Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth is justifiably hailed as the best Support player in the world and, at this point, probably history. Whenever Astralis lifts another trophy, which seems to happen every few weeks now, experts and fans alike recount impressive clutch round victories for the Dane and opine on how much value he brings to Astralis and how less likely their victory would have been without his contributions.
At this point, it is almost a cliche to call him an “under-rated” player, to the extent that it’s possible he now gets over-rated, due to how frequently the aforementioned sentiment is raised and with such emphasis. When considering his place in Astralis and overall value addition, it’s necessary to ask what Xyp9x gains from his place in that black and red jersey.
Gravy on the meat and potatoes
As implied, but not explicitly stated, in the characterisation of Xyp9x’s clutch round victories, scenarios which statistically the majority of players are on average unlikely to win, as so vital for Astralis’s overall success, they are the primary visible and memorable contribution of Xyp9x to his team. Look around the world and even among the very best teams in Counter-Strike it is difficult to find players of a similar calibre in such scenarios, especially coming from the Support position, typically a low fragging and less visibly impactful role.
The other side of that equation, though, is that Xyp9x is not expected to put as many frags upon the board. His core job in many situations is providing a stability and consistency that enables others to make plays and seek information on the map. In this respect he ends up as more of a facilitator, naturally overlooked as the outcome of performing such a role to a high degree may be invisible, as a specific duel taking place may not be noticed as being a result of his play and responsibility within the team.
Certainly, Xyp9x’s fragging in 2018 was exceptional, for someone in his role and lower on the pecking order of top talents in his team. Nonetheless, Xyp9x would not be ushered out of the nearest door if he had fragged 15% less. In 2018, it is harder to over-rate Xyp9x’s game thanks to that fragging contribution on top of his rare talent for Support play and clutch round wins. In past years, 2017 for example, have we not heard similar statements about his tremendous value and essential value to the team? Even without these gaudy numbers for a supportive element.
Easiest way to make a hard living
Winning those clutch round scenarios, whether they be standard 1v1s or spectacular and decisive 1v3s and 1v4s, Xyp9x benefits uniquely from being a member of Astralis, with these specific team-mates and this structure, even as he provides tremendous value to the team. As an abstract concept, is it not conceivably easier to win in such scenarios or more consistently find success when the opponents one is facing have been identified and their positions called out to a high degree of competence?
Astralis are hailed as one of the teams with the best communications, visible in how uncannily they play off each other on the CT side and attack in a coordinated manner as Ts. Astralis features three players Xyp9x has played with for more than two years and two of them, device and dupreeh, have legitimately been with him for the better part of nearing six years. Few players in all of CS:GO can make such a boast and even fewer are famously strong clutch round players and currently playing at a world class level.
All communications and clutches are not created equal, as mentally imagining the internal communications of mousesports or FaZe Clan, with players who don’t even come from the same countries or even regions, in some cases, attempt to utilise a second or third language to explain where an opponent is, his health and where he is heading. When contrasted in that manner, Xyp9x’s advantages begin to surface.
Even moreso when FaZe and mouz are not simply selected as extremes, being as they each feature players from entirely different countries. Consider that during 2018 other teams in the top five of the world rankings included Team Liquid, who had Brazilian player TACO speaking in a non-native tongue; and MiBR, who were forced to have coldzera, fer and FalleN communicate in English to cater to Stewie and tarik. The only elite level team over 2018 communicating in their primary language was Na`Vi, ignoring the comparably mild differences between Russian and Ukrainian.
In the top 10, at times, we also saw BIG, whose native German might have been a boon for players like tabseN in a similar fashion, but had to be eschewed for smooya’s native English. Clearly, 2018 was a year with communication difficulties at their highest, compared to past years, where it was standard for all five players in a line-up to be natives of the same country.
One vs. a naked half
Astralis’ dominance over 2018 and level of excellence as a team can also be seen in the numbers across the board. Even Xyp9x and IGL gla1ve, both playing roles which typically do not frag close to the level of the better players in the game, were at times matching some of the world’s best and playing as quality fraggers themselves. If we can comfortably acknowledge that Xyp9x has one of the best teams, man for man, at fragging the opponent, in actuality and not hypothetically – as is the case with line-ups like NiP and MiBR – then it is hardly egregious to speculate that as well as often having better information to make his decisions from, Xyp9x is likely often facing opponents already damaged by his team-mates.
It should not require much argumentation to suggest that an already great clutch round player will win more clutches when his opponents are at lower health values than they might otherwise be, by and large.
Astralis’ incredible defensive setups, at times seemingly impenetrable and thus leading to so many victories without opponents reaching double digits – even on their own map picks – and their superlative utility usage, which typically topped out stats metrics for it and by large margins, provides additional damage to opponents, blind them, block them off with smoke and even draw utility from them which they otherwise might have been able to use in a clutch round scenario. Great clutch round players know the incredible value a flash or smoke can have in the right hands.
With so many players staying alive in rounds, as was seemingly common for Astralis, there are also more defuse kits being bought and saved, thus meaning more situations from which to be granted a few extra seconds of play in a clutch scenario. These are not advantages every great clutch round player can enjoy. Indeed, one could argue Xyp9x is in a very small and unique minority in the circumstances surrounding his own excellent play.
Why are you still here?
I’ve often observed that the concept of the Support role seems to have especially been resisted within the North American region, on the whole. As such, even the players modelled as such are often expected to frag at a high or at least respectable level. Frequently such players, whether TACO or FugLy, are suggested first when fans, sometimes even of their teams, suggest potential roster moves to improve their teams.
I imagine players like Xyp9x and KRiMZ either wouldn’t have broken through to the top tier in North America or would have been moulded into much different players, role-wise. One could conceive of Xyp9x, who was known for a strong AK and much more fragging in his FNATIC days, ending up closer to a valde in the North line-up of late 2017 – one of the better players in the team but not necessarily the best and, again, appreciated primarily for his smarts, stable play and ability in clutch round scenarios.
Even in Europe, we’ve seen the likes of STYKO ousted from otherwise successful teams, in the context of their personnel and resources, all in pursuit of greater fire-power and play-making ability. One could argue that Xyp9x would not even be on another elite team, assuming a similar sentiment had been prevalent in the past in his potential destinations. Indeed, this actually applies to the Astralis core, as Xyp9x was close to being removed in the middle of 2015, only to be spurred on by such rumours and elevate his play, helping TSM, as Astralis was then called, to become the number two ranked team in the game and win titles again.
Favour for a favour
Clearly, Xyp9x has earned his crown as the king of clutches and is worthy of much praise sent in his direction. All the same, the Dane clearly benefits not just from playing in the best team in the world, but more specifically this exact team and with its own unique and impressive benefits. Would Astralis be as successful without Xyp9x and his clutches? Almost certainly not. But would Xyp9x be as successful in clutches without playing on this Astralis line-up? That also seems less likely. You can weigh up the difference for yourself, for that is another discussion entirely.