Close but no cigar: ATK v. Astralis
ATK met the end of their ESL Pro League journey earlier today, when they lost in a close three map series against #15 in the world Astralis. ATK had shown glimpses of potential throughout their first matches in the tournament and once again would show that they can be a danger to top 30 teams, however, they ultimately failed to cross the finish line in what will be a big learning experience for the International squad.
The opening map, Overpass, was not a pretty sight for the ATK side and it immediately put them on the back foot. ATK perma-ban Nuke, which lines up well in this matchup as Nuke is one of Astralis' strongest maps. However, ATK have been struggling on Overpass recently, with just a 33% winrate over the past three months, which includes a 16-1 loss to Limitless. Whilst the team has largely managed to get away with having a few weak maps in their pool at a domestic level, it is something that you can't get away with when stepping up against top 30 opposition.
Exploiting the Danes weakspot
Mirage is both a strong map for ATK and an extremely weak one for Astralis, the Danes have just a 16% winrate on the map (past three months) and thus it was a no brainer for the International squad to pick. Astralis frankly looked lost on their T side, with Aleksandar "CacaNito" Kjulukoski and Gareth "MisteM" Ries tormenting them dropping 1.49 and 1.30 ratings respectively.
Experience trumps youth on Inferno
ATK had the momentum going into the final map, and starting on their CT side they were bullying Astralis taking a 11-4 lead. However, whether it was nerves or just lack of experience the team began to falter and it was clear they were running out of ideas as the Danes closed the gap. After managing just four T side rounds ATK still made Match point with two rounds in hand, but ultimately could not breakthrough. It was the old heads of Astralis who rose to the pressure to pull their team over the line, with both Nicolai "device" Reedtz and Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth having massive rounds towards the end of the match.
Key takeaways for the squad
Whilst ultimately unsuccessful, ATK did make a positive impact at Pro League, there were signs that the team could become a top 30 contender and on a individual level a few players shone. MisteM proved that he can be a fragging IGL at a International level, and at the age of just 21 has plenty of time to develop his craft. CacaNito had a relatively quiet tournament until the Astralis match up where he burst into life, demonstrating his clutch ability and raw skill putting himself in the shop window for any potential buyers. Possibly, most notable of all was the performances of Michael "Swisher" Schmid who was by far the best performing ATK player at the tournament with a 1.09 rating at the event, whilst there is no room for him on either of the top NA teams currently he is certainly making a case to be in the discussion next time a spot opens up.
ATK will take plenty of lessons home with them and will get a chance to put those lessons to good use almost straight away as they hop in the server for the ESL Challenger Season 44 play offs where they play strife in their opening match. They were also recently announced as an invitee to the closed qualifier for ESL Challenger Melbourne. They also have the small matter of a fifth to settle on, as much as fans would love to see CacaNito team up permanently it seems unlikely and it's not known if the team see current NA stand-in Ethan "reck" Serrano as a long term option.