One of the best-called T-sides I saw in 2019 was mousesports' comeback against Astralis at the ESL Pro League Season 10 semifinals.
In the third map of the series, Mouz were down 8-14, but with a combination of individual skill and brilliant calling, Mouz completely took over the game and eliminated Astralis from the event.
It was a textbook example of what it means to take momentum away from the enemy.
What is momentum anyway?
Momentum is one of the most abused words in the CS:GO lexicon. Momentum along with confidence (the terms are sometimes used in conjunction or interchangeably) are useful terms, but are given too much credit or not enough elucidation.
While I sound critical, there are legitimate technical reasons why this is the case. Time is generally the biggest factor, whether that’s the speed at which someone can analyze a match under imperfect conditions or if it’s a fan who can’t quite articulate perfectly what they saw in the game.
In either case, momentum will always come up as it is almost always directionally correct in its analysis of what happened in the game.
When a team makes a comeback, some level of momentum was reversed; whether that be emotional, tactical, or strategic. The problem is that the overuse of the term makes it sound like a team stole an energy ball from the other team and rode it to victory. So for this article, I will explicitly describe what momentum is.
Momentum is when an in-game leader creates a psychological tempo advantage in the game. This can be applied on both the strategic and tactical levels, but in general, I use it tactically as strategic win conditions rarely shift within a game of CS (though they shift all the time between series and in the map veto).
It then is when an in-game leader reads the flow of the game. They either identify or create a positional vortex on the map that the other team can’t ignore. They then leverage that and start predicting the other team’s adjustments and counter those adjustments accordingly.
Other context to consider
Before we get into the meat of the analysis, there are some contextual things to consider about this game. First of all, Chris “chrisJ” de Jong’s heroics on the CT-side was what gave Mouz enough breathing room to pull off the comeback in the second half. What’s more, both chrisJ and Ozgur “woxic” Eker had critical individual plays that pushed Mouz over the line. No matter how good the tactics are, teams need skilled players that can execute or win rounds even when things go awry.
What’s more, the comeback came on Dust2. Dust2 is a T-sided map as they have the most potential options open to them on an individual and strategic level. Players can get picked off early crossing mid, T’s can rush B if they suss out that the CT-side economy is brittle and lacking nades. In general, the T's have a lot more options, so making a comeback on Dust2 is more viable than Nuke for instance.
Even so, Finn “karrigan” Andersen’s calling on this map is worth extensive study. Beyond being a game that made Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander rage afterward, it was also a game where his teammates praised him for his calling. Robin “ropz” Kool told HLTV, “When it was 14-8, karrigan had some of these moments when everything just clicks in his brain and he makes the right call every single time. Everywhere you go there's just one guy and we easily re-frag him, and I think that's what happened. karrigan was just calling amazingly on the T side, and that's how we came back.”
For my part, this map is the best example of someone taking control of the momentum away from Astralis. This is extremely hard to do with their controlled CT-side, extraordinary use of nades, and the efficient AWPing style of Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz. While Fnatic and EG have beaten Astralis, the only T-side that made me think the team won on a tactical level was karrigan’s come back on Dust2.
Scouting out the setup
The first rifle round saw Astralis use a double-AWP setup with dev1ce at cat and Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen at B. Mouz started with 5 players in the B-tunnels, but opted to take mid and prep for a late-round B-split. Astralis had control of long and cat, so they rotated 2 more players to B and squashed the B-split. Dupreeh got two kills in the hit and Mouz confirmed that Astralis opted for a double-AWP setup.
In the following round, karrigan probed for early intel. Woxic went for an early peek at long doors, while he went up cat. Woxic was pushed back by gla1ve’s utility while karrigan got picked by dev1ce. In the round after that, karrigan called for a fast B rush, which made sense given that they had a mac-10 and dupreeh was on the AWP. Astralis shut it down.
So after the first three rounds, Astralis were in position to close the game out with a 14-8 scoreline. What Mouz got in return was a few bits of critical information. Astralis were playing a double-AWP setup. Astralis were using their double-AWPs to fortify the mid area. They had dupreeh rotating between B and mid and dev1ce at cat. The fact that dev1ce went for an early cat pick also implied that there were two players at cat and that gla1ve was by himself at long.
— ESL Counter-Strike (@ESLCS) December 8, 2019
Whatever plans karrigan was going to use with that information got derailed at the beginning of the 23rd round, as dupreeh got an early pick at the beginning of the round. Mouz considered playing for long, but the utility forced them back. They then went for mid control and enacted a B-split.
It was a good idea since the typical CT-side default is a 2-3 split and Astralis hadn’t used any smokes for the mid doors. karrigan could intuit that it was unlikely that they had rotated any third player over to the B-site. Mouz then closed the round with a good entry from karrigan (which put Dupreeh in no man’s land in the B-site) and a 4k from woxic.
Taking back control
The 24th round was when Mouz started to take back control of the game. They did a rush out for long and Mouz won out the duels. This call made sense for two reasons. The first is that Mouz had primarily focused on B-splits. Perhaps karrigan expected a more default 2-3 or more of a focus towards mid with the double-AWP setup. Astralis had gone for a 1-4 setup, which was a neutral tactical move. While Astralis had more players to throw into the brawl, an all-out brawl was strategically better for Mouz as Astralis are masters of the slower drawn out rounds. Mouz won out the trades, took map control and won the round.
It was at this point that karrigan either started to predict Astralis’ setups on the rifle rounds or coincidentally call tactics that took advantage of the setups that Astralis used. Either way, it had an eerie precision. Astralis were going to use a fast info play on cat, dupreeh holding B, and gla1ve holding long. It was a similar setup to one Astralis used in the 20th round. This time karrigan didn’t go towards cat, but instead used his utility to deny any rushing play that spot. At long, karrigan had the rest of the team use a slightly delayed (but still fast) hit on long which put them in a 4v1 situation where ChrisJ got the entry on Emil “Magisk” Rief.
At that point, Astralis were stuck in a bad 4v5 situation. Gla1ve pushed down mid with Dupreeh’s support to get info. Astralis then rotated two AWPs to try to hold mid, but chrisJ took them both down. Gla1ve eventually traded him, but at this point, gla1ve made a misread as he rotated towards the B-site. There were 25 seconds on the clock and Mouz delayed the actual hit from long for those 5 seconds. That was enough to convince gla1ve to make the rotation and this let Mouz get an easy hit onto the A-site. At the beginning and the end of this round, karrigan slightly delayed the timings of the hits which caught the Astralis players off guard.
By the 28th round, karrigan had firm control of the momentum. Long had become a positional threat that they had to deal with, and karrigan had anchored that idea into Astralis’ minds. karrigan likely deduced that Astralis were going to use the 1-4 default with four players taking control of long. Frozen used three of his nades to fake the threat and Astralis countered with a molly and two flashes of their own.
— ESL Counter-Strike (@ESLCS) December 8, 2019
Astralis then had to use the rest of their utility for potential threats that never come. Gla1ve then re-mollied long doors for the slightly delayed hit that Mouz used in the 26th round before using his smoke to completely take control of long. Magisk and Xyp9x had to rotate towards mid and use their nades to secure cat and Xyp9x’s rotation to the B-site. Through the entire half, the myriad of threats that karrigan used had forced Astralis to clear out almost their entire stock of utility by the 40 second mark. This is what I mean by tactical momentum. Instead of using a previous tactic, karrigan predicted Astralis’ adjustments and used their utility tendencies against them with a slower passive default.
So when Mouz did their A-split, they had more utility to clear out the positions. A saved smoke from dev1ce and Magisk’s play at the A-site nearly won Astralis the round anyway, but the timing of the split and the utility usage put each prong of the spit put the Astralis players in single man duels. When Magisk got two kills at short, woxic was able to trade him without repudiation from dev1ce. Dev1ce was then stuck at the A-site without backup as gla1ve had to hold long. The two players at long then flashed and killed gla1ve, which left dev1ce in a hard 1v3 situation.
The final round was the least interesting as frozen got an early pick at long doors that broke up the game. From there, karrigan played standard. He took map control on cat and when Astralis tried for a flash play traded 1v1. Mouz took long and killed the remaining player at long which essentially ended the round.
Overall Lessons to take from karrigan’s T-side
After reviewing the game, there are a few things that stand out about karrigan’s T-side. He first started the half by showing presence towards B and doing B-splits. He ascertained that Astralis were using a double-AWP setup with an emphasis on mid and a solo presence towards long.
He then used that information and shifted he attention towards long where he created a mental anchor in the defense of the Astralis players. Mouz won the all-out brawl in the 24th round, then hit them with a slightly delayed timing in the 26th while denying information from mid.
After taking control of the momentum, he ran with it to the end of the match as he predicted how Astralis were going to use their utility to stop the tactical threats he had shown through the half and used their tendencies against them.
So what is the overall lesson that teams and leaders can take away from karrigan’s calling? I think the overarching thrust of karrigan’s success comes from finding the initial weak point and breaking it open. He figured out early on that Astralis were using a double-AWP setup with a more mid-centered approach which let long open. He cracked open long by brawling in a 4v4 and later with a delayed timing. This created a credible threat that left Astralis reacting one step behind karrigan for the rest of the half.
There are likely other small individual details that karrigan likely read in the match. What struck me was the slight adjustments in timing and the amount of 2v1 or 3v1 scenarios that Mouz got themselves into. These small adjustments have been a hallmark of his career. Back in 2017, both gla1ve and karrigan went on Counter-Points. Jason “Moses” O’Toole asked how detailed the prep work was.
karrigan replied, “I have an example from the finals against Astralis at ELeague on Cache. They have an A break on Cache where they come out of A-main. They [Astrails] hadn’t done it in the first 10 rounds. So if they spray the smoke at B on Cache and one guy uses 5 bullets in T-mid, they’re gonna explode out A 5-6 seconds later.”
Overall, karrigan did a brilliant job calling against Astralis. This T-side comeback could be a case study for how teams might approach Astralis in the future.
While the details will likely be different, the idea of taking momentum by finding a crack in the overall defensive scheme, breaking it open, and then parlaying that into a tactical momentum shift could seems to be one of the better strategic approaches we’ve seen deployed against Astralis’ CT-side.