The Ups, Downs and Team Drama of Group C

       It turns out ELEAGUE, or at least the Group C portion of it, was no country for old men. While the weekend’s broadcast didn’t end with a sorrowful monologue, perhaps one was still delivered in a hotel room somewhere, most likely in Polish. Virtus Pro’s downward spiral is eclipsed only by Trent Reznor’s, having gone from in contention among the names discussed as potentially the number one team in the world, to a team that, a few anomalies aside, isn’t troubling the average tournament group stage. This has occurred in the space of around seven months, DreamHack Vegas the last time the team lifted a trophy, and the run of poor form has clearly taken its toll on the players.

       A media offensive a few days prior to them stepping in the ELEAGUE studio could only paper over the cracks until the moment the games began, then it was the depressing business as usual. Battered by EnvyUs in the opening match, the fellow veterans over at NiP compounded the misery with a 2-0 victory to send them packing, with only nineteen rounds to show from three maps played in Atlanta. Along the way, there were grimaces, arguments, and sarcastic cheers. It is hard to imagine such seasoned and tough competitors looking for an exit, which begs the question: what exactly do they want to exit from? Hard to imagine it’s an organization that has made them some of the highest-salaried players in esports. “Exit” from each other perhaps? But then, where do you go? The Polish scene still hasn’t produced anyone worthy of taking on the task of keeping Polish CS on the world map. Those that were good enough, ended up in Virtus Pro.

       Still, the tension in the team is clear. A long write-up from star player and former in-game leader Janusz “Snax” Pogorzelski was perhaps a little too revealing, detailing a divide in the team that may be too profound to fix. A clash of generations and philosophies, it is hard to imagine Virtus Pro riding out too many more defeats without someone arriving at the conclusion that money does not buy you happiness. The organization will be mindful of this too. Neutral fans are getting restless about tournament invites going the way of Virtus Pro in their current form, and if they were left to go through online qualifiers like so many teams, it’s doubtful we’d see them at many events at all. Maybe someone will get pushed before they can pluck up the courage to jump.

       NiP too revealed they had some problems, despite most of the pundits assuming they’d qualify for the playoffs, but they didn’t really emanate from the veterans. Well, maybe one of them, but we know in-game leaders are given a pass for these things, especially when you draft young talent to do all the heavy lifting. William “draken” Sundin was solid but not spectacular, which is something he’ll need to change. He has the potential to be the best AWPer NiP has ever had, but he needs to deliver the easy kills alongside the highlight-reel moments to achieve that accolade. Fredrik “REZ” Sterner burst onto the team, and dominated the weak field at DreamHack Valencia. Since then, he has struggled for form and even clarity in his role, seemingly taking on too many supportive duties when he’s there to deliver more than that. This lineup can certainly win another tournament, maybe more if they iron out the kinks.

       What they couldn’t do is beat EnvyUs in a best of three, which made as little sense then as it does typing it now. EnvyUs is always on the verge of implosion. Vincent "Happy" Cervoni Schopenhauer, their captain, is many things, but I wouldn’t consider him a great leader of men. Too authoritarian to be adored, too dispassionate to be feared, respect for him must be high going in to the team. An interview prior to this group saw him declare that his teammates didn’t remember the tactics he constructed. As they were blown out 16-2 by Cloud9 on TBS and in front of a capacity studio crowd, a losers’ interview with Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom saw the occasional star-player declare that the team was “not prepared” for train. While it might not be their number one pick, they had played it in competitive matches four times this month alone, which then begs the question: why wasn’t the team prepared? There was a strange air around both the comment and the team performance, a mild, momentary mutiny perhaps…Or, maybe it just underlined the same issues this team is always likely to have. The blend doesn’t feel right to me. An AWPer who mostly has little impact on games, a veteran player and former world-star who is increasingly under pressure to roll back the years, a star player who seems to care as much about his Instagram as he does the team results, an up-and-comer, and an in-game leader who looks permanently fed up. For me, you could have a few of these things on a roster, but not all of them together. I am amazed we will be seeing more of them in the playoffs.

       There they will join the revelatory Cloud9. A young roster that for my money features three of the top four players in North America. The questions regarding their success are always going to revolve around leadership. Tarik "tarik" Celik is currently trying to reinvent himself in that role and on this evidence – which is incredibly flimsy – it seems to be working. They blew both NiP and Cloud9 out the water – neither match was a competition in any sense of the word – and fortunately, this time around Tyler "Skadoodle" Latham actually looked like an AWPer capable of creating openings for a team packed with firepower. As soon as this team formed again, I said that this could finally be an American team to legitimately challenge the top three teams in the world right now. I stand by it. The new world order of Counter-Strike will be ruled by FaZe, of that there is little doubt in my mind, but with so many established teams in a downward trajectory, the second spot could belong to anyone. It’s early for this young roster and this is the first time they’ve looked to deliver on that promise. With a good draw in the playoffs they may be the surprise package of the whole tournament.