CS:GO series of the season: Heroic vs Gambit at ESL Pro League 13
Throughout a jam-packed Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) calendar that was dominated by CIS' Gambit Esports and Natus Vincere, countless memories were etched into the folklore of the storied and beloved esports. Whether it was the first major win for Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev, the first game in 18 months played in front of a live crowd, or seeing a stage full of ten Danish stars in the Semi-Finals of the BLAST Premiere Fall Finals: Copenhagen, 2021 has had some more than memorable highlights, although one stood out more than the other...
Casting our minds back to the ESL Pro League Season 13, the Grand Final between Heroic and Gambit Esports proved to be one of the most closely contested series of the year, until one breathtaking clutch sent the entire community into meltdown.
Road to the final
As the global pandemic still ran rife throughout Europe, the early stages of the year were hindered by online connectivity issues, with no return to the LAN setting the CS:GO thrives within on the cards. However, Gambit Esports had settled into the online era well, taking home a range of trophies in the latter half of 2020 and a huge coup at the Intel Extreme Masters XV - World Championships in February.
Having been crowned as champions of the online era through their $400,000 first-place prize, Gambit set out on conquering everything in their sights and ripped their way to the ESL Pro League Finals in a flawless run. Seven wins on the bounce through the group stages and Playoffs saw Gambit take out the likes of Ninjas in Pyjamas and Astralis, before meeting Heroic in the final.
Heroic, on the other hand, struggled to find much form without the presence of their dear Danish followers. A win at ESL One: Cologne was their only highlight of their 2020, and Gambit had put any ideas of an Intel Championships to bed, knocking them out in the last 12 stage.
However, revenge on their CIS rivals was on the cards, as they toppled NiP and FURIA in the Playoffs after a similarly dominant 5-0 Group Stage. With the maps set, and the teams prepped for war, Heroic vs Gambit was about to offer something absolutely incredible.
From map one, the tone of this Grand Final had been set, and it was one where the fat lady was never going to be warming her singing voice. Both teams showed their cards on attack in the opening engagements of Inferno, with both teams taking eleven rounds on offence from each other, successfully defending the sites on just four occasions each. With Abai "Hobbit" Hasenov causing chaos for Gambit alongside the AWP of Dmitriy "sh1ro" Sokolov taking 24 kills, Heroic oozed composure and toppled the first map 17-19.
A seemingly seething Gambit laid siege to Heroic in Map 2, with Hobbit taking the reins once more in a 16-3 thrashing, although the party was just getting started at a tie game.
With the AWP doing way too much damage on the Gambit side of things for Casper "cadiaN" Møller's liking, the 26-year-old came out swinging in Map 3, being the catalyst behind many site retakes for Heroic on defence, and opening the attacks on eleven different occasions. However, nobody expected an overtime see-saw that was to unfold after regulation time was all squared up. Both sh1ro and cadiaN pulled the strings for their respective teams for another 24 rounds until Heroic finally strung together consecutive rounds to win 26-28, their second Overtime win in three maps.
Again, Gambit took advantage of Heroic's adrenaline comedown and took to Overpass to put on a convincing 16-10 win, despite an evenly contested first half. Poised at 2-2 for games, Map 5 had the making of a classic, but with cadiaN on the prowl, what was to unfold was a straight CS:GO masterclass.
Heroic put the sword to Gambit in the opening half, allowing the offence of the CIS side to notch up two rounds on Mirage, giving them a great edge to take just three rounds to win the trophy on defence. It took five rounds for Heroic to find themselves on Championship point, and before the nerves could kick in, cadiaN's ice-cold veins kicked into gear when he was presented with a 1-4 situation. A butterfly knife and a dream... cadiaN had history in his sights, and trigger discipline was his best friend.
After finding the AWPer on B-site steps, intuition and spider-senses burst into gear, finding the first player coming in for the trade and the second through back-to-back wall bangs, setting up the commentary line of the year: "Take your time son, you're about to make the play of your career"...
With nerves of steel, the Heroic superstar lived up to his organisation's namesake, and connected with a flick of a lifetime, leaving the practice room to erupt in celebrations and screams.
Whilst countless more games lived up to the hype of the return to LAN, cadiaN's clutch and Heroic's bottle was a perfect way to ease out of the esports hell-hole that was the pandemic and earns our token as the Series of the Year.