Written by: Duncan Shields
HellRaisers came into the ELEAGUE Major Qualifier as a team with some upset potential, but one few had qualifying, especially ahead of names like NiP, IMT and C9. The Eastern European team has defied the narrative of star oskar leaving, and looked revitalized in their successful run to the major.
A different level of hell
The HellRaisers name will likely always be associated with the CIS core, which played for the organization until the latter part of 2015. Once the basis of the infamous Virtus.pro which first ended NiP's unbeaten streak offline, HR, as a squad settled in 2014 and 2015 into a role as upset specialists. With good aiming talent in spite of a disjointed playing style and role balance, the team kept a consistent core scoring the occasional big upset, but famously failed repeatedly to make deep runs at big tournaments or challenge for notable titles.
The only player remaining from that era is ANGE1, as the other names departed for Gambit and other teams. Being as ANGE1 was never one of the stars of the old squad, the departure of the others has seen HellRaisers drastically change the complexion of the team with their new additions. The evolution of the squad saw them bringing in oskar, the fantastically talented Czech player, and in time, bringing in Slovakians to play alongside him, marking the squad as something closer to the Czech's past teams than any of the past HR cores.
Overcoming oskar's omission
With oskar in the lineup, HR became a solid tier two team and were the platform from which the Czech star launched his CS:GO career, showing off impressive ability with both the rifles and the AWP. Carrying the team against better opposition, many awaited the time he would get his chance to move on to a better team. That opportunity came as he signed with mousesports, a move which ended up quickly falling apart for both parties. With oskar's departure, people understandably expected HR to fade into obscurity, lacking the star name who carried them in 2016. HellRaisers came close to winning the competitive EU Minor, losing out on the small title by only two rounds to GODSENT. As it happened, GODSENT saw a peak in form for the major qualifier, making that previous result look even better on HR's behalf.
New star and new maps
HR's run at the Major Qualifier came as a result of an expanded map pool and the play of oskar's replacement: Deadfox. The Hungarian player delivered the carry performances required of his team, though not quite at the level oskar was famous for. Showing off impact AWPing and winning a number of key rounds, the rising talent helped HR earn some key upsets in the tournament. Elsewhere in the lineup, HR saw a balanced fragging output, with only STYKO really failing to perform at a good level. This balance ensured HR did not live and die purely by Deadfox and his tricks.
Coming into the major qualifier, HR could be expected to be dangerous on cobblestone and train, but had a small map pool. In a competition which saw five maps banned out and then the map to be played decided randomly from the two remaining, HR might have feared seeing themselves unable to play their maps of choice. As it happened, teams were willing to play them on train three times. mouz allowing the map through was a surprise and HR took advantage of that to get their first win in the opening game. Elsewhere, they had to play train against GODSENT and OpTic, much better train teams and, in the case of OpTic, much better teams.
What enabled HR to look forward to playing in Atlanta was their previously unseen mastery of overpass. When the lineup played the map at EPICENTER, they were beaten up on it. Online, they barely played it and showed mixed results. It's hard to fault NiP, considered a lock for the major by all, for allowing the map through against ANGE1's men. That key upset win, in overtime no less, saw HR jump out to a 2:0 start, with the subsequent train losses making their record 2:2 and leaving them needing to win their final game of the competition to reach the major.
Said deciding game would be against Cloud9 and again on overpass. C9 were more questionable on the map, perhaps hoping the randomizer would select their strong home map of train, easily reaching double digits in most of their games. HR won a tight game, coming from behind and putting up huge numbers on the T-side of a traditionally CT-sided map.
Ready to upset again
Coming into the ELEAGUE Major, it's hard to look at HellRaisers and see a team who will make a deep run at the competition. Opponents will have had time to study them further, their overpass play will now be respected in the pick-ban phase, and Deadfox is no longer the surprise star. With that said, the team is both writing a new chapter, without oskar or the CIS core, and yet looking set to fulfill the reputation of the previous ones: a team with upset potential who can be dangerous for anyone outside of the top five and on their better maps. One thing is for sure: the world again knows that HR can raise some hell offline!