Best Performers in the Online Era
When looking at the best teams of the online era of CS:GO, one name comes to the front of the list. Gambit Esports of the CIS region has been incredibly dominant for nearly half a year now. Originally the Gambit Youngsters academy team, these young guns were given a shot as the main roster due to the failings of the previous one. What followed was a rise straight out of a storybook.
Just four months after their promotion to the first squad, Gambit pulled off an incredible run at IEM Katowice 2021 to secure the organization’s first big trophy since the PGL Krakow Major. They only dropped five of 21 maps during their run which included three playoff matches against CIS rivals Na’Vi, Team Spirit, and Virtus.pro.
The success did not stop there. Within the next four months, Gambit playing with consistency not often seen at this high level. Usually when a team is able to break their way into the top ranks of CS:GO, they have a honeymoon phase followed by the established teams doing their homework and pushing back. Instead, Gambit kept on rolling.
Within the next four months, Gambit never placed less than second at any event they attended. Their spoils include four first place finishes, two of which coming at the prestigious BLAST Spring Finals and IEM Summer, and three more Grand Finals appearances at ESL Pro League S14, DreamHack Masters Spring, and StarLadder RMR.
Gambit were looking like strong favorites at the IEM Cologne LAN return. However, people were unsure if the team would have any problems adjusting to the new environment. Only one of their players had experience at this level on LAN before. While Gambit did end up falling out of the tournament in 5th-6th, they were able to qualify for the playoffs and show that their skills are for real. This experience will be invaluable for one of the most talented rosters in the game looking to translate their online success in the coming months.
There were other teams who also found an increased level of success in the online era. Heroic’s new Danish core was completed in April of last year. Their initial placements were nothing to write home about as any new rosters usually are. However, everything changed when Heroic came out of nowhere to win ESL One Cologne Online Europe, beating out many of the best ranked teams at the time.
While they did have fewer peaks towards the end of 2020, Heroic had a revitalization at the turn of the year. They’ve placed in the top four of five separate tournaments so far in 2021. Heroic even earned their second big trophy at ESL Pro League S13, beating out Gambit in a nail-biting five game Grand Finals.
As of recent, Heroic have been on a dip with their performances at IEM Summer and the IEM Cologne LAN. Additionally, they are currently facing coaching issues that will likely need some time to resolve. Even so, Heroic should not be underestimated as they are still an incredibly strong roster.
Virtus.pro is another roster that found peaks in the online era. Although the CIS squad took some time to ramp up, they’ve been a consistent threat in their region. Virtus.pro has had their skills sharpened by playing against the two best teams in the world, Gambit and Na’Vi, on repeat during the forced online play.
VP has recorded multiple wins against those squads and were even able to translate that success to tournaments. Just in the last one year span, they’ve earned trophies at IEM New York Online, Flashpoint 2, DreamHack Open December, and cs_summit 7. On top of that, VP came incredibly close to winning IEM Katowice before losing out to Gambit in the Grand Finals.
Since that IEM Katowice run, VP have never fallen outside the top ten teams and are frequent fliers in the top five. While it can be hard to stand out when other teams from your region are leading the pack, VP are a very solid lineup with the potential to take down any team in the world on their day.
While some long-time favorites like Astralis and Team Liquid struggled to maintain motivation and form during the online era, Natus Vincere was not one of them. Na’Vi interestingly enough was able to win the last CS:GO LAN event for a while due to the global pandemic. Their victory at IEM Katowice 2020 was the final goodbye to LAN before the online era took over. While Na’Vi did have some struggles hitting the same heights, they were still able to consistently place top four in almost every event they attended.
As such, it was no surprise that when 2021 arrived, Na’Vi was one of the teams who came in strong. They started their year off with a victory at the BLAST Global Finals. A few months later, their streak of success truly got into full swing. A win at DreamHack Masters Spring and StarLadder RMR along with a runner-up at BLAST Spring Finals slated Na’Vi as another favorite going into the IEM Cologne LAN return.
Na’Vi was already a LAN-proven and experienced roster, unlike Gambit. If anyone was going to come out of the gate swinging, it would be them. Na’Vi convincingly earned the IEM Cologne title with a 3-0 sweep of G2 in the Grand Finals after an undefeated run through five matches. With this win, Na’Vi became back-to-back LAN champions despite the 500-day gap between them.
Na’Vi’s insane consistency between both Online and LAN play cannot be matched by any other CS:GO team right now. They’ve been steadily in the HLTV Top 5 teams worldwide for 10 months straight. For a team known in the past for variable performances, Na’Vi has been the best at maintaining their form no matter the playing field. The question is, with the scene returning to normalcy, will they be able to maintain their standing, or will other teams begin to catch up?
Who Will Rise on LAN?
G2 were originally on the rise right as the online era hit. Their runner-up finish at IEM Katowice 2020 showed that this G2 roster had what it took to win championships Their other early results of that year which included 2nd at ESL Road to Rio and DreamHack Masters Spring continued to show that potential. However, as online play carried on, G2 suffered the same issues as many other established teams.
Their consistently high placements started becoming fewer and far between, never hitting those same peaks. In late 2020, G2 made one of the biggest trades in CS:GO history by acquiring star rifler Nikola “NiKo” Kovac from FaZe Clan. Results didn’t improve immediately however. It was only after G2 moved Kenny “kennyS” Schrub to the bench and let NiKo pick up the AWP did G2 start their climb back to the top.
Fast forward to May 2021. G2 began a run which has included five straight top four finishes at big time events. Their success culminated at the IEM Cologne LAN return where G2 blew through their group, taking down world number one Gambit. After beating Astralis in the Semifinals, G2 made their second straight LAN final over 500 days later. Although they couldn’t take home the gold, G2 has firmly established themselves as true competitors as LAN continues to come back. They are likely to break their trophy drought sooner rather than later.
No discussion about CS:GO on LAN would be complete without Astralis. The most successful team in the history of Counter-Strike were one of the prime examples of burn-out due to the online era. At IEM Katowice 2020, Astralis earned a top four finish before following it up with a 3rd at ESL Pro League S11 and 1st at Road to Rio. Astralis were still considered one of the best, if not the best team in the game.
However, two days after Road to Rio, in-game leader Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander was placed on medical citing stress-like symptoms. Less than two weeks later, Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth followed suit. Astralis attempted to fill out the roster with players acquired for a 6-7 man squad, but their play still suffered. After an incredibly disappointing four months, Astralis had dropped all the way to rank 17 worldwide, their worst ranking in the organization’s history.
Gla1ve eventually returned a month before ESL Pro League S12. With him back, the veteran Astralis roster immediately rallied to take first place, beating out Na’Vi 3-2 in the Finals. A month later, Xyp9x made his return as well. By the end of 2020, Astralis was able to take first place at DreamHack Masters Winter and the IEM Global Challenge as well.
While Astralis did struggle throughout Spring of this year, they experienced an instant resurgence at IEM Cologne. After losing the Group B Final to Na’Vi, Astralis nearly made it to the Grand Finals. Unfortunately, a 16-14 loss to G2 in the tiebreaker map saw them exit the tournament in 3rd-4th. The Danish giants are some of the most experienced players on the big stage. They will likely continue to be a threat moving forward.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has seen its most chaotic era and biggest shifts in power occur in the game’s history over the past year. For the first time in a while, it seemed that any team could beat anyone on their day. The possibilities of those chaotic shifts continuing or order returning to the scene are both up in the air. As everyone fights to be one of the best CS:GO teams, the game is still just as exciting and interesting as ever.