CSGO

Team Liquid's Impossible Battle With Astralis

Photo courtesy of mynewsdesk

Team Liquid against Astralis is one of the most one-sided rivalries between top teams in the history of competitive Counter-Strike, spanning CS 1.6 and CS:GO. Spanning almost six years, the two teams have faced off all across the phases of tournaments and around the world, with many roster moves along the way on both sides, but the theme has been consistent and that has been Astralis winning and in total Astralis dominating.

Liquid does not stand alone as the Washington Generals to Astralis' Harlem Globetrotters, though. The likes of mTw and VeryGames can tell a similar story against the rivals of their day, Na'Vi and NiP respectively. Let's explore Team Liquid's impossible battle against Astralis and the parallels with those other historical examples.

26th November 2015
FACEIT Stage 3 Finals (group)
TL Overpass 0-16 TSM

Photo courtesy of DreamHack and Sebastian Ekman

While I will focus primarily on the Team Liquid core of 2017 through to 2020 containing EliGE, Twistzz, and nitr0, there was an ominous precedent established much earlier in CS:GO that Team Liquid would struggle against any team containing the now G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All-Time) core of device, dupreeh and Xyp9x. The latter was going under the organisation TSM (Team SoloMid) when they first met Team Liquid at the FACEIT Stage 3 Finals in late November of 2015.

Team Liquid was made up of EliGE, nitr0, Hiko, FugLy and adreN, and their group stage opener against the classic TSM line-up also featuring karrigan and cajun was a 16:0 stomp from the Danes on Overpass. TL was a top NA team but NA had no elite squads at this and TSM were one of the world's very best, having stacked five titles and an enormous amount of wins over FNATIC in the Swede's era. Still, perfect maps are very rare in tier one LAN play and this win would prove prophetic for the nature of these core's rivalry.

16th November 2016
IEM Oakland (group)
TL Train 1-16 Ast

Just under a year later, Team Liquid met what was now Astralis, with Kjaerbye swapped in for cajunb and IGL karrigan replaced by a rehabilitated gla1ve, in the group stage of IEM XI Oakland. Team Liquid had former CLG star AWPer jdm and Danish Support player Pimp in the squad. They had also made a coaching change, as two-time major winner zews took over for peacemaker. It was another heavy beat-down as Astralis gorilla smashed the NA side 16:1 on Train.

TL had been in the major final months prior, but heavily powered by super-star fragging from stand-in s1mple, who had since departed for Na'Vi. After that, they'd managed a surprise run to the ESL One New York semifinal, thanks to EliGE beginning to come into his own. Astralis remained an immovable boulder for the North Americans, though.

This Astralis was a new look for them too, as karrigan's looser mid-round style had been replaced by gla1ve implementing a more execute/tactics-heavy approach. That stylistic difference would later prove to be a key issue for TL in competing against the Danes.

26th January 2017
ELEAGUE Atlanta Major (group)
TL Mirage 3:16 Ast

Photo courtesy of ELEAGUE

The same two line-ups met in the group stage of the ELEAGUE Atlanta Major in early 2017. Once more it was almost as one-sided as they come, with Astralis goomba stomping the poor NA squad 16:3 on Mirage. Astralis would go on to win the major, their first of an eventual four for the core, and Team Liquid moved to make a roster move and release Pimp and pick up young mechanical prodigy Twistzz and cut FugLy for former OpTic IGL stanislaw.

23rd June 2017
ECS S3 Finals (group)
TL Inferno 11-16 (Kjaerbye)

24th June 2017
ECS S3 Finals (group)
TL 1:2 Ast (Kjaerbye)
Train 4-16
Overpass 16-9
Inferno 10-16

By the summer of 2017, Team Liquid should have been ready to potentially upset Astralis. The NA side had made its bold roster moves and both were on paper clear upgrades. Twistzz brought some much-needed fragging to compliment EliGE's emergence as the best NA player, though he was still a tender 17 years old. stanislaw's arrival was meant to elevate TL to a new level, as his OpTic Gaming team had denied Astralis the ELEAGUE S2 title in late 2016 and finished runner-up to them at the following ECS S2 Finals a week or so later.

Instead, TL had struggled to make it work on the server. Astralis, on the other hand, was a contender for every title and had months earlier been the world's number one team with a run of three event wins - including the major - in a four-tournament span.

Astralis won a reasonably close 16:11 inferno group stage game and then in the group decider the two teams faced off in their first Bo3 (Best-of-3) series and TL finally scored a map win. Astralis took the opener 16:4 on Train, TL snatched Overpass 16:9 and then the decider was another close but not too close Inferno, as gla1ve's boys took the series with a 16:10 performance.

15th September 2017
ESL One New York (group)
TL Mirage 13-16 Ast

16th September 2017
ESL One New York (group)
TL 2:1 Ast
Inferno 16-14
Cache 17-19 OT
Mirage 16-12

Meeting twice in the same group at the autumn's ESL One New York provided TL with the chance at a run back. Despite having the same line-up, they had shuffled roles to make nitr0 the IGL and stanislaw just a supportive element and lurker. nitr0 had previously tried IGLing but without committing to the role, having been an aggressive aim star for the team in years gone by. With zews's help, he would embrace the role for the next three years.

Liquid had temporarily, but only privately, cut EliGE not too long before only for the decision to be reversed and had him brought back into the line-up. Somehow a rejigged TL found life and beat SK Gaming - the world's number one ranked team - to reach the final of ESG Mykonos before losing in five maps to mousesports in the final. Losing a Bo5 series would also prove a painful theme in TL's future as a burgeoning elite squad.

Astralis took the group stage Mirage map 16:13, but when the two met in the decider it was TL who continued to claim contender scalps as they opened the series with a tight 16:14 Inferno win, almost closed the series with a Cache game Astralis stole in overtime and then did complete their first match win over their nemeses by taking Mirage 16:12.

Astralis star device merely had an alright series, unlike past matches when he had treated TL like a punching bag he was working a speed drill on. It was big performances from Twistzz and jdm that saw TL move into the playoffs and put a vital first win against Astralis on the board.

30th September 2017
ELEAGUE CS:GO Premier (group)
TL Overpass 11:16 Ast

Photo courtesy of ELEAGUE

Weeks later, at the ELEAGUE CS:GO Premier - a televised tournament with an enormous prize pool - TL again faced off in a Bo1 but continued their streak of losses in that format with Astralis taking an Overpass game 16:11.

25th October 2017
EPICENTER (group)
TL 0:2 Ast
Inferno 11-16
Train 12-16

One month after, the two teams would battle in the group stage of EPICENTER in Russia. Astralis took it in two but 16:11 on Inferno and 16:12 on Train were far from the eviscerations of yesteryear.

5th December 2017
ESL Pro League S6 Finals (group)
TL Mirage 22:20 OT Ast

Closing the year with an overtime mirage win at the ESL Pro League S6 Finals might have been a feel-good moment for TL but the circumstances put an asterisk on it. Both teams were fielding stand-ins, as zews took the now kicked stanislaw's place and Norwegian RUBINO replaced an injured device.

17th February 2018
StarSeries S4 (group)
TL 1:2 Ast
Mirage 4-16
Inferno 16-13
Train 7-16

When TL again faced Astralis in early 2018, they were a different beast. NAF had proven himself an individual hard carry from playing in Renegades and he was joined on the new look TL by former Immortals IGL steel, who had played in the final of the PGL Krakow major the previous year. steel would be the support player in this team, with nitr0 remaining the leader. TL had also won an international event of a sort, winning the cs_summit 2 title on home soil and ahead of the likes of SK Gaming and the major champions Cloud9.

Astralis were boasting a player change of their own, having been left at the alter by Kjaerbye on the day of his next contract and replacing him with Magisk, a young star who had been a while without showing his potential.

StarSeries Season 4 featured a randomised swiss system Bo3 format, ensuring a heavy amount of play for all teams. Despite TL being the team that would eventually go further, their third Bo3 series against Astralis ended with a loss. Astralis bodied mirage 16:4, TL snuck inferno 16:13 and Astralis cruised to an easy 16:7 train win to seal the series.

1st March 2018
IEM Katowice (group)
TL 1:2 Ast
Inferno 16-12
Nuke 5-16
Overpass 5-16

At the second event for the new line-up of Astralis, they would again get the better of EliGE and the gang. Liquid won the opener on Inferno 16:12, lost Nuke heavily 5:16, and then similarly face Astralis' wrath in a 5:16 Overpass decider. Astralis would fall to FaZe Clan in the semifinals but were on the brink of breaking through and becoming not just the world number one, but one of history's most dominant. Liquid continued to look good but the formula still had not shown championship results.

19th April 2018
Dreamhack Masters Marseille (group)
TL 1:2 Ast
Mirage 16-14
Overpass 3-16
Cache 3-16

Photo courtesy of DreamHack and Adela Sznajder

In another spring meeting, Team Liquid arrived with a player change. steel had left the line-up to be replaced by fellow Brazilian TACO, one of the world's most famous support players and a background element in two of the previous two years' best line-ups, Luminosity Gaming and SK Gaming. The man who had helped enable Coldzera to become the best in the world would now try and help EliGE and Twistzz mimic the aforementioned and fer's dominance.

TL took the opening Mirage 16:14 only for Astralis to body bag them on Overpass 16:3. The decider was Cache and another kicking from gla1ve's guys 16:3. By the end of the tournament, Team Liquid incredibly could look back on the performance as having some merit, as Astralis had not lost another map and had creamed all of the world's best teams.

17th May 2018
ESL Pro League S7 Finals (group)
TL 0:2 Ast
Nuke 10-16
Inferno 7-16

20th May 2018
ESL Pro League S7 Finals (final)
TL 1:3 Ast
Dust2 1-16
Nuke 14-16
Mirage 16-14
Inferno 12-16

The ESL Pro League S7 Finals saw two series meetings between the two teams, to become a common theme as formats had changed to largely remove Bo1 play in the big events. In the group stage, Astralis won a fairly comfortable series 16:10 on Nuke and 16:7 on Inferno. This time facing off in the final itself, for the first time, TL would again show their discomfort with Bo5 as they lost 1:3.

Astralis destroyed them 16:1 in the Dust2 opener, but from there on, TL fought them close and simply couldn't get key round wins. Nuke was a 14:16 loss for NAF and the NA side, but the Canadian had a hero round to win them Mirage 16:14. Astralis closed out the final 16:12 on Inferno to take the title and continue to ensure TL left tournaments empty-handed.

Team Liquid had only won seven maps total against Astralis by this point and only one three distinct maps. They had three victories on Mirage and Inferno each and one on Overpass. Clearly, Bo5s would be difficult to win until they could prove themselves elsewhere in the map pool.

8th June 2018
ECS S5 Final (group)
TL Inferno 6-16 Ast

10th June 2018
ECS S5 Final (final)
TL 0:2 Ast
Mirage 14-16
Dust2 11-16

Doing the league double, weeks later the two teams faced off twice in the ECS S5 Finals. In the group stage, Astralis cruised 16:6 on Inferno. Meeting in another final would be a more competitive match than the group stage but the Danes continued to stack map wins and won 2:0 with a 16:14 Mirage game and a 16:11 Dust2 close out.

Just like at EPL, Astralis would win this event and remained both the world's number one and one of the game's most difficult teams to beat. They rarely were even pushed to three maps and had no true contender, with the formerly monstrous FaZe Clan using stand-ins now due to olofmeister's time off for undisclosed reasons. As much as the numbers kept favouring Astralis, Liquid was one of the few teams battling them and showing something and the NA side had now made back-to-back international finals.

23rd July 2018
ELEAGUE CS:GO Premier (group)
TL 0:2 Ast
Nuke 12-16
Mirage 7-16

29th July 2018
ELEAGUE CS:GO Premier (final)
TL 0:2 Ast
Inferno 5-16
Nuke 12-16

Photo courtesy of ELEAGUE

A month and a half later, Liquid again faced Astralis in the group and later final of the ELEAGUE CS:GO Premier. The group stage series was convincing, as Astralis won Nuke 16:12 and then Mirage 16:7. The final was similarly not enough from Twistzz and his team, as Inferno went 16:5 to Astralis and Nuke 16:12 for a 2:0 and 4:0 over the entire tournament.

Another trophy went to device and the Danes and for another tournament, zews and nitr0 were asking themselves what they could do differently. It seemingly didn't matter what map they picked or which players on TL performed well, Astralis just kept rolling over them.

14th September 2018
FACEIT Major London (quarter)
TL Inferno 19:15 OT Ast

22nd September 2018
FACEIT Major London (semi)
TL 0:2 Ast
Nuke 8-16
Mirage 7-16

Following the player break in the summer, Astralis attended DreamHack Masters Stockholm only to lose two series to Danish rivals North and one in the final, with North IGL MSL shockingly out-performing device with the AWP and winning MVP of the event. With Astralis also dropping a series in the semifinals of ESL One Cologne prior to the player break, some wondered if their dominance had been a product of the spring and summer and now was fading. The unbeatable team had now racked up a bunch of losses and were a little more vulnerable across the map pool.

For the FACEIT Major, analysts on the desk were even touting TL as the potential champion, with the rumour being that they had been performing very well in private scrims (scrimmages). Due to having skipped DreamHack, they were something of a black box of form for observers.

In the swiss system, the two teams faced off and Team Liquid scored their first-ever Bo1 win, edging an epic 19:15 overtime game on inferno. A first for Liquid seemed a promising sign for the rest of the tournament. A cursed draw for the quarterfinals saw them immediately face Astralis and the Danes had resurrected to full power for the playoffs and easily handled them 16:8 on Nuke and 16:7 on Mirage to sweep the series and make the analysts feel silly.

Astralis wouldn't lose a map in the playoffs and added their first major of this era and second for the core. TL had attended their first-ever major as a legitimate contender but been put out by virtue of the bracket draw, seemingly, when they could have been a finalist at least, it seemed. Astralis were the only team to beat them at the entire tournament in a match.

11th November 2018
IEM Chicago (final)
TL 0:3 Ast
Mirage 14-16
Nuke 7-16
Inferno 4-16

Team Liquid continued to plod on, seemingly able to forget their Astralis losses when facing anyone else and beating seemingly every other team that crossed their paths. Reaching the IEM XIII Chicago final, on home soil, they would of course be met with Astralis standing between them and glory. A Bo5 again proved too much to handle and Astralis swept it, with only the opener on Mirage being close as the Danes grabbed a late win 16:14. Nuke was a 16:7 win and Inferno was a laughable 16:4 black pill for hopeful NA fans.

Astralis was the best team in history but Team Liquid was never going to beat them with these line-ups, right? Worst still was that lesser ranked teams like Na`Vi, North and MIBR had all had their series wins over the world number ones. Liquid was more than a year and two player changes removed from their last series win against Zonic's men.

6th December 2018
ESL Pro League Finals (group)
TL 0:2 Ast
Inferno 12-16
Nuke 8-16

9th December 2018
ESL Pro League S8 Finals (final)
TL 1:3 Ast
Train 16-8
Mirage 11-16
Inferno 11-16
Dust2 10-16

Astralis was not just trying to beat Team Liquid and win the trophy at ESL Pro League S8 Finals on home soil in Denmark. There was the challenge of winning the first-ever Intel Grand Slam. This competition offered a million dollars for the team that could win four tournaments on the ESL circuit in a specific number of tournaments following their first trophy win.

Astralis won the group stage series in a sweep, winning Inferno 16:12 and Nuke 16:8. Nuke had already become very one-sided between the two teams, with Astralis 8:0 lifetime against nitr0's boys and the map very much a cornerstone of the now Astralis era.

The final was another Bo5 and another disappointment for TACO and the team. Astralis won in four maps. TL boldly swapped their veto from Train to Nuke and Astralis attempted to punish pick it only for the Train 16:8 in the opener to go TL's way. The next three were all Astralis. Mirage was a 16:11 win, Inferno 16:11 likewise and Dust2 a 16:10 convincing win to take the title and the Grand Slam.

Liquid could always mix it up with Astralis in this period but never properly threaten the series or the latter part of most maps. Winning on Train had at least added a fourth separate map TL had won against Astralis, but would they dare force it in future series play? This line-up of Liquid would in fact never play again. TACO and zews departed for a "Last Dance" with MIBR, remaking the line-up of 2017 with felps.

Liquid responded by bringing in Stewie the other direction from MIBR, the former C9 man having won the major in early 2018 but then struggled with C9 and then MIBR for much of the year. Understandably not being able to integrate into a team that was used to speaking Brazilian Portuguese. The team also brought back former IGL adreN to replace zews.

21st January 2019
iBUYPOWER Masters 2019 (final)
TL 2:1 Ast
Inferno 4-16
Dust2 16-11
Overpass 16-11

Photo courtesy of iBUYPOWER

The new-look Liquid met Astralis in another final at the iBUYPOWER Masters in early 2019. The event was marred with safety concerns and a level of professionalism not up to the standard of events like ESL and ELEAGUE. TL being smashed 16:4 on the Inferno opener seemed a disturbing start to the series, but they would even matters with a 16:11 Dust2 game spurred by new man Stewie, and NAF gave a throwback to the ELEAGUE S2 Final of his OpTic in 2016 by carrying the deciding Overpass to score TL a second series win over their most dreaded rivals.

TL had won their first international tournament title of note, with the cs_summit 2 win of the previous year not as serious and not even a proper stage event. This event had its issues too, as highlighted earlier, but it was a key win for a Liquid side that needed to believe it was possible to see a winning scoreboard against gla1ve's near unbeatable side.

A win on Overpass added a fifth map TL had won against Astralis and thus the map pool finally seemed to be legitimately in play against their foes.

22nd March 2019
BLAST Sao Paulo (group)
TL Dust2 13:16 Ast

23rd March 2019
BLAST Sao Paulo (final)
TL 1:2 Ast
Dust2 16-13
Inferno 8-16
Overpass 2-16

The major had seen Liquid make fools of themselves, seemingly overlooking minnows ENCE in the quarterfinals of the major, looking ahead to a semifinal match-up with Na`Vi they would never reach. ENCE swept them and made the major final Liquid perhaps felt entitled to.

Later the same month, TL played Astralis at the BLAST Pro Series Sao Paulo event. The group stage notoriously was only Bo1s and then there was a Bo3 final. TL lost 13:16 on Dust2 to continue their massively lop-sided Bo1 record. Reaching the final would provide a chance at revenge and this TL line-up was technically 1:0 against the Danes in series play.

The opener was another Dust2 win for Liquid, a very positive sign considering they had never won the map with the previous line-ups. Astralis won Inferno 16:8 and then delivered a statement to the new TL line-up by murking them 16:2 on Overpass to take the title. Xyp9x seemingly could not be beaten in the decider and it was fitting that the most clutch Astralis player showed TL they would need a new mentality to beat Astralis more than the odd occasion.

13th April 2019
BLAST Miami (group)
TL Overpass 16:14 Ast

At the next BLAST event held in Miami, Astralis were on a semi-break, with information leaking out that they would skip most international tournaments in the coming months to give their players a break and only attend the BLAST Pro Series tournaments. This was controversial since it would both mean Astralis would see their ranking threatened and BLAST was owned by the same ownership group as Astralis themselves, causing an obvious conflict of interest.

Liquid took advantage of the now laid-back Astralis and won Overpass for the second time 16:14 in the group stage. Liquid would reach the final but find FaZe facing them there for the title. It was NiKo and company who emerged victorious and Liquid was once more questioned as chokers. Losing to Astralis was acceptable, but losing to FaZe raised concerns about their mental fortitude.

21st June 2019
ESL Pro League S9 Finals (quarter)
TL 2:1 Ast
Overpass 12-16
Inferno 16-6
Vertigo 16-13

Photo courtesy of ESL

By the ESL Pro League S9 Finals, the world of CS:GO had been changed. Liquid had won two of the last three tournaments, IEM XIV Sydney and DreamHack Masters Dallas, and been in the final of the other, cs_summit 4. Astralis had not attended any of those tournaments, but their own loss in the final of BLAST Madrid to ENCE had ensured a number of analysts considered them to have dropped off, in part due to their self-enforced time off.

Even worse, the Danes had seen their unbeaten Nuke streak crack at 31:0 by the Finns, ensuring they would not match the legendary NiP's record 32:0 from the early days of the game. The Astralis era was fading.

Astralis drew Liquid in the quarterfinals of EPL but this time around, form favoured Liquid in a manner it had not ever before. Astralis won the Overpass opener 16:12. TL struck back with an epic 16:6 in which EliGE signaled he was ready to contend for the title of the best player in the world. The decider was Vertigo, a new map in the pool, and Liquid overcame a 4:11 CT half to win 12:2 on the T side, with new map Stewie again proving key, this time with his entries.

Liquid had scored their third-lifetime series win over Astralis but more importantly their second of 2019 alone. For the second time in 2019, they won another title with a win over Astralis en route.

6th September 2019
Starladder Berlin Major (quarter)
TL 0:2 Ast
Vertigo 8-16
Overpass 13-16

When the major arrived in the autumn of 2019, Team Liquid came in as the heavy favourite. They had continued their winning ways and even cranked it up a notch. Winning massive prestige event ESL One Cologne, where Astralis failed to meet them in the final, and taking the BLAST LA and IEM XIV Chicago titles, where Astralis was again metaphorically sipping Pina Coladas and watching from a hammock.

The only problem was the players had voted to have the player break directly prior to the major, with no warm-up event. This would result in all four of the world's top teams (TL, Vitality, ENCE, and Astralis) struggling at points in the major, showing signs of ring rust. Both Astralis and TL overcame early struggles to claim a playoff spot, only to be drawn against each other, a la the FACEIT London Major.

Team Liquid had gone 2:1 in their Bo3 series against Astralis this year and was on a mind-blowing 22 Bo3/Bo5 series win streak in play against the field, a mark even Astralis had never reached in their prime. The map pool saw strong win rates across the board for Liquid and at last, they would face Astralis as a favourite at the major.

The veto shocked the world and TL, as Astralis gambled on the reworked Vertigo, a map they themselves had not shown much proficiency on and TL was 5:0 on the previous version. Astralis' gamble worked and they scored the opening map. Liquid had gone for their Overpass, a map their T sides were powerful on, but some shaky performances from some players and some clutch play from Astralis saw Liquid's series streak snapped and their major run over.

Astralis repeated their feat from the past two majors and did not drop a map as they won all three series to take a third straight major. Their era had ended months prior, but they had peaked at the perfect time to continue winning the game's most important title. gla1ve's core had also moved into sole first place for majors won with four in total.

28th September 2019
ESL One New York (semi)
TL 1:2 Ast
Vertigo 9-16
Dust2 16-9
Overpass 13-16

Photo courtesy of ESL

The nature of the inconsistent form from all the top teams at the major meant the events following would see many battling to prove it was a one off. In the semifinal of ESL One New York, an event Liquid had reached the finals of the past two years, Liquid were faced with an immediate rematch with their rivals. The opener was again Vertigo and again Astralis took the win. A big boy performance from Twistzz leveled the series on Dust2 and the decider would be the Overpass Liquid had been ousted from the major on. The score would be the same, as Astralis edged the series 16:13.

Most frustratingly for TL, their NA rivals EG (formerly NRG) beat Astralis in the Bo5 final, with stanislaw continuing to prove a Kryptonite for Astralis.

2nd November 2019
BLAST Copenhagen (group)
TL Nuke 10:16 Ast

By early November, Astralis were once more questioned. They had not won an event since the major, losing the ESL One New York final to EG, the Dreamhack Masters Malmo semi to a revitalized FNATIC, and failing to even get out of the group stage of BLAST Copenhagen, in front of a baying partisan home crowd. Was the major a fluke?

Team Liquid nevertheless were not ready to take advantage of any of the above, losing 10:16 on Nuke to continue their 0% win-rate against Astralis on the map.

1st December 2019
ECS S8 Finals (final)
TL 1:2 Ast
Vertigo 19-15 OT
Nuke 11-16
Dust2 8-16

A month later, Astralis had course-corrected and won IEM XIV Beijing without dropping a map. At the ECS S8 Finals, the two teams would face off in the final, just like the old days of 2018. This time Liquid broke the Danes on Vertigo in overtime, so perhaps they were ready to once more win. Astralis predictably took Nuke 16:11 and then crushed TL's hopes on Dust2, one of the best maps for Liquid, 16:8 to take another title late in the year.

5th December 2019
ESL Pro League S10 Finals (group)
TL 1:2 Ast
Inferno 16-14
Nuke 7-16
Dust2 13-16

Four days later, due to ridiculous scheduling from ESL, the two teams played in the group stage of the ESL Pro League S10 Finals. TL again took the opener, this time on Inferno 16:14. Astralis of course won Nuke, emphatically 16:7 this time. The decider was Dust2 and Liquid played admirably but still fell 13:16 to again lose.

12th December 2019
BLAST Global Final (semi)
TL 0:2 Ast
Nuke 12-16
Inferno 13-16

14th December 2019
BLAST Global Final (final)
TL 0:2 Ast
Inferno 11-16
Nuke 12-16

The year ended with Liquid having one tournament to prove they were still a championship team and not one that had never fully returned from the player break. Astralis had not won EPL, losing to an inspired run by karrigan's mouz in the semifinal, but were the clear cut number one team in the world.

The BLAST Global Final was, at last, a BLAST event not based around Bo1s, running a four-team Bo3 double-elimination bracket. Astralis and Liquid had qualified and were still highly ranked sides, but the other teams rounding out the field were FaZe Clan and NiP. FaZe Clan's Miami win over TL proved key, but the team had not been a true title contender elsewhere in the circuit. NiP had just snuck despite not making the final of a single BLAST all year.

Essentially, if Liquid could not stop Astralis then the way was clear for the year to end with the old kings once more restored. Meeting in the upper bracket final, TL played a solid but not quite good enough series. Astralis won Nuke 16:12 and Inferno 16:13 to reach the final. TL stormed through NiP in the lower bracket and earned another shot at Astralis. The run back was almost the same, just with the maps in reverse order. Astralis won Inferno 16:11 and Nuke 16:12 to take the title and win another event without dropping a map.

This marked the end of the two teams meeting with these line-ups.

Team Liquid
Intel Extreme Masters 2020 / PressFocus/MB Media/Getty Images

2nd December 2020
Dreamhack Masters Winter Europe (group) [Online]
TL 0:2 Ast
Vertigo 14-16
Inferno 7-16

World circumstances in the spring would cause competitive play to be forced online and Team Liquid sat at home in North America for most of the year. TL struggled for most of this period, failing to win most of the NA events and seeing themselves challenged and sometimes bested by the likes of EG, FURIA and Gen.G. Liquid had by now seen nitr0 retire and move over to VALORANT, opening the way for rising NA star Grim to be acquired from Triumph.

Astralis went through their own issues with players taking breaks to recover from burn-out and being replaced by a bevy of players, some far from the usual Astralis standard, and some poor results until the latter part of the year and the gradual return of the original starters.

Astralis were sometimes using new man Bubzkji on Nuke, but against Astralis, the map would not prove relevant. With TL going to Europe to compete in a number of tournaments they faced their old foes in the group stage of DreamHack Masters Winter Europe online. Astralis swept the series, winning a close Vertigo 16:14 and then smoothly securing Inferno 16:7.

20th December 2020
IEM Global Challenge (final) [Online]
TL 0:3 Ast
inferno 11-16
overpass 11-16
dust2 10-16

Later in the same month, TL saw a nice run of form put them in the IEM Global Challenge online final. Facing Astralis, who had become the game's best team once more, it was business as usual and a Bo5 loss for TL to see the title go to Astralis. The Danes swept the match 3:0 and won Inferno 16:11, Overpass 16:11, and Dust 16:10, the kinds of scorelines that evoked memories of the 2018 finals TL played.

26th March 2021
ESL Pro League S13 (group) [Online]
TL 0:2 Ast
Overpass 17:19 OT
Dust2 15:19 OT

Months passed and TL were back in Europe to play the ESL Pro League S13 online. Liquid were considered the better team, thanks to a top-four finish at IEM Katowice, this time held online, and due to Astralis having failed to reach expectations at both BLAST Premier Spring and Katowice.

Team Liquid were sporting FalleN, of SK/MIBR fame, instead of Twistzz, who had transferred to FaZe Clan. The group stage series was tight, with both maps going to overtime, but the usual team came out on top. Astralis won Overpass 19:17 and Dust 19:15. Repeating a classic theme, it was a monster device performance that granted Astralis their win. This time was a throwback to the earliest days of their rivalry, as the great Dane went +37 for the two map series and racked up 76 kills.

18th Sept 2021
BLAST Premier Fall (group) [Online]
TL 1:2 Ast
Vertigo 16-9
Nuke 11-16
Dust2 13-16

The last meeting between these squads came weeks ago as they faced off in the group stage of BLAST Premier Fall. Astralis was far from the Astralis of old, having seen MVP record holder device leave for NiP back in May. While the team had inserted Bubzkji as a starter and made top four at IEM Cologne, the first LAN in over a year, they would see gla1ve taking another break, this time for the birth of his child, and rookie AWPer Lucky was brought in from Tricked, causing a number of questions.

None of this mattered to the result, as Liquid proved incapable of beating Astralis once more. The NA side took the opener on Vertigo 16:9, but lost Nuke 11:16 and Dust2 13:16. At this point, the sentiment was that Astralis could have dressed five scarecrows in their red jerseys and Liquid would have still capitulated in the series.

The brutal totals.

Being as Liquid only played once against the karrigan TSM and from then on only against gla1ve's line-ups it's perhaps easiest to just ignore the TSM game, or simply add one map to Astralis's score if you please. If one is looking for historical themes, similarly the series with Lucky at the end could be excluded. Counting all of them, Team Liquid are heavily out-matched across the board and with barely anywhere to find a comforting number. They won only 20 maps in 86 played.

Removing the TSM and Lucky matches, TL are 20:63 (24.09%) in total maps, online and offline, against Astralis. In series play they are 3:21 (12.5%) in Bo3s and 0:4 (0%) in Bo5s. In Bo1s they are 3:8 (27.27%). It doesn't even matter where TL played Astralis. In group stage matches they are 4:21 (16%). In quarterfinal they are 1:2 (33.33%), semifinals 0:2 (0%) and finals a disgusting 1:9 (10%).

Even in overtime games, TL couldn't catch a break, winning 2 out of 5 (40%).

In online play, TL went 0:3 (0%) and on LAN won 6 out of 35 matches (17.14%). At the major, they won one match out of four, a Bo1 at that, for a 25% win rate. In total, excluding the aforementioned book-ends, Team Liquid went 6:32 (15.79%) in matches against Astralis over a four-year span and a number of line-up changes on both sides.

The map pool is ugly too, especially for a team who did win some series against their rivals. They won six distinct maps over the many years, but one of those was a lone Train win at EPL in 2018.

Inferno - 6:17 (26.08%)
Mirage - 4:7 (57.14%)
Overpass - 2:9 (18.18%)
Dust2 - 2:8 (20%)
Vertigo - 2:2 (50%)
Train - 1:4 (20%)
Nuke - 0:13 (0%)
Cache - 0:2 (0%)
Cobblestone - Did not play due to being Astralis' permanent ban during the time it was in the pool.

The most difficult numbers to process are the teams' inability to ever win on Nuke, which would be a prime pick of Astralis due to TL vetoing Train for the majority of the Astralis era. Similarly, Inferno was a map Team Liquid liked for much of the rivalry but saw their hearts broke over and over. While it is the map they have won the most times (6) against Astralis, it is also one on which they have seen double-digit lost games (17).

Which rosters fared best?

TL's late 2017 line-up with stan and nitr0 swapping IGL duties saw TL win their first match and a Bo3 at that against Astralis. That line-up only won one map each on Overpass, Inferno, and Mirage over their six total matches, though.

With TACO they won a single Bo1 and lost all seven Bo3 and three Bo5s they played, giving them a 1:11 match record. This is despite Team Liquid being the number two team in the world for a decent portion of the year.

Stewie's introduction brought new life and TL won three matches out of 12 and won on four distinct maps. They even had a tied 3:3 record on Dust2. The veto never went outside of five maps, but the two teams were happy to again play in the middle and this was the most competitive year by far, with the four maps TL won on seeing them reach at least two wins apiece. Only Nuke remained a graveyard for their dreams each and every time.

In online play, the Grim line-up lost a Bo3 and a Bo5 and didn't secure a single map win against the old enemy. FalleN didn't help matters, with the lone Bo3 being a loss, even if it was a very close affair.

Historical precedent in mTw's unwinnable war against Na`Vi

Photo courtesy of Cybersport.ru

There have been famous cases of other elite teams, often number one and number two in the world, experiencing massively one-sided rivalries of this nature, even if both teams were contending for titles again and again and could beat the rest of the field.

Back in Counter-Strike 1.6, Astralis coach Zonic was on the other end of the nightmare fuel as his mTw.dk team, led by the same ave who coached North to those DreamHack Stockholm 2018 wins over Astralis, simply could not beat Na`Vi over a match. Ever.

The Danish side went 19 months of competing with Zeus's men and still could not score a single match win. Their map score was 3:16 (15.79%). They won Inferno once and Tuscan twice. Train, which was a strong map for mTw, was the home of their most losses, being taken down seven straight times.

The two teams played in group stages, quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals multiple times each and it never mattered the phase they faced off in. In uncannily similar fashion, Na`Vi took the OT games too, winning four to mTw's one.

Photo courtesy of Cybersport.ru

Fans and the players often fondly remember the rivalry as close, but they are selectively remembering key series and have not looked into the totals. mTw had one map, their 2:2 Tuscan, on which they even reached a margin of loss of three rounds. Elsewhere it would be between six and eight per map.

Na`Vi were the best team perhaps in history for most of those games, destroying 2010 and winning all the majors, and breaking the prize money won record. Even so, mTw were a fabulously good team and capable of consistently good play against seemingly every other opponent. They were also famously unlucky in bracket draws, often finding themselves facing Na`Vi before the final. To the extent they allegedly threw a game at WCG 2010 to ensure they were on the other side of the bracket. They reached the final only to lose in heartbreaking over-time fashion on the deciding match.

Even changing line-up didn't help, as Sunde's retirement saw more tactical help drafted in by recruiting second IGL ArcadioN, who would lead the team at times in 2011. The team still lost all their matches and only one of their map wins came with the former Full-Gaming captain.

French surrender of VeryGames against NiP

Photo courtesy of ESL

In CS:GO the scene began with an epic but unsatisfying rivalry between the Source greats of VeryGames and the 1.6 kings of Ninjas in Pyjamas (NiP). The trouble was that NiP won the first eight offline Bo3 series against the French, who were often the second-best team over this time span, and every single one of the 16 individual maps played. Including online play, NiP were 13:0 in matches played. 10 of those were Bo3 series.

VG finally won a map online, while still losing the series. Then they won an online series that sparked a run of three further Bo3 series wins, all offline and two with VG winning that tournament. NiP struck back at the major, winning the key semifinal, but VG were theoretically the better team now.

They won their next three matches, two offline Bo1s, and one online Bo3. Suddenly the record was VG 7:14 against NiP in total matches played, an admirable turnaround from 0:13 down! The primary agent of change had been shox, the genius problem child of French CS, who was arguably the best player in the world at points in this run. With him, they won 3 out of 5 (60%) Bo3 series played offline and 5 of 9 (55.56%) in total. shox had them winning Nuke, Mirage and Cache more times than not. Nuke had once been a 32:0 unbeatable domain for NiP against the field!

At the end of the rivalry in Bo3 series overall, they went 5:13 (27.78%). Isolating offline Bo3 they were 3:10 (23.08%). In total matches, VG/Titan went 8:16 (50%) against NiP.

Photo courtesy of ESL

When he left the team and kennyS returned, NiP again reasserted their dominance and won the next three matches to bring the total record to 17:7 for NiP. VG/Titan went 17:31 (35.42%) in total maps played, online and offline. They won on five different maps in what was a six map pool during some of that time.

Liquid's own punching bags in Na'Vi

Just as Zonic was on both sides of a one-sided rivalry, the Liquid core themselves have tasted holding it over an opponent. TL are 12:9 (57.14%), with one tie, in matches played against Na`Vi and 23:19 (54.76%) in maps won against the CIS squad's many iterations. That may not sound so impressive, as it covers an almost six-year span and Team Liquid had some poor line-ups early on in the rivalry.

Liquid's period of dominance was a seven-match win streak, with six of them offline Bo3s, in the midst of a 9:4 match win streak from the TACO line-up onwards.

Factors at play

In the server, the team that holds the upper hand is often the one with the edge in the veto and most of these teams famously had a permanent ban that didn't help them against their opponent and shared too much of the map pool.

The psychological war often stems from a few early close losses which all go the way of the eventually dominant side and cause deep psychic wounds which are opened time and time again in big pressure points of close games, allowing the clutch factor to massively swing to one side. Thus, the dominant team wins even when they are potentially playing worse or behind in series and maps.

Finally, there is a stylistic component that allows the power dynamic to consistently shift, by sometimes only a little, over to the side of one team. For TL and Astralis, zews tried to bring a hybrid tactical style to Liquid which allowed them to beat everyone else in the world but Astralis, perhaps the best prep and on-the-fly tactical team in history.

VeryGames had all the beautiful smokes and executions to beat every other team in the game but they could not match NiP's smash mouth star-fueled fighting style. Only when shox and ScreaM matched GeT_RiGhT and f0rest, with shox granted secondary calling powers, did VG loosen up against the old enemy and start scoring wins.

mTw were one of the great tactical teams but faced a potential mastermind in Zeus and outrageous firepower from markeloff, Edward, and sometimes even starix.

Blood shed on the battlefield.

History will look poorly on the absurd numbers mismatch between teams who otherwise battled for the game's biggest honours and the coveted first place. Team Liquid may never recover from the psychological weight of their losses against Astralis and frankly would need a VeryGames with shox-esque turnaround of the rivalry and at double or triple the games played to make a meaningful impact in the nature of this match-up.