For Whom the Bell Tolls...

Written by: Richard Lewis
Twitter: @RLewisReports         

       You’ve seen them…The fifth wheel, the weak link in the chain, the drag factor in human form. You talk about them. You lambast their performances. You pull your hair out when they cost your team games. You dream up virtual roster moves that erase them from existence. I’m talking about players who, by professional standards, are simply not good enough, either in a temporary slump, in some terminal career decline, or having not honed their skills to handle the demands of high-level CS.

       There’s always going to be a handful of them at any given time, and they tend to get discussed almost as much as the greats. I do think there has to be some rules though. Back when Ninjas in Pyjamas were the dominant force in Counter-Strike, Robin "Fifflaren" Johansson was the poster boy of this phenomenon. Weird, because his team was winning nearly everything, which you think would lead people to conclude if it isn’t broke, then don’t try to fix it. Instead, what you got was people spending their time theorizing about how one of the most dominant teams in the game’s history could have been more dominant if they kicked their worst player. His position didn’t really become untenable until the very end, but if you speak to people from that time, you’d think Johansson was the luckiest man in Sweden.

       At the other end of the spectrum, professional players will always defend other players going through a slump. It’s a professional courtesy that they hope will be extended to them if a bad run of form should ever befall them. The defense typically takes one of two forms. The first is the aggressive method of loudly declaring that the fans simply do not understand the game on a professional level and wouldn’t see the many things the player does well. “You’re just looking at the scoreboard” they’ll scoff. Well, it turns out you don’t need a PhD in FPS to know when someone is missing easy shots repeatedly.

       The other defense is to issue meaningless testimonials about what a great person or teammate the beleaguered player is, a classic appeal for sympathy that works more than it ought to. Don’t get me wrong, chemistry is important and there are instances of teams that are inexplicably greater than the sum of their parts suggest they ought to be. Even with that in mind, I can’t get excited hearing about how great a player is because he “always throws flashes” for his colleagues, or that he will run to the other side of the map to drop a glock.

       Which is a good segue to fit Ricardo "fox" Pacheco into this piece. A player who held FaZe back for so long, yet dodged more bullets than Neo in The Matrix when it came to roster swaps, he remains a solid example of how the “band of brothers” mentality can royally screw up a team in multiple ways. Not only was he a weak player, but he was a weak player who was very limited in what he could actually do. “AWP ineffectively” would be a fair summary of his contribution at the end of his FaZe tenure, and Pacheco took a premium role away from a more competent player. Mikail "Maikelele" Bill was so misguided when he agreed to that, he inadvertently set back his own career and, of course, was shown no loyalty for the gesture. Remember when this team was at their best? It was when Pacheco was supposedly reinventing himself as a support player.

       We see something similar going on over at G2 Esports right now with Edouard "SmithZz" Dubourdeaux. The team has developed into one of the most explosive to watch, powered by the twin talents of Richard "shox" Papillon and Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom. Popular opinion in the community wants them to be the team that dethrones SK Gaming as the best in the world. Unfortunately, Dubourdeaux, the team’s primary AWPer, is past his prime and is increasingly becoming the focus of negative attention. The same fans who want G2 to succeed are looking at him as the barrier to their true potential being unlocked. For those fans, it is all the more frustrating when they look over at fellow Frenchmen EnvyUs, a team performing well below their own potential, and see them with an AWPer who is in red hot form in Kenny “KennyS” Schrub.

       I’ve known Edouard for many years. He’s an intelligent guy, meticulous in his work and incredibly dedicated to the game. He’s funny and has always been one of the more accessible people in the French scene. I like the guy. Does this testimonial mean he should be immune to criticism? I’m afraid not, and right now I’m pretty comfortable saying he’s got to step it up, or accept that he’s going to be one of the defining factors in how many trophies G2 fail to win between now and whenever the team splits apart. If he’s comfortable with that, along with his team, then more power to them. Not many competitors embrace losing so casually.

       It’s hard to grasp if he is even aware that some of the criticism of his recent performances has been completely fair. Edouard’s recent post on French website Akarma suggests there may be a pig-headedness about his approach. Calling the people he addresses “noobs” wasn’t a great start, and the wall of excuses that followed don’t excuse poor AWPing. The post ends instructing anyone who criticizes him or the team to “eat s**t”, and certainly wouldn’t ingratiate himself to anyone who was on the fence about his performances.

       It’s an interesting culture we have in Counter-Strike. Players pretty much pick the team in which they play, and almost every manager I know always says the same thing; “I let my players choose. After all, they have to play together.” The unfortunate side effect of this is that players can have lengthy runs of poor form, infuriating fans, with little consequences beyond the odd harsh tweet. I also believe that when you work in an environment where you know as long as you placate two other people, and you can’t even be democratically ousted from your salaried position, there’s not really the same impetus to focus on self-improvement as there could be. With that said, it shouldn’t be as ruthless as the League of Legends scene, where players are cut after a handful of poor games, worked into the ground in the pursuit of self-improvement, then washed-up by 24. There’s a middle ground I don’t think we’ve found yet.

       Maybe we will find the middle ground one day. There’s no exact science to the creation of a successful team, but these players stand out for a reason and it’s the wrong kind. Fans aren’t the total idiots that some would have you believe, but there’s a reason people call Tony Romo a choker. When you see something happen over and over again, it becomes glaringly obvious where the problems lie. In these instances, it’s the teammates, the players and the management that are deluded. Sometimes change is necessary, and the real art is knowing when. Fan sentiment isn’t as bad a barometer as people would have you believe, and occasionally, there is wisdom in crowds.