There is an old adage, handed down from Twitter warlord to Twitter warlord, known to ever CS fans since the days of yore, or possibly Space Soldiers. The lines goes something like ‘in an online world, all you’d need to do was sign XANTARES, and you’d be the best team in the game’. There is also an older, pre-VAC meme about never beating Germans online. While that one is now dead, it seems every dog has its day, and 2020 is the year the old tales are finally coming to pass, as the prophecy of the pinglord is fulfilled. But what made BIG the best CS:GO team in 2020 so far, and is it really a legit accomplishment?
On July 15th 2020, if you looked at either HLTV or Thorin’s world rankings, you will see Berlin International Gaming at the top of the tree, looking down on the likes of FaZe Clan, Na’Vi, Astralis with an asterisk and many other great teams. They have won massive (online) tournaments recently, with victories over legit CSGO royalty, including series wins over the likes of Fnatic, Vitality, FaZe and any other team you’d like to call a contender.
While they are a deserved world number one, it would be wrong to ignore the circumstances of BIG’s ascent. Success gained in this time period, by any team, has to be balanced against the fact that not all players seem to care about CSGO when it’s played exclusively online. It’s not just Astralis that have checked out on tournaments in 2020, if we are honest. Teams like Na’Vi and other elite sides aren’t putting the same weight on the results gained in this period, and the same is true of a lot of fans. Viewership is up for some events, but we’ve had years of being rightly told that LAN is the true test, and as a result everything now feels like a fever dream rather than pure reality.
As a result there is an opportunity for teams like BIG and Complexity to make an impact and become ‘top 5 in the world’. To the untrained eye that is very impressive, but for the true fan it should always come with a caveat, forcing us to wait for the inevitable return of offline events for further context. With all that said, let’s look at what put BIG in pole position, and the potential reasons they may be able to maintain a spot near the top of the rankings when LAN play eventually resumes in the near future.
Back when BIG were making waves at ESL One Cologne there was a feeling that the team needed changes, although it was hard to pinpoint what precisely would do the trick. Many people thought the best thing would be to let gob b go, as the IGL was increasingly becoming a fragging liability, but those same people were often vocal about their doubts BIG could thrive without their talismanic player at the wheel as his system and leadership were seen as vital to their success.
At the same time, there was a lot of speculation that players like gob b, HUNDEN, Happy and others, who had maybe not kept up in the fragging department but had legendary brains for the game should consider transitioning to the coach position. The problem with this theory is that these players would prefer to hang on to the dream of being top level players, and until very recently resisted the pressure to transition into a more logical role in favor trying to improve as individuals.
Finally, there was the issue of smooya. He was the playmaker BIG needed in a lot of ways, but his clashed with tabseN and inability to buy into the culture of the team meant his time was always going to be fraught, and when he shot himself in the foot pre-Katowice Major, analysts were quick to point out that BIG needed a playmaker, even if their only option was a moody young Brit that was relatively hit and miss with the most expensive gun in the game.
Flash forward to July of 2020, and you can see the hard work paying off. Removing gob b from the playing lineup but keeping him around has paid dividends for the team, and potentially given proof of concept to other teams, and even changing how we think about CS coaching. There is no doubt it is easier for coaches to have a voice in online play, but even so every team is operating under the same rules and BIG are working out best.
They also have a playmaker in XANTARES, one who buys into the culture of the team and doesn’t appear to make tabseN angry. It shows they recognised what smooya did for them, and where they could get an upgrade too. This, combined with the decision they and others have taken to treat this downtime as a period for reflection and improvement has all added up to BIG being a legit world leader in the online CSGO era.
We’ll have to wait until 2021 most likely to see if they can carry that over into offline tournaments, but there is an old saying in sport: you can only beat what is in front of you. 2020 has been a difficult year for CS, and BIG are doing a better job than their peers of taking the lemons we’ve all been given and turning them into delicious German lemonade.