With OpTic Gaming having won ELEAGUE Season 2, upsetting many notable teams along the way, is the gap between North American and European professional Counter-Strike slowly diminishing? Or are the North American teams simply peaking at the right times while their European counterparts are under-performing, causing this to seemingly be the case? By exploring this with a critical approach, our intention is to hopefully shed some light on the subject.
Roster changes playing a big role
One interesting theory is that teams are finally realizing the roster changes that were necessary in order to progress. The entrances of autimatic on Cloud 9 and tarik on OpTic Gaming seem to have benefited both teams vastly, introducing key aspects in which each team was lacking prior. On TSM, Tim wasn’t surrounded by the right players or put in the right role to be at his best and he went pretty well unnoticed by most. With Cloud 9, Tim is able to utilize his intelligence and poise because he has been placed in a role where he is most likely to succeed alongside players that compliment him. Although we are contrasting two different players in terms of role, Tim brought aspects to Cloud 9 that appeared lackluster in slemmy. In the end, slemmy’s calling style wasn’t a good fit with the team so he decided to step down.
A demo review of autimatic from the ESL Pro League Grand Final by Joshua ‘Steel’ Nissan explains and gives examples of how Tim is well utilized within Cloud 9, allowing him to be the impact player he is now known as. Tim’s CT side often consists of playing informational positions and playing safe passive angles that allow him to spot information and stay alive long enough for his teammates to get into the right position to help him secure round wins.
With the introduction of the tarik, OpTic Gaming seem to have found a piece of the puzzle that they have been missing since their inception in the Counter-Strike scene. Tarik had originally replaced stanislaw, but soon the team decided to bring back stanislaw because brought IGL aspects that daps unfortunately was unable to bring to the table. Stanislaw was able to showcase an effective style of in-game leadership as well as fragging power that daps seemed to lack. It is similar to the slemmy situation where he just wasn’t the right fit. Tarik’s outstanding aim and fragging ability compliments mixwell as a designated AWPing superstar, and allows for RUSH and NAF FLY to play their more comfortable supporting roles when their stars are performing. However, as pointed out by Thorin in his most recent ‘Thorin’s Thoughts’ video, tarik and mixwell were not the standout stars in OpTic’s championship run during the ELEAGUE Season 2 playoffs. Thorin suggests that the two usual stars of the team, mixwell and tarik, were carried by RUSH during their entire playoff run and “hard-carried” by NAF FLY during the final map of Overpass. I don’t entirely agree with this point, in that I don’t think tarik and mixwell under-performed, rather RUSH and NAF were able to step up their game and drive to win under pressure. Given their recent experience taking part in a less notable Grand Final at Northern Arena Montreal, mostly due to the difference in prize money as opposed to ELEAGUE, they were already poised with a similar situation in which they came out on top. By not thinking about the differences and solely focusing on winning, they were able to best Astralis, the sure favourite to win the final.
It wouldn’t be fair to say that the winning team of such a major tournament was “carried” by just one or two players. One wouldn’t say that Ninjas in Pyjamas’ win at IEM Oakland was the result of a “carry” by a sole player or two. No. The entire roster was given credit where it was due. With the logic that a single player would be able to “carry” a team to a championship in such a team-oriented game, we would probably be seeing Na’Vi winning more championships with s1mple doing all the heavy lifting. The entire OpTic roster including their heavily underrated in-game leader, stanislaw, put in the work necessary to win and showed that they are able to implement a solid Counter-Strike system that works.
Will this success continue for OpTic going forward?
Whether or not this success will continue for OpTic is something that the previously mentioned Thorin video touches upon as well, however, he is still not completely convinced that this is something OpTic can accomplish consistently.
Understandably, as ‘the esports historian’, Thorin will constantly relate to things that have happened in the past or have been fact for long periods of time. In other words, he will compare and contrast with the history of esports. In this particular video, he compares Cloud 9’s style of play to G2 Esports and explains that they are mainly skill-oriented teams that often don’t fall back on structured Counter-Strike like OpTic has shown to have a handle on. He explains that the difference between watching teams like OpTic versus teams like Cloud 9 or G2 is that with OpTic, even when they lose, the intentions of tactical plays that have the potential to work make for interesting Counter-Strike to watch nonetheless. He contrasts by explaining that when teams like Cloud 9 or G2 are just off their game, they have no real contingency plan. More often than not, this leads to a boring one-sided game in favour of their opposition. He finishes by explaining that when players like mixwell, tarik, and RUSH are able to show their top tier talent whilst playing stanislaw’s structured game, then it is truly spectacular to watch.
In regards to OpTic Gaming, it is evident that their recent form has shown that their roster change has made an impact, their teamwork and structure is rising to levels of perhaps NIP or SK, and they could quite possibly carry these aspects forward in order to progress to a handful of authority top 10 team lists sometime soon. It is certainly clear that OpTic know how to handle being in championship series situations given that they have won two tournaments in the past month sitting in the underdog position, if you are to include Northern Arena Montreal where they bested G2 Esports. Their poise and ability to drain out the pressure was easy to see just by looking at their faces, specifically, NAF’s extremely composed facial expressions while having a godlike performance on the biggest stage he’s ever been on with the pressure of $400,000 on his mind. I look forward to seeing them bringing even better play than that of which they showcased during ELEAGUE Season 2 on a more consistent basis in the future.
The potential of Cloud 9
Now as much as I agree with Thorin about where OpTic currently stand and where they have the potential to go, I do not agree with his thoughts on Cloud 9. I will say that he is correct in that they are a highly skill-based team with their most impactful players currently being Stewie2K and autimatic, but to say that is all they have isn’t quite where I stand. Sure, they may not have these exciting and innovative T takes and executes that OpTic has shown, but they have been running a solid CT system that works quite similarly to the rock-solid defense of SK Gaming. They are able to adjust from passive to aggressive to throw off their opposition and you will seldom see a situation where trading potential is lacking. The growth that they have made in the past year is not something that has gone unnoticed and should not be underestimated. One thing is certain, Cloud 9 has proven that they are able to beat some of the best teams in the world and rather, quite convincingly. With this in mind, we at least have to entertain the fact that they will always be a contender to win a big tournament regardless of the other top tier teams competing. Thorin himself, in the same video about OpTic, says that he still thinks Cloud 9 holds the number one North American spot. So regardless of what kind of Counter-Strike they are playing, if they are doing well at events and even winning here or there against big teams, then it doesn’t really matter. With persistent work and drive to win, they will be able to keep improving as a team and produce more consistent results.
For those that are interested in thoughts about a Cloud 9 roster change, I don’t think it would be feasible for them to do so at this time. You have to acknowledge that since they brought in autimatic, things have looked better. Regardless of recent lackluster performances by shroud and Skadoodle, this team looks to be taking the Virtus Pro route and working out their kinks while staying a united squad. Look for Cloud 9 to be deepening their map pool in 2017 and developing new T strategies on the maps they are currently comfortable on.
Did Astralis underestimate OpTic Gaming?
There has been a lot of talk about Astralis going into the ELEAGUE Season 2 Finals cocky and half-ready, picking into OpTic’s two comfortable maps Train and Cobble right off the bat. Was this a mistake by Astralis? Yes, it was. It was indeed them overlooking the fact that OpTic managed to battle their way into the finals through the likes of mousesports and FaZe Clan, two worthy adversaries for Astralis in regional competitive play. What I can’t seem to understand is why they would go ahead and hinder themselves going into such a high-stakes final. The most basic rule of competition is to never underestimate your opponent, and yet, they managed to do just that. I’m not going to go as far as to say that they didn’t prepare for OpTic because I’m hopeful they did. I would hope they at least watched OpTic’s previous matches against mousesports, if not, at least the semi-final versus FaZe. Only a handful of people would know the truth behind this mind you, but it is safe to assume that a professional team of this caliber would prepare to this extent at the very least, regardless of their opponent. With $400,000 on the line, it would only seem logical to go into the final with the best possible chance of coming out victorious. Their map choices, however, seem to have proven otherwise. Perhaps they felt that confident enough in their own abilities, sure, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. But in retrospect, they lost, and will now be held accountable for their mistakes during the veto among other miscues during the actual matches.
From what I could conclude by looking at the differences between their games versus SK Gaming, the arguable best team in the world, and OpTic, they just weren’t on the same level. Against SK, they were level-headed, their body language displayed as intensely focused, and they were consistently hitting their shots. These aspects didn’t seem to be there against OpTic, as they were consistently missing shots, were losing focus, and had to rely on the odd sparks of excellence just to keep the final competitive. The reason for this is unknown, but if I were to speculate something it would have to be that they just underestimated OpTic because they are a North American team and for years now it was just fact that Europeans were provably better.
The Reasonable Conclusion
The one thing that will always be consistent within Counter-Strike is individual skill. The ability to click heads, spray down multiple enemies accurately, turn and click another head, movement, etc. It has been proven that these attributes are at a top tier level internationally. Yes. There will always be players that are able to show this skill more consistently, and that is what sets them apart and makes them great. However, at the end of the day, Counter-Strike is a team-oriented game and the things that are inconsistent lean more towards teams pushing their limits to be innovative and do things to counteract other teams strengths or take advantage of their weaknesses. The main point that I am trying to reach here is that by figuring out what is lacking and what needs improving, teams will be able to best others regardless of past events. This is something that a lot of teams are slowly figuring out, hence why we are starting to get a more sporadic list of teams winning big events recently.
In reference to history, NIP’s 87-0 record was a result of them being the only team that seemed to grasp this concept. If you look at their progression throughout this era, you will see that their games constantly changed in style. Throwing curveballs and changing strategies kept them one step ahead of their opponents at all times. This, paired with consistently good performances skill-wise, was why they went undefeated for so long.
While I do think North American Counter-Strike is making leaps in the right direction, they still do not have the quantity of teams that are at this level as Europe does. With the exception of Cloud 9 and OpTic gaming, there really isn’t any other team that has proven themselves. Liquid is on its way there, and maybe Zews as their new coach will help them get there. It will also be interesting to see what happens with the new TSM that is slowly being pieced together.
In regards to European teams, some teams performances may have been lacking lately, but given all the new rosters and changes that have happened in the last couple years, including the breaking of dynasties like fnatic into Godsent, you can’t really say that their Counter-Strike has gotten worse, they just need time to adjust to all the changes as well as the growth of the CSGO esports scene itself. The amount of games that are being played these days are getting ridiculous. While many players might say that they have no issue with playing more, this may actually have an effect on them, but this is an issue for another article.
It is fair to conclude that the gap is surely diminishing and sooner or later it will be less about NA versus EU and more about x-team versus x-team, because in the grand scheme of things, that is really what matters.