Written by: Richard Lewis
January will see the twelfth CS:GO major championships take place in Boston, no stranger to huge sports events, now getting a taste of one of the biggest that esports has to offer. The new year will see big changes to the way majors are undertaken, and will set us up for what promises to be one of the game’s most exciting years in terms of rivalries and excellence.
With the recent announcement of the new format, with the qualifier no longer independent from the major itself, there will be 24 teams competing in total. Alongside the exposure some of these smaller organizations will receive as a result, there will also be the inclusion of in-game cosmetic sales for the brands and players alike. For teams who have huge followings in their region but a slim chance of winning, this represents an opportunity to start closing the financial gap that exists between the esports power players and those with aspirations of greatness.
It rolls around at a great time for the game as well. While it isn’t necessarily the case that we exist in a more competitive time than say 2015 (simply go review the majors in Cologne and Cluj Napoca from that year for evidence of how hard it was to lift those trophies), I think we can undoubtedly say the skill ceiling of these teams right now is higher than it ever has been with some notable names pushing the boundaries.
If such a thing is possible, the FaZe super-team experiment has simultaneously delivered and disappointed. You need only watch them to understand why. An all-star team on paper, so good it seems they can forego tactics, and with an in-game leader that can make them a tactical powerhouse, it feels that this should be their time. And yet, they are currently overshadowed by a team that isn’t just their nemesis, SK Gaming, known as the greatest core roster ever assembled in CS:GO history, with the most persistent stubbornness and will to win.
Astralis are there too, consistently troubling the top four at competitions, while dealing with their star player, Nicolai "dev1ce" Reedtz, out due to prolonged illness. Cloud9 are actually planting the flag for North America, currently a top five team in the world by most expert’s measurements, and the French dream team can’t stay merely above average forever. It seems impossible that Gambit can retain the title they took against all the odds, but only a fool would discount them entirely with their current roster featuring wily old pros and perhaps the best rookie find since Jacky "Stewie2K" Yip, namely Abay "HObbit" Khasenov. There are a variety of reasons why this major can be just as surprising as the one in Krakow that preceded it.
Of course, not all of these notes are musical to fans’ ears. There are some notable teams coming in patched-up or featuring stand-ins due to rules surrounding roster registration. Astralis has their fingers and toes crossed that Reedtz can shake off whatever ails him as they look to add to their haul of majors, but if that doesn’t happen, it’d be hard to take them as serious contenders. Their coach Danny "zonic" Sørensen, who would have to play, was a hell of a player in his day, a major winner himself, but those days are long gone. Think Charles Oakley: we know he still has the fire in his belly that made him one of the meanest power forwards of all time, but who is selecting him for a pick-up game?
Dominating the discussion has been the situation in the aftermath of the (ironic) demise of Immortals, the last major’s runners-up that imploded around allegations of improper conduct, spilling over into threats of violence. The rift in the team made for prime pickings for anyone having problems, which just so happened to include SK Gaming, who were great but just short of being the best back when they had João "felps" Vasconcellos. Enter Ricardo "boltz" Prass, a model professional that was one of the rare instances that a rule designed to protect players had actually penalized one of the good guys. Him being airlifted out to SK Gaming was certainly a happy ending, but a bittersweet one. It freed him from contract limbo and placed him in a team that he would make the number one in the world right now. The downside meant that with the rules around player registration and rosters, he wouldn’t be able to compete at the major, while his former Immortals teammates would under the new 100 thieves banner. The same fate would befall Lucas "steel" Lopes, now of Team Liquid, who also had the misery of having to sit out his team’s last doomed outing at the ESL Pro League Season Finals in Odense. This means that Team Liquid’s hope for a resurgence after removing Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz is going to have to be deferred until February at the earliest.
In an ideal world, we’d get full strength teams and dream match-ups, but sports history tells us that rarely ever happens and there are always footnotes that contextualize success. The path to a championship is often found after following a map labeled “Plan B” and will often involve some good fortune along the way. As with every tournament someone’s loss has to be someone’s gain, and there will be plenty of teams looking to replicate the wild heroics of Gambit and Immortals and feeling such an achievement is possible, as they hope to encounter some of the walking wounded. What is undeniable though are these factors, along with many others besides and possibly others yet to reveal themselves, will make for a tournament that is wide open in terms of who the next set of legends will be.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll break down which teams we feel have the best chance of capitulating, causing upsets or crowning themselves champions.