Astralis Secure Last Tournament Victory Of The Year
In a stunning upset, only one of the favourites made it to the Grand Finals of the IEM Global Challenge. Natus Vincere, who had been title prospects alongside Astralis, were beaten in the Semi-Finals, whereas Team Vitality didn’t even make it out of the Group Stage.
While Astralis can obviously cash in the biggest prize and take the actual trophy home, Team Liquid are the real winners of the event. Their run-up to the Grand Finals was nothing short of amazing. In the Group Stage, they set themselves on top of FURIA and Heroic in 2-0 fashion. They also played out a competitive match against Natus Vincere, only losing in overtime on the first map. This set them up well for the Semi-Finals, but BIG Clan were bound to stop them - at least, so they thought.
The German had also had a miracle run through the Group Stage, defeating both Team Vitality and Astralis for a first-place finish. After all of this, they looked poised to win the entire event, so their Liquid clash shouldn’t have troubled them too much. When they entered the server, though, they met a much tougher opponent than they possibly could have anticipated. Team Liquid stunned them on Inferno, as Jonathan “ELiGE” Jablonowski posted an incredible 1.82 rating. With 35 regulation kills to his name, he managed to defeat BIG on a 16-11 scoreline. On Dust2, Keith “NAF” Markovic stepped up to join him at the top of the scoreboard. Together, they secured a narrow 16-14 victory for Liquid. After months of underperforming both in North America and Europe, they were suddenly back in the Grand Finals of a tournament that featured Astralis, Natus Vincere, and Team Vitality.
But the Danes had also taken some scalps throughout the event. While they did fold to BIG in the Winners’ Match of Group A, they later struck down Vitality in a stunning Best-of-Three. After losing to the Frenchmen time and time again, they finally managed to beat them - even if it took a double-overtime on Dust2. In the playoffs, they eliminated Natus Vincere to set up a Grand Finals appearance alongside Team Liquid. After all that the North American guys had achieved in recent days, it felt as though they could actually have a shot at downing the Danish giants.
ASTRALIS EASE PAST LIQUID
The Grand Finals told a different story. On the server, Team Liquid weren’t the hot prospects who finally showed what they were capable of. They were mere training subjects for an Astralis that was firmly in control of the entire show. At no point within this short best-of-five did it look like it could slip away for the Danes. On Inferno, Emil “Magisk” Reif and Nicolai “device” Reedtz teamed up to deliver a 16-11 victory over Liquid. Michael “Grim” Wince underperformed heavily, and even the heroics of Jake “Stewie2k” Yip didn’t help them get closer to the finishing line.
On Overpass, Grim was back at the top, but Stewie2k and ELiGE both recorded single-digit kills throughout the entire map. Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen and device styled on them, and while they almost let a comeback happen in the second half, they still closed the map out with a solid 16-11 margin. To the surprise of many viewers, Liquid actually held themselves in the game even after losing the first two maps in such a way. On Dust2, they posted a strong first half, but device helped his team run away with the CT side. Liquid struggled to even get onto the bomb sites, and when they did, Astralis had the perfect retake setups to still get the defuses in. Within a couple of rounds, they mounted a 16-10 win for the map and match victory.
After all the hardships of the year, Astralis managed to end 2020 in style. Their trophy collection as of late rivals that of Team Vitality and the Frenchmen’s dominance has ground to a halt just before the winter break. Earlier on, it looked as though Vitality might be able to establish an era of their own. Now, Astralis appear to have overtaken them yet again.
Despite the disappointing performance in the Grand Finals, Liquid can still look back on a successful event. They have shown great signs of improvement and certainly inspire a lot of confidence in them making it back into the Top Five next year. However, much of that progress with Stewie2k as the in-game-leader might become undone soon, as Liquid will have to start from scratch with a new player on the roster.
LIQUID WITHOUT TWISTZZ?
After the Grand Finals, Russel "Twistzz" VanDulken took to the broadcast to reveal that he is about to leave Team Liquid. This comes as a shock to all fans who had hoped to see this team rise to the top with Stewie2k at the helm. But his mind is made up, as he later opened up about his impending move on Twitter as well. Apparently, the Brazilian veteran Gabriel “Fallen” Toledo is going to replace him, which would put a seasoned in-game-leader back on the board for Team Liquid. This would obviously alleviate some of the pressure that Stewie2k has had in recent months. Granted, he was never really a top performer on the Liquid side, but the move to shot-calling has seen him plummet in the ratings. While he did have a few stand-out performances at IEM, one event hardly makes up for those missed fragging opportunities ever since Nick “nitr0” Canella has left the team.
So will Fallen be an improvement over Twistzz? Hardly. But arguably that shouldn’t be his actual task. By freeing up Stewie2k, he can allow the youngster to get back to the star-player form that he exhibited during the Cloud9 days. He used to be an incredibly strong individual performer, and before ELiGE rose to the top, he was the top NA prospect. If he can recover even half of his former self, Liquid will have added some real firepower back on top. With a dedicated in-game-leader at the helm, they might finally regain the strategical depth that once helped them compete with the likes of Astralis and Vitality.
But for now, these two teams reign supreme. There’s no denying that both of them have had a stellar year while facing immeasurable obstacles. Vitality have had to integrate a sixth player under the toughest conditions, while Astralis went through literal roster hell when two of their players benched themselves. Now that the core five is back in top form and Lucas “Bubzkji” Andersen can help out on some maps, the team is almost as scary as it was before.
THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
IEM Katowice, while not a spectator event, may finally bring all these teams back under one roof. The tournament is planned to take place in a studio environment, giving us the opportunity to see our favourite players compete on offline soil again. While it is impossible to really estimate how the situation will be in two months, the mass vaccinations that are about to commence in the EU and have already started in the UK and the US might finally allow for safe travels for all the teams again.
Images via @ESLCS