In a hard-fought best-of-five, Natus Vincere defeated BIG 3-1 in the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive grand finals to win ESL One Cologne.
After the bracket was revealed, no one expected either finalist to make it this far. BIG, playing in its home country, had to eliminate FaZe Clan and G2 Esports; the two were heavy favorites against the No. 25 team in the world. Meanwhile, Na'Vi needed to take down the leviathan Astralis, something that seemed all but impossible.
In the final, BIG put up a decent fight by winning Dust2, but in the end Natus Vincere's strong fundamental Counter-Strike and overwhelming firepower was too much for the home team. Na'Vi took home the trophy by defeating BIG 3-1 in the best-of-three, establishing itself firmly as the second-best team in the world after winning three consecutive tournaments.
In the end, the finalists defied expectations, which was a bit of a theme at ESL One Cologne.
The biggest surprise to all was BIG's surprising form in front of a home crowd. Without the expectation of winning a single map, BIG beat Team Liquid in its first match, surprising both its adversary and the analysts. The Germans' play seemed to fall back to Earth when they were crushed by Fnatic 2-0 in a best-of-three, but BIG followed up the loss with series wins against Renegades and MIBR to qualify for the playoff stage.
The team then faced off against G2's new roster, a group that had looked sharp in Cologne up to that point, in the quarterfinals. After an overtime win on Cache, BIG dominated G2 on the latter's map pick Dust2 and closed out the map 16-1 to advance to the semifinals.
There, BIG faced off against FaZe, a consensus top-three team in the world coming into the tournament. The first two matches were won by a razor's edge, with FaZe taking Dust2 in overtime and BIG winning Train 16-13. But after BIG's comeback on Train, FaZe fizzled out, unable to match BIG's energy, which allowed the Germans to cruise through Inferno 16-6.
Fellow finalist Na'Vi had an equally impressive run highlighted by beating the consensus best team in the world, Astralis, in the semifinals. This is only the second time Astralis has lost a best-of-three series since March, one of the most dominant runs in the history of the game. Facing off against this titan, Na'Vi managed to squeeze out a victory through superstar performances from Denis "electronic" Sharipov and Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev, as well as a heroic 30-kill performance from in-game leader Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko in the final map.
It was close, with Na'Vi edging out Astralis on its two map wins 16-13. Regardless of how the team managed it, though, Natus Vincere's victory over Astralis marks an important shift in the scene as the former positions itself to take the latter's crown as best in the world.
Cologne may well be regarded as a pivotal moment in 2018 in Counter-Strike, as the scene has been dominated by Astralis since DreamHack Masters Marseille in April. After many months of uncontested victories, the Danes have finally found a rival. Now, it's up to Na'Vi to carry the momentum of its recent trophy wins into the next tournament.
One more series win over Astralis, and questions will arise about the rightful owner of the title of best team in the world.