Semmler: "It feels like we don't have the level of CS I was hoping we would have by now" (Part 2)
Part two of our talk with Auguste "Semmler" Massonnat shifts over to his experience commentating at StarSeries and his thoughts on the current level of Counter-Strike as well as the economic meta.
If you missed part one, head over here to read up on the veteran commentator's life changes since joining the Overwatch League two years ago and his thoughts on the free-market approach of CS:GO versus the franchised model of the OWL.
In the second part, Semmler shares his frustrations about the current level of play after doing live commentary for six days at StarSeries i-League Season 8, talks about the economic meta at the moment, and leaves us on a bit of a cliffhanger when it comes to his nearest future in CS:GO.
How does it feel to do these last few events of the year, having it so sporadic compared to the constant grind from before? Has it been difficult to keep up with the meta and with the scene? Have you been able to follow it actively enough?
In a way, I have. Like I said, I have HLTV, so I keep tabs on the big news when you guys do your writeups or your interviews, I'll try to keep tabs on that to keep my thumb on it. When it comes to the game, though, I'd catch games here and there and it didn't really dawn on me until I did StarSeries, where I had six days non-stop, two best-of-threes a day, to really see a lot of where the meta is. This sounds harsh, but I've had a conversation with a couple of the in-game leaders here just to make sure that I'm on the right page in terms of their impressions, but it really feels like we still don't have that level of CS that I was hoping we would have by now. It's been nearly three years now and I was coming back to do StarSeries, expecting to see some high-level, smart CS because these players would have had so much time to develop. And it is a bit of a shock to me to come back to CS and see that a lot of the players are still making very fundamental mistakes that were made three, four, five years ago.
So I wonder about when is it that we're going to get real discipline in these teams and teams finally taking the Astralis approach? Astralis play very high-percentage situations, they don't take the low-percentage plays, they're constantly looking for the right trades and do everything they can do hold on to advantages. I'm finally getting to soak in this new money system and now it's more important than ever to save guns, I think it's now the most important thing, to save your economy, your guns, and only risk it when it makes total sense. But you still see players hunting for no reason. If you listen to the cast, I'm calling a lot of the plays out because I'm like "Why are you out hunting there? The risk-reward is so small for you apart from getting the frags and padding stats." It feels like CS is still very much in a frag-focused meta and I guess that's why Astralis f**ked everybody up for two years straight, being the most dominant team ever because they play smart CS and nobody else seems to want to play smart CS. It seems really weird to me. It's been an interesting learning experience, coming back and deep-diving back into the meta. There's so much potential for smart CS, I just don't see a lot of these teams doing that.
People have started to catch up with the professional side of CS, having the important infrastructure behind them, they've taken that hint from Astralis, things like having mental coaches, proper training regimens, though maybe not so much in the game as you were saying.
I don't see it in the game when it comes to economy and how they play rounds. It just makes me wonder what it is that people are focusing on, is it just DM? A lot of the time it feels like DM, it feels like they're just "Oh I'm going to take this fight." But you could not do that and give your team a much better chance of winning the round. Or you've got to think two rounds down the line. Especially now with the economy system, if you've got a long streak and they constantly have $3,400 in the bank because they have that loss bonus, then you lose one and come back and they still have $2,900, I'm sitting here thinking it's more important than ever to keep your guns and to build bank because it's so hard to maintain bank when every round they've got Deagles and CZs. One or two kills, there goes your economy because now you've got to drop guns to those guys.
I think the team that really dominates now, at least from the week of CS that I've seen here, is the team that gets discipline in their players, really hammers home discipline where they have to be smarter in these situations. I don't know if I'm asking too much in these pressure situations, but I think a lot of the time the players just think they can swing in and take the shot, and that's something that the coach can point out to them and be like "Why the f**k are you doing that? Why are you taking that shot?" or "Why are you off hunting alone with your AWP?" Stuff like that that I see a lot of over the games we've casted here. I wonder about the level of discipline in the teams, still. Sure, you've got mental coaches and all this other stuff that seems to be good, obviously, but what's always interested me about CS, headshots are cool, but I've always loved the money system and how players play smart around it because that's how you grab the opponents by the balls. If you've got them moneyf**ked every round, they can't do anything! You're playing the game on easy mode. And the devs have obviously made it very hard to do that now with the loss bonus, they've made it harder so it's even more important now, the way I see it, to focus on the money.
What do you think about that meta overall? What do you make of the system and how it has affected the game?
It's interesting. I can see the arc. The first two days of the tournament, I was like "What in the ... is this s**t?" I was very put off by it. And then I think on the third day, I started to ask myself the question of why, why the devs are doing this. It's not random, there's a reason behind it. By the fourth day, it actually came along to me and I had a nice conversation with karrigan, to spitball, and he helped me flush out my ideas in terms of why the system is the way it is. And that's how I landed on the conclusion that guns are now more important than anything. I think the devs, in a roundabout way, they are raising the level, actually, the skill ceiling is even higher now with this economy system. I changed my opinion a little bit on it, I think it may actually be interesting now. Maybe it needs some tweaks here and there, maybe you shouldn't be able to buy Kriegs after losing the bomb plant, that's a bit ludicrous. I need to see more, but I'm not as dead-set against it as I was on the first two days of the tournament, that's for sure.
I wanted to ask about your partnership with HenryG. How has it been to cast alongside him?
It's been fun. I think we did a couple of games back in the day, but nothing serious where it's just us, him and I going toe-to-toe. I think he's a little tired right now, so it's been interesting to work with him in that sense because I think he's a little tired mentally, all these guys are on such a grind, they don't stop. I'm coming back into it, I've had a month to regen at home, not doing events, and everybody else is like... Chad has been doing it for 21 days straight, so it's been refreshing to come in and see this is how it used to be, this is the life I used to live. But in terms of casting, it's great, I think we work well together. It was just an off-the-cuff kind of thing, I just reached out and it worked out that Sado decided to throw his hissy fit and get out of it because that opened up Henry to try something we hadn't tried before, so it's exciting to try it, for sure. Henry and I aren't a duo by any means, I have a couple of other combinations that I want to try that I think could be really fun.
Could you get that chance in Copenhagen?
Not Copenhagen, but I'm hoping for another event down the road where schedules align and I can try something else that I've been wanting to try for a very long time, but the opportunity never arose. Hopefully, that's something that I can make happen because I think that would be really fun. I'm just going to leave that as a cliffhanger (laughs).
Have you been approaching the cast differently compared to how you had? Did you find it easy to just slot back into whatever you knew from two years ago or was it a different experience?
No, it's very much the same. Maybe that's why I'm a little frustrated just because of the level of play. I was watching the Major and stuff like that, I was casting in my head, going over VODs for StarSeries and I was like "Oh, I've got t put in some work here." And then I was casting in my head in Malmö, I was watching matches there and I knew it would be fine, I know everything that I would say in this given situation. I'm noticing all the details, I haven't lost anything in that sense. That makes me think I'm still pretty dialed in on the game, to the point where that's perhaps where the frustration comes from with the level of some of the players and them not pushing for that higher level that I think is definitely possible and that I was hoping to see back in the day as well. The peek game has gotten so much more complex, all the subtleties of the players, they'd played against each other so many times now that there are all these factors that they're constantly taking into account.
The individual level has risen, now I'm just waiting to see the economic mindset rise as well because I think that's going to become more and more of a facet of the game that needs to be taken seriously. That's where I step in, I think, and I start to find it interesting. I would love to just coach a team at this point and just be like "Hi guys. So, let's watch this map and why did you peek that, why did you do that?" (laughs) It is so heavily ingrained in CS, your path to pro, which is pug, you stand out by fragging, that it's part of the DNA of these players now that they need to frag hard and take risks because it's pugs, it's what they're used to. And when they become pro you've got to slot them into this system where everything is methodical, thought out, and they've got this beast in them that keeps crying out for blood. And how do you chain that beast?
What I'm talking about is by no means easy, I'm not saying the coaches and in-game leaders aren't trying, but I do think that's where the next level of CS is going to happen. I think that's what set Astralis aside and set them up on that pedestal for so very long. They're still there, they're still top four, which is insane when you think about how competitive it is now and it seems like everybody can win. I'm waiting for the teams to start picking up on the extreme ownership aspect of Astralis' gameplay, which is essentially that there is no blame and it's only high-percentage decisions that are made. None of the risky low stuff. That'll be when we really get into some crazy mind-game CS where I'm just going to be out of my mind loving it. I look forward to that day.
You've touched on a little bit of your future, we know that you're going to cast at Copenhagen and potentially some other tournaments if things align. Anything else that we could look forward to when it comes to Semmler and CS:GO?
I'm thinking about writing to talk about these topics. So maybe I'll come up with a newsletter at some point soon. I need more challenges now that I'm at home, I need to be able to focus a little bit more on challenges. I've always wanted to write and I never do it because it's stupidly hard. I have so much respect for people who write on a daily basis because it's really hard to write well. That's perhaps something I would like to look into. Maybe coffee and Semmler, bringing that back, having a little podcast every day. It's harder for me now because I work with Blizzard and Overwatch League and there's all that sort of stuff where PR is just jumping on you, but again, that's a balance that I'm trying to find. I want to interact with the esports world where it's total freedom, but then I still need to function in this business world. And I totally get that, so it's about finding the balance and discipline for me. Maybe branch out into new games, as well. If I have this freedom in the off-season and the off time, why not try and fill different roles that I haven't filled in a long time and see if I've still got the skill for it, hosting, interviewing, stuff like that. Could be fun.
Anything else you would like to add, any message to the fans or any closing thoughts?
Yeah! Thank you very much to the fans who have been messaging me non-stop, saying how happy they are that I'm back, it's wonderful to read, it's very nice, so thank you very much to those fans who have been so positive. Even thank you to some of the fans who have been negative, it's good to see. If people aren't being negative it means they don't care, so I'm down with that, it's fine (scoffs). Thanks to everybody who has been sending messages, it does feel quite nice. It's quite nice to be home for a bit, spend some time with everybody, and see the players, see everybody, it really does feel like coming home, so I really appreciate that. Thanks to everybody watching. It was an interesting experience, coming back and getting all this love and support and then watching Chad getting destroyed on Reddit the same day. I kind of wanted to just tell him "Don't worry, Chad, just wait two years and you'll be a king." (laughs) You know how it goes, social media, echo chamber, it just blows things up. But no, just a big thanks to all the fans who have been tuning in, it's good to be back.
Semmler will next commentate on the action at BLAST Pro Series Copenhagen, which starts later on Friday with the first two rounds of the round-robin group stage.