Gambitstone: How a mid-table team became the best in the world—on one map
Gambit Esports is not a top team worldwide, not even close. HLTV ranks them as the 10th best team and Thorin’s system likewise gives them a unimpressive number-nine position. They haven’t found any profoundly impressive finishes yet in the new year. At the ELEAGUE Major, Gambit made it out of the preliminary Swiss and were given perhaps the easiest opening round opponent possible in the pre-swap Fnatic, but they still lost 2-1. At DreamHack Masters Las Vegas, Gambit again made into the playoffs again by topping their group, but they lost in the quarterfinals once more, this time to the new North with Philip "aizy" Aistrup.
The CIS squad has looked better firepower wise with Dauren "AdreN" Kystaubayev finding a huge surge in form recently and Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko refining their T-sides, but they still don’t standout. In an era that now not only includes scene leaders such as Astralis and Virtus.pro but also FaZe, SK, North, Fnatic, G2, and Na’Vi, it’s all too easy to overlook Gambit. Yet, in a single, but extremely significant aspect, Gambit reigns supreme: they are the best team in the world on Cobblestone.
Since Abay "HObbit" Khasenov moved over to Gambit on loan back in mid-October, Gambit has been undefeated on the map across six contests. While some of those wins did come from less than spectacular competition in the form of Renegades, GODSENT, and Cloud9, Gambit have also defeated some of the strongest teams in the world on that map .
In November, OpTic Gaming were picking up steam going into DreamHack Winter 2016 as they won Northern Arena Montreal and made it out the their ELEAGUE group. And after DreamHack, they famously ascended to the very top of the scene, winning the ELEAGUE Season 2 playoffs and making the finals of ECS Season 2. Excluding DreamHack, OpTic very much stood out on Cobblestone, winning five of six games on the map, perhaps looking like the best team in the world during Virtus.pro’s absence. OpTic actually were eliminated in the group stage of DreamHack Winter, however, in no small part due to Gambit. The two teams met on Cobblestone in the opening group stage game, and it was the ultimately unimpressive Gambit that won the day with a clean 16-10 scoreline. From there, Gambit, not OpTic, would continue on to win the tournament against a limited field, racking up a total of four wins on Cobblestone over the course of the competition.
At their next LAN, the ELEAGUE Major, only North decided to take on Gambit on their best map. While no one would argue North was the best team in the world on Cobble this tournament, the map had clearly been strong for the Dignitas/North lineup in the past when Ruben "RUBINO" Villarroel was still in the lineup. For example, during their EPICENTER run, Digitas won all their three of their playoff contests on Cobblestone versus Fnatic, Na’Vi, and Virtus.Pro as they went on to win the tournament. Nevertheless, Gambit again won this contest in comfortable fashion, 16-8.
The last team to face Gambit on their specialty were the final bosses of CS:GO and the presumed number one Cobblestone team in the world, Virtus.pro. The Polish side play and win the map often. From ELEAGUE Season 2 to present, VP have played Cobble 13 times on LAN winning 10 contestants overall versus subtLe, Team One, K23, Dark Passage, Space Soldiers, OpTic with Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz, North with Rubino, SK with Ricardo "fox" Pacheco, Misfits, and the newly reformed Fnatic. When the two teams met in Las Vegas, and Virtus.pro actually had the option to pick Train, but instead decided to duke it out on Cobble to determine the true world leader. Gambit won again, 16-10.
This dominance is not easily explained. One easy narrative is that Zeus’s very slow, very methodical style of T-side play has led to a dominating offensive, or that dominating performances from either AdreN or HObbit have massively bolstered their CT sides. But both explanations don’t perfectly match up with reality.
Gambit does have a very slow Na'Vi-like pace on some of their maps such as Overpass, but Zeus’s new team has a relatively more dynamic style of play on Cobblestone. It is not just super late executes. For example, versus Virtus.Pro across eight gun rounds on the T-side, Gambit made their move into either bombsite in the first 40 seconds of the round once, executed between the 1:15 and 0:35 mark four times, and did the classic Na’Vi late execute just three times. While they do favor slow defaults and late-round play like Na’Vi, Gambit’s controlled style has some more fluid dimensions.
While Gambit’s strong T-side did garner them a 7-0 lead initial lead versus Virtus.pro which led to that victory, the team actually has seemed stronger on the other side of the map thus far—despite Cobblestone’s longstanding T-side bias.
Gambit has won 53 of 71 CT rounds (74.6 percent) compared to 43 out of 70 round wins on T-side (61.4 percent) on Cobblestone across their six appearances on the map. While those numbers might be a bit warped due to Gambit’s extremely one-sided CT-side performance versus Cloud9, their CT-side still seems unusually strong. In every one of their matches, Gambit has won a majority of CT rounds. Even in their worst CT-side performance versus a very tough opponent, Virtus.pro, Gambit still won six of 11 rounds.
But defining the strength of their CT sides also is not especially clear. Gambit are clearly not the most talent-stacked team in the word, and none of the players have looked world-class at their preferred spot. Zeus’s performances as Gambit’s A Long player do stand out as very good when you consider his past struggles in his later days with Na’Vi and his additional duties as an in-game leader. But he still hardly looks comparable to someone like Snax, who has proven himself time-and-again at that spot with a wide variety of weaponry.
HObbit sometimes looks very capable of holding down B long, Rustem "mou" Tlepov has had some very strong games AWPing from chicken coup and statue or as the secondary A player, and AdreN has also shined at times holding Dropdown room. But if you look at the team’s statistics overall, you’ll see a fairly even distribution of output. Individually, HObbit has led the team in kills once and ADR three times, Zeus and AdreN have each lead the team in ADR and kills once, Mou has lead the team in kills three times, and Mikhail "Dosia" Stolyarov has led the team in kills once tying with Mou with 20 in their match versus Cloud9.
Yet, despite lacking a true superstar across all maps, Gambit always seems capable of stuffing the opposing offense in a “the whole is greater than the sum of it parts” sort of scenario with crisp rotations and patient teamplay. If Gambit had their mettle better tested on the map, with the game going to 29 or 30 rounds, perhaps we could better grasp the linchpin of their success. But they’ve just been too dominant thus far. Across all six contests, Gambit have never given up more than 10 rounds and averages just 7.5 round losses per matchup.
Following Gambit’s most recent victory on Cobblestone, Sue "Smix" Lee asked AdreN why he thought Gambit have been so successful on Cobblestone. He responded, “I don’t know, it’s something like magic.”
All that said, there is good reason to be somewhat skeptical about Gambit’s standout map moving forwards. Four of their wins on the map come from DreamHack Winter, which occurred in November—more than 120 days ago. Neither of their subsequent victories came from a high-stakes playoff match. Their matchup versus North at the Major was in the first round of the Swiss, and their contest versus Virtus.pro was still a best-of-one in the group stage. Gambit also have yet to play the new North with Aizy on Cobblestone who recently defeated VP themselves at IEM Katowice. And Gambit still have to match up against some of the new, supposed “super-teams” in SK, Fnatic, or G2. Additionally, both FaZe and Astralis have permabanned Cobblestone in previous tournaments, so even in a best-of-three series, Gambit would never have a chance play their standout map.
If this is going to be the most competitive era of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive yet, it seems very likely that Gambit will continue to have only very limited opportunities to show off their world-caliber capacity on this single map. But it’s this exact status—stuck between specialist sovereignty on Cobblestone and mediocrity elsewhere—that makes Gambit’s singular hold over the map look so impressive. Astralis has Train and Overpass, Virtus.pro has Nuke and Mirage, and Na’Vi has all the best talent of the region. But it’s Gambit, the mediocre CIS squad, the 9th or 10th best roster in the world, a second-tier team that looms large in the bedrock brick castle.