doto: "hades is taking us to another level with his AWP skills"
ENCE made it through the ESL Pro League group stage, leaving teams like Astralis and Spirit in their wake, and proving a lot of people doubting the international squad wrong. Now, Eetu "sAw" Saha’s men are facing forZe on Wednesday at 16:00 to continue showing that they are a team worthy of the playoffs at one of the top events in the calendar.
Marco "Snappi" Pfeiffer and company were in Group A and played their group stage matches nearly a month ago, however, which could be a hindrance for the team as their momentum was recently shaken with an early exit at Nordic Masters Fall 2021 following two best-of-one losses to Dignitas and HAVU, although the blunder was preceded by a solid second-place run at Malta Vibes Knockout Series 1, where they lost the final match to another team on the cusp of making it into the game’s higher echelons, Entropiq.
Despite some setbacks, Snappi believes that results against teams outside of the regular invite circle can be tricky and perceptions of a team's strength in those situations misleading. "We've been doing pretty good in tier two, I saw the HLTV preview where it says that we were struggling but I think that's pretty bad," the Danish IGL said.
"The thing is, we won two out of seven and made the playoffs or finals in every other tier two event. For me, that's actually a pretty good overall result because nobody is safe if you throw them down to tier two. You cannot win down there consistently. Even when Gambit made the climb to No. 1 in the world, they were losing down there."
Coach sAw also believes the team has been playing well and that any setbacks or gaffes between the group stage and playoffs should not be blown out of proportion, as the team is still figuring itself out.
"We did great in the group stage and played some good Counter-Strike," sAw said regarding the team’s recent showings. "There was obviously a bit of a downfall in the BLAST qualifier, but it's nothing to overreact about. It can kind of go both ways. It was two maps on Nuke and we tried to focus on what went wrong and fix what we could just to focus on ESL Pro League, which is our main focus at the moment, so we don't need to stress too much about it and move on.
"Our biggest challenge is related to experience, just getting it as a team and making progress together. We don't have that many players with experience from the big tournaments and it's going to take some time to get that. We'll get to the bigger events with time and I do think that these days it's very hard to make the grind from tier two to tier one, there are so many upcoming teams and the competition is so tough. But no worries, we'll get there."
For Joonas "doto" Forss, one of the main reasons ENCE have shown the promise they have in this Pro League is the addition of Olek "hades" Miskiewicz to the roster. The Pole has an impressive 1.23 rating, the highest in the team and the seventh overall, but he is not only bringing his talent to the forefront as his addition also helped the rest of the team, acting as a palate cleanser to usher in a new cycle.
"The most important thing when we changed allu for hades is that allu really wasn't performing that well," doto said about the swap. "I fully believe that he could perform better, but he didn’t, and hades is playing super well. He's taking us to another level with his AWP skills and we got a mental reset after a lot of bad results since the last ESL Pro League, which lets us focus completely on getting back on track and trying to improve."
The match between forZe and ENCE has the makings to be an interesting one, as neither of the two teams were necessarily favored to make it out of the group stage and into the playoffs, but with grit and determination both managed to leave behind squads that on paper were expected to be in the shoes these two are now filling in the first round of playoffs.
"I do think forZe have risen after the player break, finishing the group with a 4-1 record," sAw said of their upcoming opponents. "They're a strong team and one of their strengths is Mirage. Looking at it over three months they have like 25 wins and one loss or something like that. In general, I do think they're pretty hungry and willing to put in the work to improve a lot.
"Regarding anti-stratting, every team has tendencies, you just have to find them. Obviously sometimes it's easier depending on the team. I don't really want to go too much into it, but I do think there's always something to be found."
But there is no favorite or underdog in this series according to Lotan "Spinx" Giladi. "They're higher on the HLTV ranking than we are," the Israeli player admits, "but we and forZe both showed we can beat the good tier one teams and we can perform really well, so it’s just a 50-50 match in my opinion."
Were ENCE to take out forZe in their first playoff series, the international squad would then go on to face another CIS team, none other than the top-ranked Natus Vincere and their star AWPer Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev. But that only serves as motivation for doto. "I actually prefer NAVI out of all of the teams because I just want to beat s1mple," the Finn said. "So it works for me."