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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The NIP Swedish Swap: Pyth Out, Draken In

 

 

NIP at dreamhack back in 2015 with allu still on the squad, courtesy of wiki.teamliquid

Working towards a solution

Roster swaps can be sudden and out of nowhere, but after a long period of disappointing finishes, Ninjas in Pajamas (NIP) find themselves making a change of their own. NIP are one of (if not the) most historically significant teams in professional Counter-Strike. NIP created their first roster back in 2000. Since then they often been strong contenders for the top teams in CS:GO.

As of late, NIP have been struggling to find any success in pro play. They seem to display the qualities of professional players, but their team play is extremely lacking. The Organization has become understandably frustrated with the poor results, with their only noteworthy accomplishment being IEM Oakland in 2016.

The team found themselves ousting Jacob “Pyth” Mourujärvi as the weak link after a a lot of thought. In their defense, Pyth has been abysmal for NIP, having an average rating of 0.87 in his last 11 matches. Not an ideal performance from your team’s fifth. These poor performances include their inability to even qualify for the knockout stages of IEM Masters, not even two weeks ago.

Richard “Xist” Landström, in a recent interview, said that the NIP teammates were all still good friends, but they felt that in tight situations the communication was not up to par, so they made a change.

The Savior?

draken

Draken at a recent LAN event with Epsilon, courtesy of wiki.teamliquid

After deciding to bench Pyth, NIP hope to be moving towards greener pastures. They have recently picked up William “draken” Sundin from Epsilon’s squad. Draken may be untested, but the young Swede has plenty of time to perform on this new squad. His time at Epsilon was a little lackluster, due to the team’s overall performance. However, he has been praised by other pro’s as the up and coming Swedish star to watch.

Astralis’ Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz revealed that he thought draken would be the next up and coming player to break into 2017’s “top 20 CS:GO players” list. He goes on to elaborate that if roster swaps were to happen, that he could see the Swede playing on a top team.

Draken’s transition onto the squad will be very interesting to follow. NIP are hungry for success, yet seem to only out the players that aren’t apart of their core four. With the original four members of NIP having been on the squad for over five years together, their voices reign supreme when it comes to team decisions.

First rotating through Aleksi “allu” Jalli as their awper replacement, and then going through Pyth with their most recent move. It does not bode well for NIP going through another roster change, but hopefully with this time they can see themselves finally returning to the top.

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NBA eLeague

The NBA and Take-Two Are Changing esports

The NBA and Take-Two (Makers of NBA 2K) are teaming up to change esports in a major way starting in 2018. The NBA and Take-Two have partnered to create a professional, competitive NBA eLeague.

Traditional sports games have fallen behind in the world of esports. Games like League of Legends, Pokemon, Halo, Counter-Strike and Dota2 have had been dominating competitive gaming and are already paying gamers million of dollars.

The NBA is trying to take a piece of that pie. There is so much money to be made from gaming that traditional sports need to innovate before they get left behind.

The NBA and Take-Two are trying to set the trend for these traditional sports. This bold leap could change the gaming industry like never seen before.

So what exactly will this NBA eLeague be and how will it run?

How Will it work?

NBA eLeague

(Photo Credit: https://geekiversedotcom.com)

The eLeague, as Adam Silver has called it, will be a professional gaming league run by the NBA and its franchises. Each NBA team will be in control of their own 2K virtual basketball team.

For example, the Chicago Bulls will have the eBulls and the team will manage its roster just as they do for the on-court basketball team. There will be general managers and a salary cap.

All 30 NBA teams will be involved and this season will mirror the real season. Gamers will be paid a salary to practice, train and compete for their respective teams and the only difference is they will be training with a controller instead of their body.

These teams will be through a real draft, similar to the traditional NBA draft. Each team will have five professional gamers on its roster. They won’t be playing with LeBron James, Steph Curry or Kevin Durant but instead they will play with their custom created avatars that they work on to improve.

One area of concern most people come up with is how can they do this if everyone is going to just be a 99 overall player who can do everything? NBA2K has already fixed this issue in their latest version of the game.

archetypes and badges

NBA eLeague

(Photo Credit:https://www.youtube.com)

NBA 2K17 really wanted to make sure that each player had their own specialty. In previous years a player could make a point guard who could be 6-foot-7 and earn all badges to become the most unstoppable player of all-time.

There are three solutions they came up with to halt this.

The first is with archetypes. For all examples in how this works, we will stick to looking at point guards.

When you create your player you can pick a position. Once you select the position you wish to play, you must pick an archetype. The archetypes for point guard are the following: playmaker, sharpshooter, lockdown defender, shot creator and slasher.

Depending on the type of point guard you decide to become, you will have only five badges you can upgrade. That is the second part of the solution: the number of badges one can upgrade. In NBA 2K there are dozens of badges a player can get that makes them better.

One of those badges is the pickpocket badge. To unlock the pickpocket badge, a player must get a certain amount of steals within a season. The pickpocket badge makes a player more effective at stealing the ball.

As you can see in the picture with the sharpshooter, pickpocket is not one of these upgradeable badges for that archetype. What that means is that the pickpocket badge must stay at the bronze level.

NBA eLeague

(Photo Credit: YouTube)

If the sharpshooter archetype gamer unlocked the limitless range badge then they could upgrade it from bronze to silver then to gold. Once a player has a gold badge they can upgrade it to the hall of fame level. Hall of fame badges allow a player to be great at that skill.

By allowing gamers to only have five upgradeable badges, they have stopped people from becoming players that are great at everything and 99 overall.

The third way NBA 2K17 has made it difficult to become 99 overall is by including park reputation.

Park reputation is a tier system in which can only be aquired by playing at MyPark. There are five levels to each tier. The tiers are as follows: rookie, pro, all-star, superstar and legend.

A player can only get to 95 overall before the game will not let them upgrade anymore. To earn more upgrades, one must reach levels one, three and five of the superstar tier at MyPark. The amount of games and time it takes to reach those tiers is extremely straining and does not come easily.

These three additions have really helped NBA 2K level the playing field and made a game that requires multiple different skill sets, rather than just a bunch of players who can do all. This is something NBA teams will have to look at when constructing teams for their NBA eLeague.

2K HAS ALREADY TESTED THIS

There is a mode in NBA 2K called Pro-Am that allows all these different gamers to take their custom players play in five on five games similar to an NBA contest. These teams become really competitive and are an example of how an NBA eLeague team would look. NBA 2K have already held two major tournaments over the past two years to test how this would work in a legitimate format.

NBA eLeague

(Photo Credit:http://www.usatoday.com/sports/)

The first one was called the Road to the Finals which took place in 2016. This year NBA 2K held the All Star Tournament which would gave 250 thousand dollars to the winning team Still Trill.

Over two million people streamed the final game, according to NBA 2K, proving that there is a market for competitive traditional sports games. The tournament showed is that these skilled players are capable of drawing a lot of viewers.

There are over 110,000 teams on Xbox alone in the Pro-Am game mode. The teams and players are already around waiting to be picked up by NBA franchises.

Why This Will Change eSports

NBA eLeague

(Photo Credit: Matthew Hagan)

The potential of this idea is unlimited. Currently, getting the NBA to be involved is monumental for the growth of NBA 2K as an esport. The NBA is the first professional league in the United States to create their own esports league.

The success with the two tournaments that NBA 2K have already run proves that there is huge interest in this game. Eventually the NBA eLeague could expand to more teams than just 30. There could be hundreds of teams in each region of the world. Eventually there could be regional championships that lead to a world championship.

An eLeague allows people who could never play in the NBA a chance to become NBA stars. This includes people who have disabilities and are unable physically play the sport. It doesn’t matter your size, weight, or gender, anybody who is good enough on the sticks can end up being drafted to an NBA eLeague team. That is something that no other professional sport can offer.

This is just the beginning for the NBA and Take-Two. Once the money begins to flow they will realize they need to expand the field. Before you know it there will be an NBA2K Hall of Fame and a list of new NBA eChampions.

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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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Pokésports Crest

Pokésports: The Power of a Brand and One Fans Plea

The Year of eSports

One of the big showings this year at CES Conference is eSports. Being a relatively new phenomenon, eSports is experiencing a surge of growth. Reporting a 2016 revenue of 493 million dollars. On top of that analysts project annual revenue to surpass 1 billion dollars by 2019.

Customers enjoying food and eSports at Buffalo Wild Wings.

Image courtesy of youtube.com user sapphiRe

Furthermore, recent studies have shown eSports rise in popularity. Now they are rating as high as Baseball and Ice Hockey among American Millennial Males. Turner Broadcasting is even getting in on the action with ELEAGUE, a professional Counter-Strike: Global Offensive league. First being aired on TBS. Then picked up and shown in Buffalo Wild Wings throughout the United States.

Building a Brand

Half a billion dollars is still relatively small for a global industry. While poised for growth, eSports lacks a strong brand. That brings us to Pokémon. A 20 year old series revolving around Trainers capturing, raising, and battling monsters in the game world. Pokémon already has an existing competitive tournament series referred to as the Video Game Championships (VGC) with multiple tournaments each year culminating in a World Championship. However, Pokémon is generally not thought of as under the eSports umbrella. As an effect both Pokémon and eSports find themselves as somewhat of an odd couple. Both could benefit from being with the other, but neither will make a move.

The reason for the odd relationship between Pokémon and eSports comes down to marketing. The Pokémon Company International (TPCI) has not really worked to market the competitive aspect of the franchise. Even though Pokémon commands a massive following worldwide, competitive Pokémon still remains rather niche. While TPCI does little to nurture their growing competitive community.

Massive crowd cheering inside arena during Nintendo eSports tournament.

Image courtesy of Nintendo

Nintendo is showing signs of moving into eSports with the launch trailer debuting the new Nintendo Switch. The time has come for Nintendo, Game Freak, and TPCI to take a long and serious look at what they have with the Pokémon brand and its ability to translate into massive growth potential inside the eSports market. This would not only benefit the coffers of those companies, but serve as a springboard for the already fast growing eSport movement.

Perfect Match

The Pokémon brand carries a significant amount of weight. Generating 2.1 billion dollars annual revenue in 2015 and expected to report higher returns for 2016. Pokémon GO, an augmented reality game for Android and iPhone, launched in 2016. Going so far as to produce revenues of over 1 billion dollars in its first year. That’s right, a Free To Play app for smartphones generated double the revenue of the entire eSports industry, simply due to the Pokémon brand. Now consider an actual concerted effort to market Pokémon as the next big eSport.

I challenge you to imagine a world where Pokémon reaches its full potential as an eSport. A world where, just like football and basketball today, a kid can become a professional Trainer. Making a living mastering what is essentially a game of 3D chess, constructing teams out of 100’s of available Pokémon. The fanbase and brand power is undoubtedly there and I would hazard a guess that many corporations would get in bed with the Pokémon brand in the realm of sports. VGC Tournaments already look like what they show off in the Nintendo Switch trailer.

Large crowd gathers for competitive Pokémon tournament.

Image courtesy of Kotaku

This series I will dive into what it would take for Pokémon to become a respected eSports franchise, what that would look like, and the overall impact of such an event. Everything from the structure of the competitive community to the way matches are broadcast will be examined. With hope TPCI takes these points to heart and gifts the magic of Pokémon to future generations. A world of dreams and adventures with Pokémon awaits! Let’s go!

Opening scene from G1 Pokémon games.

Image courtesy of Game Freak

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Defining Competitive Tiers in CS:GO

With the absence of a universal league where teams can be ranked by record, Counter-Strike can sometimes struggle to define who’s among the best and the worst, the good and the bad. You’ll often hear both analysts and members of the community talk about the “tier” a team belongs to in order to give an idea of how strong the team is and what sort of results we can expect of that team. People will often bandy about phrases like “top tier,” “tier 2,” “tier 2 NA,” and more hyperbolic terms like “god tier” and “bottom tier” and “tier 1,000.”

Jacob's Ladder

It’s a long ladder into heaven, and it’s a long way to the top of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive–or any competitive discipline. The higher the tier, the higher you’ve climbed. Image courtesy the Catholic Notebook.

But these putative competitive tiers of CS:GO are not well-defined, despite how well-used the terminology is. Calling a squad “top tier” is more of a compliment than a definitive statement of strength; calling a squad “tier 3” is an insult to their chances rather than a meaningful description of who they can be expected to beat. Observers of all levels don’t seem to have a common understanding of what defines a tier, let alone who belongs in what tier.

I would humbly like to propose a definition of the competitive tiers in CS:GO, one that analysts could use consistently to classify teams and help viewers understand who is on top and who is the underdog, who will compete for championships and who will struggle to win maps. Much like how scientists categorize tornadoes and hurricanes by the destruction they cause as much as by their wind speed, we can categorize CS:GO teams by the damage they do in the server at tournaments. Each tier higher will indicate a greater likelihood of winning against the best teams and of winning top-level tournaments.

I’ll also give my own 4-level tier list for CS:GO right now as an example. Among the many variables, drawing neat lines between each tier can be hard. But by taking stock of the results and using consistent rules, I hope to provide a basis for better understanding of what we should mean when we talk about “tiers” in eSports–and how we should rank teams on the ladder of Counter-Strike dominance.

RESULTS DEFINE TIERS, BUT TIERS PREDICT PERFORMANCE (THINGS MAY GET TECHNICAL)

At the core of any ranking system are the past results teams achieve in competitive play. We have no way of telling how good a team is except to look at how the team and its individuals have performed previous; the past is our only indication of the future.

That being said, there are different ways to rank teams, and therefore different ways to categorize competitive tiers. There are traditional league rankings (global rankings, “pure” ratings, etc.), which are objective and based off of a team’s record, and power rankings, which are more speculative and based off a team’s apparent strength in the most recent results.

Lurppis, a longtime in-game leader, writer, and analyst of the scene, released a power ranking back in May. Photo courtesy Game Inside.

Lurppis, a longtime in-game leader, writer, and analyst of the scene, released a power ranking back in May. Photo courtesy Game Inside.

Power rankings have long been connected to sports gambling and Vegas spreads. The advantage of power ranking is their predictive quality, telling the reader who is more likely to win in a matchup played the next day. A team performing badly who just recently made a roster move and vastly improved their play will shoot up a power ranking, even though their league ranking will stay behind because of their bad record. For a recent example, the French team G2 would do well in a power ranking because they’ve been on fire these last weeks, even though the only results to their name are reaching the finals of ESL Pro League 3 and ELEAGUE Group B.

But for their usefulness, power rankings have a specious quality to them. Because they can speculate so much, taking even fleeting showings into account and judgments of the naked eye, they don’t properly credit a sustained period of tangible results that any team must build their reputation by. 

League rankings are, by their very name, impossible to do in CS:GO. There is no central, dominant league all teams participate in and judge their results by. Instead, there is an ever-shifting tournament circuit, with the esteem of each tournament judged as much by the quality of teams participating as by the amount of money at stake. Because of this, results can be much harder to gauge, and some amount of analyst judgment (read: power ranking) will creep into any top 10 list. 

In addition to offhand "tier" discussions, top 10 rankings by trusted observers play a big role in helping the community identify the best and the worst. Both HLTV and Duncan "Thorin" Shields list Luminosity (seen here) as best in the world. Photo courtesy hltv.org.

In addition to “tiers,” top 10 rankings by trusted observers play a big role in helping the community identify the best and the worst. Both HLTV and Duncan “Thorin” Shields list Luminosity (seen here) as best in the world. Photo courtesy hltv.org.

In the absence of a league, the relative strengths of a competitive tier ranking shine. This general classification allows some imprecision while still giving an idea of how strong the results of a team have been—and thus, how future results can generally be expected to be. Going into any match or tournament, a glance a a tier chart can quickly inform you who the contenders, the dark horses, and the unlikely’s are, while still leaving room for discussion about who to favor within a tier. Tier rankings tell you which matches should receive the most excitement, and which upsets would be the most surprising and landscape-changing. 

To boil it down, competitive tier ranking tell us what sort of performance to expect from a team. They are future-looking. A sudden burst in form will quickly elevate a team from the bottom tier (in my definitions, tier 4 and 5) to a better tier, much like a power ranking. But achieving a top-tier ranking (in my definitions, tier 1 or 2) requires more and more sustained success, a better and better track record over longer and longer periods of time, the sort of thing we look for in a traditional league ranking. And ultimately, victories are the only thing that will elevate a team in a tier ranking, not an impressive roster or raw, unproven “potential.”

TIER 1: THE ELITE TEAMS

Even despite star AWPer GuardiaN's wrist injury, Na'Vi make final after final--a hallmark of a great Tier 1 team. Photo courtesy Team Liquid.

Na’Vi make final after final, month after month–a hallmark of a great Tier 1 team. Photo courtesy Liquid.

A team is Tier 1 if they are contenders to win any tournament they enter. A Tier 1 squad is expected to reach at least the semifinals; only other tier 1 lineups should eliminate them from a competition. They should rarely lose to teams from lower tiers. Tier 1 teams have created these expectations from an impressive and sustained period of such results. They are the standard of competitive achievement. They are the elite of their sport or eSport.

The number of teams who achieve this ranking is usually fairly small. In fallow times of competition, there are perhaps two or three Tier 1 teams; in very competitive eras, there may be as many as six, with any more being a dream come true for fans of the eSport.

Here are the CS:GO teams I would list, based off of the last few months of results, as unquestionably tier 1:

  • Luminosity
  • Natus Vincere
  • Ninjas in Pajamas

A short list, isn’t it? Too many question marks hang over two other teams I might include, fnatic and Astralis. Astralis is coming off of two events where they were eliminated in the group stage, hardly befitting of a tier 1 team. They also just recently made a roster change. I expect them to rejoin this list, but I want to see results first.

fnatic fall a little farther from the mark. They haven’t played much offline recently, and haven’t posted any good results since olofmiester’s wrist started troubling him right before the major. If olofmiester returned soon, maybe they’ll become tier 1 again, but I certainly can’t list them as such right now.

TIER 2: THE CHALLENGERS

Do shoxie (pictured here) and G2 deserve to be tier 2 based off the incredible run at the ESL finals? Under my definition, yes: they showed us the ability to reach the finals of a quality international tournament. Photo courtesy Liquid.

Do shoxie (pictured here) and G2 deserve to be Tier 2 based off the incredible run at the ESL finals? Under my definition, yes: they showed us the ability to reach the finals of a quality international tournament. However, if they don’t show us the ability to make semifinals at least once again, we will have to derank them to Tier 3. Photo courtesy Liquid.

A team is Tier 2 if they can make runs in a tournament with tier 1 teams in attendance, but are not expected to do so regularly. These teams would be happy to make the semifinals and would celebrate to make the finals; a victory at a big international tournament would be a truly impressive and unlikely run. Tier 2 teams are underdogs versus Tier 1 teams, but have potential to upset them in a Best of 3 if they bring their “A” game. To prove this potential, they’ve had either repeated Bo1 victories or very close Bo3 series versus Tier 1 teams, and play well against the rest of the field.

Here are the CS:GO teams I would list as Tier 2 right now:

  • Astralis
  • fnatic
  • Immortals (ex-Tempo Storm)
  • Virtus.pro
  • G2

Once again, a short list, but slightly longer than the Tier 1 list, and one that could get longer soon. Several teams are threatening to join this next-to-best level of CS glory, but for now, I would list them as…

TIER 3: THE SINGLE-MAP UPSETS

mixwell and OpTic impressed us with single map upsets over Tier 1 team NiP and two Bo3 upsets over a Tier 2 team, Tempo Storm. This is a textbook strong tier 3 team. Photo courtesy MARCA.

mixwell and OpTic impressed us with single map upsets over Tier 1 team, NiP, and two Bo3 upsets over a Tier 2 team, Tempo Storm, last month. This is textbook Tier 3. Photo courtesy MARCA.

A team is Tier 3 if they have shown us a burst of form in a recent tournament or two, but haven’t posted enough of a body of results to qualify as Tier 2. These teams do not go deep in  big international tournaments; if they do, its either a Cinderella story or the beginning of a further climb up the ladder of success. These teams have a habit of occasionally upsetting a Tier 1 team in a Bo1 every once in a while, and maybe a Tier 2 team in a Bo3, but not showing much besides that “potential.” We generally expect Tier 2 teams to beat them and Tier 1 teams to beat them handily.

CS:GO squads that, in my opinion, qualify as Tier 3:

  • OpTic
  • dignitas
  • Cloud9
  • CLG
  • GODSENT
  • Liquid
  • Dobry&Gaming
  • EnVyUs
  • Hellraisers
  • TyLoo
  • FaZe
  • SK

Notice the preponderance of North American rosters on this list. Of these teams, OpTic, dignitas, TyLoo, and Cloud9 are perhaps the closest to Tier 2; Dobry&Gaming, SK, and FaZe perhaps the farthest from contention. Teams that don’t continue to produce upsets can easily slide back into Tier 4.

 

TIER 4: THE HANGING-ON PROS 

Seangares has fallen a long way since leaving C9, which at one point was a Tier 1 team under his guidance. Now he plies his trade with Echo Fox, a lineup that has yet to prove any real results. Photo courtesy Daily Dot.

Seangares has fallen a long way since leaving C9, which at one point was a Tier 1 team under his guidance. Now he plies his trade with Echo Fox, a lineup that has yet to prove any real results. Photo courtesy Daily Dot.

A Tier 4 team has shown the ability to sometimes compete with a Tier 3 team, maybe even a Tier 2 team on the best day, but never a Tier 1 team. In stacked international tournaments, they are the punching bags, but they have shown some ability to play in smaller tournaments without top tier teams attending.

CS:GO rosters that have eked out a tier 4 rating:

  • ENCE
  • Renegades
  • Orbit
  • TSM
  • Epsilon
  • EchoFox
  • Splyce
  • and so on…

There are probably a few more teams that could qualify a Tier 4, but at the moment, I’m not made of the time nor interest to dive into the underworld of pro CS and produce names for you. Honesty 101, folks. Tier 4 is the starting point for a pro team able to play the circuit

TIER 5: AMATEURS (PUT YOUR NAME HERE)

These teams are the ones who lose to Tier 4 teams. They are ESEA Premier material. They are, at their essence, farm teams from which good players get picked. This is the primordial murk all the names you know emerged from at the inception of their careers. For a team like this to defeat a tournament-attending pro team is a feat that is as much shameful for their victims as it is a source of bragging rights for the victors. “Hey, Joe, guess who me and the buds beat in our online match last Saturday?” “No way!–wait, who? Oh yeah, those guys…”

To end this article, let’s quickly rephrase a shorthand for my competitive tier listing.

Tier 1: Go deep in almost every tournament; rarely lose to teams from lower tiers and regularly compete with the best in the world.

Tier 2: Occasionally go deep in tournaments; can upset a T1 team in a Bo3; solid against teams from lower tiers.

Tier 3: Can get out of groups in tournaments; occasionally upset a T1 team in a Bo1 or a T2 team in a Bo3; mixed record against mid-tier teams.

Tier 4: Should exit in groups every time; struggle to beat teams above their tier, defeating against a T3 squad offline every once in a blue moon.

Tier 5: Everyone else who hasn’t a chance in this world.

The Myth of the Honeymoon Period

There is a myth that plagues the mindset of the North American Counter-Strike scene. It’s a falsity that has infected players, casters and leaders of the scene. It’s a bronze idol that has contributed to the instability of the scene’s teams and perhaps reduced its level of results. And it’s a lie so insidious, I’ve even heard European casters and players repeat it, unaware of the poison in their own words.

This is the Myth of the Honeymoon Period.

No, not that sort of honeymoon--though the PGL KeSPA Asia Minor seems like quite the destination...Photo courtesy scoopnest.

No, not that sort of honeymoon–though the PGL KeSPA Asia Minor seems like quite the destination…Photo courtesy scoopnest.

Whenever I see a recently changed NA lineup play an online match and put up rounds, someone casting the game (I’m looking at you, Dustin “dustmouret” Mouret) invariably mentions something along the lines of: “In this honeymoon period, the team is going to have a special synergy unique to newly-formed teammates. They’re getting new looks, they’re feeling excited about the possibilities, and they’ll play better now.”

When I was first getting into CS:GO, this was an alluring idea to me. The sudden connection of a new lineup propels them to unexpected conquest! On some level, it is connected to the Cinderella story, or the band-of-brothers movie trope, where success appears spontaneous and magical, rather than from hard work and training.

I am still a believer in the magic of a victorious team. I think that championship CS:GO sides do have something unique working for them: a special understanding of the game, irreplaceable synergies between certain players, inimitable team-play, a gestalt that produces victory.

But now, whenever I hear it, this “honeymoon” idea, it makes me sick. It’s just wrong.

When a new team forms, its members may be understandably excited about the new team. It’s a blank slate, an untested hypothesis that could lead to any conclusion. Our optimistic minds often jump to the loftiest possibilities. This may lead to its members playing on better-than-average form.

But at the same time, there will be many kinks with a new lineup that need to be ironed out. More likely than not, each teammate’s positions will need to be rehashed, with one or more players needing to learn how to play new CT spots so that the team can have reasonable defaults. The team’s shot-calling will be erratic at first, as a team’s in-game leader will need to learn his player’s strengths, weaknesses and tendencies. And while excitement about the new lineup might smooth over mistakes that come from the poor communication that is natural to a new lineup, those mistakes can only be resolved by the training and learned camaraderie that comes from sticking to the team, not first joining it.

If we extend this idea to the marriage metaphor, we might see how problematic the Myth of the Honeymoon Period is to CS players. If a person enters a marriage expecting that marriage’s success to be founded on the first month’s torrent of rabid and passionate sex, we’d laugh at their expectations. If a person enters a marriage conscious of the negotiation and teamwork that will come after the honeymoon—finding income, fixing dinner, taking out the trash, raising children—we would expect their marriage to be more successful.

A CS:GO player from any scene should not look to jump from team to team, looking for that “perfect match” and constantly striving after the honeymoon feeling of a new team. This will NOT produce his or her best Counter-Strike. That player should look for a lineup that might work, then stick with it, hammering out problems as they arise and devoting practice time to developing strategies, coordination and communication. This will make that player far more successful than any amount of honeymoon high.

A simple look at the history of successful CS:GO teams will show that there are very few instances of a sudden and short-lived burst of championship form from a new team. Teams are either successful after a period of trial and tribulation, or they are successful for an extended period of time at the beginning of a lineup too long to be called a “honeymoon.” I’ll pay special attention to the most successful NA lineups and to famous international examples of hot starts to teams.

The original masters of CS:GO had a long-lived run of form. Courtesy HLTV.

The original masters of CS:GO had a long-lived run of form. Courtesy HLTV.

NiP

This team famously started out 87-0 in the beginning of CS:GO. This was not a honeymoon period, though. This was a group of talented fraggers outclassing everyone else in the scene. Furthermore, the team went on to two years of sustained success after that streak was ended. In a simple sign of their longevity, the current NiP, which has surged back into an elite or near-elite form, has four members of that original dominating lineup. That’s commitment.

Virtus.pro

This lineup burst onto the scene following a big roster move (picking up Snax and byali) by winning ESL One Katowice 2014, the second major. Honeymoon? No, the team has gone on to be the longest-standing lineup in CS history, returning to world-beating form multiple times. The Virtus.pro may come and go, but this lineup lasts forever–or two plus years and going, which feels like forever in CS.

envyus major winners

The closest thing we’ve had to honeymoon winners was EnVyUs with kennyS and apex, a talent-laden exception to the rule. Photo courtesy Daily Dot.

EnVyUs, with apex and KennyS

This lineup is the closest thing to a honeymoon period in CS:GO. Immediately after forming, the lineup became a world-beater, reaching the finals to two straight majors and numerous international finals in between, only to fall of significantly after that. However, a couple things should be noted. First off, this was a true celebrity marriage, perhaps the most talented lineup that CS:GO has ever seen assembled; in this sense, it was a perfect storm for a honeymoon team to assemble. Second, we must note that their plummet in form, was as severe as their start was strong. It was clear the team did not have the tools to establish long-lasting success.

Cloud9 (Summer 2015)

NA lineups always seem to be searching for that magical mix, but the most powerful NA team of all time (three straight international final appearances, all within three weeks–I think that qualifies) showed that such a blend requires hard work, coordination, and leadership. This lineup actually struggled mightily on its first couple international LANs, drawing ire from several voices in the community. It seems like poetic justice that the first map win that sparked their rare NA run of success came on cache versus EnVyUs, a team that had beat them soundly on that same map just a couple weeks ago. C9’s synergy was the result of both clever roster moves and hard work–something other NA teams have barely repeated.

CLG

While other top-achieving NA teams (like Cloud9) have come and gone, CLG has been notable as the one team that sticks with its players for long periods, focusing on teamplay and strategy to improve rather than roster shuffles. This faith has forestalled its progress at times by sticking with an inferior player like FNS, but it has also reaped its rewards. Sticking with tarik has seen him grow from an onliner and FPL star to an impact fragger in the last major. And when jdm was first incorporated into the team, DaZeD called the AWPer the worst player on the team; within a few months, jdm had grown into CLG’s first star and perhaps the best player in NA. Whoever takes Fugly’s place can take some comfort in the fact that his teammates will give him adequate time to incorporate and grow.

Team Liquid with s1mple

This team’s story was not that of a honeymoon. It was that of an NA lineup struggling to incorporate a fiery Ukrainian star—and briefly succeeding in doing so, against the lesser feelings of division that we now know were brooding within the team. This team actually struggled at first, barely managing to qualify for the major and with s1mple performing below expectations. Their run at the major was a minor feat of perseverance as much as it was a momentary self-discovery for a team that had roster, communication, and firepower issues leading up to the major. If only s1mple had the perseverance to stick with Liquid, they might have been able to sort out their issues and become a true threat.

 

Who is peacemaker? (Liquid hires peacemaker as coach)

The first Brazilian to join a North American Counter-Strike team is not a player, but a coach. Just yesterday, Team Liquid announced that Luiz ‘peacemaker’ Tadeu, former coach of #2 Brazilian side Tempo Storm, will now take the helm for Liquid’s CS:GO squad.

peacemaker TS

Brazilian pride: peacemaker coaching for Tempo Storm. Photo courtesy theScore eSports.

The acquisition is a make-or-break one for Team Liquid, whose roster includes an impressive but underachieving list of NA phenoms (koosta), rising stars (EliGE), and veterans (Hiko). Since they lost their knock-out punch import, the Ukrainian multi-talent s1mple, Liquid’s lack of cohesion, consistency, and in-game leadership has showed. They failed to make the finals of DH Austin, an NA LAN and their first tournament without s1mple, and then exited in groups at the ESL Pro League finals after getting stomped by an olof-less fnatic, 2 maps to 0.

Peacemaker could be the coach that will turn them around. Over his rather short resume coaching Games Academy / Tempo Storm, he has appeared to be an intelligent shot-caller and attentive motivational coach. Tempo Storm’s successful runs at the CEVO finals and DH Austin with a lineup with less talent on paper than Liquid’s were both impressive.

But beyond coaching Tempo Storm, who is peacemaker? What did he do before coaching Tempo Storm, and what sort of Counter-Strike mind is he? As it turns out, peacemaker has been playing the game since 2002, and been a pro within the Brazilian CS scene since at least 2008.

Source

Team Liquid’s announcement reports that peacemaker was a CS 1.6 player, but this is partially incorrect. The first reference to peacemaker I can find is a Portuguese-language article from Teamplay Electronic Sports in October 2008. (Shoutout to HLTV.org user ‘-who-‘ for helping me research these sources!) That article repeats a report that CnB Gaming (a.k.a. the Cannibals), a domestically successful Brazilian team in Counter-Strike: Source, was hiring peacemaker and another player, ‘ekz,’ as a replacement for a departing member of the team. (Or so Google Translate tells me. I can’t myself speak Portuguese.) Based on their focus on ekz, I would guess that peacemaker was a sixth man for this team.

The article reprints an interview of ekz and peacemaker from CnB’s website that no longer exists in original form. In the interview, peacemaker states that he is 20 years old and had been playing the original Counter-Strike since 2002, making him 14 at the time he started playing. His Liquipedia page confirms that he was playing under a number of CS 1.3-1.6 clans I do not recognize from 2002 to 2008; presumably, he was not a full-time player during this period.

He also says that he had just started playing Source a month ago with the encouragement of’ Ivan ‘ruffo’ Ruffo, a contemporary Brazilian player, and that he was putting off school for a year; we can assume this was the start of his professional intentions in CS.

Why pick up Source instead of 1.6? Many CS 1.6 players, particularly from NA and Brazil, were lured to CS:S in 2006 and 2007 by the false financial promise of the Championship Gaming Series, or CGS, an eSports league that was supposed to grow to rival professional sports leagues. However, the glow of CGS and thus CS:S’s lucrative eSports position was well-faded by the fall of 2008, with the league itself folding in November. Pocket-money from tournaments may have been something peacemaker was hoping for on the long-shot, but it certainly wasn’t to be an education.

If good pay was unlikely, what was the real attraction to joining CnB as a pro CS:S rookie, then? My theory, barring an actual interview: the teammates he would have! Playing for CnB at the time was the brilliant ‘cogu’, Brazil’s brightest CS star and one of 1.6’s all-time greatest AWPers and all-around players. In 2006, cogu led Made in Brazil (mibr) to Brazil’s only major championship; what CS nerd in Brazil wouldn’t want a chance to play alongside him?!

mibr's major title in 2006 under the likes of cogu and fnx was the height of Brazilian CS 1.6. Photo courtesy Vinicius Alves, Youtube.

mibr’s major title in 2006 under the likes of cogu and fnx was the height of Brazilian CS 1.6. Photo courtesy Vinicius Alves, Youtube.

Over the next year, a trail of old Teamplay articles record peacemaker’s movement through the constantly shuffling Brazilian CS:S scene. Some names he played beside an observant CS:GO fan might recognize: zqk and steel of KaBuM! and KeydStars fame, and zews, current coach for Luminosity, and possibly even FalleN for a brief moment on vSONE (though I can’t confirm this). The scene seems like it was a mess at the time, with players constantly shifting allegiances and dropping out of the game for school or personal reasons.

The only tournament I can find that he participated in at the time was a large domestic tournament in July 2009, the Destroyers TargetDown Cup II. He and the team he joined the month before, Team Yeah, went out in 6th-7th place following two heartbreakingly close Bo1 losses. The team he had left, CnB, made it to the finals. Whoops. The team that beat them? Team TargetDown (TB), a dream mix of RKZ, zqk, bit (IGL of major-winners mibr), cogu…and FalleN.

On his teams, peacemaker was always a rifler. What his playstyle was, I wish I could ascertain; I find CS:S demos from this era difficult to get a hold of, especially for someone who wasn’t from France or NA. I’d like to assume he wasn’t yet an IGL, though, since he was often one of the least experienced players on his team.

After late 2009, the trail goes cold. Liquipedia says he joined Team TD from 2009 to 20??; I suspect he focused on studies or something of this nature during those years while still keeping one foot in CS. He’s had a “couple breaks but never really managed to get away from the game,” he says in his welcome interview with Liquid; I suspect that this was one of those half-breaks.

Early Global Offensive: Stuck in Brazil

In Global Offensive, peacemaker continued to be a player in the domestic scene. At this point, he has played long enough in CS terms to be called a grizzled veteran; and when he says in his Liquid interview that he was always the IGL of his teams, I assume he is referring to his CS:GO experience. (Then again, you know what they say about assuming.)

There is actually a clip from 2013 on de_nuke, relatively early in GO’s history, of peacemaker landing a 4k on a retake, including a 1v1 clutch, that you can see right below.

The play isn’t actually terribly impressive. Peacemaker uses a good sense of timing to come out of vents at the right time, but I must note that his aim doesn’t look incredible, and two of his opponents were clearly on low HP. More notable is the venue–ESEA League #2, a tier 3 format–and two notable teammates who die in the clip, zews and boltz. I can assure you that the two teams (syt.MK and gathers) were not exactly world-beaters.

Boltz would prove enough of a talent for FalleN to recruit him into KeydStars, the breakout Brazilian lineup that began upsetting the world’s best teams in Bo1s in the beginning of 2015. In 2013, though, the Brazilian scene was floundering. After playing for a team called vti for half a year, peacemaker was recruited to Afterall Gaming in late 2013 to replace one of their old 1.6 legacy players, who left the team hanging at an event to attend a party. The forsaken party-goer was fnx. The young talent who remained on Afterall Gaming was fer.

Interestingly, peacemaker would stick with this lineup for two years as its IGL, making him a stable source in the Brazilian CS:GO scene and allowing him to witness several of his former teammates achieve unprecedented international success with FalleN’s overachieving band of Brazilians. It wasn’t until Luminosity’s final and decisive roster move in November of 2015 that peacemaker would be able to prove his chops as a coach rather than a player.

Global Offensive Success: the Coaching Begins

As FalleN cut steel and boltz from Luminosity to poach TACO and a resurgent (and now hard-working) fnx from Games Academy (read: FalleN’s farm team), he also brought in zews, peacemaker’s old CS:S buddy, as coach. GA needed a coach, and zews recommended peacemaker.

Under his leadership, Games Academy acquitted itself well in North American leagues, making it to the CEVO Gfinity finals and placing well at several smaller tournaments, including the NA qualifiers for IEM Katowice and Dreamhack Malmo. They picked up new sponsorship with Tempo Storm, but still failed to qualify for the major and went into IEM Katowice as huge underdogs.

In an interview with HLTV above during the major qualifier, peacemaker discusses his motivational role with the team. When rounds go against them, he explains, the team gets emotional and starts to choke; that’s where he steps in, to be both a cheerleader and a voice of reason to his emotional, young Brazilian team.

It was his rigorous work with Terrorist-side executions that would become apparent at the next tournament, however. At IEM Katowice, Tempo Storm would upset Virtus.pro, EnVyUs, and even took a map away from Na’Vi, arguably the best team in the world. In the process, they would put up massive numbers of Terrorist rounds, but struggle on their Counter-Terrorist sides–indicative of a team with excellent training, execution, and T-sided gameplan, but failing individual skill and mediocre CT coordination/gamesense. Thus, for their initial run, peacemaker must be given credit for the work he did outside the game, but showed room to grow in his understanding of CT-oriented CS.

Tempo Storm’s improvement since then, including their tournament win at the CEVO Gfinity S9 finals, has to be credited to the growth of several of its players, especially felps and boltz, each of whom have come to discover their own play-styles since Katowice. Peacemaker may have facilitated their growth as players, but the team’s work-ethic and growing international experience is probably the most relevant factors here. Nevertheless, the team’s continued success gives peacemaker a good notch on his belt; this team is not a flash in the pan, and they have both identity and the good fundamentals and executions that are so characteristic of good Brazilian CS:GO.

The New Chapter: Team Liquid

Will Team Liquid benefit from the coaching of this old CS:S pro? On the surface, peacemaker is perfect. He has experience taking young talent (something Liquid certainly has) and imposing a system of execution-based tactics and good decision-making onto them (something Liquid could use a lot more of). Furthermore, he has experience guiding teams to victories in close games, games where the team was beginning to choke. Tempo Storm did this several times at Katowice, but won out; Liquid has done this multiple times across multiple tournaments, and they always lose. An extra steadying voice besides Hiko would be a welcome addition.

However, Liquid also has a history of: (1) not boot-camping, (2) not living together in a gaming house like TS did, and (3) rejecting people from the team when they push their buttons. This is not exactly ideal material for a coach that wishes to transform a team into winners. Also, there’s a palpable hunger from Brazilian CS players which seems to have eluded the more salaried and complacent NA players like those on Liquid. If the clay isn’t malleable, it’s hard to craft good pottery with it.

Peacemaker has the skills, I believe, to make Liquid into NA’s consistent best team and a good team internationally. My question is whether he has the right material in Liquid. Only time will tell if old Brazilian wisdom can prevail over rash American pride.

What do you think? Are there any details of peacemaker’s career and accomplishments that I missed? Leave a comment and let me know!

NA LAN, NA Lessons

 

 

Dreamhack Austin was a stacked North American LAN, with six teams in the top 20 of HLTV’s CS:GO world rankings, despite the absence of any European sides.

So of course, both of the finalists were from Brazil.

An all-Brazilian final, an all-Brazilian dominance: winners Luminosity and runners-up Tempo Storm pose together with Luminosity’s Dreamhack Austin trophy. Photo courtesy ESPN.br.

An all-Brazilian final, an all-Brazilian dominance: winners Luminosity and runners-up Tempo Storm pose together with Luminosity’s Dreamhack Austin trophy. Photo courtesy ESPN.br.

It is an exciting time for Brazilian Counter-Strike, with Luminosity (first place at Austin) a standard-bearing, elite squad and Tempo Storm (second place) up-and-coming off of their first international tournament win at the CEVO finals.  Conversely, NA fans should be left feeling much as they did a year ago: disappointed with a scene mired in mediocrity.

As a member of the U.S. of A. myself, then, I must write up the most pertinent learning-points for the NA scene. If Austin was the NA classroom, here are my class notes. Please, boys, copy my work…

Raw firepower is only alright (Liquid)

Team Liquid has become the epitome of North American Counter-Strike in more ways than one. They became the de facto American dream team when they went to the semifinals of the MLG major and nearly defeated Luminosity—only to see an acrimonious roster move after bombing out of the next event, Dreamhack Malmo. They are a collection of great talent—and play so inconsistently. They take aim duels, man, aim duels all day…

EliGE is now, in my estimation, the hard-carry of Liquid. He's good, but he's no s1mple. Photo courtesy theScore eSports.

EliGE is now, in my estimation, the hard-carry of Liquid. He’s good, but he’s no s1mple. Photo courtesy theScore eSports.

Dreamhack Austin showed that Liquid’s personality is much the same as it was before, only that they now miss the extreme fragging power of s1mple.  Koosta had his moments, and I can see him improving, but he is still clearly a rookie to even the top level of NA. On the last map they played against Luminosity, for example, he posted an atrocious 11 kills and 25 deaths; if he hadn’t have choked so hard, his team might have taken the closely-fought map and had a chance to make the finals.

This team has a certain Virtus.pro-like steamroll when things are working. They make quick successions of frags across the map. And Hiko, of course, is still a rock of a clutcher. But sadly, nitr0 still looks weak, and the team leans overwhelmingly on EliGE, easily the best player on the team right now. Furthermore, their anti-eco play is suspect. (Then again, every NA team’s anti-eco play is suspect.)

This team is, for now, disappointingly okay. To win in the future, they have a long honey-do list to complete: (1) kick nitr0 into gear again, (2) give koosta guidance and experience, (3) consider hiring a coach or consultant to improve their play in man-advantage or anti-eco situations, and (4) continue whatever Satanic ritual has transformed long-time bottom-feeder adreN into the passable role-player the team needs. All these seem rather difficult to achieve.

Role-appropriate roster moves work alright (Cloud 9)

Image courtesy Cloud 9.

Image courtesy Cloud 9.

Cloud 9 to semis? I’m pleasantly surprised. The new C9 line-up looked scrounged from slim pickings (Slem pickings?), but beating CLG in a Best of 3 and coming within one round of the finals has piqued my interest. Perhaps their acquisition of an unknown tier 3 NA in-game leader was slier than I thought. Slemmy (the new IGL in question) needs to improve his calling and adjustments on both sides, but his arrival may have put both the stars and the role-players of C9 in better, more comfortable positions.

Skadoodle hasn’t looked this good for months, and this shouldn’t be surprising. Skadoodle is a player who thrived most when under the direction and structure of a clear in-game leader, be it DaZeD or seangares—both of whom noted how they would have to carefully direct Ska where to play. Do the math from here: C9 gets an IGL, and Ska starts playing well again. Kapeesh?

Meanwhile, stewie2k has become an entry-fragger, and this is a perfect position for him. He’s got quick, great aim, and such a position both his aggressiveness and masks his still-clear inexperience. (This is the position tarik should always have played!) But Slemmy hasn’t put stewie to good work on Terrorist sides yet. Too often has stewie—or shroud, or n0thing, for that matter—been left pushing alone onto the wrong bombsite seeking kills with the round timer running perilously low.

Slemmy seems to have good game sense and a knack for certain Counter-Terrorist positions, and his presence also seems to have freed up n0thing’s fragging.  However, Slemmy needs some hard DM practice ASAP, because his aim sucks, and I predict n0thing’s fragging won’t often be as good as it was in Austin. n0thing famously performs better at NA LANs than against top Europeans. He also needs to continue working hard on his tactical feel for games, as he was not beyond misreading both Brazilian squads he faced.

Get a brain in-game (The best player on Splyce was…freakazoid)

Experience at the top level has made fREAKAZOID the best (and smartest) of a bad bunch of players. Photo courtesy Alex Maxwell/Dreamhack.

Experience at the top level has made fREAKAZOID the best (and smartest) of a bad bunch of players. Photo courtesy Alex Maxwell/Dreamhack.

Watching crappy NA teams like Splyce play good international teams is a morbid obsession of mine. It’s a side show (freak show?) of beautiful masochism: cocky, under-skilled, and dumb players from my beloved stateside home getting mercilessly wrecked by the most mundane of Counter-Strike tactics. Watching Splyce was no exception.

Do these guys practice? And by practice, I mean, do more than f? Because in their game versus Luminosity, no one on Splyce seemed to have any idea where their opponents were playing at any time. No one, except fREAKAZOiD.

Yes, the rock that C9 rejected has become…well, a stand-in for Splyce, and their best player at the tournament. fREAK, unlike his teammates, seemed to anticipate where his opponents were playing and demonstrated an understanding of trade-frags and when and where to take duels. Others (like DAVEY) showed much better aim, but had none of fREAKAZOiD’s understanding of the game.

fREAK didn’t have this game-sense when he first joined C9 a year ago, but he earned it through hard work and LAN experience playing at the top level. NA’s up-and-coming would do well to take a cue from his improvement: study the top teams, practice with focus, stop playing loose at any time, and LEARN THE POSITIONS, DAMMIT.

Oh, and up-and-coming NA teams looking for a veteran and an entry-fragger could do worse than fREAKAZOiD. He’s not as bad as everyone else you have access to. Just sayin’.

A South American Work Ethic

The Brazilians trounced the Americans at an NA LAN, with both squads moving through to the finals, and no one should be surprised. SA > NA confirmed.

Thought it was cute that, in that grand finals, each player added the name of one of their Brazilian counterparts to the end of their nick? Actually, that was more than cute. It was a show of solidarity. Under the fatherly guidance of FalleN (the wise, the mighty, the powerful FalleN…okay, I’ll stop gushing), these boys poured their guts out together to understand the game and reach the highest echelons of CS:GO. The Brazilian scene is family, and their solidarity and work ethic have led them to international success surpassing that of the deeper—but less focused—NA scene.

Tempo Storm has some talent, this we cannot doubt. Hen1 is a truly explosive AWP talent, boltz is stable (though a bit absent in Austin compared to at the CEVO finals one tournament before), and felps has now doubly shown he is the play-making star a team needs to become successful. But pound for pound, C9 has just as much firepower—they have shroud and Skadoodle, two of the best fraggers NA has ever seen.

Why did C9 lose, then? Tempo Storm has a deeper playbook. They’re more rehearsed. Their teamplay is truly on point. They’ve *worked* the game, they’ve *worked* the maps—they’ve done their homework, and they’ve done it right. Their practice translates to rounds, especially when the nerves of high-pressure situations seeks to throw them off.

Take this hard work and multiply it by two years (and a few smart roster changes), and this is how Luminosity became major winners.

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Take heed, NA. Your Maker cast his judgement, and then he and his angels destroyed you at Austin. Maybe the Brazilians are onto something?