Jerry deserves his flowers
The FORZE IGL has never quite received the credit he deserves for his contributions to our esport.
There are plenty of names that come to mind when considering the best CIS IGLs in CS:GO history. The most obvious is Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko, Major winner and long-time Natus Vincere stalwart, then there is Andrey "B1ad3" Gorodenskiy, who impressively led multiple underwhelming FlipSid3 teams to Major appearances and has since become a wildly successful coach at Natus Vincere. The hipsters among us may point to Dmitry "hooch" Bogdanov, who during his time with EPG aided the development of players like Mareks "YEKINDAR" Gaļinskis, and deserves much credit for his role in the rise of the current Entropiq as a player and later a coach. There is a name that few would ever consider however, and it is a player who deserves far more recognition for the impressive role he has undertaken in the development and growth of the CIS scene, doing so from behind the shadow of colossal names like Natus Vincere and Gambit.
It was September 2017 when Andrey "Jerry" Mekhryakov joined FORZE, arriving from Spartak alongside his teammates, and for a period there was little to write home about, with the squad experimenting with different players in an attempt to find a winning formula. The team added Bogdan "xsepower" Chernikov in February 2018 and there was a solid improvement in results, with the AWPer posting some impressive numbers and the team winning a number of tier-two/three cups, but it wasn't until the addition of Evgenii "FL1T" Lebedev late in the year that the roster was truly complete. After a short adjustment period the team, listed below, got back to winning lower tier online events and ended 2018 by running fnatic close in a top-four finish at PLG Grand Slam, proof of concept that the roster could compete at the top level.
forZe in 2019:
This FORZE roster, powered by the stars of xsepower and almazer, would go on to produce some hugely impressive results in 2019, and this was the first example of Jerry leading a young squad to success from nothing. They opened the year by securing their spot in MDL Season 30 and this was just the beginning for the inexperienced CIS squad. They continued the start of the year in decent if inconsistent form, failing to progress through qualifiers for big events like DreamHack Masters Dallas and IEM Sydney, but taking first place in the ECS Pinnacle Cup which qualified them for ECS Season 7, allowing them to gain valuable experience against tier-one opposition. This experience proved its worth as the team went on a strong run of form after this, taking second place in the GG.BET Sydney Invitational, beating OpTic before narrowly missing out on a spot at IEM Sydney to Heroic, winning a tier-two cup over Winstrike, and most impressively grabbing a LAN victory at Copenhagen Games 2019; this run saw them rise to their peak HLTV ranking thus far, #21.
By this point FORZE and Jerry had solidified themselves as the best of the rest in the CIS region, rarely getting opportunities to participate in tier-one events, but regularly taking victories and posting impressive performances at lower tier tournaments. This would change in the latter half of 2019; the team won several important qualifiers, including ones for BLAST Pro Series Moscow and IEM Chicago, and most vitally they smashed their way through the CIS Minor for the StarLadder Major. By this point FL1T had joined almazer as a secondary star of the team, and with the additional firepower FORZE were seemingly becoming a real threat to break into the top-20 and join the top tier of CS. Unfortunately, the first opportunity for Jerry to get the praise he truly deserved was squandered, with FORZE flopping the Challengers Stage of the StarLadder Major despite being in a dream position. Sat on a 2-2 record, they only had to beat DreamEaters to progress to the next stage, a team they had comfortably beaten in three different series the previous year in 2018. They failed to do so, crashing out of the Major in 9-11th and rueing what might have been.
The team were not to be broken by the disappointment — quite the contrary. In what was a real testament to the mental fortitude of Jerry and his squad they bounced back in fantastic style a month later in Moscow, attending BLAST Pro Series as the lowest ranked team and taking home a top-two finish. They did so in truly spectacular fashion, crushing recent Major-finalists ENCE 16-4 in their opening game, before going on to take victories against the other two highest ranked teams in attendance, Natus Vincere and AVANGAR, to make the grand final. They were ultimately bested by AVANGAR in the final in what was a relatively competitive series, and it was nonetheless a fantastic showing by a squad attending their second big event. This was finally definitive proof that Jerry had built a tier-one squad from a bunch of inexperienced players from the lower reaches of the CIS scene. The team continued their impressive form for the rest of 2019, taking wins at DreamHack Open Winter 2019, ESEA MDL Europe Finals and Global Challenge, and producing solid performances at DreamHack Open Rotterdam and EPICENTER 2019. The team ended the year at #13 in the world, a fixture in the top 20 and seemingly capable of potentially pushing further and breaking into the top 10.
Something went wrong in 2020. It was by no means a disastrous year, as it still included a number of decent placings like victories in several Malta Vibes cups, but the top-10-level form that the team had displayed towards the back end of 2019 seemed to elude them. They managed little of note in the tier-one events they attended, failing to make the playoffs of ESL Pro League Season 11 and later failing to even qualify for Season 12, repeatedly failing to make it through qualifiers for DreamHack and BLAST events, and making a complete mess of their qualification campaign for the ill-fated Rio Major. One could point to the drop in form of almazer and facecrack, who went from 1.09 ratings for 2019 to 1.02 and 1.01 respectively, the distraction presented by Natus Vincere's interest in FL1T at the start of the year, the disruption caused by COVID, or the controversy they became associated with after their coach was banned for the spectator bug, which was later successfully appealed. Likely, the underwhelming year FORZE endured was the result of a combination of these factors.
forZe in 2021:
2021 came around, and with it a rebuild. The star of the team across 2019 and the first half of 2020, xsepower, was dropped, his form having completely collapsed in the back end of 2020, as was facecrack. zorte and KENSI came in to replace them, two players from the ex-ETHEREAL squad, once again displaying Jerry's propensity to pick up young talents from the lower echelons of the CIS scene. You would be forgiven for thinking this roster would struggle, with FL1T seemingly the only tier-one-level player on the roster, but you would be mistaken. Once again Jerry forged his young team into a powerful unit, steadily improving throughout the year until hitting their stride in April, taking third place at Funspark ULTI Europe Final despite being the lowest ranked team in attendance and winning Spring Sweet Spring 1 ahead of teams like ENCE, FURIA and what would become Entropiq, defeating the latter two in the semis and final respectively. They could not quite replicate the stunning form of 2019 but they continued to pick up solid results, placing well in lower tier events, coming third in ESEA Premier Season 37 and posting a hugely impressive 4-1 record in their ESL Pro League group, picking up wins over G2 and Virtus.pro in the process. Despite the odds, Jerry had yet again proven he could a conjure tier-one capable squad out of thin air.
Unfortunately, Jerry yet again missed out on the accolades his exploits deserved. When it really mattered, at IEM CIS Fall with the team in prime position to qualify for the Major, his squad capitulated horribly. They came rock bottom at the event with a single map win to their name, gaining them 0 RMR points and ruling them out of the Major. It was basically the only scenario that could possibly prevent them from attending Stockholm, as they had already accrued a near-insurmountable amount of RMR points throughout the year. Not only did this tragedy strike the team, but they were also almost immediately robbed of their star player, FL1T, who was poached by Virtus.pro in the leadup to the Major itself.
forZe in 2022:
As is almost predictable by this point, the indominable Jerry and his soldiers bounced back. The increasingly suspect almazer was removed, and shalfey and Norwi came into the squad; as is the Jerry modus operandi, both were young talents with zero tier-one experience. They closed the year strongly, winning smaller events like Exceedme Revolution, and came into 2022 looking promising. As we know they have built upon that promise, winning Pinnacle Winter Series 2 over teams such as BIG and ENCE, whom they beat in the final, and qualifying for the PGL Major Antwerp with wins over OG, GamerLegion and SAW. Jerry has done this off the back of impressing calling on the server, dynamic and explosive T sides paired with well martialled defensive sides filled with intelligent reads, and he has yet again grown his youngsters into star players, particularly shalfey who posted a eye-catching 1.20 rating during the RMR.
Jerry has done all of this without a single notable name from the CIS scene, and yet he has produced many players that have gone on to become star players and highly touted talents. The first was xsepower, who had the best years of his career with Jerry and was touted highly within the CIS scene throughout his time under the FORZE IGL. Take FL1T who went from a solid if unspectacular rifler to one of the most desirable names on the market, with Natus Vincere taking interest far before he eventually joined Virtus.pro. Most recently it has been zorte and shalfey, who have progressed into carry forces under the tutelage of Jerry and look to be some of the names that we may see filling the rosters of the powerhouse names in CIS Counter-Strike in the future. For brief spells, Jerry even managed to make almazer look like a star player. He is also a fantastic IGL in his own right, adding a layer of cerebral thinking to the explosive and confrontational CIS style, more often than not pointing his attack in the right direction and formulating his defence around the correct site.
It is probably unrealistic to expect that Jerry's name would ever be mentioned in the same breath as Zeus, a legend from the days of 1.6 and a Major winner in GO, but he could well be considered the true successor to people like hooch and more specifically B1ad3. Both Jerry and B1ad3 have proven an ability to find hidden gems in the lower reaches of the scene, to develop the next generation of CIS talent, and to forge these talents into Major-worthy squads. One could even argue that the resume of Jerry slightly edges that of B1ad3, although the consistency with which the latter took underwhelming rosters to Majors makes that fact very much debateable. What is undebatable is the impact that Jerry has had on the CIS scene, and a deep run at the PGL Major Antwerp might be enough to elevate him to the status that he may very well deserve.