Stuchiu dives into the differences in online competition and what it takes to win in this new online age.
At the end of 2016, there was a period of 11 tournaments where we had 10 different champions. At the time we called it the parity era, but WallabeeBeatle pointed out that the label "Uncertainty Era" was a better term as we had no certainty of who was going to win any tournament at any time. In many ways, the transition to online CS parallels the uncertainty era. By contrasting the modern period with the uncertainty era, we can get a better grip of the differences in online competition and what it takes to win in this new online age.
Differences between Past and Present
There are some notable differences between the late 2016 period and now that we need to keep in mind. The most obvious is that teams were still playing on LAN, whereas we are now playing online. This changes the battleground. The ability to deal with travel or LAN pressure has largely disappeared in the online era. While there is still pressure in big title games (as we've seen with G2's capitulation in their finals against BIG), the pressure isn't quite as crushing as it was on LAN. Due to less travel and the costs of running tournaments going down, the calendar is over-saturated with games. Jarek "DeKay" Lewis wrote how CS:GO players have hit a level of exhaustion higher than ever before. A third effect of playing only online is that the teams are regionalized, so world rankings are largely useless when contrasting teams that play in NA or EU.
Similarities between Now and Then
While the differences are noteworthy and relevant, the similarities between results now and during the uncertainty era are quite striking. The online tournaments we've had so far are: EPL 11 NA/EU, Flashpoint Season 1, DH Masters Spring EU/NA, Road to Rio, and BLAST Premier EU/NA.
Here are the ensuing results split by region. In EU: Fnatic won EPL 11, Astralis won the Road to Rio, BIG won DreamHack Spring, and compLexity won BLAST. In NA: Liquid won EPL 11, Gen.G won the Road to Rio, FURIA won DreamHack, and EG won BLAST. Flashpoint was the only mixed event (as it had a LAN portion before things went online) and MAD Lions won.
The amount of title winners is striking as no one in EU or NA has won more than a single title. Another similarity to point out is that the best team during the uncertainty era of 2016 was SK. While SK was the number one team, they didn't win a single title during that period and retained that ranking due to their overall consistency. In a similar vein, G2 is the number one team right now, but have failed to win a title during this time span.
Causes of the Second Uncertainty Era
The results speak for themselves, we are in the second uncertainty era. There are multiple causes, but I think the biggest is the online factor. The increased schedule has minimized the importance of LAN experience, preparation, or tactics. Right now, the competitive scene is putting a higher premium on endurance and form on the day. A secondary knock-on effect of the pandemic is that teams are hurting for money, so it is harder for teams to justify roster changes. Even more so as teams won't get a LAN performance to figure out whether their problems are due to the online nature of the competition.
This secondary problem is similar to the uncertainty era of 2016 as all of the top teams (except Virtus.Pro who were notoriously hot and cold even at their best) were one or two-player shuffles away from getting a complete squad that looked good front to back. The only team that was complete was the Astralis squad, but they only started to hit their peak at the tail end of the uncertainty period.
Another thing to look at is the performance of the top squads. In 2016 that was SK and Virtus.Pro and right now it's G2 and Astralis. In the case of SK, they had internal problems as Lincoln "fnx" Lau had lost motivation. Virtus.Pro was on the rise, but they were always a rollercoaster of a team in terms of results. In the modern period, G2 is the number one team, but they've hit a few snags as well. While they are the most consistent team (with 2nd places at Road to Rio and DreamHack), they've also lost in the group stages of EPL 11 and quickly in the BLAST lower bracket. What's more, they may have potential pressure issues as they didn't play up to their average level in the finals against BIG at DreamHack.
The other team to look at is Astralis. While they aren't in the conversation, they were a team that I thought could become the best in the world, especially after winning Road to Rio. However, the org burned out their players and they've had to scramble to get stand-ins so that the players don't break under the strain.
A third example that might be worth looking at is FaZe. FaZe has been the most consistent team outside of G2 during this period. They got 3rd at BLAST, DreamHack, and the Road to Rio. In EPL 11, they got 5th. While they are probably the second most stable team in this online period, their losses show how fragile that stability is. They lost to coL and Vitality at BLAST, BIG at DreamHack, and G2 at Road to Rio. While none of those are easy opponents, their respective styles and strengths are so disparate that it's unlikely all of the teams exploited an inherent weakness in FaZe. Rather these losses point to the truth of this second uncertainty era. A team only needs one good run.
What it takes to win in the Uncertainty Era
The only commonality between all of the disparate winners is that they had a good run of form and a style that fit their players. BIG play a structured tactical style, but they needed their stars to show up. At DreamHack, their three primary stars were Johannes "tabseN" Wodarz, Florian "syrsoN" Rische, and Can "XANTARES" Dortkardes. In that event they had a 1.24, 1.21. and 1.1 HLTV ratings respectively. If you look at the compLexity's run, they also had crazy numbers, most notably Benjamin "blameF" Bremer who had a 1.27 rating at BLAST. CompLexity played a fast-paced brawl style where they got into the faces of their opponents and parlayed their individual skill into effective trading and plays on the T-side. On the CT-side, they used their individual skill early on to skimp out on early-round utility and this let them save an extra smoke or molly in the late-round to win out multiple CT-sides.
I focused on the BIG and coL runs as they were the biggest underdogs, but the same principle holds true for all of the different champions. Due to the oversaturation of games, online nature, and general exhaustion of the scene, the best way to win right now is to have a coherent style that fits your players and have one good run.
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Image via Adela Sznajder | ESL