hooch: "Playing without an organisation has made us stronger"
The Russian side have been making strides in Europe's second tier and recently qualified for ESL Pro League.
EPG Family headed into the ESEA Premier Season 36 Europe playoffs oozing with confidence after topping Group A with a 7-1 record. The Russian team, who had been inside the top 30 in the world rankings since February, had everything covered inside the server, but something was brewing. On March 31, the players unilaterally terminated their contracts with Winstrike citing "constant breaches of contractual obligations" by the Russian organisation. They became free agents and started playing on their own.
Under the name ex-Winstrike, the team made it to the grand final of the double-elimination playoffs through the lower bracket, having lost the upper bracket final to SAW, who secured a one-map advantage heading into the best-of-five title decider. Despite this, Dmitry "hooch" Bogdanov was confident that the team could win the tournament. "The game plan was pretty easy after we knew that we were deciding who would veto first," the 34-year-old told HLTV.org.
"We knew that we just needed to get a good start and win the first map, so we could reset the scoreboard. We won our pick (Mirage) and we had a game plan for Nuke, because we knew they would pick it. We knew what they were going to do, but we lost some rounds where they just smashed us on the B ramp. But coming to the T side, our guys showed great discipline and our game plan just worked."
After winning Nuke, EPG Family made quick work of SAW on Train and became the ESEA Premier champions, securing the highly-coveted spot in ESL Pro League — which hooch hopes can be a motivator for organisations interested in the game.
"It's a huge tournament with lots of big names, and even though we are not a partnered team, we are still going to challenge the best teams in the world," hooch said.
"It's a big opportunity to show ourselves on the big stage. I just hope that people have realised that we have potential and think about signing us. Playing in a tournament like ESL Pro League can help to promote and organisation and sponsors. For us, it's an opportunity to play against the best teams in the world and learn from the experience to become a better team."
The search for a new home since leaving Winstrike has been an arduous one. A few weeks ago, the players were confident that they have found a new home, only for the deal to fall through at the last minute because the organisation, based in the CIS region, shockingly didn't have a budget for the team.
The 34-year-old coach said they were rushed into signing contracts by the organisation, something that, according to him, is common practice in negotiations in CIS esports. He believes that there are organisations trying to take advantage of the team's situation to force them into a bad deal.
"There are big differences in negotiations with CIS teams and teams from Europe or Asia," hooch explained. "CIS organisations are pushing us to accept bad conditions compared to European or Asian organisations. They're really aggressive while negotiating. For example, they present their offer and give us just one day to decide.
"I feel like they just want to give us a small amount of salary and get the maximum amount of sticker money they can get. Some of the CIS organisations that contacted us even want to put a clause that allows them to release our team if we get out of the top 30. I don't understand it, because we have proved to the scene that we are a promising team that has been in the top 30 for three months. It doesn't feel great to be treated like that and that's why we'd rather move to a non-CIS organisation, even though we love our region."
Despite all the turmoil, the mood in the team is as great as ever. With ESL Pro League still a few months away, EPG Family will continue to go through the grind, hoping that one day the phone will finally ring.
"Playing without the support of an organisation has made us stronger," hooch said. "We've got nothing to lose, so it's just about having a great time and making sure that we give our best."