The TACO-Stewie2k trade highlights the difficulty of the “support” label

Can Liquid replace a "support" player with a non-support player and expect to find success? How useful is the term?


Photo Credit: (DreamHack)

Today, Team Liquid and MIBR finally announced their trade: the North Americans received Jacky ‘Jake’ “Stewie2K” Yip while the Brazilians better matched their branding by adding Epitácio “TACO” de Melo and Wilton “zews” Prado in return. The move was controversial for Team Liquid. Why try to replace TACO with Stewie2k again after that experiment more-or-less failed in SK/MIBR?

Beyond the realpolitik, who initiated the trade, the buyout costs, available replacements etc. Liquid and MIBR are different teams with their own distinct strengths, structures, and problems. Who is better for each roster obviously depends on the roster.

For example, in the middle of 2017, Cloud9 would not be better off with TACO instead of Stewie2k, even if  MIBR turns out to be clearly better with the inverse. Whether Liquid will be better or worse off with Stewie2k has yet to be seen, but the discourse surrounding Liquid’s Stewie2k could be accurately distilled into something akin to, “TACO is a strict support player, while Stewie2k is more of a playmaking star so one cannot replace the other.”

It’s a take that misses most of the point. Both have undertaken some of the most defensive, if not “supportive,” CT-positions in 2018, and likewise, have been slotted into difficult entry roles on the T-side in the past. Agree or disagree with the moves themselves, it says something that two big organizations have tried to interchange TACO and Stewie2k this year.

Not that the two players are the same. How they play their respective positions and how they perform in their duties differs significantly that’s not in question. The problem is in the branding, or the imperfection of the language we use to describe the game. They have been assumed to be axiomatically different players, which is only dubiously true. It’s a confusion I think stems from the ever-nebulous term “support player.”

In a MOBA or RPG, there are specific healing or shielding abilities given to characters or champions that work to make them “supports,” but in CS:GO we have to define it ourselves based on what a player does within a team of similarly armed teammates.

Here’s a simple definition: In CS:GO, a “support player” is someone who helps facilitate team success in a manner which emphasizes the efforts of his teammates rather than his or her own.
I think most would agree with that or something close to it, but perhaps the problem is the set of identifiers used to pick out these players. 

The “support player” is not necessarily the one on the roster who finishes with the lowest amount of frags or the least amount of damage done over the course of a year. The “support player” does not have to be the player who throws either the most or the best flashbang. The “support player” isn’t by process of elimination the player who is not an entry fragger, AWPer, lurker, or IGL. And the support player does not have to be the person who comes across as the most upbeat, or helpful, humble or considerate in interviews. 

Those identifiers can be fairly useless. 

While some may attach the “star” title to players who have better raw output in kills, damage, and K-D in comparison to their peers, the “support” shouldn’t be defined in that way. How well the support player frags, or how well a support does tasks more closely associated with their identity, does not define the role, but rather how well they are performing either task. 

As for flashbangs or utility more generally, yes, on some level you would expect that a player who is looking to facilitate his teammates more than himself will flash them into engagements more often than the reverse. But what if an IGL puts a player out in front of a T-side attack when moving into a notoriously difficult area or site to take? In that scenario, the forward-most player might be in a far more sacrificial or inconsequential role than anyone in the back of the pack throwing utility.

Does that mean that the entry player is usually the support player? No. Where a player positions themselves on the map or what weapon they buy will never strictly define whether or not they are a support player. 

It depends on the context, now, that said, a support player isn’t some ill-defined protagonist in a non-linear, multi-POV postmodern novel that can be anything you interpret it to be. A solid figure emerges upon investigation. 

Generally, a support player will play CT-positions such as B on Mirage, ramp room on Nuke, the inner site anchor on Train where success is better defined by info-gathering, positioning, timing, utility use, falling back and waiting for help, rather than more straightforward aim-based confrontations. Purer examples of the “support player” archetype such Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth, and TACO will play these sort of positions map after map all the across the pool. Valdemar “valde” Bjørn Vangså, Robin “ropz” Kool, and to a lesser extent Stewie2k will also play many of these positions, which I’d argue says something about the fallibility of how players are labelled, at least within the strict context of the CT-side.

While determining which CT-spot is the “most supportive” is tougher on sites like Cache, where the positions are more fluid due to the prominence of a mid-area, you can also turn to how a player plays his given position or area of the map rather than simply the position itself.  

The T-side is harder to stamp the “support” label onto with a general principle, but the distinction I’d make would be between “playmakers” and more passive players. Does the entry player risk quick probes or peaks into enemy territory, or does he just wait on his team and lead the execute? Will the lurker throw utility or aggress on the other side of the map before the execute to draw a rotation, or does he wait silently to pick off a rotator after the execute? Does the AWPer attempt pick after pick, or do they passively hold angles, covering flanks, or obvious rotations spots post-plant? 

Most in-game leaders, especially at the highest level, will tend towards supportive roles, but even there-there are exceptions. For example, on Gambit in 2017, Zeus played more forward, high-traffic, aim-dependent positions on the CT-side, while some rare star/IGL hybrids such as Richard “shox” Papillon or Nikola “NiKo” Kovač now will center their T-sides around their own playmaking. 

Then there’s the idea of the support player in terms of how he fits in with his teammates. If someone needs a drop at the expense of a teammate’s own loadout, or ask to try a new CT-position, or wants to be the one flashed into a CT-side aggression “support player” would be or should be more willing to make that happen. 

Then, even tougher to judge are all the things teammates can do to “support” his team outside the server and outside the more typical realm of tactics and pre-game prep. Is this person good communicator, does he bring a positive attitude, does he help mend fences ect.? But, if Xyp9x happens to be quiet, that shouldn’t negate all the in-game qualities and actions that earned him the “support” moniker in the first place. It’s a separate realm, the “support” title or concept or role is not a binary proposition.

A supportive CT-player doesn’t have to be a supportive T-side player, and a supportive element in-game might be difficult to deal with out of game as rumored with players such as Lincoln “fnx” Lau. Nor is the idea of the “support player” all-encompassing. Stewie2k might sit across from TACO on the spectrum of “non-supportive” to “supportive,” but that doesn’t completely disentangle what the two players do in their respective rosters. 

The problem with Liquid’s Stewie2k-TACO swap is not Stewie2k’s capacity to adapt to TACO’s spots and roles. He did a passable job on MIBR when put into those situations despite his different approach to them. The question is how dependent was Liquid’s success to the specific elements TACO brought to the roster, as opposed to the ones Stewie2k will bring. Mousesports stagnated when Janusz “Snax” Pogorzelski replaced Martin “STYKO” Styk, but FaZe did more than fine with Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer Gustafsson as opposed to Fabien “kioShiMa” Fiey. There is a difference between what is essential and helpful, immutable and repute, what is known to be useful and will succeed. 

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WallabeeBeatle

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CS:GO cartography enthusiast and writer.

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