How did the 211th ranked team in the world make it into the second stage of the most prestigious tournament in Counter-Strike, a Valve Major?
Vega Squadron may have surprised last January at the ELEAGUE: Boston Major as well by making it to the new Legends stage, but it’s hardly the same roster this go round. Vega dropped 40% of their roster on April 18th, with Nikolay "mir" Bityukov and Sergey "keshandr" Nikishin going inactive.
Before the change, Vega won zero maps at cs_summit 2 with best-of-three losses to North and Torqued and failed to make it out of groups at StarLadder & ImbaTV Invitational Chongqing 2018 thanks to a bo3 loss to TyLoo. The team's management cites poor results and an internal split as the reason for the change, but even after picking up Anton "tonyblack" Kolesnikovn and Igor "crush" Shevchenko there was next to no indications results-wise that Vega could surprise again at the major.
They successively failed to make it through the DreamHack Open Summer 2018 qualifier, the DreamHack Open Valencia 2018 qualifier, the Adrenaline Cyber League 2018 Qualifier, and DreamHack Masters Stockholm 2018 qualifier. They made the offline grand finals of M.Game League #2 but chose not to attend to LAN.
The New Challengers stage of the Major was the first offline event this version of Vega Squadron has played with each other and they went on to defeat BiG who made it to the finals of ESL One Cologne and North who were fresh off their own Cinderella run at DreamHack Masters Stockholm.
Exactly why a team success or fails cannot be attributed to a single moment or player or reason, especially in this case, given the small sample size of four offline best-of-ones and one best-of-three. But if I had to pick the most prominent point of strength for Vega, their fast-paced and ballsy T-sides is the obvious place to start.As mentioned in my previous article, well-worn characterizations such as “Na’Vi’s ultra late-round executes” can dramatically oversimplify what teams do on a round to round basis. In the same vein, I wouldn’t call Vega Squadron's T-sides "one-dimensional" or "purely aggressive," but there is a fast-paced, high-risk flare there that is highly noticeable, consistent game-to-game, and unique to Vega. They will rush with SMGs, push smokes at odd timings, dry peak, and rely on contact plays or low-utility attacks throughout a half.
In round 8 versus CompLexity on Inferno, you can see one of their famous MAC-10 rush rounds, but a more typical version of their “aggression” would be something more like round 9 versus BiG on Train. With a 1:35 left on the round timer Crush took and won a rifle v AWP duel in Ivy right as three Vega players moved into the inner site using zero smokes, zero flashes, and just one Molotov despite having a plethora of utility on hand.Photo Credit: Twitch
While moving into bombsites or through smokes has the obvious benefit of not announcing the attack and gives extra defenses for the post-plant, it opens the game up to more straightforward aim-battles, spray downs, and trading. It is this dynamic that makes this style, or a less extreme version of this style, more typically associated with late 2015, early 2016 Fnatic roster with Dennis "dennis" Edman or the Guardian-Olof FaZe lineup in more recent memory.
It is a strange choice for Vega given their earlier struggles this year. They don’t have the firepower to compete with the elite teams, and arguably Vega does not even have fire-power comparable some firm tier-two teams such as HellRaisers, OpTic, TyLoo, or G2. They only seem suited to prey on one specific type of team: the more brain and less brawn top-12ish teams such as BIG and North, and even then it seems like a gamble.
On the most recent episode of Counter-Points, Ducan “Thorin” Shields made the analogy that Vega Squadron are like birds that strike a plane’s engines, “A bird will never be better than a plane at flying, but they can fucking destroy a plane.”
By taking many unusual and additional risks, Vega can short-circuit the much more highly nuanced gameplans and make the game more about surprise, chance, and skill where there is more parity between the two rosters. Despite North being the far more decorated team, Vega found win versus the Danish side at both the ELEAGUE: Boston Major and the current FACEIT Major.
As the level of competition improves in the next stage, teams should have less reason to worry about Vega Squadron. You could look at teams nearer to their level in the next stage like compLexity, Cloud9, or Winstrike and see victories, but on even on that level, their style doesn’t look to have the consistency needed to gobble up all of those must-wins. Vega lost to both coL and Team Spirit in the New Challengers Stage, and, while might surprise teams as they did FaZe last major, you have to surmise that they are going into those matches with a distinct disadvantage.
At the FACEIT Major, Vega Squadron has once again over-achieved expectations and amused us with their distinct double-speed style that doubles-down on danger. While their approach may be nonconducive to perform consistently, the bravado needed to embrace the volatile bazaar that is their T-sides is something hard to look away from, if not respect.
Do you think Vega will make top 8? Comment below!