After we have already covered the best CS:GO players of 2020 and made a Year in Review, it’s now time to turn towards the biggest disappointments. Not everything has gone according to plan this year – even though most of that was down to the coronavirus pandemic.
THE FPX DISASTER
Casper “cadiaN” Møller almost laid down the Heroic banner. In early March, it was revealed that the legendary League of Legends organization FunPlus Phoenix was looking to buy the Danes out in order to field a lineup for the upcoming Flashpoint season. Everything was going great and the players had already arrived in the United States. But suddenly, the deal fell through. How did this happen?
In the very last minute, Patrick “es3tag” Hansen received an offer from Astralis – one that he simply couldn’t ignore. He jumped off the FPX transfer and chose to sit out his remaining contractual time with Heroic. This set off a cascade of consequences, as FunPlus weren’t interested in the team without him. The transfer was blown off, the players had to depart North America and lost their spot in Flashpoint. They had already missed the participation window for ESL Pro League. Heroic ended up with an incomplete roster and no partnered leagues.
So they began to rebuild. Marco “Snappi” Pfeiffer was benched. In his place, René “TeSeS” Madsen from Copenhagen Flames and OpTic’s Nikolaj “niko” Kristensen joined. Nicolai “HUNDEN” Petersen came on board as coach. In an extensive Twitter video post, cadiaN blew off steam and vented about the situation. He didn’t put any blame on es3tag, after all this was the right move for his career. Nonetheless, cadiaN and his colleagues felt betrayed.
A SILVER LINING FOR HEROIC
But was this really such a tragedy? On one hand, this turbulent time certainly left its marks on cadiaN and his men. They needed months to get back on their and found themselves outside of Flashpoint, which they worked so hard to attend. But in August, they finally clicked and suddenly made the Grand Finals of ESL One Cologne 2020. With a one-sided victory over Team Vitality, they wrote history and announced themselves as a top team. Later, they won DreamHack Open Fall as well, once again facing Vitality in the Grand Finals. Nobody really knows whether they would have achieved any of this under the FPX banner. So the boys eventually came out of this stronger than before – but can the same really be said about es3tag?
THE SHORT RISE OF ES3TAG
Looking at the results at the end of this year, the Heroic boys are definitely better off than es3tag. The Dane has also weathered a turbulent 2020, but for him there really isn’t a light at the end of the tunnel. His newest team, Cloud9, struggles to meet expectations. But the year started off differently and he really set himself apart from the rest when he was on Astralis.
After he had sat out his remaining contract with Heroic, es3tag finally made his way to Astralis. They debuted to meager success, but the summer break soon followed. They used this time to develop a greater strategical depth. With the return of Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander to the active roster, they put up a much better show almost instantly. During ESL Pro League Season 12, es3tag displayed star form and became one of the most relevant players on the Danish roster.
But he didn’t stick with Astralis for long. When Cloud9 came with an offer to make him one of their core players in a mega project, he couldn’t possibly say no. He gave up his position as the Dane’s resident sixth man and transferred to the ‘Colossus’. This decision must have been quite difficult though, after all Astralis are a legendary organisation with realistic ambitions for the international top spot. The chances of Cloud9 succeeding weren’t set in stone, but stability and the opportunity to become a star player lured him in.
kassad and ALEX building a team together and then having a stylistic clash after 11 series played is:
B) management disaster by C9
C) other: _____ (fill in blank)
— Zvonimir Burazin (@Professeur_CS) December 29, 2020
It’s always easier to criticize in retrospect, but this decision might have been a grave mistake. The ‘Colossus’, unlikely Complexity’s ‘Juggernaut’, made an incredibly weak debut. The players managed to win a few series afterwards, but they didn’t nearly meet expectations. Now, the coach has already waved goodbye to the project, after he and the team’s shotcaller, Alex “ALEX” McMeekin, both cited creative differences in how they approach the game. Cloud9 appear to have brought together the wrong group of players for their long-term project. Should this be the case, then es3tag’s career high under Astralis might be followed up by a long period of stagnation.
THE COACHING BUG
37 coaches have been banned by the Esports Integrity Coalition (ESIC) for multiple months. The extent of this scandal is almost immeasurable. After ESL One Cologne, investigators revealed that there existed a bug within CS:GO (apparently from the very beginning), which allowed coaches to switch into a free camera view – and as it stood, multiple individuals had made use of this. In this announcement, they first three offenders were revealed: Ricardo “dead” Sinigaglia, Aleksandr Anatolyevich “MechanoGun” Bogatyrev, and HUNDEN. The latter came as the greatest shock, as Heroic had just won ESL One Cologne EU with him a few days prior. Fortunately, the administrators behind this investigation assured us that the bug had already been fixed leading up to the tournament.
ESIC announces sanctions against 37 individuals in relation to the exploitation of the Spectator Bug.
Only 20% of available data (99,650 demos) has been examined.
ESIC to issue one final report at the end of October to close the investigation. pic.twitter.com/tyduJkVvxo
— ESIC (@ESIC_Official) September 28, 2020
Nonetheless, the consequences were devastating. A larger investigation later uncovered 37 coaches who had all utilized this bug to some extent. MechanoGun was now banned for 36 whole months, while HUNDEN had to stay away from the server for eight months. Sergey “starix” Ischuk, who had just recently accused Robin “flusha” Rönnquist of cheating, was himself found guilty alongside coaches like Slaava “Twista” Rasänen, Faruk “pita” Pita, and Nicholas “guerri” Nogueira.
THE DECLINE OF NA CS
But even this incredible scandal doesn’t compare to what is currently going on in North America. A long list of players has waved goodbye to Counter-Strike. Many of them want to try to their luck at VALORANT. While it’s been mostly old veterans like Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom who have made the switch in Europe, this has hit all levels of North American competition. Top players like Joshua “steel” Nissan and Nick “nitr0” Canella have transitioned, leaving a vacuum in the scene. There are barely any young prospects left. Aspiring star players like Nathan “leaf” Orf, Sam “s0m” Oh, or Matthew “Wardell” Yu are gone now as well.
So what remains? Aside from Team Liquid and Evil Geniuses, NA CS has almost nothing on offer anymore. The pandemic has forced many organizations to dissolve their teams. Organizers like ESL, DreamHack, or BLAST haven’t shown any care for the scene and have left it to die over many long months. Outside of the Top 3, there is nothing to be won. So in the future, few organizations will even attempt to sponsor a team in this space. Legendary brands like Cloud9, Complexity, or even Team Envy are now largely banking on European talent to do the job. Even worse, they’re dragging some of the last remaining NA players with them. So what happens when Liquid or EG need new talent?
Through the heartbreaks and the triumphs, we built a legacy together Russ, thank you. pic.twitter.com/ZOJxWQ4xVV
— Team Liquid CSGO (@TeamLiquidCS) December 20, 2020
In the case of Team Liquid, they’re going the Brazilian route. Russel “Twistzz” VanDulken has stepped down from the lineup and rumors say that Gabriel “Fallen” Toledo will come to replace him. There is one simple reason for this: The team desperately needs a dedicated in-game-leader. But without Pujan “FNS” Mehta, steel, nitr0, or Damian “daps” Steele, the options in this scene are limited.
WILL 2021 BE BETTER?
Cloud9 are now in search of a new coach. Henry “HenryG” Greer has already admitted that the search will be tough. There aren’t many candidates out there now that so many coaches have been banned. For ALEX and his men, the winter break offers a chance to finally get started and put up a more convincing show. The lineup definitely boasts enough talented players, they just have to be utilized properly.
Even though the upcoming year likely won’t kick off with offline tournaments again, studio-events are definitely part of the plan. ESL have announced to assist the North American scene in its rebuilding efforts. Even though this arguably comes more than half a year too late, this way they might prevent more talent from running away.
A lot has gone down in the past year – but only part of it was negative. Astralis, Natus Vincere, Heroic, and most of all Team Vitality have established themselves at the forefront of CS:GO. They have proven that this scene won’t even bow down to a worldwide pandemic. It will be particularly exciting to follow these teams around in the coming year. Will they be able to retain their top spots when offline events make a return?