Two of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive's most prized organizations faced off last night in Atlanta, Georgia for a chance at $390,000 and the inaugural trophy of Turner Sports and WME-IMG's televised league, ELeague. The Swedes of Fnatic, who have stood firmly on top of the scene since the early days of competitive CS:GO, faced off with the Poles of Virtus.Pro, a team that has retained the longest-standing lineup the game has seen.
Unexpectedly, Virtus.Pro took it all, brute-forcing their way against the stronghold of Fnatic in a quick 2-0. The team channeled what fans refer to as the "Virtus Plow," a play on the team's name when its performance is so strong that games tend to go heavily in their favor.
Known for their chaotic playing style, Virtus.Pro hs cemented itself as one of Europe's best teams, and neck-and-neck with its sister organization Natus Vincere (Na`Vi) for first and second in Eastern Europe. In the team's post-win press conference, Rifler Filip "NEO" Kubski said, "The plow is just organized chaos."
Following the win, we spoke with rifler Jarosław "pashaBiceps" Jarząbkowski, who's been a core member of the team since its days in Counter-Strike 1.6, the previous version of the game. He said it was the "perfect day" as he planned to go to dinner and then the ELeague after-party following his big win.
"It feels very good," he said. "We're back to the top. We always love America and always have a good performance [here] so we proved it one more time. When we're in America, we play the best Counter-Strike ever."
Over the past few months, Virtus.Pro has had ups and downs in its placements. Recently, the team took third/fourth at the ESL One Cologne 2016 major, but in May, it was relegated from the ESL Pro League, one of three premiere competitive Counter-Strike leagues. Pasha said that those ups and downs are to be expected.
"When you always know that there will sometimes be ups and sometimes be downs, my friend, it's a normal thing in life," he said. "You can't give up when you're alone in the forest. You can't give up when you're down. We never give up. We're always fighting, talking about the game, talking to each other, about what's the problem. We try to fix things to always be at the top."
One proposed solution was roster changes. But Pasha explained that keeping the team together has allowed the players to become family, knowing each other both in-game and on a personal level. For the past month, the team has stayed in hotels in Atlanta to compete in ELeague's last-chance qualifier and playoffs, with only a break to play in Cologne for the major.
"We're like family. Sometimes we spend more time in the events together than at home," he said. "Everyone knows each other very, very well. Some days we can be fighting and have fighting words, and then the next day, we can go through and make a handshake, and say, 'sorry, man, it was my fault. Let's talk about it.' Then the next day, we can win the event."
The band of brothers share more than just time together. Like other Counter-Strike teams, such as Fnatic, SK Gaming, Team EnVyUs, and Ninjas in Pyjamas, the players on the team share the same nationality.
"Of course it helps [to be the same nationality,]" Pasha said. "I don't know how it works in soccer. They're usually a lot of different nationalities. But in Counter-Strike, it helps because it's only five or six people per team, right? We can talk in-game in [Polish]. We can talk every second. It makes it easier for teamwork and to communicate with each other."
That communication led to last night's big win. But that wasn't the only thing Pasha was excited about. Earlier in the day yesterday, UFC president Dana White showed up to the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in Atlanta to meet some of the players, view the event setup, and see the staff, some who work for the company that recently bought UFC for $4 billion, WME-IMG.
- UFC (@ufc) July 30, 2016
"If I retire, my friend, maybe I'll make some sneaky plan to make the UFC of the esports players," Pasha said. "Maybe, who knows? After the party today, we're going to the UFC in Atlanta."
A league of fighters between esports players would certainly be an interesting endeavor. Unlike the stereotype of basement dwellers, many Counter-Strike athletes specifically have heavy workout regimens and keep in shape, including Pasha. If his proposed league were to become a reality, I ask him who he'd want to fight. His answer is simple.
"[I'd want to fight] the strongest one," he says. "But I don't know who's the strongest one, who's the most sneaky, and good at fighting, but it'd be fun if the players would have their own league like in MMA. It'd be very fun."