AGO - The seasoned and the rookies come together in pursuit of success
Earlier this year, a seemingly mundane player change started a chain reaction, leading to the creation of AGO—now the second best Polish team and an international contender.
The story of AGO starts with a Kinguin roster change that happened this May. As the team featuring Michał "MICHU" Müller, Grzegorz "SZPERO" Dziamałek and Karol "rallen" Rodowicz hit a slump after placing second at the WESG World Finals and qualifying for ESL Pro League S5, the decision was made to release Damian "Furlan" Kislowski from his contract, making him a free agent.
Having been cut from what was at the time the second best Polish team, Furlan was upset but ready for a new challenge—AGO's manager Jaroslaw "tgrs" Smietana remembers:
"Furlan was very angry and motivated [after being removed from Kinguin], he wasn't thinking about taking a break. He knew that he could form a new team that would be able to beat Team Kinguin. 'I will never end my career before I win a Major', he said. I replied with 'Just find a team in which you trust, and I will find a new home for us'." - Jaroslaw "tgrs" Smietana
Up until that point, Smietana had been involved in different Polish esports projects, with his most recent position being that of Team Kinguin's manager. However, after putting the squad together and being with them through their most successful period, Smietana left the organization in April of 2017, a month before Furlan—amidst internal changes. The two former Kinguin members shortly hit it off and were set on making a new Polish team.
Looking for players, Furlan first got in touch with Dominik "GruBy" Swiderski, with whom he had shared quite a bit of history as they had qualified for two Majors together—DreamHack Open Cluj-Napoca under Vexed and ESL One Cologne 2015 under eBettle. GruBy, who tried out a streaming career after he ended his AGG stint in August 2016, was already preparing for a comeback when Furlan contacted him, so he jumped on the offer. In his off time, GruBy scouted out potential Polish talent, so when he saw something special in the core of iNETKOXTV, consisting of Mateusz "TOAO" Zawistowski, Michał "snatchie" Rudzki and Tomasz "phr" Wójcik, he suggested to Furlan that they should try them out.
iNETKOXTV was a team put together as part of a nine-month-long Twitch-broadcast project called "GO GO CS GO". However, even after some roster changes, the team had no notable results, only earning minimal exposure through online competitions such as the QuickShot Arena cups:
"At first as iNETKOXTV we were forced to play together, because the team was a result of special talent program on Twitch. It was like: 'Let’s go tryhard, let's see what happens'. But I knew that roster changes would be needed, even though I don't like them."
"I always wanted to play in a team with snatchie, so when he became free, I instantly asked him if he wanted to play with us. He discovered phr, who was a young talent, so they both joined iNETKOXTV." - TOAO
In late May, after playing some tryout matches with the fresh Polish blood, GruBy and Furlan finalized their roster with the iNETKOXTV trio. However, at the time, they were still contracted to their former team, while the new squad had not yet found an organisation to represent. The team played under "Org Incoming" for a brief period, but everything came together in July, when Smietana struck a deal with Polish organisation AGO, who decided to let their League of Legends squad go and switch their focus to CS:GO.
"On paper everything was great - we had an entryfragger (Furlan), second-entry (TOAO), sniper (snatchie), lurker (GruBy) and support (phr). Also, TOAO was raising his skills as an in-game-leader. In terms of chemistry, the three iNETKOXTV players know each other very well, and it's the same with Furlan and GruBy. It was a great mix of experienced players with fresh-blood teammates." - Jaroslaw "tgrs" Smietana
With the roster in place, roles defined and an organization to back them up, AGO were determined to make the team succeed, putting in a lot of hours to make sure their short-term goals—reaching the top 30 and qualifying for LAN events—were reached.
"Since we are a new team, we often practice seven days a week. We work very hard, but it gives very good result as you can see from our latest matches. I personally spend about 40 hours a week in CS, and, honestly, it suits me because it is my passion, I love CS. Sometimes, when we are free, I feel that I miss CS during the day." - Furlan
"We have something like 25-28 working days per month (training days, official online game days, and LAN tournament days)—so it’s a full-time job for us. Sometimes we play 8-10 hours per day, sometimes it’s more like 5-6 hours — it depends on our schedule. We learn very quickly, it’s amazing how much progress we make from month to month. Our whole team thinks that esport is what we will be doing for years. It’s our job and passion." - GruBy
"AGO has two amazing managers—Jaroslaw Smietana and Mateusz Kowalczyk—, and they are doing a really great job for us. We can 100% focus on the game, they handle all the logistics, scheduling and contact with admins. They are also motivational speakers when needed, and they help build a good atmosphere in the team. Except that, we have everything we need - we have a salary, full travel support, etc."
The team's in-game leader, TOAO, knew that practice alone wouldn't be enough to improve at a fast pace, so they decided to play as many officials as possible:
"In the last 2 months, we have played almost daily. We knew that just playing regular practice games was not enough to make progress quickly, so we have taken part in many tournaments and in all the important qualification games to get better. We do not mind that it makes us have almost no free time as long as we still have time to discuss and improve our game" - TOAO
And they surely did play a lot of officials, with 87 maps being recorded on HLTV.org in the last three months, and a bunch of open qualifier rounds not accounted for. In that period, Furlan and co. made it through numerous rounds of the WCA 2017 qualifier, finished top four in the SL i-League Shanghai Invitational qualifier and are actively competing in ESEA MDL S26, in which they are currently at the summit with a 9-3 record.
AGO's rigorous playing regiment wasn't just about playing a lot against lower-tier opposition, and the effort they put in paid off as they started picking up wins against respectable opponents such as Gambit, Vega Squadron and HellRaisers. That reflected in AGO's ranking, as they moved up from 189th on August 21 to 28th leading into the European Minor Closed Qualifier, on October 9.
A week before the European Minor qualifier was set to start, AGO attended their second international LAN, NGC Masters 2017. The Poles made light work of most of their opponents at the event, getting to the final with convincing wins over EURONICS, North Academy and Tricked, but ended up falling 2-0 (16-13, 16-11) to Tricked in a grand-final rematch. A loss to the tactical squad was something that TOAO and his squad have learned from.
"The only real resistance at that tournament was Tricked and we actually learned a lot after that loss. After tactical losses we always try to refine our game. I believe that we have done our homework, and we can play versus their style now."
"After that event, we mainly worked on holding against slow and methodic retakes. We would often lose rounds by peeking too soon and that was caused by taking bad afterplant positions." - TOAO
Coming into the Minor qualifiers, AGO had their playstyle set. On the CT side, Furlan, who is currently their best-rated player, is often seen playing a passive, solo-site role, allowing his team to have more men in a position that is likely to feature action early in the rounds.
"I choose positions in which I feel I can bring as much as possible to the team, I don't only play in positions that fit me. Every player has positions where they feel comfortable, thanks to that we all give as much as we can to the team.
"If someone does not respond to his role, it is important to work together to solve the problem. You have to look for solutions until you find one." - Furlan
GruBy is set up in multi-frag positions on maps, such as pit/balcony on Inferno, connector on Mirage or the A rotation role on Cache. Described by his teammates as the support, phr is the more quiet member of the squad, and is plugged in and rotated around depending on setups.
The team's main AWPer is snatchie, but, unlike other AWPers, he doesn't roam around the map that much, and, instead, AGO often switch the player wielding the sniper. Bringing a lot of firepower, especially for an in-game leader, is TOAO, who is also the secondary sniper of the team. It isn't rare to see the 21-year-old take the big green gun over snatchie—whose solid rifling allows the team to work well in many different scenarios.
"I have total freedom in playing the AWP. Whenever it is needed in the position I'm playing, I just buy it. We continue to evolve our tactics during matches as we observe what the opponent. We also know that snatchie is good with rifles, so sometimes he says that he prefers to give me the AWP. The whole team is fine with that." - TOAO
Unlike their CT sides, which look pretty well planned out, AGO's Terrorist sides are pretty simple and rely on getting picks, making good mid-round calls and clutching post-plants. This can work well, especially against the lower-tier opposition they often face online, but it can backfire if the other team isn't offering them those duels to open up rounds. TOAO feels that this style of play, which rarely sees them go for executes, allows AGO to play their own way, without worrying about what the opponent is doing that much:
"Our game is based on communication, we are not afraid to take risks and we know that it is better to surprise the opponent than to be surprised. We have variants prepared for different situations, so we can change our style of play during the match." - TOAO
After returning from the Danish LAN, AGO made their way through the grueling Europe Minor Open Qualifier and were matched up against OpTic in the first Closed Qualifier match. On Inferno, due to the Poles' poor economy as CT's, Adam "friberg" Friberg and co. had little trouble taking banana control and dictating the pace of the game from there, with AGO's six CT rounds proving insufficient to make the comeback in the second half.
AGO's T-side issues showed in the following match against their domestic rivals Kinguin, as TOAO's men picked up just three T rounds on Cache, all of them coming from clutches. However, they pulled it back on the CT side, went into overtime and won 19-15. Another overtime win came against HellRaisers on Mirage, 19-17, and AGO moved on to the deciding match.
Facing GODSENT on Inferno, AGO showed an improved CT side as they were successful in contesting banana, which was down to a better grasp of the economy and their opponents not contesting the area as much. The Poles closed out the match as T's utilizing their slow, methodic style, and secured their third win and a spot at the Minor.
|Europe Minor Closed Qualifier results:|
AGO took a big step forward by earning a place at the European Minor, especially when you take into consideration the fact that teams such as NIP, Heroic, HellRaisers couldn't make it to the event. Even though AGO placed higher than those teams, as well his former squad Kinguin, Furlan is still hungry and wishes to reach the top10:
"I did not feel the need to prove anything to my previous team (Kinguin), from the very beginning of my esport career I have had the same goal: enter the top 10 and play regularly at the highest level. [In AGO,] we are taking it slowly, together, and I feel that we can achieve this, because, even though we play seriously, we can have fun during the matches, and that makes us very happy." - Furlan
AGO continued their grind after earning a spot at the Minor with another big achievement. snatchie and co. won the Polish WESG EU&CIS qualifier, defeating Virtus.pro 2-0 in the grand final to earn another LAN outing this year. Due to a packed schedule, AGO won't be bootcamping for the Minor, instead deciding to ride on their good online form and to come into the event pumped and ready to upset.
In the end, AGO may not be the most experienced side, with the three former iNETKOXTV members having attended just a handful of LANs, or the most tactical team, as they do rely on a pretty simple style to get things done. But their roster is fairly balanced in terms of firepower, they have a few tricks up their sleeve and can get pretty hard to stop when they get rolling.
Also, not to forget, AGO have two players who are experts at upsetting teams on the road to the Majors. In 2015, GruBy and Furlan took down big names—such as Richard "shox" Papillon's Titan and Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev's HellRaisers —to make it to Cluj-Napoca and Cologne.
Who says they won't do the same again and continue their rise towards the top10?