The dawn of a new year can mean different things for each individual. The majority of us spend the latter stages of the year winding down from the stresses of the previous and with that, we set ambitious goals for the year to come.
This is also the case in the world of Counter-Strike. The winter break brings an end to the season of CS:GO, and with that, organization owners get out their checkbooks and prepare for massive spending to better their teams going into the following year.
In this article, I am attempting to highlight some interesting roster changes that were rumored to be in the works and that came into fruition prior to the beginning of the 2022 season.
G2 breaking the bank once again
Ilya "m0NESY" Osipov is one of the scene’s youngest breakout stars. At the age of just 16, m0NESY had already set the Counter-Strike world alight by crushing all competition down at the academy level. He boasted a 1.36 rating according to HLTV throughout the whole of 2021, despite his team having a distinct lack of any deep runs in tournaments.
The young sniper was transfer-listed from NAVI Junior in early December last year. The young Russian had sparked interest from lots of teams in the elite tier of CS:GO, who were all eagerly chasing his signature. G2 Esports were the lucky ones that managed to reach an agreement for the youngster. A deal that reportedly set back the German organization around $600,000, disregarding any add-ons or bonuses.
The Russian marksman has already proven to be a valuable asset for the G2 side as they had lacked a prominent AWPer since Kenny “kennyS” Schrub over a year ago. This change has made the G2 roster possibly the most star-studded roster in Counter-Strike with the Kovač duo of Nikola “NiKo” Kovač and Nemanja “huNter-” Kovač still on the books. The addition of m0NESY, dubbed the next s1mple, is reason alone to be excited for the G2 roster this season.
But the ever charismatic organization owner Carlos "ocelote" Rodríguez seemingly didn’t think so. Other shuffles took place in the G2 Esports camp before their attendance at Blast Premier Spring. Remy "XTQZZZ" Quoniam and Aleksi "Aleksib" Virolainen have deemed the final pieces of the “G2 puzzle”.
A swap deal between G2 Esports and OG occurred, which saw Nemanja "nexa" Isaković make way for the Finish In-Game Leader. The departure of the 24-year-old saw him part ways with long-term partner huNter after spending more than four years together. Ex-Vitality coach Remy "XTQZZZ" Quoniam was the replacement for Damien "maLeK" Marcel - following his departure post-major.
With the addition of a tenured IGL in Aleksib, a successful coach in XTQZZZ, and a hyped superstar in m0NESY, the previous major finalists look like they possess one of the scariest and most lethal lineups in the world and they proved that with a Grand Final appearance at IEM Katowice 2022.
Vitality goes international
Going into 2022, the French outfit underwent a severe overhaul of its Counter-Strike division. The French side retained three members of their previous roster - IGL Dan “apEX" Madesclaire, young rifler Kévin "misutaaa" Rabier, and world-renowned AWP player Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut.
The Parisian organization expanded outside their region, which led to a French-Danish partnership in 2022. The Astralis trio of Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen, Emil "Magisk" Reif, and coach Danny "zonic" Sørensen completed the lineup and now look settled in their new home. They replaced the departing Richard "shox" Papillon and Jayson "Kyojin" Nguyen Van as well as the previously mentioned Remy "XTQZZZ" Quoniam on the French squad.
That trio was all integral pieces of the legendary Astralis lineup that won seemingly endless amounts of elite silverware throughout 2018 and 2019. Their biggest triumphs were their three consecutive major titles as well as the first season of the Intel Grand Slam after winning ESL Pro League Season 8 in Odense in December of 2018.
Combining three members of the most successful team in Counter-Strike with the twice-named number one player in the world, Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut, is beyond an exciting prospect. Seemingly the sky's the limit for this roster in 2022 and the only question is - can they emulate the success of the Astralis core?
FaZe get an upgrade
Robin “ropz” Kool had played under the MOUZ banner since 2017, but his tenure with the German organization came to an end when he made the exciting transfer to FaZe. Throughout his time with MOUZ, the 22-year-old has made the HLTV Top 20 Player rankings four times, being a top-10 player twice - finishing as high as seventh in 2020.
Similar to what Bosnian superstar Nikola “NiKo” Kovač did in 2017, ropz made the blockbuster move from MOUZ to FaZe. MOUZ had been Robin’s only professional team throughout his career, and it is a joy to watch him flourish under a new logo. The arrival of the Estonian was in place of Swedish legend and two-time major winner Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer which ended his more than four-year tenure with FaZe.
This move marked the return of the fan-favorite partnership of ropzand Finn “karrigan” Andersen. The passive rifling of ropzshone under the leadership style of karrigan during their time together in MOUZ. They acquired four trophies throughout this time, and ropz received the sole MVP award of his career. FaZe’s second stint with karrigan came with huge expectations. There were hopes of winning Finn’s first major and further establishing his status as one of the best in-game leaders there has ever been in Counter-Strike, but prior to the addition of ropz, the project was fruitless. The American organization hoped that the addition of ropz could change the team’s trajectory heading into 2022 and what a roster move this turned out to be.
FaZe won the first big LAN event of 2022 at IEM Katowice. This event was a chaotic event for the European lineup, to say the least. The tournament saw Finn “karrigan” Andersen’s men field Justin “jks” Savage as a stand-in not just for one but for two different players throughout the competition's duration. This was a monumental win for Robin “ropz” Kool and dignified his move away from the MOUZ outfit.
Something of equal interest is thinking about the future of MOUZ post-ropz. This is especially intriguing due to the immense success of the academy roster, MOUZ NXT. Since their addition to the Counter-Strike calendar, all seasons of the WePlay Academy League have been won by the academy side which led to them eclipsing the main MOUZ roster in the official HLTV rankings.
Based on reports by both Dexerto and 1pv.fr, the consensus was that MOUZ were considering the promotion of academy players Ádám “torzsi” Torzsás and Jon “JDC” de Castro, who were instrumental since their inception into MOUZ NXT, as well as the addition of French legend Nathan “NBK” Schmitt. It eventually came to light that youngster Aurimas “Bymas” Pipiras would remain with the team for 2022, which came as good news for fans of the Lithuanian rifler.
The inclusion of these two saw the departure of Frederik "acoR" Gyldstrand as well as FaZe-bound Robin “ropz” Kool. The MOUZ NXT coach Dennis "sycrone" Nielsen also made the step-up replacing his compatriot Torbjørn "mithR" Nyborg. The NXT coach was incredibly successful in 2021, showing his expertise when developing young talent. MOUZ is hoping he, alongside Christopher “dexter” Nong and newcomer Nathan “NBK” Schmitt, can nurture and develop the young talents MOUZ has on the books for success in 2022.
The resurgence of North American CS:GO
Prior to the regionalization of the Counter-Strike scene due to the wide-reaching effects of COVID-19, the North American scene was thriving. Team Liquid had just won the second season of the Intel Grand Slam, winning seven events throughout 2019. The NRG/Evil Geniuses core was also having some decent success making deep runs in tournaments. That year featured five American or Canadian players in the HLTV Top 20 Players, with eight MVPs also being received by the region.
The previously mentioned regionalization had vast effects on the scene due to the lack of efficient practice against top opposition. In comparison, only two players from North America featured on HLTV's Top 20 Players of 2020. The practice was scarce, and this meant when these teams returned to Europe, they generally performed poorly, and thus, the region has failed to win a single non-regionalized tournament since 2019 (ignoring Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken at IEM Katowice 2022). The most recent was Evil Geniuses’ win in Belek in the StarSeries & i-League CS:GO Season 8 in October 2019.
This trend continued into 2021, with the North American region still struggling, this in part by the immense growth of a Counter-Strike competitor VALORANT, which stole some of North America’s greatest talents. The lack of results sparked a mass reshuffling of the scene, which created some fascinating rosters for 2022.
Liquid had been the stable yet dominant force in American Counter-Strike for essentially its entire duration. There were huge internal struggles within Liquid last year, and it has cascaded into a three-man roster change. The Dutch organization retained long-time players Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski and Keith "NAF" Markovic and let go of Michael “Grim” Wince, Jake “Stewie2K” Yip, and Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo.
The vacant spots were filled by Ex-Vitality player Richard "shox" Papillon and Extra Salt AWPer Josh “oSee” Ohm with ex-Liquid legend Nicholas “nitr0” Cannella returning as leader of the American squad. Nicholas’ return attempts to reignite what made Liquid so special in 2019 with teammates NAF and EliGE. These additions aimed to bring massive amounts of experience with regards to shox and potential with regards to oSee.
Complexity was without a team heading into the new year. And reports surfaced of their interest in signing the Extra Salt core with two new additions. This interest was real as they signed the roster in January of 2022. Ex-Furia AWPer Paytyn “-junior” Johnson filled the void left by the departed oSee with recently benched rifler Grim taking the place of Edgar "MarKE" Maldonado reuniting with junior - his old teammate from Triumph. Complexity now again has an American-majority roster and has high hopes of achieving international success given the immense funding and the state-of-the-art facility they provide.
Evil Geniuses seemingly entrusted Damien "maLeK" Marcel to rebuild the project they started towards the latter stages of 2019. They started with two solid pieces, star rifler Vincent "Brehze" Cayonte and Bulgarian AWPer Tsvetelin "CeRq" Dimitrov. The gaps were occupied by the famous Boston Major winning duo of Timothy “autimatic” Ta and Jake “Stewie2K” Yip. Timothy, who, like nitr0, has spent the last year playing VALORANT, has finally decided to return to Counter-Strike. Although his level of play was unknown, so far in 2022, the American looks at his best.
The last remaining slot on the roster was filled by American major winner William “RUSH” Wierzba, a major he won with both autimatic and Stewie2K. This acquisition came as talks with OG rifler Valdemar "valde" Bjørn Vangså broke down. The experience of three of the five American major winners and the insane talent of the retained pieces means that there will surely be nothing but good things to come for Evil Geniuses as they continue to grow into the 2022 season.
A South American shake-up
The Brazilian viewer base is one of the largest and most passionate in the Counter-Strike scene. Therefore Brazilian lineups gather huge amounts of attention as fans anticipate the next dominant force to come out of their region. FURIA massively benefitted from the regionalized tournaments in 2020. They showcased their ability to go head to head with the best teams the Americas had to offer - with them winning three regionalized events in that year. Three members of their roster also featured on HLTV’s Top 20 Players of 2020, with four MVPs being acquired by those same players.
However, the departure of star AWP player Henrique “HEN1” Teles sparked a downtrend in the results for the Brazilian unit. This fifth spot has remained the thorn in the side of FURIA. At first, they went with up-and-coming American AWPer Paytyn “-junior” Johnson. Once the English-speaking experiment was deemed a failure, they decided to look to their academy roster. Lucas “honda” Cano was the first addition, but Furia eventually decided that young prospect André "drop" Abreu was the right fit for the team.
Since the addition of drop, there has been a slight up-trend in their results, with FURIA making the quarterfinals at the PGL Major in Stockholm. But it was clear that the main issue still persisted. FURIA lacked an efficient sniper who could go toe-to-toe with the best “big-green” players the game has to offer. FURIA announced the signing of 27-year-old AWP player Rafael "saffee" Costa in early 2022, who was brought in to fix their AWPing issues - something that has plagued the team for a while.
Rafael “saffee” Costa
Rafael really shone in paiN Gaming, especially when it mattered most, at the PGL Major. Even though his team failed to qualify for the main event, going 1-3 in the Challengers Stage, saffee made a name for himself, posting a 1.18 rating throughout. He was caught in the spotlight after a phenomenal series against reigning champions Astralis. With this transfer, FURIA hopes to become a dominant force within their region once again and prove to the world that Andrei “arT” Piovezan and his troops have what it takes to fight for trophies on a global stage.
The player who made way for the AWP superstar is a long-time team member – Vinicius “VINI” Figueiredo – who was announced to be no longer part of FURIA’s plans for 2022. The 22-year-old support player had a long and successful tenure of four years with the organization and proved he was a valuable asset to any team. The Brazilian was initially reported to be in talks with Team Liquid, but that deal fell through. Vinicius “VINI” Figueiredo finally joined forces with some veterans of the South American game in the quote-on-quote “Last Dance” project which is now known as Imperial.
Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo
Initially, Brazilian legends and two-time major winners Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo and Marcelo “coldzera” David were headlining the project. The two-time major MVP instead decided to join 00Nation, to embark on his own project. Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo was joined on Imperial by two other members of the legendary Luminosity/SK team – Fernando “fer” Alvarenga and Lincoln “fnx” Lau, as well as rifler Ricardo “boltz” Prass who rounded out the five-person squad.
Although having an average age of over 28, this lineup has hopes to compete at the highest level, and expectations from the Brazilian community are astronomically high. No matter their success, one thing is for sure – this lineup is adored by fans who hope these legendary names can reignite their passion for the game and rediscover their old form.
CAN ANYONE TOPPLE NATUS VINCERE?
Natus Vincere dominated the majority of 2021, having won the sole major tournament, the first since 2019, as well as the third season of the Intel Grand Slam. Going into 2022, fans were curious to see if they can continue their immense form from last year and lengthen the era they were seemingly creating for themselves.
Despite FaZe’s win at IEM Katowice, Natus Vincere are still the benchmark for most teams. The roster changes made over the winter period were all in an attempt to catch up and to be the ones to knock the Ukrainian organization off of the top spot. So far Counter-Strike in 2022 is looking a lot more competitive – with lots of tense and thrilling matches.
Counter-Strike Global Offensive turns ten years old this year, and the game is still reaching new heights – with the Grand Final of IEM Katowice 2022 breaking the viewing record for a non-major match. The viewing statistics from the previous PGL Major too showcase a record-breaking level of attention on the Valve game. No matter the success of any of these rosters, the Counter-Strike space looks healthier and healthier as the years go by.