PC Gamer

The ESL One Cologne Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament that wrapped up this weekend with an exciting win for Fnatic was the first event in which competitors were subject to randomized drug testing. And you'll never guess who was caught trying to cheat! Really, you won't, because I'm about to tell you: The answer is nobody.

A bundle of interesting figures came out of the Cologne event courtesy of ESL, including that it was the most-watched CS:GO event of all time. More than 27 million unique viewers spent a combined total of nearly 34 million hours watching the action on Twitch, including a a peak concurrent user count of over 1.3 million. That represents an increase of more than 30 percent over the ESL One Katowice CS:GO tournament in March.

"ESL One Cologne followed in the footsteps of ESL One Frankfurt in that it transformed a mere esports event into an esports festival," ESL said in a statement. "Visitors on-site were able to take part in many festival-like experiences including bullriding, testing their reflexes on a T-Wall, and getting an airbrush tattoo, brought to them by ESL s sponsors/partners."

That's all very positive news, but what I find more interesting is that the newly-implemented drug testing came up with nothing. "Following up on the earlier announcement of ESL s partnership with WADA and NADA to create and implement the anti-doping policy, NADA has prepared a prevention program which was presented to players and visitors during the event," it continued. "ESL conducted randomized anti-doping testing among players in the competition, which returned negative results for all tested players."

An ESL rep declined to say how many players were tested, citing the need to maintain confidentiality of its process. ESL said it will continue to implement the new drug testing policy at all future ESL One events.

PC Gamer

We write about FPSes each week in Triggernometry, a mixture of tips, esports, and a celebration of virtual marksmanship.

Things were not going well for the best CS:GO team in the world. 

Yesterday on one of the biggest stages in esports, the grand finals of the ESL One Cologne major, Swedish superstars Fnatic were stumbling. $100,000 was on the line, and their opponent, Team EnVyUs (formerly Team LDLC), was crushing them on Dust2, the first map of a best-of-three. At this point in the match (and in the video above) EnVyUS led 14-7—they simply needed to win two more rounds to take the first map. Now, in the 22nd round, Fnatic had fragile control of bombsite B in a three-on-four situation. 

KRIMZ's work over the next minute may have saved Fnatic. He makes a strong entry frag through tunnel to secure the site, then takes a position behind car on bombsite B. He eats a pop flash thrown by the CTs, who are in the site before he recovers from the flash. Popping back up, KRIMZ chews through two of the attackers, going deep into his spray, adjusting beautifully from right to left. Now in a one-on-one, with nine bullets in his mag and his gun recoil jumping like an angry bull, he sees Happy emerge from window. Initially at a disadvantage, KRIMZ absorbs a hit before crouch-dodging behind cover to his right, squaring his crosshairs as he shifts to score a headshot onto the EnVyUs leader.

Three kills in three seconds, and zero bullets in his magazine by the end of it.

Fnatic would win eight of the next nine games to force overtime, win the OT (including one round with a hilarious quad AWP setup), and then win the second map, Cobblestone, comfortably at 16-7 to take the championship. Moments like this one demonstrate how much momentum plays a role in Counter-Strike.

PC Gamer

survey fridays

Every week we ask you to rank a series or just reminisce about PC games in a not-very-scientific survey. Look for the survey link in our  Twitter and Facebook feeds each week, and the results every Friday. Previously, we ranked the Mass Effect and Call of Duty series.

You guys really love hard games, or at least, you love whichever game you remember as the hardest. In my latest survey, I asked respondents to rank the hardest game they've played on a scale of 1-10. Over 40% scored their most challenging experience a 10, and 70% scored it an 8 or higher.

You also love a lot of different hard games, and have different ideas about what makes a game 'hard.' Among 2,660 respondents, the top game cited as the hardest they've ever played was only mentioned 385 times—around 14% of the total. (Actually, one person wrote in SEGA Bass Fishing 1,006 times, but I've cut that from the results, along with several variations of "your mom.")

What's the hardest PC game you've played?

the top 10

Click the icon in the upper right to enlarge.

Unsurprisingly, Dark Souls got the most mentions, with 14% saying it was the hardest game they've ever played. It was followed by Dark Souls 2, which took in about 5% of the results. From there, though, the results are immediately diverse, with shooters, platformers, puzzle games, strategy games, and MOBAs all bunched together. When I cut out jokes, console games, games with specific caveats, and those that received only one or two mentions, I was still left with over 70 games. (Here's my curated list of the top 77.)

The top 10, naturally, are the most popular hard games—and games that are arguably best known for being hard—so the results actually get more interesting the deeper into the list I go. At number 11, for instance, you'll find I Wanna Be The Boshy, a fan game based on number six, I Wanna Be The Guy, an intentionally difficult tribute to early platformers.

Further down (and I'm skipping around a bit), we find StarCraft II, STALKER, Insurgency, Alien IsolationKerbal Space Program, the Touhou seriesVVVVVV, Volgarr the Viking, SpaceChem, Dustforce, Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, and, of course, Bad Rats, a notoriously awful game which has accrued a positive rating on Steam, because ironic Steam reviews are all the rage.

It's good to see the Touhou Project's bullet-hell games earn some mentions. We recently published an introduction to the series, which is currently being localized by Playism.

VVVVVV, Volgarr the Viking, Dustforce, and SpaceChem all come recommended (I don't think I ever made it past Vogarr's first stage, though). I did expect to see a few more puzzle games. One game no one mentioned, I presume because it's newer and a bit more niche, is TIS-100. It's made by the creators of SpaceChem and Infinifactory, and might be one of the most challenging puzzle games I've played (though it's presumably easier for experienced programmers, and anyone who paid more attention in school than I did). Print out the manual if you can.

Choosing difficulty

difficulty levels

Click the icon in the upper-right to enlarge.

All of the games I mentioned up there can easily be described as 'hard,' if for different reasons. Against skilled opponents, CS:GO, Dota 2, League of Legends, and StarCraft 2 are very hard, and they're complex. Dwarf Fortress and Kerbal Space Program require a lot of learning. Super Hexagon, and the bullet-hell games and platformers, require precision control.

But plenty of games which aren't known for being hard can be very hard. The Witcher 2, for instance, came in at 19, in part due to its permadeath mode and first boss. Those damn RC missions from GTA: San Andreas also came up. Civilization V on Diety difficulty, too.

In the survey, I asked which difficulty setting (based on four generic settings) the takers were most likely to choose when starting a new game. The distribution is about as I expected: almost no one takes the easy route, the most people (39.8%) leave it on the normal difficulty, and slightly fewer choose the hard (28.7%) or the hardest modes (26%).

Broken mice and broken bones

When asked to tell us the worst thing they've done to express frustration with a game, plenty said that they don't react physically—they curse, uninstall the game, go outside, or do other healthy-sounding things. "[I] stopped playing for few months to get over my anger and hopefully renew my interest," said King_Matt. A calm and wise king is Matt. We can all learn from the great King_Matt.

And apparently, a lot of us need to. The word "broke" came up 222 times and "smash" was included in over 100 responses. Banana peels came up an awful lot, too. Here are a few examples:

I chucked my keyboard at my brick wall. It dragged the desktop with it. It corrupted my hard drive, broke my keyboard and most functions on the case didn't work properly. - Abernath

Thrown a banana peel out the window. But I picked it up later. - Kenu

I once got so frustrated while just trying to get fuel up to my ship [in Kerbal Space Program] that was trying to get to Mun that I decided to fly all my rockets into Kerbol (the sun). I spent about 5 hours just designing the booster/fuel ships to help get my whole fleet there and give them the last push into its blinding embrace. Once every single one was burned to ash, and all the crew with it, I deleted the save and went to bed. It was only after I woke up that I realized what I had done. To say the least, I cried. - Nerd__Guy

 Threw my lamp out the window. It was a damn good lamp too. - Anonymous

Literally ripped out a chunk of hair in frustration once. - Nate Dogg

I actually broke my grandfather's trackball mouse while playing when I was a kid on his PC. I had to buy him a new mouse from Walmart. - Brain

Threw more money at it. This is a recurring theme with me in multiplayer games. - Ryan Daniels

In my grandest fit of frustration, I suppressed my volatile feelings with the warm, cheesy comfort of Hot Pockets. A lot of them. It turns out one man can eat a lot of Hot Pockets. They come out a lot faster than they go in. - Chudbunkis

Threw a banana peel at the screen. - As7iX

Broke a finger. - Dodie

So is Dark Souls really that hard?

I predicted that Dark Souls would be the most popular game in the survey, so I added an extra question. I asked everyone, regardless of which game they put down as the hardest, to agree or disagree with the statement "Dark Souls isn't even that hard, ugh." I think we can all agree that I chose an extremely unscientific way to phrase the question, but we definitely can't all agree on whether or not Dark Souls is hard. 

PC Gamer

The 2015 edition of ESL One Cologne is now underway, with 16 top-ranked Counter-Strike: Global Offensive teams battling in the Group Stage for entry into the quarterfinals. Four teams will make the move today, and another four will advance on Friday.

The teams in competition are divided into four groups: Group A features Team SoloMid, Ninjas in Pyjamas, Renegades, and Counter Logic Gaming; Group B contains Team EnVyUs, Luminosity Gaming, Team Kinguin, and FlipSid3 Tactics; Group C has Fnatic, Natus Vincere, Titan, and Team eBettle; and Group D boasts Virtus.Pro, mouseports, Cloud9, and Team Immunity. On Friday, the groups will be redrawn for eight more Decider/Elimination matches.

Right now the favored teams are perpetual champions Fnatic followed by Team SoloMid, a team formed in February that hasn't yet won a major.

ESL One Cologne is also interesting this year because, for the first time ever, ESL will conduct randomized drug testing during the competition. The move comes in response to a claim by former Cloud9 player Kory "Semphis" Friesen that he and his teammates were on Adderall at ESL One Katowice.

The real action will begin on Saturday, with the first quarter-final match scheduled to begin at 4:45 am EDT. Semi-final matches are slated for 5:45 and 9:10 am EDT on Sunday, followed by the big finish at 1 pm EDT the same day. Follow all the action at esl-one.com.

PC Gamer

ESL has revealed the details of its anti-doping policy for the upcoming ESL One Cologne tournament, which for the first time ever will see players subjected to randomized testing for a wide variety of substances proscribed by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

"Our main goal is and always will be to maintain the fair play spirit and the integrity of our competitions, and we re confident that the anti-doping policy is an important improvement that will help us advance as a sport," ESL Head of Communications Anna Rozwandowicz wrote on the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive subreddit. "It is a small, but in our eyes essential and meaningful step forward for professional gamers across all games, ESL as an event organizer, and the esports industry as a whole."

ESL originally announced that skin tests would be used to detect banned substances, but it has determined that saliva tests, conducted at random throughout the duration of the tournament, are a "better fit." The list of prohibited drugs is based on WADA's own 2015 List of Prohibited Substances and Methods, but players with a legitimate prescription for medication, including Adderall—which is what started this whole business—may avoid penalties if they provide proof that the medication in question is actually required prior to the start of the first scheduled match.

Interestingly (and I won't say tellingly but we're all thinking it), the restriction on marijuana use is centered out to be somewhat more specific. "Marijuana is on the list of prohibited substances for [use] during the competition. This means that recreational use of it outside (before) the event days will not be punished," Rozwandowicz wrote. "Using it during the tournament—from the start of the first day until the end of the last day of competition—is strictly prohibited."

Players caught juicing will face sanctions ranging from deductions from their prize money or tournament points, to outright disqualification and a ban from ESL events for up to two years, depending on the circumstances of each individual case. In all cases, ESL said it will take steps to ensure the full privacy of all players involved.

PC Gamer
North American CS:GO team Cloud9 at ESL Katowice, in March. Images via ESL Flickr.

When a member of North American CS:GO team Cloud9 unapologetically admitted that he and his teammates used adderall during a tournament in March, esports league ESL reacted swiftly, announcing that it would enforce randomized drug testing at its next event before it pursues a larger policy in partnership with two organizations dedicated to anti-doping practices.

An incident with performance-enhancing drugs was inevitable for esports, which are growing more than ever alongside the popularity of competitive games and livestreaming. ESL s stopgap measure of implementing random tests for ESL Cologne in August is welcome, but how will drug testing be handled going forward? How will a league like ESL react during a tournament weekend when one of its players tests positive for a banned substance?

To get further clarity on the ESL s perspective on this issue I spoke with Michal Blicharz, Managing Director Pro Gaming at ESL.

PCG: Why is the implementation of player drug testing necessary to the ESL?

Michal Blicharz: We are a company with the word sports in the name. The integrity of our competitions is paramount to what we do. We have already invested enormous amounts of resources to combat online cheating with our ESL Wire Anti Cheat software and the time has come for us to do something about performance enhancing drugs. In the past 18 months the salaries of the best esports players have risen about ten fold and the prize money aggregates per game have gone into high millions. The temptation is there for players more so than ever and it s on us to educate gamers, preserve the integrity of our competitions and, if necessary, punish those who break the rules.

"The reaction from the video games and esports industry has been overwhelmingly positive."

Do you believe that other leagues will follow your example?

Blicharz: What other leagues do is really up to them. We are of course willing to share our experiences and best practices if they reach out for help.

Is there currently, or are you planning, any retroactive investigation into teams' activities?

Blicharz: We have considered it, but we do not think that it is realistic for us to gather enough conclusive proof retrospectively. We are currently focusing our efforts on establishing good procedures for future events.

Has the ESL spoken directly with Cloud9 about the admission that its players used adderall during ESL Katowice?

Blicharz: When we first heard about this issue, we focused our energy on what we can do moving forward. This is not to say that we are indifferent to what may or may not have happened in that specific case, but it was clear that a more urgent need was to find real ways to prevent those situations from happening in the future.

As for the player himself, or his team, we are unable to retrospectively test the team for PEDs, therefore any investigation would likely prove to be inconclusive.

How has the new policy been received by teams?

Blicharz: The reaction from the video games and esports industry has been overwhelmingly positive. At the core of it, teams are interested in being provided a fair playing field.

It's also on the teams to make sure gaming is clean and I hope they will actively play their role as well.

If a player is prescribed adderall, or another drug, by a doctor, would they be permitted to use it during an ESL competition?

Blicharz: We are currently consulting with NADA on how to handle it and to learn what the best practices are that we can apply to what we do. We certainly do not want to disqualify players who have legitimate medical conditions.

Section 2.13.3 of the current ESL rulebook reads, "If a participant gets disqualified from the ESL One during an ongoing stage, all it's members get banned until the end of main event." If a player tests positive for a banned substance at an ESL event, what will happen?

Blicharz: Our league operations and legal teams are working on updating the rules, and the exact terms of all sanctions are yet to be determined. We want to treat doping like any other form of cheating. This is something our Director of League Operations should speak to, but we will very likely punish illegal doping the same way we would punish cheating in a match. In essence, those things are not different from each other as far as the integrity of the competition is concerned.

Along with incidents like the betting scandal in Counter-Strike earlier this year, do you believe there's a need for the CS scene, or esports in general, to become more mature?

Blicharz: Of course esports has to mature. It's not even 20 years old! At the same time, in many ways it's outgrown some sports that have been around almost a century. It takes time but we will get there.

Thanks for speaking with us, Michal.

PC Gamer
The more the merrier? Image by CrudeCuttlefish

Since the time Valve began publicly tracking hours-played in July 2009, I ve launched 341 different games from Steam. Today, Steam adds at least that many games each month and a half—55 each week, on average, or almost eight per day. There s no question that Steam is saturated. Steam grew by 561 games in 2013, but added 1,814 in 2014. Seven months into 2015, there s already 1,592 new games on Steam. But is that truly a problem?

Steam s library is growing at the fastest rate in its 12-year history, and those of us who play and write about PC games full-time will never dig more than a spoon into Steam s mountain range of more than 5,600 games. It s certainly tempting, even natural, to label that as a problem. Last year, there was a wave of concern following a Gamasutra post that visualized the volume of new games hitting Steam. Kotaku wrote that the trend was hurting developers and gamers. Spiderweb Software s Jeff Vogel told of the imminent burst of the indie bubble, and others jumped up from their chairs to agree: there are too many games on Steam.

Seven months into 2015, there s already 1,592 new games on Steam.

Those who point at the perpetual logjam of new releases feel that Valve has abandoned any semblance of quality control. They fear that Steam will become like the App Store, known more for what it rejects than what it showcases. And they have a point: who wants lazy mobile game ports, halfheartedly erotic pinball, soccer-fighting games, something called SpaceCorn, or Gynophobia, a horror shooter about abnormal fear of women, on Steam? How can deserving, independent gems to stand out in an ecosystem filled with junk? And when games do break through, how can developers retain interest long enough to build a healthy community?

The most irrationally paranoid thought is that we re inching toward the PC gaming equivalent of the video game crash of 83, when the level of saturation of games and platforms gutted the industry, forcing many hardware-makers and publishers to collapse or withdraw forever. Consider this prescient quote from 1986 by Hiroshi Yamauchi, Nintendo s president: Atari collapsed because they gave too much freedom to third-party developers and the market was swamped with rubbish games.

How small studios feel about Steam

Whatever your reaction to this trend, the people whose lives are most braided to it are independent developers and publishers. And when I reached out to them to talk about Steam, I was surprised that the majority of them are unfazed by how crowded Valve s platform has become.

To Swen Vincke, CEO at Larian Studios, today s Steam is simply a return to the way things were before digital distribution, but not in a bad way. Access to retail used to determine which games we got to play, something that hampered the evolution of videogames, says Vincke, who believes digital distribution has created a true renaissance in the industry. However, the quantity of games being released now means that the new barrier to entry has become discoverability, and as a developer you need to plan from day one how your target audience will find out about your game, and ensure that your game has more reasons to be played by players than a similar game your competitor may be making. Which, if you think about it, is exactly how it s always been. There are just more competitors now, so there s no room for slacking. That s a good thing, too, in my opinion.

Paradox Interactive has grown in parallel with Steam over the past several years. They ve become a more diverse publisher in that time, having a hand in Pillars of Eternity this year as well as Cities: Skylines and stuff like Magicka. Despite this, you d expect Paradox to be exactly the sort of entity that s sensitive to a crowded market. Games like Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis—heritage franchises for Paradox—rely on word of mouth, on player anecdotes, to spread their reputations, capture attention, and grow.

Rocket League and ARK: Survival Evolved are recent hits on Steam.

But Susana Meza Graham, COO at Paradox, mostly shrugs off Steam s open-doors policy. Yes, on any given day, there are a lot of games being released. And of course visibility is a challenge for developers, just like navigating the content is a challenge for consumers, says Meza Graham. But the challenge of visibility has always been there for us in one way or another. During the years of retail the survival of your business depended on your ability to get shelf space. And shelf space was dictated based on pedigree and previous releases, your marketing budgets and your ability to commit to a release date six months to one year in advance.

Like Vincke, Meza Graham sees Steam as more of a blessing than a burden to discoverability. Digital distribution, she says, has completely changed how games are developed and brought to market overall, mainly because the people playing the games are much closer to the process from start to finish, and games are developed and supported over a longer period of time after release. That, more than the volume of games releasing, has impacted the way we work with our projects.

Room for everyone

The smaller studios I spoke to mostly echoed these sentiments: sure, Steam is crowded, but that doesn t mean PC gaming will become a zero-sum, winner-take-all marketplace. We definitely feel a lot of pressure but we also fundamentally trust the PC audience, says Paul Kilduff-Taylor from Mode 7, who released Frozen Cortex in February. There's a big group of gamers who want novel-but-intelligent games with a lot of depth and that's what we aspire to make; we'll continue trying to do that at whatever scale is viable in the future because it's what we love doing.

I also spoke with Greg Kasavin, a veteran of the industry who made the transition to game development after working at GameSpot for 10 years. I'm happy that we live in a time when games are more accessible than at any point in the past, both for audiences and for creators, says Kasavin. For creators this state brings some new challenges of having to gain visibility in an increasingly crowded market, but that set of problems I think is far, far preferable to the alternative where only a handful of people in the world are able to develop and publish games. Kasavin says that Supergiant Games approach to making games hasn t changed. I think we've seen similar growth and challenges in other media industries, and in the end I think it's what's best for the medium, even if it's inconvenient for some individual content creators who might personally benefit more if they didn't have as much competition.

We have to differentiate ourselves in a way that hopefully doesn't derail our process but still makes us visible and provides value to fans.

Daniel Jacobsen, studio director of Gaslamp Games (Clockwork Empires, Dungeons of Dredmor) mostly agrees with his peers, but believes that business awareness has greater value today than it did in the past. There s more emphasis on PR and advertising across most non-AAA studios, says Jacobsen. The major change for us is that now we can't just have a game that people want to play. For the best chance at success we have to be a game company that people want to support which is making games that people want to play. We have to differentiate ourselves in a way that hopefully doesn't derail our process but still makes us visible and provides value to fans.

Of the feedback I received from developers, Dave Marsh, co-founder of Zojoi, expressed the most concern. As an indie studio, we re big fans of giving any developer the chance to publish their games in the largest marketplace on the web, says Marsh. While we have received solid support from our publisher and Valve, the sheer number of titles (and sales) available drives down the price players are willing to pay, hurting our ability to make the kind of games our fans love for the PC market. Thus we are forced to consistently offer Shadowgate at significant discounts, putting us in a precarious position: change our development model, find additional funding, look at other platforms, or leave the market altogether. Marsh s comments recall a debate in 2012, when concern was raised that the high frequency of Steam sales would diminish the value of PC games overall.

The approach for us is the same

I also spoke to two major indie PR representatives, the people working every day to rise above the surface of Steam s churning, ever-rising sea of games. Like Jacobsen, both of them underline the need to stand out, but neither mark Steam itself as the problem. So many games launching weekly dramatically increases the need for a well thought-out communication strategy—getting lost in the noise is more of threat than ever, says Stephanie Tinsley Fitzwilliam of Tinsley-PR, who over the years has worked with Stardock Entertainment, Devolver Digital, Piranha Games, Deep Silver, and others.

Evolve PR, like Tinsley-PR, represents a spectrum of independent game makers. The company s founder, Tom Ohle, doesn t seem to flinch at the volume of new stuff hitting Steam each day. There is definitely a lot more noise out there, but fundamentally the approach for us is the same: figure out the appropriate audience for a game and then try to reach that audience, says Ohle. This all just puts even greater pressure on developers to really stand out, to make games that offer something unique. Whether it's visual style, game mechanics or narrative themes, developers have to make their games different in some way from competitive offerings. Even then it's no guarantee that the game will succeed or get attention. You're still relying on media and content creators—already overloaded by the number of requests they're getting—to actually open emails or read a tweet or whatever... and considering we get about 25 to 40 percent open rates on our emails, you're always fighting a bit of an uphill battle.

Steam isn't an obstacle

Most of us, less than a decade ago, were buying our PC games in boxes. And independent developers, in order to get their games on those physical shelves, had to deal with a number of middlemen: distributors, publishers, disc manufacturers and printers, and the retailers who would ultimately decide how many copies of a game deserved to be on display.

Steam leveled the playing field on PC. And getting in early was a boon to games like Garry s Mod, Killing Floor, Peggle, and Audiosurf, when the ratio of tens of millions of users to only hundreds of games assured a disproportionate amount of promotion. But Steam stopped being a platform that guarantees some level of success and exposure years ago. Today Steam is, for the most part, the playing field—a massive shelf of 5,600 titles where everyone gets, for the most part, equal prominence.

But when we say that Steam now has a discoverability problem, the laziest possible criticism that I myself have been guilty of parroting, we fail to examine how the entire landscape of digital communication has shifted to promote discovery, more than compensating for whatever comparatively trivial changes in policy Valve has made in the past couple years.

Millions of people now operate massive engines that promote discovery: YouTube, Twitter, Reddit, Twitch, websites like ours—all resources that didn t exist in anywhere near the same form even three or four years ago. Livestreaming was universally a hassle as recently as 2011; now it s a one-button proposition through utilities like ShadowPlay and OBS.

This is the new normal. Valve s policies have made Steam something of an open port—the digital equivalent of Ellis Island. But Steam itself isn t a problem, it s merely a reflection of the larger, exciting state of PC gaming, the intersection of game development tools being more accessible than ever, engine licensing in particular becoming cheaper (or free), and the greatest level of evangelism and grassroots promotion of PC gaming since 1999. Steam isn t where developers compete—they compete in the much larger ecosystem of communities and systems of sharing that constitutes PC gaming.

PC Gamer
Eyes on the prize. All photos courtesy Dreamhack's Flickr.

We write about FPSes each week in Triggernometry, a mixture of tips, esports, and a celebration of virtual marksmanship.

Last year's  DreamHack Valencia was more of a second-tier tournament in CS:GO, featuring many outdated lineups such as k1ck and the old HellRaisers (and an all French grand-final that amusingly featured two players with current VAC bans, Sf and KQLY). But this year s DreamHack received some pep in its step by integrating with FACEIT, buffing the prize-pool and bringing elite teams who would theoretically qualify from three regions: Europe, North America, and Oceania.

The event saw a flurry of stories determine its odd composition, with an Oceanic regional contender missing from the party due to both qualified teams (Renegades and Immunity) having to focus on the ESL One Cologne Asian qualifier running concurrently in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

With the dust settled from the event, and with Danish TSM bearing home a trophy and check for $40,000, let s reflect on the FACEIT 2015 Stage 2 finals at DreamHack Valencia.

Takeaway #1: Liquid have a long way to travel

Let s first focus on the all-American Liquid team, whose latest offline results heading in the tournament saw them take a map apiece off of elite teams Fnatic and Na`Vi at Gfinity Spring Masters II, as well make their continental rivals Cloud9 sweat in the quarter-finals of ESWC 2015, despite ultimately losing.

Expectations among the Liquid camp were not particularly high going into Valencia, considering the team s hapless group draw alongside Fnatic, TSM, and NiP. And despite no major blowouts, Liquid went down 9-16 in the opening match to Fnatic and then lost in their best-of-three to NiP the next day.

The fact of the matter is that the team requires fraggers nitr0 and EliGE to be heavily present, as well as fundamental support play from flowsicK and FugLy, and some form of this overall cohesion was missing in Valencia. The takeaway for Liquid from this series will be that the team needs to hit the drawing board, draw on its recent international tournament experiences, and practice set-ups and timings until they can compete at the highest level.

Takeaway #2: An ode to the old Virtus.pro

Despite some tournament wins in 2015, and a deep playoff run at this year s so-far only major in their home country, Virtus.pro is a shell of its old former self. Although the team continues to perform well online—a fact that is highly ironic considering that the team s core of NEO, TaZ, and pashaBiceps were notorious in CS 1.6 for poor online placings—which allows them to qualify and attend events, deep playoff runs seem less and less likely as time goes on.

This team is one of the most travelled in 2015, and with a median age for its players being higher than many teams , are thus particularly susceptible to event fatigue. No wonder then that no successful combination of players has been able to show up in its recent matches, and even the game-sense genius that is Snax is subdued as of late.

The opening game against Na`Vi was in Virtus.pro s favour until sloppy play on the Poles side cost them the opener. The next day s best-of-three group decider against Kinguin at first appeared to be a breeze, but a resurgent Kinguin squad bounced back after map one and took de_dust2 away from VP to force a third map.

And from there, legends tell that a third map was never played. Or, a third map could not have possibly been played considering the savage dismantlement that went down on de_cache. Virtus.pro stood up from their computers with a 0-16 drubbing on the books.

The story here is similar to Liquid s case, although in a different ultimate direction. Both teams will have to look to the future, however Virtus.pro s road looks to be a downhill slope as of now.

Virtus.pro stood up from their computers with a 0-16 drubbing on the books.

Takeaway #3: Kinguin Kings

The replacement of one Swede for another, dennis for SKYTTEN, seems to have had immediate effect in the Scandinavian-Belgian-Portuguese superstar team that is Kinguin. Although the team s upset victory over Virtus.pro has been mentioned, the team even managed to take de_inferno off of Na`Vi in the Group A decider match (despite ultimately losing 2-1).

The tale of Kinguin is one of infinite promise, as well as delivery on all the past months previous hype. The revelation that dalito is both IGL and coach behind the team (whereas other CS:GO team s coaches are sometimes seen sulkily prowling behind the team with not much real input) is no doubt one piece in the puzzle of the team s impressive showing at the FACEIT Stage 2 finals. However, one cannot simply discount the insane fragging ability of ScreaM, Maikelele, rain, and fox, and as the team s cohesion (and English language proficiency) improves—barring any hiccups—Kinguin will be a legitimate contender in any tournament format.

Takeaway #4: NiP An enigma

There is no question of the Ninjas in Pyjamas experiencing a fall from grace in 2015. With one title under their belt (ASUS ROG Winter) this year, as well as yet another finals placing at a major, the team survived off what little fuel in its tank remained to ride out a few events up until midsummer.

Yet recent events (despite breaks for NiP) have not been so rosy, with the team s crash-and-burn in the quarter-finals against a Hiko-powered FlipSid3 being particularly brutal. Thankfully, this past weekend saw a much stronger NiP fall in the Group A decider match against an admittedly worthy opponent of Fnatic, with NiP losing both maps 14-16.

There was much to be seen that was comforting: f0rest playing well, Finnish sniper allu having an impact, and GeT_RiGhT still displaying dedication and talent at a high level. However, the team still lack depth to their strategies and executes and one previously monstrous player has gone rather mute: friberg. In a season where many entry-fraggers struggle (more on that in Cloud9), friberg s poor statistics can be chalked up to a changed metagame yet there is still truth in the fact that the star of ESL One Cologne 2014 has taken a dip in his performance.

Takeaway #5: The rise of Na`Vi

Na`Vi can be arguably classified as part of the new trifecta of elite teams, with the other two being Fnatic and TSM. After fiddling around with variations of lineups for nearly two years, and always bringing tantalisingly close results bar a gold medal, the 2015 Na`Vi lineup with flamie and seized is a surefire winning one.

The rise of Na`Vi began with the team s victory at ESL PL Winter, continued with their win at StarSeries XIII, and was cemented with the team s closely fought victory over Cloud9 at ESWC. Despite a tendency to occasionally throw away comfortable leads—as well as a healthy grouping of fiery tempers on the team—Na`Vi continue to deliver high class strategy and play in CS:GO.

At DreamHack Valencia, the Na`Vi lineup looked a little shaky however this Russo-Ukrainian-Slovakian team were still able to make a deep playoff run and take a map off champions TSM in the semifinals. GuardiaN may be perhaps the most consistent player in terms of statistics that the game has yet to see (the only other contender who comes to mind is Fnatic star olofmeister) and he finds ample help from fragging duo Edward and seized when necessary.

The final cog in the Na`Vi machine was flamie and it was the Russian s exceptional clutch plays and solid holds that turned Na`Vi from a tier-two team into a tier-one team. However, at the FACEIT finals, flamie was notably absent, even going 34-51 in the semi-finals against TSM. Na`Vi will need all the firepower it can get if it wants to rack up more gold.

Takeaway #6: Full-on Fnatic

Has the world s current top team taken a dive? All five players on Fnatic are still capable of peaks of CS:GO greatness and if Fnatic s decider match victory against NiP is any indication, the team still function on a focused and disciplined level.

However, it can be argued that Fnatic have found a kryptonite in two teams (although it remains to be seen if the reason is merely the effect of being at the top and having all teams gun for the top dog), which are TSM and Cloud9.

The former team makes sense, as the elite Danish squad is Fnatic s near rival in terms of teamwork, raw skill, and map precise play. A best-of-one series is always up in the air in this case, and depends on which players are ready to go out of their minds with insane plays.

Cloud9 however, are a bit of a surprise, and a pleasant one at that. The charismatic American team (sporting one Canadian in the form of shroud) took Fnatic to the wire on multiple maps (as well as winning one) at the $500,000 finals of the ESL ESEA Pro League. This resiliency against Swedish skill returned in the semi-finals this weekend when Cloud9 trounced Fnatic 2-0, including in an overtime thriller on de_train, a map which is quickly becoming a point of contention for these two teams.

Fnatic seem to have no issue yet, although two players previously known for deep game-impact, JW and flusha, can be seen to go under at times. KRIMZ, once the most complete CS:GO player, is also more subdued as of late. Yet with olofmeister still turning most team s defenders into Swiss cheese on his T sides, Fnatic are still up there among the very best, locked in a slightly disadvantageous struggle with TSM.

Takeaway #7: No time like now for North America

Cloud9 survived the turbulent NA Shuffle and resurrected with a significantly buffed roster. Three grand final finishes in three weekends is no small joke in a scene as diverse and vibrant as the CS:GO one, and if entry-fragger and recent retiree fREAKAZOiD can pick up on a few more frags, then this team will have no discernible weakness for the most part.

Communication issues have been smoothed out (at least as past weekends POV s have demonstrated) and the team looked even more in sync in Valencia. Skadoodle is making a viable campaign for the best AWPer in the game (although GuardiaN and KennyS would still like a word) and shroud is finally playing a comfortable and consistent carry role.

The CEVO finals may just be Cloud9 s chance to do North America a favour and finally bring home the 1st place finish, assuming the team can surmount regional rivals, Na`Vi, and Virtus.pro (with the final team being a particular thorn for Cloud9).

Takeaway #8: The era of TSM

TSM successfully defended their FACEIT 2015 League trophy and took another first place finish into the vault. The team have been stable with no real roster changes in 2015 and karrigan s role as an IGL is now indisputably better than that of old leader, FeTiSh.

Despite a streaky event attendance record (which should be solved now that the team have survived Danish exams season) and the unfortunate best-of-one blunders that led TSM to finish dead last at ESL ESEA Season 1 finals, TSM are still definitely the second-best, if not the best team in the world.

Proof is in the pudding, and the TSM pudding is preferably served with a dose of Danish hygge, which one experiences when watching the team play pitch-perfect Counter-Strike. It s frightening how coordinated the team can be at times, and with previous choke issues appearing less and less frequently, this is the team to watch for the second half of 2015.

The FACEIT League 2015 Stage 2 finals at DreamHack Valencia saw eight teams enter and one emerge victorious. Truly, no team finished in what might be called a static and stable result for said team, and each team is currently expectant of a better future or dejectedly watching its performances suffer. Such is the state of current CS:GO in a way, and the flux and volatility in itself are things well-worth watching for those who don t even play the game.

PC Gamer
Movement tip #1: Levitate, and never, ever touch the ground.

We write about FPSes each week in Triggernometry, a mixture of tips, design criticism, and a celebration of virtual marksmanship.

The vast majority of CS:GO players are focused on getting better at aiming. Being able to click on heads really well is the sexiest aspect of the game—everyone wants to be like KRiMZ or GeT_RiGhT and wire impossible, highlight reel-worthy headshots.

In actuality, the vast majority of CS:GO players would benefit most from focusing on improving the way they move, on adopting new techniques, on learning how movement influences accuracy, when and when not to crouch, and so on.

Movement is an easy thing to take for granted, but like most areas of Counter-Strike, movement is its own discipline, something that takes a mixture of techniques, knowledge, and intuition do do well. Forcing yourself to sit through a few minutes of video tutorials can unlock some epiphanies about bad habits and how to take your game to the next level. To that end, I've collected some recommended videos on movement below.

Strafing and shooting

Crouching vs. walking

How to throw grenades quickly

How to bunnyhop

PC Gamer
All photos courtesy ESL's Flickr page.

We write about FPSes each week in Triggernometry, a mixture of tips, esports, and a celebration of virtual marksmanship.

Ninjas in Pyjamas (NiP) are the royalty of CS:GO. Four of the five active members were the core of the lineup which went 87 straight maps before losing offline. The dynasty that won its first 10 offline tournaments. The legends that placed top four in their first 31 tournaments. Even since then, they have continued a legacy of top placings, having made the final of all five CS:GO majors, winning  ESL One Cologne in August of last year. Still, they are a special team, which comes up with magic in big matches. Yet this is not an NiP that is the best team in the world or close to it.

Problems in the pyjama province

It is still routine for NiP to place top four, practically, but the days of GeT_RiGhT and company taking home trophies seem so far away. In 2014, with their classic lineup, they won three big titles. In 2015, they have failed to win a single big trophy in eight attempts, thusfar. NiP are still a special lineup, capable of playing the majority of the top teams closely when everything comes together. The primary problems for NiP are that they still tend to lose those nail-biters against the elite teams and that the dangerous landscape of the top end of the competition scene means they typically need to beat two strong teams in series to win a trophy. In short, even NiP's best is currently not enough to take a title from a FNATIC, TSM or EnVyUs, the teams they're most likely to face in a final.


Waning personnel power

The only questions asked of the old lineup were of support player fifflaren's play, since he was often the statistical sore thumb standing out among players who were all close to the best at their positions. The players who replaced him, in particular the explosive but erratic AWPer Maikelele, found that scrutiny transferred to them. The arrival of allu, the consistent and efficient Finnish sniper, has shown us, however, that NiP's problems no longer lie with the fifth man. Allu has been a model of regularly excellent performance, leaving us to look at the other four and ask who is failing to deliver a championship performance in their role.

Shockingly, the first place one must consider is with one of the stars, as aim master f0rest, still one of the world's best pistol players, has routinely stumbled in big games and found himself lacking a star level impact on his team's fortunes. With allu and GeT_RiGhT both posting good numbers, the third star has been very much waning in the last few months. Beyond f0rest, issues can be observed with both former in-game leader Xizt and friberg. The former has been slumping for at least the last few months, though he does still win some memorable clutch rounds, and the latter just had possibly the worst tournament of his career with NiP's group stage elimination at Gfinity Spring Masters II.


Trying everything

NiP have been aware their results are not up to par and attempted numerous changes. They switched up some of their most famous CT postions on maps. They've brought in former 3DMAX player and CS veteran natu as their new coach. Finally, they've even shifted the in-game leadership role to lurker GeT_RiGhT. So far, each change has had mixed results, often working somewhat early on and then leveling back off to a similar effect later. Unless big results come, one cannot help but feel that Xizt will return to holding the reigns, much as the Ninjas did revert some of their positional changes.

The future of the dynasty

This NiP does not look like the team of old in as much as it does not look capable of holding the number one spot in the rankings. With the right draw and collection of individual performances, they can still win a trophy or two, but even that will take some momentous fortune and is far from guaranteed. For NiP, this is the period in which they learn if they can live with being a top team but not the best. If FNATIC are not at the top, surely it will be TSM. If not TSM, then EnVyUs may rise again. The only thing which seems certain, is that NiP's time has passed, at least with this legendary core. Nothing lasts forever, in life as well as CS:GO.

Duncan "Thorin" Shields, also known as "The Esports Historian," has been involved in esports journalism since 2001. He writes for a number of sites on a freelance basis, provides on-camera analysis at CS:GO tournaments and produces YouTube interviews and commentary. Follow Duncan on Twitter and Facebook.


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