EG is on a steady decline and it’s clear that they weren’t ready for life after their honeymoon phase.
By the end of October 2019, EG were on top of the CS:GO world. In their first outing as NRG they got to the semifinals of the Major where Astralis beat them 2-0. Soon after, under the EG tag at ESL New York, they got their revenge 3-1. They bombed out of DreamHack Malmo (to be fair jet lag was a real factor as the LAN started the day after ESL New York ended). EG then bounced back with a victory at StarSeries i-League Season 8. When the HLTV rankings rolled out in early November, EG were the #1 ranked team in the world. Since then they’ve been on a steady decline and it’s clear that EG weren’t ready for life after their honeymoon phase.
Results since the peak
EG ended up playing five more tournaments to round out 2019. They went to IEM Beijing, CS:GO Asia Championships, ECS Season 8 Finals, ESL Proleague Season 10 Finals, and EPICENTER. The results were a mixed bag as EG showed bad form in the Asia tournaments with FaZe eliminating them in two bo3s at Beijing and Mouz beating them in the quarterfinals of CAC 2019.
Outside of the Asia tournaments though, EG were still a tier one team with a quarterfinals at EPL 10 finals and a semifinals finishes at both EPICENTER and ECS Season 8 Finals. Unlike the Asia tournaments, EG played far closer to their peak form and they only lost to championship contenders in these tournaments: Mouz and Astralis.
EG’s travel schedule at the end of the year was packed so it was easy to write off the slight downturn as burnout. After all, they were able to pick it up after their return from the Asian LANS and their losses were a bit more forgivable in the context that Mouz were EG slayers (Mouz eliminated EG in three of the aforementioned tournaments).
With the end of the year break coming up, it seemed probable that EG could take that time to recharge and come out fresh for the start of the 2020 season. That season has just started and EG have slipped even further down than when they stopped at the end of 2019. OG beat them twice at BLAST Premier while 100 Thieves eliminated them from IEM Katowice. While still a formidable team, EG have taken a step down from their absolute heights in October 2019. So what happened?
The Honeymoon phase and hangover
The honeymoon phase is a well known phenomena to describe when a team hits a strong level near the beginning of a team’s lifespan. In the honeymoon, everything is clicking together for the team and they have the advantage of being able to surprise their opponents as they are still the new kids on the block.
Soon after things usually start to fall apart as teams start to scout map pool, tactics, and tendencies. If EG were just another good roster, then there would be no reason to criticize them. However EG is one of the most stacked lineups assembled in modern Counter-Strike. Their line-up includes: Vincent “Brehze” Cayonte, Cvetelin “CeRq” Dimitrov, Ethan “Ethan” Arnold, Tarik “tarik” Celik, and Peter “stanislaw” Jarguz.
Their three main stars: Brehze, CeRq, and Ethan all made HLTV’s top 20 list in 2019. That core trio is one of the most skilled in CS:GO today. Their fourth best player is tarik, who was himself a former star player of NA line-ups. Stanislaw is the leader and as a leader, he is one of the highest fragging in-game leaders in the game. When it comes to skill they can compete with the likes of Na`Vi, Liquid, or FaZe.
When a team has this amount of talent, it is no longer enough to reach the semifinals or a finals, but to be the best in the world. This was why the team initiated the roster change last year when they kicked Damian “daps” Steele and brought in stanislaw. While the move worked initially, it has given diminishing returns since then.
To understand why the team is failing, we need to examine what made the team so strong during their honeymoon phase. When EG were at their best, their individual players could headshot anyone. Brehzhe in particular was an absolute menace for the other team to deal with. EG parlayed this individual skill with a fast-paced and aggressive calling backed up by stanislaws’ strong mid-round calling. This style was a surprisingly good counter against Astralis’ control style as EG were able to break apart a round and hit a site before Astralis could rotate or react.
The problem with EG after the honeymoon phase is that they are almost the exact same in 2020 as they were in 2019. EG’s map pool, tactics, timings, and plays haven’t changed. This means that sheer entropy and decay is killing them.
By the end of 2019, EG played 4 maps. Mirage was their best and they liked to play Inferno, Dust2, and Nuke. They avoided Overpass, Vertigo, and Train. In 2020, that map pool has largely stayed the same. EG have had some small wins on Vertigo and Train against smaller teams (MAD Lions and OG respectively), but they aren’t willing to pick either against the tier1 teams. The only notable change is that they favor Nuke more than the other 3 maps they like to play.
When compared to their rivals, it’s obvious that they are a step behind. Astralis may have bombed out of BLAST Premier, but they’ve returned to form at Katowice and have started to show new strength on both Vertigo and Overpass. Liquid struggled at BLAST as well, but have revamped their Overpass and used it as a punish pick against EG.
All of the other teams are moving forward, while EG seems to be stuck using the same ideas and tactics from the end of last year. This problem was most notable in the 100 Thieves series at IEM Katowice. Historically speaking, EG has an advantageous head-to-head against 100 Thieves.
EG vs 100 Thieves game at Katowice
Since the EG lineup formed, they’ve beaten the Renegades/100 Thieves lineup in four different occasions: The Berlin Major, SLi Season 8, EPL 10 Finals, and BLAST Premier. This isn’t a coincidence as 100 Thieves is a similar type of team as Astralis. They focus on control, rotations, teamplay, and tactics. EG’s style has a natural advantage against 100 Thieves as they have way more firepower and the map pool is more tilted in the EG vs 100 Thieves matchup.
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Even so, 100 Thieves won the bo3 and did it with wins on Nuke and Dust2, both maps that EG likes to play. On Nuke and Dust2, 100 Thieves were able to fully utilize their control style as they knew most of EG’s tendencies. In the 14th round on Nuke, EG were on the T-side. They used one of their cookie cutter tactics where they deploy the smokes towards secret and send two players down secret. They then follow it up with 3 players taking the ramp room. Justin “jks” Savage pre-empted the tactic entirely as he mollied the passage after his smoke dissipated.
When the two players down secret made first contact, 100 Thieves had already perfectly countered the EG tactic as they rotated two players down and had Aaron “AZR” Ward and Joakim “jkaem” Myrbostad setup a crossfire where jkaem drew their attention from a headshot angle and then AZR hit them from the side. With all choices sealed off, EG had no choice but to go for a contact play through squeak, which 100 Thieves read immediately.
A second example of 100 Thieves reading the setup was in the 21st round. One of EG’s setups is an aggressive bait-and-switch between stanislaw and CeRq. Stanislaw makes first contact as he takes up position close to the boxes near the T-side of outer yard. In the meantime, CeRq rotates to secret. At that point, CeRq will peeks out for a duel. If he dies, stanislaw can then either trade or lurk behind the enemy depending on the situation.
EG used this exact setup and the 100 Thieves read the setup. 100 Thieves went for the smokes towards secret around the 1:20 mark. They knew that CeRq didn’t go for an early pick from hut, door, or ramp. This made them play it safe as they threw a molly down secret. CeRq challenged anyway and was killed by jkaem. Jks knew that it was likely that stanislaw was playing close by to lurk behind them and when the smoke dissipated, he turned around and killed stanislaw.
On Dust2, EG like to play fast tactics: fast long takes, quick short takes, or fast mid-to-b splits. 100 Thieves were able to contain their advance as each round, they took long control and then rotated a player their players back mid to challenge them. In the 11th round, EG did one of their scrimmy tactics as stanislaw pushed the smoke through mid doors and the rest of the team pushed the smoke at B.
The strength of the move is in it’s surprise factor, but EG failed to surprise 100 Thieves. After taking long, 100 Thieves had AZR and jkaem rotate back towards mid and when stanislaw pushed the smoke, AZR killed him while jkaem quickly rotated to B and 100 Thieves shut down the hit cold.
A history of short-term moves
EG’s inability to be as consistently great as they were in their honeymoon phase isn’t too surprising. Even during their peak, analysts were critical of whether their loose-style could keep consistent results. The closest analogue to was the FaZe super team when Finn “karrigan” Andersen was leading them.
It is even less surprising when you consider the leaders of the two leaders of the team: stanislaw and Tarik. Both made roster changes to try to gain success in the short term. OpTic was a contender at the end of 2016, but had internal issues. Rather than try to fix them, stanislaw left the team to join Liquid in 2017.
When tarik joined OpTic in 2016, he forced the team to switch leaders from daps to stanislaw. In 2018, he followed Jake “Stewie2k” Yip as he left Cloud9 to join MIBR. Finally he joined NRG in 2019 and while the kick wasn’t immiedate, NRG eventually replaced daps with stanislaw.
What’s interesting about all of these moves is that each of the moves was the correct move to make at each time. While stanislaw and tarik may have been able to fix some of the issues in their teams if they had stayed, they’d likely have lesser results if they did. Stanislaw taking over as the in-game leader for daps was what kick-started OpTic to winning ELeague in 2016 and was what took EG to #1 in 2019. Given how Cloud9’s GMing worked out after tarik left, tarik was right to think that he had to leave if he wanted to get results.
The problem is that those moves won’t work for the current EG. As I’ve stated before, EG’s line-up is one of the best in the world and there is no weak link on the team. As that’s the case, they must find other ways to become a top team again. They can make up new tactics like what 100 Thieves did last year, swap up roles like the historical Virtus.Pro, or hone new maps.
A Lessons from the Ancients
While I’ve been critical of EG’s downfall from their honeymoon phase throughout this article, their situation is entirely understandable. As a squad, they are completely new to this level of competition. At this level, it’s more than just practicing and showing up on the day. They are learning how to deal with burnout, how to come out of a break, and learning how it is to be a top team.
Their situation at the moment reminds me a bit of the fall of the Qin Dynasty. In his book Shiji, the Chinese historian Sima Qian wrote that the reason the Qin dynasty fell was because they failed to realize that the way of conquest and the way of rule were not one in the same.
EG are coming to a similar realization now. That beating the best teams and winning trophies is not the same as being a consistent championship contender. The coming months will be a test for EG to see whether or not they can learn what it means to be a consistent contender.
Images via ESL.