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Thorin’s Top 20 CS:GO Line-Ups Of All-Time (20-11)

Thorin’s Top 20 CS:GO Line-Ups Of All-Time (20-11)

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With Counter-Strike: Global Offensive eight weeks or so from three years of meaningful competitive play, there have been many teams who have secured top placings and played phenomenal matches, making the selection of the 20 best line-ups a challenge requiring a nuanced and approach. 

Firstly, I narrowed my quest by making it line-ups and not teams, to limit each entry to a specific five players who spent a set duration of time playing together, not teams with rotating doors at certain positions. 

Secondly, I've weighed each team's success along with their style of play and relative excellence.  This is not merely a list of winners and their first places compared and contrasted.  I've sought to determine the excellence of a team in their approach and level of play, as well as, yes, the number of shiny trophies and medals they acquired along the way.  This is, of course, a highly subjective list, as it should be, so I've gone to great lengths to make each entry as much as about my own understanding each team's greatness as it is about the team's factual accomplishments. 

These are my top 20 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive line-ups of all-time.

Part 1: 20-11
Part 2: 10-1

20. FNATIC I (FNC) - Active period: November 2013 to June 2014 

Line-up:

JW

Flusha

Schneider

pronax

Devilwalk 

International top four finishes:

2013 MSI Beat IT (2nd)

2014 Dreamhack CS:GO Invitational (3rd) 

International top eight finishes:

2014 Copenhagen Games (5th-8th) 

Finishes at the majors:

2013 Dreamhack Winter (1st)

2014 EMS One Katowice (5th-8th) 

Major titles: 1

International Titles: 1

International Finals: 2

International Top 4: 3

International Top 8: 5 

It may seem strange that the champions of the first ever CS:GO major could rank as low as being the 20th best line-up of all-time, but that is both a function of the context surrounding that huge win and the rest of their resume.  Their incredible and unexpected victory at Dreamhack Winter 2013 was without a doubt the most shocking of any of the six majors thus far held. 

Their second at MSI Beat IT is deceiving, as there were no top teams to speak of outside of the top two.  Going into the major they were not even a top six team in the world.  Their group was reasonably well balanced at the time, but now looks somewhat weak.  They would not face a top team until the final.  The quarter-final should have been an easy win over kennyS's one man army Recursive, but FNATIC still gave up a map.  The semi-final was the easiest draw in history, getting a coL team who had upset Astana Dragons, the third best team at the time.  FNATIC easily handled sgares's men. 

The final itself was essentially the only historically significant moment of play for this FNATIC team and stands out as a truly great performance on their part.  FNATIC stole a close first map and the series went the distance to three maps.  There, they convincingly beat NiP, with some incredible fortune in practically every close situation.  Nobody can take this major title away from this line-up, but it was a fluke and without a doubt the most contentious major victory of them all.  Even NiP's ESL One Cologne run had them coming in as the number one ranked team, by virtue of their accomplishments before their slump, and beating many difficult opponents. 

I'm also not a believer that winning a single major is more important than winning numerous smaller events.  All things considered, I think a major is worth maybe 1.5 times the value of a medium sized event with lots of top teams in attendance, with some variance based on the possible additional context of opponents played and so on. 

The problem for this FNATIC line-up, is that outside of that major, where they only beat a single elite team, they accomplished very little.  Their third place at the Dreamhack CS:GO Invitational was a solid performance, but they only won a single map, against Dignitas, due to the format and number of teams: double elimination Bo1 with four top teams invited.  Their run at the next major, EMS One Katowice, was better than it looks, in as much as they were only very narrowly denied a top four finish by LGB.  It would only be around three months before FNATIC's line-up was in the ground, though, thanks to failing to progress from the group stage of Dreamhack Summer 2014. 

19. Astana Dragons (AD) - Active period: July 2013 to November 2013 

Line-up:

Dosia

markeloff

Edward

AdreN

ANGE1 

International top four finishes:

2013 Dreamhack Bucharest (3rd-4th)

2013 SLTV StarSeries VII (2nd)

2013 ESWC (3rd) 

Finishes at the majors:

2013 Dreamhack Winter (5th-8th) 

Major titles: 0

International Titles: 0

International Finals: 1

International Top 4: 3

International Top 8: 4 

The announcement of this line-up really stopped the CS:GO world turning on its axis, as it represented a CIS super-team.  The core of the team, spearheaded by the mighty Dosia, had made up the Virtus.pro line-up which had originally stopped NiP's 87:0 streak and then, without AdreN and with GuardiaN, had continued to play NiP very close in matches and eventually beat them again.  markeloff and Edward were the stars of Na`Vi's 1.6 dynasty and had risen up to be a top CS:GO team around StarSeries VI, where they made the final and took two maps off NiP, then a big accomplishment. 

This line-up legitimately represented a chance for a CIS team to be the best in the world, something the previous Virtus.pro line-ups had hinted at but been unable to fulfil.  The first tournaments went well, in that respect.  At Dreamhack Bucharest their loss was only to NiP, the eventual champions, in the semi-final.  At StarSeries VII they beat NiP in a Bo3, but the event was VeryGames' moment to step out of NiP's shadow.  Finally, Astana blew a seemingly certain final at ESWC, losing to underdogs Clan-Mystik, but beat NiP again in the third place decider. 

This was a team which looked set to duel the elite teams for many months to come and with the potential of beating anyone out there.  The problem was that the mix wasn't quite right and some players, notably Edward, struggled to find the same kind of impact they had had in previous teams.  They found themselves facing the easiest side of a bracket imaginable in the first major, a statement which still holds weight to this day.  In the quarter-final, they would battle coL, who had never beaten a top European team in a series in Europe, and then underdogs FNATIC in the semi-final.  Astana fell before they could even think about the semis, going out in three maps to coL and one of sgares's first great anti-stratting performances. 

Edward departed and returned to Na`Vi and the team would later become HellRaisers, where they retained some of the dangerous DNA of Astana: always a threat to win a single map against good teams, but infuriatingly inconsistent in series play.  Ultimately, Astana Dragons never made good upon their seemingly vast potential, but they still delivered a powerful display over their first three events, handing NiP only the fourth and fifth Bo3 series losses in their CS:GO careers, to that point in time. 

18. VeryGames (VG) II - Active period: February 2013 to May 2013 

Line-up:

kennyS

ScreaM

NBK

Ex6TenZ

SmithZz 

International top four finishes:

2013 Mad Catz Invitational Vienna (3rd)

2013 Copenhagen Games (4th)

2013 Mad Catz Invitational Birmingham (1st)

2013 EMS One Spring (3rd-4th)

2013 ESEA S13 (3rd) 

Major titles: 0

International Titles: 1

International Finals: 1

International Top 4: 5

International Top 8: 5 

The VeryGames of 2012 had finished second in all four international events they'd played in, losing to NiP all four times in the final.  In 2013, their hopes rested with replacing the outgoing RpK with young Belgian headshot phenom ScreaM.  As it happened, this line-up would be less successful than the previous one, thanks in large part to having to struggle to make their young stars (kennyS and ScreaM) effective within the precise execution-based tactical star of Ex6TenZ, the best in-game leader in the game. 

The French-Belgian constellation would not manage to find the right blend, repeatedly failing to win the large international tournaments, yet consistently placing top four.  In three of those tournaments, they lost Bo3 series to NiP, who had always been their stumbling block, and were the best team in the game.  This was very much the transition VeryGames line-up, with the next becoming the best team in the world, but they still showcased the consistency of a great team.  Their Mad Catz Birmingham win has to have an asterisk placed next to it, as it was an event without NiP, hands down the best team at the time. 

17. Team dignitas (dig) II - Active period: May 2014 to October 2014 

Line-up:

device

dupreeh

Aizy

Xyp9x

FeTiSh 

International top four finishes:

2014 Gfinity G3 (3rd-4th)

2014 FACEIT S2 (3rd-4th) 

International top eight finishes:

2014 ESWC (5th-8th) 

Finishes at the majors:

2014 ESL One Cologne (3rd-4th) 

Major titles: 0

International Titles: 0

International Finals: 0

International Top 4: 3

International Top 8: 4 

The first line-up to feature this core on this list was only able to follow in the footsteps of the previous line-up, continually delivering top placings and yet never breaking through to reach a big final.  Their win at Gfinity G3 was a memorable one, destroying the legendary NiP line-up in a Bo3 and giving eventual champions Virtus.pro a tough obstacle to overcome, which the Poles would do in epic fashion.  That match and the ESL One Cologne semi-final were times when it really seemed as if they could make it to a big final and do damage, but got stopped before they could. 

The only teams to eliminate them from tournaments in bracket play were champions that year, showing that despite the large amount of skill and potential the line-up could boast, they lacked some of the key qualities that make up a championship side: poise, solid Terrorist tactics and a super-star player. 

16. Virtus.pro (VP) II - Active period: June 2013 to July 2013 

Line-up:

Dosia

Fox

ANGE1

GuardiaN

kucher 

International top four finishes:

2013 SLTV StarSeries VI (3rd)

2013 Dreamhack Summer (3rd-4th)

2013 EMS One Summer (2nd) 

Major titles: 0

International Titles: 0

International Finals: 1

International Top 4: 3

International Top 8: 3 

While their resume may seem bare, especially in the modern day of teams putting together runs of six or more tournaments in a three month span, this Virtus.pro line-up were active during the smaller circuit of mid 2013.  At that time, they legitimately put themselves into a top four spot in the world, if not top three.  They were able to play NiP incredibly closely at Dreamhack Summer, a series which is a forgotten classic.  At EMS One Summer, they went a step further and put NiP out in another close series, but could not overcome shox's VeryGames in the final. 

This was a scary line-up, as it took the core of the team which had first slain the gods of NiP in April and combined them with the ludicrous AWPing skill of GuardiaN.  This is one of the line-ups many of us looked back on with a twinge of regret in our hearts that it didn't stay together, as it really could have done so much more damage against the top end of the scene and possibly one day have been a number one ranked team.  It didn't seem so bad that most of the players went on to attempt as much in Astana Dragons, but seeing how that team eventually turned out, this line-up looked a lot more solid and made more sense in terms of roles. 

15. Team dignitas (dig) I - Active period: February 2014 to May 2014, October 2014 to December 2014 

Line-up:

device

dupreeh

cajunb

Xyp9x

FeTiSh 

International top four finishes:

2014 Dreamhack CS:GO Invitational (4th)

2014 Copenhagen Games (3rd-4th)

2014 Fragbite Masters S3 Finals (4th) 

Finishes at the majors:

2014 EMS One Katowice (3rd-4th)

2014 Dreamhack Winter (5th-8th) 

Major titles: 0

International Titles: 0

International Finals: 0

International Top 4: 3

International Top 8: 4 

The dignitas line-ups of 2013, back when they played under the Copenhagen Wolves banner, were dangerous underdogs, capable of taking a map from the elite teams, but more reasonably around the fifth to eighth place range, as their finishes suggested.  In 2014, the Danish team saw cajunb return to the fold and took their highly skilled line-up to a new level of consistency.  At both EMS One Katowice and Copenhagen Games, they had been stopped only by NiP, the consensus second best team in the world, in series play. 

dignitas established themselves as a top four team in the world, taking up the positon of gatekeepers, where they would beat all of the teams below them but none above.  Their semi-final loss in Copenhagen had set in place the story-line of them choking, getting in position to take NiP down but caving hard as the maps ended.  It was clear they had the talented performers necessary, as device, dupreeh and cajun could all impress over the course of tournaments, and they were monsters online, capable of beating anyone and winning tournaments, but deep in LAN tournaments, nerves always choked them out. 

In late 2014, the line-up would reunite, but threw away a chance at another major semi-final after one of the worst drafts of all-time by captain FeTiSh.  It would mark his final event with the team.  They never managed to progress to the final of an international event together, but their consistency and the powerful nature of their CT sides made this a line-up worth of remembering - truly the gatekeepers of CS:GO. 

14. Virtus.pro (VP) I - Active period: October 2012 to June 2013 

Line-up:

Dosia

Fox

ANGE1

AdreN

kucher 

International top four finishes:

2012 SLTV StarSeries IV (2nd)

2013 TECHLABS Cup Moscow (2nd)

2013 Copenhagen Games (3rd)

2013 SLTV StarSeries V (1st) 

Major titles: 0

International Titles: 1

International Finals: 3

International Top 4: 4

International Top 8: 4 

In some senses, I think this line-up was not as strong as the following one with GuardiaN and had less potential, but what they accomplished was ultimately greater and the former line-up's strengths were more conceptual and in the realm of unfulfilled potential.  This Virtus.pro team had already shown the world how strong they were with their top three finish at Copenhagen Games, only losing to NiP in a Bo3 and then Western Wolves in a Bo1.  At StarSeries V, they shocked the entire competitive world by defeating NiP in a Bo3 sweep, not once but twice, in the span of a few days. 

The games were incredibly close and exciting, still some of the best series ever played, but the fact anyone was repeatedly beating NiP, who had yet to lose a single map in offline play, was what was truly mind-blowing.  The maps didn't even matter and it's not as if NiP were playing below a top level, Virtus was just unbeatable on those days.  They would not survive with this line-up to another event, which was saddening and frustrating at the time, but what they accomplished will stand forever in the history of CS:GO - they made the Ninjas bleed! 

13. Anexis/Western Wolves (Anexis/WW) - Active period: December 2012 to July 2013 

Line-up:

Nico

pimp

gla1ve

MSL

Nille 

International top four finishes:

2013 Mad Catz Invitational Vienna (2nd)

2013 Copenhagen Games (2nd)

2013 Mad Catz Invitational Birmingham (3rd) 

International top eight finishes:

2013 Dreamhack Summer (5th-8th)

2013 EMS One Summer (5th-8th) 

Major titles: 0

International Titles: 0

International Finals: 2

International Top 4: 3

International Top 8: 5 

When this team burst onto the international scene with two consecutive runners-up finishes in the early part of 2013, it put them up to at least top three in the world if not ranked second.  That they were able to accomplish those finishes without a heavily skill dense line-up was what made their rise so unexpected and impressive.  The other top teams in the world (NiP, VeryGames and Virtus.pro) all had plenty of fraggers to fill up the front page of HLTV.org with highlight clips, but along came Western Wolves with a heavily tactical style of play and strong team-play.  With VeryGames suffering from integrating ScreaM to their line-up, a case could even be made this team was the most tactically effective in the world. 

Sadly, the Western Wolves line-up was a mine waiting to blow up, as star AWPer Nico suffered from motivation issues and they would see Nille going in and out over the summer.  These issues saw them at times eschewing practice entirely, yet continuing to attend events.  It says it all about their potential and the problems they had keeping the line-up together than they delivered NiP's most crushing ever loss, being downed 16:2 on nuke, one of the Ninjas' home maps, in the group stage of Dreamhack Summer 2013, yet the Danes still failed to even reach the semi-final of the same tournament. 

This team were never going to be the best in the world, as their matches against a prime NiP showed, but they were a strong side with a very distinct tactical bent, which is still rare for CS:GO, and not only occupied a top three global ranking but also reached international finals, both feats which would take the members of rivals in Copenhagen Wolves (later dignitas) many years to replicate.  One of the teams who showed us that CS:GO was not just a game of headshots. 

12. Cloud9 (C9) - Active period: April 2015 to present 

Line-up:

Skadoodle

Shroud

n0thing

FREAKAZOiD

sgares 

International top four finishes:

2015 ESL ESEA Pro League S1 Final (2nd)

2015 ESWC (2nd)

2015 FACEIT Stage 2 Finals (2nd)

2015 CEVO-P S7 (3rd-4th) 

International top eight finishes:

2015 Gfinity Spring Masters II (7th-8th)

2015 Gfinity Summer Masters I (7th-8th) 

Finishes at the majors:

2015 ESL One Cologne (9th-12th) 

Major titles: 0

International Titles: 0

International Finals: 3

International Top 4: 4

International Top 8: 6 

It's a testament to how good this Cloud9 line-up has been that they've reached 12th on this list with significant accomplishments starting less than two months ago.  For the first nearly two months of this line-up's formation they looked set to be bitter disappointments, destroying online domestic competition and yet failing to make any noise offline in Europe.  Then came the ESL ESEA Pro League S1 Final and a new Cloud9 was born.  Suddenly all the pieces had fallen into place and every member was having an impact on the games. 

sgares was reading Happy and pronax well, giving his team a tactical edge on the two greatest teams of the era.  Skadoodle was a frighteningly effective AWPer, seemingly never missing the easy shots and making plenty of highlight hot shots.  Shroud staked his claim to being one of the game's stars with an MVP level performance against FNATIC, the world's number one team, in a Bo5 final.  That a North American player could be the best performer over a Bo5 against the top team in the world had seemed inconceivable at any previous point in CS:GO history. 

n0thing was no longer the liability who was as difficult for his own team to read as the opponent, now he was coming up with clutch round plays and enough frags to put C9 in position to contend with some of Europe's best teams.  Finally, there was the man who had put everyone else in their place: FREAKAZOiD.  By no means a star player, he played a pure entry fragging style which gave agency to sgares's calls and C9 an aggressive quality to complement the more passive tendencies of his stars (Skadoodle and Shroud). 

C9 would follow up their second place finish at ESL ESEA Pro League, where they were close to leaving champions, with two more consecutive finals finishes.  At ESWC, admittedly a weaker field, lacking both of the top two teams in the world, they again beat EnVyUs and fell to an elite team in the final, beaten out by GuardiaN's red hot Na`Vi.  At FACEIT Stage 2 Finals, C9 got revenge on FNATIC, ousting them in the semi-final in a sweep and heading into a final against TSM.  Facing their third straight top three opponent in a final, C9 again were forced to leave with the silver medal. 

Their performance at CEVO S7 showed problems and a fall from the red hot form of those previous three tournaments and the major had them bowing out before the play-off phase, so it is hard to know if C9 will ever again rise to the heights they hit earlier in the Summer, but their ceiling is high and they showed off a fantastic run while they had the juice for it.  Something significant to mention is that while they didn't win any tournaments, they were a lot closer to winning than many of the famous second place sides in history. 

11. Ninjas in Pyjamas (NiP) III - Active period: February 2015 to present 

Line-up:

GeT_RiGhT

allu

f0rest

Xizt

friberg 

International top four finishes:

2015 SLTV StarSeries XII (2nd)

2015 PGL CCS (3rd)

2015 FACEIT Stage 1 Finals (2nd)

2015 Dreamhack Summer (3rd-4th)

2015 Gfinity Summer Masters I (2nd) 

International top eight finishes:

2015 Gfinity Spring Masters II (5th-6th)

2015 ESWC (5th-8th)

2015 FACEIT Stage 2 Finals (5th-6th) 

Finishes at the majors:

2015 ESL One Katowice (2nd)

2015 ESL One Cologne (5th-8th) 

Major titles: 0

International Titles: 0

International Finals: 4

International Top 4: 6

International Top 8: 10 

For all their problems, this edition of NiP did manage to put up a solid amount of finals finishes and top fours, even if they were rarely in position to win any of those events, with the exception of their Katowice run. Their problem is that they never looked as good as that first run in Poland, following that up with being severely dominated by EnVyUs and then slipping down the ranks in the coming months, as the NiP magic dried up and left a cold and cruel reality that NiP were no longer an elite CS:GO team.

This line-up would fail to even finish top four at four events in 2015, including the last three in a row and with one of those being the major.  Nevertheless, as low as they have now descended, this was a team which put together some strong finishes, in the most competitive era in history, and took down some notable Bo3 series wins against top opposition.

The top 10 places will be revealed tomorrow.

Photo credit: ESL, Dreamhack, StarSeries, gaming.dk


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