While teams had often had a sixth man standing behind them to motivate and encourage players, the concept of coaching was not instantly adopted in Counter-Strike. Their role in traditional sports is support, whether it be in-game or out-of-game, as well as developing tactics. In Counter-Strike, professional coaching took time to take off. In the modern game, their role has become very important. Teams like Liquid, coached by Wilton “zews” Prado, owe a lot of their success to their coaches.
The Good Old Days
The first widely known Counter-Strike team to use a proper coach was NiP, who bought Faruk “pita” Pita from SK Gaming going into autumn 2014. They initially hired him as they were struggling ahead of the ESL One Cologne 2014 Major. With the help of pita, NiP won their first ever Major, at least in part proving how important coaches are.
The role of the coach has changed over the years though. Back in 2015 and early 2016, traditional in-game leaders began to make way for new talents on their teams. They would then become the coach, leading behind the players. This gradually became the fashion. Teams such as mousesports, who replaced veteran leader Fatih “gob b” Dayik with young rifler Timo “Spiidi” Richter, and NaVi, who replaced Danylo “Zeus” Teslyenko with Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev, were amongst those who joined the trend. It soon became the case that most teams joined in; after all, why not replace a poorly performing and now pointless in-game leader with a star rifler?
Valve hated this trend, so to the shock of everybody in the scene, clamped down. In August 2016, the publisher announced new, strict coaching rules. While coaches used to have unrestricted speech mid-game, that was now limited to “warmup, half-time and one of four 30-second timeouts”. Valve defended themselves, giving reasoning for the rule, saying “We intend the Majors and Minors to be events that can be won by any team of 5 players that demonstrate excellence in all skills of CS”. There was not one notable figure within the scene who quickly jumped to defend Valve. After all, the traditional rules allowed more new talent to shine and teams to play flashier Counter-Strike. Regardless, the move came just a few short months before the ELEAGUE Major Atlanta. The ruling almost definitely had an impact. For example, NiP were eliminated in a shocking affair to Vega Squadron. Their coach Bjrn “THREAT” Pers had been leading, but due to the ruling Richard “Xizt” Landstrom took the reins. Ensuingly, the Swedes were annihilated 16-2. The winner of the tournament was Astralis, a team captained by Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander. He had been leading Astralis for a decent amount of time as a player. Indeed, this is not a coincidence.
The Present Day
By 2018, teams have easily assimilated to the new rules. Veteran leaders like Zeus have returned to top-tier Counter-Strike, and gla1ve of Astralis is setting the standard globally. In the modern game though, the main difference is how coaches have become almost necessary. TyLoo, at #20, is the highest HLTV-ranked team without a coach, although they have recently announced their impending search for one. Most teams from the top to the bottom of the Counter-Strike scene favour employing a coach, and it is uncommon that coaches do not work out; albeit not impossible.
Large organisations have invested in excellent out-of-game support for players. Players have psychiatrists, fitness coaches and more at their disposal. At the centre of the support staff lies the coach. Using Astralis as an example, coach Danny “zonic” Sorensen is absolutely key to their game. Their free-flowing, dynamic style largely stems from zonic himself. Back in 1.6, his team mTw.dk were the first team to adopt this kind of style, under his leadership. No other team could match their in-game swagger. He has brought that to Astralis in 2018, who have expanded his tactics to forge a new way of playing Counter-Strike.
What is the Future of Coaching?
With influential coaches like zonic building fresh tactical styles within Counter-Strike teams, the effects of Valve’s ruling are now minimal. In all honesty, a significant amendment, or a complete reversal, on the coaching rules would have a slow impact on Counter-Strike. Top teams pride themselves on their leaders, gla1ve and Zeus of Astralis and NaVi as the prime examples. They will not be leaving their teams any time soon, especially gla1ve considering his success, even in the event of a reversal. Coaches are just as much player managers, keeping players close and solving any disputes, as they are in-game managers. Their role is very important becoming more so in the fact of how vital they are for teams. All in all, coaches are important in the modern-day scene, and should their role be freed-up, it is doubtful many teams will flock to the changes.