The most loaded role I’ve seen across esports is the in-game leader roles in CS:GO. Among all of the different roles in CS:GO, it is the most all-encompassing of any of them. Depending on the team and the lineup, the in-game leader can end up being responsible for a multitude of different things. In this article, I break down the various roles that an in-game leader may be responsible for and pick out different leaders that represent the archetypal example of each role a leader can play.
The first role that every in-game leader has is themselves as a player. In general, in-game leaders are notorious for being worse players on average compared to the other players on the squad. This makes complete sense when you consider how much that their time for individual practice is far less compared to their teammates as they have to prepare and study everything else in the game. Their time isn’t only split outside of the game, but also inside of it as they have to analyze all of the information, make a read, and give the call to the rest of the team. Because of that, in-game leaders that can also play well are rare and highly valuable.
The two most famous examples of this are Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo and Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander. FalleN was a star AWPer during 2016 and a fairly good AWPer in 2017. Gla1ve right now is a strong player in his own right and has incredible stats and impact frags for all of 2018. However, I think the archetypal example for this is Chris “chrisJ” de Jong. For FalleN and gla1ve, their skills as individual players is eclipsed by their other skills as in-game leader. While ChrisJ is a good leader in his own right, he is most well known for his stand out individual plays as an in-game leader. He is someone who plays as entry fragger, space creator, and secondary AWP for the team. This often means that when the team is in dire straits that ChrisJ can elevate his team through his own individual play and has done so to great success.
The next role is the tactician. The person that comes up with the structure and tactics of the team. This is generally what people mean when they talk about in-game leaders. Throughout CS:GO history, the leader that has impressed me the most in this regard has been Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander. Both of the Astralis lineups in 2017 and 2018 are some of the best tactical squads we’ve seen in CS:GO history and the modern 2018 squad’s tactics have the most depth of any team we’ve ever seen.
The third role is the scout. This is a critical role for the longevity of any team as player form rises and falls through time. Because of that, teams need to be able to find the next player to recruit when the time comes. While it is possible for any of the players to do the scouting (for instance Fernando “fer” Alvarenga was the one who recommended Marcelo “Coldzera” David to Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo), in general it falls on the in-game leader. This is because they are the ones with the highest understanding of the team structure, roles, and have the highest discernment when breaking down an individual player’s strengths. One of the best examples of this is Damian “daps” Steele from NRG. He is a leader that has been stuck in the tier two level of teams for his entire career and because of that he has developed an ability to scout out new talent for his teams. He has consistently scouted out unknown talent and given them a chance. Some of the examples include: Keith “NAF” Markovic, Oscar “mixwell” Canellas, Allan “AnJ” Jensen, Omar “MarkE” Jimenez, and Cvetelin “CeRq” Dimitrov.
The fourth role is the coach/teacher. This is when a leader has to show the roles to a younger player so that they understand the structure, tactics, and role within the system. Among the various types of leaders, I consider Mathias “MSL” Lauridsen to be the best at this. While there are other leaders that have shown a strong ability to teach CS:GO to younger players like Nicolai “HUNDEN” Petersen, MSL is the one who has brought a ton of the young Danish talent to international star levels of play. The list includes: Philip “aizy” Aistrup, Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjaerbye, Kristian “k0nfig” Wiencke, and Emil “Magisk” Reif.
The fifth role is the anti-stratter. This basically comes down to a person’s ability to scout the strategy, tactics, and tendencies of the opponents. While it’s hard to know who is actually the best at this, the most notable example in CS:GO has to be Sean Gares as we have his actual in-game comms of him often predicting the setups, tactics, and tendencies of many of the opponents he played against during the Summer 2015 run of Cloud9.
The sixth role is what I call the strategist. While it is closely related to tactics, I differentiate it like this. Tactics is the development and execution of the playbook which includes things like 4-1s, defaults, mid-round calls, changes of pace, executes, and so on. Strategy is the development of the identity of the squad. The identity meaning who the squad plays around and the style of play they use. The ability to take five players and to give them a strong team identity. In this case, the two best examples of this are Danylo “Zeus” Teslenko and Finn “karrigan” Andersen.
In Zeus case, he is someone who has enforced his preferred style of play on every team he has led. He wants his team to play the slow map control style and then at the end of the round he will make a read and the team does a last second execute on the site. This has always been the identity of his various teams throughout Na`Vi and Gambit. In the case of Karrigan, he has a very different type of vision. He looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the five players that are assembled and plays according to their strengths. He is able to evaluate, analyze, and dissect the different interdependencies of all five players and create a system that almost always instantly works. Where Zeus enforces his will onto the players, Karrigan enables his players to play at their best while still keeping a fundamental base of teamplay.
The seventh role is the innovator. The leader can often be responsible for coming up with things that end up defining the meta. For instance, the French players loved to extol Vincent “Happy” Schopenhauer from 2014-2015 because his ideas broke the meta and created a heavy forcebuy style that exploited the economy and those ideas are still used to this day. However, the best example of this particular role has to be gla1ve as Astralis have consistently found new ways to implement tactics, utility, and styles of play from tournament to tournament in 2018.
The eighth role is the emotional/cultural leader. The person that all of the rest of the team looks up to and the person who sets the cultural identity of the team. Among all of the leaders, I consider FalleN to be the best example of this. When he first rose up to the heights of international success, he did it by instilling a work ethic and style of practice through his teams. His teams focused on CS theory, hard work, and FalleN’s own ideas on positioning and roles which in turn allowed him to become one of the best AWPers in the world in 2016.
Player, tactician, scout, teacher, anti-stratter, strategist, innovator, and emotional leader. These are all roles that currently fall under the purview of what it means to be an in-game leader in CS:GO. It is an incredibly hard job and many of the roles require completely disparate skill sets to manage. Because of that, in the history of CS:GO there are only two leaders I could name to have been masters at one time or another of nearly all of them: gla1ve and FalleN. They are the exceptions that prove the rule. As CS:GO gets richer with higher buyouts and infrastructure, it is critical to analyze leaders across all of these different roles, to consider their strengths and weaknesses and how they can be supplemented by the right roster or the right staff.