BIG mission: Make German CS great again
With the Main Qualifier for PGL Major Krakow just around the corner, we take a look at the Cinderella story that has been BIG's journey this year.
In December, many believed that their time at the elite level was over. As NRG revamped their roster and Fatih "gob b" Dayik, Johannes "tabseN" Wodarz and Nikola "LEGIJA" Ninić were nowhere to be seen, the European trio returned home with no titles and the feeling that they had missed a year of action on a team that had largely looked insipid.
And let’s face it – the odds were not exactly in their favour. gob b and LEGIJA were both well into their 20s, and tabseN had not been able to live up to the expectations surrounding him. So when they announced that they were linking up with Johannes "nex" Maget, who had been benched by mousesports just months before, and with Kevin "keev" Bartholomäus, whose biggest achievement was a first-placed finish at ESWC 2016, only a few looked convinced.
"I enjoyed my time in the United States with my former North American teammates,” gob b tells HLTV.org. "I wanted to form a German team with tabseN and LEGIJA, and wanted to live in my home country again.
"I believe that my ingame calling is better in German as I am not a native English speaker. This may have been one of the reasons why we were unable to reach our goals back then, but I learned a lot during this time and had the chance to meet many great people there."
As BIG prepare for the PGL Major qualifier, it is easy to forget that their journey began only six months ago. In this brief period of time, they have risen through the ranks of European Counter-Strike, and they travel to Bucharest boosted by their highest-ever HLTV.org ranking, having moved up to 18th following an amazing run at the European Minor.
BIG made their first appearance at DreamHack Leipzig, in mid-January. It is unquestionable that the field was not that strong, but for a team that had just come together, a runners-up finish was something that they could boast about. Later that month, they would claim their first title as they finished first at the iGame.com Winter Invitational.
But it has not always been smooth sailing for BIG, who have also had to learn how to deal with disappointment. They could not live up to their billing as red-hot favorites for Copenhagen Games as they were sent packing by the surprise package of the tournament, Singularity, who would go on to claim the trophy.
"Singularity had an amazing day and we were a bit unprepared for them,” BIG Chief Gaming Officer Christian Lenz recalls.
"But it did not hurt us that much. We wanted to use Copenhagen Games to practice our strats, and if we look at the results that we had in the weeks that followed that event, I think it is safe to say that it paid off."
May was a special month for the Germans. A first-placed finish at the ESL Meisterschaft Spring event was followed up by a final defeat in Leicester to PENTA at the ESEA Season 24 Global Challenge, but BIG only truly raised eyebrows after securing a spot in the next iteration of the ESL Pro League following wins over Virtus.pro and Kevin "kRYSTAL" Amend’s men.
And then came the European Minor. Victories over Kinguin and Ballistix earned BIG the top spot in Group A and a high seed in the playoffs, but they were sent to the Lower Bracket by Dignitas in a series that had two very distinct maps. With no margin for error, the German team played some of the best Counter-Strike we have seen from them and beat Envy, Dignitas and PENTA in 2-0 series and with little rest between matches. For tabseN in particular, this was a memorable event as he posted a career-high 1.52 tournament Rating.
There are only three players in the world who better tabseN’s current 1.30 LAN Rating for 2017 – Ismailcan "XANTARES" Dörtkardeş, Hansel "BnTeT" Ferdinand and Nemanja "huNter-" Kovač. What makes this even more impressive is that, between 2013 and 2016, only once did tabseN end a year with an above-average LAN Rating – and it was just 1.02. So what is so special about BIG that they finally give tabseN the conditions to flourish, when, in the past, he was part of teams who on paper looked just as good, if not better?
"I looked for this kind of team for years,” he tells HLTV.org. “Everyone on the team is dedicated and ‘lives’ the game, and that is what you need to keep improving every day.
"Besides that, we are all good friends and we get along with each other pretty well outside the game. We have decided to go on holiday together in August, even though we have been together at the BIG house 24/7 for months now.
"Our gaming house is also a huge factor behind our success. We have the perfect setup there and we talk a lot about CS. Even when we stop playing after a 10-hour practice day, we often sit in Fatih’s room and we keep talking about strategies, opponents or tactical approaches.
"All these factors combined have helped me to get my game to the next level. I feel comfortable with Fatih’s and Alexander "kakafu" Szymanczyk’s game plans, and I can trust my teammates in every situation on the server.
"I keep playing a lot outside of our practice sessions. But I am sure that I can still improve my game, and that keeps me motivated."
For a country that has been a staple in esports since their inception and that continues to host big events and leagues across multiple titles, Germany has surprisingly come up short in the talent department in recent years. As organisations like mousesports and PENTA go for international rosters and achieve unprecedented levels of success, German fans hope that it will be BIG to put the country back on the map.
"We are proud of what we have achieved so far,” gob b says. “We are also proud to be the best German team.
"Every day, we get messages from German fans who tell us how happy they are to have found a German team that they can support. That really keeps us going.”
However surprising BIG’s success may be, gob b remains unfazed. After all, he has been in the game long enough to know how quickly things change – for better or for worse. That’s why he paid little attention to those in the community who labelled him and his players “washed up” when BIG was announced.
"We never play for our critics," he explains. "We only play for our family. We knew what we could achieve together, and although we are not done yet, I have to say we have made great progress since DreamHack Leipzig.
"We want to become better as a unit, and if through that we can silence our harshest critics then that is a nice thing to have on top."
A lot of Hearts gonna get broken this week. Lets hope for the best and return with something Beautiful. We feel very prepared and motivated— Fatih 'gob b' Dayik (@gobelante) June 26, 2017
The Main Qualifier for PGL Major Krakow will be, as gob b puts it, the "biggest test" to the team. It is hard to overlook BIG’s most noticeable flaw – the two veterans on the team are unable to put in big numbers, so they have to rely on tabseN, nex and keev to do the heavy work. The opponents at the Main Qualifier will be better prepared to counter tabseN, and that is where the tactical mastermind that is gob b will have to come into play.
After enjoying success in their previous trip to Bucharest, BIG may come up short this time around. But it will matter little. Their rise to prominence and their ability to give German fans a team to cheer on already make them one of the best stories of 2017.