The in-game leadership role is different from any other role in CS:GO. It requires a level of dedication and work ethic unlike any other in CS:GO and is a role where you must commit to it full time. It is a hard transition over and while we have seen some successes like Nicholas “nitr0” Cannella or Chris “ChrisJ’ de Jong, the rate of conversion is incredibly low. Even in those cases they had good coaches behind them. For the vast majority of players leadership is an underrated task for how difficult it truly is. No examples show this better the fall of Janusz “Snax” Pogorzelski and Abay “Hobbit” Khassenov. Both were once star players that fought for supremacy of the world and both have destroyed their careers trying to take up the mantle of leadership.
From the last three months of 2016 to the first three months of 2017, there were arguments that Snax was the best player in the world. His individual skill was off the charts and the impact he had as an AWPer, lurker, and clutch player put him in contention with players like Marcelo “Coldzera” David or Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz. Even now, when I go back to watch his games I cannot believe what he was able to pull off. He had such incredible intuitive sense of where to be, what to do, and how to destroy his opponents. At ESL New York 2016, Matthew “Sadokist” Trivett famously said the line, “The big apple and Snax is hungry.” as he went on to win an impossible 1v4.
During that time, Virtus.Pro was the most exciting team to watch in the world. They were never the best team. There were too many candidates at the end of 2016 and in 2017, Astralis proved themselves the superior. But they were the most thrilling. No other team could fill your veins in adrenaline, no other could make your heart beat to the sound of war drums, no other could make you feel as if you were riding shotgun on the Virtus.Plow as they fought tooth and nail in epic match after epic match. It was special, it was spectacular, and it ended the day Snax took on in-game leadership.
At the time, Filip “NEO” Kubski was in-game leading for the team, but he had been doing it for a long time and was fatigued. It is a tiring job after all as you have to keep pace with your individual skill like the others while creating tactics, scouting teams, and fixing/managing internal team issues and strategies. In the vacuum of leadership, the natural choice should have been Wiktor “TaZ” Wojtas. Instead for whatever reason, the team decided to have Snax become the in-game leader and that move has since doomed the team.
It was their black swan event. The moment where everything was destroyed. The team slipped down the rankings both on LAN and online. Nothing they did work and as time went on, things got worse and worse. Their only flashback moment was EPICENTER and that was proven to be an anomaly. In the midst of this terrible slump, Snax said in an HLTV interview that,
“We’re just kind of lost in our game, we can’t find ourselves.”
The team has eventually realized their mistake and Snax stopped being the in-game leader. But it has been over half an year since Snax has returned to just being a player and we haven’t seen even a glimpse of what made him one of the most feared players in the world.
As for Virtus.Pro they have slowly declined from match to match until Snax was finally just bought out by Mouz. While fans and Mouz are hopeful that he can regain his form, I still have doubts. He has had months to do it, but I’ve yet to see any of the old Snax. Eating his New York apples Snax.
Snax’s fall was mirrored by another incredible rising star. In 2017, Hobbit won Rookie of the Year in both CS:GO and in all of esports. The title was contentious that year, but Hobbit had proven himself by being the second star of a tier 2 team in Gambit and through his efforts had been able to win the biggest achievement in CS:GO, a Major history. Who could forget the insane moments on inferno where he saved the entire team against Immortals? It was a historic moment for the Gambit squad and on the cusp of their victory, they split up.
The critical moment surprisingly came at Hobbit’s wedding. The team decided to kick their coach Mykhailo “kane” Blagin and this was a deal breaker for Daniil “Zeus” Teslenko. Because of that, Zeus and kane moved on to Na`Vi while Gambit decided to have Dauren “AdreN” Kystaubayev lead the team.
Their first outing at DreamHack Malmo made it look like an incredible choice as they got top four and it made people question how important Zeus really was to the team. After all AdreN had played at superstar levels and Hobbit was the best rookie in the world, breaking into the top 10. Then the hangover effect happened. As the days stretched to weeks and the weeks stretched to months, the hole left in Zeus’ wake became larger and larger. AdreN was the first to be sacrificed as he lost his superstar form to try to lead the team to no avail.
Soon after, Hobbit tried his hand at it and much like Snax destroyed his entire form. He was on course to being a potential top 5 player in the world, but the moment he picked up that leadership, all of his skill seemed to leave him. Unlike Snax, he wasn’t in-game leader for long, however the damage was done. He was never again the incredible monster that he we are half the way through 2018 and still have yet to see the incredible player that Hobbit was in 2017.
Gambit have continued to struggle trying to find an in-game leader as it has shuffled from player to player to player. From AdreN to Hobbit to Mikhail “Dosia” Stolyarov to Denis “seized” Kostin. The last being the most surprising of all as he was the first victim of the leadership pitfall. Seized was forced to take on the role after the Na`Vi coach was silenced by Valve and he has never reached the same levels of individual play again despite being one of the best supportive ends in the entire game.
When we look at all of these cases across the board, and specifically Snax and Hobbit, there is a clear correlation between loss of form and taking up the in-game leadership role. It doesn’t always equate as we’ve seen with Chrisj, but for the most part it applies. Even in the case of an all time great like Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo, he was never able to regain his form as one of the world’s best AWPer from 2016. However those are exceptions rather than the rule. What causes this great shift in form?
It likely comes down to multitasking and attention to detail which erodes the player’s individual style. The scope of vision changes when we talk about players and in-game leaders. It changes from loose or structured styles, but the basic concept is the same. Every player has a general role and positions on their team they focus on. There is certainly a macro view of the game, but they mostly specialize in their own individual roles and use good communications and game sense to deal with that. The in-game leadership role is different as this is the player that not only has to focus on their individual game, but also has to craft a game plan that fits with his player’s skills, personalities, and personal philosophy.
The entire scope of the game widens, both inside and outside the game. They have to do the hard grind, watch demos, extract and refine their own ideas, implement them, and evaluate their effectiveness. In the game itself, they must read not only their individualized role, but the entire game. For instance, MIBR use a tactic on Mirage where the first step is to use the typical B exec nades to isolate the site.
The gut instinct of the B-site players it to call for a rotate. In actuality though, they may not do that if they have watched MIBR demos as they also use the same set of nades to setup for an A split from window, two from connector, one from Tcon, and one from palace. In that moment the leader must synthesize the entire round. Economic situation, approximate information gained from the entire round, how the game has been going thus far, and then make a call. Even should the leader make a right call in that instant, it could lead to failure as making the right macro moves can be superseded by better individual skill or team play.
That is just one instance of one round in one half of a game. Imagine all of the rounds played across a career and you’ll come to understand how much weight the in-game leadership role can have. It changes a player, the way they play, and the way they think. They are no longer just a part of the greater, they are the conductor of the whole. Perhaps that is why it weighed so heavily upon the likes of Snax and Hobbit. In Snax’s case, he always looked to be an incredibly instinctual player. Always getting the right positions and right timings to constantly fluster the opponent. In Hobbit’s case, he probably did give some calls during Zeus’ time on Gambit, but never fully realized how much of a burden full time leadership could be.
Both players have suffered from taking it and still suffer to this day. Snax hasn’t been in-game leader for months now, but the rest of his tenure on Virtus.Pro was wretched compared to his peak standards. Hobbit and Gambit are still struggling to find a unifying voice to fill the role that Zeus left behind and as each month passes, the problem exacerbates further and further as they pass around the leadership like a hot potato.
These are the perils of leadership and in the modern day, I can think of no better players that exemplify the terrible burden it has. Remember the heydays of Snax and Hobbit before they became in-game leaders. Snax was a world eater, he was hungry and the entire world couldn’t sate his appetite. The last time we saw him at that level was in early 2017, over one year ago. He has since moved to Mouz in hopes of resuscitating his play. Hobbit was looking to break into a top 5 player nearing the end of 2017. Now he is on no one’s radar as Gambit continue to slide further and further down the rankings. This is the peril of leadership, the price of it, and the fall of Snax and Hobbit.