What did we learn from EMS One?
What happened at EMS One Katowice last weekend and what can we learn from the four days of Counter-Strike action in Poland? Continue reading to find out.
Some things are just obvious when looking at the results, and others you have to dig a little deeper for. NiP losing another major event final to an underdog team? Something is up.
Titan once again failing at a major event, this time already in the group stage? Definitely worth looking into. Who is the best North American team? What made Virtus.pro win?
These are some of the things we will discuss in this article. Below are eight of the most important lessons we can walk away from EMS One Katowice with, as ranked by the HLTV.org staff.
The dust has settled - what did we learn?
8. compLexity are North America's best team
This one was never really in question... Except in the minds of some overly enthusiastic North American fans, following iBUYPOWER's ESEA Invite Season 15 global finals victory over coL and Titan. Now that the combined record of the Curse-based squads at events in Europe adds to 9-12th, 7-8th, 9-12th, 13-16th and 13-16th, while compLexity's is 5-8th, 3-4th and 5-8th (with a 4th place at Copenhagen Games, but with a largely different roster) I think it's time to put this conversation to rest.
Despite a solid performance in terms of fragging by in-game leader Sam "DaZeD" Marine, the rest of the team were not able to do their job, everyone falling short of achieving a measly 0.65 KPR or a positive K-D difference. Many had high hopes for iBUYPOWER after their ESEA finals performance and bootcamp in Poland before EMS One, but the North American team backed by Derrick "impulsivE" Truong's iBUYPOWER crashed and burned, losing two straight matches to dignitas and fnatic, the first with a devastating 1-14 first half.
On the other hand compLexity keep coming close, yet they can't win the series when it matters the most. compLexity can win single maps sometimes in group stage (VeryGames at DreamHack Winter) or single maps in best-of-three series against top teams (NiP at ESEA S14 finals, NiP at EMS One) but can't top the entire series. This has two explanations; one, compLexity can only win their best map out of the maps in play; they aren't strong enough to win two maps when top teams get to eliminate their weakest, or coL's strongest maps. Two, they break down mentally.
Regardless of once again coming up short and finishing just 5-8th in their second CS:GO major, compLexity have proven they are definitely one of the top 5-8 teams in the world, a field filled with other semi-contenders. What's bad for compLexity is they don't seem to be able to beat any teams above them in the rankings, only teams similar to their level (e.g. Astana Dragons at DreamHack Winter), while other teams (fnatic, Virtus.pro, etc.) have proven capable of upsetting the top dogs, depending on how they match-up as a team against that specific squad.
The team led by Sean "sgares" Gares should be proud of becoming one of the world's best teams, but something has to change for them to make the leap to a higher position in the rankings and to learn how to beat the absolute best. Only Braxton "swag" Pierce shined individually in Katowice, and the team was honest about their lack of practice leading up to the event. For compLexity to become a true fringe contender with a chance at the title, they will have to up their practice schedule, plan some bootcamps and continue taking on Europeans. Let's see if they can do that in 2014.
sgares & co are North America's finest
It's clear the currently Valve-accepted five map pool isn't optimal for competitive Counter-Strike at the highest level. Valve's de_train hardly ever gets played, and with both teams able to eliminate one map even in the playoffs the rotation of maps we get to see simply gets very repetitive. We should at least reconsider Salvatore "Volcano" Garozzo's de_train_ve, pending Valve's approval, if they can't improve the current version of the map. We need to also add de_cache, and probably a second map as well, à la de_season. Also, the map selection process itself needs to be adjusted to avoid seeing the same maps played over and over again.
A total of 37 maps were played at EMS One Katowice, 20 in the group stage and 17 in the playoffs. Most notably de_inferno was played SIXTEEN times, ELEVEN times in 20 group stage matches and in five of the seven playoff series. That's ridiculous. Both de_mirage and de_dust2 were played seven times total, de_nuke was played just four times and train a laughable three times, each the third and deciding map, meaning no one ever picked the poor map, it was simply left out to be played a couple of times.
At DreamHack Winter the total number of maps played was a round 40, with de_inferno once again dominant in popularity, being played even more than in Katowice; the same 11 times out of 20 in the group stage, and in every single playoff series. Only twice was it played as the deciding map, so it was also picked by far the most. In Jönköping de_dust2 was number two being played 9 times, and de_mirage third at 7 maps. Both de_nuke and de_train were played four times, though de_train was once again twice the third left over decider map in the playoffs.
It's understandable very potentially one-sided maps such as de_nuke and de_train will never be as popular in best-of-one deciders as somewhat equal maps such as de_inferno. That's because teams don't want to risk having one very rough terrorist half ruin their entire tournament. However, as we've seen with the playoffs of these tournaments, the problem isn't only in the group stages, teams simply do not enjoy playing de_train, and there is nothing in the system that stops them from doing so. Getting to eliminate two maps doesn't exactly encourage you to play the ones you don't like.
How do we go about fixing the problem then? I recommend going to a seven map pool, let's say the usual five with de_cache and de_season (or preferably de_tuscan, if it ever gets released). Then we must also change the map selection process to incentivize teams to practice more maps, and here's how we do it. Currently teams get to eliminate two maps each before picking their maps, and that's been the procedure for years. Instead, we should let them eliminate one map, so each team could focus on preparing for six maps, have them pick maps next, and only then eliminate the second map.
Now you might say teams wouldn't still play the new maps, but we've seen e.g. Titan (former VeryGames) play de_cache a number of times, and underdogs should, and most likely would practice the lesser played maps and try to force the top dogs to play them on them, giving them an advantage. That would lead to everyone having to practice the maps, and as such we would slowly get more maps actively played. It's a start, and we definitely need Valve to make more changes to de_train as well, as the map is practically unplayable (according to these statistics) right now, but it's at least time we recognize the problem. That's step one in fixing it.
Did we forget about de_train_ve too soon?
6. Why did Titan fail once again?
Not only have the French-Belgians now failed in two consecutive major events, this also makes their ESEA finals loss slightly more relevant. It's clear it was a fluke in terms of iBP winning, but it could have a place in the story of Titan's struggles. Perhaps there is an underlying problem in Titan's game, and oddly enough it has nothing to do with Adil "ScreaM" Benrlitom, who performed well in Katowice, and without whose top notch play Titan were able to win DreamHack Stockholm last month.
Titan have been very consistent since their tenure as VeryGames started at DreamHack Valencia in 2012. They have won every domestic tournament, and placed top four in nearly all of their international tournaments, with just DreamHack Bucharest and now EMS One Katowice seeing them finish outside of top four. It's also worth pointing out that the previous failure in Bucharest, if you wish to call it so, only happened because they had to face NiP in the quarter-finals due to fnatic having upset their fellow countrymen in their group.
Statistically both Richard "shox" Papillon, who must be considered one of the world's absolute best players, and Benrlitom played roughly at or above their usual level despite suffering two losses in three games. On the other hand, Dubourdeaux, whose game went off a cliff for the ESEA grand final, resulting in two devastating best-of-three series losses to a much weaker iBUYPOWER side, saw his rating go down a remarkable 0.19 in Katowice compared to his career average. In-game leader Kévin "Ex6TenZ" Droolans suffered the exact same drop (0.19), while Nathan "NBK" Schmitt's rating dropped even more, a total of 0.23.
Titan decided to put a lot of focus on preparing well for EMS One, as they felt it was exactly their lack of proper preparation due to events such as MSI Beat it! that led them to fall short against NiP at DreamHack Winter. They've been living together in a gaming house for a while now, and continue to do so after the event, so preparation wasn't what led to their downfall. Could it be the added pressure of having failed, by many accounts, at DreamHack, and their new organization? I doubt it, but it's possible it played a part.
Unfortunately Titan leave us with more questions than answers. It's even possible we're simply overanalyzing this; Virtus.pro were hotter than hot in their match-up, and HellRaisers have the potential due to their amazing skill ceiling to break down Titan's tactical play if their players catch fire at the right time, which Mihail "Dosia" Stolyarov certainly did. Nevertheless, Schmitt sounded hopeful about their future in his blog here on HLTV.org, and the future will tell whether Titan's fall was an anomaly, or simply a snippet of what's to come in the future due to some underlying problems in their team or gameplan.
Titan left us with more questions than answers
5. NEO and TaZ are the biggest winners across all Counter-Strike versions
Members of the Golden Five, which ceased to exist in 2010 when the team replaced Łukasz "LUq" Wnek with Jarosław "pasha" Jarząbkowski by the way, Filip "NEO" Kubski and Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas, are the biggest winners across Counter-Strike history. Not only are the two Poles known for coming through when it matters the most, they have now won the biggest tournaments in both Counter-Strike versions they have played, a whopping seven majors (WCG 2006, ESWC 2007, ESWC 2008, WCG 2009, WCG 2011, IEM VI World Championship, EMS One Katowice).
For those wondering, by my definition Extreme Masters' first season can not be considered a major, because only European teams could participate in it. Below is a full list of all the major tournaments Kubski and Wojtas have won together. Jarząbkowski was part of the latest three wins, others were completed with three other Poles; Wnek, Mariusz "Loord" Cybulski and Jakub "kuben" Gurczynski. We should also not forget about the huge number of other upper-tier tournaments Kubski and Wojtas have won, or about the top three placings they've achieved during their illustrous careers.
|Oct 2006||WCG, Monza||Pentagram||$60,000||NiP|
|Jul 2007||ESWC, Paris||Pentagram||$40,000||NoA|
|Aug 2008||ESWC, San Jose||MYM||$40,000||eSTRO|
|Nov 2009||WCG, Chengdu||AGAiN||$35,000||fnatic|
|Dec 2011||WCG, Busan||ESC||$25,000||SK Gaming|
|Mar 2012||IEM VI, Hannover||ESC||$50,000||Na`Vi|
|Mar 2014||EMS One, Katowice||Virtus.pro||$100,000||NiP|
They did it as the absolute stars in their teams in Counter-Strike 1.6, and although they were carried to a degree by the new younger stars of this current Virtus.pro roster, especially Kubski's role as the in-game leader shouldn't be belittled by anyone. They are true winners, which they've proven through their seven major wins, spanning a time window of nearly eight years. That's a ridiculously long time in the world of eSports.
What's more, they have successfully turned new players into winners once forced to make roster changes. First they adopted Jarząbkowski, who also won two other majors with them, and now both Janusz "snax" Pogorzelski and Paweł "byali" Bieliński. You definitely have to factor some sort of mentorship into their legacy; not only are most people not winners in the sense this duo is, most people also can't teach others those intangibles that help turn them into winners.
The final boss
4. Seeding standard must be upgraded
We finally got rid of round robin groups, great. Now it's time to tackle another problem; seedings, or lack fithereof. First of all this point isn't here because certain teams advancing while others dropped out in the group stage, but rather to try to increase the integrity of competition in Counter-Strike. For years groups were created using an objective seeding system that gave each of let's say sixteen participants a seed between 1-16. They were then placed in the groups according to those seeds, so for example seed one's group would have included seed eight, seed nine and seed sixteen.
Instead of proper seedings for a while now all we have seen are seeding pools. Seeding pools are a step up from nothing, but why would we stop there when we can get something so much more accurate? Seeding pools are why a group of death such as compLexity, LGB, Natus Vincere and Clan-Mystik was created. They are the reason why LDLC was able to advance with wins over 3DMAX and Vox Eminor, while Titan had to bow out after a 14-16 loss against HellRaisers, following a massacre by eventual champions Virtus.pro.
Seedings aren't perfect, but they sure as hell are better than seeding pools. While we're at it, we should also not give the top eight teams from the last major the top eight seedings in the next one. A lot of the time those teams make massive changes, teams who improved or didn't even exist at the last major become legit top eight teams, and the power relations between teams change. Similarly, there is no way the two invited teams from North America and Oceania (iBUYPOWER and Vox Eminor) should have been automatically granted better seedings than four teams who made it through the incredibly tough European qualifier.
This is an issue that probably warrants an entire article of its own, and maybe it will get one in the future. But event organizers must start questioning their own practices every now and then, as opposed to growing complacent with what they have. Complacency doesn't lead to progression, and progression is what we hope to achieve in the ever growing Counter-Strike community. Let's just hope the people behind these great tournaments are as serious about Counter-Strike as the top competitors who dedicate parts of their lives for the game.
This kind of seeding has to stop
3. CS:GO continues to grow
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is pretty huge. Not only did we hit a new record of 161,000 concurrent players during EMS One, we also devoured the DreamHack Winter viewer record of 146,000. A total of 237,000 people tuned in to the main stream during the grand final, with 7,000 more people viewing the Chinese stream and an estimated 7,000 people on-site rooting for Virtus.pro and NiP. Those numbers are massive, and hopefully will lead to other organizers, such as the Intel Extreme Masters, starting to take Counter-Strike more seriously.
It's obvious not your every tournament will gather these kind of numbers, and all the cool stuff Valve does within the game to draw people into spectating the matches helps a ton. However, if the game continues to grow, with the access some of the event organizers have to the CS:GO developers, it's not unthinkable they might soon start helping out some medium sized tournaments as well. Even average online matches casted by Anders Blume often hit 10,000 viewers on week nights, and simply from looking at HLTV.org page statistics we can tell you CS:GO is getting really big.
Now where do we go from here? Well, there are some things that can be done in terms of marketing and the continuous sales for the game, which could be bought for as little as 1,99€, but also continuing to find upgrades for the GUI, the ways to spectate games, and making the kind of changes that keep drawing more and more people into the game will also play a major part. Overall the crew behind CS:GO is doing a very good job, which included talking to lots of players in Katowice and getting feedback for future updates. Hopefully the developers won't get complacent anytime soon.
Who thought two years ago we'd be here now?
2. NiP struggle in major finals
As consistent as they've been, and that's the most consistent of anyone in the world by the way, never placing below top four in their CS:GO career, NiP have struggled in the major finals. The only player with a positive K-D difference in their two losses against fnatic and Virtus.pro, both matches where they were heavy favorites going in, is Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg, while everyone else has ranged from average to downright terrible. A lot of focus will be on Robin "Fifflaren" Johansson's 9/44 and 0.28 rating performance in EMS One grand final, and deservedly so, but a couple of extra frags from him probably wouldn't have gotten NiP the W. Not without another member stepping up.
That someone is of course Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund, the world's premier Counter-Strike: Global Offensive player. Alesund, whose career averages are 0.88 KPR, 0.55 DPR and a rating of 1.35 for a K-D difference of +2976, hasn't been himself in the two major finals. Against fnatic he finished 49/47 for +2, 0.7 KPR and 0.67 DPR, good for a rating of 1.03, while this past weekend versus Virtus.pro his numbers plummeted to 28/42 for -14, 0.55 KPR, 0.82 DPR and a rating of 0.73. NiP has never lost a tournament when Alesund's rating was 1.33 or above for the tournament. In Katowice it was above that prior to the final, but his poor showing took him down just under that, and under his usual level of play of 1.35.
What is also worth pointing out is that NiP were indeed fairly heavy favorites in both major grand finals they've lost. Something interesting note is that Alesund and Lindberg have lost three major finals against Wojtas and Kubski (WCG 2009 with fnatic, WCG 2011 with SK, and now EMS One Katowice with NiP), and were actually favorites going into each and every one of them. Regardless, normally NiP thrive situations where they are favorites, as they are able to front run their way to championships, but for some reason they haven't been able to play at their usual level at the majors. At the end of the day NiP are a skill reliant team, and when their superstars underperform they are bound to hit heavy waters and struggle to stay afloat.
It's also not for sure that Johansson becoming the new in-game leader of the team worked out well. Granted he had a very solid tournament individually leading up the final, and NiP looked very strong until then, but it's still too early to say whether giving him the nod over former leader Richard "Xizt" Landström was the right idea. Either way, neither team led their squad to a title in their major final as the strat caller, so the blame isn't for Johansson on this one, as it wasn't on Landström for DreamHack. Still has to be said that NiP as a whole did a very poor job with map selection in Katowice against Virtus.pro.
The tweet above is the best thing to come out of this loss. I have often wished top players like Lindberg weren't as mellow but rather more fierce as competitors and would show some attitude towards their opponents, the ones standing between themselves and the oversized $100,000 checks and massive trophies. Although the tweet begs the question whether it was for real or if Lindberg was trying to play a part, it's still a step in the right direction in my opinion, because ultimately feeling the way Lindberg does should motivate him to go that extra mile, as Virtus.pro had done before Katowice, to help them win the next major. It's harder to play against your friends than people you dislike, and while the the latter isn't often an option in a scene as small as the top level of Counter-Strike, being able to put the friendship aside already helps.
So where does this leave NiP? Oddly enough, they sort of win the number one place in the world rankings by forfeit. You can't say Titan, who have placed 3-4th at DreamHack Winter, 2nd at ESEA, 1st at DreamHack Stockholm and 9-12th at EMS One are ahead of them. Virtus.pro and fnatic certainly aren't. They might not be the true champions, but by their consistency NiP fans will be happy to know their team is the best in the world, as we look at the field in mid-March 2014. This could change in the future, and a potential roster change in NiP would certainly mix things up, but for now the Swedes are back on top, at least temporarily.
What led to NiP leaving Katowice disappointed?
Although Jarosław "pasha" Jarząbkowski was probably the Most Valuable Player of EMS One Katowice, I would argue that both Paweł "byali" Bieliński and Janusz "snax" Pogorzelski were neck and neck with him for the imaginary title. Both played far above their usual level of play, and what's going to be interesting going into the future is to see whether they can uphold that level of play, or if they might come back down to Earth in the upcoming tournaments. Regardless, we've seen that both of them can do things not many CS:GO players are capable of doing, and they did it for four days straight.
As Duncan "Thorin" Shields tweeted, any Polish Counter-Strike fan would have gone nuts if you told them four years ago that in 2014 two currently unknown Polish players will be carrying Kubski and Wojtas to their first CS:GO major. Yet for the most part, that is exactly what happened. Jarząbkowski might have gotten the most kills, but Bieliński had a number of great rounds, finished the tournament with an incredible 1.31 rating (and the grand final with 1.42) and improved his level of play by a lot more from his usual standard of 1.08 in numerical terms.
Pogorzelski on the other hand came in as a 1.08 rating player, but finished EMS One at 1.20 for the tournament, and the grand final as the clear number one player on the champions with an astonishing 1.60 rating. The two youngsters had breakout performances the like of which we haven't seen in a long time, maybe ever in CS:GO. The fact they played in a smart team with two great mentors in Filip "NEO" Kubski and Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas suggests they will likely be able to hold onto that improvement and not let it slip away only makes it more interesting looking into the future.
Can Virtus.pro start winning more tournaments now with this newly acquired confidence? What if Wojtas also starts playing better? These are all questions we will only get answers to with more time, and Copenhagen Games' BYOC setting is likely the worst possible one for Virtus.pro next month. However, what we do know now, is that these two young Poles have done something really remarkable in the biggest stage of Counter-Strike's history, and their development will continue to be something to look forward to in the future.
byali will be signing a lot more of these in the future
These are the eight main lessons we learned from 2014's first major, EMS One Katowice. What do you think about them? Let us know in the comments below.