StarLadder Major rookie: INTZ
Our second feature covering the rookies of StarLadder Major focuses on INTZ, who qualified for the New Challengers Stage via the Minor Play-in.
INTZ are one of the five newcomers in the Major circuit, along with Syman, forZe, DreamEaters and CR4ZY. With the top two spots of the Americas Minor having been claimed by NRG and FURIA, they had to go through the nerve-racking Minor Play-in, beating MVP PK in the lower bracket to secure the final spot in the StarLadder Major's New Challengers Stage, kicking off August 23.
In this article, we take a look at INTZ's history in the Counter-Strike scene and explained how this roster came to be and how it has evolved over the course of the year. We also include a quick chat with one of the team's players and predict how they will fare in Berlin.
From a non-factor to a contender
The StarLadder Major may be INTZ’s first tournament of this caliber, but the organisation is certainly not a newcomer in the scene. In late 2015, INTZ, a highly-respected name in Latin American esports, made a splash by expanding into Counter-Strike with a squad built around legendary AWPer Raphael "cogu" Camargo, who was part of the iconic mibr squad that won several international titles in 1.6 including ESWC 2006.
At the time, INTZ outlined an ambitious two-stage plan to build a team that could climb to the summit, but such expectations were quickly deflated. INTZ struggled to make an impact domestically between 2016 and 2018 despite boasting players who would go on to flourish elsewhere, most notably Victor "iDk" Torraca, Yuri "yuurih" Santos and Andrei "arT" Piovezan.
But in the summer of 2018, things took a whole new turn for the organisation. An opportunity presented itself as SK Gaming decided against signing the Não Tem Como roster, which would later change its name to NoTag after parting ways with Lincoln "fnx" Lau and Bruno "bit" Lima. With the team holding on to the ESL Pro League spot that belonged to SK, INTZ finally had a squad competing at the top, headlined by João "felps" Vasconcellos, kNgV- and chelo - three players with a wealth of international experience.
The Brazilian team exceeded all expectations in their first months together by qualifying for the ESL Pro League Season 8 Finals when their goal was merely to avoid relegation. But they struggled to carry that form over to a LAN environment and bowed out of the event in Odense in 13th-16th place before ending the year of 2018 with merely a top-eight finish at PLG Grand Slam.
As the year came to an end, INTZ were faced with the task of replacing felps, who had expressed an interest in reuniting with his former SK teammates on MIBR. The team took that opportunity to make further adjustments, cutting ties with João "horvy" Horvath and bringing in the former Luminosity duo of yel and DeStiNy.
With a skipper with more experience in the job and a player who represented an individual upgrade, INTZ looked like a more well-rounded team than ever, but it took them a while to hit the ground running. A fourth-placed finish at the Americas Minor leading to IEM Katowice, where they were denied a Play-In spot by a struggling Envy side, was followed by a group stage exit at DreamHack Open Rio, where they were unlucky to have been pooled alongside FURIA and AVANGAR, the eventual finalists, in the group. To make matters worse, INTZ continued to be plagued with visa issues, forcing DeStiNy and kNgV- to sit out the group stages of ESL Pro League Season 9, where the team could not pick up a single map in three series with horvy and Gustavo "SHOOWTiME" Gonçalves filling in.
The less-than-impressive start to the year and the persistent visa issues left INTZ’s fans to wonder whether the team had a future and created an aura of uncertainty leading up to the second Americas Minor of the year. In Berlin, INTZ managed to top their group convincingly, but then they came up short against NRG and FURIA in the playoffs. A shocking defeat to DreamEaters in the first round of the Minor Play-In spelled disaster for the Brazilians, but they picked themselves up and booked the final spot at the Major at MVP PK’s expense.
This is by far the best moment in INTZ’s history, but it is somewhat spoiled by the uncertainty surrounding the future of the squad: kNgV- is reportedly set to join MIBR after the event, and there may be more changes on the horizon as the Brazilian scene is currently in the middle of a massive shuffle.
Lack of depth is a concern
INTZ got away with playing just four maps at the Americas Minor - Mirage, Nuke, Train and Overpass. Their map pool issues were later exposed by DreamEaters in the Play-In Stage and could come back to haunt them at the Major if they are not able to iron out these problems during the off-season.
The Brazilians are in the top 10 of the oldest teams at the Major, with an average age of 24.3, yet they are the least experienced side of the lot when it comes to tournaments of this stature, with kNgV- being the only player in the squad with previous Major experience.
Star player - kNgV-
The outspoken AWPer is one of the most experienced players in the Brazilian scene, with a career spanning over a decade. He played a leading role in Immortals' final appearance at PGL Major Krakow, and while such a story will not be repeated in Berlin - the hectic style deployed by that team no longer works at this level -, all eyes will be on him.
Statistically, kNgV- is INTZ's best player by a wide margin, with his 1.18 rating in 2019 being 10.5% higher than the team's average (the percentage goes up to 12.2% if we only consider LAN matches). He also boasts an impressive 1.21 impact, with his closest teammates being xand and DeStiNy at 1.00, while no-one in the team even comes near his 0.77 kills per round ratio.
A relentlessly hard worker, kNgV- has been able to overcome every obstacle placed in front of him with a zeal that has set him apart. His is a tale of persistence rewarded as a spot on MIBR is waiting for him after the Major. What better way to say goodbye to INTZ than with a masterclass of a performance in Berlin?
Five questions with xand
We caught up with xand, who has averaged a 1.06 rating across all tournaments over the last three months, to discuss what it means to finally reach a Major, the team's goals for the tournament and his recent individual improvements.
You were virtually unknown internationally prior to joining this team. A year later, you are about to compete at your first Major. What does it mean to you to be able to play this tournament?
It means everything to me, I believe that the Major is a dream for every player and I was able to realize mine. After this, my next dream is to win a Major. I have been playing CS:GO since the beginning but I had some breaks which really had an impact. I had the mindset to return and I got this chance [to play for INTZ]. To be able to reach a Major after playing abroad for just ten months is really gratifying.
Unlike other teams, you did not have any time off before the Major. Aren't you afraid that this will be counterproductive because you were not able to get any rest? Besides, it was perhaps a bit hard to find teams to practice with at the beginning of August.
We chose to continue putting in 110% effort to be able to go even further. Getting to play at the Major is very good, but we want more and we believe we can get more. We will have time to rest after the Major. We had some days off here in Canada, where we are living, and after the Major we will think about resting. Right now, the Major is all we care about. During the first days, we practiced against teams from lower divisions, but after three or four days everything was back to normal and we began practicing against tier 1/2 teams.
One of the biggest criticisms of your team is the fact that your map pool is quite limited. Will you be focusing on this issue during the break?
I think our map pool is pretty good. We play every map. Obviously, we have some maps where we are better and others where we are worse, but we are willing to play all of them, depending on the situation. We practice every map with no exceptions. We did not have any official game on Vertigo before the match against MVP PK and they decided to pick it. We were really well prepared on that map, just like on every other map.
What are your goals for the Major?
I believe that you need to take everything step by step, you cannot skip any steps. We are at the Major, our goal is to get to the next stage and try to secure Legend status. If we manage that, we will give our lives to go even further, and why not win the tournament?
You have been one of the biggest surprises of this team, with good performances on LAN. Do you feel this improvement? How far do you think you can go, individually?
I have always been a very confident player, and in no-pressure games I have always been able to play well individually. I do not know if it was because of my lack of experience or because of anxiety, but in LAN matches against big teams I could not perform at the same level. I and the rest of the team have been working on that with the help of our psychologist. I have been very focused to be able to improve constantly.
INTZ have their fair share of experience at the highest level, so they are in a better position than some of the other teams who also come from the Minors. They have a decent upset potential in best-of-one games, but their over-reliance on kNgV- is a major cause for concern: if opponents are able to limit the AWPer's influence, INTZ will simply lack the tools to grind out results.
One thing that sets INTZ apart from other teams is their incredibly strong mental game. Any match against them can quickly turn into a shouting contest, and when that happens they truly get in the zone and play to the best of their abilities. That was how they were able to pull off a miraculous comeback from 4-15 down against DreamEaters on Mirage to win the map in overtime.
INTZ's chances can never be written off, but their lack of tactical diversity and map pool issues will be major issues once the tournament hits the best-of-three stages. It is also important to mention that, despite the fact that the team decided against taking a break between the Minors and the Major, their preparations for the event have been disrupted by the ongoing ESL Pro League relegation. Be it as it may, the stage for this INTZ line-up's final hurrah is set, and we will all be keen spectators.