Written by: Richard Lewis
I spent a significant portion of the end of last year writing about OpTic Gaming. The team had gone from being the horse-racing equivalent of also-rans, to looking like a North American thoroughbred, capable of taking on the best the world had to offer. The end of 2016 saw them realize that potential with the win of ELEAGUE’s second season and runners-up slot at FACEIT’s Esports Championship Series. January’s major seemed to be coming around for them at the right time, and many felt that they would be the surprise package, that at worst the attending fans in Atlanta would have a home team to cheer on for at least one series. That wasn’t to be the case. A combination of tough opponents and flat performances meant that OpTic jerseys would remain hanging in wardrobes and folded in drawers by the time the weekend came rolling around.
Disappointing though that was, it’s not as if it stripped the luster from their accomplishments. The major was the most competitive to date and they lost single matches to the two eventual finalists. Even the most critical of pundits understood, and the fans would have found themselves in the enviable position of not having to proffer the excuses for failure. They could look forward to the rest of the year, while other teams changed rosters or disbanded altogether.
Then, the rumors started to circulate, as unlikely as they were, that the team’s in-game leader Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz was on his way out. Strange enough on its own, but even stranger when it turned out the destination was the player’s graveyard of Team Liquid, that outside of a few aberrations powered by an itinerant Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev had been an expensive failure. If ever you were running away from problems, the last place you’d want to be was inside the Team Liquid fold. Think of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. You may make it to the perceived sanctuary of a nearby gas station, but it is likely only a matter of time before you find yourself tied to a chair in time for dinner. Welcome.
It’s hard to fathom exactly what had happened in the absence of a candid explanation. The team included some young guns with quick tempers, but Jarguz wasn’t one of them. In fact, as people around him were losing their heads, he was the calming influence. When last we spoke, he told me that a big part of what he focused on as leader was communication and conflict resolution. He assured me everyone was on the same page and that his system was working. The other players vouched for this, leading me to conclude that Stan was one of North America’s most valuable assets and one that would be well looked after at OpTic.
It seems his departure wasn’t about money. OpTic owner Hector Rodriguez said Jarguz would have been compensated had he decided to stay. On Reddit, Rodriguez praised the player’s contribution and asked fans to remain respectful, yet there was still a bemused tone as if Rodriguez himself didn’t quite understand the decision. I’m not sure anyone can make sense of it on the surface. Some have even speculated the highly unlikely scenario that it was delayed revenge for his initial removal from the team, when for the first two weeks or so of Tarik "tarik" Celik’s arrival the preference of in-game leader seemed to lie with Damian "daps" Steele, now of NRG. At that time, Jarguz bemoaned the timing and method of removal, but it was quickly remedied. If this were a factor, even a Japanese ghost would consider this holding on to a grudge for a little too long.
Coming the other way, temporarily at least, is the veteran Spencer "Hiko" Martin, who if I was a betting man, would imagine welcomes the opportunity to play in a team capable of winning tournaments. No longer able to carry games as he once did, he still has an experienced, calm demeanor. More importantly, he doesn’t mind doing the water-carrying, as long as it leads to winning. For the longest time at Team Liquid he has put himself secondary to the needs of the team and was willing to ignore anything as long as it worked on the server. Clearly capable of working alongside difficult temperaments, as evidenced by him being the one who wanted to try and work things out with Kostyliev when others wouldn’t, he’ll probably find his time in OpTic a welcome holiday. It is unlikely that he will take on Jarguz’s role whole cloth, but it wouldn’t be a problem if that was the expectation.
All things considered, this move represents one of the stranger pieces of business in a hectic transfer window. I’m confident OpTic would rather that this had not happened, but if there’s one owner who is never going to dump a player in the contract gulag, its Rodriguez, who still sees himself more of a player and entertainer, rather than someone making decisions in the boardroom. That said, Martin certainly isn’t a terrible replacement by any measure and the last thing the team really needed was more firepower. Meanwhile, Team Liquid seems to have rolled the dice once more, trying to solve the largest of their problems. Foreign imports, star-players and coaches all haven’t seemed to work, so it’s hard to have faith that a new in-game leader will be the one-shot cure they are seeking. Equally for Jarguz, he might come to realize that the grass might not be greener on the other side of the green wall.