BLAST Premier Global Final Favorites & Underdogs
Come out of your holes, Counter-Strike fans, the break from events is over at long last. As we approach mid-January we finally get a healthy dose of CS:GO distributed across the first few months of 2021. The first shot comes in the form of the BLAST Premier Global Final. BLAST aren’t messing around with a group stage and are jumping straight into the playoff action with a double-elimination bracket for its eight teams. Every series is a best-of three and $1 million is on the line.
Those teams include the winners of the European Spring and Fall Finals, respectively, Complexity Gaming and Team Vitality. Then we have the American Spring Finals winner in Evil Geniuses, and the Fall Finals runner-up in Astralis. Rounding out the pool are the top four teams in BLAST circuit points, not including the previously mentioned teams that already qualified by winning a Fall or Spring Final. Those teams are Natus Vincere, G2 Esports, Team Liquid, and FURIA.
Without further ado, let’s break the teams off into three groups based on their chances, look at their recent results, and discuss whether or not they’re a favorite at this event.
The Favorites: Astralis, Vitality, Natus Vincere
This group gets a penthouse on the top floor of BLAST hotel, as that room is reserved for the best teams with the best chance of winning BLAST Premier. The teams in this group have been consistently good for almost all of the past year, and they reserved some of their best Counter-Strike for the end of 2020, meaning they’re in good form on top of just being good teams. It’s no coincidence that the teams who make up the favorites lay claim to the #1, #2, and #3 spots on the current HLTV global rankings (as of 1/11/2021).
Astralis took a staggered rest approach to 2020 with their starting lineup, allowing both gla1ve and Xyp9x to take extended time off, and utilizing talent like Snappi, es3tag, and Bubzkji to retain competitiveness. They even won ESL Pro League Season 12 right before Xyp9x came back. But their best Counter-Strike of the year was during this past December, with the roster at full strength and with Bubzkji waiting on the bench as the team’s nuclear option (he’s really good at Nuke). That month they went 30-9 in maps, won DreamHack Masters Winter and the IEM Global Challenge, and regained the top ranking on HLTV.
Vitality and Na’Vi had great years as well that followed eerily similar patterns: excellent teamplay surrounding a world-class best-in-the-world superstar while slowly embracing the sixth-man approach. Vitality had already booked a ticket to the BLAST Global Final by making the grand finals of the Spring Final, but decisively won the Fall Final anyway at the expense of Astralis. They also won IEM Beijing in November, and their embracing of Nivera on Inferno and Dust II has been a huge part of that success.
Na’Vi differs in that most of their success in 2020 started at the beginning of the year and then trailed off. They were still contending and making deep runs at all of their events later in the year, but they didn’t have any more big trophy acquisitions since IEM Katowice in March, right when that pesky COVID ordeal started getting serious. That being said they’re still an exceptionally dangerous team; s1mple is coming off another stellar campaign that’s got him in contention for best player in the world honors, and they’re close to unlocking Na’Vi Junior player B1T as their own addition to the sixth-man trend.
The Middle of the Pack: Evil Geniuses and G2 Esports
The Middle of the Pack group consists of the teams that aren’t quite good or proven enough to be considered favorites, but them winning BLAST Premier would not be considered shocking either. These are good teams, but they’re just not at the level of the really good teams at the top of Counter-Strike. At least, for now.
Evil Geniuses have been missing for some time. Literally, they haven’t played since mid-November at IEM Beijing North America. They got off to a rough start online when the pandemic started, but hit a stride starting in the summer, and won three straight events in BLAST Spring Finals, cs_summit 6, and ESL One Cologne NA. They haven’t gotten a chance to play against a broader European field since IEM Katowice, but that event aside, they had a really good run against EU talent for most of 2019. There’s always a risk of rust when this much time off has been taken, and having to play Astralis first isn’t a great hand to be dealt, but they’ve held their own against the Danes in the past. Don’t be surprised to see EG pull off an upset, or at least make a deep run through the lower bracket.
The other mid-pack team is G2 Esports, the easiest pick for “team on the rise” heading into 2021. After a couple more lengthy events of NiKo getting acclimated to the group, this is a team that is going to be a top-five globally ranked team for most of next year. They will have at least two of the top-fifteen HLTV players of 2020, a world class AWPer in kennyS who’s going to excel with more playmaking from and attention drawn to NiKo. G2 are just scratching the surface of unleashing a NiKo that doesn’t have to worry about in-game leading any more, and with a good first-round matchup against none of the favorites, BLAST Premier could be a breakout tournament for them.
Complexity’s 2020 has been, for lack of a better term, complex. This is a team that started the year as a meme; the “Juggernaut” that owner Jason Lake paid top dollar for getting smoked at online events and qualifiers. But after dominating some slightly lower competition in the spring, they walked into BLAST Spring and shocked the world with wins over both Astralis and Vitality. Then at the Spring Finals, they went undefeated against OG, Na’Vi, FaZe Clan, and then Vitality again to win the whole event. Now while the team has cooled off since then, they’ve also been adjusting to new addition in jks from the ex-100 Thieves roster. They could easily have been put in middle of the pack given their success at BLAST events, but with poizon still on the shelf and replaced temporarily with JUGi, it just seems like too much for them.
Team Liquid will have the most eyes on them of any team this tournament. The team that dominated 2019 is coming off a dismal 2020, and debuting their newest addition in FalleN at this event. As 2020 came to a close for Liquid, they struggled against subpar domestic teams, but performed way better against stiffer international competition. They came just shy of advancing at the BLAST Fall Showdown, and then made a grand finals run at IEM Global Challenge. Expectations for Liquid FalleN are high; his leadership and experience could be a long-term solution for the team this year. But it’s too soon after his acquisition and the recent results are too shaky to really be confident that Liquid will make a deep run.
The teams in the Favorites group weren’t the only ones to have an outstanding 2020, they’re just the teams that were already associated with extensive success in Counter-Strike. But another trio of teams had a great year as well, in Heroic, BIG, and FURIA. Logically, one or more of these teams has to fall off, and with HEN1 moved to the bench and stiffer competition on the horizon, it’s looking more and more like it’s going to be FURIA. They had an amazing 2020, and rocketed to the top of North America, but their small sample size against the global field hasn’t been impressive, and the road is only going to get rockier for them.