Karrigan's Tactical Virtuoso: His Case For Greatest CS:GO Leader

Karrigan's Tactical Virtuoso: His Case For Greatest CS:GO Leader
Images Via ESL | DreamHack | ELeague | Daniel Ranki

Written by 

Stephen "stuchiu" Chiu


28th Jul 2021 19:39

"Some things are forever, some things are not

It's the things we remember that gave the world shock" - Nas

There are certain series, games, moments that elevate and etch themselves into the minds of the witnesses. Those moments become key points in a player's story and become legend. Finn “Karrigan” Andersen had such a moment at IEM Cologne.

The entire FaZe vs Gambit quarterfinals stands as testament and revelation to Karrigan's tactical mastery. HLTV ranked Gambit as the best in the world, FaZe was the 36th. By the end of the series, FaZe won 2-1 as Karrigan executed one of the greatest tactical virtuosos of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) history. This was not only a historic upset, it also adds to Karrigan’s case as CS:GO's greatest leader ever.

The Gambit side of the Equation

Before we dig into the FaZe side, it is worth examining Gambit. This was Gambit’s first LAN with four young players and Abay "Hobbit" Khassenov. Community sentiment has swayed towards calling them onliners, but I think that's going too far. The individual performances are all within a similar range of what I saw online. Hobbit, Dmitry "sh1ro" Sokolov, and Sergey "Ax1Le" Rykhtorov all played at star levels. Vladislav "nafany" Gorshkov actually played at an even higher level than he did online. The only liability was Timofey "interz" Yakushin, but that was also the case online and he fills in the roles that Gambit needs him to do.

I have high praise for the individual performance, but the tactics and mid-rounding were a step below from what I saw online. In online competitions, Gambit's T-side default had plans on plans on plans that resulted in never-ending pressure for the entire round. Gambit wasn't nearly as oppressive on LAN as their double-lurk defaults weren't making the same plays or rotations that they were online. I think Gambit also made a strategic error in the map veto as they picked Overpass into FaZe. While the move makes plenty of tactical sense as it emphasises the player skill differential between the two squads and emphasises Gambit's double-lurk default, Overpass isn't a comfort pick for Gambit. There also wasn't a lot of data on how FaZe played Overpass as a team which added a level of uncertainty to the match. 

To be fair to Gambit, Overpass did emphasise the player skill differential with all of the Gambit player's having a great game. Despite the individual performance, it was an overtime slog where Gambit barely beat FaZe 22-20 as Karrigan's calling nearly knocked them out without great performances from any of the FaZe players.

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The Base for Success

Before digging into Karrigan's tactical masterpiece, we should look at the other factors that made FaZe’s victory possible. While Karrigan’s leadership was the largest differential for me, FaZe’s victory isn’t a purely individual feat. No man can win alone, Nikola "NiKo" Kovac couldn't solo carry Mouz to title victories with his firepower just as Andrii "B1ad3" Gorodenskyi couldn't out strategize all of his opponents on Flipsid3 despite being a tactical mastermind.

The entire FaZe team elevated their play on LAN. Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken was the superstar of the team as he reached levels of performance we hadn't seen since his peak days on Liquid. Helvijs "broky" Saukantshit a new height as an AWPer. Havard "rain" Nygaard and Olof "olofmeister" Gustafsson were good role players. Both players combine a consistent all-around game with good game sense that gives FaZe a huge amount of stability of their CT-sides. Robert "RobbaN" Dahlstrom helped give Karrigan input on the T-sides as Karrigan was making too many aggressive info-making plays throughout the group stages.

This is all worth mentioning as Karrigan could call the exact same way, but if the players don't execute at the same level, no amount of perfect calling will win the match. It's also worth noting that the 'Karrigan effect' is in full swing for this new FaZe squad. Twistzz hit a massive slump on his finals days in Liquid as the leadership failed to figure out how to integrate Twistzz into the team. After joining FaZe, Twistzz has reached peak levels of performance once again. Twizz credits Karrigan in a Dotesports interview:"My voice is definitely heard more and karrigan really values my opinion... [He] knows how to utilise the players he has. He feels I do well in chaotic situations, so he puts me in spots to either create chaos or get good timing on a player."

For my money, both broky and Rain have seen upticks in their play as well. Olofmeister’s resurrection was the biggest surprise of all. Olofmeister entered retirement after hitting the worst slump in his career. He has just returned to active service and Karrigan worked his magic again. Olofmeister has returned as a good role player once again under Karrigan’s leadership. 

Overall FaZe's victory required the entire team to play well. Even so, among all of the contributing factors that pushed FaZe towards victory, Karrigan’s leadership was the biggest. In this section, I’ve pointed out how he got his players to buy in and how he got the best out of them. These are all positive qualities even the most diehard Karrigan detractors are forced to admit.

What blew me away during this series was Karrigan’s tactical supremacy. Even if Karrigan and the rest of FaZe had done everything else correctly with an above-average level of calling, Gambit would have likely won 2-0 or 2-1. Instead, Karrigan put on a performance of a lifetime.

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Ancient: Karrigan’s Improvised Adjustments

Ancient was the first map in the series and something both sides should have known was coming as it was FaZe's best map for taking a map. Ancient was a largely CT-sided affair with Gambit winning 11 CT rounds and FaZe winning 12 rounds. The match comes down to a head-to-head chess match between nafany and Karrigan. Which of them could figure out how to break the other's CT-side.

This first map showed the biggest difference in each leader's ability to read the other team's CT-side setup. FaZe used their bread and butter CT-side default. They get double AWPs to anchor both of the sites which gives them a strong advantage against contact plays. As the contact plays are larger gambles, FaZe can safely cut off using their smokes in the early round and utilize end round smokes to delay or break late-round hits.

On the other hand, Gambit unveiled a new CT-side setup for the match. In previous tournaments, Gambit was using the standard 1-2-2 setup with Ax1Le anchoring A, Hobbit and sh1ro controlling mid, and nafany and interz playing the B-site. Against FaZe they opted for a 2a-1-2b setup. The two players on the A-site countered FaZe's tendency to mix in A set plays. 

This is exactly how the first rifle round plays out. FaZe make a fast contact play into A that runs directly into a bait and switch setup from Gambit with interz drawing the attention and Ax1Le getting the kills.

As for the B-site, Gambit were playing a two man trade setup on the B-site towards sun room and dig*. You can see this play out in the first nine rounds of the game. The setup gives a lot of map control and trade potential to the CT-side, but leaves an exploitable hole at ramp. It's a setup that tries to exploit some of the meta tendencies of the map. Most teams always have a player contest ramp control, so Gambit assume that FaZe are too smart to try to use that and cut that corner to take stronger map control of sun room and dig. Gambit try to cover this hole by having Hobbit rotate in at the correct times.

*I have my own callouts so I don't know what the standard callouts are for games. So I just used this reddit post as reference.

While a little risky, it's a smart move as it's a setup that I haven't seen other top teams use yet so unless FaZe have had experience against it in scrims, they will have to adjust with no prior knowledge.

In the ninth round, Karrigan makes a calculated push into the B-site. It's risky, but he seems to have intuited the Gambit setup and FaZe need to make a risk in a 4v5 situation. To understand why Karrigan does this, we need to look at the round in full.

Olof could potentially hear a molly and HE go off towards the A-site. Hobbit got the opening call on Twistzz and threw a HE at the B players from mid. The B players have seen Gambit use two mollies towards dig. Karrigan has likely counted the utility used in which areas of the map and combined that with the information he got from the previous rounds. That is why he makes the risky play of pushing into the B-site with only a single flash to cover him. The move works and FaZe pick up their first round.

From this point on, Karrigan will call rounds to exploit the Gambit default. In the 10th, FaZe uses two counter plays: They have Twistzz delay his timing of the mid take and have the B players go passive. Hobbit commits to an entry kill, which Twistzz trades. At the same time, Karrigan has broky posting up for ramp as they now realize they can get that information (and potential pick for free). Karrigan uses the trade to take map control, split the A-site. In the 11th, they use a set play on the B-site. Both rounds end in a 2v2 postplant. Gambit wins, but both were good calls that FaZe could have won.

From this point, Karrigan makes the assumption that Gambit will start adjusting. In the 12th round, he calls for the A set nades and goes for a lurk entry play. Gambit shut it down, but the idea behind the tactic was sound. In the 13th round, FaZe take mid early and Karrigan uses that control to make a deep lurk into mid. Karrigan understands that Hobbit will likely rotate towards the B-site (as he's done in a few rounds previously), so Karrigan rotates over to the A-site and opens the site up with a kill for FaZe's 2nd round.

Karrigan then switches back to exploiting the hole on ramp as he goes for two-man entry play in the 14th round. Nafany kills both of them, but this gives Rain the space to take sun room. The CT-side has no space to work with, so even though it's a 3v3 on the site (and 3v5 overall), the map position is in favour of FaZe as they hit the site a second time.

At this point FaZe break Gambit's economy and win the final round of the half. The score is 4-11, clearly in Gambit's favour but we can see how Karrigan figured out Gambit's default, found the hole, and exploited it to get FaZe their 4 rounds.

On the other hand, Nafany used a variety of tactics, but never figured out the strategic counter to FaZe's standard default. He used a combination of map control, defaults, set plays, and late splits, but didn't make the necessary adjustments to the tactics to account for FaZe's default. In the 19th round for instance, FaZe countered Gambit's A execute easily as FaZe's low utility-style meant that karrigan could put out the molly meant to flush him out and buy time for rotations. In the 22nd round, Gambit tried to take control of dig and got a trade resulting in a 4v4. The problem was that Gambit couldn't leverage that into anything as FaZe had plenty of utility to block off any late attempts to take the B-site and this gave them time to rotate over to A. 

As the half winds down, you can see Gambit trying to brute force their way to victory. They tried a contact play off of a ramp smoke which ran into an AWP plus one setup. Gambit eventually reverted to their default of using utility to take map control and then hitting a site at the end of the round, but failed to find a way to draw out or counter the saved up utility that FaZe consistently had. 

Overall the biggest difference between FaZe and Gambit on Ancient was that Karrigan could figure out and counter Gambit's CT-side setup, nafany could not.

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Overpass and Inferno

Ancient saw Karrigan forced to scout, adjust, and create tactics in the moment. Overpass shows Karrigan's ability to exploit Gambit's tendencies and Inferno his ability to read the B-site setups. We won't need to go quite as deeply into these maps as there is a lot less novel information to process as they are standard fare. Even so, Karrigan called an excellent T-side in both games.

Karrigan is one of the great Overpass tacticians and is particularly adept at mid-rounding. He can synthesise the utility, map information, and rotations each team needs to make depending on what has happened so far. The best example of this is in the 29th round:

It's a typical T-side B default against a 2-3 default. Both sides make the initial utility and counter-utility volley. FaZe takes water, karrigan has short. Meanwhile twistzz and Rain lurk into mid. At this point, karrigan calls for a brief freeze until Gambit use their typical mid-round utility (flashes and smokes towards areas of the map they don't control). FaZe then throw a set of utility towards the A-site which causes nafany to rotate to A and Hobbit to use his last smoke for monster. From here, karrigan understands that they have the utility advantage and uses it to flush out and trade the B-site players to secure the round. It's a good read and call, and summarizes how Karrigan's mid-rounding on Overpass.

Inferno isn't quite as masterful as either Ancient or Overpass, but it does show Karrigan's ability to read banana and his typical strategic prowess. FaZe starts with a typical banana takes, making sure to deny information and clear out sandbags. As the round goes on, karrigan starts to read the banana hold. In the sixth round he predicts that Gambit are playing a passive hold towards the top and uses a double HE stack to hurt the other side (it incidentally kills sh1ro, though as to whether or not Karrigan knew it was specifically that setup is anyone's guess). By the ninth round, gets all of banana control for the price of one flash and one HE.

What's particularly interesting is that Karrigan consistently gets Twistzz into good entry positions as a lot of the duels are congested spaces and head shot angles, something Twistzz is a master at. We see this in round 7, 9 and 15 where Twistzz takes point on banana. In round 12, Twistzz plays more towards the back as FaZe have to run through a bunch of utility and this gives Twistzz the space he needs to later secure the round as he pushes through the smoke to end Gambit's retake. In round 13, Twistzz is the entry man from long. In all these situations, Twistzz is given as many "fair" 50/50 duels and wins most of them as he has better mechanics and headshot aim than his rivals. Creating favourable player vs player duels has always been a hallmark of Karrigan's tactical style and it was what secured FaZe the victory on Inferno.

This series as a whole was a virtuoso performance. This current FaZe squad isn't packed full of firepower from top to bottom. It's a mix of some star power and old veterans wanting to prove that they can still hang at the highest level. This is why Karrigan had to pull out every scrap of calling power: scouting, improvising, adjusting, mid-round calling, reading setups, winning the utility game, rotating, and positioning his players to succeed. That is why this was one of the greatest tactical performances in CS:GO history.

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Karrigan's Case for Greatest Leader in CS:GO

In CS:GO, there are only two candidates for the greatest leader in CS:GO history: Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander and Karrigan. Both have a strong case for being the greatest leader in CS:GO's history.

Gla1ve is the greatest tactical mind to have ever touched the game. He was the leader of multiple top lineups, one of which ended up being the greatest lineup of all time. That lineup innovated and fundamentally changed the entire way CS:GO was played. Gla1ve is also the best caller we've see in high-pressure situations with multiple Major victories, many of which relied on his tactics and calls.

Beyond that, he's one of the best map veto strategists, has shown an ability to lead international lineups (when Dennis 'dennis' Edman briefly stood-in for Astralis) and in this latest iteration showed how he can win without having a primary AWPer. When I lay out gla1ve's resume like that, he seems impervious. After all, Karrigan never dominated the tactical meta like gla1ve's Astralis did and gla1ve certainly has the Major achievements.

However, parts of Karrigan's resume are just as untouchable as gla1ve's. Karrigan didn't innovate the tactical meta, but his success with the first few iterations of FaZe set the meta for roster construction up to the current day. Karrigan is the best map veto strategist the game has ever seen. He is a master speedrunner with an uncanny ability to bring out the best in lineups within days whereas other top leaders usually take weeks to months.

If the measure of a leader is their overall ability to work with any player in the world, Karrigan is the GOAT, no one else compares. Karrigan has led top lineups both national and mixed, veterans, and up-and-comers. He always gets the best out of his players whether that's helping them realise a new level of play (as he did with Robin "ropz" Kool or David "frozen" Cernansky) or helped them regain their level (as he did with Fabien "kioShiMa' Fiey, olofmeister, or Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovacs).

As great as Karrigan is, there are a few criticisms that often pop up whenever Karrigan is put into the conversation. He couldn't get the superstar FaZe lineup to make an era and break CS:GO. It is certainly fair to lay that at his feet, but I couldn't find an alternative approach that worked better than Karrigan's. You had to let that lineup make individual plays to maximize their skill and their chances of winning. We saw later how they FaZe to become more Astralis like in their structure/tactics and it made them worse.

The second is that gla1ve has the Majors and Karrigan does not, a big edge in gla1ve's favour. The third is that his lineups don't last longer than 6-9 months which is fair, except that standard needs to apply to all other teams. At the end of the day you only have a few lineups in history that have passed that mark (Fnatic, Astralis, and Virtus.Pro). Astralis was the greatest lineup of all time, Fnatic was the 2nd greatest lineup of all time, and Virtus.Pro is such an outlier that I haven't seen another lineup in any esport do what they did.

The fourth is that Karrigan was never as tactical as his compatriots. The counter-argument has always been that it was a strategically bad move to make international lineups play tactically as their inherent weakness is team play and communication. After this FaZe vs Gambit series, this final criticism should be allayed a bit as Karrigan showed that he can call at this level. Perhaps he can't do it for long stretches of time (just as gla1ve may perhaps be unable to lead a mixed international lineup for long periods of time), but it shows that Karrigan can do it.

Gla1ve and Karrigan are great in different respects. Gla1ve is the greatest tactical mind in the game's history, he is the best caller under pressure, he has the Majors, and he was the leader of the greatest lineup of all time, one that played off his tactics and structure.

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Karrigan is the greatest strategic leader we've seen. He can figure out the win conditions of any lineup regardless of whether he has a national or mixed team, a group of veterans, rookies, or a mix of the two. He can get the best out of almost any player he has and he is the best map veto strategist in the game. 

For me, this quarterfinals series against Gambit is what seals it for me that Karrigan is the greatest strategic leader in CS:GO. He understood Gambit's strengths as individually, tactically, and teamplay wise. As a mixed roster, he avoided using teamplay. Individually, he tried to make fights on even grounds where Twistzz or broky took on the bulk of the fair duels. But for FaZe to win, they needed to create a differential tactically. The only player that could do that was Karrigan and he put on one of the greatest tactical performances ever. 

This series will go down as a historical watershed moment for Karrigan's career. This was a canonization moment, an act of consecration where a player or team encapsulates and intensifies their greatness into a single moment. We all remember Janusz “Snax” Pogorzelski eating the big apple, Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev's falling AWP shot, the dying roar of an era as SK and Virtus.Pro battled each other at the EPICENTER Finals.

For me, this is part of Karrigan's canon. A series that captures the epitome and essence of Karrigan’s greatness. One that adds to his candidacy.

As for who will end up being the GOAT, only history can decide. But I can tell you this: there are only two names in the arena, gla1ve and karrigan. 


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