Cologne Preview: Can Heroic Make The Jump To LAN? - Part 4
The online period saw Heroic undergo a radical transformation. Heroic was a Danish farm team. A place where richer organisations came to farm up-and-coming talent. In 2020 that all changed as Heroic hit a level of form we had never seen from them before.
Heroic competed with Astralis for the top spot as Denmark's best Counter-Strike squad. What was even more surprising was that for a few months, they had overtaken Astralis with top placings and wins at ESL Cologne 2020 Online and DreamHack Fall. Astralis took back the lead at the end of 2020 with strong victories at DreamHack Winter 2020, IEM Global Challenge, and a 2nd place finish at BLAST Premier: Fall 2020.
Where 2020 was a close affair, 2021 has been a blowout victory for Heroic. Heroic made the better roster moves compared to Astralis. Astralis failed to keep their superstar Nicolai "dev1ce" Reedtz on the team nor find a suitable replacement. In contrast, Heroic kept Martin "stavn" Lund, Casper "cadiaN" Moller, and Rene "Teses" Madsen as their core three players. They added Ismail "refrezh" Ali and Rasmus "sjuush" Beck at the end of February 2020.
After Heroic made those changes, they became one of the elite contenders in global Counter-Strike. They won ESL Pro League Season 13 in a close 3-2 finals against Gambit. After that, Heroic got top 4 placings at BLAST Premier: Spring, DreamHack Master Spring 2021, and Flashpoint Season 3. The only bad result they've had was a 9-12th placing at IEM Summer where they lost to a EG in strong individual form and NiP.
Why Heroic should succeed: Skill, Style, Leadership
I'm confident that Heroic will transition into LAN play, despite the lack of overall LAN experience across the lineup. All of the other indicators make me optimistic for their future. The individual skill is good across the board. Teses and cadiaN stand out a bit above the rest, but all five players are consistent, know their roles, and have good impact. Even if we nitpick the online buff AWPers get, it shouldn't affect cadiaN much. He's already LAN proven and he still has good impact as a lurker and mid-round player.
This means that they aren't reliant on any particular player having to get their space and can use any style of play. The overall skill, consistency and tactics makes Heroic a versatile team. Heroic has different set openers across the maps on both sides of the map. Each opener lends itself to a different style of play and they continually update their core maps while preparing new ones.
On the CT-side, they can play the low utility style and open up picks for the double AWP style or an aggressive all out fight for early map control. They can go the opposite direction and play off their utility to create favorable duels, get information and make the correct rotations to put themselves in the best position possible. Heroic vary their style depending on map or opponent.
They opened with the low utility, aggressive double AWP against NiP. It was the fifth round on Mirage at IEM Summer.
In this round, Heroic go for two pick/trade scenarios for B halls and T-main. It’s a powerful setup since it gives a chance for Heroic to outright win duels early and save utility or get trades and map information.
Conversely, we see a heavier utility style on Nuke. Heroic played against Astralis on Nuke at Flashpoint Season 3.
In the 23rd round, Heroic open with typical default smokes and molotov to block the three primary choke points: yard, door, and ramp. Refrezh gets into secret while stavn plays near the box. They are doing a reactionary utility setup based on Astralis’ timing. This is clever, as Astralis don’t have the firepower to play the juggernaut no utility style and smash their way outside. They have to rely on smokes and create a good avenue of approach.
So Heroic’s choice to play counter utility works as a great counter. Once the outer yard smokes come down, stavn throws his molotov to slow down the action and refrezh uses his smoke to create a good angle for himself. cadiaN is in position to rotate depending on where the team needs him to go. Altogether, Heroic understands the overarching strategy of each matchup and often uses the correct sets, mixups, and tactics to match their win objectives.
On the T-side, I think they slightly favour the explosive, fast style of play. Fast map control, fast set plays, and fast contact plays. With so many types of openings, it is harder to strategically predict what they will do on any given map. In addition, they can play a slower, more individualistic default approach. It isn't pure free-flow like 2015 Fnatic as they have certain protocols, timings, or sets they like to run. What seems to happen though is that sometimes a player will see something on their side of the map (a certain timing for info the CT-side goes for or slightly slower smoke than usual) and they will run a tactic to let one or two of their players use their individual skill to break open the map. Finally, Heroic play a strong map pressure style where they get players into position and force bad duels or rotations.
You see this entire dynamic playout in the Heroic vs NiP nuke game at Flashpoint Season 3.
This is particularly instructive of Heroic’s style as they don’t have a lot of current data on NiP as NiP had just added Nicolai "dev1ce" Reedtz and this was their first big tournament with him. Heroic run more of their explosive set pieces in the first half and once NiP start adjusting to it, they swap over to the more default approach to find individual cracks in the defence, so they can play off rotations.
The only real question is leadership. Heroic’s best periods correlate to times when Nicolai "HUNDEN" Petersen could call as coach. If we look at the timeline, HUNDEN was banned from September 2020 to April 29th, 2021. Heroic’s worst period was from Nov. 2011 to February 2021.
That period without HUNDEN wasn’t all negative. Heroic got 3rd at ESL 12 EU right after HUNDEN’s ban and a month into the ban, they won DreamHack Open Fall 2020. Before HUNDEN rejoined the team after April 29th, Heroic won EPL 13 on April 11th. An optimist could point to the slump as the natural decline of the roster as well. A majority of lineups don’t last past the four-month date. Perhaps the Nikolaj “niko” Kristensen and Johannes “b0RUP” Borup lineup had already played itself out. Another piece of evidence to support this view is that after refrezh and sjuush joined the team, Heroic went back to winning ways.
We’ll have to wait and see how the tactics and leadership looks on LAN, but all things considered, it shouldn’t drastically hurt Heroic’s standings in the world.
Heroic's Map Pool
Heroic's map pool is stable. Dust2 is their permaban. Their three core maps are: Nuke, Inferno and Mirage. Heroic's best map is Nuke, and they are arguably the best team on it. This gives them a distinct advantage in the map veto as teams rarely first ban Nuke. Outside of Nuke, they can match most teams evenly on Inferno and Mirage.
The final three maps act as wildcards for Heroic. Heroic have played all three maps: Vertigo, Overpass, and Ancient. However, you can't know which of the maps they are focusing on at any given time. Earlier on in 2020, they used Vertigo as their wildcard. At Flashpoint Season 3, they used Overpass. They then avoided Overpass entirely at IEM Summer and let Ancient through instead. This adds an element of uncertainty for every team they play in the map veto.
Predictions for Cologne and the Future
Despite Heroic’s failure at IEM Summer, I think Heroic are a top three in the world. While I rate them highly, they aren’t impervious like Gambit. There are plenty of teams out that have the upset potential. Heroic has lost series to: Gambit, Na`Vi, EG, and NiP. Gambit is the best in the world. Na`Vi is the second and also have Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev, the best player in CS:GO history.
The only really concerning losses are to EG and the two series to NiP. Two of the three losses were close affairs, though. The EG series went down to the wire on every map. The first NiP series nearly ended 2-0 in Heroic’s favor. Mirage in the rematch went into overtime.
There are two things worth potential weaknesses that we should keep in mind. In all of these losses, the other teams had an elite AWPer: Dmitry “sh1ro” Sokolov, s1mple, Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz, and Tsvetelin “CeRq” Dimitrov.
This begs the question as to why Heroic so easily dominated Vitality in their one encounter at Flashpoint Season 3 as Vitality’s superstar is Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut. It could have been a bad day for Vitality, though it’s likely a stylistic issue as well. Vitality play a loose style that emphasises pace, map control, trading, and mid-round lurking. They have ZywOo break open areas with entries or use bodies to trade him into a position where he can win the postplant.
It’s a very different style to the more traditional AWP style of other teams. So while ZywOo will always be a threat, I don’t think Vitality matches well against Heroic.
On the other hand, this makes a potential OG vs Heroic match intriguing. OG is on a heater right now, and they emphasise Mateusz “mantuu” Wilczewski’s AWP in their CT-setups and T-side tactics. Both sides could pull out tricks in the map veto. Stylistically, mantuu could give OG the edge in with his AWP, but Heroic could break apart OG’s strict positioning with some of their heavier lurk style.
Looking beyond ESL Cologne, I’m optimistic for Heroic’s future. They are an elite team and even if their current lineup starts declining, the team itself has proven its resilience in the last year. They know how to find the right players, how to build maps, and innovate new ideas. Heroic are the present of Danish CS, and they look to be the future as well.