Going into the Major League Gaming Americas Minor Championship, most eyes were on the newly acquired Optic Gaming team, which won at CES to qualify for Turner's ELeague this summer. The ex-Conquest squad, featuring big names such as former Cloud 9 member Shahzeb "ShahZaM" Khan, were looking to make a big splash out of the gate for North American Counter-Strike and Optic's road to the Major. The fervor from the #GreenWall's entrance into CS:GO had fans expecting it to permeate into the team's performance.
Not quite. Optic was eliminated in the semifinals against Splyce. Welcome the real star: Americas Minor champion Enemy and its 19-year-old star, Kenneth "koosta" Suen.
"Coming into the tournament, we didn't really see any other team as a threat," Suen told ESPN.
Suen finished the event with an incredible 2-to-1 kill/death ratio, including a plus-37 performance and more than 60 kills in the grand finals against Splyce. That included an even less believable ACE/1v3 clutch play with nine health. In the words of broadcaster Alex "Vansilli" Nguyen, "koosta is unstoppable. You can't count him out."
Based and raised in New York City, Suen was introduced to Counter-Strike in the 1.5 era by his older brother -- when he was 6 years old. But Suen says he never played competitive in 1.5, 1.6, or Source, and logged 1,000 hours playing the superhero mod. He only started playing competitive CS during today's CS:GO era.
"I just bought CS:GO one day and started playing matchmaking," he said, laughing, recalling his entry into competitive CS:GO. "I got called out for cheating by a full team one day while matchmaking. They added me and I played a few games with them, and I got my very first team avatar. I didn't play any matches though but that was OK. Then, one day, Ryu, who's my coach, now got me on a roster in IM [Intermediate]. Two years of esports later, and we're here."
And here we are, with Enemy now in the running with a shot in the offline qualifier for the MLG Columbus Major. Enemy joins fellow American squads Team Liquid, Cloud9, Counter Logic Gaming and Brazil's Games Academy, who won out in this weekend's Last Chance Qualifier. With the exception of GA, each of these teams is favored ahead of Enemy to represent North America at the Major. Suen isn't worried.
"I think we have a good chance," he said. "We've been playing good Counter-Strike lately as a team, but we still need to work on preventing mistakes. One of the biggest reasons our games at the Minor weren't close was because everyone was making big plays and winning a lot of rounds based on skill alone, so we're going to have to try to win more rounds by trading well and outplaying the opponent tactically."
Suen, regarding the competition, said: "We've always played the NA teams close. We've played three matches against Cloud9 online and haven't lost to them, squeezed in a map win versus Luminosity Gaming on LAN, and played Renegades really close on LAN as well. Liquid has stomped us historically, but I think that can change, and our most recent game against CLG was a 16-7 on LAN in groups."
Suen will get his first taste of international competition at the qualifier, with European teams Dignitas, Mousesports, Gambit Gaming, Vexed Gaming, FlipSid3 Tactics and the former Titan squad in attendance. He isn't quite sure how he'll measure up.
"I definitely feel like I have been growing as a player, but considering I have not yet garnered any international experience, it's hard to give a straight answer," he said. "If I can put up similar stat lines against the top teams, it's hard to deny that my team and I could start to do some serious damage. With how I've seen myself progress in CS -- first season of Premier 6-10, second season 14-2, first season ProLeague 10-12 -- if we continue to play well, we'll be a playoff contender. If I continue to progress along with it, then I'm not too worried."
For broadcaster Jason "Moses" O'Toole, who watched Suen firsthand at MLG's Columbus arena, there's no doubt in his mind he will go far.
"I think koosta is the real deal," O'Toole told ESPN. "He has been a very strong performer against good competition very early on in his career. He definitely has the individual ability to be the next superstar, and showcased a lot of that potential this weekend. The Major Qualifier next month will help answer whether or not he can do it on NME, but there's no reason at the moment to think they aren't good enough. After three months in the professional circuit, they've logged a best-of-three win over CLG (currently a top-three team), and narrow losses to international competitors Luminosity and Renegades."
O'Toole praised Valve's new Minor system that now accompanies the CS:GO Major events in separate regions, which allowed Enemy to qualify.
"The Minor system is really awesome, especially in regions such as NA and Asia that don't have many opportunities for non-Tier 1 teams," he said. "There were about two or three players that I'd never heard of or seen play before that impressed me this past weekend. The Minors essentially give lower-tier teams something to work for and a reason for stability, all while promoting young talent development in the region."
For Suen, he thinks it's funny to see the hype around himself or anyone else in NA, due to a lack of international results. For now, he's just going to do his thing to hit those expectations.
"I haven't really been thinking about it, just been trying to focus on my game to actually be able to live up to the hype, which I'll admit can be kind of scary sometimes," he said. "I just hope I can live up to it."