Nov 29 2016 - 5:17 am

The Skadoodle Problem

Skadoodle's drop in form has led to calls for his benching. But how easily is he replaced?
Contributing Writer

Regarded as one of, if not the best player in North American Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, let alone sniper, during Cloud9’s infamous run of form during the summer of 2015, Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham has now become a great source of controversy and discussion in the CS:GO community. His poor form contributed to the recent failures of the potentially elite level Cloud9, a team that showed at the ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals that they were capable of competing at a top level. Many cry for Skadoodle to be replaced, as investing into an expensive AWP without the prospective rewards hurts the team’s economy from round to round, especially as Jake “Stewie2K” Yip has shown his ability to wield the big green gun.

However, who would replace him? North American dedicated AWPing talent has lacked throughout the region’s history, so finding a suitable plug-and-chug replacement at home would be difficult. Further, a potential roster change begs the question as to what kind of player should replace Skadoodle. For as much as he likely lies at the heart of many of Cloud9’s troubles, the solution to “The Skadoodle Problem” is not so cut-and-dry.

The Cog That Doesn’t Fit

As Duncan “Thorin” Shield’s “Reflections” series interviews with Sam “DaZeD” Marine (link) and Sean “Seangares” Gares (link) revealed in great detail, Skadoodle works well within a highly controlled system. He needs a strong-willed in-game leader to give him specific instructions about where to post up on the map, otherwise he will almost aimlessly hold and peek the same angles from round to round. While controlled by DaZeD and Sean, Skadoodle was a force to be reckoned with, essentially an impenetrable wall on the CT side and consistent as a Terrorist. His turret-like, stable style of AWPing, much like Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovács, he single-handedly locked down sites, alleviating the pressure on his teammates who could then stack more aggressively on other parts of the map.

This Cloud9, unfortunately for Skadoodle, does not play similarly to the Sean-led versions of the team or the old iBUYPOWER lineup. Rather, the team plays a much looser style of playmaking oriented Counter-Strike. In-game leader Stewie2K, taking advantage of his own aggressive play style and the skill of his co-star Timothy “autimatic” Ta, play with a "puggier," less outright tactical system, running basic defaults from round to round in which the Cloud9 members have the potential to make plays around the map as they need to.

Stewie’s system, though implementing set executes and strategy less frequently than Skadoodle’s previous leaders, currently seems like a fitting identity for the team. Unfortunately for Skadoodle, who has shown that he requires a controlling system to succeed, the current Cloud9 approach brought great success to the lineup by enabling their star duo. In theory, Stewie, given a couple more months calling for the team, could develop into the more commanding in-game leader that could point Skadoodle into the right direction. Though at the moment, it seems as if the current Cloud9 style that has brought them so much success is also a core reason for Skadoodle’s drop in form.

To the dismay of many Cloud9 fans, it’s almost as if Stewie (or at least, his current system) and Skadoodle just do not fit together on this lineup. Even Michael “shroud” Grzesiek, whose drop in form also receives its portion of blame for Cloud9’s woes, could in theory fit within this open-ended system with his potentially explosive play style, his recent struggles more likely caused by other factors.

Finding the Perfect Piece

The current tactical system for Cloud9 seems to promote the need for a more independent AWPer that does not require the same high level of maintenance Skadoodle does, though finding this type of replacement is easier said than done. Despite much of the deserved criticism he receives, Skadoodle is still more talented than a majority of the available North American AWPer pool, meaning just signing the most talented free-agent sniper as soon as possible seems like a fruitless proposition.

Along these same lines, the only AWPers from North America that compare with Skadoodle in skill (players like Josh “jdm64” Marzano) are likely locked into expensive contracts at least for the time being. Further, the last thing Cloud9 needs is an extremely aggressive AWPer, like the old Jeseper "JW" Wecksell, as having too many playmakers within the lineup would likely take away from its consistency. Cloud9 needs an AWPer that is stable enough to hold an angle safely while the star duo makes plays around the map, as well as a player confident enough to make his own decisions.

In a perfect world, a hybrid player like Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz seems like the best sort of fit for this lineup, as he can primary AWP with consistency and initiative at a top level, as well as rifling very well should the economy or strategy call for it. Realistically, however, there are almost no tier one hybrid players in America at all, let alone available ones.

Moreover, Cloud9 already has one of these few capable hybrid players in Stewie, who has shown over the past few events that he is quite proficient with the AWP. But is giving Stewie the AWP more often worth the risk of losing the level of performance he is currently tapped into? Plenty of teams have built around the entry capabilities of their AWPer, with past Cloud9s as no exception, but it is unlikely that Stewie would maintain his current form in an AWPing-entry role.

So maybe Cloud9 gets an import. Renegades's current AWPer, Ricky "Rickeh" Mulholland, performed quite well at DreamHack Winter 2016 this past week, and has the added advantage of speaking English as his first language. Maybe they find a hidden gem from an unknown region, like OpTic Gaming did with Oscar “mixwell” Cañellas. Another option, given they have the money to spend and the players are willing to move, is to buyout a player already succeeding on a top team that meets their specifications, like hybrid AWPer René “CajunB” Borg.

Whatever direction Cloud9 moves with their lineup, Skadoodle, in his current form, does not fit. However, the issue with replacing him is the fragility of the current system; Cloud9 does not want to lose the gold they’ve struck with their autimatic and Stewie carry duo. They need a player capable of taking initiative and making a play when he needs to, but can sit passively and let his stars operate effectively. Hopefully, for the sake of continued North American relevance, Cloud9 is able to find this all-around type AWPer without hurting the foundation they’ve built.

How should Cloud9 solve "The Skadoodle Problem?" Let us know @GAMURScom or in the comments.

Comments, compliments, or concerns about the article? Let me know on Twitter @EddiePlaut.

Photo credits to ESEA and HLTV

Feb 21 2017 - 5:51 pm

Pessimism emerges following the North American post-major shuffle

How cynical can we be about the current state of North American Counter-Strike?
Photo Courtesy of DreamHack
Contributing Writer

The North American scene had been so frequently underwhelming in the past that the term “NA” itself has actually become a descriptor synonymous with “ineptitude” and “failure.” That reputation seemed to be slowly slipping away due to the brief breakout successes of Team Liquid, Cloud9, and OpTic Gaming at various points last year; however, right about now, I expect that many fans of North American Counter-Strike are violently starting to shake their heads again.

No North American team earned Legendary status at the first Valve Major of 2017, OpTic’s sudden surge irreparably ended as their highly touted in-game leader, Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz, left the team, and most recently, all four North American squads who entered into DreamHack Las Vegas were eliminated in the group stage. Suddenly, when considering the scene and its participants, it’s not at all clear that the dogged-days of “NA CS” are invariably at an end.

After the August player break, Cloud9’s string of high placings may have even exceeded their venerated 2015 “summer run” as the best multi-tournament run in the history of North American CS:GO. They placed second at Northern Arena Toronto and DreamHack Bucharest, finished top-four at StarLadder i-League StarSeries Season 2, and actually won the ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals. However, since then, Cloud9 has fallen into concrete mediocrity. Just before their EPL win, they failed to make it through their ELEAGUE Season 2 group and were likewise eliminated in the group stage of four proceeding premier-level tournaments: IEM Oakland, DreamHack Winter, the Esports Championship Series Season 2 Finals, and the ELEAGUE Major Main Qualifier.

While the Stewie2k-Autimatic combination has certainly worked wonders since the August player break, lukewarm performances by the team’s previous stars in Tyler "Skadoodle" Latham and Mike "shroud" Grzesiek have frequently been noticed and heavily been criticized. Also, while Jake "Stewie2k" Yip has continued to perform at a decently high level as an individual player, despite taking over in-game leading responsibilities for the team, his leadership has been frequently cited as an issue inherent to the squad’s more recent failings. Regardless, in the turbulent pre and post major shuffle seasons, Cloud9 made no direct changes, adding neither players who are more suited to Stewie2k’s style of play nor a veteran in-game leader who could take the team into a new direction. While Skadoodle specifically has looked better lately, the solitary addition of Soham "valens" Choudhury as a coach hardly measures up to the moves clamored for by analysts and fans alike.

OpTic is another vibrant success story gone awry. For a moment in mid-December, OpTic had a wholly unexpected spike in performance as they miraculously won the highly prestigious and highly-competitive ELEAGUE Season 2 and placed second at the less competitive but still fairly stacked ECS Season 2 Finals. Suddenly, after two successive weekends of play, OpTic reasonably looked like a top-three team in the world and an outside contender for the next major championship.

Instead of a more typical peak in the immediate aftermath of a roster move, OpTic only improved modestly over time following the pickup Tarik "tarik" Celik in September. They had unimpressive initial forays at ESL One New York Season 1 and the ESL Pro Season 4 Finals, before showing some promise, but not extreme prowess at Northern Arena Montreal and their initial ELEAGUE group. Their sudden surge seems largely due to a combination of peaking individual play, especially from Rush, at those two specific events alongside equally significant developments on the team’s T-sides via Stanislaw’s newfound leadership. Nevertheless, that increasingly upward trend wasn’t backed by their more recent appearance at the ELEAGUE Major where they failed to make it beyond the swiss style preliminary stage thanks to tough initial draws, lacking pre-event preparation, and poor individual performances.

Unfortunately, their fall only accelerated from there. Just days after the conclusion of the major, it was announced that Stanislaw would be leaving OpTic for Team Liquid, for reasons largely unknown. Once again, in the tragic tradition of North American Counter-Strike, the lifespan of a strong or suddenly surging team was crippled by a baffling roster move or unforeseen circumstance. Without the increasingly competent leadership of Stanislaw, OpTic again failed to make it into the playoffs of DreamHack Masters Las Vegas.

Other once hopefuls in Echo Fox and Team SoloMid dissolved in recent months after long unsuccessful periods of play, with the most promising aspects of both squads being distilled into the new Misfits lineup. That team just attended their first premier-level tournament together in Vegas, but they didn’t make much of an impression. They bombed out of Vegas 0-2 with losses to and Fnatic. Likewise, no other possible North American upstart, such as compLexity, CLG, Splyce, or Selfless, has shown any iota international aptitude in the past six months. While Team Liquid obviously stands to gain from the Stanislaw transfer, as they have long had sufficient firepower but lacked competent in-game leadership, their rise is not inevitable. We have not yet seen them play on LAN with their new roster, and their last impressive outing dates back to early October.

Even putting the current state of individual squads aside, there are still plenty of reasons to be ambivalent about North American scene generally in 2017. Liquid aside, no blockbuster moves to shore up any of the other wilting participants in the scene were made in this most recent off-season. Personality conflicts and interpersonal drama still seem to be lingering but significant undermining force, as we can infer from Stanislaw’s recent departure from OpTic. And the continued plethora of cash-rich organizations, some backed by lucrative buyouts from mainstream sports franchises, seem to be continuously keeping the more middling talent of the scene artificially disentangled.

But putting those concerns aside for a moment, you have to acknowledge that throughout 2016, North American teams have frequently surpassed expectations and historical precedent. Liquid’s semifinals run at MLG Columbus tied compLexity’s DreamHack Winter 2013 as the best performance for a North American team at a major, and Liquid did it in a far more competitive era. Then at the next major, ESL One Cologne 2016, Liquid surprised again making it all the way to the finals, now clearly exceeding any past major result. Now, that massively overachieving S1mple-infused Liquid would never appear together again, but soon thereafter, Cloud9’s emerging young star in Stewie2k led his team to the first premier-level tournament win by a North American team in a decade thanks in no small part due the addition of his friend Timothy "autimatic" Ta. That team also slumped immediately thereafter, only to be succeeded by the once unimpressive Conquest core in conjunction with Oscar "mixwell" Cañellas and Tarik. OpTic’s unimaginable ELEAGUE victory and subsequent run to their second straight finals was perhaps the most impressive pair of back-to-back tournament showings for a North American team in CS:GO yet. 

So what expectations for the region are actually reasonable for the remainder of this year? Will we continue to see these spurts of success moving forward or have those anomalies come to an end?

Unfortunately, it seems many fans perceive the world through the lens of sanguine certainly. Past failures don’t count while future successes are inevitable. “Unlucky draw.” “Bad Luck.” “That one anti-eco.” “That one clutch.” “Just one more roster move.” “Just one more try.” And in the end, what “should have been” always means “what didn’t happen.” It’s exceedingly easy to lambaste this sort of mentality, to pick apart that obvious team or regional bias, but, because this sort of dressing down has long since been popular, I think optimism and excitement has been increasingly and unfortunately been associated with stupidity and fandom, while cynicism has conversely become the principal quality of the supposedly savvy and the would-be cool.

Irony and cynicism are useful tools of deflation. They can very powerfully chastise the ridiculous and pierce through the sort of ignorance inherent to zealous fans. However, to cynically bemoan the present inequities of the North American scene, while not at all acknowledging it’s more promising aspects, I think is tantamount to a sort of cowardice.

It may very well be the case that no one in the North American scene will post results anywhere on the level of 2016’s spattering of short-term spikes in 2017, but there are players, teams, and narratives that certainly look promising as we move back into the tournament-to-tournament grind, whether that be the rise of Cloud9’s young duo, the development of Stanislaw as an in-game leader, or suddenly increased capacity of the newly formed Team Liquid. While it’s surely better to just follow the best teams of the scene without any specific preferences, if we are to earnestly assess the often castigated North American scene and it’s participants in its present form, I think we shouldn’t completely bind ourselves to negativity in an attempt to fend off some terrifically unhip impression of enthusiasm.

For compliments or complaints, you can find me on Twitter @WallabeeBeatle.

Today - 6:20 am

NRG wins in double overtime vs Liquid: ESL Pro League Season 5 Week 2 Day 1 Recap

Season 5 of the ESL Pro League has returned shortly after DreamHack Las Vegas.
Image Credits: ESL

After a week hiatus due to DreamHack Masters Las Vegas, the ESL Pro League has returned with a brief day of matches. The biggest surprise from today was NRG Esports' double overtime win over Team Liquid, which ended at 22-19. The rest of the scores from today's action are featured below.

What do you think of today's EPL matches? Tell us your thoughts with a tweet @GAMURScom.