M4 usage nears parity and other takeaways from BLAST Spring Groups

Take a dive into some of the key takeaways and interesting stats from the first top-level event of 2023.

The BLAST Premier Spring Groups marked a return to play for the world’s best teams following the winter tournament break, and offered us a first look at some of the new roster compositions coming into the new year. It was the proving ground for the return of Nicolai “⁠device⁠” Reedtz and addition of Christian “⁠Buzz⁠” Andersen to Astralis, debut of Daniil “⁠headtr1ck⁠” Valitov for Ninjas in Pyjamas, and marked the swap of Viktor “⁠sdy⁠” Orudzhev for Andrii “⁠npl⁠” Kukharskyi in Natus Vincere.

The event also offered a look at G2 and whether they would maintain their World Final-winning form coming into 2023 or end up on more shaky ground, but the European composition left no doubt as to their level coming out of the break after a dominant 6-0 run en route to qualifying for the Spring Final.

NiKo put on a masterclass in Denmark

It also was only the second top-tier event to feature Anubis and the updated M4A1-S, and with more time practicing following the patch and playing on the new map, there were significant shifts from the event that marked an end to 2022. Below, we take a look at how the disparity between the events compares, and highlight some of the notable performances and key takeaways from the first notable event of the new year.

Anubis dips in popularity

The inclination to play Anubis fell substantially from the World Final, with relatively few teams favoring the map despite almost all of the same teams from Abu Dhabi being in attendance at the Spring Groups. The new map ended up as the least-played in Denmark, falling from its status as tied for third-most played at the World Final, while Overpass had a serious resurgence from being played less than five percent of the time to nearly 20%.

The silencer resurges

The variance between the use of the M4A4 and M4A1-S nearly reached parity in Denmark, making it one of the few times the defensive rifle has not had a clearly-favored option. The first Big Event under the new patch, BLAST World Final, had marked a significant shift in favor of the unsilenced variant after the A1-S received nerfs to its damage drop-off at range in November —M4A1-S usage slid to 8.11% in Abu Dhabi and the M4A4 became the CT-side favorite, jumping up to 14.54%. In Denmark, the preferred rifle has again become the silenced variant, but less than a single percentage point separates it from the M4A4 (12.24% and 11.42%, respectively).

NiKo’s domination

On the actual gameplay side of things, Nikola “⁠NiKo⁠” Kovač blew the competition out of the water and was unstoppable in G2’s tournament run, posting absurd stats across the six maps he played. He began on shaky ground in map one against BIG, ending in the red, but recovered immediately with an immense 1.74-rated performance on map two, and carried that form into ensuing matches. The Bosnian superstar averaged 1.59 and 1.61 ratings in back-to-back series against NAVI, and was by far and away the best performer in the entire event; he finished atop seven different categories on the statistics leaderboard, and among the top five in three others.

Two categories on that list that help to showcase NiKo’s consistent, high-impact play in G2’s match wins were opening kills per round (0.20, 0.03 higher than #2) and kills per round (0.93, 0.08 higher than #2). He wasn’t sitting back and farming kills, and instead took the duel to his opponents — meetings which often ended in a swift headshot (0.53 per round) in favor of the Bosnian and repeatedly helped G2 establish advantages early into rounds.

Such was NiKo’s dominance that G2 romped through the tournament with a flawless record, an effort that was also aided by their — and NiKo’s — dominance in pistol rounds. The European combine won 10 of the 12 pistol rounds they played and successfully converted all of them for two rounds on the trot, and on the two occasions they lost the pistol, they won the ensuing force-buy to keep control firmly in their grasp. NiKo again was the difference-maker in many of these rounds, ending the six maps with a +18 K-D and 3.00 rating on pistol rounds alone.

NIP’s lacking pistols, Buzz’s growing pains

Ninjas in Pyjamas, conversely, fared substantially more poorly when it came to pistol rounds and their conversions. The team had won just four out of 16 pistol rounds heading into their last match against Astralis, and had only won the following round one time out of 12. They were able to improve that record after their last match against the Danes (8/22 pistols won), but still walked away with a series loss in the end — a result they can only discard and move forward from after fielding Max “⁠maxster⁠” Jansson as a last-minute and mid-tournament replacement for Hampus “⁠hampus⁠” Poser.

Other notable performances included that of Lotan “⁠Spinx⁠” Giladi, who had an immense return to form after falling off drastically since joining Vitality. The Israeli rifler was a phenom in the first half of 2022 with ENCE, and he finally showed flashes of that level in Denmark, ending the event as the fourth-highest rated player (1.32 rating).

device didn’t miss a beat upon his return to professional play and was immediately a star for Astralis, but the same can’t be said of newcomer Buzz, who didn’t quite hit the ground running. The youngster struggled in opening duels for much of the tournament, and Astralis themselves failed to convert many of those 4vs5 disadvantages into round wins. However, Buzz showed signs of improvement by the time the team’s final series against OG came around. He was pivotal in scoring a win on the series decider of Ancient, and so Astralis can walk away from the Spring Groups with the hope of furthering that uptick in form and improving upon their teamplay as they now turn their attention to ESL Pro League Season 17.

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