The Counter-Strike ecosystem is unforgiving at the best of times. The rush to find an edge has turned from a fast run into a feverish dash. There’s no lag between the deployment of a new strategy and its respective counter. Metas change at a rate fans struggle to fathom and old ideas decay fast. Our sense of time is warped in a space like CS:GO. A year is a decade, three years, a millenia.
Looking back, 2014 Virtus.pro’s infamous ‘plow’ style of fast-paced executes with interesting nades with intermittent contact plays would be picked apart at range by the dynamic CT set-ups of today. 2013 VeryGames’ hyper-structured approach to the early round would be blitzed by the pressuring defaults and calculated bouts of cognisant aggression in the current meta. Old dogs have been forced to learn new tricks less they fall victim to the pool of transformative sharks below them.
Interestingly, in this sense, NiP have had to look back in order to move forwards.
Once the hegemonic overlords of CS:GO’s tentative first steps, NiP’s dominance has waned since their glorious entrance into the 2012/13 scene. When they were at their best, they had that rare luxury of fielding the majority of the top three best players in the world. F0rest, and Get_Right, weren’t just a step ahead, but for months on end, were dynasties ahead of their competition on an individual level.
The structure of their T-sides didn’t matter as much as simply having their superstars in the server. There’s a certain degree of carefree play when you’re at the relative level of early NiP. Watching their demos, the game seemed to be defined more by a flow and smooth rhythm than a strat book of carefully set beats and tactics. Their dominance was frustrating for exactly this reason. How do you beat the older brother while wrestling when he is simply stronger and older than you? What assortment of world-beating talent can one assemble when most of the world-beating talent is consolidated in one line-up?
It’s an unforgiving environment, remember.
Not even a side as tyrannical as NiP were safe from the entropy of an intensely competitive hierarchy like CS:GO’s. As teams failed to match NiP man-for-man, the game evolved elsewhere. The French sought to leverage the structure of a round. Eastern Europe gave birth to off-kilter timings forged in a crucible of cohesive teamplay. The Brazilians sought to combined both of these elements into a Frankenstein style fuelled by passion and talent that took over the scene. And the once great Swedes were surpassed. NiP fell by the wayside.
The ‘magical’ platitudes surrounding their play was just the signs of a once great team inconsistently stumbling onto paystreaks via the inertia of their individual skill. ‘Magic’ is a qualifier used as a by-product of a soup of win-conditions, not the sole pretense for a good tournament run.
Undoubtedly, they’ve been navigating murky, inconsistent waters since their peak early in the game. We’ve seen NiP swap out every element of their system, line-up and style since 2013 but fail to replicate results. From becoming increasingly more structured, to bringing in different coaches, to changing roles, NiP’s form has remained as elusive as the ‘magic’ people so often cite around them.
It’s interesting then, that in the present, we’re watching NiP become the most loose we’ve ever seen them with dennis at the helm. NiP, like an expert psychoanalyst, have gone to the depths of their past and pulled out the dredges of what made them great to find form again. They’re embracing the individually-enabled chaos of a round under the umbrella of a cohesive late-round to pull out wins. Will it make them the best team in the world? Hard no. But there’s never been a tougher time to achieve such a task.
Right now is the most evolved the CS ecosystem has ever been. There are no gaps in the top fifteen to simply slide into by virtue of result weighting or the odd upset. It’s a tightly contested pack of professional sides all practicing harder than any set of competition has in history and at a higher level. For NiP to even be in the conversation as a top ten team in the world is an achievement in on itself.
It’s remarkable then, that they’re using many elements of the style that once made them great to do-so. We’re seeing Get_Right lurk without support and finish rounds in spectacular fashion as the infamous clutcher we’re used to. F0rest and lekr0 have total freedom to open up rounds at a whim and are dominating elite CT-sides like Na`Vi’s Overpass simply by virtue of being able to punish expectations. Their T-sides lack almost less structure than they did in 2013, but by being so far behind their almost ahead in how they’re able to catch sides off-guard with such unexpected timings and trading paths.
They’re a tribute band to themselves and crushing it. It’s the classic symptoms of a dennis-led roster in terms of style, but made uniquely nostalgic in the personnel filling it out. While they won’t be dominate with their old style, they’ll be competitive. And with names like f0rest and Get_right on the roster, that’s the least you can ask. For the sake of history.