Meta changes: post-pistol economy, AUG & SG
Valve's latest major gameplay update from October 9 has caused parts of the metagame to change. As the year is about to come to an end, we take a look at how the trends have begun to shift when it comes to post-pistol economy and diversity of weapon usage.
Our first "Meta changes" article, released in February 2017, discussed the then-rising popularity of the UMP-45 as a cheap alternative to the main rifles, which was a result of a more natural shift of the metagame as teams realized the strengths of the SMG over time.
This time, we will analyze a different form of a meta change, an artificial one initiated by the developers, Valve. Their October 9 gameplay update pushed the post-pistol round loss bonus one round further, which means it now begins at $1,900 after the pistol round and rises to the $3,400 maximum at a 0-4 start to the half.
It also reduced the price of the defensive AUG to $3,150 and of its Terrorist-sided counterpart, SG553, to $2,750, which makes the two weapons only $50 more expensive than the more established rifles, the AK-47 and both the M4A4 and M4A1-s.
The same update also revised the Tec-9 and the CZ-75, although the effects of that have been somewhat negligible compared to the aforementioned adjustments, so we will leave that for another time if ever the usage of the two pistols, or others in response, shifts in a significant manner.
With the changes, Valve aimed to, first of all, "reduce the impact of a pistol round win on subsequent rounds", and secondly to make the two scoped rifles more appealing so that the usage of weapons diversifies even more.
So, have the developers achieved what they had aspired to?
The new economy is making its mark
In theory, the changes put in place were always going to work as intended. $500 extra per round after the pistol loss gives teams exactly what's needed to be able to buy up one round earlier than before and start the gun rounds earlier, or the option to save up so that they can buy even more in the same round as before and give themselves a better chance of winning the first gun round thanks to having full weaponry and utility.
The result of this is that it has become the standard to eco fully after losing the pistol round — especially as CT and without a bomb plant as Terrorists — to buy up with $4,300 plus kill bonuses in the third round, which equals the same amount as when teams forcebought with pistols in the second round and bought up in the fourth pre-changes. But that also means that teams have just as limited weaponry, particularly on the more expensive CT side, in the third round as they had in the fourth after a second-round forcebuy before changes. Most teams have come to terms with that, while others wait for a complete buy in the fourth round after a double-halfbuy, predominantly on Inferno, where utility is key.
You can see what this has done to the numbers in the graphic below, in which we analyzed data from matches played at big events between ESL One Cologne (early July) and ESL One New York (late September) for a pre-update sample, and from EPICENTER (late October) to BLAST Pro Series Lisbon (mid December) post-update. There has been a significant increase in the second-round conversion success, more so on the Terrorist side, but also a decrease in converting a pistol round win into 3-0 and 5-0 starts to the half, more prominently on the CT side.
Then there are teams who appear to be unfazed by the changes and forcebuy in the second round most of the time, especially with a bomb plant on the back of it. In that case, the T side receives a $2,700 base income in the second round versus $3,500 that the CTs get for winning the round by defusing the bomb. And with a few kills on top, the relatively small difference of income and chances of winning the round between the two sides makes forcebuying in the second round tempting. Natus Vincere are perhaps the best example of a team who thinks this way, as you often see them throw a couple of AKs when such an opportunity arises and they generally like to forcebuy in the second round under other circumstances, as well.
"For us, the new economy didn't change things a lot because we usually do a forcebuy in the second round and almost every other team is doing an eco to buy in the third round. But we like to play with force buys, we get more nades because of the additional money and that's nice, we can buy a Deagle with nades instead of just the Deagle," Egor "flamie" Vasilyev said in our interview with him at EPICENTER, the first big event with the economy changes in place.
This is also part of the reason why second-round conversion on the defense has not improved by as much as it has on the offense; it's not uncommon to see more teams than just Na`Vi attempt those $2.7k+ second-round buys and succeed with them.
Given that 3-0 leads now only happen half the time (versus nearly two out of three times a team won a pistol round pre-update) and 5-0s are also less common (from 25% to 18%), it's fair to say that Valve have — to some extent, at least — accomplished what they had set out to do. That has also had the desired effect on the pistol rounds' overall impact on the results, as teams who win both pistols now win the map a little less often than before, as seen in the table above.
The scoped rifles are rising in popularity
Prior to October's update, the price tag was the main factor preventing players from playing with the AUG and the SG, and few ever tried to in any official capacity, with just a couple of the daring individuals like Emil "Magisk" Reif and Jacob "pyth" Mourujärvi, who occasionally played with the latter rifle when they were part of dignitas and NiP, respectively.
But, as outlined in our previous Meta change article, both of them have always been viable (a bit too viable for about a week in early 2014). They have the stats to compete with the main rifle options, mainly being better at dealing with armored opponents despite having lower base damage compared to the more popular options, which is down to higher armor penetration (and a quicker firing rate in SG's case versus the AK-47), while also offering the scope for improved accuracy in longer ranges, among other bonuses such as the first-bullet accuracy and recoil resetting times. On the other hand, both weapons have slower reload times and movement speeds in comparison with the M4s and the AK-47.
After the price was moved to almost even ground with the popular rifles this October, the scoped alternatives have garnered some fans among the pros once again, and more than ever before. Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski, Chris "chrisJ" de Jong started playing with both of them almost immediately after the update in the ESL Pro League as the guns' biggest proponents and have continued to do so for the past two months, prioritizing the scopes over its better-established rivals.
"My general thought on the two guns is that they are statistically better than their counterparts. AUG vs M4 basically have a movement speed difference of 2.2%, which to me is negligible, and has worse capabilities of shooting through walls, as they do less damage. Meanwhile, the AUG does more damage and is able to 1 shot from close range and about 95-99 damage from mid-range, so any type of damage earlier in the rounds, even if it is a 4 damage nade, will net you a 1 shot headshot. So for the AUG vs the A4, they have the same fire rate, you get a scope with the AUG, are able to one-shot at certain distances with the AUG, and move slightly slower than compared to the A4.
"For the AK vs Krieg, the Krieg has a faster fire rate than the AK, better first bullet accuracy, 2.3% movement speed decrease compared to the AK and a scope. So, for me, having that better fire rate and first bullet accuracy has been so huge that I am very comfortable always using the Krieg. It also helps that the spray pattern is different from any other gun in the game so I think that has helped me get used to it because it's one of a kind and I can focus on it easier that way. I don't think the really small percentage change in movement speed in comparison from the AK to Krieg is large enough to make a difference. Not being able to do that much damage spraying through walls is a negative as well, but, for me, that doesn't break it."
Finn "karrigan" Andersen also began to use both weapons a bit later on at EPICENTER after testing things out on a deathmatch server, and more and more people pop up with every tournament, such as BIG's trio of Johannes "nex" Maget, Tizian "tiziaN" Feldbusch, and Fatih "gob b" Dayik, Astralis's Nicolai "device" Reedtz and Magisk, and Na`Vi's Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko and Ioann "Edward" Sukhariev, among others. However, the majority of them have only begun to dabble with the AUG and look hesitant to switch guns on the Terrorist side, as the Krieg is only used by chrisJ, EliGE, and karrigan on a consistent basis.
Some of the aforementioned downsides to the SG are keeping more players from joining in, as even if they believe that the weapon is an upgrade over the AK, it may not be worth it to risk the short-term loss of form caused by a lack of certainty with the unfamiliar spray pattern and the weapon's behavior. That caused trouble to both karrigan and chrisJ when we asked them about it at some of the last tournaments of 2018.
"I don't think I'm as good [as with the AK and the M4] yet, like everybody else I've played with the AK and M4 for a really long time, so the spray control is certainly something that isn't as good for me or for anyone else right now yet. But yeah, I feel like I'm already seeing the benefits of the weapons in certain situations, especially with the AUG, it just helps a lot that you're able to kill someone instantly from really close range and, at the same time, in really long ranges you have an advantage because you're so much more accurate, so I think I am able to see the benefits from the weapons already."
- Chris "chrisJ" de Jong (ESL Pro League S8 Finals)
"I still have some awkward duels sometimes in which I shouldn't have zoomed and which I have should zoomed, but, right now, I have specific situations in which I think it's really good. Still, it's pretty hard to play without the zoom on the SG, that's one thing. If you play some specific positions, I think the AUG can be really good, it's actually kind of the same recoil and the same fire rate on the M4 and AUG, so there's no big difference there, you just have to get used to it."
On the other hand, EliGE had a bigger issue with the AUG when we asked him about it in November, but he looks comfortable (and claims to be so) with the SG after over two months' worth of experience.
"After playing with the AUG for a bit now, I think that for sure the AUG is a stronger gun, but it will take a long time to be able to get my muscle memory good enough to 100% be buying it. The spray pattern towards the later stages of the spray feels really random, even after really focusing on it, so I am going to be looking to situationally use it on maps that I think warrant its advantages."
It's possible that the SG will make a turn for the better after players return from the end-of-the-year break. That is when a lot of top-tier teams will have the time to experiment and play on their own, which they didn't amidst the busy schedule of the last two to three months. For now, the AUG is rising steadily and is expected to continue doing so as more players get on the train, which means the developers have partially achieved their goal with the second portion of the update, as well.