The Crucible of Astralis
2019 sees Astralis crumbling at front after front. From being mired in controversies connected to their sister company, RFRSH (owners of BLAST Pro Series), to losing their Nuke streak just one win shy of beating Ninjas in Pyjamas legendary run, and failing in a final against Ence, the very team they beat convincingly at the Katowice Major Finals, Astralis have had a black mark placed on their records.
Albeit, not a permanent one quite yet.
After the most successful year of dominance that CS:GO has ever seen from a team in 2018, Astralis seemed to be the roster that would never be dethroned. Successive Major titles, exemplary conduct, innovative plays and Liquid losing in finals had the Danes lounging away on their hard earned throne. Their team was never defeated two tournaments in a row - and defeating them required inspired performances, the likes of which could never be expected from teams consistently.
It was the definition of an era - and with those of SK, Fnatic and NiP being so far gone past, the first one many newer fans have witnessed. However, 2019 saw the true fall of the ultimate CS:GO might, in the most unsatisfying fashion ever. The advent of BLAST Pro Series as a disruptive tournament organizer, which it seemed like kept digging itself into a deeper hole, had the circuit completely ripped apart.
After the Katowice Major in the beginning of the year, Astralis didn’t play a single non-BLASTPro Series event. With each event having only one best-of-three featured, and them only winning one out of the three tournaments, it meant that the Astralis’ legacy from 2018 had been soiled at last, and that too by themselves.
Despite everything, they retained their number one spot, and it could be seen that they were still precariously seated at the top - but without consistently defending their belt at the big LANs, there was already talk of their era having finished, and perhaps rightfully so.
Losing to ENCE in a 2-0 fashion at BLAST Pro Series Madrid was a turning point - since now not even their most die-hard fans could claim that this game of thrones had anything near a predictable ending.
But there is hope yet for the Danes, Esports history is both cruel, and forgiving.
June sees Astralis breaking their fast and finding themselves in premier tier one tournaments yet again. No longer are they only going to be featured at the BLAST Pro Circuit, but they will be found at three events in succession - each more competitive than the last. Starting off with ECS, which begins on the sixth of June, they’ll have to play a bare minimum of three best-of-threes to win the event - more than all the BLAST events combined. The field is not as stacked as you’d want, with the only other top 5 team at the event being Vitality, who despite being on a hot streak of form from the Summit, are yet to prove themselves as a favorite contender at an event with the big three in attendance. The expectations for Astralis could not be higher - this is a must win event for them, where teams are going to be hungry to exploit any signs of weakness.
As any true test of might would have it, the level of competition goes up even further at the ESL Pro League finals in Montpellier. Despite not having Na’Vi or ENCE in attendance, the field is ripe for an upset, with six of the top ten teams in attendance - most having had their own moments of brilliance. Again, a minimum of three best-of-threes needed for a victory, but more are possible with the upset potential that is there during group stage matches.
Then, the final stage of the crucible. The Major outside of Majors. The cathedral of Counter-Strike, where the hallowed halls of the Lanxess Arena wait to give glory or to give plight.
ESL One Cologne.
If Liquid are in attendance, Cologne will be an even more difficult field than most Majors. Na’Vi, ENCE, Vitality, Fnatic, Mousesports, and potentially Liquid will all be looking to take Astralis down a notch, and remind them why an era needs to be defended, and can’t just be discarded as easily as the Danes seemed to have chosen to do so. All attempting to carve the lesson out in blood.
Now Astralis have the chance: either fight their way to redemption or be remembered as the greatest of all time whose ruination came not from competition, but from lack thereof. History is kind to victors, and should they showcase similar levels of dominance as in the past, then it will be written that their era never truly ended - even if the truth is not quite so. People looking at the annals of esports will see the longevity of their performance, their time at the number one spot of the ratings, the prize pools of the BLAST events, and say that their era never truly ended.
But what if they fail? Esports history runs on narratives, not facts. The books will speak of glory cut short by rumors, by their own choice of not attending events, by turning their back on history, and by tarnishing their own stars with the name of Blastralis.
The test of might begins. The crucible is nigh.