Valve made an announcement Aug. 17 that reverberated throughout the professional Counter-Strike scene.
In overhauling the way teams use coaches, Valve stipulated that coaches were no longer allowed to talk during the game; they could only communicate with their teams during pauses and halftime. It created some unease because multiple teams had formed around five skilled fraggers with the coach functioning as in-game leader. Nearly five months later, the effects of that decision are still resounding and will undoubtedly impact the ELEAGUE Major. A change of this magnitude drastically altered team dynamics and directly affected the chances at victory for some. Let’s examine the main winners and losers of the coach rule heading into the Major.
No one was more grievously hurt than Na’Vi. Sergey “starix” Ischuk had proven to be the best coach-leader in the scene, leading Na’Vi for a year and instrumentally figuring out how to integrate Egor “flamie“ Vasilyev into the system. Additionally, Na’Vi swapped out Danylo “Zeus“ Teslenko for Oleksandr “s1mple“ Kostyliev just prior to the change. Whether Na’Vi would’ve risen to everlasting glory with starix at the helm will be one of the great hypotheticals in Counter-Strike history. Denis “seized“ Kostin was forced into the role of in-game leader and well…you know the rest. This squad touts the most firepower in the world, but it still lacks a coherent identity and system that is able to utilize all of it.
Luis “peacemaker“ Tadeu was the head coach and leader of Team Liquid, and despite losing s1mple, had a really strong lineup (at least on paper). This one is harder to discuss. Peacemaker’s time on the team was short, and there isn’t a clear consensus as to how effective of a coach he is from his previous stints on Immortals and Liquid. What we do know is that he was an extremely willful workhorse; whether or not you agreed with his ideas, he forced everyone to get on the same page. That alone suggests he might’ve been an effective coach. As the saying goes, “The wrong solution violently executed is better than the correct solution done late.” Without its in-game voice, Liquid swapped around the in-game leader role and eventually added Wilton “zews“ Prado to possibly implement an SK-style positional system.
Aleksandar “kassad“ Trifunović was hired in June to become the in-game leader for mousesports. It wasn’t implemented right away because the team didn’t want to transition in the middle of ELEAGUE Season 1. What the team did instead was have kassad take up secondary leadership roles and help the team prepare — basically what you’d imagine the Valve system was trying to do. It worked, and then mousesports didn’t hire him anyway. I still have no clue what went on in this instance, but from an outside point of view, it seems strange. Kassad was one of the factors that got mouz its best results of 2016, and he was let go. Although he couldn’t take over all the leadership as mouz had hoped, he could have helped shoulder at least some of that burden.
Zeus’ removal was one of the worst-timed moves of 2016. Zeus had proven himself as one of the best in-game leaders in the world; the only reason he hadn’t been leading Na’Vi was because starix did a better job outside the game, which allowed Zeus to focus on his own role. The problem was s1mple was judged to be a once-in-a-generation talent. Someone needed to be cut to make room for him, and it was Zeus.
That decision had profound effects on both Na’Vi and Gambit. No one knows for sure if Na’Vi would have decided to cut Zeus had it known about the coaching rule, but it would have made the decision more difficult. At the same time, Gambit got windfall of that split and acquired the best in-game leader in the region.
That, combined with the talent of Dauren “AdreN“ Kystaubayev, Rustem “mou” Tlepov and Abay “HObbit“ Khasenov (on loan from Tengri), meant the new Gambit lineup had real potential. As unfair as it sounds, Gambit’s last Major result was a fluke. The team had an easy group and played two teams that had coaches for stand-ins. That helped Gambit reach the playoffs and keep its “Legends” status. But this new lineup has real depth behind it, and after ironing things out, was able to win DreamHack Winter. It’s too early to say where they stand in the grand scheme of things, but this isn’t a team that can be underestimated.
Much like Team Liquid and Na’Vi, FaZe tried formulating a team with a coach as in-game leader. But in an odd bit of fortune, FaZe avoided being crushed by the rule change because it never figured out how to make the system work. In fact, Valve’ announcement inadvertently helped FaZe in two ways. First, it forced the team to stop believing that a coach would also function as leader; second, it made FaZe actively search for an in-game leading player.
It felt like FaZe avoided the trap multiple other teams and Valve assumed as truth. Theoretically, five skilled players and a coach/in-game leader was superior than four skilled players and an IGL by dint of economy of energy. A coach could analyze and make decisions without sacrificing focus on the game. Practically, this approach never materialized as unassailable fact. With the exceptions of starix and peacemaker, the best leaders in the game were still players. No other coaches had decisively proved their leadership was impactful at the highest level of competition. The best leaders were still playing, so the Valve coaching rule seemed to push FaZe toward getting a playing in-game leader and, by coincidence, a better one.
Perhaps that is stretching it a bit far. Despite FaZe’s lack of structure, the team made strides as it acquired better players. Aleksi “allu” Jalli to replaced Ricardo “fox” Pacheco, and FaZe added a pseudo-support player in Fabien “kioShiMa“ Fiey. Whatever the case, the most important pickup that brought all the disparate pieces together was Finn “karrigan” Andersen. Within two days of him joining the roster, FaZe achieved its best result of 2016 by qualifying for the ELEAGUE Season 2 playoffs. Afterward, FaZe went on a world tour and gathered multiple top-four finishes at events including iBuyPower Masters, IEM Oakland and ELEAGUE Season 2. This is the team’s first extended break, where it will get to practice without the interruptions of competition and travel. While I can’t say FaZe is a championship contender, there’s the potential to do some real damage at the ELEAGUE Major
Cover photo by Patrick Strack/ESL, eslgaming.com. Illustration by Slingshot