Over the course of this year, eXtatus have silently worked their way up in the rankings until they reached the top 30 for a short period of time following their first title at Cross Border Esport. Together with the team's captain, Patrik "DEV7L" Stuchlík, we explore eXtatus' path as the new hope of Czech and Slovakian Counter-Strike.
As such a young squad with an average age of a little under 19 years, most of eXtatus' players have only started to make their mark in CS:GO. All five were 16 years old or younger when the new game took over the local Czech-Slovakian scene in late 2012, and only Richard "queztone" Strnátko who is now the in-game leader, had had any notable experience outside of CS:GO.
As the old Fraternitas, the big hope of Czech-Slovakian CS, broke apart in October 2015 once Martin "STYKO" Styk and Tomáš "oskar" Šťastný joined HellRaisers, queztone and Tomáš "barb1" Hrádek had to recreate a team from the ground up.
The first revamp at the end of 2015 featured Patrik "DEV7L" Stuchlík and David "frozen" Čerňanský. The latter had played his first local LAN a week after turning 13 and, within three months, had made his way into the team that would go on to win 2015's biggest local event, Mistrovství České Republiky (Czech Championship), under the nEophyte tag.
Despite the success, another revamp came in early 2016, with frozen replaced on the team due to his age while the team transferred to the eXtatus organization. However, the youngster soon found himself back by DEV7L's side after HellRaisers had snatched queztone away ahead of Copenhagen Games 2016.
"Throughout 2016, we often struggled with the lineup and made various changes," DEV7L recalls.
"We brought in sneix and KAPARZO as an AWPer, while I started rifling and secondary AWPing, and went to Copenhagen Games 2016 with frozen, sneix, KAPARZO, barb1, and KETUBOR as the coach.
"queztone was supposed to play with us in Copenhagen, but he got an offer to play alongside HellRaisers, so we took in frozen. I have to say that we didn't do well, we didn't even get to the main tournament."
Unhappy with the lineup, DEV7L and frozen kept changing players and fielded the coach, Michal "KETUBOR" Csontoš, until the rest of the team that now represents eXtatus slowly came together, one by one. Jindřich "ZEDKO" Chyba arrived in May, queztone returned to the squad four months later, and Martin "MonttY" Melišek was transferred from eSuba at the end of last year, shortly after DEV7L and frozen had added another Czech Championship title to their resumé, with the then-14-year-old picking up the MVP award.
"We tried something new, we created a new lineup with KETUBOR and oKKo instead of KAPARZO and sneix," DEV7L says.
"Unfortunately, there was a problem somewhere in the team and we still didn't look like a unit, so ZEDKO replaced oKKo. In the end, our final lineup was with queztone, frozen, ZEDKO, and MonttY came in last."
"The change in the ingame leadership was good for us, because he [queztone] has a lot of experience," DEV7L reckons.
"We started playing like a team, and when I say I'll go somewhere with the AWP, the team adjusts, so I can focus more on my own role in the game.
"It was not easy for us to put everything together, but queztone now leads the entire game and does everything we need to play like we should without making unnecessary mistakes. He can lead the game and doesn't have a problem top-fragging as well as keeping the team in order."
The beginnings of the new-look eXtatus were promising in the international scene, but not without its struggles, caused by frozen's young age. eXtatus beat FlipSid3 and Vega Squadron in the second open qualifier for IEM Katowice in February, which would have earned them a spot in the closed qualifier, but the team was disqualified due to ESL's policy regarding age restriction.
"We only have problems when it comes to ESL tournaments, which frozen can't play because of his age, but there are many tournaments we can focus on, so this problem doesn't limit us too much," DEV7L says.
"We were unhappy with the IEM Katowice EU qualifier, of course. We got far and beat teams like FlipSid3 and Vega Squadron and we were supposed to advance to the closed qualifier, but after we beat those teams, ESL told us out of the blue that they had to disqualify us because frozen's age doesn't comply with ESL's rules.
"We were really sorry about that, but that doesn't stop us, we'll do anything to play in bigger tournaments soon."
Around that time, the team was ranked in the lower 60's after their first international win online, in the third season of Binary Dragons Cup. eXtatus went on to replace coach KETUBOR with Tomáš "teCkoO" Koširer, and grabbed another Binary Dragons Cup title under their belts in the following season.
Two months later, Alza, one of the largest retailers of consumer electronics in the two countries, who hosts some of the local tournaments, gave eXtatus the chance to become the first professional CS:GO team in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. frozen, ZEDKO, and MonttY were still in school, but the remaining trio quit their jobs to focus on the game full-time, being recently joined by ZEDKO after his graduation.
"We had all signed contracts and started training like a team, and then came the biggest offer that pushed us where we are now," DEV7L recalls.
"It was an amazing offer that fulfilled our dream to focus on the game that we enjoy. We're all thankful to our manager, who promised us that in 2016 and he made it happen.
"At the moment, we can't play all the time, because frozen is still in school, and so is MonttY, and ZEDKO recently graduated.
"We play over eight hours a day and train as much as possible, but we also have an abundance of official matches. It's a challenging period, it wasn't easy for us to focus on each tournament, but, despite all that, we managed to win some of them."
"We can't play in the mornings, but we make up for it by playing longer in the afternoon if we don't have many matches, so it's not a problem, we've got plenty of time to play and school doesn't have an effect when it comes to the performance of both players.
"I believe MonttY will join us and go full-time once he finishes school as well. It's not easy for the two players to focus on two things, and school is important, but it doesn't limit us as a team."
eXtatus' primary goal after receiving professional backing was simple and reasonable for a team with a bit of international experience from online competitions - to reach the top 30 in HLTV.org's ranking within a year, starting April 2017.
They took the first step towards that goal at Copenhagen Games later that month. eXtatus made it past the BYOC qualifier, defeating Norse in the final stage, but BIG and North Academy stood in their way in the main tournament's group stage, and the Czech-Slovakian team exited the Danish event in last place following two close losses.
"Unfortunately, we didn't have much time to prepare, and our matches weren't without mistakes, so we fell to North Academy," DEV7L says.
"It was a good experience for us. At the next Copenhagen Games, we'll play even better and do everything to win it."
Unable to qualify for bigger tournaments, such as the Europe Minor and DreamHack Open Summer, eXtatus continued their climb in the rankings online for the next four months. With wins in several lower-tier tournaments, such as Stream.me Gauntlet, Binary Dragons Cup and Headshot Cup, DEV7L & co. broke into the top 40.
eXtatus made the final jump that fulfilled their first big goal in September, when they returned to Denmark for Cross Border Esport after succeeding in the qualifier, in the Summer. The Czech-Slovakian mixture was a level above everyone else, letting no-one aside from ARES get to close results, with 15-year-old frozen averaging a 1.46 rating at the end of the tournament.
With the first milestone reached, eXtatus now set their sights on their next goals, which is to qualify for bigger tournaments and show their worth against better competition.
"We prepared for Cross Border for a long time and practiced as much as we could to achieve the highest possible placing," DEV7L says.
"The win pushed us to the top 30 and we reached the goal we set for ourselves. We'll all work hard to place well in upcoming tournaments like Cross Border. Thanks to that win, we have got invites to other tournaments, and I believe we can move to a better position than top 30 and win whatever comes our way.
"Of course, nothing is free and we'll have to spend as much time in the game as possible so that we can move forward and not make unnecessary mistakes that can cost you matches.
"I believe we'll manage to hit the top 20 soon and, more importantly, get to bigger tournaments so that we can show we can play against teams who are better than the ones we have faced up until now.
"We'll do everything we need to reach that goal in the near future. Unfortunately, we've been unlucky in qualifiers, but hopefully we'll break it and show up on the professional scene soon."
eXtatus' placing in the top 30 earned them an invite to the closed qualifier for DreamHack Open Denver, in which they held their own against Dignitas, but they have since fallen to #34 and are looking to stabilize themselves within the 30 best teams in the world and make the most of that status.