Why Is The Bench So Underutilized in CS:GO?

Mike "Ragamuffin" Ciavarella April 19th 2017 9:52 PM

The answers might not surprise you, but it’s time for players and organizations alike to stop being myopic and to start seeing the bigger picture.

I like to use comparisons to professional sports in my articles because I think the natural progression of ESports is to become more similar to professional sports, in time. This article is no exception.

Basketball is similar to Counter-Strike in many aspects. Both games are played with only 5 active players per team. The positions match up nicely – point guards are basically in-game leaders, there are 2 forwards or entry-fraggers that take the main shots, and AWPers can anchor the defense in the same way centers do. Each game even has a coach that can call timeouts and outline plays to run. But there is one key element of basketball that Counter-Strike is sorely lacking, and that is substitutions. When a star player is having an off day, innumerable basketball games have been turned around by young, energetic players or veteran role players coming off the bench to support the rest of the team. The NBA even has a prestigious honor, the Sixth Man of the Year Award, for the best player primarily used as a substitute during a season.

CS:GO, on the other hand, has always had teams of only 5 players at its highest levels. Very few teams have a bench player, and in those cases, it is a benched player – in other words, someone playing very poorly but who still happens to be under contract with his organization. In this scenario, the player is relegated to the bench and not included in team activities until his contract expires or another team buys it out. There are a few reasons why this happens. The first is that it obviously costs more money for an organization to have a bench. To have even one extra person on the team means an additional salary to pay, room and board to provide, and travel to accommodate. With more and more large companies and sports franchises investing into ESports as a good financial decision, there may be a greater focus on the bottom-line, which means non-essential assets to a team may be cut out even more. Another issue with a bench is the fact that majors currently only allow 6 players to be registered per team – 5 main players and a coach/reserve player. Any team, when forced to choose, would rather have a not-so-skilled coach than a role-playing 6th man (and rightfully so, in my opinion), so the options and versatility of a bench are limited.

Even working within the current rules’ limitations, however, there are still many unutilized applications for this bench player/coach. Similar to what happens in other sports, the reserve player should be willing and able to play when a main player is having an off day or is sick or otherwise unable to play. Often times a new 5th will give different strengths to a team, make strategies more unpredictable, and help confuse the opponents who prepared for a different player.  Some might note that this has been done before, notably on Team3D back when ShaGuar and KSharp would share AWPing duties and Dominator would sometimes come out as the 6th man. Also note that this does not involve much more preparation on the coach’s part. Most coaches were at one point professional players themselves, so it is not a stretch for them to play a map every now and then. Even mastering just one map can make a huge difference in a team's map-picking metagame. This scenario has already paid dividends for one team: when THREAT had to take pyth’s place at the MLG Major, NiP arguably advanced further in the tournament than experts predicted them to 1.

THREAT has already shown what an impact a coach can have in-game

Coaches should not only be prepared to go in, but also not be reluctant to sub out an underperforming player in the middle of a group stage, for the reasons outlined above. However, a problem does arise when you have the coach intentionally removing a player from a lineup to put himself in – it creates a power dynamic that the now-benched player may not take too kindly to. This is why I’m proposing the following rule changes:

  1. Allow teams to have a designated coach as well as 1 benched player.In addition to allowing substitutions between maps, also allow substitutions during a map.
  2. Players can be swapped at halftime or during a timeout taken by the team. The player coming in takes the money and inventory of the player subbing out.
  3. Some kind of restriction or penalty on subbing, such as only 1 sub per half, a set number of rounds between subs, or a money penalty for subbing more than once each half. This would have to be experimented with, and ultimately may not be necessary.

Allowing substitutions mid-map would give even greater strength and flexibility to a team’s strategies. This player can practice very specific actions within strat executions that will help his team gain an advantage. For example, if all a reserve player practices is getting entry frags in one or a few certain bombsites, thereby giving his team a higher chance of planting the bomb when attacking those sites, he can dramatically impact the outcome of that map. We may even see the development of role players. Some examples include: players that are particularly good on pistol rounds, players very skilled at a certain map, and players that are exceptional on defense. This rule change would give greater value to players with these niche skills. Another great facet of substitutions is that younger players who are currently in the semi-pro zone can get exposed to professional Counter-Strike in small doses. We often see inexperienced players who get picked up by popular teams crash and burn in the big leagues. Often times, the jump in skill is just too high to adjust to in a short period of time. By giving these players with huge potential simple tasks in game (i.e. sub in for this strat, throw this nade, peek this corner, then sub out), they become acclimated to the difficulty level more gradually and are able to get some experience against other pros without immediately being labelled a failure after one bad tournament. This would sync up well with the academy systems that some teams already have – rotate academy players to shift up to the main team and help the organization in lesser leagues and tournaments.

We can also speculate as to what would happen if and when the bench grew in size (as organizations generated more capital and were able to pay for these additional players). At 2 or 3 reserve players, teams wouldn’t have to choose between bringing up a young aimer and calling in a journeyman pistoleer. They could have both, with a slot to spare, greatly diversifying the composition of the team. At a bench 4 to 5 deep, teams’ map pools start to increase. Now, not only can a team play all 7 maps, but Valve could conceivably increase the map list by 2 and still expect teams to have some degree of coverage on most, if not all of the maps. These rule changes would open the door to so much variety and exciting unpredictability in matches and so many possibilities for current pro outsiders – but in a world that has thus far been strictly defined as 5v5, we have to start small. Teams should encourage their coaches to train in key areas of improvement for the team and sub him in for a map to see if the tactic is successful. The validation and recognition of even a single player bench as a weapon could cause a huge paradigm shift in CS:GO as we know it.

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About Me

Ragamuffin is a Counter-Strike expert who has been following the competitive CS scene since 2004. He has a passion for competitive CS:GO and a severe inability to play it. He is also a computer engineer by day.

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