Time dimensions of decision-making in CS:GO
Days, Hours, Minutes, Seconds, Split-seconds.
What this is about.
UPDATE: This video shows exactly what I will be discussing in this article, featuring VP Snax @ Dreamhack Las Vegas in the Grand Finals.
The following is more a collection of observations I made over the years watching and playing CS:GO rather than being based on scientific or applied research. I also do not have pro experience myself. That being said, take my opinions and ‘findings’ with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, I do hope that you can take something away from this.
So let’s get started.
If you’ve studied business before or have listened to a business related talk you will most likely have come across some incredibly insightful quote such as:
In business, you have to make decisions all the time.
And its true, there is no denying that. Even if you are only in charge of a small team you will have to make decisions all the time. Do you celebrate every achievement with a break or do you move onto the next task right away? Is it time to move into a new market or continue growing in your existing ones? Outsource data analysis or do it in-house? Delegate more work to the intern or do it yourself? Some of these decisions have macro implications (moving into a new market) and others have micro implications (taking a break or not).
I wanted to find out what kind of macro and micro decisions teams and individual players in CS:GO have to make in their careers. I wanted to understand the differences in performances of teams which appear to be stacked with equally talented players.
The last ELeague Major featured some incredible new map strategies, rather questionable money/eco-management and amazing comebacks from the world’s greatest teams. The Final between Astralis and Virtus Pro is a good summary.
Breaking down “all the time”.
Days, hours, minutes, seconds, split-seconds.
Day decisions are those decisions that teams make months, weeks and days in advance of specific events and matches. I call them day decisions because teams usually have a minimum of 1 day to make them. The further the match day is away the more macro oriented the decision will be. What will our line-up be? What maps are we focusing on? Who do we scrim the most? These decisions are often made by coaches together with the rest of the team, and they are based on almost complete information. What I mean by that is that, even though the amount of information that can actually be gathered by a team may be lower than expected (i.e. availability of demos, scrim data, HLTV statistics), there is still enough time for the team to process it all. As we will see later on, the data and information overflow during matches is so overwhelming that only a small amount can be processed by individual players thus making information incomplete at the point of decision-making.
Most important input: Demos and scrims.
Available information: COMPLETE — x— — — — — — INCOMPLETE
Level of Strategic Impact: MACRO — x — — — — — — MICRO
Hour decisions are very common in business, and in CS:GO they are inherently more micro oriented than day decisions. Usually teams will make these decisions shortly before or in-between tournament matches. Hour decisions therefore also require more advanced skills in quickly analysing macro and micro strategies of opponents. Did our opponent show any new tactics to other teams? Do we continue with our strategy or pivot?
Most important input: Coach/player observations.
Available information: COMPLETE — — —x — — — — INCOMPLETE
Level of Strategic Impact: MACRO — — x— — — — — MICRO
Minute decisions in business are usually smaller-scale, less impactful decisions where outcomes may be reversible. In CS:GO, these decisions have a much greater impact on the outcome of the game. The most obvious minute decisions are made during tactical pauses which usually last about 1 minute (including spawn-time etc.). In most recent times, SK Gaming’s in-game leader Fallen has shown impeccable usage of tactical pauses at the right times to turn matches around for his team.
Other than tactical pauses you will sometimes see teams go for an eco round and stay in spawn as Ts just to talk through the next rounds without using an official timeout. Things that might be discussed include: What does our opponent’s team cohesion look like? Who is the weak link on the map? What does their money management/eco management look like? Do they over-rotate?
Minute decisions are the first ones in this model that require in-game leaders with sophisticated soft-skills that reach beyond their in-game know-how. Interestingly, the tactical masterminds of a team are not necessarily natural born team leaders and thus you will sometimes see others in the team emerge as natural leaders.
Most important input: Tactical in-game leaders and natural leaders.
Available information: COMPLETE — — — —x — — — INCOMPLETE
Level of Strategic Impact: MACRO — — — x— — — — MICRO
Second decisions in business are highly dependent on the profession in question. Stock brokers and sales people will come across these more often than accountants. In CS:GO, players and teams have to analyse all available information and weigh off the benefits against potential risks within seconds. All the time. These are the decisions in-between rounds and sometimes within rounds concerning issues such as money management, execution of defence/offence strategies, and leadership calls that affect mostly micro strategies. When do I flash my teammate in? Do I rotate now and gamble that they rush A? Should we do an instant or delayed push? Do I need to check all corners with only x seconds left? Plant the bomb or go for the 1v1?
Most important input: Player’s and in-game leader’s experience.
Available information: COMPLETE — — — — — x— — INCOMPLETE
Level of Strategic Impact: MACRO — — — — —x — — MICRO
Split-second decisions are the bread and butter of CS:GO. The α and the Ω. Interestingly, in business these kind of decisions are most prevalent in certain professions such as stock brokers or when directly dealing with other people. HR managers and leaders that care about their employees will come across these decisions more so than, say, the sole trader of a laundry business. Split-second decisons require emotional intelligence and refined soft skills to be able to interpret the behaviour and expressions of others.
In CS:GO, other than the day, hour, minute, and second decisions the split-second decisions are made almost exclusively by the individual player. Its all about holding angles, deciding when to peak and when to hide, when to rotate, when to use utility, when to spray and when to tap. Unfortunately, most of these decisions are made in extremely stressful and often round/game-deciding situations with a minimum of information at hand. Rather than relying on previously watched demos or coaches’ opinions it is now all about the player’s game sense and individual experience. Game sense is more or less the gaming equivalent to gut decision-making in business. Something tells you its right to make this decision, but its not likely to be based on any hard evidence. Mental training and coaching can help players make the right decisions by preparing them for these stressful situations.
Most important input: Individual player’s experiences.
Available information: COMPLETE — — — — — — x— INCOMPLETE
Level of Strategic Impact: MACRO — — — — — — x — MICRO
- Everyone makes decisions all the time. (Wow.)
- As the point of decision-making draws closer, less information can be processed while the outcome of the decision becomes more significant.
- No matter how well teams prepare, in the end it always comes down to split-second decision making of individual players.
- “Timing” is a mixture of skill, game sense (experience) and luck.
- Game sense is the gaming equivalent of gut decision making in business.
- Experience and mental coaching can help players stay calm in stressful situations and improve decision-making.
Some info about me
Counter Strike was the first FPS multiplayer game that really immersed me because of its competitive nature — but I don’t have pro play experience myself. I’ve played in amateur leagues during CS:Source days, and I helped coach and run smaller semi-pro Source and CS:GO teams. These days my interest in esports is more diverse. I still love watching and playing CS:GO, League of Legends, Overwatch, Hearthstone, PUBG and other games— but after completing my studies (B.A. Management; MSc Entrepreneurship and Innovation) I am now much more interested in developing and shaping the larger esports industry.