only player with a notable history of success against NiP had been shox.
As LDLC, Happy and company had twice come through in big series against NiP to deny the Swedes titles, taking Dreamhack Winter and MLG X Games Aspen for themselves. NiP had gotten some of their own at ESL One Katowice 2015, the major, though as they had taken the series 2:0 to end the now EnVyUs’ chance to repeat as major winners.
When StarSeries Season XII came around, these slighted pros were not yet done gaining revenge upon the Ninjas or making them suffer for the years of hurt they had endured. A week after crushing NiP in the final of Gfinity Spring Masters I, nV again laid on the pain in Kiev, winning both the upper bracket final and grand final without dropping a map to the Swedes. This upper bracket series in particular represented everything that had changed about the match-up and a French squad making the rivalry one-sided in the opposite direction.
The games were stomps with little competitive value to them, seeing nV display the monstrous CT sides they were famed for and IGL Happy continuing his form as an unusual combination of leader and star. The entire team showcased too much fire-power and fragging ability for the Ninjas, an area in which NiP had held the upper hand in the NiP-VG days, and this was all with NiP sat ranked as the third best team in Counter-Strike at the time.
Playing in what later became the FNATIC era, EnVyUs were a squad who took some significant trophies of their own, revolutionised a loose and low-economy style of brute force play and put together a double digit run of top four finishes. This series highlighted how seemingly impossible they could be to play on their day and at peak form.
6. What more could he do? – Na`Vi vs. mouz (StarSeries Season 4 Final) 
The first entry in this list to take place this year is the StarSeries Season 4 Final. s1mple had been one of the game’s premiere talents for a number of years and over the previous year had delivered hard carry performances in practically every tournament outing. Nonetheless, much as kennyS rose to new heights for 2015, s1mple found yet another gear from somewhere for 2018. In a very dysfunctional Na`Vi team, yet to figure out how to get the most out of relatively new recruit electronic, they won or lost largely as a result of how hard s1mple could carry them. The Ukrainian prodigy seemingly never took a map off, as a Herculian effort was demanded of him if Na`Vi were to stand a chance against the world’s elite sides.
With all of that said, nobody could have been prepared for the events which would unfold in Kiev. The tournament format was Bo3 Swiss system and by the end of the tournament Na`Vi had played 22 maps. Over such an enormous sample size and in a tournament field featuring the best teams in the game, s1mple would produce a masterpiece of individual excellence which can rank above any in the game’s history. His final statistics for the tournament, 0.85 KPR and 0.60 DPR, would have been career best for many all-time great players and in tournaments in which they played only nine or 10 maps. s1mple did it all, entrying, AWPing, rifling, winning pistol rounds and racking up clutches from match-to-match.
Na`Vi did not leave with the trophy, though. mousesports, an elite side but a placeholder team in a scene somewhat still in flux, stole away the title after perhaps s1mple’s best map of play yet. Leading in the series by a map, s1mple would seemingly not be denied on mirage, mouz’s best, as he put up ridiculous numbers. At the end of the map, an over-time loss, he had posted 43 kills and only 25 deaths, averaging almost 95 damage per round for the 40 round game. mouz took the decider and s1mple’s 90:53 (+37) series stats amounted to an incredible MVP performance few could deny, but the trophy went to the opposition.
With Na`Vi having since integrated electronic to great success and even won notable big international titles, including the next season of StarSeries, this tournament run both introduces the plight of s1mple as a super carry earlier in their trajectory and shows the growth of his team from then until now. One day, s1mple may well be remembered as the best player to ever play Counter-Strike and this period of time will undoubtedly be reminisced upon as his ascension to undisputed status as the game’s best player.
5. Unbreakable Will – FNATIC vs. Cloud9 (ESL ProLeague Season 1 Final) 
FNATIC were already established as the best team in CS:GO, a major under this line-up’s belts and numerous international titles as well as a peerless resume of top finishes. Nonetheless, this tournament which proved the unbreakable nature of the FNATIC core. They had suffered a number of defeats at the hands of Danish rivals TSM, since then winning only tournaments at which the Danes did not attend. Indeed, at this very EPL finals, FNATIC were upset early by relative international newcomers CLG in an early Bo1 and had to defeat the aforementioned TSM in an epic overpass game to survive elimination in last place.
After reaching the semi-final and pushing past Virtus.pro, always a tough ask on LAN, FNATIC were in the final but not without having been tested. Facing them there was a revelatory Cloud9, who had taken down world number twos EnVyUs twice and feasted upon CLG. seangares’s men had seemingly taken a huge step up in performance from the side which had flunked out at Gfinity Spring Masters II, their first offline tournament a few weeks earlier. New recruit Skadoodle was delivering star performances alongside established star Shroud and the NA side could suddenly give legitimate hope for their weary fans. For the first time since almost a year earlier, Cloud9 looked like a team capable of doing real damage to even the best European teams.
The Bo5 final, one of the earliest in CS:GO, saw three maps go to 30 rounds or more and Cloud9 again and again took the game to FNATIC, pushing the best team in history to the limit but not beyond. Of particular and tragic note was the MVP level performance of Shroud, who posted 100 frags over the four maps and finished +20 for the series.
This was not FNATIC at their best, their most dominant or even with their best pieces in line. Rather, it was an example of why this FNATIC core won so many trophies, winning even with their “C game”, on an off day and against a dangerous opponent’s very best.
4. The turnaround of destiny – Luminosity vs. Team Liquid (MLG Columbus Semi-Final) 
Luminosity entered the MLG Columbus semi-final with their eyes set on the major trophy itself. Having defeated Virtus.pro and with FNATIC, the team who had won the last six tournaments in a row and defeated LG on every occasion in series play, eliminated already, FalleN and company had to sense their time to win a big international trophy was before them. Luminosity had reached numerous semi-finals and finals, but always FNATIC or Na`Vi had denied them their moment in the sun.
Team Liquid were rank outsiders to even make a play-off run in Ohio. The squad had barely qualified for the major and featured the unusual scenario of having a star player from thousands of miles away and with little in common. Bringing s1mple into a North American team had been a huge gamble, but his ludicrous talent level had made the gamble one TL, who were still searching for a top international finish, had been willing to roll the dice on.
Following a win over FNATIC and a series sweep against NA compatriots CLG, Team Liquid had hit the semi-finals of a major, the furthest any North American side had ever been in the previous eight majors. Hiko had been on the coL team who had established that mark and he desperately wanted to go a step further and exceed his old side’s accomplishment. s1mple had been blistering in the series against CLG and with Luminosity boasting the mighty coldzera, he would be looked to again to provide a world class performance.
The series would feature two over-time games, both times with the underdog Liquid reaching map point and both times with them failing to close out the game and from the offensive side on each occasion. On mirage, coldzera’s heroics denied them an opening map lead. On cache, Hiko’s incredible CT side display went wasted as the team could not execute or catch any breaks when the game was on the line.
Luminosity went on to win the series and eventually their first major, which also doubled as their first big international title. While many focused upon Liquid’s failures, the more enduring narrative which can be drawn from then until now is that Luminosity, a team famous for losing in heart-breaking fashion of their own and in big semi-finals and finals, were the ones to stand up and refuse to concede victory in face of seemingly impossible odds. That would become the defining quality of many championship runs over the following years, including establishing their own era with another major victory.
3. A long time in the making – Astralis vs. Virtus.pro (ELEAGUE Major Atlanta Final) 
Virtus.pro vs. the Astralis core, under the names Dignitas and TSM previously, had always been one of the most entertaining and hard fought match-ups in CS:GO, but on most occasions victory had gone the way of the Poles. Of course it had, as VP were established champions and the Astralis core were famous for having won some titles but far more often having fallen short in the semi-finals and most especially at the majors.
Coming into ELEAGUE Major Atlanta, Astralis’ core again found themselves a favourite for a major, having been in three straight top fours, two straight finals and having taken the ECS S2 title just before the major. Reaching the final of the tournament, for the first time in the core’s history, the team in their way to the trophy was Virtus.pro. This Astralis core were the best team in Counter-Strike, but their weakness remained the same as it had been under karrigan and FeTiSh: breaking down in high pressure moments of big stage games. VP were a team famous for being able to apply such pressure and break opponents down with an unyielding and grinding style of play.
The final delivered a true three map classic, with plenty of back-and-forth changes in forture, epic individual plays and excitement the likes of which few major finals can boast. In the end, Astralis emerged victorious and took the trophy, VP again being the bridesmaid to someone else’s epic victory. The fashion in which Astralis had won the deciding map, though, meant so much for anyone who had been following the careers of the Danish core and the nature of their past failures. A classic rivalry gave us a classic final.
2. Bow before the plow – Virtus.pro vs. NiP (EMS One Katowice Final) 
This was a series less exciting than terrifying. NiP were the greatest line-up in CS:GO history and had retained a top two ranking for more than a year and a half by EMS One Katowice, the game’s second major, arrived in March of 2014. When Titan, the number one ranked team and NiP’s main rival, had been eliminated in the group stage, the Swedes could have been forgiven for imagining they would make up for their failure in the Dreamhack Winter 2013 final and take their first major. GeT_RiGhT and his men had smashed Dignitas in the semi-final to reach the final and they were assured an underdog opponent, with LGB and VP doing battle in the other.
The Poles of Virtus.pro would be NiP’s dance partner for the final and while NEO and TaZ’s men had practice form hype buzzing about them from interviews and comments from other teams, their play in the tournament had astonished everyone nonetheless. This line-up had played at the previous major and failed to even make the play-off bracket. Prior to that, NEO and TaZ’s 1.6 line-up had never truly threatened to take any big tournament titles and had struggled mightily to assert themselves as an elite side.
On home soil, though, VP were entirely unleashed in a manner we had never seen before. Losing only a single map prior to the final, on the mirage they had revolutionised and been destroying opponents on, VP came in riding a very hot wave of form. In the final, NiP would find only suffering, as VP ploughed them in startling fashion, both times stomping the first half of each map and coming up with all the big plays to close the series before NiP could ever really get into it.
VP had won a major and a new style of Counter-Strike was established. NEO and TaZ’s 1.6 line-ups were famously for narrowly edging out their major wins, where this core had bullied and brute-forced their way to the top.
1. A Triple Order of Champagne Counter-Strike – NiP vs. FNATIC (MLG X Games Invitational Aspen Semi-Final) 
This series is often cited, by this author included, as the best ever played in CS:GO. All three maps were draining and titanic clashes of world class play. The teams were among the very best CS had to offer, with FNATIC going on to become the best team in history and NiP featuring the game’s greatest core and exciting new blood Maikelele.
Two all-time great cores meeting in a highly competitive series and with too many great plays and moments to be outlined here. This is one you simply must see for yourself.
Future editions of this series will outline more series to be seen.