There’s never been as much individual talent in CS:GO as there is right now. The simple fact that some of the most skilled and exciting players in the world, whether it be XANTARES, woxic or CeRq, are on teams that are fringe top ten at best, is a testament to the scene’s depth. We see teams previously able to leverage tactics to win, such as North, fall short against explosive and talented teams like Hellraisers and Space Soldiers. The current Counter-Strike climate has raised up dozens of players with world-class skill, and nearly every team in the Top 15 seems to have firepower worthy of Top 8 placings.
Yet this skill has come at a cost. With greater emphasis on skilled additions like Magisk, olofmeister, Stewie2k and NAF in the past year, many teams have lost much of the strategic direction that served them well previously. Conversely, tactical teams who’ve avoided the stack in firepower have been punished for their temperance: North lacked firepower in 2017 and both SK and Astralis were eventually seduced by the skill of players like Magisk and s1mple. Overall the scene has rarely lacked great teams as much as it does now. teams like G2, North and SK seem rudderless while skill-stacked rosters like NiP and Liquid can’t quite unleash their potential.
A primary cause for the current state of Counter-Strike has been the inability for loose and skilled teams to convert their firepower into results. A standout success in this area has been mousesports, who’ve managed to earn consistently high rankings with an aggressive style despite lacking a traditional in-game leader. As the first of the pack to make the most of their roster, mouz have presented a stylistic blueprint to excel with playmakers in 2018.
The team’s style begins in its roster makeup. With chrisJ and oskar, mouz have two of the most offensive-minded players in the game. With the addition of sunNy, the team developed a trio of aggression around which they can build. What makes mousesports special is their strategic emphasis given such skilled and explosive players.
To see why this decision proved to be so important, let us contrast it with its polar opposite. When Fnatic had to build around a similar trio in late 2015 with JW, olofmeister, and dennis, they decided to give these players the freedom to play extremely loose. This impulsive ‘feeling-it-out’ style of play was successful for that roster for a time but eventually faded. The key reason that this style fades, I contend, is that individual playmakers gradually become predictable, which leads them to lose much of their effectiveness over time.
In an interview at IEM Sydney with Max Melit, JW cites novelty as a primary reason for the success of AWPers like CeRq or woxic:
“The thing is with them is that they have what I had three years ago. They have this advantage of people not knowing everything about them. I've been playing on the top level for five years straight and played every single player in the top four. They know all the moves I like to do, all the things they want to do. But people like woxic who have only been on the scene for maybe a year, he can still surprise people with his moves.”
When a player like JW or Stewie2k relies on taking advantage of enemy’s expectations to have the bulk of their impact, the success of their plays will diminish with time. Here’s an example: on Cloud9 Stewie2k was the connector player on CT Mirage. When faced with an execute, Stewie would often push the stairs smoke and drop into sandwich. The upside on this play relies on a timing: the T-side connector player hasn’t seen you and the players rushing site are watching jungle, default, firebox or CT. Within this time slot, Stewie can find one, two and sometimes three kills. Finding success with this play, however, has repercussions. Every time Stewie makes that play, he is reducing its expected value in the next execute. That’s simply because players who get killed by this push will imprint it in their memory. Next time, a player may watch for the play from palace during the execute. Beyond a possible adjustment, the attacking team will simply be aware of the potential of Stewie’s play, which will lead to less confusion when he actually does it. Less confusion entails quicker trades. Consequently, both Stewie’s probability of success and impact, when he succeeds, drops marginally every time he makes that play.
Great impact players have many plays of this kind on every map. That said, there’s a limit to one’s creativity, and every play has an expiring date. As a playmaker, you are constantly trying to recreate yourself, but as JW points out, that’s hard to do. There have been many, many players like JW. XANTARES, Stewie2k, fer, FalleN; players with different roles and different plays. Yet all still produced much of their impact by making plays. As the adaptation arrived, their impact was mitigated. As a consequence of this gradual decline, skilled teams expire.
Mousesports’ success has come through increasing the success of individual plays as well as extending each play’s shelf life by supporting it with a variety of setups and strong utility usage.
Unlike individual plays, tactics are easily renewable. Within a single roster, innovation in utility usage, in executes, and in map control is much easier to come by than new plays. The mousesports blueprint is a synthesis of these two styles: the team has added tactical depth to individual plays.
Because of its roster composition, mousesports would be remiss if they did not play an aggressive style. For one, they have a trio of world-class aggressive players, all three of which thrive as the first point of contact. Second, they don’t have a traditional in-game leader who can find success through phenomenal midround calls. Consequently, mousesports’ natural focus is the early-round, where they are incredibly successful in finding picks and gaining map control. This success stems not only from the natural ability of its players, but also its attention to detail. When oskar goes for a mid-push with the AWP on Mirage, he doesn’t go alone. There are two to three setups which mousesports will use to support oskar’s play. Each of the three typically leads to at least two kills, an opening kill followed by a trade, and at most two deaths, oskar and chrisJ in Mid. But if chrisJ wins a trade, if oskar get to shoot once more before being killed, or if sunNy kills more than one player from connector, mousesports have created a man advantage. All they need for this play to succeed, then, is for one of three players to hit a good shot. Given the skill of these three players, that’s a great bet. Beyond this setup in isolation, mousesports have a variety of these kinds of plays. Sometimes sunNy will tag along with oskar down in mid, sometimes there will be a double-peek, sometimes chrisJ will stand more passively in catwalk. These different tactical iterations of the mid push cause havoc for the enemy team for one, because they are thought through, and second because they prevent adaptation. An enemy may try to prefire connector expecting sunNy only to find him next to oskar, or prefire chrisJ on catwalk only to be killed by from connector by sunNy. Faced with diverse and effective setups, many teams opt out of fighting against mousesports in mid altogether.
This is a case study of mousesports’ general approach to Counter-Strike. The setup began as an aggressive play by oskar. It developed into a tactically-sound setup, and another, and another. Each evolution added longevity to the play, reduced its risk and increased both its rate of success and its impact when it does in fact succeed. And since the play happens so early in the round, the human capital invested in the play can easily recover before most executes come in. Further, none of the players involved need a profound understanding of the game to execute this tactic. Team play and sound trading is a bonus: its strength is predetermined.
In effect, mousesports have innovated a new style by building structure around its playmakers. They still make individual plays, they can still be called on impulse, but they’ve become a deliberate part of mouz’s gameplan. Unlike dennis’ Fnatic, this hawkish style has been meticulously improved in order to increase each player’s effectiveness and durability. This has transformed a ragtag team of skilled players into a multi-dimensional team, who’ve developed a novel approach to Counter-Strike: structured chaos.
This explosive yet tactical style deserves recognition from other rosters because it makes the most of playmakers. When a roster cannot dominate in the mid and late round in the absence of elite in-game leaders, ordered chaos allows for an alternate, early-round win condition. In doing this it allows players like oskar, chrisJ and sunNy to shine, and it plays to the roster’s strength and amplifies it. Though mousesports lacks the mid-round teamwork you find in other elite teams, they’ve become contenders because of this tactical evolution.
Teams like TL, Space Soldiers, Fnatic, NiP, North, and OpTic could significantly improve were they to adopt a similar approach with players like XANTARES, JW, dennis, NAF, f0rest, and k0nfig. These players, with greater support, can provide a potential win condition which is as of yet untapped, grounded in their playmaking prowess.
By injecting structure into its chaotic style, mousesports has defended itself from quick counters and created room for growth as the team refines and expands its playbook. By succeeding in this they have provided a blueprint for teams with similarly aggressive and skilled roster compositions, and opened the door for a higher quality of play out of aggressive teams. Due to chrisJ’ and company’s initial success as well as the volume of similarly chaotic teams in the scene, the stylistic meta of Counter-Strike will go wherever mouz goes. The more success they find, the more teams will implement structured chaos in their gameplan. But regardless of mousesports’ success from now on, their play has illuminated a new playstyle open to increasingly skill-stacked rosters.