The BIG Clan is one of the most resourceful teams in the world. Almost none of their players can be said to be world class status, but they have been a consistent top 10 team in the past six months of play. Their current lineup of: Faith “gob b” Dayik, Johannes “tabseN” Wodarz, Johannes “nex” Maget, Tizian “tiziaN” Feldbusch, and Owen “smooya” Butterfield have been playing together for nearly eight months. In that time, they have had varying results across a multitude of LANs:
2nd – ESL One Cologne
3rd – CS Summit, Supernova Malta
Top 8- FACEIT Major, StarLadder i-League Season 6
Group Eliminations – ESL Belo Horizonte, IEM Chicago, ESL Proleague Finals Season 8
Outside of ESL One Cologne and the Major, their overall resume of results isn’t particularly impressive. However when you consider the deficiencies of their individual skill relative to the teams around them like OpTic, Fnatic, ENCE, North, or HellRaisers, they are punching above their weight class. Recently however, BIG have hit a slump as they were eliminated in groups at their last two premier LAN tournaments: ESL Proleague Season 8 and IEM Chicago. With the break coming up, now is the perfect time to retroactively look at what made makes the BIG system tick, what were its strengths and weaknesses, and why they’ve hit their ceiling.
The BIG Clan is fairly set in their roles across the board. The mastermind behind the project is gob b, long time Counter-Strike player and a legendary in-game leader. He was once a star player during his days in CS 1.6, but his individual form never translated over to CS:GO. Overall, he’s a poor individual performer who can have some good games when he is especially on point. Those performances are generally correlated when his team is the most practiced and structured.
The two star players the team have built around is tabseN and Smooya. Tabsen has been the standout player from the German scene ever since he stood-in for NRG at Counter Pit League Season 2 in 2016. He eventually united with gob b on NRG and the two of them have played together ever since. He is a fairly stable hybrid player, who specializes more in the rifle than the AWP.
Smooya is currently the best UK player in the CS:GO scene. He is of the archetypal flicky young AWPer with a bit of an ego as there have been rumors of him clashing with the team multiple times throughout his tenure on BIG. Whatever the case, he seems to have settled down and as a player he adds a certain wild card element that the old BIG/NRG squads of gob b lacked. While he can be great on the AWP, he is mediocre with the rifle.
Nex was purported to be the savior of the German scene back in 2015, but he never lived up to the hype. His overall potential is high, but over the years, he has consistently been unable to reach his highest peaks in the biggest games of his career. As a player, he’s a passive star player more in the line of someone like Marcelo “Coldzera” David. He doesn’t have the highlight reels usually, but he gets the critical frags that close out the rounds for the team.
The final player is tiziaN. After playing on ALTERNATE aTTax from 2016 to 2018, he was given the call up to the best German team in the world after Nikola “LEGIJA” Ninic moved from player to coach. While he isn’t individually strong enough to be a star player, he fulfills a critical function in the team as he is the primary support player of the squad.
The System and Interdependencies
On paper, man-for-man I’d give the advantage to many other teams that are around the same ranking as BIG. What makes BIG better than their peers though is the overall system and interdependencies within that system. They are greater than the sum of their parts.
The BIG system is characterized by their heavy usage of the double AWP setups and their tactics and teamplay. The double AWP setup is wielded by their two star players: tabseN and Smooya. Their tactics and teamplay are interconnected. It comes out in their ability to consistently trade frag, play off utility, and come up with unique takes on executes or map control to stay a step ahead of their opponents.
This style of play makes complete sense when you consider the weaknesses of the team. Gob b is a weak player. TiziaN is good at his role, but not an ascendant support player like Andreas “Xyp9x” Hojsleth. If the team ran a typical default or standard kind of style, they’d be far lower than what the are. Smooya is good, but only when he is using the AWP in an aggressive manner. Nex is inconsistent for a star player so it’s hard to build a system around him.
So what BIG have done is have their polarizing players be tabseN and Smooya. They’ve gone with a double AWP setup built that emphasizes their strengths and covers their weakness. Smooya can be a great aggressive AWPer, but his style can be hit or miss. So building a mobile CT-side AWPer around Smooya isn’t effective as that increases variability and makes the structure break down.
To balance that aggression, they’ve made tabseN the other AWPer. His style of play is fairly smart, so while he doesn’t have the mechanics of a primary AWPer, he can play a consistent stable style that gives a strong foundation for the teamplay and utility usage of the BIG squad. At the same time, running double AWP increases the chances for picks and lowers the chances of having individual duels that BIG would be disadvantaged with. Additionally, playing this style means they don’t have to rely on nex on being a consistent star, instead he can be the third star that pops off every once in a while.
As for the T-side, they have to focus more on their executes and teamplay. When they can, they emphasize the strengths of tabseN and smooya as individual players, but their primary strength is getting map control and running their execs or hits. So while their tactics don’t have the depth of Astralis, it is fairly effective given with what the team has to work with.
Another way to look at the system is the interdependencies between the players. There are three primary ones to look at: tabseN/Smooya/nex, gob b/TabseN, and gob b/tiziaN. The tabseN, Smooya, and Nex is the basic opener/closer dichotomy of every top team. TabseN and Smooya are responsible for opening the rounds and Nex is the closer. The gob b-tabseN synergy is underrated in that while gob b isn’t a good individual player, he consistently sets up tabseN with great flashes that allow tabseN to open an area and get a kill on a blind opponent. Finally, the gob b-tiziaN synergy is based on position rather than any inherent teamwork. TiziaN takes on a bunch of roles that no one else wants to do and would normally be relegated to the in-game leader. That would be a death sentence for gob b if he was forced to play a bunch of roles he isn’t comfortable with, so tiziaN provides a critical role in bolstering gob b’s performance.
Now we’ll look at how this system plays at across their map pool. The maps that emphasize the double AWP are theoretically the best maps for BIG. That’s basically how it has panned out. Dust2, Train, and Cache are their best maps. All three maps allow for BIG to use their double AWP setup on the CT-side. All three can be played in a structured style of play on both sides of the map.
Conversely then, maps that de-emphasize the AWP or promote individual play would be bad for BIG. This is why they’ve banned Mirage as that is arguably the most individually based map in the pool right now. While Cache has that reputation, it can also be played in a structured and tactical manner.
The final three maps are Overpass, inferno, and Nuke. Overpass is an AWP specialist map. Specifically, it’s a map where you need someone who can be incredibly mobile, consistent, and varied. The biggest example of this type of AWPer is Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz. Neither of the BIG AWPers are at that level. Smooya has the mechanics, but not the consistency or mobility. TabseN is stable enough, but doesn’t have the other qualities to make up for it. Without a strong CT-side, Overpass is just an okay map for BIG.
As for Inferno, it’s a fairly structured map and the AWP can be used well enough on the CT-side. Even the double AWP has seen some use on it. The problem is that on the T-side, AWP usage is completely muted and there are no current top players that can make the AWP an effective consistent option on that side of the map. That makes their T-side inferno have even less firepower than normal. As for Nuke, it’s infamous for being terrible for AWPers in general and no one has been able to make the double AWP setup work in any capacity on that map. So while Inferno and Nuke are structured maps that gob b could probably tactically break down, BIG just don’t have the right pieces to be top teams on either of the maps.
The Break Down
With their two recent eliminations from ESL Proleague Season 8 and IEM Chicago, it’s possible that the BIG system is breaking down. There are a few factors to look at to see what are the symptoms of their slump and the causes of it.
The most obvious factor is Smooya’s slumping form. At IEM Chicago and ESL Proleague Season 8 Finals, he had terrible events and was far below his individual skill. This bares out both in the eye test and in the rating where he got 0.82 and 0.78 HLTV rating respectively. The other thing to note is that the teamplay and trading seemed remarkably off in the Renegades series at ESL Proleague Season 8 Finals.
As for why this is happening, the primary reason seems to be a lax attitude. In an HLTV interview, Smooya admits that, “I think that after the Major we all got egos, I did especially, I thought I was way better than I was. And then it hit me, the realization, so I just need to put in way more work than I ever have and hopefully get back to the level I want to be.”
That explains why Smooya’s individual form is off and why the overall teamplay is off as well. In addition to that, one of BIG’s best weapons was there ability to innovate small things and find small edges that allowed them to surprise their opponents. In the last few events, I haven’t seen anything at that level from them. They’ve ad-hoced a few solutions on the fly, most notably having tabseN try to primary AWP on the CT-side over Smooya in some situations and changing some of their setups as well.
Given that, if BIG go back to the practice wheel, they could likely get back to around their previous level and be a top 10 team in the world again. However that is about as far as they can go.
To be frank, I think BIG have had a great year in 2018 considering how hard it is to be consistent considering the parity of strength in teams from 10-20. The tier 2 of CS:GO is about the strongest it’s ever been and BIG have exceeded expectations considering their players relative to their competition. However at the end it fell off as they didn’t continue to grind and work at their craft. Their style and system demands every resource be utilized. If not, they end with the results they got at IEM Chicago and Odense.
I believe this team has done great things and have pushed this five man lineup to its absolute limits. That is the essential problem with this squad. I don’t think it’s possible for this squad to go any further than they have. For BIG to get to the next level, they needed a change, likely more firepower. BIG seem to have agreed with that notion as they have recently recruited İsmailcan “XANTARES” Dörtkardeş into the roster to fix that very issue. He will be replacing nex as nex goes out of the lineup to recover from wrist injuries. Should nex recover, tabsen has hinted that BIG could very well go for a 6 man roster. As we move into 2019, we will have to see how gob b and the team fit this new player into the squad and see how much further they can get in the coming year.