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Astralis' mental game is the difference maker

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Expert
13th November, 2018
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I have to be careful what I say here, but Astralis might be the best Counter-Strike team of all time.

That they are the best team in the world right now is incontestable, but, about a year ago, for another website, I wrote a piece about SK (now MIBR) being the best CS team ever and look what happened to them.

Still, I stand by what I said at the time, and I stand by the statement that Astralis has surpassed them.

In all of esports (the ones that matter), only League of Legends’ SK Telecom really matches Astralis’ current dominance of CS in the modern era. Astralis may not have been on top for as long as SK/MIBR/Luminosity was, but they are there more convincingly, more commandingly.

Just look at the statistics. They are famously undefeated on Nuke, which is absurd, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Even on their worst map, Mirage, they hold a 66 per cent win rate. On their worst map they win two out of three games.

Perhaps more impressively, Astralis has been ranked number one in the world since April. Lifetime, they have held the top spot for over a year now – 58 weeks to be exact. Do I need to go on?

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No? Good, because at some point you run out of adjectives for that kind of form (especially when you refuse to resort to ‘insane’).

Their most recent triumph – a 3-0 victory over Team Liquid in the grand-final of IEM Chicago – shows exactly what Astralis is all about. A close win on their ‘worst’ map in game one, a comfortable win on their best map in game two, and demolition job on the deciding map, Inferno.

Chad ‘Spunj’ Burchill said on the analyst desk after game one that Liquid were done after they failed to win on Mirage. Indeed, a tweet from HLTV’s Petar Milovanovic painted an evocative image of the mountain that the North American team had to climb after losing map one.

But a close win on Mirage and a not-so-close win on Nuke don’t tell us much that we didn’t already know. Inferno, despite being the most one-sided game of the series, showed us just how far ahead of the competition the Danes are right now. Their mental game is unsurpassed, and it really makes the difference: Liquid were beaten before they even spawned for the first pistol round of Nuke.

You could argue, in fact, that Liquid was defeated as soon as Astralis showed that they were in the mood for another comeback win on Mirage. Liquid has a reputation for choking on the big stage, which is somewhat unfair, given that only half of the current line-up played in any of the team’s major calamities. Fair or not, the reputation precedes them, and it showed. Their mental was boom, as the kids like to say.

If the mental collapse started on map one, why do I say Inferno was the most telling game of the series? Well, by itself, a close comeback loss to Astralis on any map can be written off as the expected result. The same goes for Nuke to a degree, though 16-7 was more one-sided than you might have expected.

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16-4 on Inferno after two losses, each hard to stomach in their own unique way? That is as clear an example of mental fatigue as you are likely to see in esports. Team Liquid had checked out. They were passengers on the Astralis Express, just waiting to be taken home.

Not a single Liquid player made it into positive HLTV ratings, and none of them managed a positive K/D ratio. The worst player on Astralis, statistically (Glaive), was better than the best Liquid player (Elige) on that final map, so great was the difference between the two teams.

Much has been made of Astralis’ use of a sports psychologist over the past couple of years or so, but IEM Chicago was perhaps the greatest example of her impact yet. I keep referring to Liquid checking out after map one, but that does a disservice to Astralis’ ability to go from strength to strength. Not only did they improve over the course of the tournament, coming back from a surprise defeat to Faze earlier on, they improved over the course of the best-of-five final.

I mentioned above that Liquid’s history of choking precedes them, but, conversely, Astralis has an aura of infallibility that intimidates opponents.

How do you beat the Danes on Nuke, then? First of all you need to convince yourself that you can beat them on Nuke – I mean really convince yourself. Until a whole team can do that, NiP’s record of 32 Nuke wins in a row will continue to look precarious.