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BIG’s PGL Major run showcased a brief return to old-school CS:GO philosophies

BIG's PGL Major run showed some old school CS:GO tactics.
Gob b and BIG were the talk of the PGL Major. Photo by Jennika Ojala/DreamHack

“Even if Cold drops 50, we will still win.” — Fatih “Gob b” Dayik

The underlying sentiment these days is that old school in-game leaders are an archaism. The notion that a leader can function as the brain of the operations, at the expense of firepower, is considered an antiquated approach that no longer has a place. In the modern day, players consider it preferable to have a fifth skilled player rather than an in-game leader who cannot frag as well.

Given a choice between an individually skilled leader with weaker tactics or a leader with a stacked playbook and meager skill, modern teams almost always chose the former. Both Cloud9 and OpTic passed on Pujan “FNS” Mehta and Damian “daps” Steele. G2 went with Richard “shox” Papillon instead of Kevin “Ex6TenZ” Droolans. None of the top CIS players is willing to go under Andrey “B1ad3” Gorodenskiy’s leadership, spurning his old school ideas of structure and tactics. Modern CS:GO demanded a skilled in-game leader, even if his tactics were worse.

Yet at the PGL Kraków Major, BIG shocked the world by scoring upset after upset. Under the guiding hand of gob b, BIG defeated FaZe Clan, Cloud9 and SK Gaming — three of the top teams in the world — in the group stage. It was an incredible run largely due to the tactics, decision making, and teamwork orchestrated by the IGL.

To understand that amazing feat, it’s essential to note the odd evolution of the map pool. Going into the Major, Inferno became the most contested map. Teams were willing to let it pass through the pick/ban stage, but no one mastered it to warrant a first-phase ban. BIG gambled that its opponents wouldn’t want to hurt themselves by banning Inferno early. In doing that, BIG focused on sharpening its strategies on Inferno and, the preparation paid dividends by being able to play Inferno on every team it played.

What was it about BIG’s Inferno strategy that blindsided the competition? On the T-side, the basic structure of BIG’s executes on A and B is designed to deal with the modern meta. Since Inferno’s reintroduction, a once highly CT-favored map has incrementally tilted back toward the other side. Terrorists figured out when to monopolize control over banana or relinquish control to backstab CTs pushing through it, ending the tense stalemates that had characterized the old version. As T-side teams have gradually learned how to exploit the new changes on Inferno, teams on CT-side have slacked off on aggressive moves in response. Beyond pushing down banana (in the safest manner possible), CTs have all but abandoned taking the initiative. Contesting apartments, stairs, or middle beyond the first 10 seconds is considered too risky. Instead, CTs clam up within the sites, prioritizing crossfires and delay tactics so their teammates can rotate in. It’s common to see high-level teams do nothing to dissuade T pushes except throw out smokes and mollies, hoping they can disorient the incoming attack with flashes and staggered attacks.

On a holistic level, BIG’s array of executes operate according to deceptively simple logic: bifurcate the site with utility, isolate and eliminate the players in the strongest positions, and set up post-plant positions before the rotates come in. For the A site, their executes focus on eliminating the balcony and pit players first. Good defenders are a pain in the ass to deal with in those spots; the architecture naturally allows them to remain entrenched if the Ts are sloppy with their entrance. BIG focuses on clearing that side of the A site quickly, as it becomes much easier to kill the third player that is either rotating or on site. Meanwhile, B site executes involving walling off the site and doing a deep smoke. That allows BIG’s players to clear anyone on flowers with ease and then pinch the site from construction. In essence, both A and B executes prioritize clearing out the fringe problematic areas first and cracking open the site as efficiently as possible.

After that, it was gob b’s adaptations and reads that won the T-sides. The most exemplary example was a game against FaZe in the group stage. After the opening rounds, each round was used to condition the opponent as a subsequent setup to the next one. In Round 4, BIG ignored B control to execute on A. After that was shut down, they took control of B and took the round. Gob b read that FaZe would overreact to the unannounced switch and stack three towards B early. Because of that he called for a fast arch side push to envelop the A site. After so many subsequent victories, BIG read the economy and whittled down the time and utility on FaZe’s side before executing to take the next round. It was a master stroke by the old tactician and an approach that bowled over Cloud9 when they met in the next game.

The greatest test for BIG was against SK. By that time, SK likely studied BIG’s previous games as their A-site defense was much harder to breach. Gob b credited Marcelo “coldzera” David for the adjustments as they perfectly countered what gob b was doing. The game was a battle of wits with SK was always just one step ahead. With the first execute, BIG’s plans for A proved fruitless as SK had moved off all players from balcony and pit to either bomb site or graveyard. BIG adapted to that and during their next push on A, they cleared out graveyard first before turning attention to the site. Despite the round win, SK took control of the economy and continued to batter away at BIG’s T side. The only other round BIG won was a well executed B site take that broke the defense before reinforcements could arrive.

What won BIG the match was a combination of skill and teamwork. Their T-side play may have flopped, but the team more than made up for it on CT-side. BIG used various setups on the A site to keep SK guessing and had impressive use of utility to help each other out in the crossfires. One small thing that gob b personally did was save his smoke when he played pit. He knew SK’s propensity for late round hits on A site. But if you do a late round take on A, you usually have to molly out the pit player to take him out. Instead of using the smoke to stall them out, gob b extinguished the inevitable molly that came his way, forcing the vanguard of the SK push to run all the way to pit and expose themselves to crossfires.

With the 3-0 in the group stages, BIG’s plan had come to fruition. It took advantage of the meta and used countless hours of drills and practice to one up the competition. Whatever you wish to criticize about the Swiss system or the jump crouch bug, it’s clear that BIG’s run to the playoffs was completely deserved. Unfortunately for them, that was as far as they could get.

It started off well after BIG defeated Immortals in Game 1 of the quarterfinals. It was a surprising victory as BIG fell behind 12-3 on the T-side, but their CT gameplay was very strong and Nikola “LEGIJA” Ninic had one of the best performances of his career. A particular highlight was their potent nade usage: BIG often did 100+ damage on rifle rounds before any significant contact was made. By the time it was all settled, BIG had taken Cobblestone away from Immortals and headed to Inferno. A 2-0 sweep was a firm possibility.

But this time was an unmitigated disaster. First, the entire team underperformed on an individual level. Their firepower was lacking and in particular Johannes “tabseN” Wodarz had a terrible game, barely able to post one kill in the entire first half. Second, Immortals successfully deciphered BIG’s approach to T-side and bamboozled them at every turn. Specifically they realized BIG’s primary default neglected banana control. At best they had one player looking towards T-ramp/banana, but more for scouting purposes than getting pickoffs. This meant that if there was little action at the beginning of rounds at banana, it was likely this default; Henrique “HEN1” Teles abused this multiple times as he went all the way to mid to backstab them. BIG’s forcebuy setup on A site was also easy to read. The smoke at truck side was a distinguishing tell that they never bothered altering, so Immortals immediately recognized the execute whenever it was employed. Additionally, Immortals constantly contested mid and apartments. Where SK’s answer was to react and adapt to what BIG was doing as they got onto the site, Immortals just assaulted them before they could get into position. It worked, and the Germans were eviscerated every time they tried to gain any momentum.

The final map started after midnight in Poland. Both teams were exhausted so it finally came down to instincts. BIG had drilled countless hours into their executes, defaults, and teamplay and that was what shone for them in the final map. Immortals, on the other hand, reverted to the aggressive run-you-over Counter-Strike that had made them famous. It went down to the very wire with Immortals barely clutching it out at the very end 16-14.

BIG’s run at the PGL Major ended in the playoffs. While they are undoubtedly disappointed they couldn’t advance further, I can’t help but be impressed. Man for man, I can definitively say this was the one of the weakest teams in terms of raw firepower. I’d rank them as the 13th most skilled lineup at Kraków — who knows if they would’ve reached the Major without tabseN. But what shone through in their run were the intangibles that are praised as part and parcel of “pure” Counter-Strike: practice, teamwork, discipline. In an era where the rising level of skill and competition supposedly obliterated past paradigms, BIG have proven the old ways can still work.

Cover photo by Jennika Ojala/DreamHack

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