Throughout 2019, there were two main powerhouse teams battling it out for the top. Barring a brief gap of a couple of weeks in October, the top spot on the HLTV.org team rankings was held by either Astralis or Team Liquid.
The origins of the rivalry
Two teams battling it out for the top spot wasn’t something that began in 2019. The current North American powerhouse started their rise in the middle of 2018, in the wake of Cloud9’s collapse. At that time, most were unsure of the direction North America would be heading in after various members of the Boston Major winning Cloud9 team parted ways.
In 2018, the two teams faced off five times in the Grand Finals, with Astralis coming out as the victors each time. Coupled with eliminations by mousesports and FaZe towards the end of the year, meaning they were unable to put their hands on an S-tier trophy, there was an air of always just being second best for Liquid. Astralis, on the other hand, won eight S-tier tournaments in 2018 alongside the first Intel Grand Slam and a handful of BLAST Pro Series.
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Start of 2019: Liquid break their curse
Throughout 2018, the only thing Liquid couldn’t do was beat Astralis. The first final they came up against each other in 2019, the iBUYPOWER Masters, saw Liquid break the streak of five tournament finals in which they lost against the Danish team. This also broke their fifteen multi-map series losing streak they had, an unfortunate record stretching back to September 2017 when they had a rather different roster.
It’d then take a while before Liquid were able to best Astralis again. Heading in to February’s IEM Katowice Major, many would’ve thought the final would be an inevitable clash of the titans. Despite both teams having a perfect group stage, only the Danes would make it to the final, and eventually win the Major, after Liquid were eliminated in the quarter-finals by ENCE.
Tale between two Majors
Straight after the first Major of 2019, Astralis seemed to put their tournament plans on the backburner. It appeared as if they took a break, focusing on the differently-formatted BLAST Pro Series rather than a number of S-Tier events. Out of the eight S-Tier events that took place between the two Majors, Astralis only went to three of them, while Liquid competed at five. While this may seem like a small difference, in practice the two teams only had two overlapping events during the summer.
Liquid’s summer of success commenced with the first of their S-Tier events in IEM Sydney. Down in Australia, Liquid started their blistering form. The North Americans didn’t drop a single map in the tournament until their final appearance against Fnatic, where a hard-fought final saw Liquid take their first win in an offline S-Tier competition since the organisation entered CS:GO.
In 2018, Astralis and Liquid faced off five times in the Grand Finals, with the Danish team coming out as the victors on each occasion.
From there, Liquid competed at four more S-Tier competitions before the Major, winning each and every one. Part of this saw them win the second season of the Intel Grand Slam, a straight cash prize introduced the year before, in four straight events. The first season saw nine teams in the running at any time, with fifteen tournaments making up the season. Liquid’s win saw them do it with just two teams involved, and five events played.
The time between the two Majors in 2019 was undisputedly owned by Liquid. Next to nobody could catch them, even if it did take until the start of June for the HLTV.org ratings to place them in the number one spot. Astralis were made to pay for skipping a number of S-Tier events, and their performances at the tournaments they did compete at saw them record a wide range of results, the worst being a group stage elimination at ECS. At the ESL Pro League, Liquid returned the favour for 2018 by eliminating them in a quarter-final.
The final months of the year: Astralis go back on top
When people look back at 2019 in CS:GO, most will focus on the Majors and Liquid’s summer form. How the North Americans rose from behind the shadows of Astralis and wrestled control of the top tiers of the competitive scene, just to lose their grip of it right at the end.
So what happened next? It all hinged on the StarLadder Berlin Major and fortunes changed once again. Astralis returned to form and lifted the Major title, following up with a second place finish at ESL One New York.
Despite their stellar mid-year form, Liquid failed to win a single trophy for the rest of 2019 after IEM Chicago. Their first misstep came at the hands of a familiar rival – Astralis. The two teams faced off at that Major, and it was there that the potential promise the North Americans had shown fell away. Both teams had a less than stellar Group Stage, as Liquid had to come back from a 1-2 record in the Swiss system, which eventually led to the two teams being drawn against each other in the quarter-finals.
Liquid's win at the iBUYPOWER Masters in early 2019 broke their fifteen multi-map series losing streak they had against Astralis.
What followed wasn’t a particularly close series, as Liquid bowed out in the quarter-finals for the second Major in a row. Astralis, true to character, didn’t drop another map for the rest of the tournament to lift the Major title, their third in a row.
Neither team had an immediate jump in success straight away after the Major. The end of the year was where the competition heated up again. The two teams both competed in the same three consecutive events in December: ECS Finals, ESL Pro League Finals and the BLAST Pro Series Finals.
While both Liquid and Astralis slipped up in the ESL Pro League, they faced each other in the finals of the other two competitions. The victor? Astralis, both times. The Danes appear to be back on top.
Will 2020 continue to play out the same way? The first HLTV.org ranking of 2020, counting all the final events of 2019, sees Astralis sit in first, but Liquid currently hold third. Both teams have invites to IEM Katowice, starting February 25. This is the year’s first big S-Tier event, and first event of the ESL Pro Tour with the Masters Championship status with $500,000 on offer.