5 things we learned about CS:GO from IEM Oakland

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The CS:GO competitors at IEM Oakland (IEM)
The CS:GO competitors at IEM Oakland (IEM)

By Tomi “lurppis” Kovanen

The $300,000 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament at IEM Oakland was filled with drama and some impressive performances. Here are five takeaways.

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There is no clear pecking order in the upper echelon of CS:GO

The previous seven offline CS:GO tournaments were won by seven different teams, a fact that, while overblown by fans and community figures, indicates there is no definitive pecking order at the top of Counter-Strike.

However, that does not mean we are in some ultra-competitive new meta where there will no longer be any clear world number ones. Instead, I offer an entirely different explanation to why this is happening.

All year long teams and players have been attending more tournaments than they should. Staying home for some – as Virtus.pro have recently done, declining a last minute ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals spot and withdrawing from IEM Oakland – is simply good business, as it allows you to decompress and debrief after tournaments and actually start fixing your mistakes in order to improve as a team. In 2016 there has been little time for that, but it is about to change, again.

ELEAGUE will finish in about ten days’ time, and aside from the major qualifier in mid-December (and ECS Season 2 Finals a week before), there will be no other big events in 2016. Then teams will have over a month to start fresh and put in work to improve. I for one believe the ELEAGUE major in January will be the best event in a long time, and teams will look almost new by then. It has been a demanding year for everyone, but 2017 will kick off in the best possible way. And, we’ll again find out who’s who in CS:GO.

Ninjas in Pyjamas at IEM Oakland (IEM)
Ninjas in Pyjamas at IEM Oakland (IEM)

NiP still have magic

Do you believe in magic? The Ninja squad of Patrik “f0rest” Lindberg — HLTV.org’s MVP for IEM — and Christopher “GeT_RiGhT” Alesund did it again. Their cumulative round score at IEM Oakland was only 171-163 (+8), despite winning 9 of 13 maps they played.

What’s more, they won five of those games with a score of 16-13 or closer, while putting up mere single digit rounds in each of their four losses. They almost cut it as close as at ESL One Cologne 2014, where they won a major despite losing more rounds than they won. NiP’s record in close games, at least in Oakland, is something to admire. It takes real character (and a hint of luck) to nab so many narrow victories.

Furthermore, in the group stage NiP dropped Overpass against FaZe and Cobblestone versus SK Gaming, only to win the same maps in the playoffs. Call it randomness or give them credit for adjusting, but the results speak for themselves. Some expected NiP to finally drop off following the loss of their Legends status at ESL One Cologne in July, but despite pyth’s injury they still keep not only fighting for titles, but winning them. In three grand finals of +$250K events in 2016, NiP have been victorious three times, and both Oakland and DreamHack Masters Malmo featured a comeback from a 12-14 deficit on defense on Cobblestone to win it all.

They will likely never see another 87-0 record, and might never win another major. But they are one of the all-time great teams, and continue proving to us they can still periodically get some big wins over the world’s best teams.


Even large round robin results must be taken with a grain of salt

While big round robin groups are incredibly fun to follow thanks to nonstop action on two streams for a couple of days during the group stage (players like them, too), they’re also more random due to matches being played in best-of-one and teams being affected by lack of preparation for each specific opponent. This is not necessarily criticism on the format, but rather a point on how to interpret such results in analysis.

In the NBA, certain play styles wreak havoc in the regular season, but tend to get stopped in the playoffs when teams have a week or two to focus on watching film specifically for that team. Likewise, in CS:GO you cannot deep-dive prepare for each opponent in a six-team group. You will for each playoff series – especially with a schedule as lax as that of IEM Oakland’s.

Finally, in series vetoes each team gets to play their second-best map at worst, whereas group stage games often end up in neutral maps, assuming similar-sized pools. Credit where credit is due — wins are wins — but assessing a team’s ability based on results in the group stage isn’t particularly helpful.

Astralis at IEM Oakland (IEM)
Astralis at IEM Oakland (IEM)

Both Astralis and FaZe surge after mutually beneficial trades

Astralis benched their in-game leader of nearly two years, Finn “karrigan” Andersen, who shortly after was picked up by FaZe. Meanwhile, the Danish side recruited Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander – who stood-in for Astralis at ESL One Cologne this past summer – to become the team’s new in-game leader.

We have now seen both teams at two tournaments with the new rosters, and it’s safe to say that both benefitted from their roster changes. Astralis made their first top four at a +$250,000 tournament since early April, and FaZe have now made the playoffs multiple times after missing out on them for the first ten months or so of 2016.

Some were quick to criticize Astralis for losing yet another semifinal to SK Gaming, and their veto tactic was arguably questionable. But they have had less than a month with gla1ve, and have already taken down SK, Na`Vi, Liquid, IMT and TyLoo, while so far only losing to G2 and SK. That is an impressive resume, and the team’s third-wheel, Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen, was quick to point out Astralis are happy with the results. Look for the Danes to continue improving, and don’t be surprised if you see them regularly competing for titles after what feels like an eternity of disappointments.

Playing SK on Train meets at least one definition of insanity

If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, it is officially insane to test SK Gaming on Train.

In 2016, SK (formerly known as Luminosity) boast a 25-2 record on the map, with losses against Na`Vi (at DreamHack Open Leipzig, in January) and G2 (at ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals, in May) as the only outliers. Among the 25 victories are 14 single-digit wins, i.e. when their opponents won fewer than ten rounds, and a total of 16 games against top ten or so teams.

More impressively, in their last ten offline games on Train – all of them after Fernando “fer” Alvarenga returned from his surgery – SK boast a ridiculous 91-20 round score as counter-terrorists. That record includes two games versus Virtus.pro, G2 and Na`Vi, as well as games versus Astralis, NiP and Fnatic. How much tougher can it get? The win-rate of 82.0% puts them in historical territory, averaging 12.3 rounds on defense despite the random nature of pistol rounds, which has led to 0-5 and 0-4 starts, as well as a total of three pistol round losses in that sample. If challenging that is not the Counter-Strike equivalent of insanity, what is?

Five more takeaways

Semifinals curse lives on
Duncan “Thorin” Shields wrote a column on the curse of skipping directly to the semifinals, and once more we saw Astralis and FaZe top their respective groups only to falter against a team that had gone through the round of six. There could be something to Thorin’s points.

Cloud9’s honeymoon could be over:
Following the addition of Timothy “autimatic” Ta, Cloud9 made the top four at every tournament they attended. But now the streak is over, having gone out in groups after 17-19 and 14-16 defeats at the hands of FaZe and NiP. As I suggested in my column prior to IEM Oakland, it could be time for some growing pains.

TyLoo’s 0-5 isn’t a weak result:
It might be easy to overlook the Chinese team’s winless showing, especially given their weak play at iBUYPOWER Masters last week. But despite the issues I pointed out in a previous column, they had 17-19 and 14-16 losses versus Immortals and Na`Vi that could have changed everything. Consider it progress, and keep an eye on TyLoo going forward.

Na`Vi need some serious work before the major:
Na`Vi’s issues boil down to two things: leadership and the map pool. Fixing the first can fix the second, and Valve could actually inadvertently do some of the work for them. I wrote an in-depth analysis of Na`Vi after they were knocked out in the group stage of IEM Oakland.

Nuke is finally getting adapted:
In my key story lines article ahead of the event, I mentioned Nuke was picking up steam at Northern Arena the previous weekend. That trend continued in California, where Nuke was the map in 7/43 (16.3%) of all matches, not much above the average of 1/7 but far above recent months.

You can reach Tomi on Twitter @lurppis_

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