Are Astralis The Counter-Strike Equivalent to a Mourinho Side?
There are so many superlatives one can aim at Astralis - clinical, dominating and brutal are amongst the most regular vernacular used. And yet, none of them touch on the most natural, the purest emotion that one imagines comes from a video game: fun.
This isn’t a sleight on them; in the pursuit of greatness, dominance, perfection, there is little room for sentiment and aesthetic. In fact, Astralis leaves us to ask a far more pertinent question: should watching Counter-Strike be fun, and if not, does it affect their perceived legacy?
I’ll be straight with you. I don’t enjoy watching Astralis, and I think many writers are being dishonest if they say that they think Astralis play beautiful Counter-Strike. They don’t. They play brutal, effective, consistent Counter-Strike.
Being the best does not mean being the best to watch. Astralis are a gun-wielding Jose Mourinho team, a destructive, restrictive, stranglehold team. Mourinho famously built a legacy off of stopping the opponents most dangerous players, a philosophy of allowing them the ball and reacting. For years, he won everything he saw, and created monster teams.
Were they good to watch? Christ, no. Did he care?
Of course not.
Astralis’ utility usage, their stifling of opposition has far more in common with Mourinho’s philosophy than the Guardiolan philosophy adopted by teams like SK Gaming, Natus Vincere and even, yes, North (when they are/were good, they’re insanely aggressive and exciting. Even when they’re not, they’re kind of morbidly amusing, if you’re into that).
Beauty, so they say, is in the eye of the beholder. The idea of ‘pure’ Counter-Strike is nonsense, but so is the idea that what Astralis play is pure or beautiful, at least in the eye of the beholder in this case; I.
With that said, at current, there is only one team in the top 30 who play what I would call close to ‘pure’ Counter-Strike.
Step forward: TyLoo Gaming.
Those who question TyLoo’s tactical depth miss the point. That’s what makes them so bafflingly enjoyable to watch. Every round is unmitigated chaos; amid a flurry of outrageous shots, highlight plays and questionable decision making, there’s a shining familiarity, a warming glow. And, importantly, they’re incredibly fun to watch.
Every time somebody (the player) walks through a smoke and hits two headshots; every time ‘xccurate’ hits a flick that you barely even see; every time DD overpeeks and gets away with it; every time CaptainMo gets a ridiculous one deag; every time BnTet takes down four in some breathless brawl; you’ll see me, laughing, enjoying myself. The only enjoyment Astralis bring is in their rare losses... much like Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea.
In its purest form, Counter-Strike should be fun. In its most beautiful, it should be riotous, a display of the finest aimers and gamers, a battle of wits but as much brawl as brains. Aggression, in a game of war, is as pure as it gets. Aggression changes games, aggression creates plays, aggression creates war. TyLoo’s endless aggression makes them artists, creatives fighting against the restrictions. They are the epitome of the beautiful game for me, they are pure Counter-Strike.
That makes Astralis’ stranglehold, the exact opposite. Their ability to shut down any aggression, to turn exciting players into 10/15-kill robots, to turn any game into an uneventful one - among many other things - is exceedingly unexciting. They aren’t pure Counter-Strike; moreover, they are anti-Counter-Strike. Only they could turn the art of war into a science, raw skill into meticulous planning, high-octane clutching into a game of percentages.
Again, in the pursuit of greatness, one mustn’t worry about art, about legacy, about aesthetic. Astralis are right to chase glory over acclaim.
It doesn’t, however, make said glory beautiful.
Winning is not always aesthetically pleasing, sometimes it is gritty, it is hours of preparation, it is a little slice of luck. Jose Mourinho is one of the most decorated football managers of all time, and even he would not claim his unique brand of football was beautiful. When Italy perfected the ‘catenaccio’ style of football, it was not beautiful, regardless of its success. Astralis’ vice grip of s1mple in nearly every game they play is incredibly impressive; alas, it is not fun to watch the greatest player of all time standing behind a smoke.
Calling Astralis ‘boring’ is a simplification of a broader point, but is the opposite of outright wrong. Indeed, it is borne of frustration, but it is true. Astralis are incredibly boring to watch at times. At the heart of its thriving esports ecosystem, we all started playing CS because it was fun, and watched it because it was fun.
In fact, it seems Astralis are dividing the CS community in half. Those who thrive in the chaos, for those who enjoy nutty shots, crazy clutches, and wall-to-wall fragging. The fun chasers, the adrenaline junkies, the guys who think fer is better than coldzera- we are not alone, and your enjoyment of different elements does not make you any less a fan. We are the Guardiolans, the dreamers, the artists.
The other half is the analytical, those who find comfort in success, in greatness. Those of you who find glory only in winning, and enjoyment in limb-by-limb destruction, those of you who prefer dev1ce to Dupreeh, or autimatic to Tarik. You, the Astralis fans, the Mourinho-ites, the Ronaldo over Messi types, the scientists - to you, maybe Astralis is beautiful. Go ahead, tell me ‘love isn’t real, science has never found it’ and I’ll show you a broken heart. Tell me that art is inherently worthless and I’ll show you a picture that I love. Tell me that Astralis’ dominance is better than TyLoo’s artistic chaos and I’ll tell you that games should be fun.
Astralis’ greatest ability is their ability to divide the community in two and force writers like myself to write these self-indulgent, mutual masturbatory think-pieces. Well, that, and their ability to win tournaments.
Nobody can take DreamHack Stockholm away from me, though.