Stuchiu: Why kicking Aleksib has failed ENCE so far - Dexerto
CS:GO

Stuchiu: Why kicking Aleksib has failed ENCE so far

Published: 11/Nov/2019 17:38 Updated: 11/Nov/2019 19:57

by Stephen Chiu

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On August 23rd, 2019, ENCE shocked the CS:GO world when they announced a change in their active roster as they benched their in-game leader Aleksi “Aleksib” Virolainen for Miikka “suNny” Kemppi.

The move was shocking, especially in the context that they were still going to play with Aleksib at the StarLadder Berlin Major, where they got a top 8 result.

It has been two and a half months since that result, enough time to the effects of the kick on the ENCE roster and reflect on what has happened since.

StarLadder

The Aleksib Period

Before we can get into the aftermath of the Aleksib kick, we have to understand what the Aleksib under ENCE looked like. In the latter half of 2018, they assembled the lineup of: Aleksib, Jere “sergej” Salo, Jani “Aerial” Jussila, Sami “xseveN” Laasanen, and Aleksi “Allu” Jalli. Outside of Miikka “suNny” Kemppi, they seemed to have the best players that the Finnish scene had to offer. ENCE then grinded their way through the tier two/three scene of Counter-Strike. They had a gradual linear rise and eventually became the princes of the Tier 2 scene. This culminated in their breakout at the Katowice Major where they made a run to the finals. It was an awe-inspiring run, but hard to quantify as xseveN played far above expectations in the playoffs.

xseveN never reached those heights again, but it didn’t matter. ENCE were a top three team and they laid any doubts to rest with their results. They beat Astralis at BLAST Madrid and ended Astralis’ undefeated streak on Nuke. They got top four at CS Summit 4 and second at DreamHack Dallas. 

ENCE powered their brilliant run through their system. Each of their players had fairly set roles. Allu was the AWPer, Aerial was the aggressive rifler, Aleksib the leader, sergej a strong anchor and wing player, and xseveN filled out the roles.

The ENCE machine was brilliant. They had good roles for their players and among those, Allu and sergej stood out as the stars of the squad. What made the team click though was Aleksib’s tactics and their teamplay. ENCE liked to use structured defaults and fast paced executes. By mixing these two styles together, Aleksib dictated the pace of the game on the T-side. This often led to brilliant calls in the final rounds of the half as he was able to read, predict, and counter the setups or timings that the CTs wanted to use.

ENCE’s teamplay was also notable as it was clear that the entire team was fairly coordinated with each other, especially in small man situations. They understood how to play these situations tactically as they often used map control, nade usage, and trading to get advantageous situations. A third factor was the rise of the AUG meta during this period. The ENCE lineup lacked firepower relative to big superstar names, but the AUG fortified their CT-side and closed the skill gap differential.

BLAST

All of these factors made ENCE mentally sturdy. They were a hard team to put away for nearly any team as they never seemed to lose heart. Even in the cases where ENCE lost badly, it was excusable. At Cologne, they lost a bo1 to NiP and then played Vitality. Vitality had a great matchup against ENCE in the head-to-head. Liquid smashed ENCE at Chicago, but Liquid also played at their absolute peak at that event. What’s more, despite getting only 2 rounds in the first map and 3 in the second, ENCE were still mentally strong enough to keep trying and pushed the third map to a 14-16 scoreline.

For ENCE though, those results weren’t enough. On August 23rd, they made the move and replaced Aleksib for suNny.

The Aleksib Kick

The kick was one of the strangest roster moves the CS:GO community had seen since Fnatic kicked out Maikil “Golden” Selim. It was hard to wrap my head around it as the best aspects of the ENCE team seemed to flow from the in-game leader. Things like tactics, fundamentals, teamplay, and intangibles are usually correlated with the in-game leader. In ENCE’s case, we’ve seen Allu play in ENCE without Aleksib before and the team never looked this good or coordinated. 

Outside of the Allu, the rest of the players had no experience at this level of competition before. While they were good players, if we evaluated them by raw skill, they were outmatched by most of the top teams at the time. They made up for that with their intangibles: tactics, teamplay, and chemistry. All of this spoke to the impact of their leadership which came from Aleksib and their coach Slaava “Twista” Rasanen.

So the decision to kick Aleksib was shocking and from the outside, only one of two possibilities existed. Either the community had vastly misjudged Aleksib’s impact as a leader or ENCE had. This disparity of opinion didn’t only exist between ENCE and the community, but also between ENCE and Aleksib himself.

ESL

After ENCE got 13-16th at ESL One Cologne, Aleksib told VPEsports in an interview, “If we change a player now, I think it would ruin our team.” A little over a month later ENCE kicked him anyway. We’ve seen some glimpses into what the other ENCE members thought of the decision. Aerial told HLTV, “With Aleksib we just tried to play default and did the same executes all over again, so that’s how it’s different.” 

Allu was a bit more detailed as he said in a HLTV interview, “…inside the team, we kind of felt at one point that we just didn’t improve anymore…I think we just reached a point where we were kind of stuck. And we don’t want to be stuck, we want to be the best and that is the only reason we did this change.”

The most damning statement came from the coach, who tweeted, “Didn’t want to go there at any point, but getting annoyed by everyone’s assumptions. If you would know the whole story about last 4~ months it would blow your minds.”

Aleksib’s run with ENCE ended with a top 8 at StarLadder Berlin Major. Renegades (now 100 Thieves) beat them 2-0 and the entire CS:GO community was filled with photos of Aleksib sitting alone.

The suNny move and a flurry of defeats

While I’ve been critical of the decision to kick Aleksib, the decision to recruit suNny deserves plaudits. SuNny was the second best player on Mouz when they had their run from 2017-2018. While he dropped off towards the end and had a hiatus from the game, he was the player that ENCE needed to take a gamble on if they wanted to get to the next level. What’s more, he could fit directly into Aleksib’s old roles. Aerial echoed this in a HLTV interview, “He has more firepower than Aleksi, and we also thought that he is going to be even better at the roles Aleksib fulfilled because we thought that Aleksib had great roles almost on every map.”

Despite the firepower upgrade, the first three tournaments were bombs. They got 5th at BLAST Moscow, lost in the Group Stages of ESL New York, and got 9-12th at DreamHack Malmo. While those were terrible losses, there are some caveats worth mentioning. The team had almost no time practice and traveled to the events back-to-back-to-back. This lack of preparation showed in their games as they played a more loose default style that relied more on individual skill.

Since then they’ve had a month break and returned to LAN play at IEM Beijing. ENCE lost in the group stages once again as they lost 100 Thieves twice and also dropped a map to VG in their bo3 series. 

AleksibCSGO/Twitter

The most worrying thing about ENCE’s run is that they haven’t kept a modicum of the core identity of the Aleksib lineup. They’ve lost their ability to control and pace the T-side with any regularity. Their teamplay is no longer as fluid or interconnected as it once was. Their CT-sides have lost their adaptability. In their matchup against 100 Thieves for instance, they had a 11-4 T-side on Train, but were unable to read or adapt to the tactics that 100 Thieves used against them. When 100 Thieves did a fake outside, ENCE bit on it and then lost to a B hit. When ENCE played passively on the outside, 100 Thieves rocked them with an outer explosion. When ENCE played more aggressively, 100 Thieves ran them over at the B site. ENCE’s setups weren’t bad in and of themselves, but when considered in the context of reading the match, 100 Thieves outclassed them the entire way.

What’s more when, ENCE played against them again in the elimination match, ENCE decided to pick nuke instead of Train, despite their 11-4 half on the T-side. This implies that they weren’t able to figure out what adjustments to make on their CT-side or that they lost confidence in their initial pick. 

Other Factors to Consider

Since the Aleksib kick, it’s been a flurry of defeats for ENCE. While it’s been disappointing, we still need to put ENCE into the context of the times. The CS:GO scene now is different from the scene when ENCE was a top 3 team. A lot of the teams made roster changes to improve their stock in the post Berlin shuffle: fnatic, EG, FURIA, Na`Vi, FaZe, and Vitality just to name a few. As that’s the case, there was never a guarantee that even if ENCE kept the same lineup that they could have gotten the same results. We don’t know what results ENCE gets in the world where they decide to keep Aleksib in the lineup.

Having said all of that, what’s telling for me is there consecutive matches against 100 Thieves. ENCE and 100 Thieves (formerly Renegades) are comparable teams when they first broke out earlier this year. Both of them were good tier 2 teams that didn’t have the breadth of talent that the other top teams possessed. Both teams rose up through a combination of tactics, teamplay, and accentuating the skill that they did have. ENCE went on to be a top 3 team in the world, but Renegades stalled out due to visa issues. Once Renegades got over those issues, they renewed their playbook and found themselves around the approximate area where they were before. A solid top 10 team angling to break into the top 5.

In effect, 100 Thieves have kept their world standing close to where ENCE were at the beginning of the year. That is why the 100 Thieves-ENCE matches were the perfect litmus test to see if ENCE had progressed with their new lineup. They hadn’t, if anything ENCE have regressed. 100 Thieves convincingly beat them in three of the four maps. The closest was Train where ENCE was unable to stop the 100 Thieves comeback. 

AleksibCSGO/Twitter

The Aftermath

The ENCE story hasn’t completely played out yet, but their window to prove everyone wrong is closing fast. It usually takes somewhere between 3-6 months for a new lineup to coalesce and reach their full potential. We are two and a half months into ENCE’s new lineup, but I haven’t seen any sparks of potential that makes me think that they can reach the heights they were previously at. Instead, I’ve seen a fairly basic team. They have decent enough tactics and teamplay and will go about as far as their individual skills will take them.

That is the problem though as when ENCE was under Aleksib, Aleksib elevated the team far past where the limits of their individual skills. In the Aleksib period, teamplay, tactics, and intangibles shined the most. As of now, the biggest bright spot for ENCE is sergej. If the months roll by without any improvement, the decision to kick Aleksib will become the canonical event that will define the fall of ENCE. At that point ENCE will have to re-evaluate their decision. 

CS:GO competition is a wicked learning environment. You can have the right process, but still lose tournaments. You can have the wrong process and win tournaments. In those ensuing months before the Aleksib kick, what did they see that we as outsiders didn’t? Whether or not it was the right decision is something that only ENCE can answer themselves. For me though, I can’t help but look back at what Aleksib told VPEsports a month before his kick. At the time it was an innocuous statement, but as time goes on it comes off more and more as both warning and prophecy, “If we change a player now, I think it would ruin our team.”

CS:GO

BLAST’s director of operations on maintaining integrity with online CSGO

Published: 24/Nov/2020 15:23 Updated: 24/Nov/2020 15:33

by Adam Fitch

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“This time last year our rulebook and our whole setup were based on LAN events,” BLAST’s director of operations and production Andrew Haworth told Dexerto. “We hadn’t really done a huge amount of work on how that would be replicated in an online world.”

Earlier this year, with the global health situation emerging, governments all around the world were forced to reduce the feasibility of hosting events, and thus, they were moved online — halfway through a tournament, in some cases.

Prior to the restrictions, tournament organizer BLAST managed to host their first big competition of the year in February, impressing many and unknowingly hosting what would be one of the only prominent offline events in the 2020 Counter-Strike calendar. They didn’t have the same privilege later in the year, however, as limitations had yet to be permanently relaxed in many locations. Nonetheless, they went on with their plans to host the BLAST Premier Fall Series, albeit online.

Another layer of absurdity was added as a factor of hosting an event, and that was the revelation of a spectating bug that spanned multiple years. With the Esports Integrity Commission — a body devised to maintain the integrity of competitive gaming — issuing bans to dozens of coaches, integrity questions were more prominent than ever during an online era, no less, where it’s harder to monitor the activity of teams and their coaches.

BLAST Premier Fall Series 1
BLAST
Commentators Scrawny and launders arrived at the production location early to accommodate local restrictions.

Haworth’s background working on major music festivals and the Olympics Games means he’s no stranger to crafting contingency plans to put in place in case of a problem arising. Prior to hosting the Fall Series, they went through sessions of scenario testing with key department leads to devise numerous methods of still getting the job done.

Considering BLAST have deployed everything at their disposal to maintain competitive integrity within their events, Dexerto spoke with Haworth to see how they adapted their processes to move to a remote production while monitoring the gameplay itself both in and out of the server.

Going back to esports’ roots

“We were fairly lucky in the timing of the outbreak, we just finished our Spring Series in February and didn’t have another live event till the end of May,” he said. “Other tournament organizers didn’t and were thrown into that halfway through a show. We had a bit of time, purely by luck, to have a look at what we need to do for our Spring Showdown and our Spring Final.”

While esports, like most other sports, is fundamentally an entertainment product, the need for competitive integrity is essential. Fans tune in to watch the best players in the world face off against each other, and that’s no different during an era of online competition.

“If the fans don’t have faith in what we’re putting on if our broadcasters and sponsors don’t have faith in what we’re putting on, and the teams ultimately lose faith in it, then none of us can stand behind it proudly,” Haworth said. “So competitive integrity is in integral to what we do, none of us are arrogant enough to think that we’re perfect in that.

“There may be things that we’re doing now that we’ll review and determine haven’t worked quite as well or are not effective. Some of the things that we have done we want to ensure, while maintaining competitive integrity at all times, doesn’t affect the performance of play. We don’t want to be taking up computer performance for the matches because that isn’t going to gain the right tone with anybody.”

BLAST Premier Fall Series 2
BLAST
The venue had no players in sight, with only production staff and broadcast talent being present.

With a change in circumstance comes a need to change the parameters in which events are run, and that filters all the way down to the gameplay itself. BLAST saw the need to adapt their guidelines early in the year, when LAN events no longer seemed possible, so all of the teams were on the same page.

“The rulebook gets issued at the start of every season, we generally review it and update it after every event,” Haworth said. “We did less of that last year — I think we only made one or two slight revisions from Spring Series into Spring Showdown because the former was very much for a LAN. We also have our competitive integrity policy, which is broadly drawn out of the rulebook and is a short, sharp summary to articulate to what we do. That’s on our website. We’ve worked with experienced tournament officials that have worked with other tournament organizers and in other settings, it’s important to us that they can see elsewhere what has worked, and equally what hasn’t worked, so we can pick up best practices.”

From bad to worse

All partners of ESIC — including the likes of ESL and DreamHack — vow to enforce rulings decided upon by the commission, and that was no different for BLAST. The spectating exploit utilized by at least 37 coaches rocked the CS:GO community and certainly begged the question as to what tournament organizers are doing to ensure fair play is had at all times.

Moving online adds another layer of difficulty to constantly and accurately monitoring the matches played, especially considering tournament officials can’t be present to see how teams are operating with their own two eyes. BLAST believes they’ve reached the pinnacle of monitoring at this precise moment.

“Some of the measures we put in place aren’t perfect but they’re the best available solution we’ve found so far,” Haworth told Dexerto. “There are methods that we’re developing and evolving. We are confident that the measures we have in place currently are giving the desired result in not allowing anybody to manipulate the system or take advantage of it.

“From a coaching bug point of view, the player cams that we’ve put in place have been a really useful feature. That’s something that we looked at, to start with, as a broadcast feature that had some great context and depth. It grew into something that we now utilize to ensure we can see what players are doing.

“We’ve worked with players on camera angles, we have down-the-line shots, coaches have cameras on them and we listen to TeamSpeak for both a broadcast feature and in terms of integrity,” he continued. “The MOss system is far from perfect but it allows us to know what’s open on someone’s computer, there’s a report sent to us post-match with that information.

Moving forward in the face of adversity

Despite having what they believe is a solid solution to both playing online and safeguarding the integrity of the tournament, it would be understandable if a tournament organizer decided to postpone an event due to the recent exploit revelation and subsequent disciplinary rulings. Haworth ensured Dexerto, however, that that wasn’t an eventuality BLAST considered.

BLAST Spike Nations
BLAST
BLAST have undergone plenty of growth in 2020 so far despite the difficulties, expanding into new titles like Valorant and Dota 2.

“We’ve never really moved our date around. We put our 21 days in the international calendar [that’s shared by all CS:GO tournament organizers] in April this year to try and provide full transparency,” he said. “We worked on this straight after the Spring Final, there were a couple of bits that we thought we could include like the coach cams but there were also a couple of things that weren’t ready for the Fall Series. We played around with them but wasn’t sure if it would cause performance issues on players’ PCs so we didn’t want to risk it.”

There’s not the only difficulty in providing a fair and stable environment for the players, BLAST have plenty of staff that are needed to execute a full production. Having staff at home using personal internet lines isn’t the most confidence-inducing prospect, but the company has managed to execute a means of working that allows for maximum efficiency given the circumstances.

While online play, and the copious amount of events that are taking place, may not be ideal, esports has proven to be resilient in the face of extreme and unpredictable challenge. The Fall Series was revered by industry professionals and Counter-Strike fans alike, but it’s clear that BLAST are not resting on their laurels leading up to the next phase of the competition.