Hello, all! This is my first guide here, but I strongly believe it can help you improve, and win more matches by challenging you to think about the game in a new, different way. Before we begin, let’s talk about exactly what it means to play an exploitative style, and what it means to play optimally. There are going to be lots of examples which I think many of you will find useful, so bear with me.
Playing optimally can be described as making a series of decisions that have high expected value (ev). If you and your team play a match in which you are all making moves that are +ev, and not -ev, there is a very high chance you will decisively win the match.
What does it mean to make a play that has good expected value (+ev)? Lets check out an example. You’re on T-side, Cache. You’re in B Main with your teammates about to take the site. A common way to take site is to have one teammate smoke off Tree Room, one smoke at Heaven, and one teammate flashbang Bombsite B from Sun Room. These extra precautions your team is taking gives this B take a higher ev. More often than not, your team will successfully take site. If your team just tried to rush in, no nades, and attempted to take site, this would be considered a -ev play. You have very little chance of successfully taking site against two competent CTs who know how to play B on Cache. We can expect to lose rounds more often when we make choices in-game that are -ev.
It is important to understand that just because a decision you/your team makes is +ev, that it’s not always going to work out. You can smoke off CTs and flash them, but that doesn’t guarantee that your team will take site- it may not work, and you may all die. The same applies to -ev. Just because we aren’t smoking off angles and making other bad decisions doesn’t mean we will lose the round 100% of the time. We may get lucky and win. However, if we make +ev decisions more often than -ev decisions, we can expect our win-rate to be higher in the long run. Next time you’re considering making a play that you’re unsure about, ask yourself: “Is this +ev, or -ev?” This will help you stray from making decisions like rushing mid where an AWP has been previously, lurking a site by yourself when you have died previously doing the same thing, or even buying when your team’s economy constitutes a save round. Less poor decision-making, more +ev plays = more wins.
Playing exploitative simply means you’re identifying mistakes that the opposing team is making, and countering them. A great example would be if you’re on Inferno, playing T-side. Your team keeps getting flanked at banana very quickly by CTs who pushed out of A and came down mid. You can counter this, exploit this, by doing many things. You can have an AWP watching mid from T stairs, for example. If they’re pushing through apartments, you can have a rifler sit at the T entrance of apts, and wait for the CTs to rush him for easy kills and an easy A take.
Another example of exploitative play would be to force buy. It is not optimal (+ev) to force buy. Your team likely won’t have full equipment in a force round, and further, if you lose, you’re fucked. However, just because force buying is -ev doesn’t make it the wrong decision all of the time. Let’s say you’ve determined something about the other team’s economy, like if they lose this upcoming round, they’ll be broke. Or let’s say you feel that your team can’t afford to lose any more rounds, so as a ‘last stand’ you all decide to force buy. This is perfectly fine.
Optimal vs. Exploitative
Sometimes, taking the exploitative route in a match is the better choice, despite the play not being +ev. Take the rifler sitting outside of T-side apts back in the first example in the section above. This is not a +ev play. Playing optimally, a rifler would be best utilized elsewhere other than camping outside of apts. And assuming the CTs are playing optimally, they would rarely push into apts, but instead wait for you, because that’s +ev for them. But since your team knows that the CTs are constantly pushing through apts, it makes sitting outside of apts waiting a perfect play to make.
You may be asking, “When do I know to play optimally, and when do I know to play exploitative?” This is a tough question to answer, because the answer is not so simple. However, we can use logic to determine when we will be playing exploitative more and less often.
Consider the Silver ranks. The player pool that has Silver rankings are making mistakes more often than their higher-ranked counterparts. Because lower ranks are making more mistakes, we can safely assume that playing exploitative more often than usual will work out in our favor. Playing exploitative depends on the other team making mistakes. In Global Elite or other high ranks, players make little to no mistakes. Because of this, we should rarely deviate from optimal play, because there is nothing to exploit.
This is why I feel the fastest way to get out of Silver, and Gold for that matter, is to quickly identify what mistakes the other team is making, and identifying what your team can do to counter this. More often than not, the other team (and probably yours!) will be making countless plays that are -ev at these ranks. “But if my team makes more +ev decisions, why does it matter if they’re playing -ev? Won’t we win anyway?” Yes, a lot of the time! But you won’t be capitalizing on the other team’s mistakes, which can lead to huge errors such as being trapped at Banana in between the CTs at Bombsite B and the pushers from A. In any competition anywhere, people are trying to get an edge over their opponents, or capitalize on their mistakes. A basketball team will pass more to a person being covered by a weak defender. An American football team may run the ball more than usual if they know the defense has a history of being weak against rushes. We can apply the same thing to Counter-Strike by playing off of our opponents mistakes, playing exploitative.
A good baseline strategy is to plan to play optimally until you see a hole in the opposing team. This will ensure that you are making +ev decisions until it is determined that a mistake the other team is making is big enough to be exploited. Be sure to pay attention to what your teammates are saying they are seeing the other team do. Then it’s your job to determine what you should do to counter the mistake they’re making.
– We can expect to win more rounds by making decisions with high expected value
– We can expect to lose more rounds by making decisions with low expected value
– We should deviate from optimal play and play exploitative when the other team is making mistakes that we can counter
– Exploitative play is especially useful at lower ranks since mistakes will be made more often at lower ranks.
– A successful CS:GO player balances optimal play and exploitative play.
I hope you all enjoyed reading and found these concepts as interesting as I do! Good luck out there. Let me know if this was helpful! I’m thinking about doing more of these if people find this useful at all.