What's in a role? Examining CS:GO player functions and analysis

Adam "friberg" Friberg is the entry fragger for Ninjas in Pyjamas. Patrick-Strack / ESL

So what's a role, anyway?

We use roles in nearly all aspect of analysis of Counter-Strike. We've created an archetypal team consisting of a variety of roles. A player's performance, his ability relative to his peers, and how he fits on a team all rely on what his role is.

We know there's a quite a few of them: lurker, entry fragger, in-game leader, awper... and those are just the most common ones. We assign them to players, in an attempt to describe a function. For example, an entry fragger bursts first out of safety and into a location, and an awper uses the AWP sniper rifle when it's available.

It's worthy of asking whether or not we take this matter of roles for granted. Diving into its origin, we'll discover it's ability as a tool of analysis, but also its limitations. The overarching question: have we overreached our knowledge by weighing so heavily on roles in our analysis of both teams and players?

The origin story

If we want to criticize our assumptions about roles, we need to discern how we ended up seeing a team as a combination of them in the first place.

It seems that a role is recognized by a pattern of noticeable behaviour. It's pretty easy to see that that Adam "friberg" Friberg's team has voluntarily assigned him as the one who enters first on a site. We give it a name: entry fragger. Once we recognize a function, we label the player as such.

  • An awper uses the AWP whenever it's possible

  • The in-game leader makes the majority of in-game decisions.

  • The lurker stays back when his team attacks a site.

  • The second-entry kills those who kill the entry-fragger.

  • The support player is the one who helps others in the game to his own detriment.

After we establish a function we recognize that most teams have a dedicated entry-fragger (or awper, etc...) So we determine that teams have entry fraggers. By shifting the label from a single or a handful of players onto teams generally, we change the nature of the function; it is now not a style, something some players do like play aggressively, but a role, something done by all well-constructed teams.

And those roles carry tangible weight. When discussing Cloud 9 roster changes, we only think of replacing Tyler "Skadoodle" Latham with another awper, because a team without that role seems to be at a significant disadvantage.

Compiling these roles, we develop a model for a team's structure. In your team, you have an in-game leader, an awper, an entry-fragger, a lurker, a support and a second-entry. Yep, that's six players. In order to fit each role we commonly use into a team, you'll need to load up Overwatch.

The flawed conception of roles

The assumption so frequently made is that once we recognize function, we assume it encompasses the entirety of a player's role. If friberg is an entry-fragger, we'll all too often stop our analysis at that. That's like saying the Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby is a great passer, and just that. Of course players serve multiple functions at different points in the round, on different sides, and so on. Crosby passes but he's also the go-to for an offensive zone rush due to his fast skating. He also shoots, particularly wrist shots from the point. He does a lot of things, and while describing him as a "passer" may be accurate, it only describe one of the many functions he plays on his team.

The best example is Heroic. In an episode of Reflections, the in-game leader Marco "Snappi" Pfeiffer claims that when they had Valdemar "valde" Bjørn, Heroic had two lurkers, and two entry-fraggers. How's that possible?

"The conclusion drawn from this example is that players serve a multiplicity of functions, not only within the game, but within a single round."

Well, on T side valde would lurk towards one site and Andreas "MODDII" Fridh would lurk to the other. The cluster of three would hover in between, gaining map control or playing defaults, in hopes of getting a read as to what site was weakest. Then, once the choice was made, Heroic would pounce onto the site, and the player who's assigned site was chosen would entry for the team. If Valde was lurking at A and snappi called to attack it, Valde would become the entry-fragger, and MODDII the lurker, and vice-versa if they chose B.

The conclusion drawn from this example is that players serve a multiplicity of functions, not only within the game, but within a single round. That means that our analysis needs to push further, and discover the variety of roles fulfilled by each player.

This distinction is particularly important when it comes to evaluating players. Too often do we confuse a player's role for his ability.

If a player's role is his function, then his ability is the skillset he brings to be table. A player's ability is flexible, and can be considered within different contexts. A player may have a very high ability as a lurker, as he has great movement and can move around unnoticed. He may conversely have a very poor skillset for entry-fragging, as his first-bullet aim is subpar.

All too often, we'll put the cart before the horse and assume a player's skillset fits the role he plays. If a player is like valde is considered a lurker, then it's presumed that he must fit into a team which is in need of lurking. First, the malleability of roles previously described is ignored, as he does in fact entry-frag. Second and most importantly, it is not his current role as much as his skillset that determines the success he would have in another position. Perhaps valde, since he isn't an excellent aimer, would struggle as a dedicated entry-fragger. But another player, Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye, morphed excellently into the role of an entry-fragger on Astralis, in large part because of his incredible flicking aim.

As these examples show us, a player shouldn't be reduced to a single role, and the role itself has many styles. Both these factors are essential in our considerations of player evaluations, and are all too often sorely missed. If I say Kristian "k0nfig" Wienecke is a good replacement for Kjaerbye, I shouldn't be dismissed because k0nfig is currently a lurker and Kjaerbye plays more of an entry role. Rather, it should be the skills he has and the ability he has to serve those functions Kjaerbye serves, that both bring about my assessment and your opposition.