Space Soldiers: The Dark Horse of the Summer

Their stock is low, but the Turkish side are one of the best bets for breakthrough success

MAY 10, 2018

Space Soldiers have become somewhat notorious in the CS:GO scene over the past couple years for excellent online results and subsequent LAN disappointment. This line of thought has been recently reinforced by their disastrous showing at DreamHack Marseille, dropping out of the tournament after losing 1-16 to Astralis and 7-16 to Gambit. But despite their reputation and their recent poor LAN performance, Space Soldiers are one of the most talented teams in the world

With the collapse of FaZe and SK, the rankings are wide open. Beyond Astralis, no team seems to be a lock as a Top 3 team. Teams like mousesports, Fnatic, Na’vi are all vying for titles, but none of the three look like they will be dominant teams. In times of strong vertical mobility, where a team can rise to contender status or fall from grace in a matter of weeks, we should pay particular attention to those teams below the Top 10 with the talent to contend. Before you know it, they may overtake teams like NiP and Cloud9, who’ve been locks as Top 8 teams since for many, many months.

There is a stack of these high-ceiling teams that are looking to change the makeup of the Top 10: OpTic, Hellraisers, NRG, RNG, and finally, Space Soldiers. What demarcates these teams varies from roster to roster. For Hellraisers, it’s w0xic. For OpTic, it’s star power. For Space Soldiers, it’s simplicity.

When asked what makes his team special, Space Soldiers in-game leader Maj3r told HTC: “The first goal is always to trade for our teammates. We are playing basic CS, but a CS that works.”

The reason Space Soldiers can run such a simple execute-and-trade style of CS is that they have world-class talent. Beyond XANTARES, both Calyx and especially paz can top frag against world-class teams. And unlike their results, individual form has translated to LAN. XANTARES’ LAN HLTV rating in 2018 is 1.24, paz 1.11, and calyx 1.08. Each player is distinctive in their style, but both XANTARES and paz have the makeup of Top 20 players, and it is plausible to say that the former has already earned a spot on that list. Beyond their star players, they have a support player in nGin and one of the better fragging in-game leaders in the world in Maj3r. Taken as a whole, the roster’s talent level is deceptively high, arguably comparable to teams like Fnatic, NiP and G2. Because of the ceiling and depth of their firepower, Space Soldiers have put up a simple but effective CT side in which any player can salvage a round.

The simplicity of their style, however, has really cost them on the T-side. A particular flaw seems to be that their defaults are quite easy to read. For example, even in an extremely successful 10-5 T-half against mousesports at the Major qualifier, MAJ3R kept getting picked off by chrisj while he was holding mid passively. In fact, SS’s T-side relies nearly entirely on successful entries and trading during executes, followed by an adequate post-plant. Simple play, once again. But this play has no margin for error, and against nowhere did that show more than against Astralis. Failure in the details on their part led to a disastrous 2-13 scoreline in their match against the Danes at Marseille. While players had a few clean entries, they were caught off guard multiple times by Astralis’ aggression in the mid-round because of what seemed to be poor communication. While we shouldn’t expect such poor T-side play from here onwards, it is worrying that a bad day can mean going 3-27 over two maps as terrorists. Space Soldiers need to deepen their playbook to be able to grind out rounds when things aren’t going well.

That said, what shines through with Space Soldiers is their ability to convert rounds playing such a simple style. Simple B-executes led to a 10-5 against Mousesports; clean entries gave them opportunities in an Astralis match in which they were thoroughly outplayed. In matches against similarly skill-focused teams, like mousesports or Fnatic, Space Soldiers can take them on pound-for-pound. But they are missing an edge the other two have. Fnatic has the clutch-factor, which has given them great success against the likes of FaZe, NiP, and SS themselves. Meanwhile, mousesports have a tactical depth, often credited to coach LMBT, which is simply lacking in Space Soldiers. Beyond that, some of their star players play markedly worse in the final rounds of maps, often making unnecessary plays that give opponents openings into the round. But underneath all these warts there is the skeleton of a world-class team with players who can contend with any other roster on LAN.

Many readers will object with this, arguing that this roster has proven it won’t deliver on its online results, citing Marseille as evidence. However, closer inspection of this roster’s performance on LAN is instructive. Space Soldiers narrowly lost out on a Legend spot at the Major and narrowly lost out on a WESG title against Fnatic. In the process they’ve beaten Cloud9, mousesports, Misfits ORDER and Team Russia. Further, they’ve narrowly lost to Gambit, Fnatic, AGO and SK Gaming. One may appropriately object that narrow losses are not wins, and indeed they are not. However, narrow losses are an indication that the team can transfer their performance to a LAN setting. If Space Soldiers were tried and true onliners, they wouldn’t be winning so many rounds against good teams.

And yet, Space Soldiers haven’t been winning many impressive matches. A more edifying criticism of the team is that they’ve really struggled to close out maps, as all the narrow losses would suggest. A team that is normally fundamentally sound suddenly becomes exciting in the final rounds, and many matches have been lost because of this. However, considering the lack of LAN experience for those players that have struggled the most in those pressure moments, especially Calyx, hints at gradual improvement at closing out games. Of course, such development isn’t guaranteed, but as we’ve seen with some of the mousesports players, experience is a great instructor.

What we should take away from Space Soldiers’ LAN results beyond Marseille is that they are very close to becoming a Top 10 team and that the limiting factor could be naturally rectified by the passage of time. Beyond the team itself, the current cohort of top teams is strikingly poor relative to points in the past; the Turks are rising as top teams are plummeting. Considering these factors, this is one of the best bets when choosing a breakthrough team in the summer. While it hasn’t come about yet, playoff success should be in Space Soldiers’ near future.

Photo Credit: Adela Sznajder // DreamHack