Stories of heroism and underdog triumph have dominated the Challengers stage of the London major so far, but there is another, more tragic side to the event. While new stars are born, and burst into the spotlight, a group of former legends have faded away like the last light of an autumn evening, most likely never to be seen again at the top level of CSGO. This is the story of how Virtus.pro bowed out of the game they came to define for millions of people, with a whimper rather than a bang.
Flash back to January of last year, and ELEAGUE’s Major in Atlanta, where VP had just lost to an inspired Astralis. While the Danish side were recipients of the majority of the headlines, there was also an undercurrent of anticipation for what might come, with the rivalry between the Polish five and the Danes only just beginning. Xy9px had described the Polish team as "just legendary" going into the game, and their place in CSGO history was long established before they faced off in Atlanta.
On Friday, three of the same five-man unit who played in that game crashed out of the Challengers Stage of the Major in London, which is essentially a glorified qualifier. Their 0-3 record spanned losses to Ninjas in Pyjamas, OpTic Gaming and North, which looks like a fairly respectable trio, but even those losses hide what is a greater malaise in this team than may appear at first, with both OpTic and North playing well below the level they should expect of themselves.
So how does it all go wrong? Where along the line did the ‘Golden Five’ of Polish CSGO become a bickering mess, that were incapable of qualifying for any tier-one event, and regularly were embarrassed by far weaker (on paper) opposition? Many consider Neo to be the greatest player in the history of Counter-Strike, let alone CSGO, but he, Pasha, byali, Snax and TaZ have transformed from heroes to nearly zeroes when it comes to winning games of CS.
That is not to say they are not still heroes to many, and that may in fact have been the problem for this team. Even when they were playing like rank amateurs last year, they received invites to every massive event, the majority of which they bombed out of without seemingly making an effort, yet the fan love never waned. This, combined with the $25k a month they were being paid, could easily have led to complacency, and apparently has judging by their play since Atlanta.
There have been good moments in that time period, but not many. A second-place at EPICENTER proved the team still had the ability to beat anyone, but equally showed just how little they have managed to achieve despite that. Rumours that there was tension within the team began to surface too, as well as video clips of infighting that seemed alien to the fans, based on how the team has always been.
Eighteen months ago, this VP line-up of Neo, TaZ, Snax, byali and PashaBiceps were an untouchable family that would always find a solution before making a change. This was their canon, their unique selling point, for years and years, but they came into London 2018 sans TaZ and Snax, and knowing byali was gone as soon as their event was over, with a litany of personal issues having brought them so low in the first place.
The dust is clear now, on the day after the night before, and the tweets have begun to fly. Screenshots of the team in the final rounds of their loss to North are circulating, with tears in the eyes of some players, and byali has already left his goodbyes on social media for the team he leaves behind.
Maybe age caught up with some of the team, maybe some of them just fell out of love with the idea of making it as a group, and then again it might just be that they enjoyed enough money and fame to satiate them once and for all. For every great champion, there is the player that fought to be a legend, and then fell away as soon as they reached their personal summit. VP were at the top, in one form or another, for a long, long time, but that somehow only makes this ending harder to bear.
The full explanation of how the team fell so far will take some time to emerge, too and the simple factors of age and a loss of drive caused by achieving all your goals cannot be underestimated, but this is the end of an era like no other in CSGO. Once, it swept all before it, but now the plow is out to pasture, rusting in a field, a reminder of better times.