The natural impulse when trying to understand different teams going into an international event in esports is to look to the big differences between teams (and generally, by extension, regions).
That’s obviously not totally inaccurate — the easiest storylines are built on differences and the ‘clash of styles’, after all — but some of the more interesting points are to be found in the similarities between teams, and the difference therein.
I thought something interesting would be to pull (via Runitback) some of the data on agent picks that are near-ubiqituous across all teams. I’m intending to look at a few of these, but to start off, let’s take what I think is the most common pick (and also, as I write this, the map that’s least likely to get further data before Copenhagen) — Viper on Icebox. Every single team that is qualified for, or could go to, Masters Copenhagen runs it, and only DRX (who have it as a permaban since Masters Reykjavík) haven’t played it in the last few months.
To emphasise, this is a quick pull, so we’re just going to run two player position pulls for each player — one in first wave (1:40 to 1:05), one in second wave (1:04 to 0:30).
For reference, the matrice here is
FNC FPX Guild
OpTic XSET PRX
Xerxia North Leviatan
FUSION cannot qualify as of the time of writing, so let’s just say they’re there to make up the numbers. Again, no DRX because they haven’t played it since Reyjakvik.
First thing that stands out here is of course that certain teams have played Icebox a lot more than others. Xerxia love the map and have played it 14 times because of SEA’s match-intensive format. On the other end, you have teams like OpTic, who have played it twice total and only once with FNS on Viper (in a Bo5) and have it as something pretty close to a permaban
This can make it a little awkward to read, but having raw positions is ultimately easier than heatmaps, which just obfuscate too much.
A few things that stand out to me here. I actually expected the orientation towards B to be even stronger than it is; it felt like the 3 A, 1 mid, Viper B setup went unquestioned for such a long time even after the B long changes a few patches back. There are teams like KRU that eschew A (albeit in small samples), but most teams are more well-rounded as of late.
The one that immediately jumps out to me is Fnatic. They’re given a lot of credit for basically creating the playbook for Viper on Icebox, but you can get a hint there that Boaster is playing around long very, very differently to the likes of Suygetsu in particular.
This is a position map rather than a kill map (because kill maps are very, very susceptible to sample size problems because of limitations of how the API works), but you can see that Suygetsu is showing up as basically holding open over and over, while Boaster is either hanging behind the turn or pushing all the way through (and I do mean all the way) — it’s trying to achieve the same thing in terms of primarily having Viper control long B, but in almost polar opposite ways.
XSET meanwhile have an entirely different thing going on — there is some B play there, but they’re predominantly having Viper play around mid and towards A, which is a position that Boaster/Suygetsu aren’t often found at (ult rounds notwithstanding). Why? Likely a composite of a few different things, but a couple of potential notes:
1) AYRIN is playing sentinels on other maps and hence is naturally playing a little more lurk-heavy. Boaster doesn’t really do this, and while SUYGETSU does play KJ/Cypher on certain maps, he’s always been willing to more aggressively take first contact than some more conservative players.
2) I’m not sure that NA is more vulnerable to mid lurks, but it definitely feels like they’re more scared of them. The mid Viper orb is a harder constant than for EU, and they’re far more likely to be stacked up in kitchen and willing to take on a full retake from there rather than take first contact coming onto B.
Other points that stand out: NORTHEPTION’s Blackwiz taking active, forward contact on A exclusively in a way that really doesn’t have any analogue (looks like the team stacks A quite a lot and lets Jett hold weakside on B); the closest thing being PRX mindfreak standing on rafters, presumably with a Marshal or something on KRU’s Klaus playing the tightest radius of any player in the sample.
Is anything notably different on second wave? We can overlay the two (first wave in red, second wave in blue): +
Fnatic is again the interesting starting point. While Boaster is playing around site itself eearly on, he’s not going to be caught there on second wave — presumably the thought there is that, if they’ve given up B long to the other team (which, again, he’s not going to hold open indefinitely like Suygetsu or koldamenta are often willing to — they’re going to get into that corridor if they want it), it’s going to be too easy to fully trap him with abilities if he plays too close.
So, he goes snowman, or he goes HAM — notice all those push-throughs on A! I’ve seen players with similar position profiles on Icebox before, but they’re rare, and they’re almost inevitably very, very stupid duelist players or very, very smart KAY/O players. Does this speak to something about how Fnatic are playing this map? Probably. But this wasn’t supposed to just be an exercise on extolling the virtues of Fnatic, so let’s move on.
This also gives us a little more colour on some of the more aggressive players in the sample. Blackwiz sticks his positions but doesn’t venture too deep. Mindfreak actually is a lot deeper on second wave than on first, which suggests that PRX perhaps aren’t turning the early-round space they’re getting into a sustained map advantage.
AYRIN, meanwhile…he’s got the most expansive area covered apart from Boaster. (To be clear here — yes, the more games played, the more dots you’re going to have come up. It’s pretty rare that someone is on the exact same spot over and over, but nonetheless, the eye doesn’t judge area that well). You can see, however, that either he or his teama is getting a lot done on those awkward corner spots, e.g. near B long and A pipes, which again tells a lot about he (and his team) are playing and how they’re winning in their region.
So, summing up, region by region, what we learned:
- Fnatic are clearly doing something a little special here.
2. The contrast between Boaster and Suygetsu’s play-styles is pretty marked, and given that we’ve not seen either of them play the agent at international competition, will be very interesting to see if one, or both, or neither work
3. XSET are worth keeping an eye on — they’re definitely dancing to a bit of a different beat, and while that’s had mixed results in NA (did well vs Guard and 100T, poorly vs OpTic and FaZe, but OpTic still banned it) and my gut says it doesn’t play well against current EU attack meta, still would be interesting to watch.
4. JP/LATAM Icebox (particularly if Leviatan gets in) are going to be some aggressively puncher’s chance games and it’ll be interesting to see in particular how OpTic juggle bans between it, Breeze and Split — feels like they’re on the verge of having some map pool issues against a lot of the field with how tricky it might be for them (bear in mind that they played it four times at Reyjakvik and have had to ban it pretty consistently in NA since).