Nick J. June 16, 2020
Astralis, now the former number one team in the world, is in trouble.
According to a report by Dexerto's Richard Lewis, the Astralis organization has been suffering from internal turmoil for months, with its most recent roster swaps being just the tip of the iceberg.
Lewis' report cites several sources that say players of the Astralis Group, which include the CSGO team Astralis, League of Legends team Origen, and FIFA team Future FC, were asked to take pay cuts of as much as 20% of their usual salaries due to the ongoing global situation. The report also states that many players playing under the Astralis Group banner clashed with the organization's head of sports, Kevin Hvidt, over the course of recent months in regards to training regimens and the expectations placed upon them.
Astralis' issues pit players against sports professionals
The report puts recent events, including the loss of Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander and Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth, into stark focus. With training regimens more akin to those utilized by professional sports team than those of an esports organization and without the offseason period that typically accompanies pro sports, many players reportedly felt burnt out. The departure to the bench of the two star CSGO players led to the addition of Jakob "JUGi" Hansen and Patrick "es3tag" Hansen, two players who would seem below the caliber of the top pros they were replacing.
When WIN.gg questioned Hvidt about these maneuvers and the organization's plans to create a multiple-man roster, Hvidt insisted that it was part of a long-term plan for Astralis.
"Experiments can be fun, especially in high school physics classes, but that is not how we operate on any level in the Astralis Group. When we make a move like this, it is never a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing," Hvidt said.
Hvidt's comments to WIN, Dexerto don't line up with timeline
Hvidt went on to say that the plan for an expanded roster had been in the works for months, downplaying WIN.gg's question as to whether the roster changes were an experiment. Those comments, however, seem to ring hollow in the context of Lewis' report that says that the Astralis Group has demanded more from its players than they were willing to give. This would lead one to believe that the player breaks and roster moves may have been more reactionary than was claimed by Hvidt.
The reported pushback from Astralis players also seems a far stretch from comments made to WIN.gg that spoke of the player's health and well-being as paramount to the team's success. If Dexerto's report is true, it seems as though the Astralis group wanted more from their players while giving them both less money and less freedom, even as they told a very different public story.
Astralis' connection to BLAST Entertainment still an issue for the esports organization
Another concerning factor is the lingering connection between the Astralis Group and BLAST Entertainment. The two were formally a single entity known as RFRSH Entertainment, which split apart after allegations of favoritism arose when CSGO's Astralis began to skip large tournaments in favor of smaller events run by its parent company in early 2019. These allegations led to the separation.
There are inconsistencies here that point to the fact that the Astralis Group might have been in communication with BLAST regarding a decision to allow substitutions during tournaments, a relatively unheard of concept in the CSGO tournament circuit prior. Astralis was the first prominent team to publicly explore the idea of an expanded roster in spite of its immediate success, and BLAST was the only major tournament organizer that seemed willing to allow for the change without any penalty. This seemed more than just a big coincidence.
In a statement to WIN.gg in April 2020, Astralis told the publication that "some tournament organizers are already allowing player swaps on a more frequent basis, and honestly, [we] don't see how the industry can't start to move towards healthier conditions for its players."
The statement came months before rumors surfaced that BLAST Entertainment would allow substitutions in its upcoming tournaments, pointing to another instance in which the Astralis Group and BLAST continued to work together privately and, some would argue, unfairly.
Did Astralis get a heads up from BLAST, or was it the other way around?
A coach from a top-five Counter-Strike team told WIN.gg that they hadn't heard of BLAST's substitution rule change ahead of its leak. It would be odd for other top teams to be unaware of the rule change if BLAST was openly communicating it to competitors. The more likely scenario seems to be that BLAST and Astralis had figured the change privately, which could potentially have put other teams at a disadvantage relative to competitions held by other organizers.
It's a sad chapter for a team whose origins are based on a self-owned and operated outfit when its players left Team SoloMid to create Astralis. The Astralis Group went public in December of 2019, creating an atmosphere of profit over production, and if Dexerto's report is correct, it seems as though profit has won out. Money and player health can coexist, but when the bottom lines are the organization's shareholders, almost anything goes out the window.