Virtus.pro: Hot or Cold
August 2014, Gfinity 3, semi-final, Virtus.pro squares up against Diginitas (now TSM). Virtus comes in with weak form, dropping maps to mousesports and the Norwegians of London Conspiracy. Adversely, Diginitas is playing at new heights, slaying their kryptonite and strong tournament hope in NiP. Dignitas are tipped as steady favourites. Map 1, the Danes take a convincing victory, looking in great shape to breeze straight into the grand-final, however their confidence was short lived. The second map did not go as anticipated, the plow had been engaged; with the Poles utterly destroying Dignitas and easing on to comfortably beat them in the third. The level brought by VP was unbelievable, leaving Device and Dupreeh helpless in preventing the plow. The switch had been flipped and Titan were no match in the grand-final, Virtus.pro went on to take the title in imperious fashion.
The once legendary 1.6 line-up of neo, TaZ, pasha, loord and kuben (now VP coach), had little success in early Global Offensive compared to the breath of their 1.6 achievements. Finding themselves constantly bested by the likes of NiP and VeryGames, remaining always a tier below the truly elite teams. Towards the end of the summer of 2013, neo and TaZ competed alongside apeX and KennyS in an international mix team at the Prague Challenge. The team (Nostalgie) ended winning the event over Na’Vi, a line-up plagued with familiar issues of converting 1.6 prestige into CSGO success. Their eyes were opened to the short falls within the Polish line-up. Soon after loord and kuben (now VP coach) were the released from the team. The search had begun to find their replacements.
It wasn’t until around 2 months later in October that the new line-up was officially announced. The fresh blood of byali and Snax were chosen to round out the squad. Initial results were disappointing and as opposed to many teams, the honeymoon period of the line-up was not realised, cultivating in a group stage exit at Dreamhack Winter 2013. Clearly the line-up wasn’t clicking and showing lacklustre results. However they soon showed signs of life in late 2013 going into early 2014, winning SLTV StarSeries VIII with both Astana Dragons and Na’Vi in attendance. A strong result, however not enough to establish themselves as international contenders due to the weak recent form of the other teams present at the tournament.
EMS One Katowice 2014 was soon approaching with Titan (formerly VeryGames) and NiP coming in as considerable favourites. Shortly before the event many teams had preached Virtus’ strength in scrims, but few analysts would predict them to advance past the semi-finals. The Poles shocked the world in the group stage, looking strong against HellRaisers (formerly Astana Dragons) and Titan, continuing on to dominate the quarter-final versus LDLC. In the semi-final they met olofmeister’s LGB who were able to win a single map in overtime, however with the other 2 maps being so convincing, VP still looked in great form. The stage was set for an epic final, the longstanding consistency of Ninjas in Pyjamas against the hot form of Virtus.pro. To the surprise of many VP destroyed NiP, in a fashion never witnessed before, resulting in the most one sided Global Offensive major final to date. Their tournament run in Katowice – dropping a single map in overtime – is only matched by the NiP of early 2013 or the Fnatic of late 2014. The Virtus Plow had been established.
The next event VP played was CPH Games 2014, with lingering questions in the air, the Poles would require a victory to establish themselves as the number one team. A repeat of Katowice was on the cards, Virtus needing to beat LGB, LDLC, and NiP to take the title. VP advanced to the grand-final, however clearly in weaker form than their title run in Poland. The final was rematch from the major, with NiP wining a nail biting series 2-1. Soon after was SLTV StarSeries IX, a 4 team event which saw the top 3 teams in world in attendance (NiP, VP and Titan). VP first faced Titan, and lost 2-0 over two close maps, dropping to the lower bracket where they once again met NiP, another opportunity to disprove the suspected fluke in Katowice. Nonetheless in similar fashion to in Copenhagen, NiP emerged victorious over a very tight 3 map series. VP followed the decline after a Ro8 elimination to Na’Vi at Dreamhack Summer, losing convincingly on 2 maps. Clearly VP was an extremely good team, however they had regressed back, unable to repeat their EMS performance.
The following event was ESEA Season 16 LAN Finals, Virtus had a mixed tournament, beating NiP 2-1 and Na’Vi 2-1 (however weakened by visa issuses), yet losing to both iBP and Clould9, teams few would consider in the same tier as the Poles. Virtus finished 3rd, yet would need to raise their level with the major fast approaching. Gfinity 3 was the final event before Cologne, with most of the major contenders attending. And as explained above, Virtus playing poorly early in the LAN, came alive with a Katowice esc performance, taking the title and looking vastly improved heading into Germany.
ESL One Cologne 2014. Virtus.pro came in as one of the favourites with their victory at Gfinity and as defending major champions. They showcased a decent group stage with a convincing victory over Skadoodle’s iBuyPower and a narrow overtime loss to with the newly formed fnatic (now containing olofmeister and krimz). In the quarter-finals they were drawn against team LDLC, the team they’d easily pushed aside in Katowice. This time around wasn’t the same case, the series featured 2 closely played maps however the Poles were eliminated. Cumulating in only the 2nd time they had failed to reach top 4 in the year so far. Virtus looked to follow their downward trend as if victory in London was non-existent.
Following this disappointment they took 3 top 4’s in quick succession (FACEIT League Stage 2 Finals, ESWC 2014, and Fragbite Masters Season 3). Virtus were perfroming well, however they played the part as the gate keepers to the truly elite teams, falling in convincing fashion to the CT side gods of fnatic and newly formed LDLC (who would go on to be EnVyUs). A particularly potent example was in the upper bracket (UB) final of Fragbite Masters Season 3, where Virtus.pro (with a stand-in for Snax) met NBK’s LDLC, the first map was taken by VP in very convincing fashion and they looked in position to take the match and challenge for the title - with the UB advantage - in the grand-final, however the dream wasn’t realised, LDLC took the next 2 maps dropping 5 rounds and dealing VP a 16-0 defeat on the third. This tournament stood as a clear statement, Virtus can come from an extreme high and descend to a terrible low, at complete poles to their showing at Gfinity.
The third and final major of the year was on the horizon, Dreamhack Winter 2014. Virtus came with an unlikely chance to take the title despite being considered the 3rd best team in the world. VP wound up getting a favourable bracket draw, needing only to beat PENTA and NiP to reach the grand-final. Virtus finished 3rd/4th, losing out in a tight series to Maikelele’s newly formed NiP. The first map went to multiple overtimes, including a heroic comeback victory from the Swedes. The second saw VP display great play, however their chance to go close the series was gone. VP were little resistance to the exquisite inferno level NiP had brought to the tournament and lost the series 2-1. Then end of the year was beckoning, Virtus looking consistent in placing, however with their victories at Gfinity and EMS slipping further into the past, their stake as stake as title contenders seemed to be going with them.
Their final large event of the year was the ESEA Season 17 LAN Finals, with the only likely contenders in attendance being Virtus.pro, fnatic, and Titan (with their coach as a stand-in). The Poles worked their way to the UB Final, where they met fnatic, who since their victory at FACEIT were unbeaten in a series in the server. The Swedes came in as strong favourites. Virtus.pro took the series 2-0, winning two closely fought maps, which at the time were considered 2 of fnatic’s top 3 maps, this should have been a watershed moment, fnatic were exposed to be mortal. However this victory too many goes under the radar. In the grand-final VP once again met fnatic, Virtus having the UB advantage meaning they only had to win one Bo3 while fnatic would need to win 2 consecutive Bo3’s to take the title. The first series saw the same maps as the UB final, this time the tides had turned with fnatic wining in great style, going on to take the second Bo3 as well, totalling 4 maps wins in a row. The contrast between the UB final and the grand-final was startling, seemingly with at different Virtus.pro showing up each time. With 2015 soon approaching and the huge influx of investment into the scene, should Virtus seek a large proportion of the winnings, they would need to find their peek from more regularly.
After a short break over the New Year, the Poles next attended ASUS ROG Winter, a smaller LAN in which Virtus should be expected to make at minimum a finals finish. However they ended far off the finals, exiting the tournament in the group stage, losing matches to HellRaisers and PENTA Sports, both large upsets between themselves. The consistency kings of 2014, with the most top 4’s of the year had started 2015 by bombing out in the group stage. The following event was IOS Pantamera, an extremely stacked tournament for its size, with the top 4 teams in the world attending (nV, NiP, Virtus.pro and fnatic), however they once again went out in the group showing only slightly improved form from ASUS ROG. Virtus looking in a lot of trouble as they head into the next major.
ESL One Katowice 2015, a tournament where VP could be expected make the semi-finals, significantly helped by NiP making a roster change shortly before the event, however with strong underdogs in the field of Titan and Na’Vi, a top 4 finish could still be difficult. Virtus’ path through the group stage was made relatively easy by Cloud9’s upset over TSM. Virtus.pro advanced as top seed and were granted a favourable quarter-final opponent of Keyd Stars, during the match Keyd were able to take one map in overtime however VP were able to win the other 2, dropping only 5 rounds in the process. This may have been strong showing but looked to be as little help as they would face the world’s best in fnatic. VP lost the semi-final 0-2, both maps being extremely competitive, especially on the newly updated cobblestone, where both the teams showcased their innovations. Overall a good placing, raising their level in the semi’s however the sheer skill on fnatic overcame the well prepared Virtus.pro. Nonetheless preparation was an asset they would no longer have, attending 7 events in few more weeks.
First up they attended Gfinity Spring Masters 1, competing a stand-in for Snax. Virtus performed much better than could be expected, placing 3rd, including a heart breaking 3 map series loss to NiP and a dominant 3rd place decider victory over the cracking Clould9. A good sign as they entered SLTV StarSeries XII. Although only 6 teams attended the event, they were 6 of the 7 best teams in the world, only missing major champions’ fnatic. Their first match was the UB semi-final against NiP, and off the back of Gfinity a close match-up was on the table, it wasn’t. NiP dominated VP 2-0, in an eerily similar style as the Katowice 2014 final, with the same maps and similar score lines. A huge under-performance from the Poles. VP ended facing TSM in the lower bracket, an extremely exciting rivalry, the series went to 3 maps, Virtus waging a huge comeback on the third against map point, with the ever choking TSM helping their cause. The game entered overtime where TSM just edged out to win the series 2-1. Once again VP had been eliminated in last place. Even a victory CPH Games 2015 – with the only other elite team in attendance being TSM – was little condolence to their mediocre start of 2015.
The following event was the ESL Pro League Winter Finals. Despite recent performances VP came in as a good contender, with TSM having a stand-in for Device, Na’Vi adding flamie, and the weak recent performances of Titan. An opportunity was present for VP to claim a finals finish and resurrect their hopes in 2015. The Poles first lost a close series to the crippled TSM, dropping to the elimination match. Where due to an upset from Dignitas, VP would wind up playing Na’Vi, Virtus lost the series 2-1, playing poorly on the second and third maps after demolishing the CIS team on the first. Their third last place exit of the year thus far. They were falling, a tournament victory looked an unlikely possibility.
Next up was ESEA Season 18 LAN finals, a tournament with a relatively week field due to the current weakness of the NA teams. However Virtus’ victory over the Americans was no longer a certainty, of the back of the Poles weak recent form. VP breezed through to the UB final and were relieved to be facing Titan, following the Frenchman’s dominant upset result over fnatic. VP won the match in good fashion and moved to the grand-final. Meanwhile fnatic had taken their revenge on Titan and were poised to take the title. Once again Virtus would only need to take one Bo3 claim the championship. VP won the series 2-0 after showcasing great T-Sides, however there was a caveat to the victory, the first map was season, a map not in the standard map pool and one they’d played a decent amount of in the past. Nonetheless a good win for Virtus at a stark contrast to the Pro League Winter Finals.
The Poles followed on to play back to back Gfinity events, first was Spring Masters 2. Where VP finished second place after a strong group stage, dismantling EnVyUs and beating Na’Vi in an extremely close 2 map series, both featuring overtime. In the final they met fnatic, now a rivalry with close games to be expected, VP were convincingly beaten 3-0, only the final map being competitive. After a decent break Virtus attended Summer Masters 1, a great opportunity for the team, with NiP, nV and Titan all seeing weak form, granting the Poles the possibility of winning an event. VP didn’t make the final, nor escape the groups, loosing 2 Bo3 series to mousesports, a team few would have considered a top 10 team before the event. nex and co. took the matches, out playing in both the mechanical and the tactical department. Terrible news as they went into the Pro league finals, battling for the same sum as a major victory.
ESL ESEA Pro League Finals, where VP advanced as first seed from their group with victories over Luminosity and Clould9, however fate was against them; due to upsets in the other group they would face fnatic. Virtus lost the series 2-1 looking poor in the second and third maps, finishing 3/4th, Yet showing little due to the format of the tournament, leaving their form largely unknown as they came into the recent FACEIT League stage 2 finals. VP first lost a Bo1 to an inform Na’Vi and wound up facing Kinguin in the elimination match. Virtus came in a big favourites, with their opponents having failed to showcase a strong offline result against a top 8 team. The series went to 3 maps, VP just winning the first in overtime, on a map they were heavily favoured on, the second map was taken by Kinguin, leaving the 3rd as cache, a map where currently only fnatic are truly in the same tier as them, Kinguin won the map 16-0, a shocking result. Standing as a testament to how low VP’s level can drop.
Virtus.pro, a team renowned for internal disputes, seemingly changing leadership on a monthly basis. Playing a style of fast execute T-Sides and aggressive CT-Sides, VP are a team continually exposed to upsets when their players are having poor showings, exiting in group stages to considerably weaker teams. However when their game is on, VP can run over almost anyone in the world. The manner in which the team fluctuates between their highest and lowest levels reflects the volatile nature of the emotions on the line-up. VP are one of the most exciting teams in the world, capable of winning any event they attend at any time. So before their next tournament, ask yourself, will we see Virtus.pro hot, or cold?
Photo credits: HLTV, ESL, ESEA, Dreamhack, and FACEIT.
PS: This is my first article, I have a couple others in the works however constructive feedback is appreciated. Feel free to tweet me your thoughts @LynxxCS. Thank you for reading.