It’s been a rollercoaster week for CSGO, and ESL Pro League has been a window into how the game’s top teams are doing in the first half of 2021. This week’s group D delivered, with teams looking rusty early in contests that went all three maps across board. But by the end of the week, it was two straight days of 2-0 finishes for all winning teams and playoff berths for Astralis and Team Liquid. Here’s how the rankings shaped up after the end of EPL’s regular season.
After this week, it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that Astralis kept the number one spot headed into the EPL finals. Even after a perplexing early loss to Evil Geniuses, CSGO’s top team won eight out of nine maps and secured itself a first-round bye. But there is one top-ranked CSGO team Astralis hasn’t played yet.
Coming in at number two this week is a young Gambit team that will finally get a chance to face off against CSGO’s best. It’s hard to believe, especially given how long fans have seen the same teams in the top-five. But Gambit isn’t another one-and-done roster. In fact, there’s every hint that Gambit will be the next team that no can get out of the rankings.
Looking at the statistics, it’s easy to see why. The young team is playing like Astralis did in 2018.
2018 saw Astralis secure their legendary status with a 33-map win streak on Nuke, and they did it by playing a stellar game even before the first round started. While other teams were busy trying not to play the new map, Astralis embraced it. The Danes made Nuke their home map, forcing CSGO’s other teams to pick between two bad options: ban Nuke and a weaker map open for an Astralis counter, or just flat out lose to a roster that was tactically too far ahead.
In 2021, Gambit doesn’t have a brand new map to master. Instead, it has a very old one.
Despite its matchmaking popularity, Mirage is one of the least played maps in the past year amongst CSGO’s top teams. But Gambit’s current roster didn’t start off playing Astralis or Vitality. Instead, Gambit ran through the second tier of CSGO tournaments where Mirage is played nearly twice as often as it is at the very top level.
Gambit wins its Mirage games in much the same way Astralis won their 33 in a row on Nuke. Oppressive defensive efforts backed up by slightly weaker but still relatively strong T-side halves. Gambit AWPer Dmitry “sh1ro” Sokolov is putting up numbers that would have him a top-three candidate for MVP if CSGO’s season ended today. In the past three months, sh1ro has a 1.51 rating and a 2.05 kill-to-death ratio against top-10 CSGO teams on Mirage.
It will have been almost a year since Astralis and Gambit have played each other when they meet at the ESL Pro League Season 13 playoffs next week, so there’s no telling how it will end. But with Gambit’s deadly Mirage on the table, Astralis might be on the receiving end of its own 2018 tactic.