The Teams that Woulda, Shouda, Coulda
People often only remember the winners, the teams and players with the greatest achievements are the ones to go down in the record books. This is the story of the forgotten line-ups, broken by external forces outside of the server, dying before their time was up, leaving people only to speculate on what would have been, should have been, and could have been.
Titan, September - November 2014
It was shortly after Ninjas in Pyjamas’ victory at ESL One Cologne that the French scene would see a shakeup. Titan’s group stage exit from the major would spur a change within the team, and before long the new Titan was unveiled. NBK, Smithzz, and ScreaM would give way to new blood from LDLC in maniac, apEX, and KQLY. Many thought the newly formed LDLC line-up (later EnVyUs) had emerged from the shuffle stronger, tipping them to be the more successful team. Fortunately the community would not have to speculate for long as both would attend DreamHack Stockholm, alongside some of the world’s elite in Fnatic, dignitas, and NiP. Online form had suggested Fnatic and LDLC would be the likely victors, with Titan appearing as extremely unlikely winners.
After scraping through the groups following a 16-14 victory over the Ninjas, Titan would face Fnatic in the semi-finals. The Swedes came in as big favourites, their online performances were imperious, demolishing almost everyone, including Fnatic's final in Cologne and victory at the most recent StarSeries Finals, Titan were certainly underdogs. However in shocking fashion, Titan defeated Fnatic 2-0. The first map saw Ex6TenZ showcase an awesome T-Side, utilising kennyS' other earthly awping in a manner largely unseen before. kenny adopted the role as the entry fragger, tearing open Fnatic bombsites, reared up by exquisite executions, Olofm and company could offer little in reply, giving away too many T rounds to have any chance of recovery.
The second map would have Fnatic starting on the Terrorist side of Dust2, perhaps this would allow the Swedes to stabilise and even up the series. Fnatic were given no such chance as they were dealt their most decisive loss ever on LAN. Following a monster display from KQLY's passive awping Fnatic stood as little resistance, even an incredible awp ace from JW was little consolidation, as the Swedes were eliminated 16-1. Later on it would be highlighted that Ex6TenZ had an incredible ability of reading pronax's calling, which would allow Titan to retain a favourable matchup, even with later line-ups.
The final could scarcely have panned out any better following the French changes, Titan would meet their fellow countrymen in LDLC. kenny and co would prevail in the series 2-0, taking the first convincingly and the second in overtime. The critics has been silenced as Titan claimed their first title as a line-up. Thorin named Ex6TenZ the MVP of the tournament, an accolade claimed due to incredible T-Side approaches and executes Titan had used during the event. When considering their victory with hindsight, the title becomes only more impressive. Titan had bested both of the teams that together would utterly dominate the scene, for over 6 months.
DH:Stockholm would prove to be the peak level of this line-up, spearheaded by an innovative style which would be better understood, and more easily countered in the subsequent events they’d attend. A Ro8 elimination at ESWC and third place exit at SLTV StarSeries X displayed Titan's true level. They were not an elite team capable of consistently battling for titles, but much more a strong underdog with the potential to knock any in prepared team out of the event, and on rare occasions make deep runs, challenging for the championship.
Titan were a team like no other in the scene, their style was fairly one dimensional, yet no mean feat to counter. Titan held the strongest double awp pairing in the world, and likely the most effective we'll ever witness in Global Offensive. kennyS as the aggressive playmaker combined with the passive style of KQLY worked perfectly, allowing the team to perform dual awp setups on the CT side on nearly every map in the pool. This configuration would put tremendous pressure on Titan’s economy, regularly meaning they'd sacrifice precious rounds to acquire the optimal equipment. As a result their CT sides became very volatile as they'd find themselves saving into impossible deficits. Due to the inconsistencies with apEX, a Titan T-Side would revolve almost solely around kenny's ability to seek out entries, hardly a poor choice as nobody on the planet could effectively counter him. Titan would produce world class Terrorist half’s, however their fundamental lack of skill meant they were condoned to far weaker Counter-Terrorist showings, an unfortunate truth as the game advanced toward a CT dominated meta.
Fast approaching was the third major of the year: DreamHack Winter 2014. Fnatic were on a formidable streak of dominant victories, looking as the like winner of the major trophy. LDLC were second to the Swedes, they’d easily disposed of the rest of the pack, yet had been beaten handily by Fnatic on multiple occasions. Although Titan were a considerably weaker team than LDLC, you could make a legitimate case that they'd be the most likely candidate to deny Fnatic the major title. As mentioned previously Titan had a great matchup to krimz and company, also being the last team to beat Fnatic in an offline series. Titan were also highly favoured to proceed to the playoffs, due to the unorthodox decision by iBuyPower to make roster changes shortly before the event. The Frenchman were an exciting dark horse coming into the tournament.
KQLY's ban struck shortly before Titan would leave to make their final preparations before the major. The Frenchman were disqualified from the event, forced to be merely spectators from the side-lines. This marked the end for this line-up, and the death of a style not replicated to the same degree to date. During the proceeding few events Titan would use their coach in ioRek, and later sign RpK as KQLY's ultimate replacement. KQLY's ban within an instant destroyed the team and had aftershocks felt far beyond the competitive realm.
Titan's subsequent tournaments saw kennyS accent to the best on the planet, and play the highest level of CS ever witnessed in Global Offensive. In the three events Titan played following the ban, they would finish: fifth/sixth at ESEA S17 (yet played extremely close to eventual champions in Fnatic), second at ASUS RoG Winter, and second once again at IOS Pantamera. Whilst using ioRek and RpK (shortly after his return from retirement) who were both significantly weaker players than KQLY. I would even go as far to usher that Titan would have likely emerged victorious in at least one of these events, should the ban have never occurred.
Where this Titan line-up would have levelled off is up for debate, personally I feel that kennyS was playing so extraordinarily well that they'd have been a top 3-5 team, up until the awp nerf hit. Their individual deficit still would have kept them behind Fnatic and LDLC, and they'd be jostling with Maikelele's NiP and Virtus.pro for the third and fourth positions. This was a team that could have been further title contenders, denied the opportunity to do so. Many will dismiss this Titan as a line-up who’d offer little when encountered by the Fnatic's and LDLC's of the world. They couldn't be more wrong.
PENTA Sports, December 2014 – May 2015
13-2 was the score at the halftime, iBuyPower - after their questionable personnel changes - pulled out a substantial lead on the Counter-Terrorist side of Inferno. However in spectacular fashion the Americans would wind up completely crumbling on the Terrorist side, allowing a near impossible comeback to occur. Their victors would be Penta, who as a largely unknown team would advance to the playoffs of DreamHack Winter 2014, securing their place at ESL One Katowice. Unfortunately for the German team they would be unable to retain their form during the comeback, meeting their match in Virtus.pro, and being brutalised out of the quarter-final.
Penta's next event would be the Acer A-Split invitational, and bizarrely the Germans would use nex, who was completing for another team in the same tournament. During the event denis and company would claim maps over mousesports and Virtus.pro, with the latter being the winner of the event. This performance established them above PkD as the number two German team. Unsurprisingly considering his substitution during the event, nex would be brought onto the team, as well as strux1 being added, thus forming the line-up of denis, spidi, kRYSTAL nex, and strux1.
This new line-up's first event would be ASUS RoG Winter, where they’d been placed in group with HellRaisers and Virtus.pro, who - at the time of the event - were both considered within the top 10, Penta would require some stellar performances to exceed the group stage. The German team would kick off by facing HR on inferno, a map where the CIS team was considered - at times - a legitimate threat to the elite teams. Although a close victory, Penta would upset HellRaisers and move to the winners match in the group. Challenging them here would be Virtus.pro, and the map they’d play would be Mirage. This map was the strongest in the pool for Virtus, and they're likely the greatest Mirage team ever in G:O (at least on Valve's version). Penta would triumph over the Poles convincingly 16-9, a score-line nobody would have predicted.
In the semi-final Titan would be their opponents, who were playing their first event since the addition of RpK. The first map of the series would be Cache - likely the Frenchman’s third best map - where Titan would build up a comfortable lead of 14-8, needing only 2 rounds to close out on the Terrorist Side. The Germans would mount a great comeback, however would - in heart-breaking fashion – lose 16-14. Unfortunately it appeared that this performance was draining, as they would be destroyed on the following map 16-0. The third place game would see Penta re-matching HellRaisers, and in an eerily similar fashion to their previous series, they’d crumble on the second map after mounting a great come back on the first, taking a 15-5 score-line to 16-13. This event put Penta on the map, certifying them just into the top 10, edging them past mouz as the best German line-up, due to their great single map upset potential.
Following this tournament – their best showing so far – the team made a roster change, swapping out strux1 for Troubley, although an good upgrade in the skill department it would come at the expense of the team losing their in game leader, who’s preparation - you’d have thought - was integral to the teams single map performances. At the time you could have made a case that Troubley was the best German player – with only nex in contention - following his good display at DreamHack Winter. The move looked dangerous considering the team’s recent improvement, a choice that would be tested as they went into the major.
Following this change they’d be inaugurated in attendance of ESL One Katowice, joining them in their group would be the two French teams of EnVyUs and Titan, Penta’s chances of reaching the playoff looked slim following Titan’s great showing at IOS Pantamera, where they’d topped the group stage and had a close running in the final against Fnatic. Penta’s first map of the event went horribly as they were dispatched a 3-16 loss from the Norwegians of LGB. Menaing in the elimination map the Germans would be facing Titan, Penta would reverse their fortunes of earlier and remove Titan from the event in a crushing manner, eliminating the Frenchman 16-4 on Cache. The German side would go on to ease past LGB and reach their second consecutive Ro8 at a Valve major.
In the quarterfinal they’d be encountering the world’s best – as well as eventual champions – in Fnatic. Akin to their elimination to Virtus.pro at the previous major, Penta would be beaten extremely convincingly over the two maps. Following their exit the team would release Troubley, and it would prove to be the final offline event the core of the team would play. Despite Penta being the strongest German team, mousesports would come knocking and acquire nex, spidi, and denis, building the team around the returning 1.6 veteran leader of gob b.
For me this was a largely unsatisfying end to the Penta team, throughout the course of 2015 they’d slowly improved, and with the addition of Troubley had appeared to have sufficient skill to compete nearer top 8 level, and potentially claim a significant series win over a prestigious team. At ASUS RoG Winter, Richard Lewis cited that a prominent top level player had stated that, if Penta continued improving as a line-up they’d be capable entering the top 5 teams in the world, although I see this as an overly optimistic view, the team showed significant potential, rooted on strong team-based fundamentals, and certainly hadn't hit their cap.
The manner in which I perceive this Penta team stylistically - as well as results wise - is in a similar vein to the current Luminosity line-up (formerly keyd and KaBuM). Luminosity are a very dangerous single map upset team, at almost every event they attend they’re able to take a map against a team ranked significantly higher than them. Both these line-up’s also have a great approach to the game, using a tactical style as well as great preparation to catch top teams of guard. I found watching Penta play extremely interesting, they’d often pull out an innovative pop flash, or boost, also showing well executed tactics and consistently picking up a good number of Terrorist rounds.
Toward the summer of this year nex really asserted himself as a top player, in a global context. Recently the German has cited that the strict leadership of gob b was a driving factor in allowing him to flourish as a player, although this may have been the case, I’d still argue that he would have improved regardless. This added firepower may have been the catalyst allowing Penta to grab a prominent Bo3 victory. Yet due the acquisition by mouz, this will remain but a speculation.
The Original NA Superteam, December 2014- January 2015
iBuyPower's finals run at a FaceIT S2 2014 - at the time - was the best result an NA team had ever achieved at an international tournament (outside of an ESEA LAN). Taking almost a year with Clould9's three consecutive finals runs to even be rivalled. In the semi-finals of the event iBP beat the second best team in the world 2-0, vanquishing LDLC on Inferno and Dust2, two of the French teams best 3 maps. In the final iBuyPower would meet Fnatic, in a Bo5. The American's would convincingly take the first , but unfortunately drop the three proceeding maps, losing a heart breaking 14-16 on Nuke to give the Swedes the title.
The following event for iBP was ESWC, where they'd be eliminated in the Ro8 by Na’Vi, a far weaker showing than their previous final finish. The community laid in wait of their next tournament to gauge the team’s true level. Yet we were denied this opportunity as the iBP team unexpectedly decided to make player changes shortly before the major in Sweden, DaZeD and steel were removed and the young aimers of desi and nitr0 were brought in. The move didn't pan well, as iBuyPower were eliminated in the group stage of DreamHack Winter, a blow only worsened by the fact their group was by far the weakest due to Titan’s disqualification. Shortly following ESEA S17 Finals the move was partially reverted as IGL DaZeD returned to the team, his short absence had emphasised the crucial role he played within the team.
Domestically iBuyPower's results were dominant, consistently able to best their regional contenders in Cloud9 who - before iBP's finals run in Milan – were considered the NA hope at international tournaments. The rivalry between Cloud9 and iBuyPower went far beyond the server, their main distinction took the form of a perceived difference in philosophy, C9 would rarely change players unless it was a necessity, choosing rather to rotate leadership and roles than upgrading in the skill department. iBP was seen as a team that would be trigger happy on player changes, rotating aimers into the line-up as opposed to addressing roles and tactical issues. Although this may have been the case in earlier line-ups, I feel this was untrue for the team of DaZeD, steel, AZK, swag, and Skadoodle.
The aforementioned line-up was constructed around the star players of swag and Skadoodle, this pair had awesome fragging ability however they required direction from more vocal players to perform to their maximum. AZK played the role of the hybrid star, although most think of him just as a supportive player, he was far more skilled than the average one, capable of contributing more frags when required. DaZeD was the IGL of the team, yet was not an incompetent fragger, his style of calling was predicated on setting up the stars of the team to perform. DaZeD has shown through his interviews, coaching, and videos that his team-play fundamentals as well as tactical knowledge is extremely good. Finally we have steel who played the role as the pure support player, filling in the gaps where other players were less suited, and providing guidance whilst DaZeD was occupied.
From the mid to late 2014 iBuyPower were a strong international line-up, yet they remained a cut below the elite teams of the era, iBP's tactical game was decent, however it was a lack of skill that kept them behind, swag and Skadoodle were two of the best NA players however when they square against a team with even more star power, some teams having 3-4 players of such a calibre, there's little they can do. Add on that their stars had - at times - shown a tendency shut down mentally in big games, and iBP certainly had it up against them to win an international tournament.
Cloud9 (formerly complexity) were the arch enemies of iBuyPower, C9 were known for their international showings, including being in the playoffs of three consecutive majors, as well as holding the status as the highest placing NA team at an major with third/fourth at DreamHack Winter 2013, an accolade still standing to date. From late 2013 to late 2014 the team only experienced one significant roster change, as swag left for fellow Americans iBP and C9 were forced to draft an untested young talent in shroud. Who had an excellent breakout event at ESL One Cologne 2014.
Most saw n0thing and shroud as the driving forces in the team, citing some of their impressive stat-lines in Cloud9 victories, however both of them - shroud to a lesser degree - had consistency issues. Although less skilled than the pairing Hiko was the most impactful player on the line-up. Hiko's game was very stable, seemingly able to put up 20 plus frags every map. The American was also the only player maintaining a high level during the teams decline toward the end of 2014 (admittedly Hiko did have a bad event at DH Winter 2014).
In a “Reflections” interview with Thorin recorded in late August, Hiko stated that he wouldn't trade his teammates even for a major title, as mentioned earlier this philosophy was reflected throughout all facets of Cloud9. However as the year drew on Hiko's frustrations would increase as C9 were dropping off. Following Cloud9's defeat at ESEA S17 Finals the disappointments boiled over and frictions within the team came to fruition. Shortly after the teams exit at the event Hiko announced his departure from the line-up. At the time the decision appeared incredibly damaging to his career, as Hiko looked to have no route into a team capable of besting his C9 roster.
Clearly during their period of poor results Hiko's philosophy had changed, as he cited that he’d be disappointed to have his career end and to not claim a major title. Hiko’s exit from Cloud9 coincided with DaZeD’s re-joining into iBuyPower, thus recreating the team that had reached the fateful final at FACEIT LAN, with the only difference being that nitr0 was in place of steel. Despite Hiko’s frictions with some of the members of iBP, he decided that joining them would give him the best chance of achieving victory at a Global Offensive major. After contacting leader DaZeD, Hiko was accepted into the team, taking the place of the uprising nitr0, and thus the NA American Superteam was formed.
This team was - and still remains - the most skilled North American line-up ever assembled in G:O. Although racked with less talent than Fnatic or LDLC – at the time the team was formed - the new found iBP would still be capable of competing with any other side purely on a man to man basis, a feat they’d be able unable to achieve with the former line-up. The Superteam’s first event was set to be MLG X-Games Aspen, this tournament would be a baptism by fire for the Americans as they’d have the two top teams in the world present in the group, as well as the number three team being in attendance (with hindsight). It was just a matter of days before the event that the faithful story would break, and shortly following this Valve would lay down the hammer, banning DaZeD, swag, and AZK for match fixing. The Superteam had been destroyed, leaving Hiko and Skadoodle teamless, and the peak of the NA scene significantly weakened.
As this team never played a single offline map it’s extremely difficult to say how well the line-up would perform, before iBP’s changes of steel and DaZeD the line-up was around a top 5-7 team, so it’s reasonable to say that the Superteam would have bene of at least that level. I would wage that - with the addition of Hiko in place of steel - the team would have performed better. Although swag – on the terrorist side - played an extremely similar role to Hiko, I believe that the former CP player had sufficient experience to play a differing role and still be effective.
Witnessing Skadoodle’s improvement both in game and with communication, I sense the Superteam would have completely dominated the NA scene, with only a monster performance from shroud or Tarik to have even a chance of beating them in a series. I believe that the Superteam would have won an international tournament, their skill level alone makes it conceivable that they’d be capable of having a perfect storm and front running their way to a title. As for fulfilling Hiko’s ambition of a major title, I see it as unlikely, yet by no means out of the realm of the possibility.
The Tip of the Iceberg
These are just three of many. The Swedish LGB, WesternWolves, and the early Virtus.pro line-up - to have ended the Ninjas 87-0 streak in impressive fashion – are other prominent rosters to cause an immense amount of speculation, following unfortunate circumstances and unorthodox roster changes. These teams were rarely the winners, and will likely be blotted out, unable to capitalise fully on their potential.
Photo credits: HLTV, ESL, DreamHack, FACEIT, and CEVO.
Any feedback is appreciated, feel free to tweet me @LynxxCS. Thank you for reading.
PS: I attempted to also include the lineup's in the last paragraph. but decided my knowledge of the teams as well as the context around them was too insufficient to do them justice, if anyone would like to write about those teams in a similar vein, I would love to read it.