The Best CS:GO Teams Of 2020
This last year has been a wild ride for esports and the world in general. We have all had to adjust our way of living in order to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. Esports had to do the same and as a result, most of this year’s Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) schedule has taken place online. While this is a stark contrast to the large number of LAN tournaments that we had in recent years, some teams have embraced the changes and made the most out of them. One of the teams to adapt to this new environment was Astralis.
The Danes have had quite a tumultuous year. Losing at IEM Katowice, they didn’t get to win a single offline event in 2020. While they did perform quite well in the first weeks of online play, they were soon left with just three players. Both Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander and Andreas Højsleth announced their departure from the active lineup in May, citing burnout and fatigue issues. Astralis acted fast and brought in Jakob “JUGi” Hansen and Marco “Snappi” Pfeiffer to act as replacements for the time being. They called this a seven-man roster, but both of them were already gone again by July. Afterwards, however, Astralis seriously attempted to construct a larger roster, onboarding Lucas “Bubzkji” Andersen and Patrick “es3tag” Hansen.
They tried their hands at using these two in place of gla1ve and Xyp9x during ESL One Cologne 2020 EU, in which they bailed out in the Quarter Finals after an 0-2 defeat to the Ninjas in Pyjamas. Bubzkji jumped onto the server for Astralis in their first ESL Pro League Season 12, before making place for es3tag. The Dane quickly became a heavy-hitter for Astralis and one of the centrepieces for their strategy. He helped them make playoffs and the team eventually even powered through to a Grand Finals win over Natus Vincere, in which they reverse-swept the CIS team for a 3-2 victory.
DreamHack Open Fall turned out to be his last tournament with the team, as he was quickly acquired by Cloud9 to be on their new starting five. He took the chance to become a star player on a team that would definitely utilise him in their matches, whereas Astralis could only offer him uncertainty on whether he would actually be featured on the main lineup in the future.
Luckily for Astralis, this coincided with Xyp9x returning from his leave of absence. Putting him back onto the roster, they cut off Bubzkji from the starting five. Unfortunately, this didn’t immediately bring them back to their old form, as they suffered an 0-2 upset in the Grand Finals of their BLAST Premier: Fall group against G2 Esports. Even worse, they bailed out of the IEM Beijing playoffs after two 9-16 map losses to Natus Vincere However, they slowly made progress with each and every map they played. At DreamHack Masters Winter, where they didn’t have to compete against Natus Vincere or Team Vitality, they won a closely contested Grand Finals over mousesports. At the BLAST Premier: Fall Finals, just two days later, they stomped the mouz players into the ground and made their way past Natus Vincere as well. Within just a month of getting the band back together, they already overtook most of the top contenders again. At the IEM Challenge, Astralis won the last event of the year, leaving Vitality and NaVi far behind. Granted, Natus Vincere’s story as of late isn’t really about winning lots of tournaments.
But let’s not forget that NaVi were the last CS:GO team to win a premier offline event. At IEM Katowice, they secured the trophy in a stunning Grand Finals victory over G2 Esports. Beating Astralis, Team Liquid, the Ninjas in Pyjamas, and FaZe Clan twice, they announced themselves as a force to be reckoned with. This came just after the addition of Ilya “Perfecto” Zalutskiy, so no one really knew where this team could end up.
Unfortunately, they hit somewhat of a slump in the following months. They ended up in fourth place of ESL Pro League Season 11 and bailed out in the Group Stage of ESL One: Road to Rio CIS, where they got beaten by Virtus.pro, Syman, and Hard Legion. They were similarly unsuccessful at DreamHack Masters Spring and BLAST Premier: Spring, so why do we even mention them as one of the best CS:GO teams of 2020?
Over the course of the winter, they brought everything back. Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev continues to be an absolute beast and managed to drag his team into two Grand Finals. At ESL Pro League Season 12 and at IEM Beijing, they faced Astralis and Vitality, respectively. In both instances, they suffered reverse-sweeps after sitting on top of 2-0 leads already. While this is obviously tragic and means that they didn’t catch any more trophies for the remainder of the year, they proved to be incredibly competitive against the teams that won the most trophies and showed up in the most Grand Finals.
Many teams have made a mark on 2020 CS:GO in their own unique ways. FURIA dominated their North American competition for entire months. Heroic won both ESL One Cologne and DreamHack Open Fall over Vitality, an incredible achievement for a team that was still outside the Top 20 in August. However, before and after these victories, Heroic showed a much different level and oftentimes failed to mount these deep tournament runs. Chaos achieved worldwide fame after Nathan “leaf” Orf repeatedly styled on Brazilian teams, receiving death threats and cheating accusations as his reward. BIG Clan got to be the world’s #1 team for a short period in the summer, bringing temporary glory to the German CS:GO scene. But all of that was gone in late autumn, when another contender for first-place emerged.
There’s no doubt that Team Vitality has been the most successful CS:GO team of 2020. They made the Grand Finals of BLAST Premier: Spring, cs summit 6, ESL One Cologne, DreamHack Open Fall, IEM Beijing, and BLAST Premier: Fall. They also topped their group at the BLAST Premier: Fall Regular Season after adding a sixth player to their roster. While Astralis were technically the first to do that, Vitality were the first ones to actually incorporate that player into their game plan.
It’s incredible to see that, after all these years, teams and players can still find new ways to approach Counter-Strike. The latest craze is the six-man roster, popularised by the Frenchmen from Team Vitality. Adding Nabil “Nivera” Benrlitom to their roster immediately made them title prospects, as the new-found firepower and added strategical depth gave them an edge over their opponents. After all, they now had to prepare for three different lineups, which all changed depending on the map in play. Vitality have added so many layers to their game that even Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander struggles to figure them out now.
Ever since the addition of Nivera, Vitality didn't lose a single tournament leading up to the IEM Global Challenge. While their losses to BIG and Astralis were less than stellar performances to close out the year, they still managed to make this event count in a small way. In their Opening Match, they brought Nivera onto Nuke for the very first time. They eventually lost to BIG on a 13-16 scoreline, but after just two more attempts, they adjusted their Nuke setup to deliver a striking 16-2 victory over Astralis - albeit losing the match in the end. Their trophies, combined with all their second-place finishes in the summer, just go to show that they simply are the most decorated and successful roster of the year. After all, that’s gone down and seeing them actually defeat their opponents by growing margins, their 2021 run will certainly be one of the biggest storylines of modern Counter-Strike.
Images via ESL | BLAST | @TeamVitality