The Downfall of Lurking

The art of lurking is perhaps the most distinct role within Counter-Strike. Personally, I would describe the lurker as being the thorn in the enemy’s side. It is their job to apply pressure to the opposing team by being a constant distraction. These types of players commonly play based off of enemy grenade usage, sound cues, and information gathered by their team in order to catch the enemy off guard.

The most famous lurkers have truly ingenious instincts to play at such an incredibly high level. So let’s take a look at some of Global Offensive’s storied lurkers.

Cream of the Crop

GeT_RiGhT

Not only one of Counter-Strikes most famous lurkers, but one of its most famous players of all time is Christopher “GeT_RiGhT” Alesund. The Swede defined the role late in the 1.6 era and carried it through to Global Offensive. He joined the resurrected Ninjas in Pyjamas line up in 2012 and has stuck with them ever since.

GeT_RiGhT demonstrated the effect being a backstabber could have. Often, he waits for his team to secure the opposing bomb site, then, after he hears the enemies rotating, he comes in from behind and cleans up the remaining kills.

GeT_RiGhT made famous the position in apartments on Inferno where he is known to wait while his teammates attack B. This lurk, in particular, is extremely effective because it means the Counter-Terrorists have no knowledge of whether there are five terrorists ready to execute the A-bomb site or just one lurking. Once the terrorists have control of the apartments, it is usually too risky for the CT’s to take back.

Due to the dominance of Ninjas in Pyjamas from 2012 through 2014, opposing teams not only fear the physical lurk but also the mental presence. Just the idea that GeT_RiGhT  ‘could’ be in apartments can sometimes be enough to crack teams.

Happy

A player who built on the legacy started by GeT_RiGhT is Vincent “Happy” Schopenhauer. Happy was a part of the LDLC/Team EnVyUs lineup that won two major tournaments amongst other premier LAN events. Much like GeT_RiGhT, Happy plays away from the team to create situations where he could kill enemies from behind. On the T side, he plays much farther removed from his team than GeT_RiGhT does, making it harder for the enemy to track him. However, it’s his daring flanks on the CT side where he times his push to perfection, executing the terrorists with deadly effect. On dust2, Happy waits for the exact right moment to push short or long, leading to a plethora of multi kills.

Hiko

The final player is a North American: none other than Spencer “Hiko” Martin. This is a player who, similarly to our favourite Swede, helped define North America early on. He was on the Complexity roster that achieved legend status at two major tournaments.

One of Hiko’s trademarks is playing at the squeaky door on Cache. He not only hides out listening to enemy sound cues but creates his own. He repeatedly opens and closes the door as well as spraying through it. This prolongs enemy rotations if his team heads to the B bombsite due to the fear that Hiko can flank. Furthermore, if his team is coming A, he causes panic in the CT’s minds because he will continue playing with the door during the full execute. You just never know when he’s going to jump out.

Double major champion Happy pictured at Dreamhack London (Source: pcgamer.com)

Decline of Lurkers

In recent years, lurkers stats have dropped dramatically, leaving the likes of Happy and Hiko to miss out. Many people are skeptical of whether these players are past their time or not. Part of the problem is that the majority of players have become aware of lurkers and how to counter them. On the older maps, it has become increasingly difficult for GeT_RiGhT and Hiko to innovate new ways to lurk, meaning that lurking on maps such as Cache, Inferno, and Mirage has stagnated.

However, I think the larger problem is that the modern faster meta doesn’t favour them. Since the introduction of the Tec-9 and more recently the UMP, teams have been able to win rounds more easily with limited equipment. A style introduced by none other than Happy himself, players abuse the power of the pistols and UMP by holding close quarter angles to pick up a kill. This subsequently reduces the round to a series of one versus ones making it much easier for the limited team to win. This fast-paced style has created a movement in which teams are now choosing five fantastically skilled players over playing with more defined roles. It’s not to say that lurkers aren’t amazing riflers, it’s that they peak when they get the chance and use their brain to win the round.

Happy was a loser in the most recent French shuffle, missing out on the chance to play with Richard “shox” Papillon and Kenny “kennyS” Schrub. Hiko is currently teamless after a brief stint with OpTic Gaming where they publically stated that he didn’t fit their style. If some of the game’s best lurkers can’t stay atop, is there any hope for the up-and-comers?

Hiko didn’t don the OpTic jersey for very long. (Source: dexerto.com)

What can they do?

Despite Hiko and Happy being unwilling to adapt to the changes, GeT_RiGhT has made efforts to try and recraft his artwork. In the current iteration of NiP, you can find him becoming the entry fragger on full executes. Since he is so fabled for playing away from the team, he has taken on this role to occasionally cause CT’s to wonder whether he is just lurking or whether there is a delayed execute of Ninjas behind him.

Another way lurkers could change their game is to essentially become support players similar to how Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth plays on Astralis. By doing this, the players would still be able to play from the clutch using their intuition to win. Consequently, it would mean that they wouldn’t take one of the star player spots and the resources of the team. In turn, they could recruit a younger superstar that’s more in line with the modern meta. That way they can funnel all their resources into the new star and bet all their money on them.

There is still hope for lurkers yet.


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Tournament Preview: Cs_Summit

From April 20th – 23rd, Cs_Summit is being hosted by Beyond the Summit.

The Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament is set up as a quarter-final knockout stage with a loser’s bracket. Essentially it’s an eight-team double elimination tournament with best-of-three matches. The quarterfinal matchups are as follows:

  • SK Gaming vs. Team EnVyUs
  • Gambit E-Sports vs. GODSENT
  • OpTic Gaming Vs Cloud9
  • Ninjas in Pyjamas vs Team Liquid

Some of the strongest teams in the world will duke it out to see who walks away victorious. Here’s a look at some of the teams and match-ups.

Teams to Watch:

GODSENT

GODSENT

Courtesy of BeyondtheSummit.tv

GODSENT may not be the strongest roster coming into the tournament, but I think the legendary ex-Fnatic in-game Leader Markus “pronax” Wallsten has some tricks up his sleeve. After the Fnatic roster swap fiascos ended, pronax saw himself leading his team of riflers into the fray. Hopefully the Swedish international can make a strong appearance at Cs_Summit, and GODSENT can take home some prize money.

Many people may turn their heads at this pick, but I think GODSENT has what it takes to seriously win this tournament. They are playing Gambit in the first round and they are no pushover. It will be a tough fought game against the Russian side, but GODSENT could have what it takes.

Cloud9

Cloud 9

Courtesy of media.wwg.com

Cloud9 are among the stronger teams in North America, so it is no surprise I’m picking them to be one of the favorites. Unfortunately, Cloud9 will be short their world class AWPer Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham. However, their stand in is one of the best the game has ever seen. Braxton “swag” Pierce, having previously been banned for match-fixing, has served his time away from professional play as an analyst, now making a return. Recently, he has returned as a stand in for Cloud9, and will hopefully be able to show that he’s still got it in this tournament.

SK Gaming

SK_Gaming

Courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

SK has had a less than stellar season. They are struggling to find the dominant form they showed at MLG Columbus. After taking a sudden exit in the playoff stages to FaZe at Starladder, SK Gaming has really been missing out on deep tournament play. Cs_Summit might be the turn around they need.

They are facing off against Team EnVyUs in the first round and it will not be easy for Gabriel “fallen” Toledo’s team to take a victory. With the strong players that EnVyUs have, we will see if fallen has made the correct adjustments before gametime.

OpTic Gaming

Courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

OpTic Gaming has a mix-mash of good aimers and good shot callers that somehow became one of the best teams in the world in under a year. One of OpTic’s key players, Tarik “Tarik” Celik, fled the barebones CLG squad in hopes of a better future with OpTic and it has paid off for him.

However, Tarik and OpTic have been struggling to find their strong form in 2017. OpTic seems to be making a little bit of comeback, showing life at the IBuyPower Invitational just last weekend where they took home second place. I think that OpTic has turned a corner with their play, but they will be tested in their matchup against Cloud9.

Featured Matchup: Optic vs Cloud 9

OpTic and Cloud9 are two of the best teams in North America and this matchup has always been fiery. Cloud9 seems to have them on most CT sided maps, controlling the long areas with Skadoodle’s AWP. However, it will be very interesting to see how Cloud9 adapts to their new five man lineup.

OpTic has always displayed resilience in their match-ups, being able to persevere in the longer mental battles. They stand a good chance against C9 and this matchup, in particular, seems to be the most balanced and the one to watch. If you can only catch one series from these playoff stages, I would highly recommend this match up.


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An in Depth Analysis of the Build-Up of FaZe and Allu’s Contribution to the Starladder Victory

There’s really no debate that FaZe deserved to win Starladder. After narrowly losing to Astralis at IEM Masters, Starladder became their sanctuary of strong play. They are a relatively new squad, and it was surprising to see them all playing so cohesively. So, here is an in depth look at how FaZe managed to transition from no roster last year, to having one of the best rosters this year.

The Build-Up

A lot of what went into FaZe’s performance was the product of months and months of player swaps and testing out rosters. FaZe seemed to have blundered their way through 2016, not managing to have any noteworthy victories. The two player swaps to this roster that were imperative to FaZe’s success are the addition of their shot caller and in-game leader (IGL), Finn “Karrigan” Anderson, and the addition of one of the best CS players in current play, Nikola “NiKo” Kovac.

Karrigan

Karrigan Courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

Karrigan came to FaZe in December after his previous team, Astralis, benched him. He departed shortly after and found that FaZe were looking for an IGL. This would be the first time in two years he wouldn’t be with the Astralis core of Danish players, and it was a real test for him. In IEM Masters right before Starladder, Karrigan faced off against his old team in the grand finals, and couldn’t quite beat them. It was still an impressive finish for how newly cemented the roster was though. Karrigan showed the strong command of his team and really helped to create a team mentality for FaZe.

NiKo finally left his death-trap team, Mousesports, for FaZe in February, and hasn’t looked back. He has always been noted by his peers as one of the best in the world, and last year he broke into the HLTV’s top 20 rankings of 2016, coming in at #11. NiKo only had three days to bootcamp for IEM Masters and was still able to help his team to the grand finals in his first tournament with them. NiKo instantly became one of the super stars for the team in terms of individual skill.

Both of these players will be pivotal in contributing to FaZe’s forward momentum.

Allu

Allu

Courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

Aleksi “allu” Jalli had an incredible tournament performance, and was a huge contribution to FaZe’s victory. Allu is a player that has a seen a lot of strife over his career. He has always been a world-class awper and player, but his team environments haven’t been the best. After his departure from Ninjas in Pyjamas (NiP), he played on the Finnish team, ENCE, as he was hoping to bring life to the Finnish Counter-Strike scene.

After he determined that it was not a worthwhile use of his talents, he made the change to FaZe, where he has been impressive. At Starladder, in particular, he looked extremely strong. His play on Inferno may have single-handedly secured the tournament for FaZe in the grand finals.

The Map Pressure

inferno

Map: Inferno, Courtesy of CSGO database

The pressure he applies on the map is very noticeable. At the beginning of a map, he will let you know which angle he is holding by killing anyone who peaks. Other teams will learn to play around the angles he likes, and they will show him respect by not recklessly peaking.

This is huge, and can generally go unnoticed. The pressure on the map that allu provides gives so much more freedom to his teammates. While he can cover large areas with the AWP, it gives his teammates much less responsibility around the map. On Inferno, for example, when allu covers mid, all it leaves for his teammates to cover is apartments and banana. This leaves two different two-man teams to cover two choke points.

That strategy is what allowed FaZe to run their CT-side on Inferno. With this setup, NiKo has the freedom he needs to set aggressive picks on B, and for Karrigan to delegate more players to more important situations on the map. FaZe’s map movement, as well as individual play, helped them win, creating momentum moving towards the upcoming Counter-Strike Summit.

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Starladder

StarLadder Season 3 Finals 2017: The Winners and The Losers

The Starladder i-league invitational was hosted this weekend in Kiev. There was a lot of good Counter-Strike competition between some of the top teams in the world. There were definitely some good highlights. Here I want to highlight the winners and losers coming out of the tournament.

Winners:

FaZe Clan

Faze Clan at IEM Masters, courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

FaZe Clan (The Actual winners)

FaZe went into StarLadder with decent expectations. This would be one of the first tournaments with their new squad cemented. After being the runner-up in the last tournament against Astralis in the grand finals, FaZe was ready to take Starladder by storm. They barely made it out of groups, having to beat SK Gaming in a one map tiebreaker to get to the quarter-finals. Once they got there, FaZe narrowly beat out G2 to get to the semi-finals.

Faze Clan faced off against HellRaisers in the semi-finals. HellRaisers making it to the semi-finals may have surprised some, but they definitely earned respect. Finn “Karrigan” Andersen evidently did his homework, and he led FaZe to a confident 2-0 victory.

After making their way to the grand finals, they were faced with Astralis for the second grand final in a row. Even though I’m sure it is intimidating to play against a team that you just lost to a month ago, FaZe played very well. One of the most important parts of their play was that they dominated the pistol rounds. It was unreal how well Faze seemed to manipulate each round in their favor. In my opinion, with this tournament win, they became the best pistol team out there.

 

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Photo Courtesy: dotesports.com

HellRaisers

HellRaisers started off well in the Starladder groups, beating FaZe and CLG fairly comfortably. They still lost to G2, however. Where they really shone was the quarter-final matchup against North. North is a very strong team, and things were looking dire for HellRaisers after they dropped the first map to them. HellRaisers showed off their ability to keep themselves composed.

As the competitive scene in Counter-Strike continues to evolve, team mentality and resolve are becoming extremely important. The higher up the team is, the better the mentality. When you get to the top flight of Counter-Strike, the players are the best of the best and it is less about individual skill and more about team play/dynamics. This is what separates the low quality teams from the high quality teams. HellRaisers made some positive strides in this tournament.

Losers:

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Photo courtesy: hltv.com

G2 Esports

G2 came into the Starladder finals looking like they were going to pick up this trophy easier than a European team in North America. In group stages, they went undefeated. Though this lineup hadn’t been truly tested in a best of three yet, their individual and team play in the group stages were unparalleled.

They went into the quarter-finals against FaZe Clan and saw a disappointing exit after losing 2-1. Making the quarter-finals is nothing to scoff at, but with the big names and talent on G2, it was a very disappointing performance. Their group phase dominance seemed to vanish into thin air after FaZe won the first map.

The series was extremely sloppy from both sides. Countless times a team would be on full buys, and lose to full ecos. G2 and FaZe had a strong amount of back and forth between them, but FaZe ended up edging G2 out of the tournament by just a few rounds. It was very weak from G2, and they will be looking to improve their form heading into the next tournament.

Virtus Pro funny

Photo courtesy: wwg.com

Virtus Pro (VP)

Starladder was really a sucker punch for VP. They came out extremely timid in group stages. VP was stomped in all three of their matches, and did not even manage to secure more than five rounds in any of their games. I don’t have any explanation for their poor play other than they got caught on the wrong day. VP coming into this tournament looked to be in contention for the trophy. However, with their swift exit after the group stages, it seemed to be a poor sign of what’s in store in 2017.

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Support Players: The Unsung Heroes of Counter-Strike

A huge problem among top level teams is that they find themselves with too many players who want to be bigshots. The difficulty lies in the fact that there are only five players on a team, and only so many kills to go around. Naturally, not all players on the team will perform equally. When five different player’s egos come into play, it makes it very difficult to find balance and that’s where the frustration begins. So, the support role is the solution to this problem.

The support is someone who steps up and supports the team with flashbangs and smoke grenades. They usually work to get trade kills with their teammates and stay back to keep the number advantages on their side. Supports won’t typically make risky plays and will stick near other players to help wherever they can. Their contributions won’t show up on the scoreboard, but they make all the difference in high-level matches.

The Angry Fans

The dynamics here are much more subtle from a spectators perspective. When you see players under-preforming on the scoreboard, it becomes easy to point them out as the problem for their team. A lot of support players catch a lot of heat for their performances, but they are essential to the team.

C9 Shroud, Courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

One of North America’s finest, Cloud9’s Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek, has been catching a huge amount of criticism in the community in the last 6 months for his transition to more of a support role. When Shroud originally came to Cloud9, he was supposed to be a rifler. He has some of the best aim and game sense in North America, and so many are questioning why his scoreboard tallies have been so low.

Shroud began his transition after the addition of Jake “Stewie2k” Yip and Timothy “autimatic” Ta as rifler mains. Shroud said himself on his stream that he is “no longer the all-star” and that “his job now is to make [Stewie2k and autimatic] look good… I’ll die for them, I’ll flash for them, I’ll do anything for those guys”.

Some of the Best

 

Xyp9x

Courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

Astralis’ Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth

The current support player for Astralis, Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth, is world renowned for his skill. Xyp9x has been outstanding for Astralis in 2017 and was essential in their completion of their quest for a major trophy. Back in January, when Astralis took their victory over Virtus Pro, he was able to step up and get key kills on the second and third map which massively helped them secure the series.

NBK

Courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

G2’s Nathan “NBK” Schmitt

Nathan “NBK” Schmitt is a strong rifler and support player for G2 E-sports. Having spent the entirety of his career on French CS:GO teams, he has been able to master the support role for his team. He just recently switched to G2 back in February, but his support skill was on a strong display for the two years he spent on Team EnVyUs.

C9 Shroud

Courtesy of Shroud’s youtube channel

Cloud 9’s Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek

Some might find this pick questionable. Shroud is still widely regarded as an aggressive fragger and not so much a support player. But be assured, Shroud is the real deal for supports. He has already proven that he is an amazing rifler and one of the best in North America. He will definitely take some more time to fully adjust to his role, but even he himself said it’s time for this change.

Why Supports Deserve More Respect

A lot of people will look at Xyp9x’s, NBK’s and Shroud’s scores and become disappointed with their results. However, all the hard work they are putting in to help the team is going unrecognized. It’s the contributions outside of the scoreboard that really make the difference in the top tier teams. It’s not so much the number of kills a player has, but when and where they got the kills as well as what they mean for the game. Support players put their egos aside and play with confidence for their team, which deserves more recognition.


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ELEAGUE Being Nominated for an Emmy and What It Means for Esports

OpTic Gaming at the ELEAGUE Road to Vegas Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Championship, courtesy of Interantional Business Times

The Nomination

Counter-Strike may have the oldest competitive esports scene. It dates all the way back to 2001 with Counter-Strike 1.6. The Professional circuit has taken many forms over the years. The most typical being online tournaments and offline LAN’s. Among the most popular online gaming tournaments is ELEAGUE.

VP’s PashaBiceps, courtesy of Gfinity.com

If you were keeping a close eye on professional Counter-Strike, you will remember that earlier last year, Counter-Strike made huge leaps for esports. ELEAGUE made a deal with TBS, where TBS agreed to broadcast ELEAGUE matches.

It raised a lot of eye-brows when CS:GO finally made its way to television. In the beginning, many network executives were speculative of the interest and profitability in esports, and they saw taking this chance as an easy, low-risk way to text out the model.

I’m sure none of the executives would have expected in their wildest dreams to have the show nominated for an Emmy. The title they are being nominated for is: Outstanding Studio Design/Art Direction. Not necessarily for anything of huge importance, but the recognition alone is huge.

 

What It Means for Esports

Ever since competitive gaming has come around, it has seen small amounts of discrimination from typical forms of entertainment. Almost as if gaming was frowned upon as a “lower” form of entertainment associated with basement dwellers. What is amazing about this nomination is that it shows that people are ready to change and see esports in a better light.

nV’s KennyS, courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

Not only will people begin to respect it more, but it encourages more esports television deals. ELEAGUE’s deal with TBS was mutually successful. This can be an example to look back on for future networks signing deals. More networks will begin to see the profitability in esports, signing more deals to get more games on the air.

Big companies are already beginning to see the profitability of esports and video gaming in general. Amazon recently purchased Twitch.tv (a popular video game streaming website) and have already begun monetizing the viewership with a new subscription service.

As time moves on, more and more organizations will begin to pick up on this source of income and will want to get in on it before it’s too late. These steps are huge for esports and can help cultivate a better community by helping it grow.

 

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Virtus Pro

Virtus Pro’s Ascension from the Ashes

Virtus Pro (VP) are somewhat of a Unicorn in esports. Since the formation of their new CS:GO team in 2014, VP has had the same original five man roster. This is a feat that very few organization can claim. The Polish team currently find themselves among the top flight in Europe, and are considered to be in the top five teams in the world in terms of team play.

Virtus Pro funny

Virtus Pro team photo, courtesy of wiki.teamliquid

2016

Virtus Pro heading into 2016 looked to be among the stronger teams in Europe. They were always known as a team that couldn’t be counted out in tournaments, and always had a good chance due to their resilience. However, for 2016, Virtus Pro found themselves with a string of lackluster finishes.

VP started off 2016 slowly, taking five months to snag their first tournament title of the year. Not only that, but the first five months were spent with agonizing finishes, as the team was not performing up to standards. Their team play was lacking, and whenever they needed someone to step up for a key round, they always ended up falling short.

Virtus Pro picked up their form in the middle of 2016. They managed to take first place at the E-League Season 1 finals, and VP later went on to win Dreamhack Bucharest against Cloud 9. Both of them were confident 2-0 wins. In these matches, they showcased great ability to control their emotions and play with a level head.

However, as 2016 went on, so did VP’s decline. At the end of 2016, Virtus Pro found themselves having a series of bad finishes. In November, VP were in the ECS Season 2 tournament and had a disappointing 9th place finish. In the tournament, their play was unrecognizable. They were sloppy and looked like someone had taken five silver players and gave them VP jerseys.

Things were looking grim for VP, and they were even considering roster changes.

Pasha

Virtus Pro Pashabiceps showing off his CS skill, courtesy of Devianart

2017

When 2017 rolled around, VP finally decided to wake up. The team put their mind to it and really put in the hours to make a tournament run. Virtus Pro started off very strong with a second place finish in the E-League major. However, they lost to Astralis in the Grand finals. Their progress as a team was never more obvious than here.

It was beginning to look like a new era of play for Virtus Pro. Granted, they did exit to Astralis and did not take home a Major. Virtus Pro still reasserted their prowess as a top team in Europe. They looked in command of every game they played against Astralis.

Nerves were going crazy while watching the finals, as it was potentially the first time the Danes would win a Major. It was an extremely back and forth series, and neither team looked definitively ahead. Even though VP lost, they were able to carry their momentum into the next tournament. Dreamhack Las Vegas was next, and the Polish Plow was in full effect, wiping out every team in their path, ending in a first place finish.

Not only were they able to accomplish that, but they were also able to get promoted back into the main league for ECS, after their 9th place exit last year. So far, Virtus Pro has been taking 2017 by storm, and I anticipate them to be a huge threat going into the next Major.

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Cloud 9

The Lack of Competition in North American CS:GO

Disappointment

Counter-Strike at the highest level of play is consistently dominated by European teams. Looking at the top 10 teams, it is difficult to make an argument that any North American teams deserve to be on that list. The only names that come to mind are Cloud 9, Team Liquid, and SK Gaming. While Immortals and Optic are both looking strong domestically, they always seem to fall short in international play.

Look comparatively at just the ESL Pro-League tables, for example. When you look at the European table, the team skill differential between teams in NA and EU is immense. Teams such as Astralis, Virtus Pro (VP), Ninjas in Pajamas (NiP), and NA’VI, to name a few, show which region is on a higher level of play. Even the lower teams in EU can beat out the competition in NA on occasion.

Pasha

Pasha raising his trophy, courtesy of Reddit (/u/JustCallMeEric)]

This is painfully obvious whenever North American teams are obliterated during international competition. It took until ESL One: Cologne 2016 for North America to even have a first place finish. Cloud 9’s Mike “Shroud” Grzesiek comments on the dominance of European teams, saying that Virtus Pro are especially notorious as being the NA killer. He later explains that VP are extremely strong at exploiting the weaknesses of NA teams.

What’s the Problem?

Aside from individual skill, strong tempo shifts seem to stun and disrupt a lot of North American teams. Whereas with European teams, they seem to be more comfortable with odd plays and are much harder to throw off. Teams such as VP and Astralis are notorious for being extremely good at controlling momentum shifts.

EU teams seem to hold onto their composure more. After losing big rounds, they don’t let it get in their heads and they continue to play at the top level. Astralis have been especially strong at this and showcase their amazing ability to control buy rounds and even take back crucial eco rounds.

Astralis did so masterfully in the E-League Major 2017 Grand Finals against VP. If you have not checked out that series yet, I highly recommend it. It has to be one of the best grand finals of all-time.

The Future Looks Bright

nV's "happy"

nV’s “Happy” looking sad after a devastating loss, courtesy of esports-edition

Even though, historically, North American Teams perform poorly on the intercontinental stage, NA still has hope. Looking back at SK gaming and Cloud 9, they both have a fair amount of skill between the two of them. Cloud 9 was able to secure a huge win at the ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals, beating out SK Gaming in the grand finals. While Fnatic (the tournament favorite) was not able to make it to the tournament due to their roster difficulties, it was still impressive nonetheless for an NA team to take the tournament.

SK Gaming is a particularly strong hope for NA in Professional Counter-Strike. SK took their first major trophy back at ESL cologne 2017, and are hoping to add to the collection this year. They recently swapped Lincoln “Fnx” Lau for João “Felps” Vasconcellos with another Brazilian outfit, Immortals, back in January. The change is still new and unfolding, but could be very beneficial for both teams. 

These changes and accomplishments may not be indicative of actual change in quality of play. However, I believe if any teams are ready to show up the European CS scene, it’s these two.

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FaZe Clan and Their Newest Pickup: NiKo

 

FaZe Clan at a recent tournament, Courtesy of Gamurs.com

FaZe Before NiKo

FaZe Clan is historically known as one of the oldest esports organizations out there. They were originally one of the first clans to emerge from the Call of Duty competitive scene back in 2010. FaZe Clan expanded into CS:GO when they picked up the remainder of the G2 squad back in early 2016. Ever since, FaZe have been trying to break into European competition in a meaningful way.

Most of 2016, FaZe found themselves at the mercy of teams like Virtus Pro and Astralis. The only noteworthy achievement was their 3rd-4th place finish at IEM Oakland. Even then they found themselves falling to NIP (Ninjas in Pajamas).

FaZe began looking for a change, with their hopes continually being crushed tournament after tournament with poor finishes. Last month, FaZe Clan decided to depart ways with Philip “aizy” Aistrup, and shortly after announced their pickup of Nikola “NiKo” Kovač from Mousesports. NiKo said he would be switching from Mousesports after Dreamhack Las Vegas. Sadly, NiKo’s time at Mousesports was filled with woes of bad teammates.

It was not so much that Mousesports was a bad team, but more so that NiKo had incredible ability and he was being held back by a weaker team. NiKo especially impressed during ESEA season 18, showing off his impressive skills at the young age of 17. He seemingly single-handedly carried Mousesports to a top four position.

NiKo back on Mousesports, courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

FaZe After NiKo

NiKo has been praised by many as being one of the most skilled CS players in all of Europe. The young Bosnian was named #11 on HLTV’s top CS:GO players in the world in 2016. With any luck, FaZe could successfully integrate this powerhouse into their squad and put themselves into more serious contention.

Whenever roster changes happen, it’s always interesting to see the changes in squad play. Introducing a new player into the team dynamics will always take time for teams to adjust to. NiKo is no exception. He is an incredibly strong rifler, and the players on FaZe were very aware of it after having played against him for years.

With NiKo finally on the squad, FaZe find themselves in the early stages of their transition. NiKo seems to be taking it great. His demeanor has noticeably improved, and he actually looks happy compared to when he was on Mousesports. The pressure on him before was huge, with Mousesports relying very heavily on the crucial frags Niko brought. He showed off at IEM Katowice, helping to bring FaZe to the Grand Finals in his first appearance with them. Unfortunately, they lost to Astralis 3-1 in the best of five series.

NiKo on FaZe clan at IEM katowice, courtesy of HLTV.org

NiKo’s performance was strong in the Grand Final, showing he is still capable of playing with the best. Hopefully this is a sign of the future potential FaZe have with him. They haven’t won a tournament yet, but there are still plenty of opportunities for NiKo to prove himself in this new lineup.

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Astralis’ Semi-Final Curse Broken?

Astralis winning the 2017 E-League Major, courtesy of Astralis.gg

Everyone remembers the many failed clutches and catastrophes of Astralis’ 2016 CS:GO major runs. It’s no secret that they are notorious for competing strongly in majors and still falling short of the Grand Final. 

Throughout the duration of 2016, they reached the semi-finals of both majors. They took dramatic exits to NA’VI and Virtus Pro, respectively. However, it seems as though Astralis’ woes are becoming a thing of the past. With their recent first place victory at the 2017 E-League Major, Astralis hope to put the semi-final curse behind them. On top of winning their first major, they just won IEM Katowice. They beat out Faze clan for the trophy.

Karrigan goes off to the Faze clan so Gla1ve could step in, Courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

They have looked like a new team ever since Finn “Karrigan” Anderson left, and Lukas “Gla1ve” Rossander joined. He became the shot caller of the squad in October. Gla1ve’s transition into the squad seemed almost seamless. Their form noticeably improved with the better shot calling. Karrigan was one of the original five 2014 Dignitas players to form Astralis, and he will be missed. Unfortunately, the transition seemed necessary after their 10th place finish in the ESL Pro league.

The team has been loving the new environment under Gla1ve. It seems to be revitalizing them. After having so many years under the same shot caller in Karrigan, it must be refreshing for the players to have new ideas and strategies to go around.

Andreas “Xyp9x” Hojsleth said in a recent interview: “I think what we had achieved with both cajunb and karrigan was what we could achieve. We couldn’t progress and it was really hard to progress as a team at that time. But now that we have gla1ve, it feels like we can always improve.”

Xyp9x has been part of the Danish core of Astralis since its beginning. These players have been trying to win a major since 2014 on team Dignitas. While the change may have been heart wrenching to long time fans, it is good to know it was for the best.

The original Dignitas squad back in 2014, courtesy of the dot esports

Astralis’ recent success may have a lot to do with their recent addition of an E-sports psychologist, Mia Steelberg. Xyp9x in that same interview said Mia was saying, “Within two to three months, you can probably make the best team in the world.” The players said they laughed at the time they heard it. As they worked with her though, their minds began to change.

In less than a few months, their play has noticeably improved. Not necessarily in skill, but in mental fortitude. They would go down a few rounds, and their economy would be weak, but they wouldn’t lose their grip on the game.

What is allowing them to be so dominant currently is sticking with the competition and playing with more adaptability. No doubt, with a lot of help from their E-sports psychologist.

There were many moments in the Grand Finals of the 2017 E-League Major, where you could really notice the difference in their play. When they went down they didn’t panic. They played cool and calculated. In Game 3 of the Finals, they found themselves dangerously down 12-14 after losing to a partial eco round from Virtus Pro; but they didn’t let it phase them. They kept up the pressure enough to take it back 16-14. Whether it was their E-sports psych grab, or the Gla1ve pickup, Astralis are looking like the team to beat in 2017. 

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