It’s tough to pinpoint where exactly the German org stands on the CS:GO food chain. As the upheaval continues in the scene – stand-ins, line-up changes, simultaneous events and dropped rosters left, right and center, it’s worth contextualizing their recent performances and future prospects. Replacing STYKO with Snax will usher in a new era for sure however, it’s currently impossible to pinpoint its trajectory.
A game of cat and mouz
One of the most interesting stories of the CS:GO scene in the last few years that mousesports managed to achieve so much more after their star player’s departure than before it. For a team that was often referred to as “Nikosports”, they’ve done an incredible job replacing the Bosnian, setting up a roster with a very delicate balance that has now been disrupted by getting rid of STYKO. His replacement: Snax, one of the most decorated Polish players of all time who’s been having a very hard time on Virtus.pro lately.
Historically, the German org hasn’t been one of the big players in the CS:GO scene, never making it out of the group stages of the majors until ELEAGUE Boston earlier this year, only to be immediately stopped by eventual finalists FaZe Clan in a series that lives in the memory as a straightforward 2-0 despite the fact that they were on the verge of winning the first map until STYKO fell off the rafters on Nuke, reducing their man advantage and allowing their ex-star to clutch out the 30th round for overtime.
STYKO is now completely gone from the team, and while his replacement also hails from Poland, it’s far from a like-for-like change: he was playing a dedicated support role while Snax has been anything but for VP. Don’t get me wrong, he’s certainly proven his versatility over the years, swapping from rifle to AWP and becoming a (reluctant) IGL for the side as they tried to fight their way out of their ever-recurring slumps, but he certainly is way too explosive to simply just pick up STYKO’s mantle as an assist machine.
Uniquely, there are two elephants in the room here: was a roster change necessary at all, and if so, was this the right one? By all accounts, the first half of 2018 was a great period for the team, winning StarSeries Season 4 and the V4 Future Sports Festival – while the latter wasn’t a particularly prestigious event, it also featured FaZe Clan and a very large prize pool, making it worthy of a mention – followed up by a semi-final finish at IEM Sydney.
Sandwiched between those was an underwhelming 5-8th finish at DreamHack Marseille and a quarter-final elimination against Team Liquid after a disappointing performance underscored by an overtime defeat on their “home map” of Mirage followed by a 4-16 mauling on Dust 2. Their recent results were very similar, always the bridesmaid, never the bride: a semi-final loss to Na’Vi at the next iteration of StarSeries, second place behind FaZe at Belo Horizonte in an eight-team field with diminished strength, and now, after the roster change, a group stage elimination at Cologne.
Ignoring the last one, these are not bad results on paper if you look at the long-term performances of mousesports. However, if they are aiming for the very top, it does seem like some sort of change was needed. It’s certainly true that the roster has plateaued in recent months and STYKO was the obvious player to consider replacing if you wanted to improve upon the line-up by injecting fresh blood into the system. There’s certainly merit to that aspect: their recent successes largely stemmed from locking down Mirage as an impenetrable fortress, an advantage that didn’t last long as other teams caught up to their tactics relatively quickly, leaving them adrift in the veto process against the top dogs once gain. Those who hold subscribe to the idea of mental weakness and leadership as an important intangible factor in CS:GO often pointed out how mouz sorely lacked a TaZ-like hype man who would keep them focused and engaged when the going got tough.
One has to wonder whether playing with n0thing as a stand-in at Belo Horizonte instigated this process in any capacity. While it wasn’t STYKO but oskar that was replaced by the American veteran, he is well-known for having a positive influence on his teammates in rough situations and he has done a serviceable job in a supporting role throughout the event.
There’s also more concrete evidence for the hypothesis that this change is meant to be a catalyst for a challenge for the top spot. While it sometimes feels like a kremlinologist’s wet dream to try and figure out the inner workings of the team based on the PR-filled interviews of the players, there were some very revealing snippets recently from chrisJ and suNny about the current goings-on behind the scenes. The in-game leader spoke to HLTV after their early exit at Cologne, and he was very clear about the motivations behind the roster change.
’I think I can speak for the whole team that we felt that we kind of lacked something to be the really best team, even fight for being one of the best teams now. […] Maybe it's an X-factor thing or something that we thought a player like Snax might have that could really give us the last edge we needed, to win big matches and to actually get to finals again and actually have a chance of winning them. Because we played FaZe a few times in finals and it got close, but we never beat them. And FaZe isn't even considered the best team right now, obviously, there is Astralis and we didn't usually even have much of a chance against them. We felt like with this lineup we couldn't improve much more. Even though we were good, just reaching the playoffs was not enough for us anymore, we wanted something more.’
The Finnish player voiced similar thoughts on Twitter on the 29th of June, with some very enlightening tidbits about the roles inside the team:
“TLDR: we made mouz great again but reached our ceiling and wanted more
We as a team had good chemistry and there's no bad blood between anyone. We just felt as a team that we needed something fresh and his role was at this time easiest to fill without building completely new style. It's unfortunate but I am sure Martin will find great place to grow even more and find success in hes (sic!) future.”
Like with most roster changes, the devil is in the details with this one. If these quotes are to be believed, Snax is meant to somehow slot into the existing system despite having a very different profile than his predecessor. It’s hard to imagine him going for a full-on support role, meaning it will likely fall to suNny or ropz to replicate STYKO’s role while Snax is unleashed on the opponents. The part he played in Virtus.pro’s heyday certainly equipped him with a winner’s mentality which could be also a useful addition – though like I’ve said above, even if you value the mental complexion of a given line-up, Snax also didn’t play the hype man role at VP either, not even when he was their IGL.
Of course, he is certainly a better player than STYKO: even if his recent results leave a lot to be desired against lower-level opposition, that can be chalked up to the rot that has set in at the Russian org’s CS:GO arm. However, one has to wonder whether he was the ideal player for mousesports out of the available ones at this time. For a flexible, English-speaking option with a lot of experience, NBK immediately comes to mind, or perhaps a look at the rapidly decomposing Cloud9 roster. The Polish players’ pickup certainly came out of nowhere, surprising even those who advocated for a line-up change at the German org.
It would be mental to dismiss a roster change after a single event before which they hardly had any time to practice, but it can’t be argued that their initial showing with their new line-up at Cologne was a massive disappointment, going out to ENCE after losing a best-of-three against G2 in the upper bracket. HLTV currently ranks them as the sixth-best team in the scene and their results mostly seem to accurately reflect that – even if you factor in the chaotic and confused situation many of their rivals find themselves in at the moment.
No one has ever achieved greatness from inside their comfort zone, and even if this particular move doesn’t turn out to be the correct one, it at least shows a willingness on part of the team to look for higher-quality parts to improve the overall machine. Considering the prevailing attitude at orgs like NiP, Fnatic or Virtus.pro in the last few years shows that this is a fairly big deal in and of itself.