With Counter-Strike: Global Offensive making the jump up to the tier of the premiere esports games over the last 12 months, thanks to last year’s Dreamhack Winter even kick-starting the trend of truly major, World Championship level events, the influx of new fans to the game has been immense. With some of those fans coming in from other esports games, especially the behemoth that is League of Legends, there are many people interested in following the top level of CS:GO, but who lack the background in the game or its history to appreciate the context of the competitors and match-ups.
In this article, I’ll explain Dreamhack Winter 2014 in a manner specifically designed to make it relatable for LoL fans. I’ll use famous LoL teams and players as reference points for the CS:GO teams and stars, as well as give some context on the story-lines of the teams heading into the event. If you’re a fan of LoL esports and you want to enjoy what could be the best CS:GO tournament ever, then you’re in the right place.
Note: for my reference points, not every factor need fit the team or player, they are chosen for a specific element or piece of context which will help introduce a core component of the CS:GO team/player in question. So, for example, if a team is compared on the basis of their playing style or skill level, then they may not be ranked at a similar spot in the world rankings as the referenced team in LoL are.
Background on the tournament itself
Up until late 2013, CS:GO was a mid tier esports game which tended to have events with first place prizes in the range of $10,000-$20,000 at most. Valve announced a crowd-funding measure where cases, containing different skins for weapons, were sold and the some of the money went into a pot to create the prize pool of a major tournament for CS:GO, effectively the first true World Championship level event. That event was Dreamhack Winter 2013 and it was won by the underdog fnatic, who were not even on the radar to legitimately have a chance to take the title, as Ninjas in Pyjamas (NiP) and VeryGames had been the dominant forces of that year’s competition.
The second CS:GO major, EMS One Katowice, took place in March of 2014. At this event, Titan (formerly VeryGames) came in as the world number ones, only to shockingly fail to progress from the group stage. NiP, the best team in the game’s history, looked to be in strong form and headed into the final against the home soil Virtus.pro. It was the Poles who capped a truly remarkable run of form, looking near unstoppable at nearly all points of the competition, by handing NiP one of their most convincing losses in a Bo3 series.
The third CS:GO major saw NiP come in as the world number ones, but having recently finished outside of the top four at offline events twice in their last four LANs. This NiP looked very much in danger of bowing out of a major early, battling and grinding to win rounds through all of their play-off series. A combination of some truly amazing round wins, veteran grit and the inclusion of the new de_cbblestone, which few teams had been able to master yet, allowed NiP to edge all three play-off series and take the title, defeating a new FNATIC line-up in NiP’s third major title, to give the Ninjas their first ever major title.
Dreamhack Winter 2014 is the fourth CS:GO major, the third to be held in 2014, and sees FNATIC enter the event as heavy favourites, having won the last three significant international offline events and never having placed below top four, over a span of seven events, with this line-up. LDLC are a solid contender to FNATIC’s top spot, in terms of placings, as the French side have a run of five straight tournaments always placing in the top four, but LDLC’s two straight finals losses to FNATIC, neither with much of a true fight put up, has them needing to prove something in Jönköping.
The four four team groups are run as small double elimination brackets, the simplest way of describing them being that if you win two games then you are through to the play-offs and if you lose two then you are out. Two of the four teams from each group will reach an eight team single elimination bracket. Each series is Best-of-3 (Bo3) and where in LoL the strategical focus can be seen in the picking and banning of individual champions, in CS:GO it is instead about picking and banning maps.
There are seven maps (nuke, inferno, mirage, dust2, cache, cbblestone and overpass) in the pool and team bans a map first. That leaves five maps and they take a turn to each choose a map, which will make up the first two to be played. In what is still considered a controversial decision, Valve implemented a random selection system for the deciding third map, which is played if the first two maps are split, whereby the final map is randomly selected from the three remaining. The strategical component here is similar to LoL, where you can both ban something the enemy is good on, or something strong you don’t play, and attempt to pick something you are strong on.
The random selection in CS:GO becomes significant here, as it played a large role in helping NiP win the last major. In their first two play-off series they were able to draw cbblestone as the deciding map, against opponents who were not comfortable on it, and grind out the series with 16:14 wins on it. Had any of the other two maps come out in that random selection, there is a decent chance NiP would not have reached the final and thus hoisted the trophy.
FNATIC (KRiMZ, JW, Olofm, Flusha and pronax) – SK Telecom T1 K 2013 (Faker, Piglet, PoohManDu, bengi and Impact)
SKT’s victories in OGN Summer 2013 and the Korean Regional Qualifier for Worlds, defeating MVP Ozone and twice besting KT B, left no doubt in anyone’s mind who the best team in Korea, and thus by defacto the world, was as the S3 World Championship rolled around. From the start of the first game, SKT were the team everyone was watching and the tournament was very much considered theirs to lose. SKT were the dominant force in the world, with the best player in the world (Faker) in his prime and seemingly unstoppable, as he delivered classic performance after performance, consistently elevating his play to a level none of his rivals could meet or match for the requisite amount of time it might have taken to slay SKT.
Faker’s play alone would have made SKT a dangerous side, but the rest of the team all seemed to be perfectly suited to the meta of the time, both on an individual level and as a unit. Piglet was able to showcase a high level of performance as the team’s second carry, with so much focus upon the godlike player in Mid lane that he could enjoy a level of freedom in team-fights that few of his peers for best ADC in the world could have even imagined the luxury of. His laning partner, PoohManDu, showed his ability to pick seemingly any champion, fitting himself to Piglet’s choices, to create a verstaile but intimidating botlane.
Bengi seemingly always found himself in the right place at the right time, whether that be to provide vision for Faker, via wards, or help gank a lane and get his team rolling early. Finally, Impact flourished in an atmosphere where it wasn’t even expected of him to carry in any sense, in an era when Zac was still viable, and attention was headed largely to other names on the team, so with the pressure of him the Top laner was a revelation.
FNATIC come into Dreamhack Winter as by far the best CS:GO team in the world. Their victories at the last three significant international tournaments, mean anything but first place and the trophy will be considered a disappointment and underperformance by the Swedish side. Defeating their key rivals, and the second best team in the world, in the French LDLC can be compared to SKT’s OGN and Regional wins over KT B, both times denying what is clearly the second best team the title.
KRiMZ – Faker (SKT)
FNATIC’s star and the best player in the world is KRiMZ, who is dominating CS:GO from the unlikely position of a Support player. While Faker was seemingly born to be a prodigy in LoL, KRiMZ was actually much lower down the food-chain, as only the fourth best player in a dangerous LGB team who were hovering around the 4th-6th level in the world earlier in 2014. When he joined up with FNATIC, KRiMZ suddenly took a quantum leap up in performance level and began posting monster numbers on CT sides.
It has gotten to the point where the B bombsite on inferno, FNATIC’s best map, and the A bombsite on mirage, arguably their second best map, are no-go zones, as KRiMZ can be relied upon to drop 25 a half as CT on his opponents. This level of performance with this consistently can be reasonably compared to Faker’s late 2013 prime, as not only is nobody else able to match its consistency, but it is propelling the best team to be near unbeatable in a series. In LoL, Faker’s Mid lane dominance does have an understandable context in that the Mid lane was the dominant role in S3, where KRiMZ’s play from a Support position makes him quite unique as a player, as most of the big fraggers are those playing more aggressive traditional roles.
JW – Piglet (SKT)
Just as Faker’s dominance allowed Piglet the Kobe role to Faker’s Shaq, a star able to dominate in his own right thanks to not having the primary spotlight on him, so KRiMZ’s emergence has seemingly revitalised the play of FNATIC’s previous main star: JW. JW often struggled in the previous FNATIC line-up from the pressure of being expected to be the main carry and put up big numbers in the important series, a task he frequently found to be asking too much of him. With KRiMZ providing a base-line of consistency, JW is no longer needed to be “the man” in every game, which has opened up his already streaky but at times very high level game up, meaning that his team can still win when he is off, but are unbeatable when he is on and joining KRiMZ to add 50 or more combined kills in a half.
Olofm – PoohManDu (SKT)
Just as SKT 2013 had all of their players in their best form, FNATIC can go deeper than just KRiMZ and JW, as Olofm used to be the main star of LGB, but now finds himself given the luxury of merely having to be the third carry of FNATIC, allowing his high skill level to let him either make up for JW in games where the sniper ails from inconsistency, or provide a solid third star performance, putting FNATIC over the top entirely. Finding a comparison for Olofm is more difficult, since he could be a star, but I will contrast him against PoohManDu, since his strength right now seems to be his versatility, as he can AWP, rifle, hold a small site, rotate and seemingly do anything FNATIC needs, rather than simply carry out-right.
Flusha – Impact (SKT), pronax – bengi (SKT)
Flusha was one of FNATIC’s best in their previous line-up, but now merely needs to put up a solid performance to ensure his team will win, comparable to Impact and the need simply for a go-even game in SKT. FNATIC’s in-game leader is pronax and perhaps I can draw a parallel to bengi in as much as pronax’s leading style is famed for being a mixture of a dynamic CT side, gaining information and shifting players over to the site more likely to be hit, and a T side which plays off a similar concept, creating openings where the enemy is weak and the FNATIC team can funnel in and hit hard. I’ll compare to the way bengi’s vision control both helped keep his carries safe, while he also looked to simply arrive and counter-gank when they faced danger, and appropriate warding also creating offensive opportunities in the form of picks.
SKT’s pick comp emphasis was brutally efficient in the late S3 meta of assassin dominance and the pre-S4 vision rework. Likewise, FNATIC not only boast players who are among the world’s best, all playing in their primes, but their approach, dominating CT sides and playing a dynamic T side, has them beating out every other top team, with many of them having a similar approach and similar strong maps, by simply being better at the approach which is in vogue right now.
Cloud9 (Hiko, Shroud, n0thing, Semphis and sgares) – SK Gaming 2014 (fredy122, Svenskeren, Jesiz, Candy Panda and nRated)
As a team, Cloud9 make their money by being a solid offensive unit who can find tactics that work enough to let them play better teams in a close fashion. Where C9 fall is trying to put up consistently good CT halves, which are often predicated upon individual skill in CS:GO, and generally in terms of getting enough big performances out of their best players. Likewise, SK were one of the least skilled Western teams near the top, but made up for it by finding a strategical approach and sets of tactics which would work against specific opponents, even if they still fell short ultimately in the biggest games. Both teams can impress and achieve results beyond what their rosters would appear to suggest, but both ultimately fall due to having too little star power to carry difficult games.
Hiko – fredy122 (SK), Shroud – Svenskeren (SK), n0thing – Jesiz (SK)
Hiko’s play is comparable to fredy’s, where he is a consistently good performer but sometimes too much is demanded of him without others being able to step up, at least in the biggest series and the ones that hold each team back from winning. Beyond that, I’d say that Shroud possibly plays the Svenskeren role, where he might be one of the top players, but consistency is difficult where there are always other top players who can match up against you. n0thing would be like Jesiz in that people would hype him during SK’s good games, but he always seemed to have nerve issues and fail to deliver in the biggest series and thus rightfully caught some of the flack.
HellRaisers (Dosia, markeloff, s1mple, kucher and ANGE1) – Millenium Summer 2014 (kev1n, Creaton, Kerp, Jree and kottenx)
Dosia – Kev1n (Mill), markeloff – Creaton (Mill), s1mple – Kerp (Mill)
HellRaisers are a line-up which has names which make the observer ponder why this team has never finished top four at a major. Dosia was one of the elite players early on in CS:GO, markeloff has a great past in 1.6 and has shown flashes of great skill in this game. s1mple is the new and hungry star, but has yet to be fully blooded at the top level. kev1n has been one of the best Western Top laners for his entire career and Creaton had periods where he was a top 2 ADC in the West. Kerp was the newer skilled member, to fit into the s1mple analogy, and would have games where people expected him to become a legitimate elite Mid in Europe.
Millenium and HellRaisers share two similar team-based qualities: inability to adapt and a tendency to play one-dimensionally. In terms of the former, Millenium were the team who simply died as soon as the enemy lane-swapped against them, as their series against SK showed. HellRaisers have relied heavily on their aim and individual play the entire time they’ve been together, going only as far as that can take them. HellRaisers show a propensity to refuse to change up their strategical approach when it isn’t working, in terms of pacing or variety. Millenium have been a team who tried to use their strengths in the carry roles to win lanes and snowball that way, but found problems after the pick/ban phase and against lane swaps.
HellRaisers have a sign of hope awaiting them, as bringing in former 1.6 in-game leader B1ad3 may provide a real tactical base for them, as some of the teams practicing against them claims has been the case. While in LoL it is common for teams to have an analyst or coach, who helps them design their strategical approach and specific tactics from outside of the game, in Counter-Strike this is considered a rarity, as there is so much of a tactical component, with the break-up of rounds meaning calls need to be made from round-to-round, that the majority of the tactical burden tends to fall on the sole shot-caller, who is the in-game leader.
- CPH Wolves
- PENTA Sports
dignitas (device, dupreeh, cajunb, Xyp9x and FeTiSh) – NaJin Sword in the second half of 2013 (PraY, Expession, Cain, Nagne and watch)
This era of NaJin Sword always had a roster which was confusingly inconsistent in its performances. On paper it should have been a top four team in Korea, making deep play-off runs and potentially contending for the title each season. Instead, the team repeatedly went out in group stage games and crumbled, only providing solid performances in the NLB tournaments. Players like PraY and Expession were considered elite level players, competing for the title of the best at their position in Korea and the world. During those key matches that decided their fate each OGN season, though, they became all too human, when their team needed them to play like stars.
Dignitas has a roster which should be one of the scariest in the entire CS:GO world, featuring four of the best individual players in all of Denmark (device, dupreeh, cajunb and Xyp9x). Despite such talent, they have never reached the final of a single international offline event in their history. The pattern has been that they used to give the elite teams a good run on a map in the Ro8 and then fall in the series to never progress further. This year, they stepped up to reaching semi-finals again and again, only to fall each time in similar fashion. What has cost Dignitas, much as it cost Sword, is the crumbling of their star names.
device – Expession (NJBS)
device can be considered akin to Expession in as much as he has been considered by fans and his peers as one of the world’s very best players, seemingly due to enter true elite status at any moment and have a huge impact on the game. Neither has been able to put together the kind of resume of performances and results to justify that status though, as device has repeatedly been the main Dignitas star to unravel during their big semi-finals. Put him against lesser teams and in the rounds prior to the semi-final and he will frequently showcase the extent of his talent, as Expession would in NLB runs, but in the big moment he both cracks under the pressure and shows and unwillingness to embrace the role of the hard carry star, often dropping his deadly AWPing and aggression in favour of a more passive rifle-based game, which inevitably reduces his impact on the game event further.
dupreeh – PraY (NJBS)
dupreeh is the second star of Dignitas and has been long known as one of the best entry fraggers (men who open the round by entering the site as Terrorist) in the entire game. While he has not struggled to the same extent as device in the big games, he has not often been able to produce his best form there. I would contrast him against Sword’s PraY, as one of the best at their role, but with a good but not always top notch performance. Much like device and Expession, it always feels like there is more to be gotten out of these players, they just always underwhelm a little, no matter how attractive and impactful their game can appear at other times.
Much as Sword would rampage through NLB runs, Dignitas can be fully expected to blow away any team below the top 5-6, out-classing them with raw skill and the pedigree that comes with having top players who have experience. Just as that Sword team is not thought of so fondly now, despite giving SKT a good run that one time in the Worlds semi-final, this Dignitas team will be thought of as wasted talent who couldn’t get it together if they cannot reach a final or take down a big event. They’ve reached the semi-final of the last two CS:GO majors, so this seems very much like the time Dignitas will either succeed or face inevitable roster changes, so time is running out.
Sword were known for having a very set style of play, relying on their stars to carry, and Dignitas follows suit here again, famed for their strong CT side lockdowns and inability to grind out T side rounds to beat the better teams. Their in-game leader, FeTiSh, comes from CS:Source with a big reputation, but his inability to find an offensive approach which can be effective against the world’s best, has been a black eye on this portion of his career. Instead, Dignitas rides the skill of their players with big CT side play and hopes to dominate enough there that they don’t get exposed for their inability to grind as T.
- Planetkey Dynamics
- ESC Gaming
LDLC (shox, kioShiMa, Happy, NBK and SmithZz) – Samsung White during the first seven months of 2014 (Mata, imp, DanDy, PawN and Looper)
Samsung White were the team where you looked at their line-up and found yourself confused as to why they didn’t win that season of OGN Champions or even make the final. They had the talent and strength in key spots that they should have been the best team in Korea and the world. Their problem, was that the existence of Samsung Blue meant that there was a key kryptonite out there who could defeat them stylistically each time in the semi-final of Champions. Against anyone else, even the mighty SKT who had dominated the previous year, White were seemingly unbeatable, but Blue had their number twice in a row.
LDLC have a team which almost reads like a French All-Star team, not just in terms of talent but also the roles they fill. They should be the best team in the world and have been able to beat almost everyone in the scene, but have been denied big titles as a result of the existence of FNATIC, who can make them in key areas and then defeat them with a superior style, in this case using a similar style of CT dominance but having more versatility on the T side.
shox – Flame (CJB)
shox was the best player in the world for a span of a few months back in late 2013, but has since struggled to have the same impact on the game or find the same kind of role. In this respect, I will contrast him with Flame, Top laner of Blaze, who was the best player in the entire world in the early part of 2013, matched with Blaze’s 13-0 run to the final of OGN Spring and what looked to be an inevitable championship. Likewise, shox’s late 2013 form saw VeryGames capture numerous titles and establish themselves as the best team, but they would lose the key semi-final in the Dreamhack Winter tournament which denied them the true title they sought. Just as Flame has since continued to be one of the best players at his position and in the world, but hasn’t been able to exert the same kind of impact, in his case due to weaknesses in his team’s roster, stylistic approach and the changed meta of the Top lane, so shox has not been able to have the same kind of game impact during the last six months or so of this year.
This shox has his problems to some degree self-created, as playing in new line-ups has seen him actively attempting to embrace a more tactical and reigned in approach, where in VeryGames he was free to do anything and dominate the game from that position of creative freedom. Perhaps we can contrast that to Flame being forced into the tank top meta of playing a few OP champions and their counters, no longer able to select anything he pleased and dominate the laning phase to become a monster later in the game. Similarly, shox becoming a more fixed part of the team structure is akin to Flame being forced into the teleport meta, no longer able to simply focus on winning lane, but necessary to come in as a tank and zone off enemy carries and join team-fights rather than farm. A shox who can roam is at his best, where this shox has been less capable of carrying the game due to being just another good player in a system.
NBK – DanDy (SSW)
NBK used to be one of the most stable and versatile components of the VeryGames line-up which was top two or three for so long in 2012 and 2013. Moving away from that core unit and over to LDLC, he has seen himself struggling to be the kind of consistent and good-under-pressure performer we one knew him as, particularly struggling in his past two finals against FNATIC. NBK was often off playing a lurking role in VeryGames, providing distraction to hold opponents at one site while his team attacked the other. His versatility allowed to not only play this role, but provide kills and he was also one of the better players in pressure situations like 1vX scenarios.
In respect to his versatility, one can compare NBK to DanDy, the former Jungler of Samsung White. DanDy’s versatility was almost unparalleled for a Jungler, as he stood out as one of the world’s best in numerous different aspects of Jungling (setting up ganks, counter-ganking, providing vision and synergising with his Mid laners).
Happy – Hai (C9)
Happy would be Hai, of Cloud9, as he has been one of the best shot-callers in CS:GO, previously working with a much less skilled line-up of LDLC and taking them all the way to the semi-final of the previous major, and has a strength in being able to make his own individual game work within the context of his tactical approach. Both Hai and Happy are not nearly the most skilled players in the game, yet can be surprisingly effective within their own system and in light of their dual role of player and in-game leader.
kioShiMa – Link (CLG)
kioShiMa can be contrasted with Link, as both are often praised for their high skill level and expected to become truly great players, yet both have shown their brilliance to be inconsistent and to have some issues with performance in big pressure matches. kioShiMa is a player who understandably would be targeted in the recent cheating scandal, as his aim can go from just good to blindingly precise in the span of a single sequence or round, but then plummets back to Earth. Just as with Link, it seems as if kioShiMa has the skillset but has not found the right role within a team or mentality to be able to become a fully fledged star player.
SmithZz – Looper (SSW)
SmithZz was considered a Support player in VeryGames/Titan, but has more recently been able to deliver some all-star level halves and maps as part of LDLC, thus making them so dangerous, as their “worst” player is equipped with significantly more firepower than almost any other teams weakest member. This transformation has been in part due to how overpowered the CZ automatic pistol is right now, allowing for an SmithZz to transform from a more passive and infrequent AWPer into someone who can buy the weapon more often and play very aggressively, since if caught out of position he can simply switch to the CZ and still get kills or retreat. In these respects I’d pick Looper as a solid point of reference, as Looper is both in theory the worst player on his team but also someone who has been able to raise his level of game impact in recent times.
LDLC’s biggest problem has not just been their inability to make all their talents work on the same page or within the right roles, but also the existence of FNATIC. LDLC are a very good team, with five straight top 4 offline finishes with the line-up and four finals appearances, but their lone title is a sign of the problems they have faced in making good on their immense potential stemming from their roster. Much as KT B were a phenomenal team, clearly the second best in the world, in late 2013, but denied true glory by the existence of SKT (losing key Bo5 to them in the OGN Summer, Korean Regional and OGN Winter tournaments), so LDLC has been haunted by the existence of FNATIC, always blocking their path and taking the title that could have been theirs.
Interestingly, FNATIC’s current dominance and consistency, paired with a rival who plays uncharacteristically poorly only against them and is otherwise the clear second best out there (in LDLC), appears to be replaying a story-line from the first 12 months or so of CS:GO, as NiP were the clear dominant force, winning nearly all of the events and never finishing below top four, while VeryGames racked up numerous second places, top fours and small titles, the latter usually at events without NiP present, but lost their first seven offline Bo3 series to the Ninjas. Seeing a Swedish team dominate and a French side the perennial runners-up makes the similarities all the more satisfying, as a story-line.
NiP (GeT_RiGhT, f0rest, friberg, Xizt and Maikelele) – TSM 2013 (Xpecial, Dyrus, Reginald, WildTurtle and TheOddOne)
NiP are the greatest CS:GO of all-time, having finished top four in the first 31 offline tournaments they attended and winning so many titles that they seemingly could only be beaten by teams playing at a truly world class level. TSM were the kings of Season 2 in North America, racking up a staggering amount of offline event victories in their continent and always having that little extra needed to remain ahead of the competition. Where the point of reference arises between the two teams is that both fell off at a key point and decided a roster move was the right approach to making the climb back to the top. TSM removed Chaox and brought in young talent WildTurtle at ADC, a move which immediately sparked a strong run that took them all the way to the top of the LCS regular season standings and would parlay into a run to that Spring split’s first place.
NiP fell off during the Summer and despite securing the last major, did so as almost an instinctive feral lashing out during their spiral down, somehow taking their biggest every victory as they were headed towards rock bottom, within the context of their former greatness. Since ESL One Cologne, NiP have never again finished top four and have failed to even qualify for numerous offline events. Finally deciding upon a roster move, they removed the often criticised Fifflaren and brought in Maikelele, a talented AWPer who has shown his skills in lesser Swedish teams like LGB and SK, now given a chance to potentially shine in NiP. Dreamhack Winter will be the first event for the new player in NiP and the expectations are huge, to the extent that some speculate he will get only this event to prove himself worthy of the spot.
Maikelele – WildTurtle (TSM)
When TSM took in Turtle, they seemed a significant step down from the Curse and Dignitas teams who were leading the pack. It was not just the resurgent form of TSM which secured them the top spot, but also those two teams falling apart in the last weeks and the play-offs. Similarly, this move alone likely won’t be enough to put NiP back on the throne, as teams like FNATIC and LDLC are clearly leading the way and will probably be needed to drop in performance or break under the pressure of the major, for NiP to reclaim the top spot.
GeT_RiGhT – Faker (SKT) or Froggen (ALL)
Purely in terms of performance history and impact, GeT_RiGhT is the Faker is CS:GO. He is by far the greatest player in the game’s history, seemingly dominating both from his role and as his team’s best star for a long period of time, extending beyond a year of play. GeT_RiGhT’s dominance was unique in that it came from a player who was playing the lurking role, a position often left to skilled but not primary stars like NBK, swag and Flusha. With GeT_RiGhT, he could be relied upon to put up monster numbers, repeatedly catch enemies unawares and time and time again deliver improbably 1vX clutch round wins. As players their games have little in common, but their status as the greatest is indisputable amongst experts.
In terms of skill-set, GeT_RiGhT shares a similarity with Froggen, as they are both clearly very skilled, but not at the kind of genius level that some others display, destined from day one to be great and not needing so much refinement. Both Froggen and GeT_RiGhT established themselves as the best, in Froggen’s case as the best Westerner, as a result of taking their skills and working above and beyond the call of duty to refine them until they understand flawlessly the range of their skills and how to operate within those boundaries effectively. These are two players who show that hard work may beat talent when talent refuses to work hard, but talent that works harder than anyone else can exceed its peers and become nearly unstoppable.
It’s also a unusual similarity that both Froggen and GeT_RiGhT have honed their games into styles predicated upon extremely passive play and correctly predicting the opponent’s decision-making. In both CS and LoL, a majority of the most skilled players are marked with a penchant for offensive-minded and aggressive play, wanting to force the action and create situations of direct conflict from which they can express their skill advantage and dominate the opponent. Froggen has turned laning into a masterclass of always going even or getting ahead, seemingly regardless of match-up and who the opposing laner is.
Likewise, where so many top CS players will peek out during 1vX situations, hoping to take an aim duel and win it, GeT_RiGhT displays the passive play approach of hiding and forcing his enemies to defeat him in a game of mental chess, where the variables of where each player is and what he will do can be both assertained by deduction based on the information at hand and intuitively guessed based on knowledge of how the opponent will or should play out the situation.
f0rest – xPeke (FNC)
f0rest is the other side of that old adage about talent, as he is considered perhaps the most talented Counter-Strike player of all-time, stemming back to his career as one of the greatest stars of 1.6. Despite such prodigious talent, though, he has frequently been incapable of applying himself fully to his craft and his inconsistent yet streakily impressive in-game skills are a testament to that fact. If GeT_RiGhT is Froggen, then f0rest should be CS:GO’s xPeke, a lesser star and yet at times seemingly more skilled. Both struggle to find the same consistency and game impact as their opposite, yet can have single games where they exceed them.
The difference between the games is that in this game our Froggen and xPeke play together on the same team, and have done for the past six years making what was at one time a simply unbeatable combination. For the first two years of CS:GO, other teams would find NiP close to impossible to top even purely just on the basis of GeT_RiGhT and f0rest being the two best players in the server. NiP’s slump has been in part due to reduced impact from each, with f0rest in particular having games and events where he has failed to show up. Much as xPeke seems to be roused when the play-offs arrive and Worlds is looming, f0rest is famous for becoming more motivated to play after roster moves, so NiP bringing in Maikelele has fans excited for a return from the greatest aimer in CS history.
friberg – Gogoing (OMG)
friberg is the original name brought up when speaking of entry fraggers in CS:GO, known for his ability to break a site open with an aggressive push or kill, allowing f0rest and Xizt to stream into the site and take kills or advance the team’s position. While the rest of NiP have been slumping, friberg has arguably the only player to retain anywhere close to his previous form, from back when they were the world’s best team. In terms of his bold and confident play, I can see some Gogoing in him, as he epitomised the man’s man, in terms of playing style. Gogoing will boldly pick his strong champions and then both play straight-up in the lane against anyone, even mighty Korean top laners like Save, and charge into the team-fight to prove a viable threat in his own right.
friberg may have off-games and periods when his approach is ineffective, but he seemingly never lacks for confidence, ensuring his own self-esteem does not become a factor which can cost his team a chance to win. In this respect, Gogoing and friberg are both the players their teams can rely upon as the rock who will play their game and let the fates be damned.
Xizt – Alex Ich (GMB)
Xizt is the in-game leader of NiP and is famous for being both a skilled player, good under pressure, and an in-game leader who was able to fit his shot-calling approach specifically to his personnel. NiP have almost never been the best team in terms of pure tactical depth, execution or variety, but they have always been able to find the right tactics to work with their set-up of players, often leading to a looser approach which gives the stars more room to create their own magical plays. In this respect, as a shot-caller, I would compare him to Alex Ich, who seemed less to be directly shot-calling and reading the opponent with a brilliant shrewdness and more simply playing his own game and then orchestrating the chaotic individual brilliance that was Gambit.
Much like Gambit, NiP has always been a team where team-play, coordination between the members based on spoken communication and intuitive understanding of what your team-mate will do, has been the primary pillar of play they have relied upon. The three pillars of CS are individual skill, team-play and tactics. In terms of individual skill, Alex Ich was at one point arguably the world’s best player and is an icon of the Mid lane, so the comparison ends in the realm of shot-calling.
Virtus.pro (byali, pasha, Snax, NEO and TaZ) – Gambit 2013 (Alex Ich, Diamondprox, Edward, Genja and Darien)
Gambit were not to be confused with Moscow Five, despite sharing the exact same roster. Where Moscow Five were the world’s best team, ahead at numerous positions in innovation and performance level, Gambit shared the latter’s team-play ability to win team-fights from crazy deficits and never be out of a game until it was over, but they were not the dominators and they were no far ahead individually anymore. Virtus.pro won EMS One Katowice, the game’s second major tournament, in such dominant fashion it still stands as one of the most dominant tournament runs in CS:GO history, especially in light of the high level of competition brewing in that era. Along the way, they took down the two best teams in the world (NiP and Titan), with the Ninjas, CS:GO’s best ever line-up, in fine form of their own and facing them in the final.
Where that Virtus.pro won both by having unusually strong performances across the board from some of their players (byali, Snax and pasha) and generally being able to front-run games and dominate out-right, so Moscow Five had been able to crush games in 20 minutes during their heydey, winning all lanes and terrorising the opponent with aggressive play. That Virtus.pro line-up was the best T side team in the world and then had lock-down CT play, perhaps to be likened to M5’s ability to come back even when facing strong play from an opponent.
Much as M5 eventually waned and others caught up, that Katowice run saw them begin a gradual decline which boiled them down from that unreal performance level to the team they have become: uniquely composed, with inconsistent players and yet still capable of being the ultimate dark horse and winning a big tournament over better names, who are in better form. Much like Gambit’s ability to still place top four at every tournament, Virtus.pro has generally continued to consistently place top four at nearly all of their offline outings.
Just as Gambit’s strength, once their players’ individual skills and unique approaches could no longer outright carry the game, was to rely upon their incredible instinctive and intuitive synergy, working as one unit despite being composed of such disparate elements, so Virtus.pro have lived and died by their raw chemistry. When Virtus.pro are in their peak form, something which seems to only happen at a rate of say one tournament in four or five, they become a force fans have nicknamed “Virtus.plow”, a devastating battering ram smashing down the most iron-clad and staid defenses as the offensive Terrorist side. When Virtus.plow rolls through the players swarm and overrun the opponents, fighting like feral beasts unleashed with a blood lust and guided only by their darkest impulses. As CT, Virtus.plow consistently forces the issue, pushing up and rapidly rotating to cut down any attack the instant it is launched.
The problem for Virtus and Gambit is that this approach is so magical that it is near impossible to replicate game in and game out, or even for more than a tournament every few. The incredible and inconceivable runs sandwich tournaments where things don’t quite work according to the movie script and the inevitable end really does come for us all. Still, five months after their world-beating EMS One run, Virtus.pro were able to turn the magic on again and take down the Gfinity 3 event in August, defeating numerous elite teams (Dignitas, Titan and NiP) to do so. This can be compared to Gambit’s legendary IEM VII Katowice victory, numerous months after they had been unseated from the spot of world number ones, as they had come alive to defeat CJ Frost and Blaze, two of the world’s top five teams, in back-to-back straight 2:0 series, winning the title.
NEO and TaZ – Darien and Genja (GMB)
One could even draw a comparison between the play of Darien and Genja with that of NEO and TaZ. Darien and Genja really could be considered elite players at their positions at times during the M5 days, but in latter days could only be counted on for their good play under pressure, but had long since seen themselves eclipsed individually as elite players at their position. Likewise, NEO and TaZ were two of the elite players in CS 1.6, particularly NEO, is considered by this author to be the greatest player in that game’s history. In CS:GO, NEO has struggled to ever be any kind of consistent force individually at the top end of the scene, instead he has simply been required to play well under pressure and contribute somewhat, with the others able to do the rest. TaZ was the best player in the team during the early part of CS:GO, but has since struggled to make a reasonable contribution.
pasha – Darien (GMB)
Darien is also a good refeence point, stylistically, for pasha. pasha is the aggressive and impulsive player on Virtus.pro and they are at their best when he is roaming where he wants and pushing aggressive to take kills with his rifle or AWP. Darien is well known as the mad-man of the Top lane, taking aggression to near ludicrous levels with specifics match-ups and against all tiers of opponents. In Gambit, this constant pressure would force the opponents to either send help to deal with Darien, opening up the game for the Mid and Botlane of Gambit, or leave their Top laner facing that Russian brand of insanity.
byali – Bjergsen (TSM)
byali can perhaps be considered the Bjergsen of CS:GO. Bjergsen is well known as one of the true talents of the newer generation, still less than two years into his career and with only one at the very top level of the Western scene. Bjergsen’s problem has been a mixture of being unable to always apply his considerable talent level with consistency and the pressures of being a young star and expected to occupy one of the carry roles. Bjergsen will have games where you’d swear he should be the best Western player and able to match up with even the very best Koreans, only for there to then be other games in which he looks like just another good Western player who is a step behind his Asian counter-parts. A Bjergsen with the mentality and understanding of his skillset displayed by Froggen by would the best Western player and one of the world’s truly great stars.
byali came into the team now called Virtus.pro as a player going up to play with legends, but his skills were a large part of the force propelling his side to their EMS One Katowice win. At times his aim can look like the best in the world, absolutely crazy and capable of anything, only to then dip down to human levels and leave him as “just another good player”. Were byali able to carry every game for Virtus.pro, in the fashion players like GeT_RiGhT, Shox, kennyS and Dosia have displayed in the past of CS:GO, then his team might legitimately have won a great many trophies, but as byali goes so does Virtus.pro’s fortunes.
Snax – Cool (OMG)
Snax might be CS:GO’s cool, as at his best he can compete with any of the other players out there in terms of skill and is known for an aggressive style which has produced amazing sequences and highlights. Snax is particularly famous for his uncanny ability to make decisive plays which allow him to get multi-kill sequences, including some infamous moments in which he was able to flank opponents or sneak by them, allowing him to kill more than just the first he saw. The problem for Snax and Cool has been that they seem to be cursed and blessed with their feel for the game and rely heavily on it. When they are reading the flow of the game, they seem able to find the right moments and decisions to allow them to be dominant players, but in other situations they become just good players who can be out-matched and out-classed by the rest of their game’s star players.
Na`Vi (GuardiaN, Edward, Zeus, starix and seized) – CJ Entus Blaze of Spring 2013 (Flame, Ambition, Helios, Cpt. Jack and Lustboy)
This comparison arises almost entirely as a result of both teams displaying an unorthodox and unique approach, which perhaps shouldn’t be successful on paper, and yet has been made to work by both teams and with a surprising degree of consistency. CJ Blaze were famed for their approach of living for the late-game, grouping up in the mid game to fight with 3 or 4 and then having Flame farm up in a side lane, with Ambition doing likewise in another side lane, sometimes, so that when the late-game arrived Flame would be a monster and carry the game. It seems obvious the other great teams should have counters which could crush this approach and yet it was not only good enough to ensure Blaze came close to winning an OGN title, but they remained an elite team for a number of seasons beyond that time, albeit with roster changes.
Na`Vi’s one-dimensional approach is the bizarre approach of playing T sides incredibly slowly, waiting in similar set-up spots and running the clock down to as little as 30 or 20 seconds before attacking with specific executions onto the bombsite of choice. On paper, this should be a terrible approach which is easily countered and read, and yet Na`Vi can make it work with a degree of impressive consistency that one must begrudgingly tip one’s hat in their direction. The approach even seems to infuriate and force opponents into mistakes in a manner similar to how Blaze’s would, as opponents would rush to try and gank Flame early and shut him down, or focus on killing the very gankable Cpt Jack in the laning phase. Despite this, Blaze would still reach the late-game most times and still be in a position to win with scaling comps and team-fight comebacks.
Na`Vi’s slow approach throws some of the other teams off as it annoys and frustrates them enough that they attempt to push up on position or simply play in a default fashion waiting for the inevitable attack, only for those standard set-ups to grant Na`Vi early kills and their execution to still grind them out enough rounds to win.
GuardiaN – Rekkles (FNC)
A great boon for Na`Vi is the incredible Terrorist AWPing of Guardian, who is not the best AWPer in the world but the fastest without a doubt. Guardian’s skill with the sniper rifle means he can take over games by himself, but he also seems stricken by bouts of self-doubt, during which he will even shy away from AWPing entirely and fail to have a star player’s impact on the outcome on the match. To align with this set of difficulties I’d compare him to Rekkles, who has the tools and at times the mentality to be the best Western AD Carry, matching up with anyone mechanically, but isn’t the player to step forward and demand he is “the man” and bear the responsibility of carrying the game for his team.
Edward – Voyboy (CRS)
Edward can be CS:GO’s Voyboy. The former Dignitas Top laner turned Curse Mid laner went from at one point in time being one of the most dangerous Top laners to a player who struggled for a considerable period of time, only to turn it around and rediscover himself as a player who could flirt with being a legitimate star again. Likewise, Edward was one of the most dangerous X factors in CS back in 1.6, helping power Na`Vi to major titles as their second star, but experienced a period of poor play during his time in Astana Dragons in the latter months of 2013. After coming back to Na`Vi, he has been able to refind his inner spark and will at times deliver star level performances, even if, as with Voyboy, he’s never going to truly be a world class level player again, at least to the same degree as we fondly remember.
To find out my specific predictions for the group stage matches, you can watched the newest episode of ‘Counter-Points’, my CS:GO talk show, where I previewed the event with analyst lurppis.
Follow the tournament via HLTV.org.