Looking back: The endless tale of VP
We take a look at the journey of the Poles of Virtus.pro who have been together for more than a thousand days.
Despite all the hardships and internal conflicts they faced over the years Virtus.pro keep delivering remarkable victories. Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas said that all the fights they had just make their team stronger. There were periods, just like at the start of 2016, where they performed poorly and couldn't contend to win a LAN title but they have always found a way to rise again. The Polish lineup did just that and sent a message to all those who witnessed when they lifted the ELEAGUE Season 1 trophy in Atlanta, Georgia at the end of July and cashed in the $390,000 first place prize: They are still not done.
"I do not believe all this bullsh*t about age and getting worse after every year." TaZ said in an interview in 2014. Turns out the veteran was right as he and Filip "NEO" Kubski still win tournaments after more than 10 years playing the game.
VP's journey is one-of-a-kind
The lineup consisting of TaZ, NEO, Jarosław "pashaBiceps" Jarząbkowski, Janusz "Snax" Pogorzelski, and Paweł "byali" Bieliński has been together since they got picked up by UniversalSoldiers in October of 2013 as DreamHack Winter—the first ever CS:GO Major—was approaching, making them the longest-standing professional five-man lineup with 1046 days under their belts.
SK players—the current overlords of the scene—were playing in different Brazilian teams back when Virtus.pro's lineup came together. Their in-game-leader Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo was a part of ProGaming, Lincoln "fnx" Lau wasn't active, and Epitacio "TACO" de Melo hadn't even started playing professionally in October of 2013. Since then, The French and the North American scenes saw countless shuffles, NIP parted ways with Robin "Fifflaren" Johansson, Kévin "Ex6TenZ" Droolans was removed from his French top team, Natus Vincere dismissed Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko and Sergey "starix" Ischuk from their active roster, and Markus "pronax" Wallsten joined and then left fnatic, eventually founding GODSENT where he'd go full circle and meet Robin "flusha" Rönnquist and Jesper "JW" Wecksell, again. Big multi-esports organizations such as FaZe, Envy, Cloud9, and TSM didn't even own CS teams back in 2013. TaZ & company stayed together throughout all of this, but how?
The Poles travelled to Jönköping, Sweden at the end of November to attend DreamHack Winter 2013—the first event which offered $250,000 in cash prizes, and the first event to be backed by Valve. After beating Sam "DaZeD" Marine's iBUYPOWER 16-9 in their opening match, UniversalSoldiers were decimated by NIP in a 16-4 loss. They then played Recursive to advance to the playoffs. The Poles were leading 12-3 at halftime but performed one of the biggest choke jobs seen to date, and were only able to score a single round on T side on Inferno, therefore allowing Recursive to come back and win the match 16-13 and exiting the first ever Major in 9-12th place. Although their placement and last match was a huge disappointment, Snax—one of the two latest additions to the team's core—impressed with an average of 1.22 rating, already showing signs of a great future lying ahead.
Snax was a force to be reckoned with right from the beginning
TaZ's team ended 2013 with a bang, winning their first international LAN title in Kiev, Ukraine, after defeating Natus Vincere 3-1 in the SLTV StarSeries VIII grand final. Claiming their first title was by all means a big deal, but it is important to note the fact that the event didn't feature the top dogs at the time, NIP and VeryGames, so no one knew whether this was a one-off victory or not.
The Virtus.pro organization secured the services of the now ex-UniversalSoldiers in January of 2014—a month after their first victory and just before the beginning of the qualifying process for the next Major, EMS One Katowice, which was going to be held in the team's home country. NEO & company qualified without much difficulty and started preparing for the event which would take place in March.
By the time the Major came around Virtus.pro were considered a dark horse with great upset potential, particularly so in front of their home crowd. Following a win against Yegor "markeloff" Markelov's HellRaisers, Virtus.pro made their intentions clear by beating Titan—one of the two best teams at the time. Virtus.pro met LDLC in the quarterfinals—a team lead by Vincent "Happy" Schopenhauer, similar to the one that had miraculously come back to eliminate the Poles during the first Major. It was time for some good old revenge and, oh boy, did the Virtus.plow run through the Frenchmen. TaZ's team picked up Mirage 16-3 and secured Inferno with a 16-8 final scoreline, advancing to the semi-finals.
The Poles clinched the Major trophy in Poland
VP cut through the French teams like butter and it was time to face the Swedes. Virtus.pro met LGB—with players like Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer, Dennis "dennis" Edman, and Freddy "KRIMZ" Johansson, which later went on to win big with fnatic, in their roster—in the semis and won the series 2-1, dropping their first map but securing a ticket to the grand final. Thanks to byali and Snax— Virtus.pro's newest and youngest additions—the Poles won the grand final 2-0 against NIP, the team considered to be the greatest back then. byali's 25:12 KDR and 1.63 rating in the first map followed up by a 32:12 KDR and a 1.76 rating performance by Snax, and pashaBiceps's astounding and impactful showing on both maps was more than enough to slay the beast that was NIP and bring Poland their first—and to this date only—CS:GO Major championship.
They won the biggest tournament at the time, but could they become the squad that ruled the scene? Could their run last more than three or maybe even six months? The answer was no. VP lost to NIP in April in the grand final of Copenhagen Games that year and bent the knee to the Swedes a second time at the SLTV StarSeries IX finals in May. The situation seemed even worse when they finished 5-8th at DreamHack Summer after losing to Natus Vincere.
As ESL One Cologne—the second Major in the 2014 calendar—was drawing nearer, the plow seemed to be having technical difficulties, but VP silenced their critics as they usually do: by winning another big event. It was the Gfinity 3 LAN, just two weeks before the action kicked off in Cologne on August 14. At that event TaZ took the IGL position from NEO for the first time in his CS:GO career en route to the Gfinity championship, a role which would then bounce around as several players would have to try and kickstart the team during different slumps.
TaZ & co. won Gfinity 3 just before the Major in Cologne
TaZ claimed before the ESL One Cologne Major that they hadn't reached their peak yet and that he wanted to win another Major. "There was a time when I would say top eight was not that bad, considering how my team were playing or what our peak was." Just advancing to the playoffs wouldn't cut it for TaZ. So, how did they perform?
Virtus.pro earned a win against dAT, who were led by Andrey "B1ad3" Gorodenskiy, in their opening match. NEO & co. then lost to fnatic in overtime in the winners' match but, fortunately for the Poles, the decider was a blowout with VP demolishing iBUYPOWER 16-2. The Polish team faced LDLC—their Major rivals—in the quarterfinals. The French team won both Dust2 and Mirage to eliminate Virtus.pro, whose players—excluding pashaBiceps—fell completely short. The defending champions were out and the struggling NIP, who Virtus.pro defeated in the grand final of the previous Major, went on to win the tournament.
VP's run in Colonge was cut short
The following months were also rough for the Polish team. They attended four different LANs in October and November, finishing all of them in 3-4th place. When DreamHack Winter—the third and last Major of 2014—was knocking on the door, Virtus.pro didn't look like a team that could challenge the likes of fnatic or LDLC. After securing the first place in the group stage and eliminating the German PENTA lineup in the quarterfinals, they played against their greatest rivals, NIP. Adam "friberg" Friberg almost single-handedly brought down the Poles, leading his team to a 2-1 victory and the grand final where they would eventually lose to LDLC.
Their great start to 2014 didn't last very long and the Poles turned into a mediocre top-tier team. NEO said they went to DreamHack Winter to win but they failed to do so and winning a Major now seemed too high of a mountain to climb for Virtus.pro. They could still go head-to-head with the best teams in a match but they weren't getting consecutive results that could lead to a trophy.
2014 ended badly for Virtus.pro
TaZ & company couldn't produce good results at the start of 2015, either, after attending two events, Assembly Winter and IOS Pantamera. They advanced to the semi-finals at the ESL One Katowice Major after getting through to the playoffs with ease and dispatching of FalleN's Keyd in the quarter-finals, but then the world's best team, fnatic, killed the Polish fans' mood by grabbing the 2-0 victory against VP en route to winning the whole tournament. It was the most significant indicator that the fnatic era had started and there was nothing Virtus.pro could do to stop them. Or was there?
After disappointing results in March and April, VP upset fnatic in the grand final of the ESEA Season 18 finals, defying the kings. Was this a standalone victory like EMS One Katowice or could VP repeat their success and go on posing a real threat to fnatic? The answer became quite apparent when fnatic defeated the Poles 3-0 in the grand final of the Gfinity Spring Masters 2 in May, and 2-1 in the ESL ESEA Pro League Season 1 Finals in July.
Virtus.pro kept the tradition alive and won a LAN tournament right before the Major despite everything going against them when they came out on top against Natus Vincere at the CEVO Professional Season 7 finals. When ESL One Cologne kicked off in August, VP met their kryptonite, fnatic, once again in the semifinals. The Polish team lost to the would-be back-to-back Major champions, but this didn't keep them from winning in the upcoming months as they took the victory at the ESL ESEA Pro League Invitational in Dubai against TSM.
fnatic emerged victorious from their rivalry with VP
The sharp downfall came after the last Major of 2015, DreamHack Open Cluj-Napoca, where they finished 5-8th after losing to G2 in the quarter-finals. Despite winning CEVO Professional Season 7 over mousesports afterwards, Virtus.pro finished the second season of the ESL ESEA Pro League in 9th place, got eliminated by Liquid at IEM San Jose, and closed the year out by finishing 3-4th a week later at the FACEIT Stage 3 Finals.
2016 made it even more clear that the parts of the plow were dismantled. Snax, byali and pashaBiceps were in atrocious form and VP's five-man lineup didn't look like it could be that of an elite team. Not reaching the top four in two international LANs to kick off the year wasn't sending a great message, and neither was ending the regular season of the ESL Pro League S3 dead last.
Retaining their Legends status at MLG Columbus—the first and up to now only Major to have been held in North America—in April after a quarterfinals run surprised many but it also made something clear: They were going to hang around and capitalize when they had the opportunity. In May, they beat Natus Vincere to win SL i-League Invitational #1—their first LAN title after 196 days. Despite this victory they lost to PENTA, effectively losing the right to compete in the next season of ESL Pro League—although they eventually won their way back into the league by winning the wildcard spot against GODSENT, raising questions about the legitimacy of the system but also giving fans the chance the possibility of seeing the plow back in action.
The Poles almost always managed to get out of the holes they dug themselves in
The Polish team reached the semifinals at the ESL One Cologne Major in July, even putting up a good fight against SK, taking a map off the Brazilians who would go on to be crowned champions after beating Liquid in the grand final. TaZ and Snax performed admirably, having flashbacks to the form they displayed at EMS One Katowice. VP didn't have much going for them but they somehow managed to keep getting these critical results in important tournaments, just like they did during ELEAGUE Season 1.
Coming to the playoffs from the Last Chance Qualifier under NEO's leadership, Virtus.pro got victories over NIP, mousesports, and fnatic to win the first season of ELEAGUE. They didn't drop a single map in both the LCQ and the playoffs and allowed their opponents to take only 8,6 rounds per map during the playoffs. In short, the Virtus.plow was back in action. They dominated the competition in Atlanta, Georgia, USA despite unfavorable odds as they were the most inconsistent team and were having a rough year.
Standing strong since 2013
"Hopefully, the curse is behind us now." said TaZ in an interview before the grand final, and indeed it was. Snax put on a vintage performance in the grand final against fnatic with a 1.49 rating and a 50:30 KDR. The veterans of the team, NEO, TaZ, and pashaBiceps, alongside byali all played crucial roles, earning themselves a hefty amount of the prize money and, more importantly, the respect they deserve.
After GODSENT and fnatic's roster changes, Virtus.pro climbed to the #2 spot in our Global Team Ranking—powered by EGB.com. These guys have been together for more than a thousand days and have spent thousands of hours together in-game, and although they may have constant arguments, they always manage to survive. There is no equivalent, or anything close to what this VP lineup has achieved. They will, at the very least, spend the rest of 2016 together, most likely adding more trophies and achievements along the way. It is unimaginable for another team in the future to stay together for this long and be equally or more successful than VP, and that is why the Poles are so unique.
Will their story end any time soon or will they stick together for years to come? We don't know yet, but the best scenario is that they don't take the parts out of the machine and keep the plow running for maximum viewer pleasure. Besides, why would they disband? They just keep on winning.
* By rolling the cursor over most team names in the text, chronologically accurate lineups will show up.
BenjaCS is a staff writer at HLTV.org and can be found on Twitter.