At the beginning of the PGL Krakow Major, there were four favorites to win the entire thing: SK Gaming, FaZe Clan, Astralis, and G2. By the end of it all, Gambit stunned the field to win. It was a shocking result, especially as Gambit had internal conflicts and was unable to win a single scrim leading up to the tournament. Despite that, the team managed to come together and pull out a miracle run to win the Major.
This Major victory has been accredited to multiple things. There were impactful player performances throughout, defense on CT-sides, the tactics of the T-side, leadership, and luck of the draw. Each of these factors had a part to play, and now is the best time to dive into how Gambit succeeded where other teams faltered in the wake of the CIS shuffle that ended this five-man unit.
This run starts not with the opening day, but throughout their entire time together. The work started the day Danylo “Zeus” Teslenko joined the team. Before that happened, Gambit wasn’t a strong team, while Zeus was in one of the worst forms of his career. By the end of it all, they win the Major. It looked like an impossibility before this all began, but now that it happened, we have to ask ourselves: How did Zeus and Mykhailo “Kane” Blagin decided to built this team? How did they build the map pool? How did the players work in their system? How did it all come together to win the Major?
Zeus’ leadership style
The first element we have to understood is Zeus as a leader. Even at the beginning, there was luck involved in getting Zeus to the team. When Zeus was kicked from Na`Vi last August, he was deciding between being a coach or continuing as a player. Then the Valve rule limiting the coach’s influence happened, and Zeus took that as a sign to keep playing. So when Gambit gave him an opportunity, he agreed so long as Kane came with him.
While Kane has had a hand in helping build the team, I do not know what he did or how he did it. But I do know Zeus’ tactical style. Zeus as a leader likes to take map control and then hit a site late at the end of a round. The general idea of how he does it is he stretches the resources he has to its limits — the resources being the players. For the most part, he tries to get away with using the minimum amount of players possible to secure an area. For players like HObbit and AdreN, they have to do it aggressively and get utility assistance from the others. Mou and Dosia use soft map control. That is, they post up on a position and wait for the pick to come to them. They defend the flanks or a specific area while AdreN and HObbit go to work in other parts of the map. But both players can be used as supports, either by holding a specific angle or throwing nades. Zeus is a pure support and helps either AdreN, HObbit or mou take ground, either by holding an angle (like window for Cobble), throwing nades, or entering into an area as a sacrificial body (Inferno banana). This is a broad way of defining it, as these roles change and vary depending on the map. The best way to put it is if there are four lanes of map control, Zeus will have the team aggressively take two and have players defend the other two. That is how Zeus encloses the enemy to the sites, and after giving his team the maximum amount of time to get this control, to get picks, to get information, he executes on the site in a basic coordinated fashion. He will then mix it up with a fast paced execute onto a site, but his primary weapon — his style — is that map control style.
Pujan “FNS” Mehta calls it basic CS, and he’s right. There isn’t anything complicated about the plans of Zeus. But it is effective. Every player knows their place within the default and how to coordinate their map control with each other. By using this style, Zeus also gains a large amount of information across the map. With that information, he can adjust how the team plays and craft a round that will be a guaranteed win. That is why Zeus is a master of grinding T-rounds.
Theoretical style is one thing, but how Zeus puts this into execution is another. How the players fit into this style is integral to making any good team. The players on hand were Dauren “AdreN” Kystaubayev, Mikhail “Dosia” Stolyarov, Rustem “mou” Telepov and Abay “HObbit” Khassenov (on loan from Tengri).
How did these pieces fit into the larger puzzle?
Here is what we knew about the players prior to Zeus joining the roster. AdreN was the star player on the team, though the team itself was fairly weak. Dosia had once been a superstar player years ago, but he had since fallen off. As a player, he gave the most impact as a lurker, flanking enemies. Mou was a Tier 2 AWPer who could dominate weaker opposition, but he had a much more difficult time when faced the elite. Specifically, he found it tough to get opening picks, especially against the top-tier AWPers. HObbit was a young talent who had recently joined the team.
Here is how they played under Zeus. AdreN became a superstar level player and a candidate for MVP of the year. Throughout the year, he’s had large impact in nearly every LAN he attended across the entire map pool of Gambit: Cobble, Train, Overpass, Cache, Inferno and Nuke. Not only that, but he is effective in every phase of the game. He can open up the rounds on both sides of the map. He is good at getting multi kills when defending a site and multi kills when breaking open a site. Finally, he is great at post plant scenarios, retake scenarios and 1-v-X scenarios, making him the most indispensable player on the team.
On the T-side, AdreN has three general roles: Entry, map control of critical areas, and lurk, though for lurking he is third in priority after Dosia and HObbit. For map contro,l he is responsible for areas like long Overpass, Cache A main/mid, Nuke yard, Inferno boiler and Cobble plat.
On the CT-side, AdreN has two duties: Entry and rotator. Depending on the map, he may be given varying degrees of aggressive priority to take the fight to the team on the Ct-side, to contest map control, get a pick and fall back. Or his other role is to play the rotator. Either one of two things happen. He is already there when the hit comes and gets kills, or he shows up in the retake and can win from there. This is harder to read as we can’t say if it is Zeus, AdreN or his teammates making the call to move into position. Regardless, he is incredibly effective, and his role from a rotator position allows Gambit to get away with less skill on the CT-side relative to the elite teams.
The second star of the team is HObbit. As a player, he has slowly improved with Gambit. The maps where he has had the best impact are Cobble, Inferno and Train. Like AdreN, he plays well on both T-side and CT-side. Similarly, he also gives consistent impact throughout every phase of the round and he does it from the roles he plays.
On the T-side, his roles were similar to AdreN: Map control, entry and lurk. For Map control, his most effective spots were Cobble drop, Inferno banana and Train B halls. When taking over those areas, that is where you will find a lot of HObbit’s impact kills come from. As entry, he is used as the entry player in one of the splits. For example, a typical Gambit tactic on Cobble was to take over plat with AdreN and drop with HObbit. Once that was done, they left Zeus in drop to cover window, and then AdreN entered from plat and HObbit from drop to pinch and kill anyone on B-site. As a CT-side player, he was placed into long hallway duels that had transitional defense. So Cobble plat, Inferno banana, Train ivy and Nuke ramp. Like AdreN, HObbit was also good at anchoring sites and could consistently get a kill and some damage before dying.
Mou is the third star of the team but not an all-around player like AdreN or HObbit: A good AWPer against riflers, but not that great in making opening picks on either CT-side or T-side. His best maps on this team have been Train and Inferno, and this became an important factor when Gambit eventually played at the Major. All of mou’s big impact rounds come from either anchoring a site and getting multi kills or securing a post plant with his AWP. He is average or below average as a playmaker in the map control phase of both sides of the map and because this is either second or third priority after AdreN and HObbit when it comes to those types of plays.
Finally, the two support players: Dosia and Zeus. Both of them fill similar roles. They help their other teammates take map control. They also end up being in the middle of the pack in an execute, as they were the ones throwing nades. In Zeus’ case, he can enter first for someone like HObbit or AdreN, depending on the situation or site.
There are some important differences, though. Dosia’s impact kills usually come from lurking, retakes, or anchoring a bombsite. In general, I’d say that when Dosia plays at a faster pace, when he can flank and surprise his opponents, he is most effective. But the chances of this happening are rare as he is an inconsistent player. He had one standout performance at DreamHack Austin, but the rest have him only doing his job and only giving impact once in a blue moon.
Zeus is the other support player and almost all of his impact plays come from one of two things: Close range combat or clutch plays where he can utilize his intelligence. That is why Zeus puts himself into situations where he can take close range fights with enemies. Some examples of that are Cobble long, Nuke vents (T-side) and Inferno on the CT-side. In terms of consistency, Zeus does his role in a more consistent manner than Dosia, but he doesn’t have the same amount of impact so he only has good games every once in awhile.
To sum it up, Gambit had one superstar player who could open rounds, reinforce the lack of skill on the team and close the round in AdreN. They had a second star who consistently got kills from his role in HObbit. They had an AWPer who is best at holding a position and firing against riflers. And finally, two support players with consistency problems, but could find some impact in odd and specific ways.
Overall a good roster, but not one that could fill you with sheer awe like FaZe, SK, G2, Natus Vincere or Astralis. If Gambit wanted to reach the top, the system, teamwork and tactics had to make up for the difference in pure skill.
The build up
I’ve explained Zeus’ style and I’ve explained the strengths and weaknesses of the player and how they play out in the team. It is now time to see how the combination of those two things interact with every map Gambit played throughout 2017. This is where we see the combination of Zeus’ style and the players we have and put them into practice. How does he implement these players and his style onto the maps?
This is an important question as it requires a large amount of time to do. I once asked Jason “Moses” O’Toole how long it took for a dedicated team with no distractions to master a map to a good level. He answered that with about 6-8 hours a day, with no prior obligations, it could vary between 2-4 weeks for a team. But this is the modern era where there are a seemingly infinite amount of online games, qualifiers and sponsorship/team content obligations. On top of that, players need to have some sort of semblance of a personal life, and players can get sick or injured, making it even harder to schedule a scrim or practice cohesively. If even one player in a scrim of 10 goes missing, the entire scrim is ruined.
So in Gambit’s case, it took a while for the team to learn Zeus’ style and to execute it in game. By the time the ELEAGUE Major rolled around in January, they were only able to execute his style on two maps: Cobble and Overpass. Luckily, no one knew that, so Gambit kept getting these two maps.
Wins in 2017: North, Virtus.Pro, TyLoo, Godsent, OpTic Gaming, G2
Losses: CLG, SK, Immortals
Cobble’s architecture is a natural fit for the Gambit roster. A-long has plenty of close angles, so Zeus can contribute impact. On top of that, he can support mou with his AWPing. For Mou’s part, he only has to deal with riflers as it is rare for a team to use their AWP to take control of the A-side of the map. HObbit naturally takes care of plat control as he is good at controlling and fighting for long corridor areas without getting picked off or dying. The only weakness is drop, so Gambit set up a soft defense with Dosia. He only gets information and falls off to relay it to the team. The biggest key to Gambit’s CT-side success is AdreN. If the T-side offensive gets past the first line of defense, AdreN can rotate in time to either help the defense or he retake the site. AdreN is a strong enough player to be a star in both roles. In effect, he works like a rebounder in basketball. If one of the other four mess up — if they miss their shot, so to speak — he can save the ball and the play anyway. That was the primary way as to why Gambit was able to defeat North at the ELEAGUE Major and Virtus.Pro at DreamHack Las Vegas.
Cobble’s T-side isn’t the best in the world, but it is effective and makes use of Gambit’s star players. The primary way Gambit played T-side was to use AdreN to take control of plat and HObbit to take control of drop. They then split the site with the two star players entering, though sometimes zeus or dosia would go in first from drop if they didn’t think someone can lurk in from window. At DreamHack Austin, Gambit improved the playbook and unveiled it against G2. Gambit showed a variation of its default, where HObbit would take drop but stay there as a lurker. From that position, he could either make noise, entry or time his attack to split A with his team.
After defeating G2 at DreamHack Austin, Zeus stopped picking the map, even when the veto allowed it. I’ve thought about why that was the case, and I’ve come to the conclusion that once Zeus had defeated G2, he assumed that every other team would permaban the map against Gambit. The other possibility is that Zeus believed it was strong enough to compete with the world’s best. So instead of honing that map further, he had his team practice other maps, and this came to fruition twice in the PGL Major against G2 and Fnatic. In the group stages, Zeus had the choice between Cobble and Cache, but chose Cache. Similarly, Fnatic banned Cache in its first phase ban in the veto (during the playoffs) and instead of going to the obvious strength/weakness, Zeus put his belief in the practice the team had done into Train. His choice turned out to be astute as Cobblestone became an almost non-factor in Gambit’s run to the Major trophy.
Wins in 2017: Godsent, FaZe, Fnatic, Astralis
The other map for Gambit’s rapid improvement was Overpass. If you think about it in a meta sense, it does fit the general strengths of the team. The standard is to play aggressive early and then fall back using transitional defense. That gives the team map information where it can then rotate accordingly, so it is similar to how Zeus runs T-sides. On top of that, the bathroom area and connector area are all close range combat zones, where Zeus can have impact. The area doesn’t revolve around AWP duels, depending on what angles you take, so that’s good for mou. Most importantly, though, the meta and the architecture of Overpass allowed Gambit to utilize AdreN’s strengths as both entry and rotator. He could entry early by pushing aggressively in mid or long and then fall back to rotate to reinforce either site.
On T-side, the team split up to take control of the various parts of the map with AdreN taking long, mou/dosia/zeus taking control of mid and under tunnels, and hobbit holding B. After taking map control, they have mou, dosia and zeus take control of mid and under tunnels. Gambt would usually leave HObbit to hold B passively while that is going on. Then Gambit would choke out the CT-side in space and time before hitting A at the end of the round. Because of the map control, Gambit also had a backup plan where it could switch to a B hit at the last moment.
Overpass was a strange place. Gambit showed it was strong on that map early at the ELEAGUE Major, but it was a middle ground where Gambit couldn’t be sure it would get a definite win against the best teams on this map, and every worse team just banned it.
After the first few tournaments of the year, it was clear Gambit could compete with the world’s best on Cobblestone and Overpass. Gambit got to playoffs at both the ELEAGUE Major and DreamHack Vegas off of those two maps. But it was also clear this was Gambit’s only maps. In order to win a best-of-three against an elite team, the middling maps in a team’s pool also need to be competitive. Up to that point, Gambit was a threat in a best-of-one, but to become champions, it needed to go further. In the following six months from DreamHack Vegas onwards, the team focused on building its map pool, which would soon become why the team won the Major
COMING FRIDAY: Part 2
Cover photo by Robert Paul/DreamHack