lurppis: 1.6 players in CS:GO, the development of the game and the balance between the top teams

CS in-game leader turned journalist and commentator lurppis talks CS:GO's balance and the top teams.

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Tomi 'lurppis' Kovanen is one of the most accomplished Finnish Counter-Strike players of all time. Winning over $298,000 with his teams across his seven year professional career, lurppis most memorably helped 69N-28E win NGL-One S2 and Evil Geniuses take down the MSi Beat It finals in China. Since retiring from competitive play, the in-game leader has shifted over into the role of journalist, commentator and pundit, working for HLTV.org and Dreamhack.

In this interview lurppis talks to me about his changing expectations for the development of CS:GO, what is still to be changed and what appeals to him about the game, as a spectator experience.

If you think back to the early days of CS:GO, prior to release, when you took part in the showmatch in New York, played the beta and were active on the pro forum, how have your expectations for the game changed since then?

I'm not sure how my expectations have changed, obviously the game as well as the scene around it have developed and grown exponentially since then, but I still have a hard time seeing massive growth without Valve's backing in the future. I didn't expect Valve to start putting up $250k prize purses, which is what, along with some clever updates (though there is still a lot to be done, much more than people generally admit) by the CSGO dev team, is what really made all the difference.

You were the first pro to actually say that the developers weren't listening early on, as people would post in the pro feedback forum and nothing would be done about it. Do you think that aspect has changed? Can you list any changes that were needed early on which have now come to pass?

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I think Valve is open to making changes they aren't against if NiP and company push for them, but I don't think anyone has enough authority to convince Valve to make changes they don't want to make. They've made a lot of smaller fixes that add up to a huge difference over time, but there's still a large number of people unhappy with movement, recoil, maps etc. I still don't think Valve are super receptive to feedback, but at least they gave Xizt and Fifflaren a twenty-bullet M4A1-S at $2900, am I right?

It's easy to look at 1.6 and suggest changes in line with that, but just thinking in terms of pure gameplay, of any kind, what problems do you think there are with the movement and what kind of direction could the game go in to improve that area?

I actually agree with your opinion in that CS 1.6 doesn't have the perfect movement; I thought it used to be better back in the 1.3 days where it wasn't as limited. I feel if CS:GO's movement allowed for more to be done, it would significantly increase the skill cap in the game and thus allow the best players to be even better. It simply seems like the movement is too restricted as it is right now. Specifically I'd like to see the jumping/landing penalty reduced, bunny hopping made slightly more effective and the characters becoming more responsive to you pressing keys on your keyboard.

There is debate over whether or not there was any kind of issue with the weapon recoil previously. I've seen DaZeD say in an AMA that the spray was entirely predictable and you just had to learn the pattern. Now the recoil has been changed somewhat. Do you see it as an issue still? Are the top players good enough with it that there's enough accuracy that we'd expect from world class players?

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It's really hard to comment on this without playing extensively, which I haven't done, but as a spectator it still seems fairly inconsistent. I've often said it seems GeT_RiGhT is the only player who truly knows how to spray well, and there are still spray battles where two players are near and might empty their clips before someone dies. I think it's not as consistent as they make it out to be, but I'm also not a professional player

Does that hurt the spectating side of Counter-Strike?

I think so. It takes away some of the credibility. I've watched some CS:GO matches with my old friends who haven't played CS in years and never tried CS:GO, and even they've commented saying the players don't look very good because spraying seems so hard compared to how it was in CS 1.6., so it makes the players look less impressive.

How do you find CS:GO to watch as a game of entertainment? If you had no place in the community would you still watch it and find elements you enjoyed from previous versions of CS to make it fun to watch? Does it have to be the absolute best players playing to get you excited?

I think to me the initial attraction in CS:GO was the players I knew from CS 1.6. I enjoyed watching people like f0rest, GTR, markeloff and NEO play CS 1.6 a ton, so I figured watching them in CS:GO could be as fun. Once I learned more about other teams and learned to appreciate their backgrounds, merits and styles of play they became fun to watch too, but initially I needed the 1.6 elements. If there's a reason to care about lesser matches (e.g. people I'm friends with, some Finns, some upcoming talents etc.) I can find it interesting, but I've never been a fan of watching any version of CS just for the sake of watching CS.

Who are the best non-1.6 CS:GO players to watch for lurppis?

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Some of my favorite players to watch are shox, ScreaM, NBK, GuardiaN, kennyS and Nico. In terms of teams my favorite team to watch is Titan, and I also was a big fan of watching Western Wolves, all of whom came from CS:S AFAIK, play last year before the team collapsed.

I think shox and NBK are just very complete players, so their all-around game is fun to watch, though shox obviously tends to put up more numbers. ScreaM's aim is really impressive, whereas GuardiaN, kennyS and Nico are some of the fastest AWPers in the game. Basically, they're some of the best players in their respective areas of the game, and it's fun to watch the best players.

How do you balance up the issue of players from both games: on one hand there are the players you and I know were incredible at 1.6, so I'll freely admit I can have a hard time avoiding blaming the game for them seemingly not being able to be good at CS:GO too. Then, on the other hand, you have the godlike CS:GO players who had no significant 1.6 background, and a part of me will always think "yeah, but how would they have done in 1.6? would they actually have been good?". How do you balance out the issue and does it say anything extraordinary about the players who were good in both games?

I don't doubt that it took me a while to get here, but these days I just look at CS:GO as an altogether separate game from 1.6 or CSS. It's almost like if you looked at someone who was a young superstar at a professional sport, but decided to switch to another one. Sure, they're very talented and likely have incredible hand-eye coordination, reactions, work ethic and other things required to be successful so they have an edge over others, but it's no guarantee they will be successful at the next thing.

I think being able to be very good at both games is impressive, as there are players who were incredible at 1.6 and never truly made it in CSGO. I think it's mostly mental for those players though, and something similar to how zet could never come back to the absolute top after his CGS stint - some players simply become super good at a game, but without knowing why, so once they lose "it", they won't know how to get it back. I think it goes to show how much of being a top player is intuitive

You're in the unique position of being the brother of one of the best Finnish CS players ever (naSu), both in terms of results and individual skill, and he has played CS:GO a decent amount now. From observing his play, does that suggest to you that any 1.6 pro good enough probably could be a top CS:GO player? Is there something in CS:GO that isn't rewarded that was in 1.6 and will hold back a certain kind of player?

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Yes, I think any 1.6 pro with an open attitude in terms of being ready to adjust their playing style accordingly could be a top player in CS:GO. However, I have to say that I've been disappointed with my brother's play since he switched over. He's talented enough that he could be the best Finnish player and among the top 20 players in stats based rankings like that of HLTV.org's if he wanted to, but since he started CSGO I've told him it looks like he's not even trying when he plays, seems like he's just playing for fun and spraying at all times instead of aiming; it feels like he's not even close to as driven as he was in 1.6 when he was at his peak.

I think people like whiMp, who have all the fundamentals down and simply don't make mistakes when playing probably wouldn't shine as much in CS:GO as they did in 1.6 (which sort of applies for naSu too in my opinion) because CS:GO has peeker's advantage and doesn't reward playing what we consider "the right way" as much as CS 1.6 did. Still, if you're truly willing to adjust, you can overcome that with a different skillset.

There is always discussion about the sniper rifles, the AWP and the autosniper. Can you think of changes to either that need to happen for balance reasons or to improve the game?

I've been one of the more vocal people in saying the SCAR-20 is overpowered. I think it's far, far too easy to get multikill rounds with it in certain positions, as we've seen from people like GTR, Xizt and Ex6TenZ. I think Valve needs to nerf the weapon a little; it does far too much damage per bullet as of right now. I think the AWP is fairly well balanced, though I don't understand why it needs to have the blurring effect when moving, so I'd remove that if it were up to me.

Did VeryGames losing to NiP at Dreamhack suggest to you that anything has changed in the two team's rivalry?

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It did and it didn't. At first I thought NiP had learned from their losses because they said they prepared specifically for VeryGames by watching a ton of demos and preparing anti-strats for the game, which showed in how well they played in Jönköping. However, as soon as I heard they changed in-game leadership not once but twice (going from Xizt to GTR to Fifflaren) I felt like Titan were given the advantage once again, regardless of what happened in Dallas two weeks ago. It just seems to me like NiP doesn't really know what they want to do, a problem Titan do not have.

For so long people asked "How do you beat NiP?" and it's not just that nobody did, nobody even had a formula which looked like it would work. From thinking of all the NiP losses, right through to losing to verygames a bunch and then fnatic at dh, is there a basic approach or formula?

I think NiP's skill advantage has been decreased and decreased as time has gone by and we've all said a million times that they aren't a top team strategically. That means their advantage lies within team play and experience. If teams are roughly equal in terms of strategies and skill, the team play and experience advantage won't be big enough to allow NiP to keep winning like they used to. Some teams can match them in experience and team play, and if everyone keeps developing, all of a sudden the question will be how exactly can NiP keep winning consistently with what they have, as opposed to how to beat them. Their edge is getting thinner and thinner as time goes by, in my opinion.

VeryGames famously lost to Quantic at ESEA in April, now they lost in the final of the recent ESEA to iBUYPOWER, both North American teams. Being as they also lost a key map to coL at Dreamhack, does VG/Titan have some kind of issue facing NA teams?

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Ever since VG lost that map to Area51 at ESWC 2012 I've felt like that coL-core has had a very good chance at beating VG everytime they've played, much more so than they should have based on their odds against other top teams. I think this most recent loss had more to do with Titan being unprepared due to no EU teams in attendance, it being the first event after the winter break, and them being on the verge of moving into a house together, than it had with US teams being better.

I think Titan struggle versus Americans oddly much, likely because they aren't as used to their playing style and they rely a lot more on strats than other teams, but I think they're good enough as a team that given solid practice they will overcome that. Remember, even at DreamHack VeryGames said they weren't properly prepared due to attending MSI Beat It (and a bunch of other events), while ESEA was the last event in a string of I think four events in four weeks, and saw VG lose two 14-16 maps versus NiP before the Quantic match.

What does the ESEA win tell you about iBUYPOWER?

I think it doesn't say all that much to be honest. It was on American soil (and it was the first event after a lengthy break for everyone involved), and that's where they've done somewhat well in the past as well. I think most of all it speaks for DaZeD's ability to lead a team, because those guys couldn't buy map wins versus Europeans before he joined the team. I think it gives them more potential through confidence going into the future, but I wouldn't draw huge conclusions out of it because I think Titan lost the tournament more so than iBUYPOWER won it.

Aside from NiP and Titan, who would you pick as the next best favourite for EMS Katowice and why?

I honestly have no idea. compLexity's stock fell after ESEA loss, über G33KZ (ex-Cph Wolves) went through a roster change that I don't see making them stronger, and the rest of Europe doesn't seem to be improving much either. I think you have to give fnatic credit for their DreamHack Winter win and say they are now the third main candidate, but I'm not sure if I believe in them either... Depends what kind of an effect the win had on them as individuals.

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Photo credits: fragbite, Dreamhack, Helena Kristiansson

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