PGL Major Krakow: The Rookies
With the PGL Major set to kick off in two days, here is a look at all 16 rookies—the biggest influx of freshmen since ESL One Katowice 2015—who will be trying to make their mark on the biggest stage CS has to offer.
There are only four teams out of the 16 team lineup going into the PGL Major in Krakow that have more than one rookie: PENTA with Jesse "zehN" Linjala, Miikka "suNny" Kemppi, and Kevin "HS" Tarn, Immortals with Lucas "LUCAS1" Teles, Henrique "HEN1" Teles, and Vito "kNgV-" Giuseppe, mousesports with Tomáš "oskar" Šťastný and Robin "ropz" Kool, and last but not least, Vega Squadron, a team formed integrally of rookies. Other than the aforementioned, there will be three players that will be the sole rookies in their respective squads: Kevin "keev" Bartholomäus in BIG, Timothy "autimatic" Ta in Cloud9, and João "felps" Vasconcellos in SK.
|Robin "ropz" Kool||mousesports||17 years, 207 days|
|Leonid "chopper" Vishnyakov||Vega Squadron||20 years, 162 days|
|João "felps" Vasconcellos||SK||20 years, 212 days|
|Kevin "HS" Tarn||PENTA||20 years, 213 days|
|Timothy "autimatic" Ta||Cloud9||20 years, 309 days|
|Nikolay "mir" Bityukov||Vega Squadron||21 years, 188 days|
|Pavel "hutji" Lashkov||Vega Squadron||21 years, 307 days|
|Henrique "HEN1" Teles||Immortals||22 years, 002 days|
|Lucas "LUCAS1" Teles||Immortals||22 years, 002 days|
|Vito "kNgV-" Giuseppe||Immortals||22 years, 262 days|
|Miikka "suNny" Kemppi||PENTA||22 years, 326 days|
|Sergey "keshandr" Nikishin||Vega Squadron||23 years, 110 days|
|Dmitriy "jR" Chervak||Vega Squadron||23 years, 267 days|
|Kevin "keev" Bartholomäus||BIG||25 years, 241 days|
|Jesse "zehN" Linjala||PENTA||25 years, 252 days|
|Tomáš "oskar" Šťastný||mousesports||26 years, 019 days|
*all ages are at the start of PGL Major Krakow 2017
From the last event to this one, only four out of ten rookies made it back, Abay "Hobbit" Khasenov, Emil "Magisk" Reif, Christian "loWel" Garcia Antoran, and Denis "electronic" Sharipov, and only the former two made it back as Legends. This time, there are 16 joining the fray, but their journey to the cusp is far from over.
Vega Squadron is, since the OpTic team from ESL Cologne in 2016, the first all-rookie squad to qualify for a Major. The team broke out during the last Major circuit when they took NIP out of the ELEAGUE Major running, eliminating the Swedes from making it to a Major for the very first time in their careers. The Russian-Ukrainian side wasn’t able to make it to the Major, but their name was remembered by all the next time around when they eventually qualified for their first Major. When asked by HLTV about the qualifying process, this is what jR had to say:
"We started from the bottom now we’re here, that’s how I would describe our road to the Major. As a key moment, I wouldn’t say the lineup change, but the fact that we’ve been playing together for a really long time. We were winning and losing together as a team and it paid off."
The team’s roots go far back, when the core of this team with mir, jR, keshandr, and hutji won the Uprise Championship Season 2 final in early 2015. In late 2015 and through most of 2016 the team played for Arcade and ALLIN, but were finally re-signed to Vega Squadron. While those four players were together all along, it was during the organization switch in mid 2016 from Arcade to ALLIN that chopper was picked up—the aforementioned roster change—and the team as we know it today was finally formed.
Several years of the same core playing together finally paid off, and despite the team falling off the radar for a while since the beginning of the year, they will now be another one of the teams representing the CIS region in Krakow. Their star player, mir, and the youngster, chopper, are two of the key factors for the team’s success so far, the former slowly becoming a star in his own right, with an impressive 1.24 LAN rating in 2017. Having made it through the qualifiers, here’s how jR feels about becoming one of the 232 members of the fairly small Major attendees club:
"I was always watching the tournaments through my screen and I couldn’t imagine that I would get a chance to compete at a Major, in a tournament that is being watched by millions of viewers. I’m extremely happy for this chance and I hope this will help me and my team to get on a new level. Our preparation was exactly the same as we had before other tournaments. We were just playing a lot of scrims. Everyone just has to find his comfort-zone."
As far as the team’s hopes and expectations go, jR is just happy to gain experience and feel the atmosphere at a Major, something he calls “not just any regular tournament.”**
**Interview translated by Alexander "Lk-" Lemeshev
There are then two teams with three rookies each, PENTA and Immortals. PENTA—whose rookies are suNny, HS, and zehN—qualified with flying colors, and was the only team this Major to make it from the Open Qualifier all the way to the Major, making it past every possible hurdle.
The team’s most notable player to date, and the first pick-up by Kevin "kRYSTAL" Amend during PENTA’s reconstruction, suNny, thinks his team’s decisive moment during the qualifying process was against Envy, but that the team still has a lot to show playing against top tier teams.
"Obviously the road was really long, we played around 28 maps on our way to the Major. I guess the win over EnVy at the PGL Minor semis was the most decisive moment for us, atleast for me. Even though they for sure didn’t play their best CS in that event it showed us that we can do damage and that the hard work pays off. Majors are the most important tournaments in CS:GO, so yeah, it was a goal for me for a long time, like it is for every CS player. I am really happy that we made it, but the focus is now to grow even more as team and as a player. We have not played against tier 1 teams yet, so it will be good to see where we really stand as team right now."
zehN, the newest addition to the lineup and the second oldest rookie of the Major, was a bit more shocked at finding himself making a signature to be put on stickers.
"To be honest, I have watched every Major during the past 3 years, but I personally didn’t see myself attending one ever with the teams I had in mind or was part of at the time. To actually be a part of this event as a player, it feels like a dream for me, and for my team also. I hope we have some good games and I expect really tough games from all teams. I also hope that viewers will enjoy the event!"
For HS, the stand-in-turned-player who joined PENTA at the beginning of the year, the crucial moment for the team was before the Major circuit was even under way, at the ESEA Season 24 Global Challenge LAN.
"I think that the most decisive event for me and my team was before any of the Major qualifiers - ESEA Season 24 Global Challenge, because of how dominant we were throughout the event. We realised our potential and our overall mood in the team changed, everyone started to believe in achieving bigger goals, and that’s where we bloomed."
The goals for both suNny and HS are to make top 8, to become Legends, the former putting an emphasis on wanting to see how they fare against the best teams in the world. For the Estonian, it is also important to see how bright he can shine on such a stage against the rest of the top tier talent.
The other team with a trio of rookies—all of which are 22—is Immortals. The Brazilians have Lucas "steel" Lopes and Ricardo "boltz" Prass, veterans of the Luminosity team that played three Majors—they will be appearing at one for the first time since Cluj-Napoca—, but the rookies of the team are twins LUCAS1 and HEN1, and newcomer to the kNgV-.
The twins—who are celebrating their birthdays in Krakow—kickstarted their international run when they won the Golden Chance finals, a tournament which brought their team, Não Tem Como (later rebranded to Games Academy), to North America to compete in late 2015. That team also featured Lincoln "fnx" Lau and Epitacio "TACO" de Melo, two players who went on to win their first Major, MLG Columbus, when they were rookies themselves. LUCAS1 and HEN1 will now reap the rewards of their struggles—namely living in the shadows of SK—, being one of the 16 teams in attendance at one of the biggest tournaments of the year, and, for the first time, a Major with two Brazilian teams. Os gêmeos are also the first siblings playing together at a CS:GO Major.
After a periods of instability with the departures of fnx and TACO, and later felps to SK, Immortals have finally been able to break the curse they had, failing to make it past the offline qualifier for the past three Majors, including by a 2-3 margin at the ELEAGUE Major Main Qualifier with an overtime 17-19 loss to G2.
With kNgV-, Immortals finally made it. The Brazilian AWPer has had a bumpy ride since making it out of Brazil, where he was clearly one of the best players, as he failed to make it big with Orbit (later Red Reserve) in Europe. He is still somewhat of a question mark as he hasn’t been able to mirror the star performances he had against lower opposition after transitioning to a higher level of competition, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t, as he has shown potential at the Americas Minor and DreamHack Summer.
The European lineup of mousesports, which has sophomore loWel returning to a Major, will have two rookies in its ranks—oskar, the oldest rookie in Krakow, and a veteran of the Czech scene and the second tier in Europe, and ropz, the youngest player at the Major and the one with the least amount of time at a competitive level. The Estonian is also the first player at a Counter-Strike Major that is younger than the game itself, bringing added meaning to being part of a new generation.
Having vastly different trajectories, we asked both of them what it is like to have made it to the PGL Major, be it through a long grind in the Czech player’s case—twice a single map away from qualification to a Major—, or in the precocious manner of the Estonian, who appeared in FPL one day and will now have a sticker of his own with his nickname on it. In oskar’s case, he already felt that they would make it through beforehand, thanks to a spell of good form.
"I had a feeling that this was it, we practised well and we were in good form, so I believed in us. Every match in the qualifier was important, all of our opponents were even, every match was different and equally hard. I didn't put up my best performance in our last match, but the team played and worked well together, so we went through with a 3-0 record and we could relax at least for a day, even though the next day we already started practising for ESL One Cologne and the PGL Major."
"To be honest, everyone expected us to go through to the Major and that gave extra confidence, but also pressure. We had pretty good match draws during the qualifier as we didn't face G2, who was the toughest opponent there. The most memorable thing for me was the last match against PENTA, in which I had the best performance so far in mouz. It was also the most important match for me. We started 0-9 down and mouz aren't really known for comebacks, so it was a nice turn of events."
oskar: "I always watched the Majors from work and I always wanted to be there as a player. I enjoy the atmosphere, the crowd that shouts during each action, the prestige, the fact that the best teams in the world are there with you among them. For me it's the biggest achievement, you could say. I accomplished all my goals so far, but now I set the bar higher and I want to win these tournaments."
ropz: "The first Major I watched was Cologne 2014 and I was really glad back then that CS had gotten more recognition after 1.6 died out. I also remember that when I was spectating in-game I pressed tab and I could see that there are hundreds of thousands of viewers on the scoreboard, during some matches it even reached a million, which is definitely a special feeling for the players. I watched every Major after that and I always wanted to play in one. Later on they released player signature stickers and it feels really awesome to finally have my own one since it's something permanent and I can always look back on it."
The goal for the team is to get Legend status, as oskar admits it would take a lot of stress off of the team looking forward, and is something the German organisation has never achieved. "God willing," oskar adds, "to play the final would be the icing on the cake after my long journey."
Finally, there are three players that are the sole rookies on their teams. autimatic, from Cloud9, who could slip under many people’s radar as he has been playing at a high level for quite some time and was even the MVP of the ESL Season 4 Finals. keev, from BIG, the third oldest rookie and the only neophyte in a fairly inexperienced team compared to the rest of the field when it comes to Majors—Johannes "nex" Maget is the only player on the team with more than two Majors under his belt, while Nikola "LEGIJA" Ninić and Johannes "tabseN" Wodarz have only one—, and felps, the only rookie to have made it to the Major without having gone through the qualification process.
For keev, the decisive moment was winning the Minor, which relaxed the team’s tension and gave them confidence for the Main Qualifier.
"It has been a very long road for me since I missed qualifying for a Major with my former team, ALTERNATE aTTaX, several times. When we founded BIG we knew that it will pretty hard to go through all the qualifiers, but we all worked really hard towards what was our main goal since the beginning. I think the most decisive moment was the 1st place at the Minor, after that we felt pretty comfortable for the Major qualifier."
Like every other rookie, keev considers this the highlight of his career so far.
"I watched most of the matches from the previous Majors. In some way, every Major looked upgraded compared to the ones before. Especially the stages and the fan-filled arenas gave me a feeling of excitement, a place where I always wanted to be. So far, my biggest dream came true two weeks ago in Bucharest, and it’s, of course, the biggest success in my career."
As far as his and his team’s practice regiment, keev remarks the importance of having a solid structure backing the team.
"Since we all live together in a team house in Berlin for three months, we have had a pretty straight schedule. We practise around eight to 10 hours a day, which includes talking about tactics and [playing] matches against other teams. At the end of the day we usually rewatch our demos and look at what went wrong. We have a really good team behind us, so we can focus only on gaming. Without our coach and managers we wouldn’t have come so far, so I think it’s ok to play a bit more than on normal preparation days under these circumstances."
autimatic will be the only North American rookie at the Major, as Cloud9 will be the only North American team in attendance in Krakow as the other contenders at the Main Qualifier, OpTic and Liquid, fell short, the same way Cloud9 fell short at the ELEAGUE Major Main Qualifier.
autimatic’s breakout performance was at the ECS Season 1 Finals with TSM, when he recorded a 1.17 rating during his team’s run to a 3rd-4th place finish, and he hasn’t slowed down since, becoming one of the most successful rookies coming into this year’s Major with an international LAN title and MVP award under his belt. When asked about the route to the Major and what it feels like to qualify, autimatic answered that it will be an honor to be present in Krakow.
"I don’t think there was any real decisive moment. I think we felt really confident the whole way through and we just had to take everything match by match. I get a surge of motivation every time there is a Major going on and to finally be able to compete in one is such an honor. I’m excited to see how our team performs at the most prestigious tournament in Counter-Strike and hopefully we can be a part of many more."
Soon after his breakout with TSM, autimatic got picked up by Cloud9, where he quickly became a permanent fixture—especially after his MVP performance at the ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals, where he had 1.32 rating at the end of the event. Having over a dozen big international LANs under his belt, the North American will not be shocked by the level of competition, and although this will surely be a dream come true for him, he should be acquainted enough to big stages to bring his best version forward. As far as what to expect, autimatic’s Cloud9 strives to go all the way.
"We’ve been reviewing and scrimming a lot against some european teams and we’ve been trying to work on our weaknesses. We strive to win every tournament we attend so hopefully we’ll be able to do that in Krakow."
Finally, the most accomplished rookie of the Major, and the only rookie to not have had to qualify to the Major through the Minor/Main Qualifier circuit, is felps, the former Immortals and current SK player.
felps was part of the Immortals team that barely missed the ELEAGUE Major, and where he won DreamHack Summer 2016—and was the tournament’s MVP. After fnx got sacked from SK, he was given a chance to move up to the best team in Brazil, and he did. Having landed there, felps went on to win IEM Sydney, DreamHack Summer, the ECS Season 3 Finals, and, most recently, ESL One Cologne. About how the changes went, not much fazed felps.
"My impression is that it is going as expected. I imagined it would be something like this, that we would have an enormous amount of pressure, and I have adapted to it. The feeling of joining a club like this is that I have the opportunity to make history."
With SK in full form going into the PGL Major, felps is the favorite in this list to perhaps emulate his countrymen, TACO and fnx, becoming a Major champion in his first attempt.While the preparation for the tournament won’t be very different than for any others, having families and girlfriends close will be an extra source of motivation.
"I believe preparation will be the same as for the other tournaments we have competed in. Of course, we have an extra reason [to win it] because it is a Major and because our families and girlfriends will be there. There is no such thing as a required number of hours. What matters is having proper preparation. The number of hours we put in does not affect my game."
When asked about what he expects to achieve at this Major, felps was concise, “the title.”