11 September 2016 - 00:38
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OpTic and TSM: The Maybe Monsters

Explore the dual histories of two burgeoning North American teams. Who are they and where are they going?
CS:GO Analyst
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It is true, we shall be monsters, cut off from all the world; but on that account we shall be more attached to one another.

In the early years of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, North American scene was feast or famine with a perfectly clear line separating the “haves and have-nots.” But in 2015, after a year and a half of the Cloud9/iBUYPOWER duopoly, the middle end of the scene finally found some wiggle room in the wake of the iBP match-fixing scandal. While Counter Logic Gaming and Team Liquid were the obvious early risers, other hopefuls, such as Nihilum, Tempo Storm, Team eLevate, Luminosity, and compLexity Gaming showed some promise at one point or another over the course of the year, but none of these teams could find sustained success.

In late April, an enigmatic Nihilum squad, led Timothy “Autimatic” Ta, Joshua “sancz” Ballenger, and their in-game leader Soham "valens" Choudhury, put up a fight against Virtus.pro and managed to upset a struggling Cloud9 at the ESEA Season 18 LAN finals, which earned them a shred of spotlight and gave the often dubious title of “up-and-comers.” After the LAN, Kory “Semphis” Friesen would be cut from Cloud9 leading him to join Nihilum. His arrival, in turn, attracted another former Cloud9 member in Spencer "Hiko" Martin.

But oddly, the added experience and skill of these two players seemed to hamper rather than help the chances of the Nihilum as they failed to qualify for several LANs. Due to apparent interpersonal complications, Autimatic would leave the team in late June, which led to even weaker results. A month later, the Nhilium organization dropped the team amidst unrelated financial difficulties.

Besides Nihilum, eLevate and Tempo storm were two other prominent squads also vying to join the upper echelon of the scene. However, by late summer, both rosters were in constant flux with Will "RUSH" Wierzba, Daniel "roca" Gustaferri, Keith "NAF" Markovic, Autimatic, and others coming in and out of both organizations. In August, three-fifths of eLevate in NAF, Damian "daps" Steele, and Rush would collide and merge with two-fifths of Tempo Storm in Ronnie "ryx" Bylicki and Shahzeb "ShahZaM" Khan to form “Sponsorless,” which would soon become Conquest, and ultimately, OpTic Gaming.

On the other hand, without sponsorship or any results to merit continued collaboration, Hiko left the former Nihilum squad to join Team Liquid. Spotting the opportunity, Jason Lake reentered the Counter-Strike scene to conjoin the remnants of Nihilum in Semphis, Valens, and Sancz with the newly made leftovers of Tempo Storm in their recently departed teammate Autimatic and the supposed future star Daniel "roca" Gustaferri.

The First Palpable Pulse

Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change. The sun might shine, or the clouds might lour: but nothing could appear to me as it had done the day before.

However, unlike Nihilum/compLexity, Conquest was able to have a good run in an international tournament before the close of 2015. After they traded out Ryx for Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz, another former Tempo Storm player, Conquest competed at CEVO Season 8 Professional Finals in November, a mid-tier event that featured some relatively strong teams, such as Virtus.pro, Mousesports, and Dignitas.

Conquest started out the tournament by playing a regional rival in Team Liquid in the first round of the group stage. At this point, Team Liquid, with Jacob "FugLy" Medina and Eric "adreN" Hoag still on the roster, had made frequent appearances at international tournaments, but had never found any profound successes outside of a few single map upsets. With Cloud9 rapidly dropping off of their summer form, it was assumed that it would be either Liquid or CLG who would take the mantle of North America’s best team and establish themselves as an internationally competitive team. But it would be the relatively unnoticed Conquest who would take center for a moment in November.

Against Liquid, thanks to a double overtime game two victory on Cobblestone, Conquest would take series 2-0, knocking the pre-S1mple Team Liquid out of the group stage for one of the last times before their dramatic reconstruction. Still, to make it out of the group, Conquest had to best a competent Dignitas who still featured Jacob "Pimp" Winneche, Jesper "tenzki" Mikalski, and Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye. Surrounded by a dwindling but bizarrely emphatic Columbus crowd on a late Saturday night, Conquest pulled off the upset in a close three games series, 17-19, 16-13, 16-11.

They would take on mousesports in the next morning to start the playoffs, but the magic seemed to wear off overnight and they were no longer able to continue their Cinderella story. For the rest of year, results rescinded as both compLexity and Conquest unimpressively competed in a series of North American tournaments. Both teams failed to make it out the groups stage of the iBUYPOWER Cup in Santa Ana, and compLexity failed to make it out of the group stage of the RGN Pro Series LAN, which Conquest could not attend due to a scheduling conflict with ESEA.

compLexity did have one good showing, placing second at the Northern Arena 2015 LAN behind CLG, but the result wasn’t terribly impressive given that better North American teams, such as Cloud9, Liquid and Conquest, were not in attendance.

Reconstruction

Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust?

While the holiday season and New Years gave the teams a few weeks of reprieve, a series of swaps and organizational entries would radically change the landscape of the North American Scene:

  • On Dec. 19, compLexity announced the signing of their former 1.6 star Daniel "fRoD" Montaner, which triggered the departure of Semphis and Autimatic.
  • On Dec. 30,  the fledgling esports org Splyce announced the pickup of DOGMEN.
  • On Jan. 4, the Call of Duty centric organization OpTic Gaming announced the pick up of the Conquest lineup.
  • On Jan. 19, the League of Legends powerhouse Team SoloMid announced their acquisition of a baffling concoction of underwhelming veteran players and unproven talents in Semphis, Pujan "FNS" Mehta , Autimatic, Daniel "vice" Kim, and Hunter “SicK” Mims. Valens, who retired from coL as a player in November, signed on to serve as the team’s coach.
  • On Jan. 22, another brand new organization, NRG, would combine two teamless German veterans and three American players to form a new hybrid roster.
  • And on Jan. 26., Echo Fox would make the final move of the season by picking a renovated Torqued team, featuring longtime Cloud9 in-game leader Sean “seang@res” Gares.

OpTic and TSM would be the rosters that earned the most press, but for opposite reasons. OpTic looked like the cream of the crop. On Jan. 7, the newly rebranded Optic would win the ELEAGUE Road to Vegas tournament, earning $35,000 and spot in Turner’s new seasonal competition. TSM were the bruised fruit.  Due to the legacy set by the original Danish squad, the initial unveiling of the new TSM lineup was not met with apathy or skepticism, but genuine community-wide ire. How could TSM possibly pick up a team this bad?

Jason Lake’s ultimately unsuccessful infusion of fRoD suddenly morphed the Semphis-led up-and-comers into unambiguous laughing stocks.

However, despite the divergent expectations, in the coming weeks, both teams would find sharp disappointments. At the first American Minor, OpTic looked like the tournament favorites, but they were knocked out of the semifinals by a suddenly incensed Splyce. In order to even make the main qualifier, OpTic had to join a handful of other hopefuls at the American Last Chance Qualifier, such as TSM.

In the first round of the online qualifier, in their first match together as a team, versus the ever-dismal Winterfox, TSM would lose. The embarrassing loss would fan the flames of earlier expectations. The former Nihilum/compLexity core effectively went from being up-and-comers to community laughing stocks in a matter of weeks. But more shockingly, OpTic would actually meet the same end. In the first round, they defeated an also fledgling NRG before facing Winterfox themselves in the second. They too would lose in a closer 2-1 series.

Appreciated New Appendages

We are unfashioned creatures, but half made up, if one wiser, better, dearer than ourselves — such a friend ought to be — do not lend his aid to perfectionate our weak and faulty natures.

For the rest of January until nearly the start of May, both teams would toil in relative obscurity in online leagues with neither team was attending a LAN of any size. Due to poor online results, TSM was quick to make a roster change. They dropped the heavily underperforming Vice on Mar. 9, and began to trial AreN, who had recently been dropped by Team Liquid for the first time. With him on the lineup, TSM looked better in some online games, beating Renegades in a best-of-three and actually taking a game off of the soon-to-be world champions, Luminosity, shortly thereafter.

However, eligibility restrictions surrounding the new Minor Champion Series sent AreN back to Team Liquid, forcing TSM to pick up the highly inexperienced Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken instead.

OpTic found significantly better results online leading up to their qualification for the CEVO Gfinity Pro-League Season 9 Finals and the ESL Pro League Season 3 finals; both tournaments would that took place at the end of April.

However, OpTic found themselves in turmoil before they could attend either LAN. On Mar. 27, OpTic lost their chance to attend DreamHack Austin after forfeiting a qualification match. The team claimed the disqualification was triggered by an “emergency” in the personal life of Daps. A few weeks later, on Apr. 13, ShahZaM was removed from the team in favor of the Spanish awper Oscar "mixwell" Cañellas, formerly of gBots eSports Club. In the ensuing dust up, ShahZaM detailed the apparent dysfunction of the team and the duplicity of Daps’s “emergency,” and while Daps would combat ShahZaM’s claims on the Richard Lewis Show, a hefty public relations hit had already connected.

Making matters worse at these two LANs, OpTic was again not able to live up the precedent set at the previous CEVO offline finals. At the Season 9 finals, OpTic managed to defeat Slyce in a best-of-three, but failed to best either HellRaisers or Virtus.pro to advance out of the group. At the ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals, OpTic did have an impressive upset versus Astralis, who were still a very highly rated team at that time, but they then lost to G2, who were just starting to hit their peak form, which meant OpTic had to battle Luminosity in a best-of-three to advance out of the group. While the series was surprisingly close, OpTic lost in straight maps, 12-16, 13-16.

Beyond their initial success at the ELEAGUE Road to Vegas tournament, OpTic had yet to make good on their late 2015 impressions.

TSM were also in a precarious position. Over three months after first being signed, they had attended zero LANs or put up any breakthrough performances online. With Twistzz actually becoming their best performer online, alongside SicK, TSM looked better but were still barely treading water. In ECS’s online league, TSM won just one of their opening four best-of-three series. They did, however, manage to qualify for the Second American Minor, their first LAN as a team and SicK and Twistzz’s first LAN as individuals ever.

Not So Minor Monsters

My person was hideous and my stature gigantic. What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination?

In by the time they reached Columbus in the middle of May, TSM only looked like the third best team in their group. While they already had a better reputation than Team Kaliber, the new Brazilian Tempo Storm had just won CEVO Gfinity Pro-League Season 9 and placed second at DreamHack Austin 2016, making them the clear tournament favorites. NRG, who were also in their group, still had some vestige of hype around them from their upset over EnVyUs at the Counter Pit Seasons 2 finals, meaning that they too were more favored over TSM.

In their first match, TSM were easily trounced by Tempo Storm 16-7 on Cobblestone, with Twistzz looking especially flustered on LAN, but the team was able to crush Team Kaliber in the ensuing matchup, leading to a best-of-three decider against NRG. In this best-of-three, TSM was able to significantly exceed expectations for the the very first time, taking the series 2-1 with wins on Cache and Train.

Meanwhile, in Group B, OpTic was up against WinOut, Winterfox, and Selfless, making them the clear favorites. Without any upsets, OpTic would top the group in absolutely dominating fashion, defeating WinOut 16-2 and Selfless 16-1. With OpTic topping their group and TSM squeezing out a second place finish on the other side, the TSM and OpTic cores were set to face off against one another for the first time on LAN.

Despite the dramatic differential in expectations, the series was quite close. OpTic won TSM’s map pick Overpass, which isn’t a map either team typically play, while TSM won OpTic’s map pick of Cache 16-9, which is a map OpTic actually banned in three out of their four other matches in the tournament. The randomized decider was Mirage, which was another non-prefered map for both teams at the time. OpTic won in closer fashion, 16-11.

Over the course of the series, OpTic looked like the better team, with multiple players putting up huge numbers, but the bizarre pick-ban still invites a certain curiosity. What would have happened if they instead landed on shared maps such as Train or Cobblestone?

Nevertheless, from there, OpTic would play the tournament favorites Tempo Storm, while TSM would drop down into the lower bracket and play Selfless, who were perhaps still favored over TSM due to their far more impressive online record. Both teams would defeat their opponents 2-0, meaning TSM would be forced to repeat OpTic’s upset over Tempo Storm in the lower bracket finals in order to get their chance at a rematch. But it wasn’t to be. Against Tempo, TSM would be crushed on Dust2 and they would would come up short again on their soon-to-be signature map Cobblestone, thanks to late game heroics by Henrique "HEN1" Teles.

The rematch instead would be OpTic versus Tempo Storm. This go around, Tempo was able to put up a much better fight versus the suddenly dominant OpTic. They took Dust2 once more in the opening round, but two consecutive victories for OpTic on Train and Nuke earned them the tournament honors.

Despite their apparent stagnation, OpTic was again able to win a limited international event with  Mixwell finally having his breakout performance. The Spanish hybrid AWPer was fairly solid at both Cevo and Pro league, but his entries and aggressive early round AWP play looked far more effective at the event, especially in the finals, making him the undisputed star of the team moving forwards.

While TSM’s third place showing was far from superlative, it did mark the beginning of their rapid metamorphosis from tier-three North American rejects to possibly internationally competitive talents. The aggressive entry efforts of SicK and Twistzz would become the talking point of the team, but both players still looked fairly shaky on LAN, especially during their match against Tempo Storm. Stalwart secondary showing by Semphis and Autimatic were crucial to the team’s apparent overperformance.

Successes Reborn

Be men, or be more than men.

OpTic’s first place finish secured them a spot at the ESL One Cologne 2016 Main Quailer, and a week after the Minor, TSM too secured a spot in the international spotlight by defeating Team Kaliber, CLG and OpTic themselves in ECS’s online league, earning their ticket to the finals in London.  

But before either team could find their next run, they both made a pitstop at ELEAGUE, where both teams looked fairly unimpressive. OpTic went 2-4 in groups, only managing to defeat their fellow North American team, Selfless, twice. In the first round of the playoffs, they did manage to take a map off of NiP, but they still dropped the series after losing 16-2 on overpass and 16-14 on Train.

TSM’s ELEAGUE performance was even less impressive, but they did have to play with CadiaN as a stand-in as Twistzz couldn’t compete due to age restrictions. They went 0-6 in their group versus FaZe Clan, Dignitas, and Fnatic. Nevertheless, TSM was able to take a single map in their playoff series. After losing on Cache, TSM won Fnatic’s map pick of Mirage before falling for the final time on Cobblestone.  

But the apparent upset potential shown by both teams was fully realized when OpTic competed in the ESL One Cologne Main Qualifier. Run as a Swiss-style tournament, OpTic was tasked with winning a series of best-of-ones in order to make Valve’s second million dollar Major. Their chances looked bleak initially. In their first match versus Gambit, OptTic lost 16-14 on Cobblestone, which was quickly becoming their go-to map following the removal of Inferno from tournament play and a reworking of their map pool after the Minor. Luckily, OpTic was able to find their footing after being paired with a less formidable opponent in FLuffy Gangsters, who OpTic easily defeated on their other favorite map, Train.

From there, they faced more Eastern European opponents in the next two rounds, playing Flipesid3 on Train and HellRaisers on Cache, but they ultimately secured their qualification thanks to consecutive wins on boths maps. By defeating both challengers, OpTic took their own seat at the most prestigious tournament of the year, making good on the promise shown at the beginning of the year and drowning out the more recent drama.

Shortly thereafter, TSM would also make a name for themselves at the ECS finals in London, on the same exact maps: Cobblestone, Train and Cache.

In TSM’s first outing of the tournament, their opponent, Astralis, out of overconfidence or under preparation, picked Cobblestone, where they had never been particularly strong as a team.  Seizing the opportunity to crawl out from the shadow of their Danish predecessors, TSM took the map, with SicK dropping 28 kills in as many rounds.

Now, TSM actually had the chance to take first in the group, but to do so they had to defeat Fnatic in a best-of-one, who had beaten them four out of five times at ELEAGUE just one week earlier. Fnatic again picked Cobblestone, which was far more reasonable considering Fnatic had won their most recent Cobble contest 16-7. But after the first 16 rounds play, the upset seemed imminent. TSM won nine T-side rounds in the first half and took the CT pistol leading to a 12-6 scoreline. But, they just couldn't stop Fnatic’s T-side, eventually losing in another 16-14 heartbreaker.

From there, TSM had to play national rivals Cloud9, who had also defeated Astralis. Cloud9 wisely banned Cobblestone, but lacked the fiery form they seemed to have found in their previous match versus the Danes. With clean wins on Cache and Train, TSM took the series 2-0.

However, they hit another brick wall in the playoffs in the form of the newly renamed SK, who were just weeks away from winning a second Major championship. While TSM was crushed on Overpass 16-3, they put up a fight on Cobblestone before coming up short once more 16-14, eliminating them from the tournament.

On the exact same maps, with 16-14s galore, both teams finally escaped the dawdling doldrums of the North American mid-tier and established themselves as dangerous teams, even against some of the best competition on the planet. For a moment in mid-summer, both teams looked like monsters.

The Descent

I was required to exchange chimeras of boundless grandeur for realities of little worth.

OpTic was crushed at the Major. Against NiP, who they nearly beat at ELEAGUE, they lost 16-4. Against Flipsid3, who they did defeat at the Main Major qualifier, they lost again 16-13. Mixwell still looked on form, while the rest of the team crumbled. In two maps, Mixwell found 41 kills.  Combined, Daps and Stanislaw only had 38.  

Again, at ESL One Cologne 2016, OpTic failed to live up to their previous performances when given the proper opportunity.

TSM’s matching failure was less significant but had significant implications. Shortly after the Major, iBUYPOWER hosted another seasonal online cup where TSM played Cloud9 in the finals. This time, TSM would lose 2-0, but the more pressing loss came a few weeks later. Perhaps due to a disparity in prestige, or more interpersonal conflict, or a reconsideration of TSM’s strength following their iBUYPOWER loss, Autimatic would leave TSM to join Cloud9, halting the progression of the five man lineup in their tracks. After briefly playing with a stand-in, TSM found a suitable replacement for Autimatic in the form of the ex-Selfless player Skyler "Relyks" Weaver.  

Apparently feeling a change was necessarily following their Major underperformance, OpTic too decided to make a roster swap. In August, they dropped Stanislaw in favor of the longtime CLG rifler, Tarik "tarik" Celik, presumably to add in much needed entry firepower when mixwell took up the AWP instead of the rifle. However, less than ten days later, DeKay reported that OpTic was heavily rumored to have gone back on their decision, choosing to replace Daps with Tarik instead. The change, if effected, would heavily alter the team identity and tactics as Stanislaw would presumably have to take over as in-game leader without Daps.

Following their respective swaps, both teams would meet up once more in Group B of Northern Arena 2016 - Toronto, but Tarik could not attend the event due to a family gathering, so OpTic would be forced to re-enlist their classic lineup once more with both Stanislaw and Daps included.

Ostensively, the rematch was everything you could have hoped for. OpTic and TSM first met on their shared powerpick Cobblestone, leading to an extremely close overtime contest that just barely ended in OpTic’s favor. Then, TSM’s new map pool addition, Mirage, completely paid off as they crushed OpTic, forcing a game three on Train. Again, the map was spectacularly close. TSM put up a comfortable nine rounds on their T-side, but OpTic would win their own T-pistol, which allowed them to find eight consecutive T-rounds on their way to another 16-14 victory.

Unfortunately, numerous extraneous forces created a reconsideration of the results. In addition to the recent roster changes, for better or worse, Northern Arena-Toronto will, in all likelihood, go down as the worst run premier event in 2016. During the OpTic vs. TSM best-of-three, the power went out twice, causing extended technical delays which dragged out the match into a almost seven hour snoozefest. Also, several other complaints about desk space, background noise, poor administration, and foregone anti-cheat measures also plagued the validity of the competition.

Additionally, both teams would fall in the group stage to Echo Fox, who had never even been considered a top-six team in North America previously. The double upset either signaled the weakness of both teams, or worse, the incongruent competitiveness of the event itself. Though to be fair, Echo Fox did look like they were having an exceptional tournament as they made it to the semifinals and took a map off of the eventual champions, Immortal, the former Brazilian Tempo Storm team.

TSM’s loss to Echo Fox would knock them out of the tournament, while OpTic would be blasted out of the quarterfinals soon afterwards by the recently emerging team, Heroic.

Troubled Tomorrows

Heavy misfortunes have befallen us, but let us only cling closer to what remains and transfer our love for those whom we have lost to those who yet live.

While it’s expected that the reformed teams would struggle initially, on what basis should we assume that these two teams will ever again find their former prowess? In a year and a half, after many iterations, the Nihilum/compLexity/TSM corps looked decent for just two months and only looked truly impressive at a single tournament: the ECS Finals. Now, that five-man lineup no longer exists.

Conquest/OpTic have had the occasional upset map or series infrequently over their year long  tenure together, but they finally found a pair of good grouped results at the Second American Minor and the Main ESL One Cologne Qualifier. Now, they have allegedly chosen to radically restructure the team, removing their in-game leader for a player infamously known for underperforming versus the world’s toughest competitors.

The only indicator for the validity of either of these changes was negative, but the flaws of the Northern Arena LAN obscure the significance of these results.

With next to no reliable data, it seems impossible to foresee the future of either team. Will these two teams — cobbled together from the dark and dissonant underbelly of the North American region— be electrified once more? Will they rise from their recent slumber to terrify the upper tranches of the scene once more?

Or were their mid-summer runs simply a nightmare?


All above quotes are of Mary Shelley's “Frankenstein.”
For compliments or complaints, you can find me on Twitter @WallabeeBeatle.

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