If iBUYPOWER were Unbanned

If the four banned members of the 2014 iBUYPOWER team were reintroduced in the Wild West of North American Counter-Strike, what could they do and where would they go?

Image via iBUYPOWER

The recent inclusion of Sam “DaZed” Marine as a part of ESL’s broadcast of the North American division of the Pro League has once again reminded fans of the void created by Valve’s permanent ban of former iBUYPOWER players in DaZed, Keven “AZK” Lariviere, Braxton “swag” Pierce and Joshua “steel” Nissan.

Their injunction, executed in the wake of their match-fixing scandal, has been hotly debated for some time and for many it has been another sticking point in the tenuous relationship between Valve and the Counter-Strike community at large. However, suppose we put aside more esoteric ethical quandaries concerning “fairness” or “justice,” and instead consider a more lighthearted exercise: What would happen if the bans of these four players expired tomorrow? What teams and roster moves would best reiterate them into the burgeoning North American scene?

Of course, in two years, the form of players’ can wax or wane with the introduction of new maps and metas affecting individual prowess, but let’s delve deeper into the realm of the hypothetical and assume that each of these four players strengths, weaknesses, and play styles have remained unchanged since the official ruling came through Jan. 16, 2015. Also, to enter into a more general discussion about the North American scene, let’s also stipulate that these players cannot simply start a roster with one another, but instead must integrate themselves into separate teams.

DaZed to OpTic

DaZed was a successful Source player in its later days and found early success in GO in Arena 51 and Quantic, before forming the domestically dominant iBP team. While the classic lineup failed to achieve much success on European soil, iBP did find a surprising amount of success at FACEIT League – Season 2, a smaller six team tournament with a high concentration of talent, in October 2014.

In that tournament, iBUYPOWER not only made it out of groups, but actually made it to the finals thanks to an upset best-of-three win versus LDLC. In that contest, DaZed led the team to a map one win on Inferno, thanks to heavy anti-strating and an individual 50 kill performance in the triple overtime game. That specific match perhaps best demonstrates DaZed’s unique skillset as player. As a caller, he was often criticized for not running a particularly inventive or complex T-side, usually working out of defaults, finding picks and trading kills in the mid-round.

However, in interviews and appearances, he has shown a high tactical understanding of the game that manifested itself in iBUYPOWER later performances, including their LDLC series and other FACEIT matches. DaZed has also been recognized as superior fragger in comparison to other in-game leaders, such as his contemporary Sgares or more modern peers in Eric “adreN” Hoag, Alec “Slemmy” White, or Damian “daps” Steele.

Our hypothetically available DaZed, might be the perfect answer to OpTic’s current slew of problems. At the start of the summer, OpTic very briefly looked like North America’s best team as they defeated Tempo Storm, now Immortals, twice in best-of-three series at the Second Americas minor and advanced through highly competent competition in the Swiss-style ESL One Main Qualifier. Since then, OpTic has been unspectacular, dropping out of the Major after two straight losses and failing to advance beyond the quarterfinals at Northern Arena, which featured only modest competition. After ESL One Cologne, OpTic dropped Peter “stanislaw” Jarguz for CLG’s ex-star Tarik “tarik” Celik, but less than ten days later, they went back on that decision, and instead dropped Daps to reinstate Stanislaw.

Adding Tarik in for Stanislaw and then choosing Stanislaw over Daps, indicates OpTic’s preference for skill above teamplay and tactics. To drop Daps is to drop their in-game leader and there would be risky at any tier or level. To replace Daps or Stanislaw with DaZed can more equally solve the team’s deficiencies in terms of skill and leadership.

It would also be interesting to see what DaZed’s effect would be on his surrounding teammates. Perhaps DaZed could better actualize the obviously talented Tarik, who many have cited as an unperformed star when CLG faced the best competition in the world. And perhaps DaZed could get even more production out of OpTic’s emerging star in Oscar “mixwell” Cañellas, as he was frequently credited with maneuvering Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham into positions to succeed and utilizing his skillset especially well in his CT-side tactics.

AZK to Cloud9

As AZK had neither a forthright personality with a streaming presence like DaZed or Steel, nor was a highlight player in iBUYPOWER like Swag or Skadoodle, he is often the least remembered player of the storied iBUYPOWER lineup. AZK, along with Skadoodle, followed the full progression of teams from Team Curse to Denial to the classic iBUYPOWER lineup and would have been a member of the Evil Geniuses team if the Valve ban had not gone through. As a player, AZK was seen as someone skilled within the context of North America but was more fundamentally sound than flashy and generally not as effective in terms of statistics amongst his better teammates. But it’s his steadiness rather than his skill ceiling that might make him useful in Cloud9.

Cloud9 have had good but not superlative run of form in their latest three tournament including DreamHack Bucharest which is going on currently. However it’s not hard to postulate potential issues with their team. The most obvious of which would be the lack of an experienced in game-leader instead of relying on their recently dominant star player to also take up tactical control. But for now, it seems like the strength of Stewie’s entries on T-side along with their current arsenal of strategies has been enough for them to still perform on that side of the map, for now at least.

A broader, more general problem though, involves Cloud9’s recent reliance on Jake “Stewie2k” Yipas as their best performing player. While he has certainly shown the skill to pull it off, Stewie2k’s frequent playmaking entries and endlessly aggressive rifling invariably leads to some inevitable inconsistencies in his performances. And if a somewhat variable player becomes your star player, it makes sense to add more consistent performers in the surrounding core rather than more wildcard type performers. Otherwise, if Stewie2k has an off performance that lines up with another poor showing from his teammates, it could lead to an unnecessary mid-tournament upset. Exactly such an upset occurred at the ECS finals, as Cloud9 lost to TSM in the elimination match of Group A, where Stewie2k had a noticeably underwhelming showing.

While Jordan “n0thing” Gilbert has unusually looked strong at this most recent DreamHack Bucharest event, he has always been a somewhat underwhelming player throughout his career due to inability to put out strong performances with any regularity. Given AZK’s greater consistency, he might be a suitable replacement player in our hypothetical reality.

On the other hand, you could also consider replacing Timothy “Autimatic” Ta as well, even though AZK did not function as a lurker like Autimatic usually does. Autimatic, himself, is also not an especially high impact or high scoring player with a good, stable level of performance, but is prone to take unnecessary risks in clutch round scenarios, which has limited his effectiveness as a lurker. Also, the loss of a lurk-oriented player doesn’t seem particularly problematic on Cloud9 given their frequent five-man takes on T-side.

Swag to TSM

During his time on compLexity, in late 2013 and early 2014, Swag looked like the team’s most skilled and best performing player before moving to iBUYPOWER in April of that year. While it would ultimately be Skadoodle who would be more frequently described as IBP’s overall best player, Swag still was a huge contributor for the team and was still often called one of North America’s absolute best players. Like Hiko, Swag has typically been described as a “slower” player, checking more corners and moving into sites more tenuously, quite unlike the current core of young standouts in North America such as Stewie2k and Hunter “SicK” Mims. For TSM, Swag could better replace the recently departed Autimatic and function as the full-time star of the team.

While TSM did look particularly good at the ECS finals, making the semifinals by beating Astralis and Cloud9, they have not had tremendous success elsewhere, placing third at the Second Americas Minor, winning only one game at ELEAGUE, and failing to make it out of the group stage at Northern Arena-Toronto. Their surprising frequent 16-14 losses in their tournament outings may suggest that they are a team who fumbles frequently under pressure or has trouble closing out games, but perhaps their often lackluster CT-sides could instead be the main contributing factor.

Against Fnatic at ECS, TSM won nine T-rounds and CT pistol to put them up 12-6, but they lost 10 of the next 12 rounds to lose 16-14. Against OpTic on Train at Northern Arena, TSM again won nine T-rounds, but lost nine of the first 10 CT rounds on their way to another 16-14 defeat. However, the most extreme example comes most recently versus Immortals in the North American preliminaries of ELEAGUE. Against Immortals, TSM won a dominating 11 T-side rounds, on the CT-sided map of Mirage and won CT-pistol, but on Immortals’ third round buy, TSM would take the first two kill to go up five-to-three in numbers before blowing the round. Losing 12 rounds in 13 tries, TSM would again lose 16-14.

Like Cloud9, TSM is led by a risk taking fragger in SicK, but their 17-year-old star hasn’t been nearly as effective or consistent as Stewie2k, and SicK’s even younger counterpart in Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken has been equally uneven. While both of TSM’s standout players seem to have good raw aim, their underperformance on CT seems to revolve around the positional shortcomings of their younger members, which is compounded by a more general lack of firepower in their veteran members. With more aggressive T-side positions occupied by their young duo, TSM would best benefit from a more stable star in a periphery role.

The simplest replacement would be to remove TSM’s lurker and newest member Skyler “Relyks” Weaver for Swag, but removing Pujan “FNS” Mehta and moving Relyks into a more aggressive position is also tempting as FNS has never been a particularly skilled player and Relyks has looked like an adequate replacement for Autimatic thus far. However, FNS has very recently taken over as the new in-game leader in place of Semphis, and has usually been taken a more supportive approach to his team play, which significantly discourages such a move. 

Steel to Splyce

Like DaZed, Steel was probably better known during his playing days for his streaming presence and more contentious personality. Also like DaZed, he was removed from iBUYPOWER before the start of ESL One Cologne 2014, but was never added back onto the team following their poor showing at that event. He would instead go over to Torqued, where he would play with more tenured, but less accomplished players, such as Mohamad “m0E” Assad and Carey “frozt” Kertenian.

As a player, Steel was seen as a skilled player alongside the rest of his teammates, but his long career in the game apparently gave him a more cerebral skillset and style of play, which led to his employment as an in-game observer on multiple occasions. He would also act as CLG’s coach for a brief period in 2015, before Valve clarified that banned players should not be involved with any professional team, hoping to compete in Valve tournaments. He has since moved to Overwatch, where he briefly played for Splyce before being removed back in July. While Steel did not serve as iBUYPOWER’s in-game leader, his demonstrated understanding of the game may be of significant use to Splyce’s neophyte lineup.

Splyce originally started to turn heads when their relatively unknown five man roster stormed their way to the finals of the First Americas Minor and qualified for the first Major of the year on the first two games of the MLG Columbus Main Qualifier. Nevertheless, after bombing out of the major itself, Splyce put up a series of woefully unimpressive results online and offline, which led to a recent reconstruction of their roster.

Andrew “ProfessorChaos” Heintz was made the coach of the team, while Abraham “abE” Fasli and Jason “jasonR” Ruchelski were removed entirely. To replace them, Splyce management turned to the international talent pool, bringing in the Dutch player Joey “CRUC1AL” Steusel, the Danish Asger “AcilioN” Larsen formerly of Team X, who would go on to become Heroic, and most interestingly Enkhtaivan “Machinegun” Lkhagv, formerly of the obviously Mongolian “The MongolZ” team.

Before Machinegun made the move over to America, Splyce competed at Northern Arena where they failed to advance out of the group stage after losing to Heroic in a best-of-one and the new Oceanic Winterfox team in a best-of three. With Machinegun on the roster, Splyce has won just three of 12 games online, besting only subtLe, PaiN gaming, and Winterfox, while losing to other mid-tier teams, such as OpTic, Echo Fox and Renegades.

While Splyce’s recent additions are certainly interesting, this hodgepodge of players seems to have talent but lack veteran leadership. Putting concerns about temperament aside, the decisive voice of Steel could be especially helpful in bringing the disparate talents of this team together, while also giving them another skilled player. While more needs to be seen from this team before any grand pronouncements can be made, perhaps Steel would best replace team captain Arya “arya” Hekmat or David “DAVEY” Stafford, who have both shown rabid inconsistency in the past.

Of course, the Valve bans are permanent. We’ll never see these moves made, but when the rare reminder comes up, such as DaZed’s ESL broadcast appearance, the perceived potential of their comeback can be maddening. Could the iBUYPOWER players replicate ESEA-esque results overseas once more? Could splintered members help improve up-and-comers? Could group stage dropouts be made into champions?

Whether the bans were appropriate or not, the casualties were not one-sided. The players were obviously negatively affected, but the North American scene, and by extension the entire competitive circuit, from players to spectators, also lost something in their departure.