The early part of 2018 brought a ton of of changes to the CS:GO scene. Crazy results and unexpected roster changes have abounded, but who came out on top?
Transfer season is one of the most entertaining parts of the Counter-Strike calendar. The rumours, the hope, the broken dreams of fans: it all adds up to the post-season soap opera we all love.
Rumours have abounded in recent months. Very few of them turned out to be true, of course, but the spiciest one of them all turned out to be one of the truest. I certainly had not expected Stewie’s move to SK Gaming coming, anyway. Maybe it’s just that I’m a little more out of the loop than I used to be but I almost laughed off the rumours at the time. It just seemed so unnatural somehow.
Still, the move made sense on some level. Stewie is a defending Major Champion – a hot property, in theory. Cloud 9 have struggled to recapture their championship form, however. Similarly, SK has been in a bit of a slump by their own high standards. They haven’t reached a final since ESL Pro League in December. In fact, they haven’t really come close to reaching one for some time.
With Taco leaving, SK’s hand was forced and Stewie was the best available target. The move made some sense, but the new relationship had a rocky start in Marseille. SK won just one game before being eliminated in the group stage by Mousesports. In a comfortable 2-0 win for Mouz, Stewie was ranked 9th out of 10 players in the server. It was a similar tale in the defeat to NiP earlier in the tournament. Some teething troubles are to be expected, of course, but there is clearly a lot of work still to do in the SK camp.
On the other side of the coin, we have Astralis flying back into top form. The Danes are back on top of the world after a hugely successful Dreamhack tournament. They did it the hard way, too, beating Faze, Fnatic and a resurgent Team Liquid en route to a finals victory over Na’Vi.
Unlike Stewie, Magisk seems to have fit into his new team like a hand in a glove. He hasn’t set the world alight, but he has been an excellent role-player for a team that didn’t need another superstar. Astralis already has a clutch master, what they needed was another solid player to follow Glaive’s instructions without needing to be carried, Magisk is just the man for the job, as we saw in Marseille. He was solid all tournament, having just one map with a negative K/D ratio and even managing to top frag against Space Soldiers.
I was surprised when Kjaerbye left the team, but Magisk has already silenced any doubters by winning his first two events with Astralis.
Speaking of resurgent Team Liquid, though, they had a tough time in Marseille. They started out with a big upset over Gambit on day one, only to be narrowly eliminated by them 2-1 a couple of days later. In the meantime they lost 2-1 to eventual champions, Astralis. A disappointing finish overall should be tempered by the fact that such a new roster was only narrowly defeated by two of the best teams in the world. It’s a bittersweet story, but one that bodes well for the future of Liquid.
Elige was the highest rated player of any team at the previous IEM event, but Taco has yet to have a huge impact. The lone Brazilian has trended towards the bottom end of HLTV statistics in his early matches. Where Magisk hit the ground running, both Stewie and Taco have had difficulty finding their feet.
His transfer is the exact opposite of Stewie in more ways than the obvious SK connection. While Stewie was a player in the spotlight joining a formerly great team, Taco was playing in the shadow of better players, joining a team who had been on an upward trajectory. Two teams heading in different directions have met in the middle after transfers: SK (7th) is currently one place above Liquid (8th) in HLTV’s rankings.
All of the previous transfers have been done by choice, but Faze showed us there is another type of transfer: the necessary evil. Olofmeister, formerly the best player in the world, took a sabbatical for an undisclosed period of time. We don’t know why he’s gone, but we do know that Xizt is, well… he’s not Olofmeister. It’s a huge credit to the former NiP star that Faze has done so well with him on the team, but he is clearly not on the same level.
You can see the difference in every game Faze plays without Olof. On a team filled with individual superstars, Xizt struggles. Indeed, the fact that Faze has performed as well as they have in recent weeks is testament to how absurdly good the remaining four players are. Still, I think everyone will be glad when Olofmeister makes his return.
Meanwhile, Mixwell’s trial with G2 had an inauspicious start. The Spaniard was the lowest rated player on a team that was eliminated after just two matches. He, too, is potentially just a stand-in and if his debut performance is anything to go by, he won’t be standing long. G2 went into the tournament with a lot of changes behind the scenes, including NBK picking up the mantle of in-game leader. It showed. Elimination at the hands of EnvyUs will have been particularly galling (or should I say Gauling?) on home soil.
As with all of the transfers mentioned here, it is early days for this version of G2, but they had the rockiest start of any of the teams mentioned. The manner of their defeats was the most telling, especially giving up six match points against Cloud 9 in the opener. Losing the French derby in front of a home crowd was the cherry on top of an unpleasant cake.
Finally, we have the transfers that never were. Na’vi, despite being on the up and up in recent months, never cease to be part of transfer speculation. I suppose that is just part and parcel of being home to the world’s best player. Both S1mple and Flamie were rumoured to be joining SK back in March, but Na’Vi somehow held onto the duo. Perhaps it had something to do with the exorbitant buyout fees that were bandied about, but however they did it, the Ukrainian organisation must be thanking its lucky stars. Holding onto S1mple in particular is a huge boon to a team that seems to be on the verge of winning a tournament any day now.
Second place in Marseille almost feels like a disappointment for a team that has finished in the top four of every event but two so far this year. Electronic started to show some of the promise he had in Flipside, but Zeus continues to struggle for frags. He showed up for the CIS derby with Gambit but that was by far his best performance. Once again, fingers were pointed at some of the strategies used by the team, especially in situations where a rifle could have been dropped for S1mple by one of the less-skilled embers of the team.
Still, Na’Vi’s return to prominence in the last six months cannot be doubted and another tournament victory seems like a matter of time.
With so much player movement in the early part of 2018, Na’Vi decided the only way to win the transfer game was to not play. When you already have S1mple on your team, you can understand why it might be in their interests to stick with what they have.