Make America great again (in CS:GO)

The problem of North American Counter-Strike: Global Offensive teams consistently failing to prove themselves in top-level competition has gone on for some time.

Many people have speculated why — despite nearly five years of play — North America continues to be the running joke of the CS:GO world. Maybe Europe has the best practice partners? Maybe Americans are not dedicated enough? Maybe Americans do not have proper team infrastructure behind them? All of these factors might play a role in the overall system, but none of them is the greatest contributing factor to North America’s never-ending headache.

The biggest problem with North American CS:GO is that the best players on the continent all play for different teams. America contains four teams that are roughly the same caliber based on skill, results and projections: Counter Logic Gaming, Cloud 9, OpTic Gaming and Team Liquid. This is unique to America; such parity between the top teams doesn’t exist in other countries. Denmark’s four best, for example, are Astralis, Team Dignitas, SK Gaming and Copenhagen Wolves. You won’t hear anyone compare Astralis and Copenhagen Wolves as if they are anywhere close to equal. Why? Because the five best players in Denmark play for Astralis. This is America’s problem.

Photo by Patrick Strack/ESL | eslgaming.com

Photo by Patrick Strack/ESL | eslgaming.com

 

Nationality is the driving factor behind team generation mostly because of communication. The game relies heavily on information from teammates. A language barrier is a near insurmountable problem when attempting to trade frags or execute onto a site precisely.

Each member must know exactly what to do, when to do it and who else is helping. Without being able to effectively communicate, succeeding at the highest level is impossible. In Europe, the concept is simple because most nations in Europe speak different languages and are therefore separated easily.

For the purposes of this article, we will ignore the possibility of North American teams importing english speaking Europeans and focus on what else needs to happen before America becomes an international threat again.

Varying pool sizes

While examining the spread of top talent in America and Europe, we can also investigate the population of countries to determine if it may have any significant effect on the strength of teams. It’s important because it allows us to view any over-saturation of talent by native language and localization.

The over-saturation of talent in North America initially caused players to form teams with their friends and not necessarily the best players in the region. This meant the overall skill level across the board was weaker and the process of eliminating the A- and B-tier players from the S-tier players would take more roster iterations and, by proxy, more time. As bigger organizations began to invest time and money into CS:GO, they wanted to ensure their talent wouldn’t be able to leave quite as easily. This has brought about stagnant rosters that prevent the best players in North America from playing with each other or forming a North American super team akin to Fnatic or Astralis.

The larger a country’s population, theoretically, the higher chance the best players are split up among different teams. This comes about through the logical progression of how players find each other. In Denmark, people speak Danish. That means they would attend LANs primarily in Denmark or develop friends in matchmaking that also speak Danish.

With a population of 5.5 million, the percentage of Danes who play CS:GO on European servers is sure to be small — and even smaller at the highest level of play. The best Danish players should be able to find each other more easily than the best in Germany, where the population is 80 million. It’s difficult to quantify the relationship between population and dispersion of talent, but one definitely exists.

Here’s a look at some European countries:

Commonwealth of Independent States (Russia+Ukraine)

  • Population: 188.99 Million (2013)
  • Teams: Natus Vincere, FlipeSid3 Tactics ESP, Hellraisers, Team YP

Germany

  • Population: 80.62 Million (2013)
  • Teams: Mousesports, PENTA Sports, KILLERFISH eSport, ALTERNATE aTTaX

France

  • Population: 66.03 Million (2013)
  • Teams: Team EnVyUs, G2 Esports, LDLC White, LDLC Blue

Poland

  • Population: 38.53 Million (2013)
  • Teams: Virtus.Pro, Lounge Gaming, ex-Vexed Gaming, Game Agents

Sweden

  • Population: 9.59 Million (2013)
  • Teams: Fnatic, Ninjas in Pyjamas, Publiclir

Denmark

  • Population: 5.61 Million (2013)
  • Teams: Astralis, Team Dignitas, SK Gaming, Copenhagen Wolves

Anyone who follows CS:GO will quickly notice the tremendous drop off in talent between even the first and second tier teams in each country (with the exception of France, which has the top 10 players in the region more evenly dispersed through two teams). The pattern repeats itself for Finland, Great Britain, Australia and Brazil.

We can take a look at the top 10 players in a couple of countries and see how spread they are among different teams.

Top 10 players by rating with over 200 maps played in CSGO

  • Sweden: GeT_RiGhT (NiP), f0rest (NiP), olofmeister (Fnatic), flusha (Fnatic), JW (Fnatic), KRiMZ (Fnatic), twist (Ancient), Xizt (NiP), pyth (NiP), dennis (Fnatic).

The top two teams in Sweden account for 10 of the 11 highest-rated players.

  • Poland: Snax (VP), MICHU (CSGL), pashaBiceps (VP), rallen (ex-Vexed), byali (VP), NEO (VP), TaZ (VP), Furlan (ex-Vexed), MINISE (CSGL), oskarish (Teamless).

The top 10 players in Poland are split among three teams and a free agent. Virtus.Pro has all five members in the top 10; Lounge Gaming and ex-Vexed both have two.

  • Germany (based on 125 maps): nex (mouz), keev (ATN), Troubley (Teamless), stfN (ATN), Spiidi (mouz), tabseN (Penta), tahsiN (Penta), kRYSTAL (Penta), tiziaN (ATN), mnL (Teamless).

The top 10 in Germany is split among three teams with two free agents. Interestingly enough, the top team that is considered German, mousesports, is only three-fifths German. The third member, Denis “denis” Howell, holds the 13th spot in Germany.

  • North America (USA+Canada): Hiko (Liquid), Tarik (CLG), NAF-FLY (OpTic), Shroud (C9), nitr0 (Liquid), jdm64 (CLG), ShahZaM (OpTic), roca (compLexity), n0thing (C9), SEMPHIS (TSM)

The top 10 players in North America are split among six teams. (Honorable mentions for North America go to Braxton “swag” Pierce, Sam “DaZeD” Marine, Joshua “Steel” Nissan and Kevin “AZK” Lariviere who would all be in the top 10 if it were not for their permanent match-fixing bans. The iBUYPOWER team containing those four players and Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham (C9) is still one of only two North American rosters to win an international premier level competition).

What it all means

Long contracts and hefty buyout prices prevent players from moving on their own without being kicked off their existing roster. North America’s best chance at getting back to the top looks something close to this: Spencer “Hiko” Martin, Tarik “tarik” Celik, Mike “Shoud” Grzesiek, Joshua “jdm64” Marzano and Nick “nitr0” Cannella with Sean “sgares” Gares (Echo Fox) as the in-game leader from a coaching position.

There’s no guarantee that roster could take down Fnatic or Natus Vincere, but wouldn’t it be fun to see?

Every North American organization wants to be the next Fnatic. That means if a team has one piece of the puzzle for a super team, it would rather fight for the other four pieces than settle for being Ninjas in Pyjamas. That’s the main reason we will likely never see the best North America has to offer.

The one thing North America does have on its side is the new Turner Sports venture, ELeague, which has the potential to attract top talent from Europe to compete for the $2.4 million prize purse. Mousesports and Astralis have already confirmed their invitations for the first season, which begins May 24. Having some of Europe’s top talent living in America would optimistically bring with it better practice partners and structure.

America has a problem that will not go away anytime soon or with any small effort. Fans can only look ahead to the next wave of contracts and hope for a successful roster shuffle. The American way in CS:GO for too long has been to settle, and if the region wishes to return to prominence internationally, it will take a couple of big checks from one of the big four teams to make America great again.

Freelance writer world champion multi-tasker and filthy casual.

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