Cologne Preview: A Closer Look At G2, OG, BIG - Part 5
In part five of my IEM Cologne preview, I took a closer look at G2, OG, and BIG. G2 because they are one of the best teams at the event, OG because their specific strengths gives them dangerous upset potential, and BIG as it is Cologne.
G2 - Good, but not Elite
G2 are a top four team in the world. Arguably top three if we're only looking at the most recent results. They have a good mix of everything. Nikola "NiKo" Kovac is one of the best superstar players. Nemanja "huNter-" Kovac is another strong star player. Audric "JaCkz" Jug is a reliable entry player. Nemanja "nexa" Isakovic seems to be a good in-game leader (or at the very least the combination of him and Damien “MaLeK” Marcel is good). Francois "AmaNek" Delaunay is a smart role player.*
*The general community consensus rates AmaNek highly as a primary AWPer. For my part, I think he's a stable AWPer who uses a lot of intelligence. He rarely gets into bad 1v1 AWP duels against the better AWPers, he doesn't take risks that can put his team into bad position, he rotates and takes information correctly, he knows how to use smokes to find gaps of information that he can relay to his team. Outside of the AWP, he's also a reliable lurker and secondary caller. Overall, AmaNek is a good player, but not a great one.
Tactically and stylistically, they use all of their players well. They can play fast or slow, they know how to play off of lurks, defaults, have good set plays, and make good mid-round calls. They've found space for both NiKo and huNter to be impactful fraggers on either side of the map. NiKo gets the most space, but huNter's CT-side flanking is still a G2 signature play.
So what is stopping G2 from climbing greater heights and winning trophies? Bluntly speaking, they are only a nice mix of everything. Good amount of skill, tactics, and team play. They don’t have the best skill, so they can’t overpower teams like Na`Vi or Gambit. On the reverse side, skill stacks like compLexity, Liquid, and Mouz can run them over. The tactics are fairly good, however they can’t out think Gambit or Heroic and aren’t so tactically in depth that they can control Na`Vi. If the game becomes a tactical chess match, lesser teams like NiP, BIG, and OG could all beat G2 (Astralis could do it if they had a good individual day as well). Team play is good, but teams like Gambit and Heroic are further ahead in that department compared to G2. I think some teams could break apart the teamplay with high octane skill (compLexity) or extreme pace (FURIA).
There are also some stylistic holes that lower ranked teams can exploit. I mentioned earlier that AmaNek is a good role playing AWPer. So if a team has an elite AWPer they can drag the game into an AWP fight (whether that’s through duels or map control) and gain a strong advantage that way. So teams like: NiP, OG, BIG, compLexity, and Vitality all come to mind here.
G2 don't have a true speciality. If they play against Gambit, Gambit will force the game into a battle of team play and tactics. Even if the game devolved into a skill fest, Gambit have the edge. Na`Vi can force individual fights and drag the game into a skill fest. Heroic are similar to G2 as they don't have a true speciality, but Heroic side-step that problem with tactics and overarching strategy. Heroic prep different maps for each tournament and use the map veto to force an advantageous situation.
We can see all of these problems play out in G2’s map pool. Every team knows what they are going to get. G2 ban Overpass. They will focus on playing Inferno, Dust2, and Mirage. If G2 have to, they can play Vertigo, Nuke, and a bit of Ancient. G2's best three maps are all maps every team knows how to play at a high level (hence why G2 are in so many three game series). Other teams can get the edge on Vertigo and Nuke against G2. Ancient is a toss up.
G2 are a good team, arguably a great team, but they aren’t elite. They have a hard cap to their ceiling. Conversely, they are vulnerable to upset. While G2 should go deep here, it wouldn’t surprise me if they got upset earlier on.
OG - The Wild Cards
OG are my wild cards for this event. I still rate Aleksi "Aleskib" Virolainen as one of the best tactical minds. They have three strong individual players right now in Mateusz "mantuu" Wilczewski, Valdemar "valde" Vangsa, and Shahar "flameZ" Shushan. As the last tournament OG played in was IEM Summer, they should have had time to change things up, so it's hard for teams to scout them. This is an edge that tactical teams can exploit to a higher level.
Finally, their map pool is a bit different from other teams. OG permaban vertigo. They like to first pick either dust2 or mirage, though I think their best map is Overpass. They can also play inferno and nuke. I suspect the reason why OG are better on Dust2, Mirage, and Overpass is because mantuu and valde control different sides of the map, so no matter what tactic or fight the T-side tries to run, they have to fight one of the two OG stars.
If OG can utilize their unique characteristics, they have some strategic advantages they can leverage to upset better teams. Few teams specialize in Overpass. They're tactically better and more disciplined than Na`Vi. Mantuu is a better AWPer than Amanek. Valde is one of the best wing players in the game. If they get him into position, they'll have a chance against almost any team.
The BIG Clan - Stuck in a Rut
BIG is one of the two teams that missed their window. Once the online era hit, BIG hit their stride and became one of the best teams in the world. In 2020, they won DreamHack Masters Spring, ESL Proleague Season 12: EU, CS Summit 6, and DH Summer.
Beyond the typical caveats I already outlined in online play, there is an additional one with BIG as Ismailcan “XANTARES” Dortkardes was already renowned to be one of the best players online who could never transition his play onto LAN.
Even with that additional piece of context, BIG was impressive during the first half year of online play. XANTARES and lorian “syrsoN” Rische were legitimate superstar players. XANTARES was a consistent lurker, while syrsoN was an aggressive playmaking AWPer. Johannes “Tabsen” Wodarz proved his chops as a high impact, high-fragging in-game leader. Both Nils “kito” Gruhne, and Tizian “tizian” Feldbusch were strong role players, with kito sometimes winning a map off of his entry play alone.
As we head towards Cologne, nothing has changed in the BIG Clan and that is why they are slumping. This lineup has been together since January 2020, a total time period of one and a half years. At this point, they are starting to creep into Virtus.Pro territory when it comes to their longevity as a 5-man line-up.
The Virtus.Pro I'm talking about is the line-up that ran from 2014 to 2018. The classic Polish squad of: Janusz “Snax” Pogorzelski, Jaroslaw “pasha” Jarzabkowski, Filip “NEO” Kubski, Pawel “byali” Bielinski, and Wiktor “TaZ” Wojtas. The reason they are a historically great team was because they consistently reinvented themselves without making roster changes. They came up with new tactics, learned new maps, shifted their strength in the map pool. They figured out who was a star player at any particular moment and could shift their play to enable whoever had the hot hand in a given moment.
I cannot say the same for BIG. They continued to add on to their tactics and setups, but their core ideas are the same. XANTARES and syrson are the star players. They play the same maps: Dust2, Inferno, and Mirage. All three maps are fairly played out, so it seems unlikely that BIG will come up with something new that can let them dominated one of those three maps and make it a home map.
The fact that none of their core ideas have changed means that most of the top teams seem to instinctively know how BIG are going to play. The only exception to this is Vertigo, where BIG beat G2 on Vertigo to win their series 2-1. In that game, BIG's T-side controlled the half as they consistently out-rotated G2.
While that was a bright spot, the rest of the run was what you'd come to expect. Some close moments on Inferno and Dust2, but the other teams knew what was coming the entire time and beat them. BIG will need to pull a rabbit out of the hat if they want to make a run at Cologne.