Published on SK Gaming in February of 2010
There have been many good, successful, popular, skilled and impressive Counter-Strike teams. Many champions throughout ten years of CS history. Yet there have only been a few who could be considered great, and of those only a handful who could be considered the greatest.
For some the question of ‘who is the greatest of them all?’ is a riddle solved simply by personal preference or based on one specific criterion held to be most crucial. For others there may be too many factors to hold in one’s mind at the same time to make a consistent decision on who the greatest is or how one would go about figuring out who deserves to rule Counter-Strike’s Mount Olympus.
With HeatoN having not worn an SK uniform for five years, whimp having gone inactive for mTw.dk last year, Gux having left fnatic and LUq being replaced by pasha in AGAiN this seems the ideal time for a discussion over which team is the greatest of all time. In theory none of these candidates will be returning and their legacies are effectively set in stone.
This article brings together in one place the greatest teams and explains the factors and context for each of them potentially being the greatest of all time. Each is analysed using these four critera:
- Additional context
There are four candidates who could be considered the greatest team of all time. For each a specific period of time has been selected and reasons given as to why that will represent their claim to being the greatest in this article. Each period lasts as long as the team were #1 in the world with that lineup, with the exception of the Poles.
Schroet Kommando Sweden (SK.swe) – July 1st 2003 to January 1st 2004.
Lineup: HeatoN, Pott1, ahl, fisker, elemeNt and SpawN.
International victories: CPL Summer 03, WCG 03, CPL Copenhagen 03 and CPL Winter 03.
Domestic victories: SEL season 4 and WCG Sweden 03.
Reasons: CPL Summer 03 was their first event with this lineup (without brunk) and made them world #1s while their final real event was CPL Winter 03. Since they needed SpawN to play in the WCG a concession is given in terms of not having him for CPL Summer.
mortal Teamwork Denmark (mTw.dk) – May 9th 2008 to March 8th 2009.
Lineup: whiMp, zonic, ave, MJe and Sunde.
International victories: Kode5 08, ESWC Masters 08, WEM 08, WCG 08, rekrut masters 08 and IEM III European finals 09.
Domestic victories: EPS denmark III, Dreamhack Summer Denmark 08, DEL s4 and WCG Denmark 08.
Reasons: Kode5 was the first event to put mTw.dk to the top with this lineup. For their end date a tournament they lost has been selected since while they lost it they were considered the #1 team right up until that loss. Again there needs to be slight flexibility to chart each team’s true era at the top.
fnatic – March 6th 2009 to December 2nd 2009.
Lineup: cArn, f0rest, dsn, GeT_RiGhT and GuX.
International victories: IEM III Global finals 09, ESWC Masters Cheonan 09, Kode5 09, e-Stars Seoul 09 and IEM IV Dubai.
Domestic victories: WCG Sweden 09
Reasons: Winning IEM III Global made them the best team in the world and their end date is the last game played with GuX in the team.
Pentagram/AGAiN – July 30th 2006 to December 8th 2009.
Lineup: LUq, neo, TaZ, Loord and kuben.
International victories: WSVG UK 06, WCG 06, IEM finals 07, ESWC 07, The Gathering 08, DreamHack Summer 08, ESWC 08, DTS cup 09 and WCG 09.
Domestic victories: WCG Poland 06, Kode5 Poland 07, ESWC Poland 07, WCG Poland 07, Kode5 Poland 08, Kode5 Poland 09 and WCG Poland 09.
Reasons: The start date is when kuben officially joined the team, setting the ‘golden five’ lineup. The end date is the last game LUq played with the team, at Arbalet Cup Europe.
In this context prestige is defined as how important an event is considered to be and the level of status bestowed upon the team who manages to win it. Factors defining the prestige of a tournament include:
The degree of efficiency the organization is known for, the quality of the hardware used, the history of the past champions, the players’ opinions and the attention the event receives from the community.
As tournaments and organizations have grown and shrunk over the years the prestige of SK’s achievements may, and perhaps should, seem less daunting in a modern context than they once were. At the time the two CPL seasonal event victories made SK.swe the undisputed best team in the world and their gold medal at the WCG Grand Finals not only added to their personal legacies but helped increase the prestige of the WCG itself as the best team in the world, and history to that point, had become a champion of its event. Winning the CPL European event also helped cement further that SK.swe were the best team in Europe, beating teams along the way who may not have had the financial backing to attend the bigger American CPLs.
It seems, speaking objectively, that AGAiN’s accomplishments should probably be considered more prestigious than SK.swe’s overall. For their time SK’s two CPL victories were the biggest tournaments possible to win and the WCG gold was impressive, though the first truly valued gold for CS of that organization. AGAiN’s ESWC victories seem more prestigious in the size and scope of the events though, while on a similar footing in terms of what they meant to the communities of their eras.
The WCG golds of AGAiN seem slightly more important than SK’s as that tournament has grown to become a well loved annual tradition and the history of the event has become more colourful and storied. Winning ESWC made AGAiN the best team in the world, though for a shorter period of time than SK.swe’s CPLs, and the WCG medals made them true legends of the game. The events AGAiN didn’t win were not more prestigious than the ones they did, though the IEM III Global Finals and CPL Winter 2006 should probably both be considered as on equal footing. So SK won all of the prestigious events of their shorter era while AGAiN won more overall but not all of them during their lengthy era.
fnatic might rightly be considered as having the third most prestigious legacy as they won the most prestigious tournament of their era: IEM III Global. Beyond that the events they won were solid and successful, but for factors outside of fnatic’s control were smaller than some of the big events of yesteryear like ESWCs and CPLs. That may be unfair for fnatic since they didn’t get many chances to win those true majors in a prestige sense but that is the way it is nontheless. That said it should be noted that fnatic did have the opportunity to win WCG 2009 and were unable to do so, which damages their legacy slightly but not incredibly. The events they won made them the #1 team in the world and they continually cemented that status as they racked up the victories.
mTw.dk won one truly large and prestigious event in WCG 2008. Even that didn’t quite compare with events they weren’t able to win like ESWC, IEM III Global and perhaps IEM II though. That puts a dent in their ability to challenge SK.swe and AGAiN under this criteria. Still it is debatable as to whether or not they should be fourth, slightly below fnatic, or perhaps third. mTw.dk won less events overall but their medium sized event victories seem more prestigious than fnatic’s on an individual basis. Winning the first couple of events made mTw.dk the world’s best team and the later events put them clearly ahead of their peers for a while, though losing that final major saw a changing of the guard between them and fnatic.
An important criterion in how great a team is should be how competitive the events they won were. This can be broken down into the number of elite teams in attendance, the difficulty of the opponent they faced in the finals and how competitive the structure of the tournament was.
Top 5 teams in attendance
Whenever “top 5” is mentioned in this subsection it refers to the top 5 teams in the world at that time, not the top 5 placings of the event itself.
mTw.dk’s victories come out on top based on this criteria. The other four of the top 5 teams in the world were in attendance at four of them: WEM, ESWC Masters, Kode 5 and IEM III Europe. That made these events incredibly difficult to win, most of them rank amongst the most difficult to win in the history of CS. Their WCG victory was not as competitive in this regard, with fnatic unable to attend due it being one team per country and SK winning the qualifier as well as Alternate representing Germany instead of a Mouz team who had key non-German players.
It seems reasonable to suggest that the top 5 teams during mTw.dk’s era were better and more difficult opponents to play within that era than the top 5 teams were during any other era. All of those top 5 teams won at least a medium to large sized event in 2008 which made it an extremely competitive year. This which makes mTw the clear leaders for that subset of this criterion.
fnatic are next in line since ESWC Masters Cheonan, Kode5 and IEM IV Dubai all contained the other four of the top 5 teams in the world. That certainly makes it very impressive that fnatic were able to win those events, though as mentioned it can be argued that the top 5 were not quite as strong during fnatic’s era as they were during mTw.dk’s. Mouz had somewhat crumbled and undergone a roster change, mTw seemed to lack something during the deeper stages of tournaments that they hadn’t a year prior and AGAiN were known for being at their strongest at the major tournaments while none of these events would be described in that fashion. SK were the only team with the same roster (except for Dubai) who could reasonably be said to have been playing at the same level as the year before or slightly better.
Now it should be stated that some credit must go along with those observations in fnatic’s favour in that they as a team were significantly better and so perhaps in the case of mTw they had simply added the right pieces to supercede them as a team. That is certainly a factor but on the whole the top 5 do seem weaker, especially since the top 5 of mTw’s were perhaps the strongest ever. The top 5 also did improve as 09 on went, though not to the level of 08.
Next comes AGAiN. In relation to their era the two ESWC victories were very competitive, with the full top 5 teams in attendance. The IEM also ranks up there with their ESWC results in terms of competitiveness for that reason. The two WCG victories suffer problems in the sense that all WCGs do: that some countries have more than one strong team who need to be in attendance to make the event as competitive as possible or that the slightly weaker team won the national qualifier. There is also the occasional problem that sometimes teams, such as 3D or Mouz, have players of different nationalities in their strongest lineups at that time.
WCG 06 was competitive, probably the most competitive WCG in history for the top 5 teams in attendance. Still it was not comparable to some of the bigger events in CS history. Likewise 09 suffered from having no SK or MYM. The WSVG UK 06 title was genuinely not competitive as it only featured one team, the Finnish hoorai, who would be considered top 5.
The problem for AGAiN is that their top 5 teams are really varied in how strong they were. For the IEM in early 07 the top 5 were very weak in terms of the last 4 years of CS, in fact it was difficult to even define the top 5 clearly. The ESWC they won later that year had a stronger top 5, though not many of them were able to win major events during that year. The situation for the WCG of that year is essentially the same though with less top 5 than ESWc. ESWC 08 is amongst the most competitive ever and featured the same era of top 5 teams as mTw’s. At the time of WCG 09 the top 5 teams in the world were stronger than earlier in 09 and any year but perhaps 08, still only a couple were in attendance for the event.
SK.swe rank bottom for this criterion because their major events had the fewest top 5 teams and when they did feature top 5 teams they were weaker relative to other eras. Part of that is a result of Swedish teams comprising so many of the top 5 and also fewer sponsorship opportunities back then. Events also occured less frequently which meant sometimes a team considered top 5 had that ranking off of one result and thus it was less conclusive in general and lead to more variable results at every big event. There is also the perspective that the strength of SK’s top 5 in a small degree suffers from the success they had, as with fnatic, in dominating the other elite teams so much. Even so, a top 5 back in that SK era only contained three teams at most who could be considered likely to win the event.
mTw.dk faced the most difficult finals opponents of all and it’s not very close between mTw and the next in the pack. They faced teams who all won at least medium sized events in that same period, with the exception of Alternate at IEM III Europe, and in most of the big finals the team mTw.dk played would have been considered the #1 or #2 team in the world going into the game.
Whether SK or AGAiN should come next is not a clear cut decision. SK faced three teams who were considered definitely top 4 going into the finals and a fourth who are in hindsight, NoA. Of those two or perhaps three can be considered with hindsight as being the 2nd best team in the world going into the matchup. Meanwhile AGAiN also faced three opponents who could be considered top 4 at the time and a fourth who were with hindsight, Hoorai at WSVG UK. Of those teams two could be considered top 2, though in NiP’s case it was a difficult to judge. AGAiN also have the slight advantage that for the NiP and fnatic WCG finals they were actually the underdogs, something SK cannot say, so it clear those were competitive finals for them to win. AGAiN had more finals and against a weaker set of opponents over all of them, despite a couple being stronger than SK’s, while SK had only a few finals and quite strong opponents in all of them.
fnatic are last in this respect since, much as in the top 5 subsection, they faced a set of teams who were not at their strongest points and with hindsight were underdogs in all of those matchups. In terms of their finals opponents’ strength in comparison to the other teams mentioned in this article only AGAiN at IEM III Global were at the level of some of AGAiN and SK’s opponents. The others simply weren’t. It also doesn’t help that AGAiN themselves faced the dominant fnatic in one of the finals they won, which boosts them.
Bo3 single elimination is the hardest of the structures in terms of competition since it means a team has to defeat the other one two out of the three maps and must win every series to take the title. Single map double elimination is the next best structure and single map single elimination is the weakest competitive structure of them all.
AGAiN faced the most competitive structures as they played Bo3 single elimination in four of their five big events, with the fifth being single map double elimination. fnatic shares five events with Bo3 double elimination and one with single map double elimination it should be noted that one of the Bo3 tournaments was the much less important e-Stars Seoul and also that the single map double elimination tournament for fnatic was their biggest overall, IEM III Global.
mTw.dk cannot compete with the above two in this regard as of their five big tournaments they played single map Bo3 single elimination in three, but single map double elimination in one and then single map single elimination in another. SK are firmly last for this subsection as they faced Bo3 single elimination only once, at the WCG. At their three CPL events they faced single map double elimination. It is worth pointing out that in SK’s case Bo3 single elimination was only used by the WCG and was not close to becoming the standard for CS competition. That’s one knock against mTw: that they won a single map single elimination tournament in an era where Bo3 single elimination was considered the standard as well as the most competitive structure by essentially everyone.
Dominance is more than simply winning or accruing titles. It is more than beating good teams or winning memorable matches. Dominance is winning by a large margin and being the best team in a manner which is undeniable for even one’s biggest detractors. This is an area of criteria which must certainly be considered when talking about greatness in a competitive discipline. Thinking of some of the greatest sporting competitors (Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Roger Federer for example) one sees that not only are their legacies incredible in terms of pure success but also in the recognition of their dominance that comes from their peers, fiercest competitors and fellow greats of all time.
Overall map record: 47-0-0
Win rate: 100%
Losing rate: 0%
Map winning streak: 47
Bo3 series won and played: 4/4
Bo3 series win rate: 100%
Finals won and reached
Excluding domestic events: 4/4
From the purest statistical point of view SK.swe are the most dominant team of all time. They managed a streak of 47 map wins in a row across seven online and LAN competitions. That winning rate of 100% in mindblowing regardless of any context you try to apply to the teams they played or era they played in. It is highly unlikely any team will ever come even within 10% of that superlative winning rate ever again. SK.swe won every single competition they played in during this selected era, reaching six out of six finals. The only knocks on those incredible statistics is that their team has the shortest period of any team in this article. They also played less tournaments, though they also had no choice or opportunity to. Two of those events were also domestic.
Overall map record: 74-0-14
Win rate: 84%
Losing rate: 16%
Map winning streak: N/A
Bo3 series won and played: 26/31
Bo3 series win rate: 83.87%
Finals won and reached
Excluding domestic events: 6/8
fnatic are the second most purely satistically dominating team of all time as they managed an incredible 85% winning rate across 87 maps played. Factoring in that they only played one domestic event that winning rate is really incredible. They won 26 of the 31 Bo3 series they played, giving them an almost as impressive Bo3 series winning rate of 83.87%.
Overall map record: 108-5-33
Win rate: 73.97%
Losing rate: 22.6%
Map win streak: N/A
Bo3 series won and played: 28/31
Bo3 series win rate: 90%
Finals won and reached
Excluding domestic events: 6/8
While mTw.dk are ranked third in terms of pure statistics there a few different ways their dominance can be looked at and it bears considering all of them since in other ways they could be considered the second best team, or perhaps at a stretch the best, of all time in terms of dominance.
From a purely statiscial point of view mTw.dk managed to win a staggering 73.97% of the maps they played. However they played 146 maps, 59 more than fnatic and 99 more than SK.swe. To have that high a winning rate after such a incredibly high volume of maps is really impressive and should not be underestimated at all in terms of difficulty. They also played for the longest period of the teams for whom statistics have been calculated here, ten months. fnatic on the other hand only played for seven, one more than SK.swe. mTw.dk have the second highest Bo3 winning rate at a brilliant 90%, playing the same number as fnatic but losing only three in comparison to fnatic’s five.
For mTw to have won that many maps and series it shows how dominance and how consistent they were during their era. None of SK, fnatic and mTw could have been said to be simply hot or fortunate during their eras of dominance but this is especially true for mTw who consistently ground out winning results over and over.
Finals won and reached
Excluding domestic events: 9/14
No win rates or streaks for this team have been calculated because unlike the others included in this article they were never on top of the scene for a sustained period of time. They would win an event but never could string together a bunch of them. Their era also lasts longer than any other team in this article by at least 2 and a half years so their statistics will not be as high as the others calculated.
The Bonjwa factor
While the statistics of the teams shine a new light of their different accomplishments and provide a new perspective for thinking about each of them there is another useful concept which can be included in this discussion. It comes from South Korean Esports and more specifically professional StarCraft. The reader does not need to know anything about StarCraft as a game to appreciate this concept, the basics are presented merely to provide a foundation of context, so instead simply consider what the core principles of what it suggest.
Professional StarCraft in Korea is likely the most competitive Esport ever in terms of the money within the scene, the number of major titles to be won, the amount of practice the top level competitiors put in and the difficulty in winning one of the big titles, which are called StarLeagues. There have been 51 StarLeagues and yet it is so difficult to win more than one that the most ever won by one person stands at 6. Meanwhile the player considered the fourth or fifth best of all time holds only 3. Even without being deeply knowledgeable about StarCraft one can see that this makes it tricky to define exactly how great each player is purely on titles alone. This is where the concept of the ‘Bonjwa’ comes in.
Bonjwa in this context basically means the most dominant player of an era and one of the undisputed greatest players of all time. What’s key to understand is that there are only four players who are considered bonjwas in StarCraft history. All of them had an extended period where they were absolutely dominant and the best player in the world. So for example one of the bonjwas has only won three StarLeagues (two depending on certain people’s criteria) and yet he is considered a bonjwa while another player who has five is not. The reason is simple: the bonjwa with three StarLeagues had his period of dominance during which he won them, while the player with five had periods where he was no longer #1 and other players took over from him before he regained that position.
To finally define the differences being outlined here before the concept is applied to the CS teams there are two basic ways to define who the bonjwa is. Firstly he must have an extended period of dominance where he is the number one player in the world and is the favourite in every matchup into he goes during that time period no matter the opponent or other circumstances such as map or whatever else may be. It is not that the bonjwa can never lose, else nobody could be one, but that he must still be the dominant player despite that loss and the favourite in the next matchup he goes into.
Secondly if you have to ask or debate whether a player is a bonjwa then he isn’t. This second point may sound bizarre but there is logic to it: the four players considered bonjwas are absolutely undisputed in that status. Everyone, no matter which players they like or what style they enjoy watching or which aspects of the game they consider most important agrees that these four are all bonjwas. Other players who might have enough titles or may have been good for a period of time are debated and argued over but none have that undisputed factor to seal the deal.
Applying it to Counter-Strike
In Counter-Strike terms SK.swe, mTw.dk and fnatic are all bonjwas. They were all the best team in the world for their selected period and all favoured in each matchup they went into. At their peaks they weren’t just the best by a small margin but as their period progressed, and hindsight has shown, they were the best by a reasonably large margin over the entire period of their play. Lastly it is, or should be, undisputed that these three are all bonjwas. Someone may love fnatic yet they should not reasonably deny that SK.swe were bonjwas also. Likewise another may love SK.swe but he will not say mTw.dk were not bonjwas. And so on.
The reason this is an interesting perspective to put out there is that it provides a little spice to the discussion of AGAiN being the best team of all time. AGAiN have won the most of what are considered the most prestigious titles. Not only that but they have done across the eras of two of the other teams who would be undisputed bonjwas. That is all incredibly impressive but so are the accomplishments of the StarCraft player who has won five StarLeagues. Likewise, he won his some of his across a number of years and with different players becoming the #1 player during those time periods. So in considering the dominance in light of the bonjwa factor AGAiN would not be considered bonjwas.
Some additional perspectives on each of the teams and their accomplishments.
Consider each team’s period at the top and how much they maximised their potential to win during that period. To begin with SK.swe they absolutely maxmised their achievement and could not possibly have been more successful, only less. As a result one need not give to much thought to what might have been in their case.
For mTw.dk they won their five titles but also reached the finals of DreamHack Winter in 2008. At this event they faced the other four of the top 5 teams in the world and after beating three of them fell to the last one, SK.swe, in an third map in overtime. Beyond mere speculation that event was not only very nearly won by mTw.dk but it can reasonably be suggested that they could have won it. Had they have won it they’d have won six titles over a span of about 10 months and with all of them being at the very least medium sized events in terms of prestige. On top of those wins there were also a number of other events mTw did not win but which were available during their era: IEM III Global, ESWC, IEM III Dubai and the aforementioned DreamHack Winter.
From fnatic’s point of view they won their five titles but they reached two other significant finals which should be mentioned. In the final of IEM IV Chengdu they lost in two overtime maps to SK. Again it not unreasonable to say they were both a) close to winning these games and b) could have won these games. That would have made six titles without to speculate wildly. In the finals of the WCG they lost the first map in a monster overtime game which went through so many overtimes that I doubt anyone would suggest fnatic could not have won it. That said they lost the second map 12:16 which is not too close but had they won the first that there would have been a third map. It would be unnecessarily bold and imaginative to say they would have won that third map, but there is at least at worst a 30-40% chance they might have?
Anyway the WCG final does not have to be considered as closely as the IEM IV Chengdu final in this respect, but it bears throwing in as an aside. So fnatic had one of the best periods ever in CS and yet they might have ended up with six or seven titles depending on whether you’re willing to take a very small leap of imagination or a slightly but not drastically larger one.
AGAiN played for over three years so despite their large number of titles they naturally had lots of other titles which were available but which they did not win. They managed to win the WCG in 2006 which was basically the third most prestigious title. ESWC that year was single map single elimination so it is pretty questionable that it was more important than CPL Winter 2006, which was Bo3 single elimination. Plus winning CPL Winter had made fnatic the #1 team in the world, so not managing to win that title is a small knock on AGAiN. They also made it to the finals of IEM III Global and IEM III Dubai. At Global the score might have looked close at 13:16 but fnatic were up 13:2 after the first half. Meanwhile at Dubai they lose in two maps and they weren’t that close in either. Likewise there were a couple of SEC runnerups but those weren’t games which look winnable without considerable changes to history.
There has been a lot of information displayed in this article for the reader to consider. Much of it is not clear cut either and means that the reader likely can’t hold every single factor or perspective in his mind to make one coherent decision on who the greatest team ever is. Instead if the reader must decide then he will need to pick which criteria he considers the most important to determining the greatest team of all time. It is my hope in writing this article that seeing the criteria he must ignore or choose as less valuable will impress upon the reader that there is no clear cut greatest team of all time and that there have been four truly great teams and they have all been great for mostly different reasons.
SK.swe were impossibly dominant but for a short period of time in an area of less tournaments and less overall competition. fnatic were very dominant for a slightly longer period and won a number of titles, but let one of the biggest get away from them, in an era which saw a downturn in competition for a while. mTw.dk were dominant over a lot of maps played but didn’t win the most titles or all the big titles, despite winning a number of medium to large sized ones. AGAiN won the most big titles but over by far the longest period of time and across a whole spectrum of levels of competition.