Top five best single map specialists of 2017
A few of the competing kings of Counter-Strike were able to corner off their own kingdom in 2017.
G2 on Cobblestone
Longest win streak: eight maps
Notable wins: SK (5/31), North (6/4), North (9/3)
When Gambit briefly became the best team in the world on Cobblestone in early 2017, I assumed they would usher in a new meta on the CT-side of the map. Back then, Gambit was still very much a tier-2, bottom of the top-eight team overall, so their world-leading success on the map seemed indicative of extreme specialist strength that overcame their broader deficiencies. However, G2’s more intense and sustained success on the map in the months since then has fiercely rebuked Gambit’s innovations.
Cobblestone has long been considered a T-sided map thanks to the high success rate of B executes and the CT’s inability to scout or attack the Terrorists, but Gambit succeeded on Cobblestone thanks to their unparalleled success on the CT-side. Gambit’s defensive innovation was two-fold. First, instead of trying to force through aggression with a low rate of a success, they instead adopted a more passive play style that revolved with little to no aggression. Second, instead the more typical 2-A/3-B setup Gambit often had 1-A and 4-B from the middle of the round onwards with Zeus playing the A-long position.
From there, Gambit could either survive the B-executes, or if A was taken, they could move back to B with a more full force. Their strategy on B helped ease their weaknesses firepower-wise, while their weak A-setups played conversely let Gambit’s strength as veteran-heavy, highly coordinated team with strong retakes.
But G2, like SK who would also be very strong on Cobblestone for most of the year, never picked up on where Gambit left off, even after losing to Gambit on Cobblestone in the deciding map of the DreamHack Austin semifinals. While G2’s CT-side could likewise bend the impression that Cobblestone favored the Terrorists, it overwhelmed the barriers inherent to the old way instead of avoiding them.
G2’s overarching setup has been relatively fixed: Dan “apEX” Madesclaire and Kenny “kennyS” Schrub are more or less permanently fixed to the A-site with Nathan “NBK-” Schmitt covering drop, and Alexandre “bodyy” Pianaro and Richard “shox” Papillon covering the primary B site. The combination of Shox’s aggression on B-plat, the world-class if not world leading AWP play of KennyS on A, and substantive firepower elsewhere has made their CT-side perhaps the least permeable team on this iteration of the map.
G2 did not seed sites they hold and push forwards as opposing offenses often tried and failed to make headway on the French super-team’s home map. While they have fallen off on Cobblestone since the player break (3-4 since then), their 11-1 record before that was easily one of the better map specific runs we have seen this year.
Astralis on Overpass
Longest win streak: seven maps
Notable wins: Virtus.Pro (1/27), FaZe (3/5), SK (11/15)
Photo courtesy of DreamHack and Adela Sznajder
Since this current version of Astralis formed back in October 2016, they have been a dominant, identity-defining presence on Overpass. Across all LAN games played on the map with their starting lineup, including those played last year, Astralis has recorded an astonishing 20-5 record across their extended run on the map.
When they came up on it, they had several legitimate competitors the foremost being the faded but still elite SK Gaming roster with Lincoln “fnx” Lau and OpTic with Peter “stanislaw” Jarguz who met Astralis in back-to-back tournament finals late last year. But Astralis could find wins versus both teams, first versus SK in the ELEAGUE Season 2 semifinals and eventually versus OpTic at the ECS Season 2 semifinals. From then on, Astralis was by far and away the world leader even as they simultaneously fell off on their other leading pick, Train, and slipped down from their world leading position overall.
For a while, it seem only the wildest of aberrations could force Astralis to slip on home turf. Team Liquid were the first team to beat Astralis on it in 2017 at the ECS Season 3 finals in June, but famously that game was marred by heat issues within the venue. Then, Astralis were shocked by Rustem “mou” Telepov and Gambit in the Semifinals of the PGL Major as the often average AWPer made retake after retake work on the B-site leading to a 10 round CT-side, a map upset, and a series victory over Astralis. Then as FaZe hit their supersonic two-tournament stride in September, they too stomped out Astralis on Overpass to continue their win streak.
More currently, Astralis have cooled off on the map since the player break losing games to both NiP and FaZe, but they still proven to be dangerous on the map taking a game off of the two new great Overpass powers in SK and FaZe, though the FaZe rematch win came when Astralis was using a stand-in.
Astralis’s strength on the map does not seem side specific. On the CT-side, Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz has been become known and renowned for his AWP play on the A-site, perpetually finding picks through his skill and understanding of the site’s many angels. Perhaps most famously in the opening game of the PGL Major quarterfinals, he personally shut out the famed AWP duo of FalleN and Coldzera again and again in AWP duels.
Likewise, Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth has had his own heroics as the anchor of the B-site, such as his 1v3 versus Virtus.Pro in the ELEAGUE Major.
On the T-side, Astalis have been equally potent with that success instead coming more from their highly tactical and coordinated team play with Astralis winning a lot of praise for their fast-executes on the B-site. Likewise, they have become known for their slow-paced fakes. On other maps, but on Overpass especially, Astralis will often painstakingly gain map control on one side on the map, wait till there is only 20 seconds or so left on the clock only to then rapidly whip around to the often emptied other site, and plant the bomb within the thinnest of margins.
While SK and FaZe threaten to overtake Astralis’s Overpass in the present, the Danish team’s dominance on the map will likely be remembered as one a greatest single map holds in the history of Counter-Strike.
FaZe with Olofmeister and Guardian on Inferno
Longest win streak: seven maps
Notable wins: Astralis (9/17), Liquid (9/17), Liquid (11/17)
Photo courtesy of EPICENTER
After Inferno was reintroduced into the map pool last February, the continuous refrain surrounding the map soon became “who will master it first?” Despite being one of the most played maps in the pool, no one could win on it with any great regularity unlike a Mirage, Overpass, Cobblestone, or Train.
Part of the problem surrounding this inconsistency seemed to be the changes to the B bombsite. In the new version, the CT-side seems to lack a consistent means of holding back defenders, as exemplified in SK’s struggles on the map since the PGL Major. And that difficulty is often radically intensified when the defenders lack or are somewhat lacking in utility, which can lead to lopsided halves if the CTs’ economy suddenly breaks or recovers.
That said, FaZe’s relatively new dominance on the map hardly suggests that it has now been “figured out.” On Inferno, FaZe’s identify aligns neatly with their overall image. If you divide the game into three aspects, Terrorist rounds, Counter-Terrorist rounds, and pistols rounds, FaZe is especially strong on the latter two on Inferno just as they are elsewhere in large part due to the extreme amount of skill on the roster.
However, unlike a Train or a Cache, where FaZe are known to struggle on the T-side, they look far more competent on Inferno. While FaZe still mainly find round wins via fast attacks or winning individual trades during defaults (doing especially well on contact plays on the B-site often led by Nikola “NiKo” Kovač), they also have full-fledged executes which can bolster their baseline effectiveness.
Still, FaZe’s success still largely revolves around the CT-side. When FaZe stomped Team Liquid with Stanislaw 16-3, another world leader on Inferno, FaZe won the opening CT half 15-0. In certain key matchups, such as the finals of ESL Pro League Season 6 versus SK, Finn “karrigan” Andersen will whip out some timed, anti-strat looking aggression down mid or banana to shake the plans of the opposing T-side, but you still have to give credit to FaZe’s individual defenders.
Håvard “rain” Nygaard can be quite effective on the A-site, and Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovács often finds picks down mid, but perhaps what sets FaZe apart the most on this map is Niko’s ability to hold B. With the AWP at new box or dark or with the rifle behind fountain or second oranges or in more forward position, Niko has an unparalleled capacity to win duels and grab multikills versus swarming T-sides. Besides Niko’s performance on the B-site, FaZe’s strength on pistol rounds ecos likewise somewhat mitigates the persistent economy-based B-site problems most CT-sides have experienced.
As I argued in an article last month, FaZe are Specialists not Superhumans, but it is their fixed grip on popular maps like Inferno that have kept FaZe afloat as one of the best two teams on the world alongside SK.
SK with Felps on Cobblestone
Longest win streak: eight maps
Notable wins: Gambit (4/22), North (8/31), G2 (9/2)
Photo courtesy of DreamHack and Adela Sznajder
While many will recall SK’s sizzling summer run, winning five of six straight LANs, the roster’s beginnings were far more humble. With Felps in the lineup, SK failed to make it group stage of two of their first three LANs together as they A) struggled to integrate the much more aggressive player into their system and B) reconstructed their map pool under their new composition.
Maps that regularly worked out for them during the late-Fnx period, such as Overpass and Train (recall their 17 game win streak on that map), suddenly became mediocre or unreliable with Felps. SK only slowly realized that Cache and Mirage were far better options, but the one map that worked with both lineups and was a component of their summer success was Cobblestone.
The pick perhaps went under the radar as it was not something like their Train previously where they first picked it in nearly every single best-of-three series, but it was effective all the same. SK slowly built up their 16-4 record over the course of the year, defeating most of the other Cobblestone leaders along the way.
They outstripped the surging Virtus.Pro who used to be great on Cobblestone at DreamHack Masters Las Vegas, 16-8. Then, they crushed Gambit 16-4 at Cs_Summit just after the CIS team started to to fall off their world leading status on that map. However, they lost to the next world leader, G2, at the ESL Pro League Season 5 finals in part of their series loss in the semifinals. But this singular loss was the only blight on their record across their first 16 appearances on the map as they regularly vanquished all challengers whether that respectable Cobblestone adversaries such as North and Immortals or nobodies in the form of a ViCi or Singularity.
Unlike Gambit or G2, SK were a more traditional Cobblestone team in that they performed more equally in terms of the CT and T sides if not slightly favoring the T-side. On offensive, a lot of credit has to be given to the effective and often innovative attacks orchestrated by Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo, but unlike any other map in their pool SK’s firepower seemed to innately understand how to be effective on this map. While the combination Fernando “fer” Alvarenga and Felps could sometimes be too aggressive stretch out SK’s attacks too much too quickly, on Cobblestone it seemed to work more regularly especially A-site attacks with each leading a parallel force up ramp or down A-long.
Unlike the extreme specialization of the current FaZe, SK seemed like a leading force across all categories. Backed my strong executes, they had the firepower to bulldoze through CT-sides who tried to squash attacks more immediately, but they were also so highly coordinated and fundamentally sound that they could regularly quell heavy retake efforts. In their prime, only the extraordinarily ordnance of G2 could stop the Brazilians (G2 won their opening CT-half versus SK 10-5).
While the SK with Fnx run on Train more immediately stands as one of the greatest runs of all time, at the peak of their powers their later run with Felps on Cobblestone perhaps was nearly equally impressive.
FaZe with Olofmeister and Guardian on Mirage
Longest win streak: six maps
Notable wins: North (10/17), G2 (11/17), SK (11/17)
Photo courtesy of DreamHack and Adela Sznajder
FaZe’s strengths on Inferno and Mirage will overlap somewhat due to the international team’s more specialized skillset.
On Mirage, they can also display their trademark dominance on the CT-side, occasionally blowing out good teams such as Virtus.Pro (13-2), Cloud9 (11-4), and Liquid with Steel (10-3). In fact, unlike Inferno where FaZe wins slightly more T-rounds than CT-rounds, FaZe looks strictly better on the CT-side of Mirage. Since the player break, FaZe have won 149 CT rounds while only winning 114 on the offensive side. Unlike Inferno where FaZe looks good by being better able to survive hits on the often delicate CT-side, Mirage gives more opportunities to aggress on the Terrorist whether that come from Rain out of a forward A position or Guardian with the AWP in mid or short or the back of the A-site.
In another switch up from Inferno where FaZe paired their worst fragger along with best to cover the small site, on Mirage FaZe put their arguable worst two performers in Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer Gustafsson and Karrigan on B. While the paring makes the site an ostensible weak spot, FaZe’s robust aggression elsewhere in terms of information plays and map control combined with the CT’s greater ability to stall attacks on B through utility often makes often retakes effective enough to cover the difference.
Likewise, on the T-side, perhaps FaZe’s general disposition is better suited for this map. With Mirage’s more numerous avenues of action, FaZe’s individuals perhaps have a better chance to find and win discrete engagements, an advantage that FaZe seems to grasp, themselves, as they look less execute heavy and more reliant on contact plays, such as quick A-hits through connector.
However, it is not quite the case that FaZe get to express their strengths better here across the board. While FaZe have won 21 of 28 pistol rounds on inferno, they have a sub-50% success rate, 17 of 36, on Mirage. A difference you might attribute to the more direct, either/or geographical site placement of Inferno which can lead to especially straightforward pistol rounds, compared to the more wrap and rotation based play of Mirage with a central-mid area.
Still, FaZe are rarely fallible on this map. They lost twice (1-2 overall) to SK who are another very strong Mirage and once to their foil, Gambit, but beyond that the international team has only found wins. In terms of win rate, FaZe’s consistency especially stands out as their 15-3 record tops all other contenders on this list.
Are you excited for new map masters coming in 2018? Comment below who you think will be good on what map below!