Brain and brawn: The current state CS:GO's meta

Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo is the captain of SK Gaming's champion Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team. Provided by Adela Sznajder/DreamHack

The most popular dichotomy used to analyze Counter-Strike teams is brain and brawn. Legendary teams like LDLC -- who won the DreamHack Winter Major in 2014 -- are famous for their omission of strategies that require profound and analytical thinking. On the other hand, teams like SK Gaming, renowned for its intellectual approach to the game, spend more time reading film than playing.

While they are peers in greatness, SK Gaming and LDLC couldn't be more different in their approaches. On one hand, we have a Brazilian roster that's successful because of its thorough analysis: each smoke, each point-of-entry, each direction and each factor. In short, SK Gaming uses its brain. LDLC was familiar with SK's playstyle, as most French players had played under Belgian in-game leader Kevin "Ex6tenZ" Droolans in early CS:GO. Known for his tactical approach to the game, both he and his style were famous; however, LDLC eventually rejected this form of play and opted for an intuitive one. Essentially, its brawn.

Nowadays, the best teams in the world cannot be accurately called "brains" at the expense of "brawn" or vice versa. They have to learn how to synthesize these two separate characteristics to harmonize one singular playstyle. To examine how this has occurred, it's essential to examine how this era of Counter-Strike has exposed weaknesses in both styles.

The analyst community generally has a preference for the cerebral style. Since they must study the game, they will connect more profoundly with players who do too. As players of Counter-Strike, we understand that playing in the server can be much more fun than thinking about how to play in the server. Moreover, there is a sense in which the cerebral style cultivates all the aspects of the game, using all the available mechanisms to win. Rather than relying solely on aim, the strategic team will play angles in which their position is advantageous.

Rather than bursting into a site with a single flashbang, they will use smoke grenades to reduce the possible points of contact with the enemy team, thereby reducing their vulnerability entering the bombsite. Essentially, the strategic team will use all tools at their disposal to reduce their reliance on aim for success. There is a clear advantage to this: while aiming ability is erratic, the location of a smoke grenade is not. Strategies have a reliable outcome, which makes the strategic team more consistent than they otherwise would be.

The proof is in the pudding. Teams like SK Gaming have consistently reached the playoff stage of top tier tournaments, even after their peak at ESL One Cologne. Beginning in January of 2015, the Danish Team SoloMid roster was perhaps even more consistent, achieving an unprecedented amount of playoff placings over the span of 15 months, being eliminated outside the group stage or first round of a tournament in only four tournaments under the leadership of Finn "Karrigan" Andersen.

With the strengths of being a cerebral team also comes weaknesses. Using everything available in-game means considering every option within the server. In any sport, strategies cannot always account for all the actions and reactions of an opponent. There's an element of unpredictability. Because of this, there's always going to be a point in the round where a player must make a split-second recision. Should I fake the defuse or hold on? Should I peak or assume he's faking? Should I shoulder peak or commit fully to the firefight? Thinking strategically may slow down decision-making, or even worse, impair it.

These struggles can be understood through North, who have all the talent in the world, but fail to translate that in-game. While in-game leader Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen has been able to build a strong tactical team with excellent terrorist side play, the individual skill collapses. The talent that was added to North with the pickup of Philip "aizy" Aistrup came at the expense of intellectual decision-making. North's predicament shows there'll always be a trade-off between brain and brawn.

When a player omits many of the possible intellectual solutions to his problem, he is left with a single solution: to shoot the single shot. While the brawn-approach lacks many of the perks of the cerebral style, it unlocks another gear for a player's aim. Teams like EnVyUs in early 2015 or Fnatic in early 2016 become much more effective once they enabled this single-minded shooting.

The brawn team will always be at a strategic disadvantage. Since the strategic team uses a variety of tools to reduce reliance on aim, it doesn't need the same firepower to find success. In a fight, the strategic team will likely position itself at a superior angle, which often means the brawn team needs to be skilled enough to overcome this disadvantage. The key for brawn, then, is superior firepower. This has been a problem for teams in this current iteration of CS:GO, as every top team is loaded with skill. Brawn teams like Fnatic struggle to get the upper hand, as they can't out-aim the likes of Marcelo "coldzera" David or Nicolai "dev1ce" Reedtz, who both belong to strategically adept teams.

The struggle of teams like North, who have the strats but cannot translate that to firepower, and Fnatic, who cannot outskill teams, reveals an important development in the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive meta. The best teams in the world -- SK Gaming, Astralis and FaZe -- have been able to synthesize brain and brawn to express skill and use tactics. All three teams have similar roster compositions, which allow them to get away with this.

Combine superstar players like coldzera, dev1ce and Nikola "Niko" Kovac with powerful in-game leaders that can also provide fragging power and skilled supportive players and you get a versatile team that's both brain and brawn. The current era of Counter-Strike has proven that to be the best, a team must find a dedicated middle ground between the two.