The ELeague Major is a big deal for many reasons, be it crowning a champion, paying smaller orgs that don’t often feel the warm sun on their skin or creating storylines for people to pick over in the months to come. But there is another drama that has been unfolding over the last few months, or maybe even couple of years, and it looks as though it may have reached a shuddering denouement on the weekend just passed.
Virtus.pro are a huge organisation with fingers in more pies than a mischievous child in a bakery, owning teams or players Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2, World of Tanks, Starcraft II, Hearthstone, Paladins, Quake Champions and Heroes Of The Storm. Of those teams it is the CS:Go team that carries the most weight and value, partly due to their achievements as a group, but also the legacy of Wiktor ‘TaZ’ Wojtas and Filip ‘Neo’ Kubski’s, the last remaining members of the famous Polish ‘Golden Five’.
For those not in the know, the other three VP stars are Jarosław ‘pashaBiceps’ Jarząbkowski, Janusz ‘Snax’ Pogorzelski and Paweł ‘byali’ Bieliński, also huge names in the scene and no doubt some of the greatest players ever to come out of Poland, if not Europe. However, over the last year or so the older members of the team (Neo, Taz and pashaBiceps) are starting to look like the years are catching up with them, and on the weekend just passed they finally fell and broke a metaphorical hip.
As a result of going 0-3, VP will lose their 'legend' status and0 not be part of the final stages for the first time in years, and it’s not even that much of a surprise. The Swiss system at the Major gave them matches against Fnatic, a Cloud9 that has never recorded a win over VP, and a team most hadn’t even heard of, Quantum Bellator Fire. The famous Polish killers managed a total sixteen rounds over those three games, taking only three against QBF, and frankly never looked at any stage like winning a map.
This comes on the back of a frankly terrible twelve months or so, that was admittedly punctuated by a couple of wins, at DreamHack Vegas and versus a struggling Na’Vi at the not-what-you’d-call-stacked Adrenaline Cyber League. They also finished second at last year’s ELeague Major and EPICENTER 2017, but for every high there have been many lows, none more so than losing 16-3 to a Kazakhstani team not even the top Kazakh players had heard of (QBF on the weekend). Now, with their legend status gone and the prospect of having to qualify for any taste of Major action, questions are being raised as to whether this might be the end of the road for VP.
The great irony of the timing is that VP are owned by ESForce, the incredibly well-funded project that totally legitimate businessman Alisher Usmanov owns. Until recently, ESForce were officially involved with three massive CS brands, with VP alongside Na’Vi, and SK Gaming in the ‘paid by Papa Usmanov’ group, but new rules about conflict of interest have encouraged them to focus all their wealth on just one project (in CS at least).
As it turns out, noises behind the scenes suggest that of the two remaining brands, VP and SK, it will be the all-conquering SK roster that leaves the ESForce financial family, and VP who are kept on, massive wages and all. Given the contrast in form between the two teams this decision seems questionable, even with VP being a European org and ESForce coming from the CIS region, and probably speaks of the real problem that appears to exist around this Polish group right now.
The fact seems to be that at least three of the five are utterly beyond the normal censure or analysis reserved for most players. Even as they were being ruined by a Cloud9 side that had never beaten them before, analysts leapt to defend VP against any harsh words from the community, stating that their past achievements and time given back should protect them from the worst of the criticism.
This is slightly jarring, as it is no longer the case that they players can be considered ‘sacrificing’ themselves anymore. Where once they worked hard for little reward, it now looks as though the team does very little in exchange for a massive pay cheque, and will be allowed to continue on, with their massive salaries intact, until they volunteer for the knackers yard.
This is sad for a few reasons, not least because watching someone who was once great fail is tough, and indicative of a problem in CS that has also plagued the Swedish scene, the worship of players when they are long past their prime. Stunting the growth of new Polish talent is another obvious factor, and in the case of Snax (possibly also byali) the best years of his career are being wasted. Given how the big man is playing, ‘best years’ may be an exaggeration, but it’s clear that of the five he is the one with most gas left in the tank.
Of the other three, it looks as though pasha was thinking in those terms post-game yesterday, and given how he has played of late that would make a lot of sense. Snax is a far superior AWPer and player, assuming they cannot find a sniping specialist somewhere in Poland, and Mr Biceps is also a proud man. TaZ was seemingly defiant, as you can see above, while Neo kept his own council for the time being.
Whether there is talent in Poland to fill those enormous boots, only time will tell. There is no doubt Neo and TaZ could play a big part in bringing the new generation through, and if there are not ready-made replacements there is no doubt VP have the cash to go international, especially only having to fund one team now, rather than three. What it needs is someone to pull the trigger, to say what we are all thinking, and offer the two (or maybe three) gods of the game a graceful exit, stage left, because watching them fall apart event-by-event is just too heart-breaking to bear.