Liquid Rivals: CS:GO

November 30 2019

They’re not your rivals until you beat them. Until then, they’re your demons.

Make no mistake, Astralis weren’t our rivals in 2018. They were our demons. In 2018, Astralis and Team Liquid met 14 times. Across 14 sets (including best-of-ones), Astralis won 13 times. The two teams played 34 games and Astralis won 27 of them. In 2018, Team Liquid and Astralis faced off in an almost nauseating 853 rounds. Astralis won 524 them. We met Astralis in five finals and got five silver medals. They got five gold ones.

Our demons.

These stats aren’t here to depress our fans or drag the team. This is to show the true history of Team Liquid vs. Astralis for what it is: our journey to defeat the Danish kings of CS:GO. Our journey to turn their era into our moment. Our journey to push them to prep for us like we did for them. Our journey to turn a one-sided beatdown into one of the best rivalries CS:GO has ever seen.

More often than not, two rivals find each other because of how different they are. Like two magnetic poles, their seperate charges constantly cause them to intertwine. If you’re a Liquid fan, you’re no stranger to that. You’ve seen Hungrybox vs. Leffen or Nemo vs. Itazan. But there is a rarer form of rivalry. The kind that comes from two top competitors walking the same path.

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Difference in style. Similar in story.

Though Astralis and Team Liquid have their differences in style and region, they’ve got surprising similarities in narratives. Before Team Liquid had a finals curse, Astralis had their own Semifinals Curse. 2017 was filled with 3rd and 4th places for the Danes. At that time, both Astralis and Liquid were successful enough to be relevant - but not enough to be dominant.

Then, in a remarkable parallel, both teams would make extremely meaningful roster changes on almost the same day. In early February 2018, Astralis picked up Magisk and Team Liquid brought back NAF. Magisk and NAF both immediately elevated their new teams. Team Liquid went on to win cs_summt 2 over Cloud 9 and by the end of March, Astralis started going on their legendary run.

Then in May, Astralis had obviously risen higher than us - but that was hardly a mark of shame. They’d risen higher than literally any other team. From May onward, they never dropped below 4th. But for as unstoppable as they looked, we were always just behind them, and in that same time span we only dropped below 4th twice, or in 2 of 16 total tournaments. Just like it became clear Astralis was number 1, it became clear we were number 2.

When we faced with Astralis in the early part of the year, the wins and losses often came down to the map pool. We would pick on their weak maps, like Inferno and Mirage, to get a fairly close win. Then, we’d go to their strong picks like Nuke, Overpass, or Cache and take a hard loss. This pattern rinsed and repeated for a while, to the point where Astralis’ victory seemed inevitable, their era was so dominant that it bordered on boring.

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Astralis wasn’t a boring team. They just need a rival. They needed us.

Astralis was by no means a boring team. Their historic run wasn’t boring either. But every competitor needs a rival to have a complete story. In the short term, it might feel great to stomp weak competition, but in the long term it doesn’t just hurt your audience, it hurts your legacy. Wilt Chamberlain, the original king of basketball, and Ken, the original king of Smash, have asterisks by all their accomplishments. Could they accomplish the same things now, when the competition is stronger?

By the end of 2018, we were starting to become that rival. Those hard losses where we would only win 3 or 4 rounds became less frequent. At the ESL Pro League Season 8 Final, we got closer than we may have ever been to dethroning the Danes. We won convincingly on Train 16-8, and had a lead and a tie on Mirage and Inferno respectively before losing 16-11 on each.

We were close, we just needed another bump. In 2019, we found it in Stewie2K and adreN. The new player and coach brought in the confidence and decisiveness that Team Liquid needed. The change was immediate. At iBuypower Masters IV, we finally beat Astralis 2-1 in a best of 3 finals.

Despite the 2-1 win over Astralis, it wasn’t clear just how good we were yet. It was only one tournament, and Astralis had dropped a tournament here and there before. It was also a notoriously scuffed tournament full of technical issues and errors. The Danish Kings of CS wouldn’t fall that easily.

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Not to mention, we still had our own doubters to silence. The Finals Curse was dreadfully real for us all throughout 2018 as we would routinely underperform in finals even against teams not named Astralis. In 2019, when we got upset by FaZe at BLAST: Miami, it felt like 2018 might repeat itself all over again. New roster, same story.

Then, we won IEM Sydney and the finals curse was broken. Then we won Dreamhack Masters Dallas. Then we won the Pro League Season 9 Finals, beating Astralis in the quarterfinals to get there. Then we won ESL Cologne and got an Intel Grand Slam before August. Then, nobody talked about a finals curse. No one even talked about Astralis being better than us. We were now the uncontested top team in CS. We’d become the unstoppable NA juggernaut that Astralis had to fear. We’d become their true rivals.

Getting there wasn’t just a matter of winning. It was a matter of defeating our biggest demons. Astralis had the single most dominant year of perhaps any CS:GO team ever. When they were in form they looked unbeatable and that level of competition made our victories all the sweeter, the better, and the more legitimate. Our victories couldn’t just come from being good, we had to be unbeatable like they were. Once we could beat them, it was like a damn broke and we could beat anybody. It was only natural that, as soon as we topped Astralis, we went on a winning streak of our own and accomplished historical feats - like winning an Intel Grand Slam so fast that IEM had to change the rules for the next one.

That level of competition is what’s so exciting about the rivalry between Team Liquid and Astralis. It’s not just NA versus Denmark. It’s not just us versus them. It’s a battle to be the best. The team that wins the rivalry gets a grand slam, a winning streak, a legacy. The team that loses ends up exposed to the rest of the CS:GO scene and might not even get second place. As much as we might get frustrated by Astralis and they might get frustrated by us, there are no 2 teams in modern CS that push each other in the same way.

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The way that they push us to our limits and we push them to theirs is what makes this one of CS:GO’s best rivalries ever. It’s what makes every Astralis vs. Liquid match worth watching. And the most important matches are still to come.

Just as we were about to solidify our own era, Astralis beat us at the Major, sending us into a spiral of bad showings and moving us down to 4th place on the global rankings. Meanwhile, Astralis have clawed back up to the top after winning IEM Beijing. You can’t expect anything less from the Danish Demon Kings of CS. Likewise, you can’t expect anything less from us either.

2019 is still up in the air. The number 1 spot is still up in the air. Astralis took it back, but we’ve got the chance to claim it for ourselves at the BLAST Series Finals on December 12th, the ESL Pro League Season 10 finals on December 3rd and the ECS Season 8 Finals going on right now! Everything sets up for these last two large tournaments, the final moments of the year where both teams have a chance to settle the score. Whoever wins gets more than trophies, prize money, or even circuit points. They get the crown, the kingdom, and all the legacy that comes with it.

Writer // Austin Ryan

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