Up until this year and the wide spread of high contract buy-out figures, one of the appealing and unique qualities of the Counter-Strike scene was the ease and frequency with which players could move from one team to another.
As a result, teams always had the option to change a player and potentially upgrade a position or improve their team chemistry.
The knock-on effect of this free movement of players was to keep the competitive level of CS:GO at a very high standard, as any team who were winning tournaments and dominating the scene could find themselves displaced by a contender who made the right move at the right time. Sometimes, it can take only a single player change to turn a side from a semi-finalist hopeful at best, to the number one team in the world.
Deciding the best roster moves requires me to consider the parameters of such a set of judgements. Therefore, I've elected to ignore the construction of entire rosters, such as the formation of NiP at the beginning of CS:GO. This is also not a list deciding what the best roster moves were at the time of their occurrence, but rather considering the historical impact on that player, the team in question and the scene at large.
Finally, I've labelled this article "roster moves", rather than transfers, to avoid the unintentional definition of players having to specifically agree to transfer from one team to another.
These are my top 10 CS:GO roster moves of all-time.
10. Skadoodle and fREAKAZOiD join Cloud9
Line-up: Skadoodle, Shroud, n0thing, fREAKAZOiD and sgares
Replacing: SEMPHIS and ShahZam
Cloud9 were a joke when they released SEMPHIS and ShahZam. They had been largely irrelevant on an international level for the better part of half a year, unable to even progress from the group stages of big tournaments and only having a few close games or single map upset wins, such as over Virtus.pro, to their name. Two majors had come and gone with them unable to reach the play-off stage.
The last straw for the former North American number ones came when they finished in last place at the ESEA S18 LAN finals, losing out to Nihilum. For a team which had once been in the position - back at ESL One Cologne, in August of 2014 - to potentially make the final of a major, this was the end of a disappointing downward spiral, which had culminated with Cloud9 barely even qualifying as a tier two team any more.
Skadoodle had been arguably the best North American player of the era following C9's downfall, spearheading iBUYPOWER's run to the final of the FACEIT Season 2 Finals in October of 2014. When all of the other iBUYPOWER players had been banned for match-fixing, Skadoodle was left to wander the wilderness with Hiko, who was poised to officially join the ex-iBUYPOWER men in a new organisation early in the year prior to their banning.
The two had been the best NA players of the previous year and were assumed to be a package, with Hiko carrying out the negotiations between different teams to see where they could find a home and a new start. They had even both played as stand-ins for the eLevate team which finished second at CEVO-P S6 LAN Finals. As a result, it was a shock to many to discover that Skadoodle had decided to accept a blockbuster offer from Cloud9, including a then enormous signing fee, without Hiko following suit.
While Skadoodle was clearly a fantastic talent, nobody could be certain of the impact he would have upon the then lacklustre Cloud9. Directed by DaZeD in iBUYPOWER, it was understandable to muse that sgares would need to put serious thought into how he would use his new super-star sniper, a role C9 and past coL line-ups had always lacked.
As it turns out, Skadoodle exceeded expectations and was able to establish himself as not only the best North American player in 2015, but one of the best players in the entire world. There was a period, in the Summer, when there was a legitimate debate to be had over whether Skadoodle or GuardiaN was the best AWPer in the world, with the North American player even surpassing the level of the mighty kennyS.
Skadoodle has not only brought a dominant AWPing presence to Cloud9, he has always given them the consistent star power they had lacked since the peak of Hiko's powers, back in the Summer of the previous year. Shroud has repeatedly flirted with star status, even delivering an MVP performance in C9's ESL ESEA ProLeague final run, however, he was never able to maintain the consistent shot-making performance level Skadoodle had shown.
fREAKAZOiD's addition was a shock in as much as it left many fans asking "who?". The North American had been a latter day Source player and had barely competed offline in CS:GO, with only a top six finish at an ESEA LAN to his name. The reasoning behind bringing him in out of nowhere did have something to with it, though, as C9 had lacked a good entry fragger for a long time and he arrived in the line-up with the mindset to make that role his primary focus.
The impact of fREAKZOiD cannot compare to Skadoodle's in terms of his frags, but he has had a large effect on the functioning of the team as a whole. Firstly, his run-through-a-wall-on-your-command mentality to entry-fragging enabled sgares to show off his ability to lead in-game and read the enemy defences in a way in which we had never seen before. Secondly, the arrival of fREAKAZOiD added an aggression to a team which was overloaded with passive players and personality types.
Finally, fREAKAZOiD moved other players into roles which suited them better. With fREAKAZOiD willing to run in first, it freed Shroud up to simply follow-up and then use his impressive aim to feast upon opponents focusing elsewhere or simply acquire the trade frag for fREAK's death. n0thing no longer had to battle with sgares over not wanting to be the entry fragger, allowing him to play further back and even take on more clutch round situations.
On the surface, it was largely the addition of Skadoodle which was expected to impact Cloud9's future results and potential, with many wondering if fREAKZOiD was just a temporary experiment, but the sum of both players' impacts transformed C9 into a team which was close to winning an international tournament on three occasions in the Summer.
9. flamie joins Na`Vi
Line-up: GuardiaN, Edward, flamie, seized and Zeus
The Na`Vi of 2014 and early 2015 were the epitome of a dangerous dark horse threat, yet their force of play which would see them upsetting world championship level teams and even win smaller events also seemingly required every drop of potential to be wrung from the Na`Vi sponge, which was understandably not a path of consistency.
That Na`Vi line-up lived and died by the AWPing of GuardiaN, who could take over a map against even the best teams in the world and deliver it to his CIS squad. Most times that simply meant Na`Vi would win a single map in a three map series, thus failing to win many titles or advance beyond the semi-finals of a major, if they could even reach that far.
However, there were some incredible runs, such as their wins at StarSeries IX, besting a field of three of the best teams in the world - NiP, Virtus.pro and Titan. This Na`Vi was transformed with the arrival of flamie in April of 2015. Within their first couple of events they had won another title, winning EPL Winter and besting EnVyUs, the number two team in CS:GO, in a semi-final and then the kennyS Titan in the final.
Once Na`Vi kicked the entire line-up into gear, they elevated themselves to title contenders and a ranking as high as number two in the world. Na`Vi would establish a run of a number of top four finishes in a row and eventually finals in a row. Defeating EnVyUs in a Bo5 final at StarSeries XIII announced the arrival of this new championship material Na`Vi. They would win ESWC, admittedly an event with no TSM or FNATIC - the two best teams at the time.
While much of this success was as a result of the phenomenal AWPer GuardiaN elevating his level of consistency to become a force in seemingly every map of play, it was also the arrival of flamie which proved significant. Starix had been an intelligent veteran player but whose best days had long since passed him by, in terms of fragging and individual skills. Flamie was a fittingly fiery and volatile performer.
Given to explosive halves of play, if flamie showed up in a game in which GuardiaN was on form, which was seemingly every game that Summer, Na`Vi suddenly became a scary line-up with a number of talented names, adding in the likes of Edward and seized to the equation. Na`Vi had quietly become one of the most skill intensive line-ups in the game.
Flamie played a good Robin to GuardiaN's batman, and he wasn’t always required to deliver a big game, not that he had a choice, as players like Edward and seized could also hit 25 or 30 kills on occasion. Na`Vi had made the one move they needed to arrive as a championship level team. Their run to the final of the major was again predicated upon GuardiaN's greatness, but flamie's own sick performance in the semi-final against NiP ensured it was a smoother run that it might otherwise have been.
At the most recent event, IEM X San Jose, Na`Vi were able to add another international title for the year, defeating the elite level TSM team in the final. GuardiaN has been Na`Vi's best player, but flamie's arrival has been a key step along the path towards all-time status for Na`Vi.
8. GuardiaN and Edward join Na`Vi
Line-up: GuardiaN, Edward, seized, starix and Zeus
Prior to GuardiaN joining up with Na`Vi, they were a team who were set to be of no significance to the outcomes of big tournaments. It's crucial to understand that Na`Vi themselves had been the big losers of a previous blockbuster trade in 2013. Na`Vi had come into CS:GO late, in early 2013, and had brought their all-time great 1.6 line-up over intact.
As all of the teams who kept the same line-ups from game-to-game found, CS:GO was a very different animal than any previous version of Counter-Strike. Na`Vi's biggest problem was that their star players in 1.6, markeloff and Edward, did not possess the same game impact in CS:GO as they had done previously. When those stars left for Astana Dragons, Na`Vi had to bring in younger unproven talents in seized and kibaken.
Despite some decent results early on, Na`Vi failed the first major. GuardiaN joined the team in late 2013 and few could have known the impact he would have upon them. While he had been one of the break-out CS:GO players of the year, helping the CIS Virtus.pro defeat NiP in the Summer, Na`Vi seemed a far less skilled line-up.
The first major of 2014 saw Na`Vi again going out in the group stage. However, it was at StarSeries IX where GuardiaN arrived as the star of Na`Vi. On the back of his AWPing the team would roll through world class opposition to win the tournament outright, despite being favoured to finish in last place. That would set the tone for GuardiaN's time and impact on Na`Vi: the one true super-star level player in the team, meaning, when he was on his game they could compete with and beat even the best teams in the world.
It took flamie's arrival for Na`Vi to become a legitimate contender for the bigger titles in the game, but they still relied heavily upon GuardiaN. Na`Vi's best ever finish at a major, reaching the final of Dreamhack Cluj-Napoca, showed the force he brings to their team, putting in an MVP performance for the entire tournament.
While technically the move saw Edward joining Na`Vi at the same time, he had already been a member previously and his return was after a poor spell in Astana Dragons. It was largely the addition of GuardiaN which turned the Na`Vi franchise around as a CS:GO squad.
7. pronax joins fnatic
Line-up: flusha, JW, schneider, pronax and Devilwalk
The core four players of FNATIC had risen up over the Summer of 2013, making it to the final of Dreamhack Summer, but had failed to move beyond the status of a dark horse team. With MODDII as their in-game leader and one of their stars, they upset NiP on train at Dreamhack Bucharest, but still did not go deep in the event.
Pronax was added only a few weeks before Dreamhack Winter, the first major of CS:GO, and had an immediate impact upon the playing style of the squad. Moving some positions around, such as swapping the roles of flusha and schneider, pronax brought a strong identity to the team. They would shock the world at the major, taking down the mighty NiP in the final and winning the title.
A huge part of their victory can be attributed to pronax, who brought his unique mid-round calling skills to the forefront, bamboozling and frustrating teams like coL and NiP en route to the trophy. In that era, teams would eventually figure out how to adapt to pronax's style, but it came at the perfect time for FNATIC to catch everyone off-guard.
Prior to his time in FNATIC, pronax had been a decent in-game leader in CS:GO but with the third best Swedish teams, often made up of players who have failed to go on to anything great. Epsilon, as they had then been called, had asked pronax to join up with them many times, but he declined their offers until later in the year.
As it turns out, pronax's addition helped FNATIC to their first major title and would later, in the olofm and KRiMZ era, pilot them to two more major titles and a résumé befitting the best line-up in CS:GO history.
Whether you consider him the best in-game leader, pronax's impact on FNATIC has been significant and undeniable.
6. kennyS and apEX join EnVyUs
Line-up: kennyS, Happy, apEX, NBK and kioShiMa
Replacing: shox and SmithZz
EnVyUs had been one of the greatest line-ups in history, winning a major and placing top four in their first 14 offline events, but by the Summer of 2014, less than a year since forming, they were a team in trouble. Internal differences between Happy and shox, primarily over leadership of the side, had them losing series’ left and right. Bringing in kennyS and apEX was a desperation move, but one which turned out to be the perfect gamble.
KennyS had been the best player in the world for the early part of the year but had then gone into a protracted slump in Titan. Coming into EnVyUs he began to work his way back to top form, eventually being crowned the MVP of their major winning campaign at Dreamhack Cluj-Napoca. nV were famous for being a team filled with talented riflers but no dedicated AWPer, but now they had one of the best AWPers of all-time and back in dangerous form.
ApEX had been wildly inconsistent during 2015 and frequently looked lost within the tactical approach of the team. In EnVyUs he would become revitalised by embracing the pure entry role shox had always shied away from, in addition to working in a unit with kioShiMa to give nV a powerful entry duo.
Ultimately, the gamble could not have paid off any better for EnVyUs. From a team sliding down the rankings, to overtaking FNATIC, to reclaiming the number one spot in the world, to winning another major and stringing together three straight tournament victories; this has been a move which has given nV new life as an elite level team.
The fact tha we are only five months into this side's career together means there is still the possibility for the impact of this move to become even more significant.
5. shox joins VeryGames
Line-up: shox, NBK, ScreaM, Ex6TenZ and SmithZz
VeryGames were a team haunted by life in the shadow of the mighty NiP. NiP's failure to ever lose a LAN for the first seven months of play meant that VG could never secure a title at a LAN which also featured GeT_RiGhT and company. Bringing in ScreaM had done little to change that, as he would have some good games, but was ultimately unable to make a difference.
The key turning point for VG was the arrival of shox. The flamboyant French star had been in VeryGames line-ups in Source a number of times, but famously had clashed with mastermind Ex6TenZ. With VG desperate to win, finally, they gambled on bringing in the superlative talent of shox in CS:GO.
While it would still take about five months until VG bested NiP offline, they were already winning events, such as EMS One Summer, featuring NiP quite early into shox's arrival. When the French-Belgian side finally gave NiP a series loss offline it opened the floodgates and VG made it three series' in a row, as shox became the best player in the world.
Shox's acquisition not only set those events in motion, but his play directly allowed VG to become the world number one side. The French star was an unbelievable individual talent, able to dominate games with a blistering consistency and able to clutch rounds with seemingly no fear. He was the best player in the world and his team the best in the game.
Once upon a time, VG beating NiP seemed as if it would never happen. After shox arrived, it became a foregone conclusion that VG could and would best the Swedes.
4. karrigan joins dignitas
Line-up: device, dupreeh, cajunb, Xyp9x and karrigan
The FeTiSh Copenhagen Wolves and Team dignitas line-ups were a rotating door of talent, but the story ended the same every event. They'd come into events in good form, win some group stage matches, play a key quarter-final or semi-final against an elite level team and then fail to progress. It wasn't a lack of talent holding them back, as their ability to win a game would frequently show, but they famously choked, especially on T sides, in those big series'.
Dignitas were a strong CT side, but looked stale and hesitant on their T sides, despite having dupreeh, one of the game's premiere entry fragging talents. Karrigan arriving finally changed all of that. While retaining their strong CT sides, Dignitas, later to become TSM, transformed into one of the best Terrorist side squads in CS:GO.
Beating FNATIC routinely was a sign of how far TSM had come, as were the events they have racked up since adding the former mouz player. With five titles under their belt in 2015, TSM have gone from could-have-beens to a truly great team in CS:GO history. Karrigan was not the man shooting the heads, but his arrival helped improve almost every member of the side's impact upon the game.
3. Snax and byali join Universal Soldiers
Line-up: Snax, pasha, byali, NEO and TaZ
Replacing: kuben and loord
The second "golden five" line-up came into CS:GO attempting to recreate their magic with the same five which had won them their last two majors in 1.6, from late 2011 to early 2012. Sadly, for them, they were not contenders during their time sticking together with their initial line-up. Towards the end of 1.6, when arguments or individual slumps had caused the Poles to consider roster moves, the name Snax had come up, but they had decided against it.
Adding in Snax and byali was a big gamble for the Polish side, since they would lose some of the fan appeal their previous team had, but it was necessary on many levels. Even more so than with Na`Vi, the team suffered from NEO, their super-star talent, who was nowhere near his level from the previous version of Counter-Strike. Therefore, a new name was required to take over the star reigns.
Pasha would be the best in VP, as they eventually became, early in the tenure of the new line-up, but in time Snax would emerge as the dominant individual force within the side. One of the most complete CS:GO players of all-time, he has perhaps only hit his peak of form in the last few months, elevating VP once again to the status of a potential world champion.
In the Snax and byali era, VP have racked up a seemingly inhuman number of top four finishes and a surprisingly bountiful number of trophies claimed, despite technically never being the number one ranked team in the game. Soon, they will have been the ultimate five man unit, with the longest time playing together in this edition of Counter-Strike.
Before Snax and byali, there was no plow, the 1.6 line-ups played a far less skill-based game. Now, it's hard to imagine Virtus.pro without that dominant bullying Terrorist style of play.
2. LDLC win the french shuffle
Line-up: Happy, shox, kioShiMa, NBK and SmithZz
While it may seem like cheating to include this entry, since it's technically the creation of an entirely new roster, the circumstances were different than the creation of a new team such as NiP's formation. The "French shuffle" was a period when three teams worth of players were available and organisations were waiting to see which line-ups would emerge.
To say that LDLC won the French shuffle is an understatement, as the team would win the next major, place top four an incredible amount of times in a row and establish themselves as the only true contenders to FNATIC, the best team in history. What more recent fans may not realise, though, is that the early days of this team saw them struggle a little, relative to their expectations.
On paper, this should have been a team that could have been world number ones immediately. They had put the best French player in history, shox, with a number of talented players. Shox would not shine, at least often, during the peak of this line-up, though. Instead, it was in-game leader Happy who would emerge as the consistent star.
The team broke through to become major champions and started taking down trophies thanks to the development of kioShiMa, who became the dedicated entry fragger the squad needed to get them into sites, where their aim could dominate CT set-ups. nV will be remembered as one of the great T side teams, particularly on dust2, thanks to the eventual balance of roles they achieved in the last month and a half of 2014 and the first four months of 2015.
1. olofm and KRiMZ join FNATIC
Line-up: olofm, KRiMZ, JW, flusha and pronax
Replacing: schneider and Devilwalk
The FNATIC line-up which shocked the world to win Dreamhack Winter 2013 would spiral down in placing’s over the coming months. At the Dreamhack Invitational in Stockholm they finished third, behind NiP and Titan. At the major, EMS One Katowice, they were only able to claim a top eight spot and by Dreamhack Summer, they would not even see themselves playing in the play-offs of an international tournament.
The decision to change two players saw them making one obvious move and one far less so. Olofm was the clear talent of LGB, a very skilled individual player and one with a drive to succeed. KRiMZ had been the quiet one of LGB and was rarely looked at in a line-up featuring names like olofm, dennis and twist. Amazingly, it would be KRiMZ who would lead the way in the new FNATIC for the first six months, arguably becoming the best player in the world towards the end of 2014.
However, in 2015, olofm has been the world's premiere player for the majority of the year, showcasing the incredible value FNATIC gained in acquiring both players. What has made these two so incredible is that they have not only been elite level players, but during differing periods of time, and with the outcome those results have made FNATIC the best team in history.
To list off the accomplishments of this FNATIC line-up would almost be unnecessary, as anyone who has followed them in the last 12 months or so has seen their dominant performances, consistent top four finishes and even miracle wins from the greatest team in CS:GO history.
The fact that these two have also combined to play phenomenally in key bomb sites, setting up FNATIC's dominance on maps like inferno and mirage, as well as winning so many clutches with their uncanny intuition for what the other will do, shows why this move was the most important in the game's three year history.
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