×

Column

lurppis: A thorough look at in-game leading in CS:GO

1
Following my previous column on player development, I will finally tackle the in-game leading – arguably both the most demanding and the most important – role in a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team.
The columns are largely synergistic, as gaining a better understanding of what is expected of a good in-game leader will also help the other players understand what can reasonably be expected of them. As such, I would recommend giving this one a read even if you have no plans of ever calling a single tactic – for many players there will be new things to keep in mind that will make them better at their role, too.

What does an in-game leader do?

Sometimes the role of an in-game leader is mixed up with being the captain of the team, but the two need not necessarily be the same. Most often that is the case when a less experienced player becomes the in-game leader for more experienced players: the in-game leader holds the final say on in-game decisions, but may not have the necessary authority elsewhere. However, given how many decisions overlap and are impossible to make without perfect information of the other role’s opinion, often the roles do eventually merge into one.

As far as in-game roles go, there are also some guidelines. I would recommend the in-game leader not be a team’s primary sniper or a lurker. It is likely that the leader being a team’s star player will also create friction among the team, because the right move would then be for him to constantly ask – or rather, order – drops from his teammates on pistol rounds and when the team does not have enough money for everyone. It is also easier to call and execute certain types of tactics if the leader is playing the key roles in fakes, which is why if skill permits, I believe being an entry fragger is the best role for an in-game leader. It also sets a good example in avoiding baiting and committing to plays. Naturally there are exceptions – Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo in SK Gaming and Vincent "Happy" Schopenhauer in Team Envyus come to mind – but interestingly enough, neither player was a star as they began in the role, but instead developed as players after becoming in-game leaders.

There are plenty of teams today who also field a full-time coach, which has an impact on the in-game leader’s role. Unfortunately, today’s prevalent rule-set does not allow the coach to call tactics during freeze-time or otherwise take over much of the in-game leader’s role during matches, meaning the coaches are mostly relegated into assistant roles, with focus on the next paragraph’s topic, preparation. If not, it would likely make sense to let the coach be in charge of calling the tactics, at least in the beginning of the round, if not mid-round. For example, players such as Markus "pronax" Wallsten or Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen, who are universally thought to lack in skill despite making up for it in their leadership abilities, may have been more valuable to their teams as coaches. In addition, low-skilled players’ careers could be prolonged by moving into the coaching position. Still, a word of caution: the in-game leader and his/her coach should broadly have a similar Counter-Strike philosophy, or you run the risk of constant disagreements, as happened to Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz in Team Liquid.

Markus
Markus "pronax" Wallsten

Preparation –Time spent before joining the match server

The very first type of preparation a team needs to do is to create a base of tactics and defensive setups to build on. Often this means at least setting up a slow default tactic on the terrorist side, agreeing on roles in standard executions, and defining everyone’s defensive role. But once the basics are done and a team starts practicing, how does one develop new tactics and setups to bolster a team’s arsenal? In other words, how do you keep adding, improvising and improving to not stagnate and avoid running the same tactics and setups forever?

If you can read the game at all – and I will elaborate more on that later – you can probably tell during a match what kind of tactic would work, even if your team has not gone over it or cannot execute it on the fly. The easiest way to decide what tactics to add is to figure out, either during the match or after reviewing demos, what would have worked so that next time in a similar situation you will have a practiced tactic ready to be executed successfully. Obviously you cannot add 1,000 tactics because it will be impossible to practice all of them, so focus on the most important ones – and realize you can add far more as time goes on. In fact, I would argue this is the biggest strength of long-tenured teams such as Virtus.pro.

Secondly, often teams – whether on purpose or subconsciously – figure out what kind of tactics would beat them, and then use those on the terrorist side. Intuitively it makes sense: you are trying to break a defense, and the defense you know best to model tactics based on is your own. As a side note, keep this in mind when studying teams. Alternatively, sometimes you simply see a good-looking tactic ran by another team, and want to copy it. Often this will be an execution, with set smokes and flashes, but at times you will also come up with mid-round ideas, and in those cases it is impossible to understate the importance of not copying like a dumb student: make sure you understand what you are copying, if you choose to go down that route. Review enough demos to understand the contingencies; what to do when anything goes wrong – or make your own plans. They will develop with time, but players will appreciate having a better view of what is expected to happen, and going over the contingencies will give them a chance to voice their own opinions.

You will also need to watch demos – unless you can relegate this job to your coach or analysts – of your opponents, as well as your own matches. Especially watching your own games is a severely underrated task which can solve problems faster than practicing or just about anything else, which is why I recommend doing so as a team. In a team-setting it is much easier to agree on what the problem is, what to change, and decide on a course of action going forward. You could also clip mistakes you see made and show to players one-by-one, but in either case it is important the players actually see what is going wrong, or they might simply think you are shifting blame. This becomes less of an issue as time goes on.

For reviewing opponents, I have found the best way to be a brute-force approach, such as the one I used with ENCE Esports in preparing them for the IeSF grand final against TyLoo in 2016. If you watch five good demos of every map you might play, and then write down everything your opponent runs in those demos, odds are you will know 90% of what they like to do – and begin to see clear patterns. I used to separate rounds by fourth round, force buy, full buy and desperation buys, to categorize the team’s ideas – that makes it much easier to remember all of it. It is also important to understand if a certain tactic is likely to be opponent-specific anti-tactic, or a mid-game adjustment that is not likely to be used against you, and not focus on those.

Once you are otherwise ready to go, make a mental plan for the coming match. I learned at a young age from sports the power of visualizing games before they take place – trying to imagine all scenarios you could conceive happening in the match, and how you would react to them. Not only will it make those split-second decisions in the match seem rehearsed when they happen, but you will also be able to think through what calls make sense in each scenario and improve your decision-making ex ante. I have also found that my teammates reacted positively to announcing as much of a game’s tactics to them in advance as possible: I would tell them which pistol rounds we will run, what we will do after a won/lost pistol round in different scenarios, and what tactics I planned to call. It also served as a brainstorming session to get everyone’s opinion – and thoughts especially if we had played against the opponent previously, whether in practice or matches – and to walk everyone through all relevant tactics once more.

MSL for North
MSL for North

Calling the shots in-game

The most obvious problem many teams fail to crack that is keeping them from improving significantly is practicing the wrong way. Top players are by nature competitive and enjoy winning – but the point of practicing is to improve and then win the actual matches, not to dominate in practice. In fact, it is better to lose in practice, because otherwise you will not be learning much. Before big tournaments I used to keep a notepad (or later in the smartphone age my phone) next to me during practice, to make sure I remember to call all important tactics. Getting enough repetitions of all important tactics is important, because the smallest differences in timing can be the difference between winning and losing, and the only way to practice those – beyond going over the tactics again and again on an empty server – is to try them.

Also, often you will learn exactly what is going to beat an opponent in practice: write it down, but do not call it, at least more than once. Do not give away the other team’s weakness in practice, when you might get a chance to abuse it in a real match. In case of the opposite – a tactic not working in practice – you should understand why: it is entirely different to lose a round because your teammates misses a kill or because the timing simply does not work out – the former was a one-off mistake, the latter a persisting problem with the tactic itself. Only honest conversations will sort out those issues in practice, before you are able to review demos. Make sure everyone is comfortable enough to say when they screwed up. At the same time, players will often react better to pointing out mistakes outside of practice or matches, when there can be pressure or tension – their guard will be lower, so make sure to mentally keep track of things you want to point out later on.

Once your team has a full tactic repertoire ready to go, it is time to execute it in matches. But how does the in-game leader know which tactic to call, and when? This is where preparation comes in, and you are also going to require significant help from your teammates. Because you can only see your own monitor and hear sounds around you on the map, you will need crystal clear communication from your team – especially on the polar opposites of the map – to understand what is happening, and to catch patterns. If a team smokes alley five rounds in a row but then one round does not, your teammate needs to tell you: it is a clear sign something changed, whether the opponent’s money situation or a sniper now holding the area. Likewise, it is impossible to understand rotations without getting proper information. Part of this task involves teaching all players what is useful information that must be communicated, and what can be left out.

Do not be afraid to listen to your teammates for instructions – they see four times more on the server cumulatively than you do – but set boundaries. In my teams I always let anyone suggest anything and would make sure to call what they wanted often enough to make it clear I appreciate their feedback, but also say no if I felt strongly against it. Most often the “no” would be when a player asked for permission to go for an aggressive early push or peek – and in those cases you should explain why, whether because you think the opponents are doing X, expecting the push or peek due to Y, or because you want to do Z instead.

Ex6TenZ looking over his notes.
Ex6TenZ looking over his notes.

Conclusion

If you have made it this far, you will have noticed a lot of this is linked together, which is why being an in-game leader can be such a tall task for many: not only are you facing added pressure for every decision made and expected to work harder on non-playing tasks, but it can take quite a while to truly understand the role. I for one can admit that I only started leading years after starting to play Counter-Strike, and only because I felt I could do a better job than our current in-game leader at the time (similar situation led to ave, cArn and walle starting in the role). Still, I took the job seriously and continued improving. It took me a long time to become a well-rounded leader – partly because I hardly changed teams – and my evolution was not done until the day I stopped playing competitively. It is a role that requires a constant feedback loop, and non-stop learning. Otherwise you will be left in the dust.

You will benefit from being able to logically think through a lot of things – in many ways calling tactics is similar to solving math equations. The beauty of Counter-Strike – or the problem, depending on your view – is that you can make the right call thirty rounds in a row and still lose. Players will make mistakes, not execute correctly, and miss easy kills. They will not communicate all the important information, and you will feel like you gave up rounds after reviewing each game’s demo: that’s normal. Sometimes your calls will be irrelevant because you are out-skilling the other team, and all your work will seem to be for nothing. Being somewhat of a perfectionist helps in being an in-game leader, but it is a balancing act to remain liked within your team. You cannot win every game – let alone every round – and pretending otherwise will only cause friction.

Being an in-game leader can be a lonely job, but it can also be extremely rewarding. There are few online games I remember from my career, but I do remember a must-win NGL ONE game where we not only needed to beat a team, but to win by a 16-6 margin to advance by round difference. I spent >10 hours watching demos and making sure the other team – one of the most tactical around at the time – had no tactics I was not aware of, and felt like I called a perfect game. Likewise, I remember specific calls from small events – walking out of apartments on inferno on a full gun round versus Sean "seang@res" Gares on a subconscious hunch – that are otherwise entirely forgettable.

Finally, if you want to become a professional Counter-Strike player, there is no greater demand in the market than for an in-game leader. If you are an average-skilled professional but a good in-game leader, you will be playing for one of the best teams – the job prospects are simply far greater for in-game leaders than pure fraggers. At the same time, you will still need to keep up your individual skill to not become a liability, and the job will not always be fun. If you decide to do it, you are likely to regret it at times. And yet, if you think this all sounds at all interesting, I wholeheartedly recommend it. At the very least, you will learn much more useful real-life skills than focusing solely on your crosshair could ever give you.

About the author
Tomi Kovanen, more commonly known as "lurppis", is one of Finland's most prominent Counter-Strike experts. Kovanen started his career as a player back in 2004, retiring in early-2012. During his active years, Kovanen represented teams such as hoorai, Team ROCCAT, 4Kings and Evil Genuises.

Following his retirement, Kovanen has continued to be an influential member of the scene, sharing his expertise as a columnist, analyst, commentator and a frequent user of Twitter (@lurppis).

0 comments — write comment

The comments below are written by users on Fragbite. Fragbite do not review the truthfulness of the written text and you are recommended to critically review the text. Do not assume the content of any post is truthful.
Show 0 comments

Write a comment

DisplayTemplate("related");?>
The Swedish NiP-legend Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg somehow takes home an unwinnable round for his team in the quarter-finals of the DreamHack Masters Marseille 2018-playoffs.
Read more and watch

0 comments — write comment

The comments below are written by users on Fragbite. Fragbite do not review the truthfulness of the written text and you are recommended to critically review the text. Do not assume the content of any post is truthful.
Show 0 comments

Write a comment

DisplayTemplate("related");?>
As Heroic transfer two players to the North American organisation Optic Gaming, Swedish rifler Adam "friberg" Friberg has been added to the Danish side's ESEA roster.
Read more

0 comments — write comment

The comments below are written by users on Fragbite. Fragbite do not review the truthfulness of the written text and you are recommended to critically review the text. Do not assume the content of any post is truthful.
Show 0 comments

Write a comment

2013 Michael "shroud" Grzesiek started his Counter-Strike: Global Offensive career. On April 18th 2018 he announced his retirement from competitive CS:GO. We've taken out some of the best highlights from the Canadian player for you to remember.
Read more and watch

0 comments — write comment

The comments below are written by users on Fragbite. Fragbite do not review the truthfulness of the written text and you are recommended to critically review the text. Do not assume the content of any post is truthful.
Show 0 comments

Write a comment

DisplayTemplate("related");?>
The final day of Dreamhack Masters Marseille has come to an end and your champions are Astralis.
Read more

0 comments — write comment

The comments below are written by users on Fragbite. Fragbite do not review the truthfulness of the written text and you are recommended to critically review the text. Do not assume the content of any post is truthful.
Show 0 comments

Write a comment

Four players make moves in the Brazilian scene as both NTC and Luminosity make changes to their rosters.
Read more

0 comments — write comment

The comments below are written by users on Fragbite. Fragbite do not review the truthfulness of the written text and you are recommended to critically review the text. Do not assume the content of any post is truthful.
Show 0 comments

Write a comment

The Quarter-Finals day of Dreamhack Masters Marseille has come to a close and as such we have dropped from eight teams to four.
Read more

0 comments — write comment

The comments below are written by users on Fragbite. Fragbite do not review the truthfulness of the written text and you are recommended to critically review the text. Do not assume the content of any post is truthful.
Show 0 comments

Write a comment

DisplayTemplate("related");?>
After months of speculation the British player smooya has joined the German Organisation BIG Clan.
Read more

0 comments — write comment

The comments below are written by users on Fragbite. Fragbite do not review the truthfulness of the written text and you are recommended to critically review the text. Do not assume the content of any post is truthful.
Show 0 comments

Write a comment

The third day of Dreamhack Masters Marseille has come to a close and we now have the Quarter Finals determined as four more teams head home.
Read more

0 comments — write comment

The comments below are written by users on Fragbite. Fragbite do not review the truthfulness of the written text and you are recommended to critically review the text. Do not assume the content of any post is truthful.
Show 0 comments

Write a comment

DisplayTemplate("related");?>
In Vavle's most recent Counter-Strike: Global Offensive update they have made a major change to the map pool, with a trip down memory lane.
Read more

0 comments — write comment

The comments below are written by users on Fragbite. Fragbite do not review the truthfulness of the written text and you are recommended to critically review the text. Do not assume the content of any post is truthful.
Show 0 comments

Write a comment

The second day of Dreamhack Masters Marseille has come to a close and whilst we haven't lost any further teams we do have four who have secured their spots in the playoffs.
Read more

0 comments — write comment

The comments below are written by users on Fragbite. Fragbite do not review the truthfulness of the written text and you are recommended to critically review the text. Do not assume the content of any post is truthful.
Show 0 comments

Write a comment

DisplayTemplate("related");?>
The Bosnian Faze-superstar Nikola "NiKo" Kovač wins an essential round for his team versus Cloud9 in the DreamHack Masters-tournament, held in Marseille.
Read more and watch

0 comments — write comment

The comments below are written by users on Fragbite. Fragbite do not review the truthfulness of the written text and you are recommended to critically review the text. Do not assume the content of any post is truthful.
Show 0 comments

Write a comment

DisplayTemplate("related");?> DisplayTemplate("related");?>
Anna "rewen" Martiny was shining at Copenhagen Games 2018 under Ambush Esport but will now continue her career with Squared Prospect. The Danish player will replace Kristina "zon1Q" Stevanović in the team.
Read more

0 comments — write comment

The comments below are written by users on Fragbite. Fragbite do not review the truthfulness of the written text and you are recommended to critically review the text. Do not assume the content of any post is truthful.
Show 0 comments

Write a comment

DisplayTemplate("related");?>
Load more content