stuchiu: The Difference between Prime FalleN and s1mple/ZywOo
In February 2020, Peter “dupreeh” Rasmuseen did an interview with GGRecon. In the interview he told Teatime, “I don’t really mind that [going against s1mple or ZywOo]. I have played against FalleN, in his prime, it was worse.” It was a surprising statement as many consider Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev potentially the greatest CS:GO player ever if he isn’t already. What’s more, Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut looks like the prodigy that could challenge him for the throne. So what is the difference between Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo back then compared to s1mple and ZywOo now? What made him so difficult to play against?
The eye test
It is a question that cannot be easily deciphered. If you use the eye test, both s1mple and ZywOo are better AWPers. An AWPer’s individual abilities can be parceled into a few aspects: utility, pistols, and AWPing mechanics. In this aspect FalleN is probably the best as his flash utility is often more impactful than the other two. Outside of that, s1mple and ZywOo are leaps and bounds ahead of FalleN. S1mple has often won rounds off his deagle alone and ZywOo has fantastic pistol play himself. AWPing mechanics is a harder category to define, but the general efficacy of any AWPer should be judged by how likely they are to get the frag. AWPers generally need to get the consistent kill on the easy shots and have the ceiling to get off the harder shots. While prime FalleN is good, he doesn’t measure to the level of consistency that either s1mple or ZywOo have right now.
Even with all that said, I can understand where dupreeh is coming from when he says that he thought playing against prime FalleN was worse. In terms of tactical impact and the informational advantage, FalleN was far ahead of s1mple or ZywOo relative to the field.
“I was creating things that people weren’t expecting. I was using angles that AWPer wouldn’t use.” - Fallen in a Reflections interview with Duncan “Thorin” Shields
That was the quote that FalleN used to explain why he believed he was a dominant AWPer in 2016. At the time, no other AWPer was playing quite like FalleN. The two most likely reasons why FalleN played differently was because he was the only AWPer who was also an in-game leader. This gave him a much stronger grasp of the tactical view of the map compared to his contemporaries. He was also playing aside Marcelo “Coldzera” David and the LG/SK squad tried to give Coldzera as much space as possible to win the round.
Space creation was one of the fundamental principles behind the LG/SK squad’s success in 2016-2017. In FalleN’s case that translated into a combat AWPer style that no one at the top level had experienced before. The best example I could find was LG’s match against Na`Vi at IEM Katowice 2016. On the CT-side of Overpass, FalleN often got the better of Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovacs because he was holding angles that GuardiaN didn’t seem to know existed. GuardiaN would peek out for info without calling for the correct utility to clear out a potential AWPer on the other side. As the Na`Vi team was a well-structured machine, it was likely that the team didn’t know that such an angle existed and FalleN got easy shots which he converted on.
Beyond that, FalleN used unorthodox tactics that created angles that riflers didn’t see coming. In the 15th round of the half, LG used a double AWP setup where Lincoln “fnx” Lau and Coldzera pushed aggressively into water with Coldzera on the AWP. At the same time, FalleN pushed out of monster and towards the T-spawn. Once fnx and Coldzera vacated the area, FalleN rotated back to sewers and completely caught the rotating Na`Vi off guard. Na`Vi could have expected an AWP from short, but likely never considered sewers a possibility.
In the 29th round, FalleN took the B for the T-side default. Denis “seized” Kostin eventually pushed out and when he did, he used a wide swing as he probably expected a rifler. Instead the swing made it easy pickings for FalleN. In the first round of overtime, FalleN rushed short and took an angle for the pit. Egor “flamie” Vasilev was looking for info towards monster and never considered that there was an AWPer near short and got killed.
Plays like these were emblematic of the kind of AWPing that FalleN did in his prime. He consistently caught his opponents off guard with unorthodox and close angles that they had never considered.
What’s more, these angles were often well thought out. When FalleN went for these close angle duels, he often had backup or used his smoke to either ambush a player or change an angle from an aggressive one-and-done to a transitional defense point.
We see the first happen in the match against G2 on Dust2 at ESL Proleague Season 3 Finals. In the ninth round of the match, LG need to get some information on the map so FalleN smokes off B-tunnels. Before the smoke plumes, he pushes ahead of it. Cedric “RpK” Guipouy likely heard the smoke go off and assumed that LG had closed off the site and didn’t expect FalleN to pust past.
For FalleN’s part, he instantly figured out that if no player was already holding the area, the likelihood of a T-player trying to clear out the tunnels from t-spawn was low. So he instead held an angle for lower tunnels and when RpK came up, he got the kill.
An example of FalleN using a smoke to create a transitional defense point can be found in the SK vs VP match at EPICENTER 2016. In that match FalleN pushed towards the exit of ivy. This is usually a one-and-done spot, but he then used his smoke near server before taking a peek. By doing this he created a getaway point where he could get a pick and then skip away before they could refrag him.
Teamplays, Tactical setups and reads
That style combined with FalleN’s general role in the squad made it a potent mix. In 2016, FalleN was the player who often made the aggressive plays. On the T-side, he’d aggressively look for picks to take map control while on the CT-side he used a fast rotational style to try for a pick from one area, then rotate to another to get a second shot at the enemy forces.
It is at this point in the story that fnx comes into the story. When people talk about FalleN’s prime, it usually references the 2016 period when fnx was in the team. While FalleN was a good player in 2017, he was no longer the aggressive star player on the team, Fernando “fer” Alvarenga was. This is not a coincidence as fnx was central to enabling FalleN to play this aggressive style as he had seamless teamplay with FalleN on the server and this gave FalleN the freedom he needed to make his AWP style work at the time.
A prime example of this is the ninth round from the LG vs Na`Vi game at IEM Katowice. Fnx and FalleN started with a 2 man setup at long where FalleN went for an early pick. He then dropped a decoy and left fnx alone while he rotated back to CT-spawn and down mid to get a pick from a different angle. Fnx played to stall and this gave FalleN enough time to completely catch seized off guard.
A third example of this teamplay comes from the Cloud9 vs SK Finals at EPL 4 Finals. On Overpass in the 25th round, Cloud9 did a hit on the A-site. FalleN was the only player on the site, but his teammates continued to stagger and throw their utility in almost perfect synchronization to FalleN’s awp peeks. FalleN missed his initial peek against Timothy “autimatic” Ta who came from long, but he was blinded from a flash which gave FalleN the time to reload. At the same time fnx used his smoke and molly to buy space and time for FalleN as the players coming from that angle couldn’t rush him down so once FalleN killed autimatic, he turned and killed the rest of the Cloud9 players.
In general, that SK-side had brilliant teamplay. On Train for instance, SK liked to use a three man crossfire on the outersite where they had one player at the old bomb train, FalleN next to the bomb train, and a third player at popdog. This setup relied on their comms and teamplay as they had to take advantage of the enemy’s attention to create blindspots for FalleN or one of the other players to take advantage of. You can see this crossfire in action at EPICENTER against both G2 and Virtus.Pro.
SK’s brilliant teamplay aside, what really set him apart was his tactical understanding of the half and rounds. When LG played against G2 at EPL 3 Finals, FalleN made aggressive moves that took advantage of the default that G2 decided to use in the round. In the ninth round, G2 decided to take mid and then take B-tunnels and that was when FalleN for an aggressive pick in that area. In the following round, G2 took three players into the tunnels and this time around he and fer made a fast play down short and caught killed the isolated G2 players off guard.
FalleN also understood the exact moments of when he needed to cause as much disruption as possible. SK played Virtus.Pro at EPICENTER 2016 on Train. In the fourth round of the game, Virtus.Pro tried to take ivy control with two players. It was a standard early-round timing. FalleN used his smoke to cancel their molly and instead of backing up to a safer angle, he played the upclose angle. This nullified the flashes that Virtus.Pro tried to use to get him to back away and he continued to push into them and got a kill as Janusz “Snax” Pogorzelski was throwing utility and didn’t have his AWP out to hold the angle.
The final pattern I noticed when rewatching old FalleN vods was that he had a very strong read on where the luker was in any given situation. In the 19th round of the Cloud9 game on Overpass, he held toilets for the entire round and killed Jake “Stewie2K” Yip when he was caught lurking there. The team read that it was a B-hit and easily defended. Another example was in the LG vs G2 game at EPL 3 Finals on Dust2. In the 11th round, FalleN instantly knew that Richard “shox” Papillon was going to go for the lurk in the postplant and held the angle for him.
A Retrospective on Peak FalleN
When I look back on FalleN’s peak as an AWPer, it wasn’t mechanical skill that made FalleN outstanding. It was the informational advantage he had against the other teams both as an individual player and as an AWPer within the context of his team. He isn’t like a 2014 Kenny “kennyS” Schrub or a 2015 GuardiaN where if you could transplate those versions into the modern day and update their CS:GO knowledge they could rock the world.
While FalleN was probably a better mechanical player back then, that wasn’t what made him special. FalleN’s advantage came from the informational advantage he had against the other teams both in the macro and micro scale. In the 2016-2017 period, he probably had the strongest understanding of what it meant to be a tactical AWPer. He was someone who took smart angles and who tried to deconstruct the enemy setups. It comes as no surprise then that when that informational advantage dissipated, the distance between FalleN and the others closed and he was eventually surpassed. Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz for instance was a devoted student of FalleN’s AWP and in 2017 tweeted
Dev1ce eventually surpassed him with his eternal game at the PGL Krakow Major. On Overpass, dev1ce knew where FalleN was going before FalleN did and outclassed FalleN not with mechanics, but his knowledge. It wasn’t just dev1ce as AWPers all around the world started to close the informational gap. FalleN himself believes that this was his downfall as he told Thorin, “After playing for two years on the top level. People are watching me a lot. Nowadays, every time I come up with something, it doesn’t last long...a different angle or different timing on the T-side.”
So when dupreeh says that prime FalleN was harder to play against than s1mple and ZywOo, I believe him. S1mple and zywOo will likely go down as two of the greatest players in CS:GO history, both will be on the shortlist for the greatest ever, but neither dominated the same way that FalleN did. FalleN didn’t win through a large disparity in individual skill. He won through the knowledge. When we look back on his, FalleN created the biggest information disparity of any AWPer had between himself and his competition.
Images via ESL.