BLAST Premier Global Finals Preview – The Contenders

In my first article I examined the four teams I believed to have the lowest chance of being crowned champions at BLAST: Premier Global Finals. Now it’s time for the contenders, the teams who should be aiming to make the Grand Final at this event.

Though there will only be two who make it all the way, all four of these teams have the players and the support from their organization to make it all the way. At the end I will make my official prediction of whom will likely be triumphant on January 24th.

G2 Esports

The biggest signing of 2020 was undoubtedly G2 acquiring the Bosnian superstar Nikola “NiKo” Kovač from FaZe Clan. This assembled what many fans expected to be a super-team for the ages. After an incredible start at Blast Premier Fall Series 2020, the team cooled off considerably, not managing to reach the top four at the final two events they attended in 2020. Still, G2 boasts one of the most skilled rosters at the event, making them dark horses to win the entire tournament.

What is worrying about G2 is the same thing that has plagued them since their inception – can they win without having the best performing player in the server? They have always been heavily reliant on their players to win them rounds. Teams that can match them for skill have always posed massive problems for the Franco-Balkan mix, whose tactical depth has come into question over and over again.

The signing of NiKo has pushed the point of balance even further toward the extreme, with the team being stacked full of ridiculously talented players at the expense of more supportive elements. This makes G2 one of the most exciting teams to watch at this event, whether they win it or not.

Natus Vincere

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The story of Natus Vincere (Na’Vi for short) has been the same for last couple of years. Alexandr “s1mple” Kostyliev is either the best or second best player in the world. Yet his team’s results are not reflective of that fact. Their placements are consistently good, but having only won a single elite tournament all year leaves much to be desired from the team boasting such a phenomenon.

The best of the rest on Na’Vi is Denis “electronic” Sharipov. He came onto the team over two years ago to finally bring some extra fire-power alongside s1mple. He hasn’t had his best year in 2020, clearly not adapting to online play as well as some of his contemporaries. However, electronic’s best performances have come against the very best teams in the world. Coming into BLAST Premier, he has an HLTV rating of 1.17 against Top 5 ranked opposition, performing well against teams such as Astralis, Vitality and G2.

The real issues begin when looking further down the roster. Yegor “flamie” Vasilyev has been one of the worst performing players on any roster in the top 10, an impressively bad achievement considering his lack of in-game leadership or entry-fragging responsibilities. His performances have been sliding down since 2017, now reaching an all-time low in 2020. This continual under-performance is anchoring the team, preventing them from consistently contending for the number one spot in the world rankings.

Players aside, there is another glaring flaw at Na’Vi that has been holding them back – tactical style. Whilst Kirill “BoombI4” Mikhailov is the in-game leader, the style they play is more reflective of their coach, the legendary Andrii “B1ad3” Gorodenskyi. B1ad3 was an in-game leader for many years on Flipsid3 Tactics, where he called an incredibly slow and painstaking game of counter-strike. Now he has brought that to Na’Vi, whose players simply cannot make the most of it against the elite in the world, where their lack of pace leads to them being incredibly predictable.

Na’Vi has many problems, but they also have one of the best “Get Out of Jail Free” cards in the game, in the form of s1mple. If they want to be successful, they are going to need more from the team around him. No matter how great s1mple is, he cannot win a tournament of this magnitude single-handedly.

Astralis

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Just when we thought the Danish immortals were beginning to show signs of falling apart, they won two of the last three events of the year and came into 2021 as the best team in the world. Rumours that players were unhappy with their current situation, combined with a plethora of head-scratching signings had many hoping that they would finally release their grip on the top of the CS:GO professional scene. Alas, it was not to be. The main five players who won the last three majors in a row finally reunited. And going back to their old ways, they won on all seven maps, putting the rest of the teams to shame.

Ever since Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander joined the team back in 2016, the team have been revolutionizing the way CS:GO is played. For example, no team makes better use of utility than Astralis, and this is a by-product of the extensive preparation they do for each map and each opponent they face. Another essential part of gla1ve’s style is switching up the pace. This allows for slower defaults whilst also running very explosive early round executes.

Although Nicolai “device” Reedtz may never receive the title of number one player in the world, he is everything an in-game leader could want in a star AWPer. Device hits his shots with great consistency, relying more on his positioning and game sense than highlight reel flicks to create openings and win rounds for his team. He also plays an active part in the scouting process. He helps figure out where opposing snipers are likely to position themselves and how to best outplay them.

As if their strategic mastery and elite AWPer weren’t enough, the other three players on the team are all great in their own right. Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth has been known as the most clutch player in the world for years now. Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen and Emil “Magisk” Reif are both multi-kill machines that bring the team’s overall fire-power into elite contention.

Going into the BLAST Premier Global Finals, Astralis are the bookies favourites. They have their full roster back in full swing and are riding on a hot streak of events. Only a fool would dare to pick against the number one team in the world.

Vitality

Background Image Cr: Josh Hallett

There are few teams who can present threats that Astralis can’t fully prepare for. Vitality is one such team, and they have more than one trick up their sleeve. The French team ended 2020 by winning back to back events, including one over the Danish powerhouse themselves. While they seemed lost in the woods after losing their IGL, Alex “ALEX” McMeekin, at the start of the year, a pair of astute signings and the transition of Dan “apEX” Madesclaire into the IGL role saw them recover to end the year amongst the elite.

There is no secret as to who the best player on Vitality is. Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut is often referred to as “The Chosen One”, and it’s not just because he was born on the release date of Counter-Strike. It’s primarily because his performances are god-like. He might be the only player able to challenge s1mple for the title of best in the world. Whether it’s with an AWP, pistol or rifle, ZywOo is a round winner who can turn the tides against any opponent.

Vitality made two signings in 2020. Kévin “misutaaa” Rabier was the first. Brought in out of necessity, he has filled his role nicely as one of the glue pieces on the team. Nabil “Nivera” Benrlitom was the second, though his signing was to change the game forever.

Many teams hinted that they wanted to try out a six-man roster – Astralis even pretended to want seven – but none were bold enough to do it like Vitality. They were the first to bring in a player between maps as a substitute, and they have already mastered it. Nivera has been able to focus in on a three maps (Nuke, Inferno and Dust II), where he has been putting together a string of excellent performances. The players he replaces, Kévin “misutaa” Rabier and Richard “shox” Papillon, have also received more streamlined responsibilities, raising their individual levels. This rotation of players allows them to play differently depending on the map, being more structured on maps like Overpass but then far looser on maps like Dust II.

None of these improvements would have been possible if it wasn’t for the coaching of Rémy “XTQZZZ” Quoniam. Whilst never being a great player, XTQZZZ has found his place in the coaches’ chair. He has moulded apEX into a top tier in-game leader, while also making the most out of all the players on the roster.

Conclusion

The Blast Premier Global Finals is the perfect event to kick-off 2021 in CS:GO. The best of the best will be in attendance from both the EU and NA regions. There is much to be gained and lost by all teams in attendance, creating much deserved hype and anticipation leading to the opening day on January 19th.

Vitality are my pick to win BLAST Premier Global Finals. They boast a unique group of players, coaches and strategies that can out-manoeuvre as well as out-play almost any opponent. They may not be the number one favourites going in, but it is my belief that they will be champions coming out.

For more CS:GO coverage throughout the year, check out the CS:GO section on the ESPR News website, and be sure to follow us on Twitter.

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