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Astralis build on Counter-Strike legacy with IEM Katowice title

The Astralis roster acknowledges the crowd at IEM Katowice during the trophy ceremony for the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament. Astralis took home $500,000 and continued to build on a long list of championship victories in the past year. Bart Oerbekke/Provided by ESL

KATOWICE, Poland -- It was euphoric inside the Spodek.

After entering to a raucous, sold-out crowd as their own theme song, "EZ4ENCE," played, the Finnish underdogs who had already eliminated the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the world in Poland took the first two rounds against defending major champion Astralis.

The best team in the world, arguably the greatest Counter-Strike team of all time, was on the back foot for one of the first times all tournament, and the fans, ready to see a historic upset, were out of their seats, serenading ENCE with chants and songs.

Then, Astralis woke up.

ENCE gave up the third round, and from there, the Danes were off to the races. It didn't matter if team ace, Nicolai "dev1ce" Reedtz, got off to a slow start on ENCE's map pick, Train. When he wasn't at his best, there was Andreas "Xyp9x" HĂžjsleth, clutching rounds in one-on-two and one-on-three situations. If Xyp9x stumbled, behind him was Emil "Magisk" Reif, happy to take the load and go on a hot streak.

"The guys of Astralis are playing well; it is difficult to play against them," said MIBR player Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo, whose team lost to Astralis in the semifinals. "They are good as f---."

There was no denying the magic ENCE played with during their time in Katowice. In the final, there were plenty of the moments that the fans in Poland had seen for the past few days in the knockout stage, with the Finns stealing victory from the jaws of defeat. At multiple times on the first map, the crowd was ready to blow the roof off the arena, on the edge of their seats as they waited for the party to continue.

Magic was in the air, but it didn't matter. Astralis, the Goliath, crushed the magic and David. They took the best shot ENCE had to offer and ran through the underdogs. Xyp9x shut the door of a comeback on Train, and on Inferno, there was no opposition to Astralis taking a second straight major championship.

The crowd was silenced, and the strong Danish contingent in the crowd celebrated, a group in the nosebleeds singing their own songs, swaying back and forth as they watched their team become immortalized right in front of their eyes.

Three out of the past five major championships have now gone to Astralis. For over a year, they've dominated the scene, winning tournament after tournament. Astralis have now won two major titles in a row, something no other organization has done except for the legendary Fnatic squad of 2015 and the Brazilian core that made up Luminosity and SK Gaming in 2016. There is no question that Astralis is the best team in the world. The only question that remains is the most important of all: Is Astralis the best team in Counter-Strike history?

"I think the correct response would be that it's not up to us to decide," dev1ce said. "But I think we're getting there. We're incredibly proud of this win and it meant a lot to us to do it back-to-back because that's what some other teams have done before and we want to do three in a row now."

The final, especially on Inferno, was a master class in how to play Counter-Strike. Every movement had a purpose for Astralis. They used utility to gain small advantages and put pressure on the Finns. The final map went by like a blur: Three won rounds for Astralis suddenly turned into 11 in a row without a response.

Before the fans could catch their bearings, Astralis were raising the IEM Katowice trophy, the once-exciting final having turned into a romp.

"I think if they keep this pace in this year, nobody can doubt [they're the greatest]," said FalleN, one of the members of that 2016 SK Gaming squad. "Their performance in last year is a proof of it, which was the most successful in the history -- they've earned more [tournaments] than we've won in 2016 and 2017."

The best player in the world, Natus Vincere's Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev, couldn't stop the miracle run ENCE put together at IEM Katowice. He played some of his best Counter-Strike and couldn't shut down the teamplay of the fan favorite. Astralis, however, managed to do so handily, in part because of the players' intense connection to and understanding of one another.

"They have great communication," s1mple said. "As a team, they always wake up at the same time, eat breakfast, they do everything together. And because of this, they're the best now."

On that grand stage, the thousands of fans watching them, the monitors in front of their faces and a mouse at the tip of their fingers, is where the members of Astralis feel the most comfortable. At those moments, no one in the world can touch them. Be it at the gym, eating lunch or doing what they are best at, Counter-Strike, they're always together, and if one of them falls, the next guy up is ready to offer him a hand.

"I think after one year together with this team, it kinda feels like I've been playing with them for over 10 years now," Magisk said. "That's just how it feels because it feels so amazing to have them as my teammates. They know how I react outside the game and inside the game."

When probed what their next goal was, the players laughed, as though it should already be known. They want to become the first team in Counter-Strike to win three major championships in a row. Magisk, currently possessing only two in total compared with the three the rest of his teammates have from their ELEAGUE major win in early 2017, demanded a few more than just a three-peat to add to his own legacy.

At this very second, no esports team on the planet is as dominant as Astralis in their esport. It doesn't matter if the crowd is against them or if the cheers quiet down as they run off to another blowout tournament victory. They're having enough fun on their own to fill an entire Spodek by themselves.

They don't need a theme song.

To them, the perfect track to dance to is stunned silence, the most beautiful sound of all.