With all qualifying or eliminating matches being best of three, we were thus blessed early on with a series between the second and third best teams in the world, Team Liquid and Natus Vincere. It all started with an all-out brawl on Mirage, where Liquid quickly took an edge on the back of a collective style that allowed them to bend but not break in the face of Na’Vi’s incredible firepower. Na`Vi managed to stabilize in the second half and got to 14-12, but Liquid managed to string the last four rounds together to close it out 16-14. A Dust 2 game followed where Na’Vi couldn’t match the North American squad. Liquid swiftly closed the series to advance on the back of a pristine 3-0 record, without dropping a map. This was only a momentary setback for the CIS squad though, as they then took on Avangar, first dominating them on Dust 2, before scoring a closer, but still convincing win on Train to land in the playoffs as well.
The tournament had reached the Champions stage, an eight-team bracket that looked well balanced compared to the previous iterations of the Major. Yet, unbeknownst to everyone, an earthquake was approaching. It all began in conventional fashion, as FaZe took on Na’Vi on Inferno and Dust 2. While the international powerhouse FaZe was able to open the series on a high note, stacking a lot of rounds on their T side, Na’Vi turned the game around thanks to Egor “flamie” Vasilyev’s pistol round ace, his second in the same match — a feat unheard of in a Major and something that hasn’t been done dating back to 2014 outside of Majors! From then on, Na’Vi simply overwhelmed Nikola “NiKo” Kovacs and his gang, and marched onwards to the semifinals.
This was followed by Team Liquid taking on ENCE. On paper a very one-sided matchup, with ENCE having defied the odds to get there after being down 0-2 in the previous stage, but still deemed too weak to be a match for Team Liquid. Mirage quickly disproved that, as both teams traded round for round in the beginning, before ENCE took off and grabbed the first map. At this point it was thought all but a temporary setback for Liquid, and Inferno confirmed this impression. Nick “nitr0” Cannella and co. grabbed a great lead, eventually reaching map point at 15-8.
Then ENCE shocked the world.
In a monumental comeback, the Finns grinded round after round after round to eventually bring the game to overtime. On the brink of elimination in the quarters, Liquid mustered all they had to eventually close it out, but it was not to be and ENCE completed the upset, beating Liquid 2-0 and continuing their incredible journey in Katowice.
That earned them a semifinals match against Na’Vi. This was yet again a very tall order for Aleksi “Aleksib” Virolainen and compatriots. But again, ENCE started on the right foot and matched evenly with Na’Vi on Train, before barely edging them out in the 30th round. Na’Vi replied with a dominant Dust 2 to even out the series 1-1. The decider would be played on Mirage. Once again, Na’Vi put on a clinic and put ENCE on the back foot with dominant plays courtesy of Oleksandr “S1mple” Kostyliev. But at 12-6, during an eco, an extremely brazen play from Aleskib allowed ENCE to grab a rifle following a successful kill on Daniil “Zeus” Teslenko in the B apartments. They eventually won this round, which was the starting point of yet another ENCE comeback, until both teams were even at 13-13. The last six rounds were probably some of the tensest rounds in Major history, as both teams traded round after round, with S1mple raising his skill to new heights, while ENCE kept their utmost cool and collectively grabbed the crucial rounds to survive. And once again, they edged out the arch-favorite 16-14 to take yet another big underdog victory in their playoff run.
On their first Major appearance, the Finns reached the Grand Final, where they were greeted by Astralis. Coming from a monstrous run on the other side of the bracket, the Danish maestros had cleared NiP and MIBR with at times close, but nonetheless impressive games. Expectedly, they were just too tough to handle for ENCE, and after a somewhat contested first map, Astralis dismantled them on Inferno and claimed the Intel Extreme Masters Katowice Major 2019 title.
With this victory, Astralis have cemented themselves as the greatest team in the history of the game. They just equalized Fnatic’s performance of winning three Majors, and back to back titles. They still have already mind blowing, and potentially record shattering runs on maps like Nuke (29-0) and Inferno (13-0), nearly reaching the levels of NiP in 2013, back when competition barely existed outside of the very top teams in the world. In a field with arguably tougher competitors than the Ninjas six years ago, or Fnatic four years ago, they’ve established themselves as an even more dominant team. That they managed to accomplish this despite the terrible event that struck Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen in the middle of the Major forces even more respect for their professionalism, determination, and will to sacrifice for the collective. These players are already legends, and they’re not even done yet.