Why BIG has become one of the best teams in CS.
In the last two events prior to the break, BIG Clan has broken through as a potential number one team in the world. In both DreamHack Masters Spring 2020 and CS Summit 6 Online, they made it to the finals via the loser’s bracket. In both finals, the opponent had a 1 map advantage for coming through the upper bracket, but it didn’t matter as BIG won both finals. At DreamHack BIG beat G2 3-2 and at CS_Summit 6, BIG beat Vitality 3-2. Both runs are impressive and I believe BIG’s strengths on Mirage encapsulates what makes them great as a team.
There were a few reasons why I wanted to focus on BIG’s Mirage. The first is the map’s history. Mirage is one of the most enduring maps in the map pool and many players have openly expressed that it has been played out as a map. As a map, it skews more heavily to skill-heavy teams which is why teams like Na`Vi and FaZe generally favour the map.
With that context in mind, BIG's success on the map is astounding. Despite BIG's structured tactical style, Mirage is one of their best maps. They have played Mirage 38 times and have a 71.1% win rate on the map with their current line-up (Johannes "tabseN" Wodarz, Tizian"tiziaN" Feldbusch, Can "XANTARES" Dortkardes, Florian "syrsoN" Rische, and Nils "k1to" Gruhne).
While the stats are impressive, it isn't unique for BIG as their Dust2 is equally impressive. BIG have played Dust2 36 times and have a 72.2% winrate. Both Dust2 and Mirage are integral maps in BIG's run at both DreamHack and Summit. However, the reason I've chosen to focus on Mirage though is that it gives a more holistic view of what makes the BIG clan tick: their roles, their strengths, and what makes them tick.
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Each of the five players has 2-3 general T-side roles they play on Mirage that maps onto how they play across the entire map pool. TiziaN plays B-halls and swaps between being an anchor player or entry. On Mirage in specific though, he plays a high-pressure game and is one of the focal points that BIG try to run their game through.
K1to has three roles: Entry, map control pack and lurk entry player. K1to is the closest thing that BIG has to a hard-entry player as he is the one that goes in first the most often. This applies to both the CT and T-side. He usually teams up with tabseN to take map control and depending on how the round goes, can convert into a lurk entry player or a secondary lurk. In more recent games, he's started to become BIG's secondary AWPer on the CT-side. While he doesn't have the stats of the three primary stars, his impact can be incredibly high.
TabseN is the Swiss army knife of BIG: entry, map control, lurker, and rotator. Among those roles, he plays the entry and map control the most on the T-side. His versatility and consistency bring a lot of stability to the team as BIG can always count on him to put up the numbers and impact at any point in a round.
XANTARES is the mid-round player and closer for BIG. BIG usually setup their defaults and executes to get XANTARES into positions where he gets the most space possible. This usually means that he avoids making a move in the default until the round starts to break down into smaller units or he is the last player to enter the site in an execute.
The final player is syrsoN. He's an aggressive AWPer and shines the most on the CT-side as BIG set him up to look for as many duels as possible. On the T-side, BIG only use syrsoN as the polarizing point of attack when they want to throw in a wildcard play. More often than not, syrsoN plays in the system.
Overall, it's a nice balance of aggression, trading, and stability. k1to and syrsoN are aggressive while tiziaN and XANTARES are passive. TabseN can go between those two poles.
The structure gives the basis of BIG's overall game plan and how they get their success. If the BIG players are enacting their roles, they are usually winning. In order to enable the players, BIG have a structured game plan. They have a myriad of defaults they can choose from at the start of the round. Each of the defaults then has multiple branches that unfolds into different aspects of their play.
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For instance, let's take a look at how BIG pressure the B-site of Mirage. TiziaN plays a high-pressure game there and will often deny information to the CT-s with a smoke. After the smoke is deployed, it becomes hard to guess what BIG will do next. TiziaN could be playing alone as the anchor, he could have syrsoN waiting to trade him if the CT players push, BIG could do an execute behind the smoke and have tiziaN run in as the entry, or they can swap to a mid-take and insert tabseN and/or k1to as lurkers and make a mid-round call from there. Or BIG could have syrsoN do a pick and then roll onto the site if he gets the kill.
Each of the potential rounds is dangerous and needs to be taken into consideration. If the CTs don't take the syrsoN threat seriously, they could lose an easy round. If they push too hard against tiziaN, they could die to the trade and be in a bad position. The default round is BIG's bread-and-butter and the style they most like to play as it gives XANTARES the time and space he needs to close the round. Finally, the execute is particularly dangerous if the opposing team doesn't know what positions they should hold. For instance, in the 9th round of the Vitality vs BIG finals, BIG used a set B-execute and all three Vitality players were blinded for so long that tiziaN was able to run between all three and kill the player at bench.
That is only one potential branch among a myriad of different ways that BIG can play Mirage. Tactically, BIG has a huge amount of depth on the map, but what impresses me the most is the overall strategy. They consistently find ways to enable the best aspects of their play: strong set executes, structured defaults, high-pressure rotations, and all the while putting players into positions that make them consistently succeed.
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BIG's strategic success on the T-side is mirrored on the CT-side. The roles are similar. Tizian is the B-anchor, syrsoN the aggressive AWPer, k1to the entry-fragger and A-site anchor. XANTARES plays short and tabseN plays connector. Each position and role makes use of each player's specific characteristics as players. XANTARES is the best player for BIG to have on an A-retake. TabseN's versatility and game sense are perfect for controlling mid and calling out different setups throughout the half. K1to's aggression is useful for the A-site, while tiziaN's more passive stance is better for holding B. Among the five players, syrsoN is the player that adds the most impact for BIG as his aggressive duelling in early rounds is the most impactful.
Underdogs No More
While I’ve focused on BIG’s Mirage, the strengths they have here are the same strengths they have as a team. They have a great combination of aggressive and passive players, good roles and disparate strengths across the board, structured defaults, executes, tactics, excellent utility and a great sense of rotations. The only question remaining is whether or not BIG can translate all of this to LAN, but given the circumstances, BIG are one of the best teams in the world.
In the wake of BIG’s recent victories, I can’t help but think back to 2018. In the bright lights of Cologne, BIG shocked the world as lovable underdogs as they made it to the finals of ESL One Cologne. While it was a brilliant run, it was a flash in a pan. This BIG feels different as they’ve already proven their consistency at the highest level. BIG are no longer the lovable underdogs, they are legitimate contenders fighting for the heights of the CS world.
Images via DreamHack by Stephanie Lindgren