Na’Vi, Virtus.pro and Team Spirit won the first three big tournaments of the year, with scintillating performances across the bracket for the former two against the biggest names in the scene. Is this a sign of things to come, or just a mirage before everyone else clicks into high gear? Whatever the case may be, there are definitely lessons to be learned from these sides for the rest of the field if they’re looking to replicate these results.
The CIS trifecta in January should serve as a warning sign to competitors that teams in the region should definitely be taken seriously. To recap, Na’Vi won the BLAST Premier Global Final off the back of a massive lower bracket run, dispatching each of their realistic title contenders along the way: G2, Team Liquid, Vitality, and finally, Astralis. (Incidentally, any and all complaints about the Danes’ poor showing in the Fall Finals and how it may have related to playing two best-of-threes in quick succession should be shelved after seeing this spectacular iteration of the s1mple show.)
Next, Virtus.pro dominated the competition at cs_summit 7, not dropping a single map along the way to the trophy in a run including well-established teams like FURIA and NiP. Meanwhile, amid much less fanfare, Team Spirit clinched the DreamHack Open 2021 EU title with wins over BIG and FunPlus Phoenix (the ex-GODSENT lineup) in the playoffs, including a 3-0 sweep in the grand final, after coming second in their group behind Gambit. Overall, the three CIS sides went 30-9 in maps across the tournaments, with 14 series won out of sixteen played, a positively monstrous record.
It has to be said that most of their opposition is in one form of transition or another. Many of the middleweight European teams had a decidedly poor start to the new season, prompting roster changes which will take time to have an effect – if they work out at all, that is. NiP already decided to move on twist in favor of an academy talent in the form of ztr, Fnatic still need to fully integrate Jackinho for flusha, even if early signs are positive, mousesports and FaZe Clan are tightly locked in a deadly embrace waiting until March when karrigan’s contract expires, Complexity are struggling with a stand-in: that’s a lot of free real estate on the rankings, waiting to be taken by enterprising upstarts.
Likewise, Liquid’s FalleN pickup or the ex-GODSENT squad’s integration of chrisJ highlights similar considerations. Having a well-established roster is extra beneficial in these times, as transfer deals are just as challenging to pull off in the COVID climate as they are in traditional sports.
As such, a big part of what makes these teams tick is that they finally cleared out the deadwood. No doubt the economic havoc wreaked by the pandemic forced this on every org in the scene, but these teams in particular seem to have done an excellent job in finally getting rid of the players who got their paychecks due to past exploits rather than ones in the present.
In that sense, Na’Vi and VP were quite similar, with clearly underperforming players like AdreN or GuardiaN (and Zeus plus Edward going back further in the case of Na’Vi) actively hindering the potential of otherwise already quite exciting squads. Similarly, pulling the trigger on iDISBALANCE after what was over a year and a half of poor performances seemed to have an instant impact on Team Spirit.
Figuring out the right roles also helps a lot, and the fact that Na’Vi seems to have finally found the right approach to integrate B1T on Inferno, shoring up a big weakness of their map pool in the process. (Though the youngster has an overall negative K/D for the BLAST Global Finals due to an extremely poor showing against Liquid the first time around, he posted +4 in the lower bracket rematch and +5 in the grand final against Astralis, certainly making a larger impact than Bubzkji or Nivera did at the event. Over on VP, it seems Jame’s will-he-or-won’t-he-captain soap opera has reached a satisfying conclusion, making them one of the quietly impressive squads from 2020.
The biggest tests on LAN still await these teams and no doubt the top tier competition will improve as the season progresses – however, what we’ve seen so far suggests both tangible improvement and showings borne out of more than just strong individual performances. Having a strong AWPer is a key part of any top team nowadays (just look at the perennial HLTV top three), which is another aspect of squad-building these teams have nailed down.
With North American CS still bleeding from the stomach thanks to VALORANT’s shot across the bow, and no remedy in sight, it’s nice to see another region rising to the challenge, hopefully ensuring we’ll get more than just a collection of Europe-only finals once the pandemic eases off. As nice as it is to savor a vintage Astralis or a top-shelf Vitality performance, I, for one, welcome our new CIS overlords.
Photo credit: HLTV