One of the most compelling stories to come out of ESL One Cologne was the BIG run to the grand finals of the tournament. It was a Cinderella run as BIG were a team who have had no strong international results since the PGL Krakow Major with a different lineup over an year ago. Even just two weeks prior at ESL One Belo Horizonte they didn’t show any remarkable form to indicate that any of this could happen. But at the ESL One Cologne, the cathedral of Counter-Strike, everything changed. BIG made an astonishing run as they created upset after up to make it to the grand finals. To do so they had to beat: Team Liquid, Renegades, MIBR, G2, and FaZe. In this run all of their stars peaked in form as Johannes “nex” Maget, Johannes “tabseN” Wodarz, and Owen “Smooya” Butterfield hit a level of play we’ve almost never seen from them. With that incredible firepower, they became the hammers of Fatih “gob b” Dayik and smashed the enemies of BIG to make their legendary run at ESL One Cologne.
To understand why these players hitting incredible form is so important, we need to go back to BIG’s last strong international result at PGL Major Krakow in 2017. In that run, they were able to make it to the quarterfinals of that Major using team play, structure, and sleight of hand. They studied all of the teams going into the event and figured out that inferno was to be the most tightly contested map. On inferno they had setup various tactics and small tricks to surprise their opponents. Some that come to mind were their A and B executes that used their nades to bifurcate the sites, isolate the CT players and take them out piecemeal. The most infamous trick they had were the jump peeks on the map.
Thanks in large part to their preparation, they were able to make it to the playoffs. However that was when they were eliminated. It was a close match against Immortals as they lost 1-2. This loss illuminates the importance of the star players for the BIG run in the present. If I were to compare BIG to Immortals at that event, I’d say that in terms of team play, BIG were the superior team. They had better setups, better structure, and the best utility usage in that entire tournament. It didn’t matter as the only player that played to a star level for that lineup was tabseN. Nikola “LEGIJA” Ninic had a great series, but he is a support player and so his kills didn’t have the impact required to take them further. Outside of those two, nex and Kevin “keev” Bartholomaus were underwhelming.
This is a critical point to understand about Counter-Strike. You can have the right tactics, you can have incredible teamplay, but if you don’t have the players there is a hard limit to how far a team can go. Thus in the year following that event, the team slowly shuffled. LEGIJA went to the coaching role, BIG bought out Tizian “tiziaN” Felbusch from ALTERNATE aTTaX, and they recruited smooya.
So by the time ESL One Cologne 2018, BIG had all of the necessary pieces. Gob B just had to wield them the correct way. The first two names that pop out both in the game and on paper aer tabseN and smooya. tabseN was a breakout player in 2017 for BIG and many believed that he could prove himself to be a legitimate star player. Smooya showed a lot of potential as a star AWPer on his previous squad in Epsilon.
Together the two of them were to be the shock and awe of the BIG squad. The thunder and lightning that was to crash into the enemy teams. We see this most clearly on the CT-sides where they emphasize the use of the double AWP setup for Tabsen and Smooya. They try to get to the setup as much as possible on all of their maps. Tabsen is the transitional defense AWPer. He’ll take a safe forward position and be able to fall back if he loses the position. Smooya is oscillates between aggressive playmaker or stable anchor depending on what is needed of him in a particular round. Additionally, smooya seems unnaturally good at retake situations so the natural disadvantage of having an AWP in a retake scenario doesn’t apply to him.
Between tabseN and smooya, they consistently get opening picks which puts BIG at a huge advantage in the rifle rounds. While that is impressive, what makes BIG unique is that the double AWP style forces the enemy team to play them at their best game, the map control/utility game.
By having two consistent AWPer, they don’t need to waste their nades early on to keep control of critical map positions, rather they force the enemy team to use their utility to get their AWPers off the angles. This essentially forces the game to slow down into a drawn out siege and drags the game into BIG’s specialty as their utility usage and teamplay become emphasized in these long endurance battles.
While both of them have been incredible, the biggest star of the show was Nex. His performance here is shocking, not because he never had the potential, but because he always did. He had shown glimpses of this back in 2015, but never performed well in pressure matches. When he got to the playoff games, he receded from the spotlight. Cowered in the luminescent lights, hesitated in the face of crowds, crumbled under the pressure. Whatever happened to that nex is gone and at ESL One Cologne, we saw all of the potential we had expected come to the fore. He has become the biggest star among the three players on BIG.
Where tabseN and smooya are the thunder and lightning, nex is the conflagration. The player that burns out that does the most damage for the team, gets the most kills, and powers the entire engine of the ship. He doesn’t always get the flashiest kills, but he gets the consistent kills, the ones that grind down the enemy. Always burning away at the enemy with incredible consistency at this event. At the same time, he can have huge rounds, who could forget the ace he had against Na`Vi on Dust 2 in the grand finals? He has proven himself to be the x-factor that BIG needed to make their massive run to the finals and is the third hammer of gob b.
Behind those three stars are the glue that keeps it all together, gob b and tiziaN. They don’t have huge numbers, but they consistently do their roles and make sure to enable the other players of the team. Gob b in particular has shown some critical key plays in huge moments for this team throughout their run.
Though their run came to an end at the hands of Na`Vi, no one can deny how incredible this run was. They fought tooth and nail the entire way as they beat Renegades, MIBR, G2, and FaZe. It was the perfect storm as their preparation, peak performance, and new style of play collided into this one event. The hammers of Gob fell down and a miracle run was created. The memory of that run will resonate in the halls of the cathedral for years to come.