Saving: How bad is it?
We take a look into the saving problem, the worst perpetrators, and possible solutions.
Saving is a facet of Counter-Strike that not all welcome. Retakes and clutches offer some of the most exciting spectacles the game has to offer, while saving reduces the chance for those rounds to occur. How many 1vs3s or 2vs4s have we been denied since saving became the most efficient tactic?
It makes sense. Even one or two guns can turn a low-threat eco into a deadly trap. Every dollar matters, every edge is an opportunity. These clutches are incredibly low-probability occurrences; saving is comparable to expected goals (xG) all but eliminating long shots in soccer, or how more and more basketball shots are from behind the three-point line.
In soccer, a long shot often ends the round of play in the same way going for a retake does. The result is nearly always a goal kick; the better option, under xG's rule, is to recycle the ball out wide and try and give yourself a more advantageous way to win. Soccer fans miss thirty-yard thunderbolts just like CS fans miss successful 2v4 retakes.
But both of these games are competitive disciplines. Teams do not, and should not, put entertainment above winning. The fact of the matter is that saving gives you a far better chance of victory in the next round. When one player saves, the chance of the CT side winning the round after a loss is increased by 4.3% and a second save adds another 3.9%, putting us near the 50% mark.
It's not an easy problem to fix, provided you see it as a problem at all. Various 'solutions' have been mooted: more kill reward in clutches; removing loss bonus for surviving CTs; starting loss bonus at $1900 rather than $1400. Yet, none of these truly break the appeal of saving. A gun and equipment will always be more conducive to winning the next round than a close-to-unwinnable clutch.
The entertainment argument also has flaws. The vast majority of 1v3 or 2v4 attempts, even in the nostalgic old days, ended in a swift win for the opposition — is that more enjoyable for the audience than having an extra gun round instead of 5 USPs?
Ecos have long provided the lulls in tension that provide commentators a chance to analyse the game; just think of Kévin "Ex6TenZ" Droolans-style old 'tactical timeout' ecos where teams waited the entire round in spawn with just Glocks.
Now that full ecos are incredibly rare it is saving that provides that lull, a chance for tension to rise and fall. We can see in other FPS titles how if something is exciting all of the time, it is usually not exciting at all. Saves and full ecos both have the same benefit: Letting teams, casters, and viewers catch their breath.
From January 2022 to January 26th 2023 there was at least one survivor on the losing team in 20.6% of rounds, 34.2% on CT side and 9.3% on T side (excluding bomb plants). Between tier one teams, that number grows to 25.8% of lost rounds, about four rounds of saves from both teams per half. Pandora's box has been opened; saving is here to stay. So what can we do? One avenue is map design. If retakes are easier, the risk-reward balance shifts a huge amount.
When we look at saving rates by map, Inferno stands out for all the wrong reasons. Its bomb-sites, particularly the A-site, are nearly impossible to retake once the bomb is down. Even in matchmaking this is apparent — Leetify data shows that Inferno's two bombsites are among the four hardest to retake in the entire game. The consequence of that is the most saves of any map, averaging 0.78 survivors per round on the losing team on CT Side.
Saving in 1vs3s or 2vs4s is not a bad thing, giving us more gun rounds and a more entertaining follow-up than a full eco would have been. The problem is when teams do not attempt 2vs2 or 3vs3 retakes, which should be some of the most exciting rounds in the game. One or two kills should never decide a round, but that happens too often on Inferno.
It is still a good map with interesting meta games around Banana, the potential for spraydowns from Pit, dynamic AWPing, and layered strategy in defaults and executes. It is the most played map at nearly every single event, the nominated middle ground for the scene, yet if saving is a disease, Inferno is the leading hot-spot — and Outsiders are superspreaders.
Part of the furor against saving comes from negativity bias, where we remember the worst offending matches and teams but forget that there are many teams who rarely save. Cloud9 and Outsiders average nearly twice as many surviving players as G2 and ENCE.
It is interesting to see Vitality in third, despite Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut's general aversion to saving. Emil "Magisk" Reif has praised Outsiders before, saying that "many teams can learn from the way they manage their economy," and Vitality are doing just that.
It was the Astralis dynasty that popularised saving, so it should not be a surprise that Danny "zonic" Sørensen's new team are in the top three. It is, however, a surprise to see Astralis so far down the leaderboard. Part of this is due to their AWPers; most teams have their snipers save the most, whereas Asger "Farlig" Jensen saved in just 7.3% of lost rounds, and Nicolai "device" Reedtz recorded a similar 8% at BLAST Premier Spring Groups. Dzhami "Jame" Ali's figure for that statistic is 23%, Dmitry "sh1ro" Sokolov's is 18%, and Abdul "degster" Gasanov's is 17%. That difference, for device at least, is somewhat intentional.
Jame's lead in this category is not a surprise. 'Jame Time' is a direct part of his philosophy as well as the name of his YouTube channel. It is a unique style and teams have to be prepared to play against an AWP in the vast majority of rounds when facing Outsiders. The players that AWP the most also save the most, their expensive and un-versatile weapon forcing their hand in many a post-plant.
ZywOo and Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev, though, both save less than the average AWPer, a sign of the faith they have in themselves to win in improbable situations. They are also comfortable with the rifle, meaning they are less limited in those clutches; they have the rapid multi-kill potential that is simply impossible on the big green.
That approach makes sense. A 1vs3 is unwinnable for an average player, but ZywOo and s1mple are good enough to deserve a chance at the clutch. The same is true of Helvijs "broky" Saukants and Ilya "m0NESY" Osipov, who also save less than average.
But if you flip the coin, the same argument can be applied to saving. If s1mple or ZywOo save an AWP, and the rest of their team are on pistols, what would you put the chances of them winning a round at? Is it higher than their chance of winning a 1vs3 clutch? Even the players that save the most win a good amount of clutches; saves per round is a stat that shows who is last alive as much as it shows a tendency to save.
The reward for winning a clutch is higher than the one for saving, even now. Your opponent has one less round, less equipment carried over into the next round, and are given a (usually) lower loss bonus than a win bonus. T sides also gain an extra $250 each if they win via detonation, giving the team $1250 every time a CT player saves.
But the risk is so high. There are fairly often situations in 2023's version of CS:GO in which a player wins a 1vsX clutch but their team still has a worse buy than the opposition in the next round, especially as CTs. T sides can receive a similar amount of money ($2400 + $800 bonus for bomb plant) as the winning CTs ($3500 for defusing the bomb) after just two lost rounds in a row.
The 'comeback' mechanic of increasing loss bonus is a wider issue and not the root cause of saving, but it certainly doesn't help. There is no point in winning a clutch if it leads you to facing five fully-equipped Ts while only affording MP9s and a few FAMAS in the next round. To dominate on the CT side you don't just have to win consecutive rounds, but win them convincingly with more than two players alive.
The overpowered M4A1-S provided a band-aid to this problem, but with the game returning to a more even balance between attack and defence, saving will only become more prevalent as we can already see on the T-sided Inferno. The risk of a clutch is not always matched by its reward at the moment and it is not clear how to solve that.
As stated earlier, the goal should not be to reduce saving but to increase the appeal of going for clutches or of hunting down those that are saving. One way to do that, which we have already raised, is via map design with bombsites that give the Ts a slight advantage that is not unassailable.
Another way of increasing the appeal of going for clutches or hunting down saving players is to make the game MR12 rather than MR15. With less ecos in the modern game, we would not need as many rounds to see who was the 'deserving' winner. This would make pistol rounds — if we keep them — more important, but games far shorter, which would counter the effect of saving.
The other is through the in-game economy. It is not an easy thing to change, however, with cascading effects on whatever change is made. The last batch of economy changes were aimed at lessening the probability of double ecos. They have achieved that, but we have to be careful what we wish for; there are less double ecos, but more saving, second round GALIL buys after losing the pistol, and frequent comebacks from 7-1 down to 7-7 as the 'blue shell' effect kicks in.
Messing with the economy to combat saving might have similar unintended consequences. Removing the CT's loss bonus on survivors will lead to players intentionally dying, something that is hard to explain to new viewers and even less entertaining than saving, especially when you factor in the incoming eco round afterwards.
To make a 'clutch bonus' tantalising enough to get players to attempt unlikely clutches, it would have to be a significant reward, something like the CTs 'stealing' the Ts $800 bonus for planting the bomb in a loss. That $800 turns a $3500 win bonus into $4300, nearly enough for a full buy starting from $0 whilst not adding more money into the game's economy.
By having this bonus only activate in 'unlikely' scenarios, maybe when the CTs are down at least one player as the bomb is planted, should not affect the current balance too much. Ts will still want to plant for the $800 and CTs will still want to prevent that in even scenarios. In theory, this could be enough to convince a CT team to go for a 1vs2 or 2vs3 on most maps.
But there will be flaws with this idea, as with any. The solution is a complex one, whether Valve even address it at all. The extension of the bomb radius was one such attempted solution, hoping to entice saving CTs to exit frag more often to avoid boring stalemates, but more is required as we exit the CT-sided meta of 2022.
Saving is not the great evil it is often seen as, providing more gun rounds and representing an advancement of players' understanding of win probabilities. It is also rarer than you might think, with saves only occurring in about four rounds per half. That figure is higher than what is ideal and high enough that change would be welcome. Where that change would come from, and what domino effect it would start, is anyone's guess.