In the competitive Counter-Strike scene today we all focus on the top teams. You think of Astralis, Liquid, Natus Vincere, MiBR, among a few others. You think about these teams because it’s who you always see. These teams are the ones that will consistently get invited to tournaments no matter what because of their enormous fan bases. But what about the underdogs? Those teams that just squeaked through in the qualifiers, or got a last second invite. These are the teams I would like to talk about today.
CS:GO is so competitive nowadays and especially at the beginning of 2018 before the Astralis era, it felt like anyone could beat anyone at any time. How far down the list of top teams does this include? With tournaments like IEM, ESL One, Dreamhack Masters, etc. we see the usual suspects but also the teams that make it through the open qualifiers. These are the teams that you really have to look out for. The teams probably had to face anywhere from 4 to maybe even 10 different opponents depending on if they had to play through the open qualifier to get to where they are now, which is the LAN. It is so difficult to qualify for these LANs now if teams don’t get the direct invites to events there is a good chance they could fall in the qualifiers even if they are considered one of the top teams.
Let's go back to a few weeks ago to Dreamhack Winter in Jönköping, Sweden. Bravado and x6tence Galaxy qualified to the event through the online qualifiers after beating teams like Rogue, INTZ, and Fragsters who would all be considered “better” teams than them if you were to look at HLTV’s rankings. They make it through the qualifiers but maybe it was just a fluke, they’ll never be able to do anything on LAN, right? Bravado is placed into a group with ENCE, G2, and OpTic - all teams ranked in the top 30 and make it out in first place. Ex6tence Galaxy on the other hand beat LDLC and major legends compLexity to make it to the playoffs as well. At the end of the tournament we see the two teams who aren’t expected to do anything both in the top 4 beating teams that they shouldn’t stand a chance against to the outside viewer.
Going back further to IEM Sydney in May we got to see another underdog team do some damage with the likes of Grayhound Gaming. When faced against 2 time major winners SK Gaming, no one in their right mind would pick Grayhound to even take a map off of SK, but in crazy fashion they beat SK 2-1 knocking them out in last place at the event. Even after this, they continued a rampage taking a map off of FaZe clan and almost beat them in a best of three, series who ended up going on to win the whole event.
So what is it about these underdog teams that give them these miracle runs. If I’m being honest, I don’t think it’s anything magical and it’s that they all just need a chance. It seems like nearly every tournament there is some sort of upset from a team that has made it through the qualifiers. I don’t believe that they are really necessarily any worse than the teams that are considered the best in the world, it's mostly due to lack of opportunity. To me it would be really interesting to see some of the top 20 teams in the world could go through the open and closed qualifiers and see if they can even make it to the final stages of tournaments that organizers invite them to without blinking an eye.
What can be done to fix this? I think tournaments should have more qualifying spots to tournaments and less invites. The viewer gets more diversity in who they get to watch, everyone also loves a good upset, teams and organizations get more exposure, and tournament organizers get to have more exciting matches. The Counter-Strike scene is the strongest and has the most depth than it has ever had - and giving more chances for the underdog teams could help both the viewer and the players.