Team playstyles in Counter-Strike

CSGO NiP vs TSM Katowice Inferno Pistol Start

Counter-Strike can be played in a wide variety of ways on both sides.

One of the greatest things about Counter-Strike as an eSport and one of the things that makes it so fun to watch is the great variety of ways to play the game as a team. Some people may bring up the fact that in 1.6 there was more freedom with the maps being more T sided etcetera but I’d argue that as Counter-Strike Global Offensive grows, we’ll start to see more of the game being explored in a figurative sense, and more minutiae figured out by top professional teams, in turn slowly filtering down to the wider playerbase. At the moment there are numerous ways to play the game, both on the Counter-Terrorist and Terrorist sides, yet there is no set style of play that works “best,” rather, a blend of different tactics and setups that need to be adjusted depending on map, the team you’re playing against and the team you are on.

 

TSM

TSM are famous for their subdued, defensive style.

On the Counter-Terrorist side, in general terms there are no set styles, but more of a spectrum. On one side of this, you’ll see teams like TSM, especially under their old organization when they were known as Team Dignitas under their old in game leader FeTiSh. This style is very defensive, with the team generally playing from within bomb sites, holding passive angles, forcing the Terrorists to take the initiative and peek them, not the other way round. This style has its advantages. For one, it makes the chance of one of your players screwing up and dying early in a round a lot less likely, and as such it rules out any plays from the other team that rely on “picks” or early mistakes. However one of the requirements of making this type of setup work is that your players need to be able to hit solid frags in their respective positions. The way Terrorists will end up playing against you will be executing and hoping for trade frags, so if a player in one particular dies without getting a kill, or only trades one-for-one, then it’s already going to be a lot harder for your teammates to recover the round. This is why it works so well for TSM though, as all five of their players have good skill, with device, dupreeh, cajunb and Xyp9x all having good aim and individual play, and even the in game leader KarrigaN being able to contribute now and again. An example of this is when TSM play Mirage, the setup they play is device and KarrigaN play the A site and Dupreeh on the Jungle/WIndow area. This setup usually works really well, as they can hold the site against executes because of device and dupreeh’s ability to get the frags on incoming players and KarrigaN’s ability to AWP occasionally. Another facet to this playstyle that often comes to the fore is the way in which the team rotates between the sites. Oftentimes a defensive team won’t really rotate to a site unless they are 100% certain the Terrorists are committed to it, ie, the bomb has been spotted, or 4 out of 5 players have been spotted.

 

The contrast to this ultra-defensive, default style of play on the Counter-Terrorist side is the style often used by teams like Virtus.Pro and Fnatic, which is a more aggressive, risky approach. Players will often hold angles further forward(think standing close to the ramp or under the balcony on A site Mirage, as opposed to in CT spawn or on the stairs) and will sometimes go for unexpected peeks(JW famously peeks into lobby on Nuke, for example) in the hope that the Terrorist side will be caught off guard, and in doing this they secure early advantages in rounds, ensuring that in the worst possible case their teammates can simply trade frag and they will still win the round. One key advantage of aggression is the amount of information your team is able to glean by using such a setup. Against slower Terrorist teams like Na’Vi that tend to delay executes really late, this can help a lot. For example, let’s say the Terrorist team are setting up for a late execute onto the A bomb site on Inferno. There are two scenarios possible here: either one of the A players pushes up into apartments/alt mid and dies, but sees the bomb and the team setting up. In this case he calls the push, his teammates rotate fast from Arch side and they get into a 4 vs 5 situation as opposed to a 3v5. The second possibility is that one of the B players pushes up Banana aggressively, sees that there is no one there late in the round, calls where the push is and the team rotates, putting them into a 5v5 with positional advantage. Both of these situations are more likely to result in a win than a 3v5 on the A site, unless your players there have really good aim(as in the previous style). However there is a disadvantage to this aggression, which is that if the Terrorist team is vigilant, or if one of your players mistimes his push, he can give the Terrorists a clear advantage, opening up an area of the map for them if he dies. As such teams like VP and Fnatic use this very well as they have great positional players like Snax, JW and Neo who seem to be able to master this timing and abuse it to shut down T side pushes. Furthermore aggressive CT teams usually perform much more risky, gamble rotates if they can, relying on a good in-game leader like Pronax to judge what the other team is doing based on info available to him and knowledge from previously analyzing the team. When done well this leads to a scenario in which, wherever the T side goes, they always find a stack of 3, 4, or even 5 players waiting for them. Again, this has its downsides, which is that if the Terrorists manage to pull off a good fake, they can oftentimes walk into a site with little to no resistance, take the site while only killing one or two Counter-Terrorists, and then force the remaining players to save as a retake would be too difficult at this point.

 

So, which of these styles is the best? Well, there isn’t really a clear winner here, but more a choice. The aggressive style works well against teams that execute late in rounds, like Na’Vi, but plays right into the hands of teams which play a scrim style and like to play for “picks.” On the flipside default styles work well most of the time, but when a team figures out how you are playing, they can capitalise on this and start to predict where your players are going to be standing or when a rotate will occur. This is why the true “best” style is to adapt for different teams and maps. For example, as previously mentioned, Inferno is a good map for CT-side aggression due to the fact that there are multiple areas of the map(apartments, banana) to which CTs get first in a round due to how the timings work. This makes it easier to time pushes correctly. Furthermore the fact that it is possible to smoke either the top of banana or the bottom of it right at the start of a round as CT makes an aggressive setup there more feasible. On the contrary maps like Cache and Mirage lend themselves more to a mid-heavy style of play from both sides. Aggression here is still seen from top level teams like Fnatic, but limited to the middle of the map, and even then not every round. So, to recap: against execute heavy teams or “pug” teams, you want to play defensively, to force their hand. If the team plays for the late round, or doesn’t give away much information on their pushes and site takes, then start going a little more aggressive. On maps like Inferno, Overpass and Cobblestone, you can play pretty much every round aggressive in some area of the map, for information, but on Mirage, Cache and Dust 2, it’s better to play defensive for the most part, but with some limited mid aggression to throw the opposing team off.

 

But what about the Terrorist side? Well, there are a lot more styles at work here, simply because the T side is less reactive and more proactive than the CT side; rather than reacting to what is happening and adapting to it, you are being forced to take the initiative. However there is still a range of styles similar to the CT side. On one end you have the execute-heavy setup. Teams like Titan are famous for using this. In this style, all or most of your pushes rely on pre-practiced, set strategies which will involve players throwing set smokes, flashes, nades and molotovs, set timings for when each player is going to push and where, and even minutiae like the specific corners each player checks on the bombsite and when, or the place where each and every player will stand in the afterplant scenario. The reason teams like old Titan and Na’Vi employ this idea(with Titan I am talking retrospectively as with the new roster it is difficult to tell the direction in which they will head tactically) is because they have very strong in-game leaders who are good both at thinking up set strats that will work against certain other teams’ styles, and at realising the skill sets of their own respective teams and what to do with them. In Ex6tenz’s case on old Titan this must have been very easy, as he could always rely on KennyS to get 2 or 3 kills and open up any bombsite! Advantages to this style are numerous; your team doesn’t always have to have the very best aim, as oftentimes executes work based upon trade frags where the first player in dies, but the second player kills the person who was shooting at him, thus making a trade. Good aim can help to make executes run smoother and reduce the element of risk involved, however. The downside to an execute heavy setup is that if you do not sufficiently vary your executes and switch up positioning, timing, etcetera, then it is very easy for the other team to “read” what you are doing and counter it by making gamble rotates like I mentioned earlier.

 

On the other side of this spectrum you will find teams like Ninjas in Pyjamas and old Cloud 9. This is the style often referred to as the “pug” or “scrim” style. In this setup, teams often work off of a “default” setup, where the team spreads out and takes early map control. They then contest certain key areas of the map(think top of banana on Inferno or connector on Overpass) and based upon the result of these aim duels, they take sites. The main advantage to this is that it requires little preparation, simply good aim. As such this is what takes place in 99% of matchmaking games or pugs. But in the pro scene, another reason this can make sense is if your team is made up of star players, then oftentimes they lend themselves well to a looser style. If you have several amazingly sick aimers on your team, it is a lot easier to simply let them take aim duels as they see fit than to attempt to leash them to a strict setup. However the downside to this, which a lot of North American teams learnt the hard way, was the fact that if your insane sick aimers happen to be not as good as the players on the CT side, then your setups simply fall apart piece by piece, making it hard to co-ordinate any kind of push simply due to the fact that your players keep dying in places they are supposed to get a kill at.

 

Fnatic are masters of the game on T side

Both of these styles have their advantages and disadvantages, but the “best” way to play the game on T side is to use a blend of both of these. Fnatic does this a lot(I use them as an example simply because they are arguably the best team around, and have been for a long time now). The idea is to have executes and set strategies ready to use, but to allow your players to roam around the map early on to look for an early frag on a mistimed push from the CTs, or a co-ordinated peek into a key chokepoint to try and gain an early advantage. Then, if this doesn’t work out, rather than capitulate late on and give up rounds, you use your knowledge of the other team or (this also applies if you’re in an MM or pug) information from earlier in the round to decide on an execute. This uses the positives from both styles of play, leaves out the disadvantages, and allows for different team and map styles too.

(All photos courtesy of HLTV.org)

Naail Khan

I write about gaming, eSports(mainly Counter-Strike), Android and mobile topics and also wearable tech, like smartwatches. Huge Nexus fanboy and heapdhone enthusiast.

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