Counter-Strike at the highest level of play is consistently dominated by European teams. Looking at the top 10 teams, it is difficult to make an argument that any North American teams deserve to be on that list. The only names that come to mind are Cloud 9, Team Liquid, and SK Gaming. While Immortals and Optic are both looking strong domestically, they always seem to fall short in international play.
Look comparatively at just the ESL Pro-League tables, for example. When you look at the European table, the team skill differential between teams in NA and EU is immense. Teams such as Astralis, Virtus Pro (VP), Ninjas in Pajamas (NiP), and NA’VI, to name a few, show which region is on a higher level of play. Even the lower teams in EU can beat out the competition in NA on occasion.
This is painfully obvious whenever North American teams are obliterated during international competition. It took until ESL One: Cologne 2016 for North America to even have a first place finish. Cloud 9’s Mike “Shroud” Grzesiek comments on the dominance of European teams, saying that Virtus Pro are especially notorious as being the NA killer. He later explains that VP are extremely strong at exploiting the weaknesses of NA teams.
What’s the Problem?
Aside from individual skill, strong tempo shifts seem to stun and disrupt a lot of North American teams. Whereas with European teams, they seem to be more comfortable with odd plays and are much harder to throw off. Teams such as VP and Astralis are notorious for being extremely good at controlling momentum shifts.
EU teams seem to hold onto their composure more. After losing big rounds, they don’t let it get in their heads and they continue to play at the top level. Astralis have been especially strong at this and showcase their amazing ability to control buy rounds and even take back crucial eco rounds.
Astralis did so masterfully in the E-League Major 2017 Grand Finals against VP. If you have not checked out that series yet, I highly recommend it. It has to be one of the best grand finals of all-time.
The Future Looks Bright
Even though, historically, North American Teams perform poorly on the intercontinental stage, NA still has hope. Looking back at SK gaming and Cloud 9, they both have a fair amount of skill between the two of them. Cloud 9 was able to secure a huge win at the ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals, beating out SK Gaming in the grand finals. While Fnatic (the tournament favorite) was not able to make it to the tournament due to their roster difficulties, it was still impressive nonetheless for an NA team to take the tournament.
SK Gaming is a particularly strong hope for NA in Professional Counter-Strike. SK took their first major trophy back at ESL cologne 2017, and are hoping to add to the collection this year. They recently swapped Lincoln “Fnx” Lau for João “Felps” Vasconcellos with another Brazilian outfit, Immortals, back in January. The change is still new and unfolding, but could be very beneficial for both teams.
These changes and accomplishments may not be indicative of actual change in quality of play. However, I believe if any teams are ready to show up the European CS scene, it’s these two.