StarLadder Major Rookie: forZe
Five teams will be Major rookies when the StarLadder Major begins with the New Challengers Stage, later this month. We have prepared a series of articles so that you can learn about each of them, where they came from and what you can expect from them in Berlin. Our third team on the list are forZe.
With all four regional Minors concluded, five teams have made their first-ever Major cut. On this occasion, CIS will be heavily represented in the opening stage of the Major, with a total of four teams from the region participating: forZe, DreamEaters, AVANGAR and Syman.
In the run-up to the StarLadder Major we are putting together informational features, digging into the past of five rookie teams coming into their first Major event. In these articles, we take a look at the teams' history, how the effective rosters came into existence, receive insight from a member of the squad and present a brief prediction for the team's run at the New Challengers stage of the upcoming Major.
The third team we break down are victors of the CIS Minor, forZe.
The current roster of forZe comprises the ex-Spartak core, signed by the organisation in September 2017. Since then, the trio of Jerry, almazer and facecrack have remained a unit, adding xsepower and FL1T down the line in 2018, while former player Anatoliy "liTTle" Yashin has assumed an interim coaching role.
For a long period of time, forZe were considered a formidable online contender. The team gained significant international exposure during their PLG Grand Slam 2018 run, where the Russian squad demonstrated extraordinary results in the form of a playoffs run, besting established opponents, such as G2, AVANGAR and INTZ on their way. Moreover, the underdogs were able to take eventual champions fnatic to three maps in the semi-finals, pushing the Swedes to their limit with a triple-overtime Inferno as a conclusion to the series, but ultimately fell short, exiting the tournament in third-fourth place.
According to an interview with in-game leader Jerry, conducted at the recently-concluded CIS Minor, the results achieved against these international squads gave the team the needed confidence and belief to keep pushing forward, resulting in their subsequent ascent to the top competitive tier of the CIS region.
A lack of consistency had been a problem for forZe in times past, as prior to their spectacular run at the PLG Grand Slam 2018, the team had faltered in the closed qualifier for the CIS Minor leading to IEM Katowice 2019, despite projections for them to make the cut for the LAN event. The team opened their run with a victory over HOLLYWOOD, later falling short against fellow CIS squads Spirit and pro100, the latter considered underdogs in the match-up. Adding insult to injury was the fact that the team had managed to secure top six at the preceding CIS Minor, suggesting a downward trajectory in one of the most important tournaments for the ambitious Russian squad.
The performance that affirmed forZe as a serious contender was in Copenhagen, Denmark, where the squad secured their second large LAN victory at Copenhagen Games 2019. Once again, the team caught the eye of the international audience, having taken down Epsilon, Ambush, Tricked, and Sprout, in the grand final, all in best-of-three settings. This performance, in particular, showcased the team's tactical depth and individual capability, as well as mental resilience and ability to perform on LAN, something that was previously questioned due to predominantly online-based play.
Their most recent result saw the squad assert their dominance over other CIS rosters by qualifying for their first-ever Major after a flawless run at the CIS Minor. What makes the run particularly impressive is that the team effectively performed without a coach, as a last-minute decision from Rustam "5TRYK#R" Alimkulov to part ways with the organisation meant the team had to employ liTTle as an interim coach, additionally placing colossal amounts of pressure on the team's captain, Jerry.
Star player - xsepower
The 21-year-old AWPer has consistently proven to be a deciding factor in forZe's match-ups, and it was voiced in an interview that, indeed, the squad works around their AWPer to accommodate and allow for his incredible individual form to shine. Having joined in April 2018, xsepower had minimal experience, having previously been part of a few mix squads that aimed to do their best in open qualifiers for a variety of events. It was when he joined forZe did he truly shine, developing consistency through structure and a stable line-up.
xsepower was added as part of reconstruction efforts, post-departure of DreamEaters' current in-game leader, Svyatoslav "svyat" Dovbakh, who left forZe for pro100 at the time. Over his entire career with forZe, xsepower has maintained the ability to provide both consistent and explosive individual play. As the main impact player on the roster, he is allowed a calculated degree of freedom, making for an impressively effective round opener.
When looking at the numbers, xsepower is forZe's highest impact player by a decent margin, sporting a a 1.22 rating since the start of the year across all competitions, followed by almazer and facecrack at 1.13 and 1.10, respectively. An opening kill ratio of 1.87 speaks volumes about the player's role on the team, further backed by a 78.3% round win percent post-first kill. Both statistics highlight the Russian AWPer's role on the team and just how crucial he is to forZe's success.
Five questions with xsepower
We briefly spoke to the team's star player ahead of the StarLadder Major, discussing the in-game impact of the PLG Grand Slam 2018 run, forZe's long-term progress as a unit, liTTle's role as interim coach at the Major and nervousness, or lack thereof, against competition at an international level.
forZe have developed into one of the most formidable sides from the CIS region. Talk about the team's journey to your current state.
Consistent training, gaining experience from LANs and official games. Irrespective of the level, it gave us progress, and everything that happened in the past six months is just the beginning of something big. Our motivation levels are through the roof, and we don't consider ourselves a particularly strong team, we're just doing what we love, and that's about it.
Jerry mentioned that PLG Grand Slam 2018 was a pivotal event, in that you realised you were capable of much more than you initially thought. How did this reflect on the team's in-game performance?
Jerry was spot on in what he said, it really was a pivotal tournament that led to this long and difficult road. We managed to defeat everyone aside from fnatic, and we faced off against pretty formidable teams. Furthermore, had we not made mistakes due to a lack of experience, things could've turned out differently.
When we arrived back home, we came to the realisation that we could play against established teams, but we lacked the experience and synergy. At the time we made a decision, which proved to be the correct one to make, where we started playing more officials instead of practicing 24/7. I think that this LAN specifically, where we faced the first and second competitive tier, coupled with lots of official games, gave us this boost.
liTTle is the team's interim coach - has he introduced new mechanics to the team that have contributed to its short-term growth?
It's difficult to pin due to the short period of time, but he definitely has. liTTle only recently started working with the team in full capacity but has already found the time to work with everyone on an individual basis to rectify issues. At the Minor, he really helped Jerry coordinate. I think that in large thanks to Anatoliy's [liTTle] analysis and Jerry's good calls we managed to show such a confident performance.
Is there an additional sense of nervousness due to international competition, or do you feel the team has grown accustomed to it?
What's the point of being nervous if it won't help you in anyway. It's been a while since I remember being nervous before a game, even if we take PLG or officials against Liquid. Regardless of whom you face, you're playing against people just like you - what they have on you are experience and practice. As for the team, even if someone does experience nervousness, we make sure to reinvigorate and support one another, but generally, we don't experience these issues whether facing a tier 1 or tier 3 opponent.
Looking at the list of contenders for the New Challengers stage, how do you weigh up your chances of making Legends?
I feel the minimum for us is to advance to the New Legends stage of the Major. Obviously the favourites to advance are Vitality, mousesports, NRG and G2, and it will be difficult to play against them, but it will depend on whether we play to our potential or lock up and get knocked out. If we play like we know we can, then we should be able to advance into the New Legends Stage.
The Russian team have proven to have an extensive playbook and demonstrated the ability to adapt mid-game - both of these components, coupled with clear leadership and firepower, make forZe a dangerous opponent for even the most established squads lined up to contend for the eight New Legends Stage spots. Presence of mind, mental resilience and experience playing against the higher tiers of competition vastly improve the underdogs' chance at a deep run in the New Challengers stage.
As such, the prediction is for the team to breach into New Legends, albeit not in quite the same flawless fashion as demonstrated at the CIS Minor. As one of the more stable CIS rosters that have stuck through thick and thin, the team exude a sense of confidence, one rarely seen in up-and-coming squads from the region. This equips forZe with the ability to withstand adversity and keep a cool head in important match-ups, and with a record of convincing victories, in both Bo1 and Bo3 settings, forZe stand every chance to realise their dreams, given the roster comes prepared and shows up when it matters most.