Expert Take: M4A1-S & AWP changes (ft. Scrawny, mahone, Maniac)
The M4A1-S has reigned supreme for over a year. Could we be on the cusp of change following a nerf to its damage at range? How will the AWP nerf impact the game? We spoke to some experts to get their thoughts.
The M4A1-S received an increase to its body shot damage in September 2021, and it has since reigned supreme as the superior CT rifle. A reduction to its magazine size in June did little to rebalance the scales, the weapon's ability to kill in four shots to the body and spam through smokes without tracers allowing for the CT side to often put up monumental halves.
Another change finally arrived shortly after the IEM Rio Major came to an end as Valve introduced Anubis to the map pool, an update which was accompanied by nerfs to both the M4A1-S and surprisingly, the AWP.
The silenced CT rifle received nerfs to its damage at range, and though the numbers looked small, in practice the gun had lost its ability to kill with four shots to the chest at many common ranges. On top of that, certain ranged duels also became more disadvantageous, with a headshot and body shot from ticket booth on Mirage to A ramp sometimes dealing 99 in 2 with the M4A1-S.
Changes to the AWP were minor in comparison as its magazine count was halved to five, but the nerf marked the first significant change to the sniper rifle since its scoped movement speed received a significant nerf in March 2015.
We asked three broadcast talent members for their thoughts on the update, how the nerfs might have an impact on the game going forward, and whether enough (or too much) had been done to either gun based on their early impressions.
Scrawny: "When you look at examples of positions that now require five body shots to kill, you really see the impact of the update"
When asked about his initial impressions regarding the changes to the M4A1-S and whether it was enough of a nerf, Conner "Scrawny" Girvan said it felt "about right," and expressed his appreciation for how it was implemented.
"I’m glad it wasn’t an economic change, or a mechanical change like the last adjustment (reducing the magazine size)," the commentator said. "This way the weapon still operates exactly as you know it, they’ve just tampered with the 'laser beam' ability and I think that’s great. If you missed the headshot, it was too easy to commit to the body and rely on recoil reset at range. You can still play the weapon this way, but with lesser damage you better find that forehead.
"The weapon is still super strong in bombsites where you'll be playing around smokes and in shorter duels. When you look at in-game examples of positions that now require five body shots to kill (shoutout @LionCS_), you really see the impact of the update and nobody can say that’s too little."
Editor's note: The examples linked in the shoutout are worst-case scenarios where four bullets to the chest wouldn't be enough to deal 100 damage. Stomach shots deal a little more damage, and in combination that can still make four bullets enough to kill in the positions listed.
Scrawny was less sold on the AWP nerf, wondering whether it was truly necessary. "This feels like a case of the developers wanting to play around with something rather than the player base asking for rebalance and I’m cool with that. I’m not as excited about this one, even though it could make for some epic five-bullet aces, as watching AWPers have to swap to their pistols isn’t something I look forward to."
Overall, he believes the combination of changes to the M4A1-S and AWP should put a dent in the CT-sided meta as the AK once again becomes the dominant rifle, though he remained skeptical of how much impact the change to the sniper rifle would have in the end. "It’s safe to say that the AK reigns supreme again, and if you want a rifle capable of beating it outside of bombsites then you’re going to need $3,100 for the A4. The A1-S is definitely still powerful, conveniently less expensive, and a pain in the ass around smokes, but I have no doubt we will see the numbers balance out somewhat."
mahone: "I expect the more hectic retake situations will be harder to navigate [for AWPers]"
Danny "mahone" Hsieh was more sold on the nerf to the AWP, stating that he liked the change because players need to be more precise in both aiming and positioning, and there is less leeway when it comes to spamming smokes and going for wallbangs now that there are fewer bullets to work with. He admitted that it would be unlikely to change much in most situations anyway, but that it could lead to more difficult scenarios later in the round.
"Nothing will really change when it comes to taking aggressive opening picks or taking the usual fallback angles (Overpass bathrooms or Inferno arch side as examples), as AWPers rarely face more than two players at a time. Instead, I expect the more hectic retake situations will be harder to navigate as AWPers will have to be more selective of each shot they decide to take, and not be able to take shots at every single opportunity."
Similar to Scrawny, mahone thinks the adjustment to the M4A1-S is a welcome change, pointing out the trade-off that will now exist between taking fights at range and playing close up."I personally like the idea of having damage drop-off at range considering the silencer, because it creates more of a distance-vs-sound consideration when taking fights. If you’re far away (where your opponent is less likely to hear the shots), it means it takes more shots to kill, but being close (where your opponent is more likely to hear the shots) means you’re in more danger of being located and traded easily."
He went on to say that as a result, players who occupy positions where distance is more of a factor in duels will likely shift to using the M4A4, and that the multi-kill potential of the M4A1-S against executing Ts should be hindered. He also agreed that teams would be able to garner more T side rounds, but hopes that Valve will bring the prices of the M4A1-S and M4A4 in line with one another so that the guns are able to be weighed directly without a cost-benefit factor.
Maniac: "More could have been done [to the M4A1-S] and the nerf could have been stronger"
Mathieu "Maniac" Quiquerez pointed towards the potential diversity that changes to the M4A1-S might bring as something he is looking forward to, hoping to see more of a balance struck between what CT rifles are seen on the server.
"In theory, I like the idea that the position a player occupies might influence the choice of the A1-S vs. A4. In practice, I haven’t experienced it enough first hand to truly feel the difference, but if it can force long range duelists to go for the M4A4 we will end up with more diversity and choices that have to be eventually made by players. That is a win in my book."
He was, however, our only expert who remained skeptical of the impact the nerf will have on imbalance between the CT and T sides, expressing happiness toward the update moving things in the right direction, but stating that more could have been done to reduce the power of the silenced rifle. "The nerf of the A1-S makes sense. This weapon was the main reason why CTs held such a stronghold on the meta. For my money, more could have been done and the nerf could have been stronger but at least we'll be going towards a more prevalent diversity. I’ll take the W there. I’m just not sure how big of an impact this will have in the T vs CT power struggle."
Like mahone and Scrawny, Maniac was doubtful of how much of a difference the nerf to the AWP would make, saying that it doesn't feel like a significant update and questioning why the change was needed in the first place.
"I’m not exactly convinced," the analyst stated. "I mean in essence I’m aware of how strong the AWP currently is in Counter-Strike, but I also like that. It makes for spectacular CS and in this role have emerged the icons of this game. Do we need to change something? In any case, what should happen is that snipers will be more mindful of random smoke shots or wallbangs because they’ll be more likely to run out of bullets in a dicey situation. Most of their gameplay shouldn’t be impacted, though. It doesn’t feel that significant to me."