CS:GO

Stuchiu: How Astralis' map veto proves they’re psychologically ahead of EG

by Stephen Chiu
L: ESL, R: Facebook: Gla1ve

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The Evil Geniuses vs Astralis matchup in CS:GO has been one of the premier battles since the StarLadder Berlin Major. The two teams have faced off five times across three LANs.

Throughout their battles, the map veto has evolved and by the end of ECS Season 8, Astralis have proven that they have the edge over EG in the psychological war for the map veto.

Conceptualizing the Map Veto

The map veto part of the broadcast is incredibly short, usually running somewhere between 1-3 minutes. Despite the short broadcast time, the map veto is pivotal in setting up the game and conceptualizing the entire matchup.

The best way to conceptualize the map veto in CS:GO is to use an analogy to Dota 2. In Dota 2, they spend 20-30 minutes in their hero pick/ban and each hero can change the development of how the game plays out and how the players interact with those heroes. The draft section of the game is a microcosm of how the actual game will play out. I once asked Lee “Heen” Seung Gon, Secret’s coach (at the time Liquid’s coach), how important the draft was. He answered

“It’s very important I’d say like 70-30, draft is 70. I don’t mean to say like drafts will win you the game. I mean more in the minds of a draft is a reflection of your team’s understanding of the game. If you out draft an opponent, you had a moment where you’re Dr. Strange, you see what’s going to happen, all of the outcomes...The draft is just…. it’s like a prediction of the game. You have to execute it, it’s like a simulation.”

While not as impactful, the map veto in CS:GO works in a similar manner. The draft reveals the minds of their respective teams. What do they value, how do they perceive their opponents, and how do they view their own strengths? The teams then have a negotiation as they pick and choose their map draft.

Unlike Dota 2, in CS:GO the terms of negotiation and feedback given back to the teams is far more ambiguous. The Dota 2 draft separates out the entire game into 10 different hero picks, so if you analyze the game, you can hone in on the problem quickly. In CS:GO, you can only pick the map, so it becomes hard to disentangle cause and effect. 

Furthermore, competition is always results-oriented so competitors are liable to look at the results of an action rather than if the process leading up to the action was correct or not. The most memorable example of this was when Adam “Friberg” Friberg smashed TSM on Train at the Cluj-Napoca Major. In terms of pure game theory, it was the correct choice to make, but because they lost, it anchored into the minds of the TSM players that they should avoid Train and hurt their chances going forward. 

Overall, the map veto is a simulation of the actual matchup and it gives invaluable insight into how teams understand the game, themselves, and the enemy.

The clashes at the StarLadder Berlin Major

Twitter: Astralis
Twitter: Astralis

At the StarLadder Berlin Major, EG (at that point NRG) played Astralis twice, once in the group stages and once in the semifinals. At the time, NRG had just come off the break and had used that time to fully integrate Peter “stanislaw” Jarguz into the lineup. They were in red hot form and won the first meeting in the group stages 2-0. The map veto was:

  • NRG ban Inferno
  • AST ban Mirage
  • NRG pick Train
  • AST pick Nuke
  • AST ban Vertigo
  • NRG ban Dust2
  • Final pick Overpass

NRG banned Inferno as it was the home map of Astralis and the only map where Astralis had retained a level of their prime era strength during mid 2019. Astralis banned Mirage as it was their worst map and one of NRG’s better maps when they were still playing with Damian “daps” Steele. NRG then first picked Train as it was one of their best maps at the time and looked to be their new home map with the Stanislaw lineup. 

Astralis went for Nuke. The move made sense as Nuke is a tactical map, which is antithetical to how NRG liked to play. Once stanislaw came into the team, the squad started to be looser and more aggressive. That style is less effective on Nuke. After Nuke, Astralis banned Vertigo and this had a dual purpose. First it was probably their least comfortable map of the three remaining and secondly, it was a wild card that they could use later on in the tournament. NRG had the choice between Dust2 and Overpass. They decided to opt for Overpass. 

This final pick showed that NRG were still uncertain of the team’s strengths as this final draw made more sense with the daps iteration of the lineup as Dust2 was one of their weaker maps while Overpass was their strongest. As time went on, EG started to pick Dust2 while avoiding Overpass. At the time though, it was still a good choice, especially as Overpass was a problem for Astralis during the mid-2019 run.

The two teams then clashed again in the semifinals of the Major. At the time, Astralis had unveiled two tricks in the quarterfinals victory over Liquid. They showed they had revamped their Overpass T-side to include various B contact plays that couldn’t be stopped with an ad-hoc response. Their second trick had them unveil their Vertigo, which looked to be the best of any team in the tournament.

So in the semifinals the map veto played out as: 

  • NRG ban Inferno
  • Astralis ban Mirage
  • NRG picked Train
  • Astralis picked Overpass
  • Astralis ban Dust2
  • NRG ban Vertigo
  • Nuke was left over

The map veto was largely the same, but the small adjustments give a wealth of information for how Astralis viewed this series. They recognized a few things about NRG before NRG did about themselves. First was that NRG wasn’t a great Overpass team. This time around they opted for an Overpass pick instead of Nuke as they believed their new T-side could break open NRG. Secondly, in the second ban phase, they took out Dust2 instead of Vertigo.

This shows a slight shift in perception in Astralis’ view of themselves and NRG. Astralis probably realized that they were the favorites on Vertigo if they played NRG head-to-head. At the same time, they also recognized that NRG was a very strong Dust2 team, something that NRG themselves only recognized later on.

Astralis ended up winning the series 2-0, but the contest for the map veto was far from over. 

The battle at ESL New York

ESL
ESL

The battle at ESL New York saw a few shifts from both teams. In the group stages, the two teams played again. The map veto was: 

  • Evil Geniuses ban Overpass
  • Astralis ban Mirage
  • Evil Geniuses picked Dust2
  • Astralis picked Inferno
  • Evil Geniuses ban Train
  • Astralis ban Nuke
  • Vertigo was left over

At this point, EG have fully recognized that they are no longer an Overpass team. They also realized that they needed to shift over to Dust2 as one of their primary picks as the map was suited to their aggressive, loose, and individualistic style. From the Astralis side, they had a few different choices they could have run here, but all of them were ambivalent. Astralis weren’t that great on Nuke. They won Train in the last encounter, but had gone 1-1 at the Major. What’s more, Astralis’ victory was still a close affair. In this situation, Astralis decided to go for their strongest pitch, inferno.

The second veto phase gives some insight into the EG mind. Nuke was a good map for them, so it’s unlikely they would have banned it. So it came down to either Train or Vertigo. It seems likely that they decided to second phase ban Train over Vertigo as they had lost the previous encounter on Train, while Vertigo was a wildcard. 

It never got to that point though as EG beat Astralis 2-0. The two teams met again in the finals, where EG beat Astralis 3-1. They smashed them on Inferno and nuke, won Dust2, and lost Train in overtime.

The third round at ECS Season 8

Twitch: FACEIT TV
Twitch: FACEIT TV

EG and Astralis faced off a third time. Among the three, this was the most heavily skewed towards Astralis. Here is the map veto: 

  • Evil Geniuses ban Vertigo
  • Astralis ban Mirage
  • Evil Geniuses picked Inferno
  • Astralis picked Nuke
  • Evil Geniuses ban Train
  • Astralis ban Dust2
  • Overpass was left over

There are a few interesting pieces of context to think about before we look at the map veto. First is that EG were on the road the entire time. Secondly, Vertigo had updated and it is likely that EG never had the time to figure out the map. Given that context, their first ban of Vertigo made a lot of sense, especially as Astralis beat 100 Thieves on it at IEM Beijing.

The most curious thing about the map veto was EG’s first pick. If you recall, at ESL New York, Inferno was Astralis’ first pick. I think it is highly likely that Astralis would have first picked Inferno again as the rest of the map pool gives them worse odds. By picking Inferno, EG heavily skewed the map veto advantage into Astralis' favor. Not only that, but it also implies that EG have lost confidence that their Dust2 can beat Astralis head-to-head. Astralis capitalized on this with a Nuke pick.

While Nuke was strong in the earlier LANs for EG/NRG, it had slowly gone by the wayside with losses to FaZe and Mouz. By picking Inferno, they gave Astralis their home map and a chance to punish pick them.

What’s more in the second phase veto, EG once more banned Train rather than Overpass, which was their ban at ESL New York. This is especially curious as Overpass was their permaban at New York so they should have banned it in the second phase ban here. Instead they opted for Train which exhibits a lack of confidence in their own Train despite all of their Train games being close affairs.

In the end Astralis won the series 2-1. They took Inferno, barely lost their own pick of nuke, and then smashed EG on Overpass.

What the Map Vetoes Say

Dreamhack
Dreamhack

After going through the map veto history between EG and Astralis, it’s clear that EG are lost in the map pool. They started as a team with a wide map pool as people believed they could play all seven maps. As time has gone on though, people have figured out that they have a weak Mirage and Overpass. Their Vertigo has been taken out as they haven’t had time to practice on the new changes. This leaves them: Train, Nuke, Inferno, and Dust2. 

They are too afraid of playing Train into Astralis or making it their home map against other teams. They have started to focus on Inferno and Dust2, but they haven’t established either as a dominant stronghold. FaZe, MIBR, and Mouz have beat them across those maps. The biggest indicator of this is their map pick into Astralis where they opted for Inferno instead of Dust2. 

As for Astralis, the map veto displays their resurrection. Going into the break before the StarLadder Berlin Major, Astralis was losing strength on all of their maps except Inferno. They’ve kept Inferno and have shifted their map pool to Overpass, Vertigo, and some Train.

The games at StarLadder Berlin Major and ESL New York made it seem like EG had a good head-to-head matchup against Astralis. As time has gone on, EG’s shrinking map pool and declining player form has reversed the advantage. For EG this is an omen that they need to find a way to renew themselves either tactically or individually. If they can’t, then their run as championship contenders will likely come to an end.

For Astralis, the EG matchup was the most problematic in the world. Now that they have an advantage against them, Astralis’ biggest threat is Liquid. At ECS Season 8 Finals, Astralis prevailed, but it was a close match. Should Astralis continue defeating Liquid, it looks like they will solidify their spot as the best in the world.