The NA Shuffle -- Little Changes in the Big City
With the top NA teams set in their rosters for the upcoming year, one thing is abundantly clear: that tier 1 NA teams, many with glaring weaknesses exploited throughout the past year, really did little to focus on fixing their issues with optimal roster shifts. Of course, the NA scene was greeted this holiday season with the permanent banning of the iBuyPower Players, losing two of its best IGLs in DaZeD and steel, as well as the prodigal swag and consistent AZK. However, with the players potentially available to join or coach, the top NA teams generally failed. Pronax, Pimp, and allu were not given strong enough offers to bring them out of Europe, and while the signing bonuses required to bring them stateside (for Pronax especially) were likely tremendous, it would be more than worth the investments. Gob b joined the superficially weak NRG rather than an established organization, another proven IGL worthy of a large contract. Seang@res is neither coaching nor playing for a top team (and is instead playing for Moe’s mishmash team), though admittedly he wanted to step away from the game and was in theory unobtainable. The NA teams, outside of Liquid’s acquisition of s1mple, did not go out of their way to recruit and buy the best players they could to fill the needs of the team, and instead settled for relatively imperfect solutions (a common trend in the history of NA roster swaps). Moreover, many of the new teams to come out of the off-season (new TSM, NRG, Complexity) all formed seemingly random hodge-podge rosters at the last second, likely to crumble within the end of this first season of invite. That said, the roster moves made this off-season were not entirely misguided, and my goal is to outline which roster moves made sense, what a team could possibly have done better, and the general requirements of a team moving forward to possibly succeed with their lineup.
Liquid win, s1mple as that
Photo courtesy of HLTV.org
Liquid’s acquisition of s1mple was clearly by far the strongest pickup this offseason. Now unbanned by ESL, s1mple has proven to be a force with AWP, usually the most impactful player in the server. His incredible skill ceiling is only eclipsed by his ridiculous consistency, always producing high ratings regardless of competition of teammates. In theory, s1mple will alleviate the struggling adreN of his AWPing duties, and if adreN can transition to the support rifler and IGL he realistically always should have been, Liquid’s roles begin to make more sense. The nitr0 and Elige duo will now have greater AWP assistance in opening up sites, which allows Hiko even greater space to play his passive lurking style. The key issues with Liquid in terms of strategy, their often transparent setups with Hiko always on the other side of a map to the team and bomb, are not completely fixed by this change. In theory, the best move would not only to have brought in s1mple but a tactical mind like the aforementioned pronax or gob b either to coach or IGL over adreN, but because of bureaucratic issues within Team Liquid that was not possible. For this team to succeed at the top level, they will need this greater variation in their T-side approach. However, based on the moves made by the rest of the scene, Liquid are in prime position to become the best North American team. Still, without fundamentally changing their strategic approach, they will likely still lose to the even most remedially strategic elite teams, who can sufficiently prod for the necessary information to determine where Hiko might be hiding.
CLG and Bigger Guns
On paper, the Fugly pickup improves the stagnant CLG lineup, replacing the struggling FNS in presumably the lurker role. Superficially, CLG replaced one of their weakest players with a stronger player, allowing for at least marginal improvement. Having declined in his performance in general since Hiko’s joining of the Liquid roster, it is clear that Fugly struggled finding an identity within that roster. Moving back to the more passive style he once thrived in on Liquid might bring back his strong form on CLG, adding to their desperately lacking firepower. However, the change which could truly turn CLG into a top NA team once again is picking up Pita. CLG’s biggest issues this past year stemmed from their lack of focussed tactical identity; Cutler and FNS both called loose styles more geared to higher skilled lineups, and by requiring the potentially elite level Cutler to focus on tactics, his own play as one of CLG’s carry players declined. While Pita was not necessarily the most tactical coach for NiP, his presence alleviates calling from Cutler, who once served as CLG’s most impactful player. With Cutler again focussing more on his own play and Fugly adding to CLG’s firepower, this pickup should bring greater success to the lineup. However, should Pita fail to really offer meaningful strategic improvement, not entirely unlikely given the more default oriented style of his former team, CLG will likely suffer from the same problems they did this past year.
Stewie2k and Unproven Aggression
Photo courtesy of thescoreesports.com
Realistically, Stewie2k will not solve the problems faced by NA’s former superpower team C9. During their run of form in the summer, Cloud 9 was successful because the acquisition of Freakazoid and Skadoodle enabled the rest of the lineup to play more passively, n0thing playing a greater lurk role and Shroud allowed to show his great skill and aim after Freakazoid aggressively cleared angles. Moreover, Cloud 9’s success came at the hands of Seang@res, who could so feverishly anti-strat teams that Cloud 9 took many series off the world’s best and attended a string of competitive finals. In theory, with Sean leaving, Cloud 9 should have picked up an in game leader or coach capable of replacing their mastermind, something which they did not do. What’s worse is that Sean did not simply retire or just become a streamer, but joined a decidedly weaker Echo Fox team. This requires n0thing, while being a well tenured player in the NA CS scene, to become the IGL for the team, C9’s strengths as an anti-strating team likely vanishing. Moreover, Stewie is, while decidedly skilled online, completely unproven on LAN, likely to follow the fate of other PUG superstars when facing elite competition. While n0thing could prove to be the experienced veteran capable of maintaining a default style, and Stewie2k could translate his raw FPL aggression and skill to a LAN setting against the world’s best, the likelihood is that they will not be able to do completely. The lineup completely lacks this anti-stratting component which contributed to their success on top of Stewie’s unknown LAN potential. Cloud 9 will likely remain a top five North American team simply because of their raw skill, but lack the more strategic identity that made them a top five team internationally, the lineup neither skilled enough nor smart enough to compete with an Envyus or Luminosity.