Windows of Opportunity in Counter-Strike

The optimist in us reflects on a disappointing result by turning into stoicism. Coming close to beating a team means you are within inches of improvement from winning the next time around, not that you ruined your one chance. It is a sign of growth as a team, which is expected to only lead to further growth. Few admit that past is not truly an indicator of the future, though without a magic 8-ball it remains all we have to base our predictions on.

To put this into context for Counter-Strike, Luminosity is – and has been, for a couple of months now – on the cusp of greatness. They have lost close series in the grand finals of FACEIT Stage 3 Finals, DreamHack Open Leipzig, as well as IEM Katowice. At the most recent two – both of which took place within the past two or so months – Luminosity has finished a combined 0-5 in the grand finals, losing four of the five maps in grueling fashion in overtime. It is hard to get much closer than that without actually winning.

Even rational fans expect Luminosity to continue down this path, and ultimately snatch a title. Perhaps that will already happen this week at MLG Columbus, where a total of $1 million is up for grabs for the first time in Counter-Strike history. But as many before have found out, and as many others will for decades to come, windows of opportunity can close just as quickly as they appear. Remember, Luminosity’s streak came out of nowhere, directly after a roster change that brought in Lincoln “fnx Lau and Epitacio “TACO” Pessoa, despite lacking practice with the new team. Who is to say one bad showing cannot begin the undoing of it all?

It might sound ridiculous to suggest that – and for the record, I do not expect that to happen – but it has happened many times in the past, and will continue happening. No one thought the previous EnVyUs roster would never win another big international tournament after the previous major, or self-destruct in the manner it has. No one could have predicted the sudden fall of the 87-0 Ninjas in Pyjamas roster, leading to a group stage exit at ESWC 2014. Few thought Dignitas had already peaked with its top-two finish at Game Show Global eSports Cup in early February.

From my experience, never could I have thought the time my team 69N-28E stood on the podium of WSVG Louisville, after dominating SK in the grand final, would have been my last international title with a Finnish team. Similarly, if you would have asked me whether that same run of three international titles would have been followed by four events outside of the top four, I would have never said yes. But the windows of that team with Joona “natu” Leppänen simply closed due to external factors, and it took months to rebuild with Samu “plastE” Aalto, despite him being a clearly better player, vis-à-vis, on an individual level.

Duncan “Thorin” Shields had a really good segment on this subject in the final thirty seconds of his recent Luminosity video. In any competitive setting – be that a sport or a video game – time is fleeting. Players are going to think they will have a chance to win it all for as long as they choose to compete, but it does not work like that. The smallest of things change the courses of entire careers – always have, and always will. But that is not something you can simply budget for or expect. A lot of the time you do not even realize the point it happened, until much later when reflecting on the situation.

The same exists on a micro level, which can be more easily observed. When weaker teams are on the verge of scoring an upset win over the favorites, there are often a couple of key rounds they absolutely need to go their way, to stop the better team from clawing their way back into the game. For example, when a team has multiple match points but is unable to close a map in regulation, the underdogs can rarely overcome the mental reset of an overtime beginning, and end up losing. The window for that upset has closed – and in these instances the teams often know it themselves, even during the matches in question. In fact, part of the reason they do is that teams in those situations often start second-guessing themselves.

The reason so few are able to capitalize on these opportunities is how straining it is mentally. Much like dealing with stress, you cannot practice dealing with pressure without experiencing the real thing. And in those very situations, it is all too easy to bow down instead of rising above it all. What’s more, people are not exactly – for the most part – receptive to being told in those situations that they need to let it go, to focus on the task at hand. Some people are unfazed by pressure – in fact, some seem to thrive under it. But that is rare, and generally players have to pay their dues first. There are few shortcuts in life.

Time is fleeting. Some never get a chance to compete at the majors, let alone compete for the championship. If you are one of the lucky ones that do, I suggest you give it everything you have – every single time – as opposed to letting your foot off the gas pedal, thinking there will always be another chance – because life, simply put, does generally not work that way. The words carpe diem, uttered often in Robin Williams’ movie Dead Poets Society, capture this perfectly – as cliché as it is. Seize the moment, for there may never be another opportunity to do what you set out to.

Photos by Patrick Strack/ESL, eslgaming.com

lurppis is a former professional Counter-Strike player whose team was ranked the world's best in 2007 and who led Evil Geniuses for two years. Since retiring, he has been an active member of the media.

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