The Fraught Echo Fox
The Third America’s Minor Closed Qualifier, which essentially served as the group stage of the Minor-to-be, concluded on Wednesday with Cloud9, Echo Fox, Team SoloMid, and Immortals ultimately advancing through.
Echo Fox’s qualification might have surprised some given their recent dismal, and widely mocked, performance at ELEAGUE Season 2, where they won just six rounds across three maps. But their newfound reputation is somewhat at odds with outside expectations given the name value of their players, their fourth place finish at Northern Arena Toronto, and their triumph over Team Liquid in the ELEAGUE online preliminary matches.
Has Echo Fox been unfairly sullied by their poor showing versus stronger competition at ELEAGUE or was their ever valid justification for their somewhat heightened expectations? Can Echo Fox recover from their recent embarrassment or are they just another North American team destined for perpetual underachievement?
RIck Fox’s Afterthoughts?
Former NBA player and TV personality Rick Fox first emerged as an esports owner on Dec 18, 2015 by purchasing a spot in the League of Legends Championship Series. He was introduced to League of Legends and the game's competitive scene by his son, Kyle, whose esports interest primarily centered around Riot’s MOBA. His brand, Echo Fox, then entered into Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, which was apparently outside of his son’s interest and produced far less of a splash.
On Jan. 26, Fox picked up the Torqued lineup which competed with Sgares at the Last Chance Qualifier for the MLG Columbus Main Qualifier. While the acquisition didn’t go unnoticed due to the popularity of Sean "seangares" Gares and the celebrity of Rick Fox himself, the new Echo Fox lineup was hardly the talk of the town.
The December/January 2015/2016 roster shuffle season saw many non-endemic orgs moving into the scene. On Dec. 30, the embryonic, venture-capital backed esports organization Splyce picked up Dogman. On Jan. 4, OpTic Gaming, the leading Call of Duty organization, picked up Conquest. On Jan. 19, the League of Legends based organization, Team SoloMid, scraped together a North American roster from the splintered parts of ex-Denial and ex-compLexity after the departure of their previous Danish squad. On Jan. 22, NRG another new, venture capital-backed organization, added Nikola "LEGIJA" Ninic and Fatih "gob b" Dayik to parts of ex-Method to make their own team.
While TSM received a lot of attention for their very underwhelming lineup thanks in part to the precedent set by the former Danish squad, the roster Echo Fox completed last on Jan. 26 was by far the least impressive squad of them all.
At the time, Sgares had just recently left Cloud9 and was still one of the most highly respected players in the North American scene, and the most respected in-game leader by far. However, it was his supporting cast that inspired little confidence and minimal interest in the new team. The new lineup consisted of three former Seangares teammates, Trey "tck" Martin, Mohamad "m0E" Assad, and Armeen "a2z" Toussi, from very early in CS:GO or late in Counter-Strike: 1.6, but none of the three had played on a top team or found any significant results over the past couple of years. The fifth player, Ronnie "ryx" Bylicki, was the exception, as he was far less experienced, but had more recently played on competitively relevant teams, such as Tempo Storm and Conquest.
Given the inclusion of m0E, a popular but flamboyant streaming personality, and the quality of the names signed alongside Seangares, at the time it was certainly valid to question the seriousness of the lineup and Echo Fox’s commitment to CS:GO overall. The vaguely professional roster could have simply been a marketing vehicle for the two main personalities attached to the Echo Fox brand. Or worse, Rick Fox’s esports naïveté could have hamstrung his ability to pick up any of the far more attractive players available earlier in the swap-season, forcing him to scoop up the least attractive remainders after the dust settled.
Splyce’s improbable wins at the Main Qualifier secured them a seat at MLG Columbus. NRG upset EnVyUs in a best-of-three at the Counter Pit Season 2 Finals. OpTic won the Second America’s Minor by defeating the Brazilian Tempo Storm team twice on their way to their own major appearance in July. And TSM placed top-four at the ECS Finals, where they even beat their predecessors, Astralis, in the group stage
However, unlike the rest of the newcomers, Echo Fox did not find a single LAN win until late May, with zero online accomplishments or LAN appearances in between. They failed to qualify for DreamHack Malmo, finished their ESEA Premier season in fifth place with a record of 11-5, would not participate in the ESL Pro League promotion tournament, and didn’t attend DreamHack Austin, the Second America's Minor, or the ECS Finals.
With no accomplishments under their belts after three months of play, Echo Fox started to make needed improvements. On April 9, Tck was cut from the team with the long-supposed future star Daniel "roca" Gustaferri coming in to replace him. On April 28, the other two members of the old guard in m0E and a2z also stepped down, with Shahzeb "ShahZaM" Khan, the ex-Cloud9, ex-conquest AWPer, coming in full-time as a replacement and Ryan “IchibaNNN” Colucci also joining as a stand-in. Another ex-Cloud9 player, Ryan "fREAKAZOiD" Abadir, later joined the team, replacing IchibaNNN in mid-May to finalize the roster.
These changes were clearly a step in the right direction, but the timing of their moves prevented them from participating in many of the events occurring in late spring moving into the summer. With their brand new lineup, they would only attend ELEAGUE week five via invitation, which was presumably born out of Rick Fox’s relationship with Turner Broadcasting.
Nevertheless, the new Echo Fox was able to somewhat surprise everyone at ELEAGUE by finding two map victories in the round-robin best-of-two group stage. They bested a good team in Na’Vi on Dust2 and a decent win against FlipSid3 on Nuke, but would still fall 2-0 in their later best-of-three match versus Na’Vi, knocking them out of the competition.
Following their performance at ELEAGUE, Echo Fox quietly climbed out of ESEA Premier over the summer, which secured them a spot at the Global Premier Challenger, and joined the main EPL league thanks to a fan vote win and a victory over Luminosity.
Post Summer Simmer
Even with their wins at ELEAGUE, before the player break and the roster shuffling period in late summer, Echo Fox was still hardly considered at top North American team. Liquid, OpTic, TSM, Cloud9, Counter Logic Gaming, and perhaps even Selfless, had all been more active offline and had achieved better results. Echo Fox’s roster looked attractive, especially with a member of North American nobility in Seangares at its center, but it hadn’t achieved the results necessary to earn a passing reputation, even within the North American scene.
Despite their apparent potential, they made a poor first impression after the player break at the ESEA Season 22: Global Premier Challenge. Echo Fox was perhaps the favorite to win the tournament amongst far less recognizable names who had been given far fewer opportunities, but they were ejected out of the tournament after losing to the little known Crowns Esports Club in the first round of the bracket stage.
A week later, however, they would ostensibly find a needed success a Northern Arena 2016- Toronto. Stuck in the three team Group B with TSM and OpTic, both clear top-four North American teams, Echo Fox surprised everyone with two straight best-of-three victories to finish first in the group. From there, they defeated compLexity in the bracket stage and even took a Nuke game off of the eventual tournament winners in Immortals before finishing fourth overall.
The problem is that Echo Fox found these victories under less than ideal circumstances. In the first round of their match versus OpTic, the round timer was not properly set, leading to confusion about whether the round was live or not. OpTic lost the dysfunctional round and they were visibly agitated by the decision to uphold the result. On both maps, OpTic looked ever-distracted as NAF-FLY and others would frequently type messages complaining about the tournament and its administration in between rounds.
Additionally, OpTic came into the tournament in the middle of messy roster swap situation. Despite initially kicking Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz for Tarik "tarik" Celik, OpTic reneged on their decision and brought Stanislaw back into the lineup with Damian "daps" Steele instead getting the boot. However, as Tarik couldn't attend the event due to a family obligation, the original OpTic five was forced to play together again, only with Stanislaw acting as the in-game leader instead of Daps.
The Echo Fox versus TSM matchup ran more smoothly with both teams putting out their apparent best effort. Echo Fox won a 16-14 game on Dust2, before TSM answered back with a 16-14 win of their own on Mirage, leading to a game three on Echo Fox’s pocket pick: Nuke. However, due to Northern Arena’s sub-optimal tiebreaker system, which used round loss totals as the decider, TSM could give up 10 rounds going into Nuke. After losing a few rounds on their CT side, TSM started to force buy round after round in the hopes of minimizing Echo Fox’s round wins on the harder side; however, this risky, but perhaps necessary, strategy ultimately worked as TSM’s determinant. Echo Fox won nine T-rounds on their way to a 16-9 map and match victory.
TSM had also recently undergone a lineup change, adding Skyler "Relyks" Weaver to the roster seven days before the start of the tournament.
Echo Fox Falls
After Northern Arena Toronto, Echo Fox continued to struggle to qualify for high level international LANs, but they were able to have another strong result in the online ELEAGUE Preliminaries. Echo Fox took wins over Splyce and Team Liquid to secure themselves a spot in Season 2.
Unfortunately, that victory, of course, led to their most recent series of humiliating defeats. Last weekend, Echo Fox lost Nuke 16-1 against Virtus.pro, 16-2 to G2 on Nuke, and Dust2 16-3 against to G2. While other teams, such as Selfless and compLexity, struggled in the first season of ELEAGUE, Echo Fox’s six total rounds over three maps was especially poor and was easily one of the worst appearances by a North American team at an international event in recent memory.
Making matters worse, earlier this week in the Third America’s Minor Closed Qualifier, Echo Fox looked like it would suffer a darker stain on its dignity as they went up against the often-overperforming, but little known ESEA Premier team, Muffin Lightning, which contains their former teammate IchibaNNN on the lineup. In their best-of-three match, Echo Fox lost the first map, Cache, in a 16-6 landside, and fell far behind again on Dust2, with an 8-1 deficit after nine rounds. Echo Fox made a comeback in the second half to win the map, but they again fell massively behind on Mirage, this time arriving at a shocking 12-1 scoreline after 13 rounds. Once again, Echo Fox would make a second half comeback to win the match, but their heavy struggles here, combined with their ELEAGUE performance, seemed to disavow the team of any remaining vestige of hype or “potential” onced firmly attached to them.
But were those expectation fair to begin with? Echo Fox was one of the very few teams who did not make roster changes towards the end of the summer and their better results came right as those opposing new mixtures came into fruition. Also, many of Echo Fox’s wins, especially their big upset wins, came on Nuke, a map that was very infrequently played until quite recently.
Beyond the timing and nature of their results, another obscuring factor is name value of the players themselves. Three of their five players were all former members of Cloud9 in 2015 when the team suddenly became North America’s solitary standout team due to the banning of four out of the five former iBUYPOWER players. However, of the three, none were ever stand out players individually. Sgares was certainly a quite well-respected in-game leader and Freakazoid was often complimented for his dutiful teamplay, but neither player was ever especially effective across an entire tournament and they were actually Cloud9’s two weakest fraggers during Cloud9’s fabled 2015 summer run.
ShahZaM, on the other hand, also had only limited success as a player before being kicked off of the team, and only rejoined Sgares on Echo Fox after being kicked out of a weaker team in OpTic. While the remaining two members might be considered the team’s young talent, neither player has ever played on a top North American team or properly expressed their “talent” in important LAN matches. Roca especially, despite being frequently touted as a future star, has never fully actualized that purported capacity despite numerous opportunities.
But will Echo Fox do what’s necessary to survive the ongoing onslaught? It’s certainly possible, but what was troubling about Echo Fox’s initial entry into the scene was their apparent unwillingness or inability to secure top talent either domestically or internationally. That impression seemed to be dispelled as Echo Fox picked up wayward players in April and May, but their failure to make any major moves in July or August, while the rest of the scene retooled, again suggests some degree of complacency within the young organization.
The current Echo Fox roster has been together for nearly six months and has apparently long since peaked. Given their recent struggles, there is a high likelihood that changes are around the corner, but it’s still very unclear if Echo Fox is willing to rise to the occasion. Will they be prudent and properly hunt down their next key addition, or will they just settle and hold up for what could be a lengthy, frigid winter?
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