Is a good IGL-coach combo CS2’s next golden goose egg?
CS2 will change the way the game evolves, so we return to the conversation on whether the coach-IGL combo is the factor that sets the best apart from the rest.
Night falls on the European continent, and you dream. You’re 18, a hormonally charged-up hotshot with the reaction time of Zeus chucking lightning on a White Claw bender, and you’ve made a name for yourself in CS2. Lights come alive: LAN, the big show. You settle in at your PC, playing Subway Surfers to ease your zoomed-out brain from under-stimulation.
Pistol goes your way, a sick 3k. Anti-eco, gun round 1vs3: easy farming. But the tide turns — suddenly you’re the one taking it. The enemy is playing with the awareness of five Lukas "gla1ve" Rossanders on a speedball of horse tranquilizer and Adderall XR. Just as you debate putting a bone-rattling punch through your BENQ with your 20kg of grip strength, you hear an angelic voice drifting through your ear lobes.
"Boys, it’s going to be okay. Let’s take a pause and consult with coach."
Relief palpable, running through your veins. You look back and see an absolute bear of a 35-year-old man who is dialed in and pacing. Apparently, he used to play something called "1.6" back in the day. He catches your eye and gives you a secretive thumbs up which Valve or the cameras can't notice. You smile. You won’t let such a venerable ancient figure down.
The game goes live again, and your IGL is suddenly an inductee into Mensa. The tide turns, you start winning, the crowd is roaring, your skins are gleaming…
You awaken. Groggy eyes on the clock tell you it’s 16:32. You have an online match against EYEBALLERS in twenty-eight minutes. You have no IGL and you’re just going to "thug it out," as one of your teammates has declared. On Anubis. You feel damp moisture on your cheeks. That’s odd — the forecast didn’t mention rain in my apartment today.
As explored in our previous article on how greats like Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev could suddenly wither away, CS2 will be a bookmark and a turning point in the history of Counter-Strike in more ways than one. While the switch to CS2 from GO may be more mechanically similar than the 1.6/CSS to GO jump, we can already see that new players are rising and falling, new tactics are being developed, and new dynasties are being forged.
To that end, we were inspired by this recent Tweet from Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas wherein the Polish veteran surmised that the new meta for CS2 would be a good coach and IGL combo. He further speculated that current top teams are no longer kept afloat by just pure CS knowledge (somewhere, Robin "ropz" Kool is steaming and busy plotting Estonian revenge), but through real-life skills. This presumably means the interpersonal intangibles of people management, allowing players to feel comfortable and shine in roles and positions that bring out their absolute best.
To round off the conversation, TaZ alluded to trust and respect between players, the IGL, the coach, and staff, and that said trust will lead to winning events. A powerful claim. Frenchman and Vitality IGL Dan "apEX" Madesclaire even chimed in and added "the human thing is the most important part without a doubt," and that he wishes the players had understood this component long ago. While we sense some ancient cope in there born from the forges of the notoriously toxic and treacherous French scene of the 2010s, we won't judge.
This conversation is nothing new — discussions that a good coach-IGL combo is the cornerstone of a well-functioning team have been around since at least 2018 if not earlier.
But in sum we do agree — CS2 will further evolve the coaching-calling dynamic in a way that will usher in an era of more complete teams. This revolution will be an enhanced holistic approach to the game that, as TaZ alluded to, will draw on interpersonal, psychological, and managerial skills. While we saw glimpses of this beginning with peak 2018 Astralis, the space still has a long way to go to develop a "Novak Djokovic" of a CS team in terms of the complete play package. In particular, teams could reap untold benefits by focusing on the "human aspects," as apEX calls them, honing in aspects of individual and collective psychology and energizing a team to work more as a unit.
The history and evolution of IGLing and coaching in Counter-Strike is too long for the scope of this article. Each one is a standalone topic and books could be written on the history of either or both. But it is clear that we are still exploring what good IGLing and good coaching could look like, and that there is room for a lot of improvement. This can be reflected in team stats (measuring performance before and after coach changes), but it can also be simply spotted in the pure ambiguity that surrounds the roles and responsibilities of the two positions.
Around 2016, coaches briefly became supercharged sixth players who could IGL, consult the stratbook, and manage team emotions and expectations on a whim. MOUZ were even using two coaches at the MLG Columbus Major in an attempt to further skew the 5vs5 dynamic in a way that benefited them.
Valve quickly stepped in, and since then have been very clear on the minimal role they want coaches to play in-game, limiting their interactions and communications with players to technical timeouts. While this is unfortunate in the sense that it takes the human aspect out of coaches connecting with their team and limits their effectiveness, it is also useful because it has delineated the difference between the roles that the IGL and the coach should play. Valve’s decision helped create a deeper support bench for organizations and paved the way for the current team structure we have today.
In tandem with every strong team needing a coach, the importance and role of the IGL has matured and will continue to do so in CS2. Interestingly enough, the rise of the impactful IGL has ties to the rising age with which players are able to stay viable in a competitive manner, something which parallels TaZ’s admission that most great IGLs are old. Players like Finn "karrigan" Andersen, apEX, and Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo continue to push the envelope in that space. Casper "cadiaN" Møller singlehandedly invented the AWPer-villain father figure IGL, becoming Darth Vader reborn.
Players are still tilting though. Teams are imploding. Like a bad PC overclock, performances for many stars remain unstable. So we leave ourselves wondering what are the ideal wheels that will keep a wagon of hot-headed and emotionally volatile aimers in check? Could TaZ be on to something? For all the talk of CS being a mature competitive discipline, so many professional CS matches are hamstrung by the tilting, over-eager facing, and lack of economy awareness that characterize a regular pug. s1mple alone is more Nick Kyrgios than Djokovic, surely a sign that we are still in the Wild West era of the sport.
This problem is particularly egregious in online leagues, even at Tier 1, and is part of why watching those matches is less engaging than offline events. After seeing numerous sloppy rounds lost to overfacing or chaotic comms, we quickly realize that we are not being shown the full heights of human potential, and what a great team could truly be. But with a 2018 Astralis for example, we did see glimmers shining through the cracks of human turpitude.
What change could a good coach-IGL combo make? Our European readership will collectively lose their minds, but in American football Tony Dungy famously reinvented the impact of coaching and relied on drilled-in perfection and honed human aspects to bring newfound success. Arriving at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996, he inherited a team that was a widespread joke in the NFL, and instituted a form of fast-paced coordinated defense known as Tampa 2 that changed the teams’ prospects into a Super Bowl winning outfit. On its own, the strategy was nothing revolutionary, but it relied on coordinated and effectively executed moving parts that would not have been possible if a coach weren’t there to set the tone of leadership and drill the entire defensive line into a well-oiled machine.
Leadership. People management. A vision. These are the tools in a coach’s arsenal that need to be holistically integrated from the top down into a starting five. The IGL is like the construction foreman, setting the operational pace on the ground and adapting on the fly; the coach is like the project manager and holds the bird's eye view picture of the players, analysts, and organization. This a straightforward concept and yet we continue to see dysfunction in teams’ performances and unnecessary outbursts on visible levels — what’s the next step to counter this?
Esports is fundamentally an antisocial competitive discipline, born out of the thousands of hours of grinding away in front of a simulation at home. At the end of the day, if a player is visibly tilted and starting to emotionally withdraw during a tournament, they can face their monitor and go full emo. Nobody is going to stand up or stop play to try and snap them out of their turmoil. In a physical team sport, other players or coaches can get face-to-face with an inwardly collapsing player and try to shake them out of it, a much more primal and animalistic intervention that tends to work on a deeper human level.
We don’t have that luxury in esports. The integration of esports psychologists among top teams has begun to change the playing field, but ultimately TaZ is onto something that human and real-life skills can still make a new and improved difference as players learn to trust each other and trust the coach. As Hallmark Movie of an answer as that is, it speaks to a fundamental truth of team sports.
The current FaZe lineup (barring any much speculated upon unforeseen consequences) could be living proof of TaZ’s words. Their undefeated CS2 run is coupled with the fact that the players all appear to get along and trust each other, as well as trust karrigan. They are also one of the oldest teams in the world ranking — make of that what you will. The addition of Filip "NEO" Kubski as coach and his laidback style has further propelled them above their competition in composure and stability. They rarely seem to withdraw internally, and can continue to mount blustering comebacks from the deepest deficits. All of the players seem comfortable in their own skin on stage and around each other, something that speaks to those real-life skills coming to fruition.
Are further optimizations of the IGL-coach combo going to work wonders for teams in CS2? With FaZe’s current trajectory, the answer is trending towards a Yes. FaZe has always been an interesting case where their coach, whether Robert "RobbaN" Dahlström or NEO, seems more people than tactics oriented. But in the writing of this article, your author realized this is a much broader topic that can be bolstered with additional series and statistics going forward. There are many future questions to consider:
– Who gets the final say on tactics during a timeout?
– Outside of stage pauses, how does a coach contribute to the team? What are these real-life skills in more detail?
– Should coaches have a say in players’ regimens, i.e., sleep-wake times, nutrition, etc.?
– Will an IGL ultimately be needed in the deep future?
– Alternatively, could an IGL-less team still exist today?
There is one thing that is certain as we leap into CS2. While an unknown player can still rise today by picking up their mouse and dominating the server on their own, and get to the top via pure skill, the complexity of the discipline is increasing. A day will soon dawn when you cannot just pug and thug it out all the way into Tier 1. It's an open question if that fits with Valve's slightly anarchic vision of an organic, player-driven esports scene.
But is a good coach-IGL combo CS2's next golden goose egg or a theoretical nicety that we will always strive towards but fall short of?