Yesterday, OpTic Gaming advanced through ELEAGUE’s Group D right off the back of their tournament win at Northern Arena-Montreal last weekend. While certainly impressive, the occasional OpTic overperformance has not exactly been rare this year. Despire lacking any pedigree, the North America roster has won three LANs since their inception in January: ELEAGUE Road to Vegas, the Second Americas Minor, and their most recent win in Montreal.
Each victory represents a sudden peak after a waning period of play, but neither of these first two points were followed up with any sustained success. After winning the ELEAGUE qualifier, OpTic failed to win the first Americas Minor and did not manage to attend a LAN for extended period moving into the middle part of the year. Then, after a lukewarm showing at Gfinity in April, OpTic suddenly went on a tear with Oscar "mixwell" Cañellas in tow at the Second Americas Minor, taking out a worldwide top-10 team, Tempo Storm, twice on their way to another tournament victory. But again, OpTic would suddenly lose their momentum after a breakthrough as they competed at ELEAGUE and the next Valve Major in Cologne.
After another key roster change in August, OpTic still looked uninspired at Northern Arena Toronto, ESL One New York, and the ESL Pro League Finals. However, OpTic’s most recent wins at Northern Arena Montreal and ELEAGUE Season 2 represents yet another sudden upswing for the team. But will they falter in the immediate aftermath of their success once again?
This current iteration of OpTic is now a radically different team, with only three members of its original five members staying together over the course of the year, but the alternating triumphs and troughs of their past do give pause to the emerging North American team. Has OpTic reached a sustainable level or do they have enough inborn deficiencies to curtail their recent climb?
What Stayed in Vegas
Conquest, the original OpTic roster’s resident organization, was formed out of the synthesis of two mid-tier North American teams in Elevate and Tempo Storm. Keith "NAF-FLY" Markovic, Damian "daps" Steele, and Will "RUSH" Wierzba of Elevate, along with Ronnie "ryx" Bylicki and Shahzeb "ShahZaM" of Tempo Storm joined in to form “Sponsorless,” in August 2015, which would quickly become Conquest.
While both Tempo Storm and Elevate had accumulated enough online results to start attending LANs in mid-2015, neither team found any modicum of real success before their dual-dissolution in the late summer. Once the squads combined, their rise wasn’t immediate either. It was only after a key roster change swapping out Ryx for Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz, the former Tempo Storm in-game leader, that the new Conquest roster somewhat stood out at the CEVO Season 8 Professional Finals. There, they made it out of the group stage among competent competition in Team Liquid and Dignitas, before losing in the semifinals to mousesports.
Nevertheless, Conquest’s results did not continue to rise linearly as the year came to a close. Conquest did not advance out of the group stage at the ESL Season 2 Pro League Finals, losing to Liquid and Fnatic, nor at the iBUYPOWER Invitational versus weaker competition in compLexity and Cloud9. Conquest’s follow up success wouldn’t come until after the new year.
In mid-December, Conquest won ELEAGUE’s online qualifier by topping the North American table to face off against Lounge Gaming in Las Vegas. The single match LAN took place a few weeks later, just after the Conquest lineup would secure a far more prestigious sponsorship in OpTic Gaming.
Lounge was only rated the 20th best team in the world at that time, though they themselves made an improbable run through the European closed qualifier, which included better teams, such as Dignitas and the G2 team, who would later become Fazed. In Las Vegas in early January, OpTic won the series 2-0 after a close bout on Train and a blowout on Cobblestone.The best-of-three win was a LAN victory by definition, but it was hardly a seriously impressive result that would cement OpTic as a competitive team internationally, and given their roster at the time, that ascension seemed unlikely.
During the Conquest and early OpTic period, their entry man in Rush and ShahZam their AWPer, stood out as the team’s better performers. While Rush has frequently been cited as an underrated player over the past year and throughout his career, he has never been a star player, even within the context of North America, regardless of how over or under appreciated his level has been. ShahZam, whose strong performance on Train helped secure the Vegas win, has always been a player that has looked good or above average on tier-two teams, but there are some apparently perpetual flaws to his style of play that has prevented him from ever moving beyond a certain level.
It’s tempting to include NAF-Fly as one of the team’s better players, as he, more than Rush or ShahZam at times, seems capable of putting up carry performances with highlight-worthy plays on either the AWP or a rifle, but during his time on OpTic, his output has been very variable from map to map, with performances ranging from star or subpar. Given his inconsistency, you could argue that OpTic’s third best player was actually Stanislaw, the team’s slower more stable rifler, whose Terrorist-side responsibilities included more periphery plays than most of his teammates. He could be called to be the team lurker but that designation is tricky to employ with the old OpTic, as they tended to focus on more straightforward five-man executes rather than the 4-1 setups more extensively used by teams such as EnVyUs.
Their final player, Daps, fit the typical mold of in-game leader who often heavily struggled to put up an adequate output as an individual player. However, unlike his peer in Sgares, whose limited individual efforts were largely outweighed by his contributions as a tactician, Daps’s T-sides were never highly lauded and were perhaps only seen as adequate.
After their one good result in Las Vegas, OpTic once again had a disappointing string of tournaments immediately thereafter. Despite being favorites to win a talent-lacking event, OpTic lost a shocking semifinals match to a streaky, but still underwhelming, Splyce lineup. OpTic also failed to make it into the Main Qualifier for MLG Columbus through the online Last Chance Qualifier by losing to the ever-dismal Winterfox in the second round of the online tournament.
After a period of inactivity outside of online play, OpTic dropped ShahZam from the active lineup due to a mix of interpersonal issues and criticism of his individual effectiveness within the team. With only one effective aggressive rifler in Rush, the team hoped to find more assertive play from the team’s AWPer to no avail.
As such, OpTic added the Spanish player Mixwell in April, just before the start of the CEVO Gfinity Pro-League Season 9 Finals. Regardless, at the tournament, OpTic failed to make it out of groups thanks to losses to Virtus.pro and HellRaisers. A few weeks later at the ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals, OpTic again failed to significantly outperform expectations. They did find a surprising 16-7 win on Inferno over Astralis, who was just starting to deteriorate, but losses to the french G2 lineup and the world leading Luminosity team eliminated them in the group stage once more.
After these two defeats, OpTic’s trajectory suddenly reversed again at the Second Americas Minor. This go around, OpTc would not be the favorites as the Brazilian Tempo Storm team was fresh off a tournament win at CEVO Gfinity Pro-League Season 9 Finals and a second place finish at DreamHack Austin. At the time, Tempo Storm was ranked the seventh best team in the world by Thorin’s Rankings and 11th by HLTV. Making matters worse, OpTic came into the event weakened as Inferno had been phased out of the map pool just prior to the start of the event.
Still, OpTic breezed through their group, giving up just three round across two maps, leading to a match against a burgeoning Team SoloMid in the first round of the bracket stage. A mirrored map pool led both teams to play on less familiar maps, but OpTic still took the series 2-1 with wins on Overpass and Mirage. From there, OpTic had to go up against the brazilian favorites in the upper bracket final, but they would somehow find two straight dominating wins on their two favorite maps in Train and Cobblestone to take the series.
Tempo Storm then took out TSM themselves in the lower bracket to rematch OpTic in the finals, this time using a different pick and ban in the hopes of breaching the recently reconstructed green wall. OpTic again took Train, but Tempo Storm’s new Dust2 pick tied up the series and led to a game three decider on Nuke via the randomizer. While both teams looked underprepared on the brand new version of the map, OpTic took the map 16-12 to take the tournament.
Suddenly, with two best-of-three wins over a borderline top-10 team in the world, OpTic temporarily appeared to be the strongest North American team with Liquid, Cloud9 and Counter Logic Gaming all slumping. OpTic still was somewhat waning in terms of firepower, but Mixwell firmly cemented his status as the star player of the team thanks to his performances in the later stages of the minor. Their new start curiously tried to fill both AWP and entry roles, often making aggressive, but effective pushes with either the AWP or rifle on the T-side. His more hybrid weapon usage, gave more sniping responsibility to the team’s secondary AWPer NAF-FLY, but with strong secondary performances from NAF, and along with Stanislaw and Rush, OpTic looked suddenly quite competent once more.
However, once again, that form quickly started to fade at ELEAGUE week three shortly after the minor, where OpTic struggled versus mid-table European teams in Ninjas in Pyjamas and G2. Finishing 2-4 in their group with wins only over Selfless, OpTic had to beat NiP in a best-of-three to advance further into the tournament. While they did win another Cobble game, a crushing defeat on Overpass, and a 16-14 loss on Train knocked them out of the competition.
OpTic did better at ESL Cologne Main Qualifier beating FLuffy Gangsters, Flipsid3, and HellRaisers to earn them a spot at the Valve major, but they underperformed again at the major itself. In Cologne, a smart pick and ban phase by NiP led to a crushing loss on Dust2. In their second game versus Flipsid3, they lost another close game on their best map, Train, eliminating them from the tournament immediately. While Mixwell continued to perform like a star player throughout these three tournaments, highly variable showings from NAF and Stanislaw and consistently poor output from Daps failed to rekindling their success at the Second Americas Minor.
Rise, Fall, and Future
OpTic moved into the post-major offseason decisively looking for a change, but uncertain as to how to best effect it. First, they picked up the biggest prize in the North American shuffle by adding CLG’s former would-be star in Tarik "tarik" Celik. To make room for him, OpTic dropped Stanislaw, but little over a week later, Jarek "DeKay" Lewis reported that Stanislaw would actually return to the team, and instead, it was Daps who was removed from the team. Confusing matters further, OpTic was set to appear at Northern Arena Toronto in the midst of their roster crisis, but as Tarik could not attend due to a family obligation, OpTic had to play the tournament with their previous five, only with Stanislaw taking over their in-game leading responsibilities in preparation for the eventual takeover.
In Toronto, OpTic made it out of their groups despite losing to Echo Fox thanks to another win over TSM, but they would fall in the first round of the playoffs to the emerging Heroic team with losses on Cobblestone and Nuke.
Even after forming their official lineup, with Daps eventually taking his official exit, OpTic still wouldn’t stand out immediately. They did not make it out of the swiss-style group stage at ESL One New York and lost in the round of six at the ESL Pro League Season 4 finals after getting out of an extremely weak group.
Despite adding a significantly better fragger in Tarik as opposed to Daps, OpTic struggled to work out an effective map pool with the new lineup. In New York, OpTic lost their first two games of the group on Train, while they found two wins on far less preferred pics of Cache and Overpass before losing their final game on a very close Cobblestone map against Virtus.pro to end their tournament. At the ESL Pro League Finals, OpTic again found two wins, one on Train and one on Cobblestone, but now lost games on their two most preferred maps. They took a Cache loss in groups versus mousesports and a Dust2 loss versus Cloud9 in the bracket stage, while losing two additional Cobblestone games on their way out of the tournament.
If you consider the quality of their opponents and the handful of best-of-one wins OpTic was able to pick up, they didn’t necessarily look like a bad team since the introduction of Tarik into the lineup. Still, OpTic continued to undershoot their previous heights achieved with a much weaker lineup on paper. It wasn’t until, Northern Arena Montreal and ELEAGUE Group D, that OpTic managed to reverse their fortunes once more.
In Montreal, OpTic won a game on Nuke versus NRG then lost another Nuke game to nV to force a “best of” series versus the german-American mix team. Thanks to clear cut wins on Dust2 and Cobblestone, OpTic was able to secure just their second best-of-three win since their victory over Tempo Storm at the Second Americas Minor, nearly six months prior. Their win put them up against Heroic in a rematch of the Northern Arena Toronto quarterfinals, but this time, OpTic won a crucial Cache game in addition to a more expected Cobblestone win to take the series 2-1.
Moving into the finals, G2 was the clear favorite, especially after G2 stole away a 16-14 win on OpTic’s favored Cobblestone pick, but again, OpTic was able to find a win on Dust2 to take the series to a game three on Train. This time, OpTic closed out the series on their other standout map with a decisive 16-7 scoreline. While OpTic’s wins over decent to good teams in Heroic and G2 are comparable to their two wins over Tempo Storm back in May, OpTic’s follow up performance at ELEAGUE this weekend lacks precedent. After the tournament win in Montreal, OpTic did not immediately dive back into mediocrity.
Versus Fnatic, OpTic failed to convert another Cache game, but they showed off their expanding map pool when they faced off against EnVyUs in a best-of three yesterday. OpTic surprised by picking Overpass first, which led to an extremely lopsided 16-3 win. They couldn’t find another Dust2 win as nV pulled off a 16-13 thanks to some key Tec-9 force buys, but OpTic would take the series with their tried and tested Cobblestone pick.
Then, in their rematch versus Fnatic, who admittedly playing with a stand-in, OpTic again was able to upset. After Fnatic banned Overpass first, OpTic picked Cobblestone, leading to a crushing 16-5 win, and they were even able to win a third Dust2 game in four tries over the past two weeks to secure their place in the next phase of Turner’s extended tournament.
Outside of breaking their apparent pattern, OpTic’s consecutive strong showings highlight the team’s compounding strengths. With Stanislaw looking like an increasingly capable replacement to Daps as an in-game leader, OpTic has increased their overall firepower, making way for stronger CT-sides without sacrificing any of their T-side proficiency. But the knock-on effect of having more skill is that OpTic has increasingly been finding more wins on individual maps, such as Dust2 and to a lesser extent Cache. With their map pool now looking dangerous on three maps (Cobblestone, Train, and Dust2), with the added threat of an Overpass pick mixed in, OpTic seems perfectly capable of beating even worldwide top-10 teams.
But will we see yet another slide backwards?
While this OpTic roster has had the best results of any previous iteration of the team with their results over the past two weeks, OpTic has yet to defeat any of the consensus top-6 teams in the world in Virtus.pro, Dignitas, Na’Vi, SK, NiP, and Cloud9 since their late summer roster swap. While Tarik has looked like a star player for the most part on OpTic, during his tenure with CLG, he was frequently criticized for not performing up to his level versus the best teams in the world in important matches. It’s far from certain that those issues will not reappear when OpTic goes up against more stringent competition in the future.
There also seems to be a recent issue with Mixwell’s willingness to use the AWP over the rifle, which negatively affected the team at the ESL Pro League Finals. While he has always been more of a hybrid player, Mixwell increasingly shied away from the AWP at the tournament with mixed results. With Tarik on the team, Mixwell’s talents as an entering rifler are far less needed, and moving away from the AWP only puts it in less skilled hands in the form of Tarik or NAF-FLY. While Mixwell seemed committed to the AWP at ELEAGUE, his ebbing willingness to perform at his best role could be a nagging issue moving forward.
Additionally at ELEAGUE, Stanislaw had a particularly good showing, even earning MVP honors in the Fnatic series, racking up a +20 kill differential and averaging over 95 damage per round. However, a lot of his kills came from extremely effective CT pushes or flanks versus a less coordinated Fnatic team playing with a stand-in. Stanislaw usually has far less output and it remains to be seen if NAF-FLY, and to a lesser degree Rush, can continue to put up good performances as frequently as they have recently.
While OpTic clearly is on an upward trend right now, looking better than they ever have before, it’s still yet to be seen if they can continue to find wins on maps outside of Train and Cobblestone versus better competition, and if their core trio of players can continue to work well with consistency in tandem with their new stars moving forwards. OpTic needs to attend more events and meet tougher competition to prove if they are indeed soaring or just continuing their long standing oscillation.
Photo Credit: @OpTicGaming on Twitter
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