With Astralis’ extended absence, Team Liquid took the top HLTV rankings position from them after the Danes held onto it for over a year, becoming the first North American team to reach the summit. And yet, discussions persist about whether they’re truly the “best”, even as gla1ve and co. finally made an appearance at a proper LAN final only to get eliminated by vastly inferior opposition (at least as far as the very same ratings are concerned). The questions about whether the North Americans are worthy of the number one spot miss an important point: there hasn’t always been a clear correlation between it and being the runaway best in the field.
After 406 days atop the world, Astralis abdicated in absentia as Liquid took down the title at DreamHack Masters Dallas. The North Americans capped off an impressive post-major period with this title, and apart from the Katowice showing itself, their results already looked on par with the Danes’ for the calendar year. Their coronation would normally be a fairly uncontroversial manner. As impressive as ENCE and Vitality have been, no one’s suggesting they’re the best CS:GO team around, and the rest of the field are way further back due to lack of quality, consistency or both. The red, star-shaped elephant in the room here is, of course, Astralis, and everything that has to do with their scheduling choices and the deafening silence about the whole RFRSH controversy. Can you truly become the new number one without slaying the former, Highlander-style?
Very much so, as it turns out. Astralis themselves topped the HLTV rankings between December 12th, 2016 and June 5th, 2017 with no “era” to speak of. The team that toppled Fnatic after MLG Columbus was not Luminosity (the eventual winner and the team that would go on to become the best in the world) but Na’Vi, a team which kept losing to the Swedes over and over again at that time. In fact, one of the most impressive aspects of Astralis’ long reign was how evident it seemed that the team atop the HLTV rankings is automatically the best in the scene, or even the world, and not just the beneficiary of some sort of recency bias in the system.
It would be a mistake to conflate the two under regular circumstances. It’s no criticism to say that Liquid are not yet an era-defining side, or that this sort of a status takes a long time to achieve. These facts take nothing away from their number one spot, nor does it make them somehow less deserving of it. Besides, the real challenge is holding onto the coveted position, something the players and the organization seem to be acutely aware. NAF was quoted as saying that staying number one is “the real mission” and Steve Perino, the company’s general manager also called for “solidifying a Liquid Era” as the next goal.
There’s no denying that Liquid are the best team around on form and are definitely the greatest-ever side NA has ever produced. Some would even go as far as to suggest they’re the strongest we’ve ever seen, like Duncan ‘Thorin’ Shields did in a recent correspondence with Upcomer, arguing that “there has never been a core as good as this in the game’s history”.
Whether they’re stronger than peak Astralis is somewhat beside the point, especially seeing how the Danes themselves also seem to struggle to replicate their 2018 heights. We’ve seen so little of gla1ve and co. recently that it’s tough to ascertain how far off they are from their true potential, and it’s unfair to hold any other team to that sort of ethereal standard. For now, Liquid are the team to beat to prove that you’re the best around – even if you’re Astralis. Not a bad place to be in if you’re the North American side, regardless of what the future holds.