Mixwell and the NA Clockwork: OpTic No. 1 NA in May

When OpTic, the most famous Call of Duty organization, entered CS:GO in January by picking up a bottom-feeding North American lineup spearheaded by ShahZaM, the choice was met with cries of derision. Duncan ‘Thorin’ Shields and Richard Lewis trashed their early performance at the first NA minor; even a month ago, they speculated that the team would break up with ShahZaM’s rumored departure—a departure that would become a reality, and a hole that would be plugged by an unproven Spanish prospect. 

OpTic has been the No. 1 NA team for the month of May thus far.

A rare smile from the Spaniard who has made OpTic the best of NA in the month of May. Photo courtesy MARCA.

A rare smile from the Spaniard who has made OpTic the best of NA in the month of May. Photo courtesy MARCA.

Don’t believe me? The results prove it. OpTic has achieved more in offline tournaments in the past month than any other NA team. They stomped Astralis, a classic elite lineup, in a Best of 1. They took 25 rounds over two maps off of Luminosity, the best team in the world. And they bested Tempo Storm, a team many consider top 10 material, in two consecutive Best of 3s. On a smaller note, won the recent NA Minor and only dropped 1 map while doing so (to Tempo Storm on dust2, 16-13 in the finals). 

What top teams did other NA teams beat? The only other result of significance is Cloud9 winning mirage from Luminosity in the Group A finals of ELEAGUE. That was impressive work, but also C9’s only international result in the month. Should OpTic manage to upset G2 or NiP in the Group B playoffs, I wouldn’t hesitate to call them the No. 1 NA team.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. OpTic are not a top 10 roster in the world, and I’m not sure they can be. They are merely the only NA team I have enjoyed watching this month besides C9. They’ve played with confidence, polish, and strength beyond the rag-tag look of their lineup. They are the first tier 2 NA team with a quality sponsor to repay their org with true improvement. That’s a notable feat in and of itself. 

What makes OpTic work? As it turns out, a Spanish AWP prospect who has picked up the rifle was the factor to unlock the skills and hard work of this lineup. Will it continue to work? That relies upon the team’s continued research, confidence, and self-understanding.

The Cog Spaniard

A Spanish AWPer who now prefers the rifle is by far the most important piece behind OpTic’s success. This is not the force of a s1mple bulldozer plowing over opposition despite the flaws of a team. This is the power of sliding a missing gear into a clock, winding it up, and listening to it chime for the first time. mixwell is not an incredible world-beating fragger like s1mple, but his game-sense and nose for a play is the unwitting cog that is sending OpTic ticking upward.

mixwell is not a good aimer. Well, okay, he CAN hit some good shots, but his highlight reels are often more quick-witted than they are sure-of-hand. I mean, how do you miss a layup shot like this

Or this? (Okay, it was a bit long range with that deagle. Okay, I miss them all the time. Gimme a break.)

What’s notable about those botched kills, though, is how mixwell in both instances took his opponents so by surprise that he had longer than most players normally do to land a frag. mixwell is an uncanny player. Even in his fledgling pro matches, he has an aggressive timing to his positioning and faces that takes opponents by surprise. He seems to have a good sense for where to find a frag, and he is constantly hunting for information. Watching his movements around the spectator minimap, I can almost imagine the mental cartography occurring in his head. 

His important frags come from unexpected opening duels, anticipation, and exploiting chaos in a defense or strung-out attack; rarely does mixwell pull off flashy he-shouldn’t-have-done-that headshots, bomb-site-opening entries, or multi-man spray-downs. His name isn’t often shouted by the casters, but by the end of the map, he’s always put up the second or third best stats in the server for OpTic. 

In a strange way, mixwell reminds me of some Spanish-flair inversion of Happy, the famous French lurker and IGL for LDLC/VeryGames. Both players find their best success when they exhibit their beautiful timing in their engagements. Both are at their best when they can play off of the positioning of their teammates. But mixwell is much more of an information gatherer than Happy. Happy is content to extreme lurk and let his teammates bait for him, while mixwell is aggressive, to the point of sometimes seeming reckless. Happy’s rifles are also much sharper than mixwell’s; but mixwell knows when and how to AWP much better than Happy does. 

Another player mixwell reminds me of is Ola “elemeNt” Moum, the Norwegian 1.6 player who relied on his ability to read a game, not his aim, to make himself and his teams successful. Based on what limited POVs I’ve seen of elemeNt, there’s a certain mind-before-mechanics that both their movements seem to indicate. This is not a fair comparison. elemeNt was an all-time great, and mixwell is a rookie. But the thought has flashed through my mind, fair or not. 

Mixwell does have a tendency to give up opening kills due to his greedy positioning. In OpTic’s first match at the MLG Minor against Tempo Storm, for instance, he gave up one less entry frag than daps, stanislaw, and NAF-FLY combined. This is currently mixwell’s main weakness, a product of a playing style that mixwell seems nevertheless assured of within the current setup of OpTic.

Sliding mixwell into gear 

OpTic started off by forcing mixwell to be a dedicated AWPer in the vein of ShahZaM and other NA snipers, to mediocre effect at best. mixwell struggled. 

At some point, daps and company recognized mixwell’s essential quality was not AWPing, but understanding his opponents and game situations. They relieved him of sole sniper duty and handed him an AK-47 or the green gun as suited the round. mixwell became not quite a lurker, but not quite an entry fragger; he assumed forward positions in rounds and struck at targets of opportunity, but let other players open up bombsites or anchor defenses. They began basing their understanding of how to play rounds off of the information that mixwell fed to the team (compliments to the youngster’s excellent English). 

What do we call this position mixwell now plays? Recon? I don’t think it neatly fits into typical CS:GO role definitions at the moment. Whatever the case, it has worked. As a review of the demo and of stanislaw’s post-match interview reveals, it is exactly this role that allowed OpTic to whip Astralis 16-7 on inferno, and a role that is typical of mixwell since.

Please admire my paint skills.

Please admire my paint skills.

On T side, mixwell played at the top of banana time after time.

Astralis failed to contest or punish this position effectively, especially early in the half. When allowed, mixwell would peek off of a flashbang into the site itself. Based off of what he saw, he would either call his team to come B or would turn around and walk back to mid. I actually laughed once when I saw NAF-FLY do a bit of a double-take at one of mixwell’s decisions to back off of banana—but he followed nevertheless. 

Bask in awe of my mouse handwriting.

Bask in awe of my mouse handwriting.

When OpTic pushed a site, mixwell (with the AK in hand) would often take a side route to the bombsite. On A, while his teammates run out past boiler towards the default plant, he would wrap around arch-side. On B, he would go out and around through the back of construction. 

In post-plants, he often moves to the outermost position reasonable while his teammates take more solid positions close to the bomb. He is eager to hunt retreating CTs when given the opportunity, and this game was no exception. I suppose this is the type of play stanislaw refers to when he says they used mixwell as an “aggressive rifler.”

mixwell often would advance to top mid when it was smoked. If he heard retreating footsteps, he would rotate to B.

mixwell often would advance to top mid when it was smoked. If he heard retreating footsteps, he would rotate to B.

 

As a Counter-terrorist, mixwell played close to mid from arch-side, a rotation position that suits mixwell’s intuitive play. From here, stanislaw said in his interview, mixwell could hear Astralis’s footsteps and convey where Astralis were moving. When stanislaw says that Astralis was “easy to read,” the reason for this confidence is mixwell. 

Since this victory, mixwell has gone back to a mixture of AWPing and rifling, but he only AWPs when he has a specific position or face in mind. In their first train match versus Tempo Storm, for example, after noticing felps pushing on close train, mixwell picked up the AWP and caught felps out on this maneuver again and again, despite the wily methods of approach that felps devised. Mixwell’s decisions on which weapon to use often seem to have real and specific logic behind it, which is a boon to both him and his team’s executions.

The Clockwork OpTic

When Hiko joined Team Liquid, his respected predefined role as a lurker forced his new teammates to realign their roles, bringing Liquid from a mediocre NA team to a top tier NA team, competing for No. 2 with CLG. mixwell’s impact for OpTic has been much the same, creating a better and more logical coordination of OpTic’s forces. What is more impressive, however, is that mixwell’s defining role within the team was conceived AFTER the team tried and failed to make him a ShahZaM-like AWPer. 

With mixwell the sometime AWPer and dedicated freelance recon (just roll with it…please…), NAF-FLY has become his foil, a conservative and rock-steady player who excels as an anchor on defense and in post-plants on offense. 

NAF-FLY has precise aim in contrast to mixwell’s witty aim, and for this reason had long been touted as an up-and-coming NA talent. But NAF-FLY has always hesitated to step out and be a play-maker, preferring to play supportive angles at the back of bombsites and pushes, and this has limited his in-game impact. Now, much like Krimz or boltz, this stiff, stoic quality in his play has become a virtue when playing next to a bolder co-star. The risk-taking of mixwell on both halves of play and the quick execution style of OpTic on T-side creates situations where NAF-FLY doesn’t have to seek plays, but plays naturally seek him. This is the “star support” role, as it were, and NAF-FLY is well-suited to it. Now he needs to show consistency in fulfilling it.

Furthermore, NAF is good with the AWP in a more static sense than mixwell, who uses it aggressively. This means that OpTic always has an appropriate AWPer for each situation. How convenient! The team also rarely uses double-AWP setups, perhaps for the polar styles of their AWPers and for the fact that one of them (NAF-FLY) is excellent with the rifles. 

RUSH is another long-touted NA talent with good aim who never quite delivered until now. He typically the entry-fragger for OpTic, though daps and stanislaw will also take that role depending on the round, and will also sometimes play on more forward CT positions than his other teammates. Whereas mixwell’s aggression is a curving split-finger fastball, RUSH’s is a straight-on two-seamer; the distraction that either causes during an attack can benefit the other, so that the defense doesn’t know exactly which they should look for. In addition, RUSH has cleaned up his old habits of over-peaking and taking unnecessary aim duels, much to the benefit of his team. 

OpTic’s success relies upon these three players—RUSH, mixwell, NAF-FLY—stepping up and playing well. When NAF-FLY is having an off game, the effect is immediately obvious, as defenses tend to fold easily and with few return frags.

daps is the IGL, and credit must be given to him for recognizing how mixwell is best employed in this lineup and for filling in the gaps his team needs. His shot calling is not brilliant, nor his executions unique, but he does a good job of mixing up both the pace and location of the team’s T-sides. stanislaw just seems like a good fragger to me, and has acquitted himself particularly well with the pistols; he doesn’t seem to me to have a special role within the team other than occasionally popping off and putting up big kills in a round.

The ghost in the machine

OpTic is not unique beyond this clockwork quality of play. They have a very traditional NA style of play: map control default at the beginning of a round, then attack a bombsite, no real fancy executions need apply. (The team has had some embarrassing smoke misses before, especially on overpass; I can’t even bring myself to link to the video.) Before mixwell, they relied on both star power and the hard work of their players; if they were unique, it was for the noticeable amount of work some of the players were putting into their positioning and decision-making.

As it turns out, the default-to-execution style of gameplay works much better with mixwell. mixwell is the wild-card, getting into unusual positions and feeding both off of and into his team’s larger decisions about rotations and executions. Since acquiring mixwell, the team seems to know what their opponents are doing in the server much better. 

It’s notable, though, that OpTic’s favorite maps have been cobblestone, train, and inferno. These maps have been considered tactical maps, requiring more coordination and understanding of teamplay than, say, dust2 or cache. OpTic is very good on these maps, which is very unlike any other NA team now–a big domestic advantage. It is unfortunate for them, though, that Valve rotated their best map, inferno, out of the map pool.

mixwell (left) with is usual dispassionate stare, while NAF-FLY (far right) bores holes into his monitor. The team rarely celebrates or shouts. Screenshot courtesy MLG.

mixwell (left) with is usual dispassionate stare, while NAF-FLY (far right) bores holes into his monitor. The team rarely celebrates or shouts. Screenshot courtesy MLG.

Also notable is the lack of strong emotions while playing. The OpTic players rarely shout, look at each other, high-five, or even crack a smile while they play. More than being a sign of focus, I think it’s good for OpTic not to fall into the trap of people’s expectations for NA CS:GO teams: that they have to be loud, emotional, fiery, and chaotic.

Grinding forward

Without NAF-FLY and RUSH performing at their highest level game in and game out, this team cannot do significant international damage. The two maps against NiP in ELEAGUE group B this week showed just how weak this team can look without those players stepping up. The positive is that mixwell is consistent even when the team is losing. The negative is that it hardly makes a difference when the NA clockwork falls apart against a truly elite team.

Part of what makes each gear in this clockwork team spin is how the pieces work together. What impressed me about the stanislaw interview was how self-aware of the source of the team’s success stanislaw seemed to be. The team needs to realize what makes them tick, and how, to exit the group stage in ELEAGUE this week. The team certainly needs more courage and self-confidence during the playoffs than we’ve seen thus far from them.

Nevertheless, I’ll be watching them, hoping to see OpTic continue to grind forward and give mixwell and his compatriots success. I hope I enjoy watching them.

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