Thorin’s Time: Until You Become Idols to Your Rivals

Thorin 2020-09-18 06:18:19
  There's an unattributed motivational quote that goes "Work until your idols become your rivals". Well there's another level to that game. One where you stop competing against your rivals by virtue of being that far ahead of them that you become their idols. That's the untold story of the Astralis dynasty. The line-up that had to win seemingly all the majors, the trophies and big matches, before they got their due credit as being on their level from the rivals they were beating. A certain kind of ego can only acknowledge you're good when you're better than them. Well Astralis was better than you and it's not even a debate, so give it up or look like a fool until your dying day, and indeed the vast majority of their rivals now have. Turn offs include choking and inability to finish Astralis, back to their days as Dignitas, were a core with strong talents across many areas, but who could be relied upon to lose out in the semi-finals of a major and be sat watching another side hoist the trophy and wonder if next time matters would go their way. The most frustrating of teams to follow, capable of beating all of their rivals in the other tournaments but not at the world championship, the disappointing atmosphere that followed them overlapped into how their peers saw them. The top teams and players did not respect Astralis. They were repulsed by their inability to win and the nature of their collapse, screaming of personal insecurities and an evaporating faith in each other. Top level competition is very much a simulation of warfare for most men. As such, it carries with it the bravado that the young mistake for true courage. It is not that you suffer defeat that repulses your peers, but how. Anyone can be beaten, but teams like Virtus.pro were perceived to never lose in the sense of having their spirits crushed or capitulating in the face of pressure and yielding an easy win for the opposition.

Virtus.Pro (Credit - ESL)

Even when Astralis had won a major and enough trophies to ensure most of their core would be headed into a hall of fame one day, there was still a sense among the top teams that made up their peer group that this was a team who didn't "deserve" to be considered a contender for the top spot. That a "real man" played Counter-Strike with balls, aggressively taking the game to his opposition in straight up gun fights and was left standing after the shoot-out. This is why Virtus.pro and NiP were idols for so many teams even when those teams had surpassed or beaten the Poles and Swedes so many times. They beat you in a brawl and you could make few excuses for your loss other than they were better players and more bold than you. Tactics or tricks? Astralis was perceived to be a team trying to sneak a win against the best teams. Their tactical prowess and reliance on out-executing and out-positioning their opponents was seen as a substitute for the confidence to take a straight up fight or play based on the crosshair rather than map position. This was the age of SK and FaZe and victory meant praise for the players, not so much the system or philosophy informing their play. As such, reckless youngster Stewie2k was considered more of a "winner" at heart than stars device or dupreeh, by said pros. Little did those players realise, there is more to Counter-Strike than headshots or high fives. So much more depth beneath the surface than exploding onto a bombsite or sitting off on the side of the map watching a super-star with a super-sized ego go to work with an AK in his desired fights around Mid. Astralis were not just playing to win a specific tournament or beat a specific team. Here was a squad reaching for perfection. Mastering the fundamentals and building up a play-book that could beat any team on any day in any match. Once they drew close to that nirvana of strategical understanding, nobody could stand in their way. Your best day was required to even have a chance and even then they might humiliate you and leave you looking like you weren't even playing the same game as them. Of course those big egos were wounded. You saw it in snide remarks about the map pool or which weapons were strongest or an immediate rush to assume Astralis must be exploiting every bug under the sun to get those little edges.
Related: About that Astralis Era...
Many top pros now likely hope, secretly in their hearts, that zonic is outed as having abused this coaching bug which has caused such a scandal in the scene. Then it would make sense and the big egos could go back to believing their way was the best all along and of course these Danish nerds didn't thrash them under even conditions.

Zonic (Credit - BLAST)

Activating the Doomsday device Aggressive forces like dupreeh were lumped in with such sentiments largely by association alone, embodying a style his peers could at least understand and appreciate in isolation. If I could only tell you some of the salty rants I heard from top pro players in 2015 about how it was cajunb, another aggressive and even fiery competitor, that was the best player in TSM and not device, then you might see how embittered pros from the other school of CS thinking were. Up until the last three major championship campaigns, device wasn't even considered by many fans as a player worthy of comparison to or inclusion in discussions surrounding the likes of coldzera, s1mple, NiKo and Snax - names occupying the very top spots on the individual rankings. He was a choker, a coward who saved all the time and someone who "just farmed ecos", the messaging went and was repeated ad nauseum. Find me those fans and pros who thought as much now. You won't. They all either disappeared back under the rocks they crawled out from or have long since given it up to the greatest winner CS:GO has ever seen. Once he found the right environment to support him and overcame some of his demons, device never looked back. Watching him in the play-offs of the Starladder Berlin major, his fourth major championship, you'd be forgiven for imagining he had always been one of the most clutch players. Team Liquid, NRG and AVANGAR can certainly tell you he won't be pushed around any more. Who "the best" player is will always be a subjective matter of opinion or popularity contest, in a sense. You can keep that title, because device is satisfied being the most decorated star player in the game's history. He's also the player who has won the most MVP awards. So much for not being in that exclusive "best player" club, eh?

device, four time major champion (Credit - Astralis)

Question this Astralis at their peak were a once in a life-time line-up, more than even the usual plaudit of "a team for the ages" can appropriately summarise. In form they would smash even the best teams in the world on the lion's share of the map pool, including that team's map pick, and rarely let them claw their way to even double digits rounds won before the map was finished. If you were a fan of the other team you knew it would take the best performance of your team that year to stand a chance. Even then, perhaps not even playing at a 10/10 for them, you might see a key round decide the match for the Danes off a genius gla1ve rotation; dupreeh breaking open a lock-down defensive setup; device picking off your favourite players until hope looked slim; magisk mowing down enemies like he was on Aim Botz or a perfectly calculated Xyp9x clutch closed the deal. There was no respite when facing Astralis. No lead was safe and no comeback from your team could ever hit full momentum before something went awry. Of course it felt unfair. They weren't out-shooting you all of the time, though when they did you may as well have disconnected early like a game of StarCraft or Quake 3. Here was a team acting as a single five-headed hydra. There were no two players you wanted to see alive in a 2vX for Astralis, in terms of knowing the round would be won by the other team. There was no side balance to rely upon when going up against Denmark's finest. They would win the half on T side of nuke, the most CT sided map in the game, and then swap over and cleanly close you out on their own turn as CT. On inferno they could play without force-buying and know that all of the gun rounds were theirs, on a map notoriously difficult to stay on top of and lock down. If you were a slow learner then you weren't going to enjoy gla1ve's advanced course in map awareness. Stay-at-home re-peek style AWPer? Doesn't matter if you're the best with the weapon, as device was going to be anywhere on the map but where you took your comfortable fights. Against most teams you might imagine you could press a man advantage, but not if Magisk was still alive on the CT side. A few rounds of strong CT play might put off lesser entries from attempting the same route, but dupreeh's faith was resolute that if gla1ve saw something still unrealised in the same play then he could run through a brick wall and know the others would finish the job. Playing against Xyp9x in a 1vX for him must surely have convinced many a great player a powerful AI exists already and has solved our game.

'Clutch Minister', Xyp9x (Credit - ESL)

Astralis beat you by out-thinking you, leaving you feeling helpless, your own reactions and intuition seemingly playing into exactly what they anticipated. They out-positioned you, leaving you cursing the monitor because you didn't get a "fair" fight or a chance to properly engage your phenomenal gun skills. They crushed your spirit to believe you even could beat them, as time and time again they won their map pick and yours, beat you by outrageous score-lines and left even the best super-stars in the game neutralised and ineffective. This was a team that won three majors in a row, a feat unmatched, and didn't lose a single map in any of those nine play-off series. They didn't just win those matches, they established an empire. Astralis were the dons of Counter-Strike and none of their peers can say shit to them now but "congratulations". How sweet it is! Put 'em in the dirt Once Astralis showed they were not just winning tournaments but majors and seemingly everything between, with a bad day being a semi-finals defeat and a full three map drawn out war, even their peers who didn't really believe still it felt they had to give them their due in public. By then, Astralis didn't need their praise or respect, they had nearly all the trophies and the entire scene locked down under the oppressive force of their all-encompassing strategic paradigm. Astralis made those same rivals become public fans of theirs, hoping to seem like good sportsmen after yet another loss and not wanting to draw the ire of fans who would now mock snide remarks that smacked of salt in the face of undeniable greatness. They even broke a number of those players, winning them over to the idea Astralis had figured out the game to a deeper level than anyone else, heresy to some previously, and that it was time to copy what they had implemented. And so Astralis became idols to their rivals. As they showed us themselves, there are more levels to this game.

Astralis win their third major (Credit - ESL)

If you enjoyed this piece, follow the author on Twitter at @Thorin. Cover Image courtesy of Jennika Ojala

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