The mighty Astralis reigned supreme in the CS:GO world last year and it will be intriguing to see if anyone can topple them in 2019. The Danes emerged as the most dominant force in any esport, seizing 10 titles and vanquishing all their rivals on a regular basis. Commentators have started to run out of superlatives for this magnificent team, but Astralis now represent a major scalp and the likes of Liquid and Natus Vincere will be desperate to beat them. Counter-Strike has withstood the test of time and the competitive scene is arguably healthier than it has ever been, with several exciting teams emerging. Here we take a look at how the leading lights are shaping up as they prepare to fight for glory in 2019:

Astralis

The Danish team are by far and away the best team in the world right now after picking up a phenomenal string of results over the course of 2018. They won 10 titles, seized the first ever $1 million Intel Grand Slam Bonus and destroyed all and sundry in big tournaments like the FACEIT Major and the ELEAGUE Premier 2018. Astralis are blessed with a stable core of Xyp9x, Dev1ce and Dupreeh, who have been playing together for years now and know each other’s games well. They may not always feature on the same map, but their influence is always clearly felt.

Nicolai “Dev1ce” Reetz, the primary AWPer, has been consistently strong in recent months, and his movement, coordination and calmness under pressure make him a real asset to the team. In-Game Leader Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander is lends a crucial air of unpredictability to proceedings by making sudden, mid-round calls after analysing individual duels across the map. It leaves opponents permanently second guessing, and adds to Astralis’ long list of strengths. Emil “Magisk” Reif was also a big signing for the team, and the stars have really aligned for Astralis in recent months. You will typically see them as the clear favourites at esports betting sites like Unikrn.com when they go to big tournaments, and deservedly so. Expect more of the same in 2019, as they are unlikely to tamper too much with a winning formula, and it will be up to the chasing pack to try to close the gap on them.

Liquid

Liquid arguably established themselves as the second best team on the CS:GO circuit in 2018, but they lost out to Astralis in several big matches. Their trophy haul was somewhat underwhelming, but the skill, dynamism and vast potential was clear for all to see. They play with great energy and their desire to win really shines through, and that has helped them win legions of fans across North America. Finally US fans have something to believe in after watching Liquid romp into several grand finals. Most ended in heartbreak, but they could well improve upon that showing in 2019. They have seriously bolstered their roster with the signing of Jacky “Stewie2k” Yip, one of the biggest names in CS:GO, and that should inject an exciting fresh dynamic into the team as they seek to finally dethrone Astralis.

Natus Vincere

This could be the last hurrah for NaVi’s esteemed captain, Danylo “Zeus” Teslenko, who recently revealed that he is preparing to retire following the 2019 campaign. He was able to reflect on a strong year for the Ukrainian team, which won four tournaments and finished runners-up three times.

The situation surrounding the legendary Oleksandr “S1mple” Kostyliev is even more worrying for anyone associated with NaVi. He has emerged as arguably the world’s best Counter-Strike player in 2018, dazzling with his individual brilliance and racking up MVP medals like they are going out of fashion, but he has been heavily linked with a move to FaZe Clan and Zeus admitted that the star man could be leaving soon. S1mple strenuously denied those rumours, but he could look to move on if NaVi cannot secure some major silverware in 2019. They suffered a 2-0 defeat to Astralis at the FACEIT Major 2018 grand final and lost 2-0 to FaZe Clan in the decider at EPICENTER. If they can close the gap on Astralis, they might bolster their trophy cabinet this year and keep hold of their prized asset.

FaZe Clan

The FaZe Clan might not be in the top five of everyone’s power lists right now, but they are possibly the best-placed team to overhaul Astralis in 2019. NiKo was electric at EPICENTER 2018 as they seized glory, and they exceeded expectations while under-strength. They have been given a tremendous boost by the return of Olofmeister, who performed really well on his reappearance at ESL One Cologne 2018. He can deliver impact frags that turn matches on their head, and he has the individual brilliance to decide tight contests. At one point, he was the best player in the world, and the prospect of him working in tandem with NiKo is positively terrifying. They also have Dauren “AdreN” Kystaubayev, and he has a point to prove, while coach Janko “YNk” Paunović can hold this flashy roster together well, so the sky is the limit in 2019. MIBR, mousesports, NRG, Ninjas in Pyjamas, North and Fnatic are all also in the mix heading into the big tournaments this year and it should prove to be another thrilling 12 months.