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From Four Time Major Winners to Rock Bottom; What’s Next for Astralis in CS2?

Zakaria Almughrabi

One of the biggest stories to come out of the CS2 PGL Copenhagen Major European RMR is the failure of Astralis. Denmark’s most prominent esports organization made headlines when they failed to qualify for the first-ever Counter-Strike Major in their home country. Astralis has missed three Majors in a row, an unthinkable fall for the game’s once undeniable kings. Although this time, it must hurt more than any of the times before.

Astralis CS2

Image Credit Astralis

The Worth of Attending the Major

Let’s put Astralis as an org aside for a moment. Missing out on the Counter-Strike Major is a huge blow to any team. The Valve Majors are the circuit’s most viewed, advertised, and respected CS tournaments. Even as a start to the benefits, that’s a pretty sweet deal considering that the qualifications are entirely open-circuit. It’s why teams like Into the Breach last year or AMKAL ESPORTS from this past RMR can go from never attending a tier one event before to playing in the biggest event the game has to offer.

Now for the real kicker. Counter-Strike has a purchasable cosmetic item called Stickers. Players can apply these Stickers to their weapons, adding a layer of customization and the ability to represent something. Every Major, Valve releases Sticker Capsules that contain the logos of every team that qualified and unique autograph stickers of each player. Typically, there have been multiple capsules with eight team logos/autographs in each. These teams get a cut of the money made from their Sticker Capsule sales. After Valve’s cut is taken, the rest is distributed evenly between every team whose Stickers were in that specific Capsule.

Sources from HLTV and Esports Insider earlier this year reported that the Paris Major earned a total of $110 million from Stickers alone. After Valve’s cut was taken, this gave an average of around $4.5 million to EACH TEAM that qualified. Even after the cuts that went directly to players, the organizations were still pocketing a cool $1.3 million at LEAST and over $2 million at most. For reference, the prize for winning the Paris Major was $500,000. Qualifying for the Major is more important than winning it from an organizational standpoint.

Vitality win BLAST Major

Vitality may have won $500,000 at the BLAST Paris Major, but their Sticker money share reached many times that amount. (Image Credit BLAST)

It is possible that those numbers from the Paris Major trend towards the high end. After all, it was the only Major of 2023 and the last CS:GO Major to boot. But even if we cut those earnings in half, it’s still an irreplaceable boost to an org’s finances.

Astralis’s Place in the Counter-Strike Ecosystem

Astralis’s legacy of being CS:GO’s greatest team of all time is not unwarranted. They’ve won the most total Majors at four and are the only team to have ever three-peated. We could go on and on about the accomplishments of the original Astralis squad, but it would be faster just to look at their Liquipedia trivia section.

Once that original roster started to come undone, it was clear that the Astralis glory days were over. It wasn’t for any one particular reason. Burnout, the heightening of competition, and more all played into the end of the Astralis era around 2020. Still, no king rules forever, and when Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz, Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen, Emil “Magisk” Reif, and coach Danny “zonic” Sorensen all left in 2021, it was time for Astralis to enter a rebuild.

Even when many other top-tier organizations were moving to international roster building and talent scouting, Astralis stayed committed to building an all-Danish team. They tried a variety of acquisitions throughout the last few years of Global Offensive. Almost all came from the same school of thought: sign established or promising existing players from the Danish market.

Band-Aid after Band-Aid

The list of players Astralis signed from 2020 onward in both CS:GO and CS2, and the teams they signed them from, are as follows. Note: All Danish or majority Danish rosters at the time of acquisition are denoted with a capital D.

Jakob “JUGi” Hansen – North, D

Patrick “es3tag” Hansen – Heroic, D

Lucas “Bubzkji” Andersen – MAD Lions, D

Philip “Lucky” Ewald – Tricked Esport, D

Benjamin “blameF” Bremer – Complexity Gaming, D*

Kristian “k0nfig” Wienecke – Complexity Gaming, D*

(Note: Complexity had three Danish players starting in July and August 2021. K0nfig went inactive in August. He and blameF joined Astralis when the lineup collapsed two months later.)

Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz – Ninjas in Pyjamas (Required by Astralis from NiP)

Asger “farlig” Jensen – FunPlus Phoenix

Christian “Buzz” Andersen – MASONIC, D

Johannes “b0RUP” Borup – Copenhagen Flames, D

Victor “Staehr” Staehr – Sprout, D

And there you have it. Every single player that Astralis has seen play on their main roster since 2020. Except, we’re forgetting one. There has only been one player that has started for Astralis, not acquired in this fashion. And from this player’s circumstances, we can glean a bit more about Astralis’s inner workings.

Alexander “Altekz” Givskov played on Astralis from April 2023 to June 2023. Altekz came from Astralis Talent, the Astralis junior development team. Yeah, with how many names are on the list above, it’s hard to believe that Astralis HAS a junior team. But they do, and they’ve only ever promoted a single player from the team since it was formed in 2020.

The Root of the Problem

The entire point of junior teams is to find young, talented, hungry players to bring under your organization’s umbrella. There are many benefits to this. Your org essentially gets a shot at grabbing tomorrow’s superstars before they’re out in the open. If your scouting and development departments are doing their jobs properly, you can get a skilled and prepared player for your future rosters. Even if you don’t need a player for your primary team, you can still shop them out to other organizations that do.

If we take a look at Astralis Talent’s roster history, it tells a straightforward story. Almost every player who ever played on the team was given one year or less before being sold to another team. The two exceptions are an in-game leader, Victor “vigg0” Bisgaard, who had a year and a half, and Altekz, who was sold the second he was pulled from the main roster.

Altekz Astralis

Altekz had two months to prove himself on Astralis before they returned him to the bench and sold him off. (Image Copyright: Helena Kristiansson, ESL FACEIT Group)

Astralis prioritizes high turnover from their junior team, preferring to sell players when they have market value. They don’t value their junior players as potential roster pieces; instead, they use their cash to shop the market themselves to try and fix their problems. Recent examples, MOUZ and Team Spirit, have both catapulted to the top of the Counter-Strike world off the back of their junior players. In the past, the full Gambit Youngsters usurped the main Gambit team to do the same. There is plenty of precedent for putting stock in your development, yet Astralis chooses to ignore it, even now in CS2 where it’s more relevant than ever.

Stavn and Jabbi, a Magnum Opus

Coming into CS2, Astralis had already been a shadow of their former selves throughout the latter years of GO. They looked to make a blockbuster trade, and the result was one of the biggest roster scandals in Counter-Strike history.

At the time, fellow top Danish squad Heroic lost in-game leader Casper “cadiaN” Moller to internal issues. Heroic themselves stated that an internal push was made by Martin “stavn” Lund and Jakob “Jabbi” Nygaard to dispose cadiaN. The duo has since come out and disputed Heroic’s claims, saying the team as a whole was responsible. After cutting cadiaN, they decided to jump ship and join Astralis.

It’s unknown exactly how much influence Astralis had in these internal issues for Heroic, and it will likely never be known for sure. Regardless, the damage to their reputation was done. The community coined “Stabbi” as a shorthand for stavn and Jabbi’s apparent “backstabbing” betrayal, pinning Astralis as the mastermind.

It’s been years since Astralis had the “haters from being too dominant” problem. Perception trended more apathetic as the years went on. This, however, lit a fire under the team immediately. The pressure was on to provide results. Otherwise, the mocking and disdain would pour in. Astralis put everything on the line to qualify for the PGL Copenhagen Major. Their players went on interviews saying as much. “This is the only tournament we care about,” they say. The results would have to speak for themselves.

And they did, only not in the way Astralis had hoped. Failing to qualify for Denmark’s first Major, the team has become the joke of the CS community. Schadenfreude rang out loud as Astralis fell to their lowest point yet. This clip of Heroic’s René “TeSeS” Madsen’s interview after they qualified made its rounds. The smile on his face when he says it’s “fun to see that [Astralis] are losing” says it all.

A Lack of Accountability

Even with all this going on, many who avoid speaking about drama or reactionaries would be okay with putting that aside and discussing the team play more than anything. That was until they made a final, massive mistake. When Astralis lost to 9Pandas in the Last Chance Qualifier for the Major, they were obviously crushed. The team had just failed at its primary goal, the most important thing to them ever since their Major runs all those years ago.

When it came time to send a player to do the exit interview, they did not send team leader blameF or four-time Major champion dev1ce. They didn’t send stavn or Jabbi, the two players whom the controversy stirred around. No, they sent 19-year-old Victor “Staehr” Staehr to face the world alone and tell them that Astralis had failed.

Poor Staehr was even one of the bright spots on Astralis throughout the team’s struggles in CS2. While everyone else was underperforming expectations, Staehr was arguably overperforming his. And yet, none of Astralis was willing to speak up about the team’s failure. It was quite honestly heartbreaking to see.

The Way Forward for Astralis

Now, Astralis must confront reality as they sit on the sidelines until April. They’ve just spent big on the contracts of stavn and Jabbi. They will not be getting a cut of that sweet Sticker Money. Their team is more despised than ever before. Significant changes are coming for Astralis in CS2, and even just a week out, we’ve already seen moves made.

BlameF has hit the bench as Astralis looks to take the team in a new direction. It’s unclear what the best option for replacing their IGL is, especially if they want to keep the roster all-Danish. BlameF has, ironically, shouldered much of the blame for Astralis’s failings. He’s been their one static piece since 2021 and was forced to transition to the IGL role in 2023.

Astralis has no choice but to use their existing pieces and try to find an IGL that can bring this roster together. For a team that aspires to reach the top fast, promoting your junior team’s IGL is a difficult thing to justify. You must properly utilize players of dev1ce, stavn, and Jabbi’s caliber (and contract size). Unfortunately, it’s too late to invest in talent development now. Astralis needs to ride it out and reach the apex or bust.

If it works and the team comes together for the rest of 2024, then they’ll say the ends justify the means. If Astralis continues to be less than the sum of their parts in CS2 however, the time will come to blow it all up. Start from scratch, and invest in your talent and future. Astralis is operating in a reactor right now. Time will tell if they can cool it properly or if the nuclear option is necessary.

Edit 2/29

Astralis announced that dev1ce will be filling the IGL role. As for their open rifler spot, they’ve signed Alexander “br0” Bro from Monte. This is a bold move by Astralis that raises many questions. Dev1ce now must shift from his consistent AWP playstyle to that of a full-time in-game leader. The benefits are there to reap if he can; stavn and Jabbi built their names off playing with an AWP IGL in cadiaN. This move allows them to fill the same roles they did in Heroic.

As for br0, he was a member of Astralis Talent from December 2022 to July 2023 before he was sold to Monte. He’s been a fairly impressive up-and-comer with the Ukrainian org in his short tenure, but Astralis could’ve had him for much cheaper if they kept him on their Talent roster and committed to his development for half a year longer.

BlameF was already one of, if not Astralis’s best rifler. He’s been a mainstay of HLTV’s top 20 players for the past four years, his ratings consistently outpacing the rest of the team. The issue was his in-game leading as a lurk-centric rifler. But if dev1ce is IGL’ing, why couldn’t they have kept blameF? Instead, Astralis is taking their chances signing a new player and hopefully building him up to blameF’s level.

Many voices from the CS community are skeptical at best and confused at worst over this move from Astralis. The Danish squad has a month to learn this new system before IEM Chengdu in April. For the sake of the roster and org, these changes better be what Astralis needs to get going in CS2.