AWPing, IGLing and the Horseshoe Theory
The Horseshoe Theory states that the far-left and far-right political ideologies closely resemble each other, rather than being diametrically opposed. Whilst some believe the political spectrum is a straight line, Jean-Pierre Faye believed it was closer to a horseshoe, with the points closer to each other than the middle.
Similarly, the idea of an In-game Leader and the team’s AWPer were often diametrically opposed - not least as the AWP was often handed to the star player - with only a handful of players breaking the cycle. In the ‘nuclear team’ (a ‘traditional’ style team with defined roles) there is a non-fragging IGL, a clear and defined support player, a star AWPer, a star rifler, and a third star/second support type player.
It’s rare that one can bring knowledge and terminology from, and draw parallels between, Counter-Strike and competitive Pokemon, and I’m not one to turn down the opportunity. A term I first heard from playing Pokemon was ‘role compression’ - pertaining to using one Pokemon for multiple roles. I won’t bore you with the specifics, but similarly to Counter-Strike teams, Pokemon teams need certain roles filled, and a ‘mon that could do more than one made it easier to have a functioning team and made it easier to be more versatile with the rest of the team. If one can put the AWP on the IGL, that allows for more maneuverability with the other four players - four star riflers, or three star riflers, a support and the AWP. It means especially on the CT side, a team can have four or five good fraggers, rather than three, if the IGL was a traditional one.
The Brazilian SK Gaming/Luminosity were probably the first ridiculously successful line-up to use this ‘role compression’, with FalleN being the playmaking AWPer and the tactical caller. This meant that SK had a bit more freedom with the other roles - fer could go aggressive, coldzera could be a bit more passive, and they still had that third star rifler; felps, fnx and boltz all had a bit of room to do what they want or act as a second support player for the stars.
Instead of being diametrically opposed, AWPing and IGLing seem cosmically entwined. In the ‘nuclear team’, the AWPer would often tell the IGL what he wanted to peek, where he wanted to hold, and so forth. The IGL would then be tasked with working out the rest of the team and who would play where, playing around his star AWPer and then reacting to the movement of his AWPer and whether or not he got the pick. If they are the same player, that playmaking and calling around the AWP becomes much more streamlined. You gather the information yourself, you call around yourself, and importantly you can make the plays yourself. If you get picked, you can call as if you went in first, as many in game leaders already do.
The reason this is so powerful is because AWPing is fundamentally easier than rifling. Nothing frustrates me more than seeing a player like Twistzz - whose ability to click on heads is pretty much unrivalled - AWPing. Why would you waste someone with that skill on a gun that is fundamentally easier to use? It’s better to have the lower-skilled player AWP and the better player rifle - the fragging power the team loses from not having a star AWPer is easily mitigated by having a weaker AWPer and a better rifler as rifling is harder.
Don’t believe me? Feel free to argue the point with the best AWPer in the world.
This isn’t just theorycrafting, either. Five of the top ten teams as of January 2019 have an IGL who primary AWPs at least in some situations or maps (in the case of Lekr0 and chrisj), with NiKo also being a powerful secondary AWP. The outliers here are gla1ve (who has secondary AWPed occasionally, but not often), Zeus, daps and Xizt.
gla1ve is the most unique player on here, as he is the only IGL who frags extremely well without AWPing. The reason the AWPing IGL is so powerful is because it means a player who traditionally doesn’t frag well can frag to a decent level - think MSL at Dreamhack Stockholm (No, I cannot go a whole article without mentioning it. Get over it.). With gla1ve, there’s absolutely no need to do that, as he frags exceptionally well with the rifle, which allows Astralis to have the star AWPer AND the four fragging riflers.
Without gla1ve’s fragging power, device’s exceptional defensive AWPing wouldn’t be as valuable as he would have to put in more work and might be forced to make more aggressive plays. As gla1ve can match up against any teams’ third or fourth star, it means that when Astralis play against a AWP/IGL hybrid, device is likely to have more impact as the definitive star against a makeshift AWPer. Ever wonder why Astralis always beat Liquid? device vs Nitro is the only real mismatch in terms of skill (one could argue TACO vs xyp9x too) but it’s enough to dominate and make the game easier.
Onto Zeus, who is the last remaining bastion of the traditional IGL at the top level. With Karrigan’s bizarre extradition to the Americas, and MSL’s slightly less bizarre emigration, it really puts into focus the only top five team to follow the ‘nuclear team’ formula. Natus Vincere have really defined roles, and are showing that just because the new wave is to go with the AWPing, fragging IGL, one can get away with a non-fragging IGL. There is a catch, though - you might have to have the greatest player to touch the game to get away with it. The fragging power lost from having the traditional IGL and a support-style player in Edward, is alleviated by having a player who hasn’t had a sub 1.15 rating in 12 months and Electronic, a rifler who keeps up with him.
That said, this dichotomy is emboldened by Zeus’ style - it’s no coincidence that HObbit, AdreN, Electronic and s1mple all hit their peaks under the veteran IGL, and this actually shows the benefits of the IGL who doesn’t frag but knows how to utilise the chess pieces at his disposal - they can make the stars able to offset the loss in fragging power.
That is little consolation for the Danish IGLs banished to the forbidden kingdom of North America, though. MSL has already shown willingness to adapt to the ever-changing meta, and has shown a surprising shine for the big green gun. Karrigan won’t have the option to primary AWP on a team that contains JDM and Nifty, who have both been the primary AWPer at their respective former teams; but maybe Karrigan should look to become an AWPer to make his way back to the top.
Karrigan has shown ability to use the weapon in the last few years, occasionally using it on FaZe and more often using it on TSM/Astralis - and with it being difficult for him to find a top team at the moment, maybe becoming more of a meta slave might help him out. North, for example, have shown a keenness for the new breed of sniping leaders, with MSL being moved on for cadiaN, who is more commonly associated with the sniping part of the hybrid. If cadiaN didn’t work out, Karrigan could find a spot on that team. Snappi has been disappointing on OpTic, and JUGi isn’t really showing why having the AWP role separate from the IGL can be so beneficial. Cloud9 currently have Autimatic as the main AWP, which seems to be a short term fix, and afterwards might look towards the role compression to keep their riflers as just that, riflers. It seems to open more teams to him and add more to his kit with which he can benefit a team.
Is making your IGL the AWPer a meta change that will define CS:GO moving forward, or merely flavour of the month? It’s hard to say. Whilst Zeus is around, people will still see that that style can work - but with his imminent retirement, we might see the death of traditional IGLs. Ex6tenz’ failure on G2 (despite him not really ever being backed and the star players not really being able to compete with top teams) might scare people away from the traditional IGL, and this only really leaves Golden and daps as the head of the IGL faction.
With Karrigan, Golden and MSL all moving to NA, and steel, daps and SeanGares still there, NA might be the breeding ground for the old-school leader. If these tactical minds can pass on their knowledge, it actually could be America leading the second coming of the tactical behemoth - a sentence I never thought I would say unironically.
Similarly, this change is potentially worrying for the star AWPers who aren’t great riflers. If more teams want their AWPer to lead as well, players like KennyS might become less and less desirable. It would be a huge shame for us to lose the star snipers, the montage-makers, the combat-snipers. What would a CS:GO clip compilation look like without GuardiaN holding down Overpass B site, without KennyS ‘hitting the flick onto xyp9x, lightning fast!’ or without Skadoodle going nuclear?
Alas, it’s unlikely that any meta change will be a permanent thing. Meta, like French rosters, is cyclical, and will always come back to what it used to be. Maybe FaZe will realise they were wrong to kick Karrigan; maybe steel will fulfill his dream of making the top five again; maybe BIG, led by Gob B and the new AWPing kid on the block, can make waves.
We can only be sure of one thing - MSL got the only MVP of his CS:GO career whilst AWPing and IGLing, at Dreamhack Stockholm, and I wrote an entire article to remind you of the fact.