At ESL Cologne 2018, smooya fired his way into the public consciousness as he became the first player from the UK to reach the final of a premier international tournament. At the age of 19, and with his future firmly in front of him, could we be seeing the birth of a UK superstar?
Prior to adding smooya to the roster in April 2018, BIG seemed to be missing something. After a lacklustre group stage exit at the Boston major in January, the team floundered. They found themselves rarely qualifying for offline events, often losing to much less experienced teams in online qualification. Their style of play wasn’t particularly dynamic and, to be brief, most opponents had their number. The addition of smooya added some much needed flair to the line-up and, perhaps more importantly, gave veteran tactician gob b a talented new tool to work with.
Smooya employs an aggressive style of AWPing, taking riskier peeks early into the round which allows him to scout more information and secure more kills than his conservative counterparts. This led to him picking up 69 opening kills across ESL Cologne; which breaks down as 27% of his squads opening frags, the highest on the team. His high proportion of opening kills proved vital as his team was frequently able to use their man advantage to take complete control of the map.
Many AWPers prefer to stay in certain spots and hold the most efficient angles. It is style which can be very effective for some teams, but there is a downside. This rigidity often leads to the enemy team knowing where an AWPer is standing before they see them so can more easily take that player out of the game. Smooya plays much more mobile role within BIG, he frequently changes positions and catches his opposition off guard. It is this approach which lead to his much talked about jumping headshot against G2 as well as a number of memorable multi-kills and clutches. BIG have frequently lacked the x-factor which smooya provides and the team have looked much stronger since signing the young Yorkshireman. However, this style can have drawbacks.
While smooya’s aggression served his team in well Cologne, one wonders what will happen now that other teams have a better understanding of his approach to the game. If his opponents know his habits, they are better placed to counter his movements and force him to play in a more conventional fashion. This could cost his team dearly as he seems to struggle in head to head situations against top caliber players. In Germany, we saw him struggle against veteran AWPers, such as FalleN and Guardian, as well as less experienced counterparts, such as Nifty.
The AWP is a weapon which smooya seems to be heavily reliant on, more so than similar players on other teams. Across the tournament, 59% of his kills came from using the AWP while only 15% came using an AK or M4. By contrast, legendary mibr AWPer FalleN had 40% of his using his preferred gun and 27% from an AK or M4. There are two main drawbacks to a heavy reliance on sniping. Firstly, it’s a big investment. The AWP is an expensive weapon and, should you buy one and fail to have an impact, it will harm your teams economy drastically.
Perhaps less obvious is the impact smooya’s sniper heavy style is having on BIG’s T side. Regardless of his fast paced play, the AWP is a defensive weapon by design. It’s ideal for a holding a position and defending a chokepoint. It’s not ideal for when you’re running onto a bomb site when you’re uncertain where your enemies are. As a result, if smooya keeps using an AWP on T side, it’s going to make it hard for his team to win rounds because it’s not always the best weapon for the job. A lost AWP round will, in turn, lead to a weaker economy, which will lead to saves and half buys, and will make it difficult to pick up victories against top teams. In the final, BIG managed to win only 38% of their T side wins, while NaVi won 53% of theirs. BIG weren’t blown out of the water, a few more wins on T side and they may have been able to better control their economy and take the series.
Smooya seems to be fully aware of the attitude problems which has historically held back UK CS; in-fighting, a poor attitude to practice and bad relationships between players makes it difficult for youngsters to flourish. The issue is that he was moulded by that negative attitude and, in many ways, smooya is symptomatic of UK CS.
When he burst on the scene, he was passed around teams like a hot potato. Eventually he settled in Epsilon, before being dropped and calling out his team on twitter. Later, he was picked up by BIG, a decisions which was questioned by some pundits. This led to him taking potshots at online personalities and analysts. While passion can be good, his behaviour could indicate that he may be a difficult character for his teammates to work with, something which could harm his career going forward.
While he’s not a prodigy in the vein of S1mple or NiKo, smooya is a young player who shows a lot of promise and could carve a space for himself on an international team. However, in order to do that, he needs to work on his consistency and he needs to work on his conduct. His move to Germany shows a real intent to commit to the game, but as the saying goes, you can take the boy out of the UK. Can you take the UK out of the boy?