Starting from scratch - the making of PENTA
From scratch to the Major in less than four months — such is the inspiring story of PENTA, who put their new European squad together in March and went on to qualify for the PGL Major in June against all odds, plowing through all four stages of qualification. With the help of the man who was there since the beginning, in-game leader Kevin "kRYSTAL" Amend, we delve into the making of PENTA and their meteoric rise.
The story began in late 2016, when the previous PENTA iteration — who fielded Christian "loWel" Garcia Antoran, David "Kairi" de Miguel, Mike "mikeS" Tuns, Tahsin "tahsiN" Broschk, and Kevin "kRYSTAL" Amend — fell apart, piece by piece, until just kRYSTAL stayed, tasked with creating an entirely new European roster.
The first player to come into the fold was Miikka "suNny" Kemppi, the team's would-be star whose ENCE fell apart in December. The Finn soon started trying out for PENTA side-by-side with other prospects, but he was the only one to get signed come January, joining kRYSTAL in his task. At the time, Stefan "stfN" Seier was part of the team as well, but as he was unable to go full-time, they decided to go another way.
"The whole process of putting together a new lineup was very, very stressful. The whole idea started with Miikka (suNny) and me. kakafu (now coach of BIG) approached Miikka if he was interested to build an international team with us and after a few weeks Miikka decided he wanted to do it. Miikka and me both wanted to go full-time, because we thought it is just something you need nowadays to reach the top, and our goal was to get into the major."
The duo had a fair share of bad luck coming their way at the beginning, as Ricardo "fox" Pacheco was already set to join them but ended up getting the call from SK, who had released Lincoln "fnx" Lau and were in need of a stand-in. Perhaps it was those problems that made kRYSTAL doubt his ability to create a competitive lineup, as he was looking into his options in February.
"Kevin (HS) had already played a lot of matches with me when he was standing in for someone, and I was very impressed by him the way he played the game. He is a very calm and focused player, yet still inexperienced. I wanted him to be on this lineup so we were three already. Miikka came up with Pawel (innocent), who I had not noticed up until that point, but I trusted Miikka's decision. We started talking and decided we all want the same and we had the right mindset to achieve what we wanted. So, there were four of us."
Finding the fifth player was the hard part, kRYSTAL shared, as his role would have to change significantly depending on the type of player they could find. In the end, Jesse "zehN" Linjala became available after leaving iGame.com, which meant the German player would take up in-game leading as well as AWPing.
"Had we got a solid AWPer, I would have become a rifle caller, and had we got an experienced caller, I would have played the AWP only. This was actually a big problem for us, but it actually turned out that now I'm doing both.
"It was more like an emergency solution, but I believed I could do it and, more importantly, my team trusted me that I could do it. So we picked zehN as the last player. Miikka had played with him before, so he could give some insights on what he was capable of, and I also briefly knew him from the Minor one year ago, where we faced each other. We talked a lot about who would fit the best in our team and the players we already had, and we chose him over other players, like ropz."
With three months of tryouts and talks behind them and the final roster locked, PENTA clinched third place in the ESEA Premier Season 24 playoffs before their journey to the PGL Major kicked off. They took part in the first open qualifier for the Europe Minor, at the end of April, and powered through to the final after 11 maps, including three against then-Tricked.
Then it was time for the ESEA S24 Global Challenge. innocent and company traveled to Leicester as borderline favorites, likely to make semis but in most people's eyes a level below GODSENT and BIG. PENTA went undefeated in their offline debut, leaving the Swedes in second place of their group to duke it out against Fatih "gob b" Dayik's team in the semi-finals, before taking down BIG themselves on two close maps in the grand final.
suNny shone in the UK with a 1.40 rating, surpassed only by Johannes "tabseN" Wodarz by the slightest of margins (1.43), with innocent proving himself as the squad's secondary star at 1.30 thanks to consistent showings across the board.
ESEA Season 24 marked the beginning of the rivalry between PENTA and BIG, with the two teams going on to face each other several more times over the next two months. PENTA conceded a spot-deciding series against their new rivals in the ESL Pro League Season 5 Relegation, but their next encounter on the same day saw kRYSTAL's five triumph in the third round of the Europe Minor's closed qualifier, obtaining a 3-0 record and a spot in the next qualifying stage for the Major.
With a series loss to Gatekeepers that saw them eliminated in last place at GeForce Cup in Poland only two weeks before the Europe Minor, PENTA's road to the Bucharest event was far from encouraging, despite the addition of Niko "naSu" Kovanen as a coach. In all fairness, the Finnish veteran had not had enough time to make an impact on the team's play at that point, but as time went on, he proved instrumental in fixing smaller issues and analyzing opponents.
"naSu is a very experienced player, who competed on a top level back in his days, so he knows how to play the game and helps us to fix the small details that we are still doing wrong but that have a big impact, for example retakes. He helps everyone in general a lot, because he has an objective view of our game and tells people briefly after practice in the steam chat: 'Look, I think in this situation, you should have just made a quick plan and then play the 2vs2,' for example. He helps me personally a lot with analysing our enemies, which helps me with calling and setting up a game plan against our enemies."
With a bootcamp under their belt, the Global Challenge champions went 2-0 in the group stage at the Minor and proceeded to clinch a spot at the Main Qualifier over Envy, finishing second overall following a one-sided series against BIG in the end.
On to the last stage they went, their toughest challenge up to that point, facing favored sides such as OpTic and Liquid in the first two rounds of the Main Qualifier. Happy with the North American match-ups, suNny put on a show yet again as PENTA strolled to a 2-0 record, one map away from the Major. The Finn struggled to find the same impact versus mousesports, who got away with a 16-14 win, but PENTA were quickly back in action and celebrated a Challengers status after a comfortable Vega Squadron match-up.
kRYSTAL shared what his team's recipe for success was and pinpointed aligned goals, collective hunger to win, hard work, and openness to criticism:
"The first reason for our success was that we all had and still have the same goal. We all wanted to win. Get better and better. Rise as a team. See the progress until we can compete against teams that are playing at the Major. If you as a team have the same goal, you can start moving forward. You start putting 'yourself' below the 'team', because you know you can only reach your goal if you do so. We were just a few guys from all over the world that alone didn't find the success we all desired so much. This somehow made us into a team. It means very much to each and every one of us to win, and everyone in the team sacrificed a lot to win. We worked very hard on ourselves and spent a lot of time in order to get better and better.
"The second reason goes along with the first one. Because we all have the same goal and we don't want to just earn some money from a videogame, but truly achieve something, we are all very open minded to criticism. Without pointing out mistakes, you can't improve. Simple as that. We all can speak to each other about what we think someone did not do well, how we should approach certain things, how someone should behave in certain situations to create a better outcome of the round and so on. I really value this a lot about my team. We barely take something personally or the wrong way, and I think that is why we progress so much more efficiently that other teams.
"The are many more small things that made us what we are now, but I want to name one more. We all played different CS, in different teams and countries, before we all came together in one team. We all had different approaches to the game, different thinking about how we should play the game and most important of all - everyone had different experiences, also bad experiences. But those bad experiences made everyone clear in what they don't want to have in this new team - or in other words, how this team should work. Every one of us learned and is still learning so much from each other, it is amazing. Because of the fact everyone has different things they are good at, we are making each other better and better and, in the long term, the team itself profits from it.
"Compared to my old lineups, there was always someone only following personal goals or talking against criticism, pointing fingers at others so that no one could point them at him, while not understanding that this criticism was necessary to improve. If you can't take criticism, you are not a good player in my eyes. If you cannot see the big picture of what needs to be done in order to be successful, you just simply… won't be."
For many reasons, this is an inspiring story for all aspiring players and teams. Not only did PENTA make their way to a Major this quickly, they did so with a lineup full of leftover players (three of whom are now Major rookies) and in the hardest way possible — through all four stages of qualification. In fact, PENTA played 23 maps on their journey to the PGL Major — or 28, if you account for the two extra series at the Minor in which the spot was no longer at stake —, of which they needed to win 20 to qualify.
"I would have laughed. I'm still surprised with how fast we are improving, it is insane. Normally, when a new team is formed, there is always that "hype-time" in the beginning, where everyone feels super-confident and the progress is very easily noticable, but then the progress slowly decreases. For us, we are still going forward and it is feeling great."
With less than a week left before the PGL Major Krakow begins, kRYSTAL's squad now find themselves up against the odds yet again. Can they pass their biggest test so far and attain Legends status, which the German organization lost to mousesports after ESL One Katowice 2015? If their improvement continues — and there's no indication to say otherwise — it doesn't seem like such a stretch.