By: Trevor Schmidt
If one word could be used to describe each Counter-Strike team, Team9’s would have to be meticulous. They can be so excessively concerned with the most minute strategical details that sometimes it’s tough to watch them play, but who can argue with their results? Winning the last two major international events’Clikarena and ESWC’has made them a favorite to win it all in Dallas, but how do they stack up on the maps that should decide the tournament? Let’s take a look.
There’s no better place to start then the opening half of the ESWC finals against zEx. One of the keys to this very slow and deliberate style of play is save rounds. Not typical save rounds either; most of Team9’s camp out or save rounds end up as failed attacks where players hold off in a 1v3 situation, just barely allowing the time to run out. Two rounds during this match Team9 did it, 4th and 8th. These really proved to be killers. By the time you start losing 4-5 rounds in a row, that bonus for losing rounds starts to kick in, giving you enough money to not have to save. But if you win one with a round timeout, your hopes of ever having a reasonable amount of money can be totally ruined.
Team9 seems to inflict this fate repeatedly on CTs on de_dust2, where the T-sided map often allows CTs to gain a few extra rounds simply by losing enough rounds in a row that they start to get money. Team9 instead just allows its players to camp the round, sacrificing a small amount of cash and a round win to reset the money gains that their opponents were accumulating. The second save out round they pulled off in the finals was so devastating that zEx even had to save the round after they won. As for actual strats, each round showed consistent coaching from Vesslan. His control of the team is even greater than that of Moto, Geffon, for Team3D. Each member listens to him throughout the round and they seem to have flawless timing in all key locations, including perfect attacks of Bombsite A along with good movement and flank coverage. Seriously good teamwork, to say the least.
They played CT side very conservatively, with only one rush of Long A’ and that was by only one person, with Vesslan in support. They like to stack catwalk but didn’t push up to stairs like many other top teams do, avoiding grenades most likely. They seem to be convinced that by having three guys on platform they could hold off rushes, and they seem to be right, at least against zEx. In Bombsite B, their coverage was mostly outside but they played this bombsite pretty much how most clans do. The focus of the middle guy was normally on Bombsite B, which allowed players to get up on catwalk, but it didn’t seem to matter. The teamwork between the players covering different chokes made it difficult for any attacks to be successful. Bombsite B guys seemed impossibly well positioned, able to respond to attacks at Bombsite A instantly. Part of this is that Team9 tends to allow teams to take Bombsite B and then retake it with five men, whereas they will fight dearly to hold Bombsite A as long as possible.
In stark contrast to the teams we have reviewed before on de_train, Team9 played this map very conservatively and pretty similarly to how I felt some of the other teams who often like to play aggressively should cover it. They left three man in the back of outer site, one for each row of trains. By doing so they allowed the opposing team, in this case GG, to come to them, picking them off as they came and allowing more backup to come. This was the key for Team9, backup. Their rotations when players went down or rushes had been called out were flawless. One example was when XeqtR, who played alley during the match, rotated on a call by Vesslan, who was playing lower bombsite. Quick, playing lower site with Vesslan, moved into the middle Z-hallway but was picked off to start the round. A quick rotation by XeqtR through CT spawn truly saved the round, as he showed up just as the attack happened. Many teams might not have rotated that fast but Team9 seemed sure of themselves and sensed the rush coming lower. These types of things seem to be the edge Team9 has over other clans lately.
Another T side for Team9, and another smart money management system. All of the Team9 players seemed well-versed in the nature of the CS economy and understood fully when to camp and when to fight out a round. Many other Europeans and a large percent of American teams seem to always just fight out rounds, often hurting their team’s chances by looking for that extra glory of winning a 1v3 or 1v4 situation. Team9 knew when to lay back and seemed to always force GG to save more often than any team would want to. Gun rounds showed Team9’s meticulous offensive again as their base 2-1-2 strat seem to fit their style of play perfectly.
Most teams create a base strat from which to ‘pick off’ players with all of the different groups slowly attacking. This wasn’t Team9’s style at all, this base strat was more to watch what the other team did, spraying some walls and making noise to tell the other team they where there, but not to attack. Vesslan, the one man at middle, would then call an attack once he felt he had enough information about the CTs’ location, and the team would form up for that attack. They seemed to work the round clock to perfection. Vesslan’s control over all of the players and their ability to listen to his strats and execute without questioning them makes this team one of the best in the world.
A different map but similar base T strats, as de_inferno against Infernum looked pretty much the same. This time Vesslan watch the left flank, banana hallway, while two players held middle and two more held hallways. The middle guys would boost onto the roof every round, creating a double stack in the middle ready to pick off any pushing CTs. When I say every round, I mean every round. It was very very obvious and time-consuming but Team9 did it any way, except for one round when they rushed. Once they were happy that the other team wasn’t going to press they began to plan an assault that more than 70% of the time hit the primary bombsite, usually hitting first from middle and then from hallways. The attacks had perfect timing and were only broken up by very good individual performances from Infernum.
Seems like a broken record at this point but yet again they played the CT side of de_inferno very close to the belt. Conservative CT and T strats are Team9’s trademark and while they may not be much fun to watch, they sure are effective. The one place Team9 seemed to take a risk was on the banana hallway, where they, like many other clans, left one man alone quite a lot. This job fell to XeqtR, who wasn’t challenged much by Infernum. Tactically they seem to play heavier towards the intital middle rushes, looking to stop them and then sweep back into the sandpits to take out the hallway guys that had rushed. This might have been a weakness but Infernum wasn’t able to exploit it.
Infernum’s individual skill was impressive but their timing and ability to catch Team9 making mistakes was lacking, largely because Team9 didn’t make many. Team9 as CT reminds me of Baltimore on defense in the NFL. People who watch NFL will understand what I mean; they are a very conservative team that doesn’t make any mistakes and waits for you to make them. Once you do they turn the tables and take advantage of it. If teams want to beat Team9, they’ll need to wait them out and let them make the initial attack or movement.
After the ESWC matches on the above maps I got to de_nuke. While there wasn’t anything from the past month of solid value I did go back to the SEL Championship for Season 2. This was the match where Team9 lost their first match in about two months to HLO, now mTw.se. It was interesting to watch Vesslan’s squad play only a few months ago, as they seemed a lot less organized but still showed that very obvious style of slow but steady play. One big difference was the CT side, where Team9 opened the match with a rush of ramp room with four guys. Team9 rushing as CT’ are we still in Kansas, Dorothy? It was a brilliant move though as they had Vesslan spot above ladder watching for a rush of upper bombsite or outside whiles the rest of the team rushed ramp. This strat caught HLO in the back just as they were about to rush the upper bombsite on a delay.
The rest of the half Team9 employed very normal and tactically sound strats, playing Quick outside but more often in the upper bombsite watching outside. Their outside coverage by Vesslan, above ladder, and then Lucchese coming from ramp room, was adequate. They got up to a nice 8-0 lead when things went south. First they lost momentum on some great individual plays from HLO, then some risks stacking three men in ramp room on a gun round proved deadly, costing them another save round. These rounds added up to a tough up hill climb on T side, a climb that Team9 wasn’t quite up to.
One thing I noticed right off the bat is that, unlike other maps, de_nuke really didn’t favor Team9’s slow deliberate style of T rushes. They tried to move ramp room slowly while working outside and upper with a 2-2-1. But this didn’t work at all, which really confirms to me what I have always believed about de_nuke. This map really favors the aggressor. Whoever can attack first and decisively often gains the advantage, whether it’s the CTs pushing choke, either through the hut or through the halls leading to ramp room; or the Ts rushing hard to either ramp room (provided they have a good spawn) or metal door/hut/yard. Ts must attack and must do so quickly before the CTs can be aggressive. Team9 got caught into the pattern of holding choke and waiting for the other team to make the move, but once they did Team9 wasn’t able to respond. Another problem is the shape of the T chokepoint outside of the upper bombsite; one grenade can do a lot of damage to the entire team if thrown correctly. Team9 seems much more effective on maps where they can spread their whole team out and use great teamwork and communication to coordinate their advantage.
Many people seem find it hard to believe that a team they perceive as less talented then other top teams such as SK.swe and 3D can win so many tournaments. The real issue isn’t the individual talent’ nothing against Team9 players, of course, they’re all extremely talented’ but rather the teamwork that they manage to pull off. Each player’s ability to follow each detail of each strat and check each corner is what makes Team9 as good as they are. Teams looking to beat them will have to first match their level of teamwork, then find a way to force them to attack. Teams who think they can simply outplay Team9 with aim and skill could be in for another failed attempt at a championship title.