2020 was certainly an eventful and turbulent year for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive fans. It certainly began predictably enough, but the ushering in of the online era in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a plethora of new teams and faces at the summit of the HLTV world rankings. The likes of Heroic and BIG were the biggest winners of the online era, sneaking into the top five world rankings (and both reaching the summit at one point) with wins at prestigious tournaments such as ESL One Cologne.
The longer the online era has gone on however, the more and more settled the competitive meta has begun to look. The three top sides in the world, Natus Vincere, Astralis and Team Vitality all dominated the final few tournaments of the year and come into 2021 with the top three rankings safely secured between them again.
Nevertheless, as the scene begins to edge closer and closer to a return to normality with new LAN tournaments scheduled for the year, there are plenty of sides around the world that will be desperate to mark 2021 as a more successful year than 2020 was. Here are some of the sides you should keep your eyes on and back for a breakout year in 2021.
Up until Astralis’ win at StarLadder Berlin, Fnatic were the joint most successful team in CS:GO history, attending four of the first five Major Championship finals and winning three of them. The Swedes are one of the most prestigious orgs in all of competitive Esports, so seeing them outside of the top 10 at the end of 2020 is still a bit surreal.
With a competitive calendar as richly stacked as Counter-Strike’s, it’s important to remember that Fnatic actually begun the year as one of the most consistent orgs active in the game however.
Starting at DreamHack Masters Malmo, the team reached the semi-finals in the next six events they attended, culminating in a win at ESL Pro League Season 11 right at the start of the online era which included wins over Natus Vincere, Astralis, G2 and Faze Clan. Whilst they struggled to adapt to the online format going forward, Fnatic still managed to close out the year with two players nestled in the top 20 rankings according to HLTV and are sure to come roaring back with the return of LANs in 2021.
Following on from the last official Major back in September 2019 at StarLadder Berlin, Evil Geniuses were the team on everybody’s lips. North America’s next great hope as Team Liquid found themselves tumbling further and further down the Esports betting odds for the tournaments they were attending, EG’s rise was scuppered first by the fallout between IGL Stanislaw and head coach ImAPet, and then by the isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Evil Geniuses spent the middle third of the online era staying in Europe to compete in some of the more high profile tournaments at the time, but generally struggled to adapt to the pace and aggressiveness of online EU Counter-Strike.
Nevertheless, this is a team that has all of the ingredients to succeed. A two-time Major winning coach in Zews, experienced heads in Tarik and Stanislaw and a trio of promising talents in Ethan, Brehze and Cerq to bring the power needed to compete at the top of the world rankings. The side are scheduled to attend numerous events in EU at the start of 2021, starting with the BLAST Finals this January, and there’s plenty of reason to believe this is the year they finally fulfill their potential.
The only North American side to ever win a Major, Cloud9 had been on a downward spiral ever since the loss of talismanic figures such as Tarik, Autimatic, Rush, Nothing, Skadoodle or Stewie2k following their triumph in 2018, but the org have made a serious statement at the backend of 2020.
Long time commentator and pundit HenryG took the mantle as General Manager and instantly oversaw the impressive acquisitions of former Team Vitality IGL Alex and then-Astralis rifler Esetag for a world record fee. Whilst it hasn’t exactly been an easy transition, with head coach Kassad leaving after just three months and AWPer Woxic being suddenly benched in January, they still have talents like Mezii and Floppy to build around and are sure to continue shaking up the scene as they find a home in the North American circuit.
The org are already nestled in the top thirty teams in the world, giving them a good window of opportunity for new and more premier graded tournaments going forward, and there’s no doubting the ambition of HenryG to make C9 one of the world’s best again.