Another major, another 0-3 elimination – a story ending with a whimper rather than a bang. Not much remains of the original VP line-up of old, neither in terms of performance nor personnel: the FACEIT London major marked byali’s final appearance under the team’s banner, truly marking an end of an era not just from the Polish team’s perspective, but of Counter-Strike as a whole.
It’s almost poetic, the sort of symmetry you wouldn’t accept from a scriptwriter trying to sell it off as a symbolic coincidence: Virtus.pro’s first tournament with the well-known quintuple was at ESL Katowice in March 2014, the second major in CS:GO history which they would win in spectacular fashion, carried on by the raucous home crowd. Now three out of five players are gone from the legendary roster as they have finished dead last in London, the thirteenth major to date. While the organization is clearly not going anywhere, the era of TaZ, NEO, Snax, pasha and byali is over for good.
It was truly a legendary team, unique in its longevity and the ability to reinvigorate themselves over and over again despite the drops in form that would have led many others to a roster change. Whether it was the passing of the IGL mantle, new tactics or moving around the AWP, they managed to stay near the top for more than three years, an eternity in the context of a CS:GO team. Challengers and champions came and went, yet Virtus.pro remained, tantalizingly close to a second major after their incredibly close defeat to Astralis in Atlanta last January. Even then, they would go on to win DreamHack Master Las Vegas shortly thereafter before a complete freefall – this time, the miraculous resurgence at EPICENTER would prove no more than a mirage. First it was TaZ to go, then it was Snax, now it’s byali. The team that was always there or thereabout at the majors would go 0-3 twice in a row as the conclusion of this saga.
A flexible team characterized by its trademark aggression – the famous “plow” – managed to keep up with all the meta changes and the stream of pretenders for an incredibly long time: out of the teams they’ve vanquished in Katowice, eight are completely defunct and the rest are nothing like what they used to be. Even Fnatic, the bastions of consistency at the majors, have shed three of their five-player line-up from the second major. In many respects, Virtus.pro served as the evergreen benchmark, the true gatekeepers for an astonishingly long stretch of time, remaining genuine contenders for the top spot throughout the years.
Their trajectory provides an interesting contrast with NiP’s, another team that was one of those early titans of CS:GO with a decent 1.6 legacy to live up to: both spent a long period in the wilderness, neither have managed to live up to their original glory, reluctantly shedding three of their five original players one by one over the course of a long period of time, trying to adapt as little as possible on the path towards redemption. It’s clear that the Swedes have done the better job recently – also never falling to such depths as VP have done in the online leagues –, while also managing to keep more of a continuity.
Part of this has to do with the fact that NiP was never the sort of “committee” Virtus.pro was, therefore having both of their high-profile players still around helps maintaining the team’s identity and it has no doubt played a role in their roster-related decisions as the performances of GeT_RiGhT and f0rest don’t really justify their continued presence in a team that is supposed to fight for a top ten spot, going 3-0 in the New Challengers stage notwithstanding.
On the other hand, Virtus.pro have completely bombed on the greatest stage recently – though it’s certainly true that NiP weren’t even there for a long time – and in a sense, the players’ long legacy works against them in a scene with such incredibly young fanbase. Whatever may follow for the organization and players, it will in no way live up to their early glories – which is why it feels like such a major restructuring is in order that potentially nothing will remain of the once-famous roster very soon, at least as far as VP are concerned.
So goodbye and thanks for all the frags: from Katowice to London, you’ve given us a ton of wonderful memories and incredible matchups. However, let’s not pretend that the Virtus.pro going forward will have anything in common with the glories with the past.
Follow the author on Twitter for more at @Luci_Kelemen.Cover Image courtesy of FACEIT.