More than just an academy team - how ENCE is investing into Finland's future

As one of the latest top organizations to enter the academy space, ENCE is aiming higher than just having an additional team of players.

Academy projects are not all the same. In some cases, these are simply secondary teams that an organization built out of a few young prospects and a more experienced coaching figure. The goal is to have them compete in WePlay's Academy League and other lower-tier events, and often the vision doesn't go beyond wild hopes of hitting the jackpot with a star in the making to promote to the main team.

Others build their youth programs in a more complex fashion. NAVI has been perhaps the biggest pioneer in the space, having created a system featuring multiple tiers, beginning at the near-grassroots-level and feeding into the NAVI Youth roster and to NAVI Junior, all the way to the main team competing at the very highest level of CS:GO. Valeriy "⁠b1t⁠" Vakhovskiy and Ilya "⁠m0NESY⁠" Osipov are the early products of that structure as the two shiny examples of players who went from a junior roster to the big games, the likes of which other organizations dream to find in their academy ventures.

ENCE is another organization that has a bigger vision for its youth program than having an additional team competing in tournaments the main squad is too good for. Their new Academy Program, which has quickly gotten off the ground since it was announced at the start of the year, is an investment into Finland's future and a way to give young promising players a path that previously didn't exist in the country.

Eemeli Ikonen, the leader of the academy program, and natu speak on ENCE's efforts in developing (not only) Finnish youth

"We're trying to tackle the issue that there hasn't been a path for the youngsters to seek help on what it even means to have a career as a professional player," ENCE co-founder Joona "⁠natu⁠" Leppänen tells HLTV about the philosophy behind launching the program. "All they've had is a few old dogs in the scene not necessarily giving them the best example — if I'm totally honest — of how to be a player, how to behave.

"What we're hoping to do is to give a bit of hope to the Finnish players as the leading esports team here, that we are actively trying to help the Finnish community and for the Finnish scene to find these diamonds in the rough and give them an opportunity to learn from day zero what are the fundamental things that you need to understand and the demands for you to one day be professional."

"We want to be the most comprehensive training program out there to help the players mentally and in-game," adds Eemeli Ikonen, the ENCE Academy Program Lead, who was hired by the organization earlier this year to run its youth development efforts.

"There are no resources in Finland when it comes to grassroots training, professional training with the youngsters. We think there's quite a lot of potential and talent, especially here in Finland but globally too, so we want to be the place that has the right atmosphere, work ethic, and professionalism to help the young talent."

This new program goes well beyond the five players you see on the organization's new ENCE Academy lineup, who have just played their first season of the WePlay Academy League in their first month together, looking competitive but ultimately falling out in groups after a plethora of close losses. Those are the players who get to play in a team and who you will see on occasion on the match pages, but they're only the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface are tens more prospective players that ENCE will aim to help not only become better at the game itself but also gain insight into what the ins and outs of being in a professional team are.

Read more
ENCE unveil Finnish academy roster

"We want to have a pool of players which will eventually widen, but to start with we're probably talking 10-20 players that we keep our eye on, we keep tabs on them on a monthly basis, we give them different tasks that we see they should be improving on," natu explains.

Though still in its infancy, this part of the program has already begun thanks to a collaboration between ENCE and Esportal, a matchmaking platform that is especially popular in Nordic countries. Young prospects have been competing in special monthly ladders and some of the best players from the April and May ladders were hand-picked to go to ENCE's headquarters in Helsinki in early August. They met and played with the existing academy team and had the chance to talk to natu and General Manager Niklas "Willkey" Ojalainen about the fundamentals of building a team.

ENCE hosted 15 prospective players at their Helsinki facility in early August (Photo courtesy of ENCE)

"Esportal has been a platform to find those individuals who have the interest, who have the drive to take it to the next level and to be part of this kind of guidance," natu continues. "We made a shortlist of players to invite over, to visit, because they've not necessarily been to an esports team facility before, to give them an opportunity to play and give them a little bit of an experience, but also an opportunity for us to get introduced with these guys, to see what they're like as people."

"We had them play together with our academy players in different types of mixes to give them an experience of playing in a LAN environment, we had some prizes for them, and everyone had a really good time. We are planning to have more of these."

The aim of events like these and the ENCE Academy Program as a whole is not just to develop the local scene, but also to find and hone talent for the academy roster and, ideally, for the main team. The organization was forced to go international when its all-Finnish roster disbanded at the end of 2020, but now it's making an investment that could see it one day return to its roots.

"Finnish CS hasn't been in a great place for a while. We had to go international if we wanted to stay competitive a couple of years back because of the hard fact that there just wasn't enough depth in terms of players for us to bring on," natu admits. "In the big picture, we are doing this as a feeder for our main team. That's the dream, right? But also to revitalize the Finnish scene. We're happy if, let's say, one of our Finnish rivals wants to buy one of our players. That'll be a happy day, we've done things correctly at that point in time."

"That is the end goal, that at some point in our academy program journey we would develop that kind of talent that would rise into the main roster," Ikonen adds. "The long-term thing is of course that even if we didn't have a spot in our main roster, we would develop those kinds of players that would be able to move somewhere internationally."

Interestingly, though, ENCE isn't only looking at Finnish talent when it comes to the academy team that actually gets to compete. It consists solely of Finns at the moment, but many players from international waters were considered in the long process. On top of that, despite its initial call for only Finnish-speaking applicants, the organization hired a British coach who doesn't speak the language in ex Endpoint Academy skipper George "⁠Whitey⁠" White, simply because he was the best candidate.

"We were certain of having three players of a Finnish core," Ikonen says. "The last two spots were [open to foreign players] — if we found really good hidden gems or super good talents that we would be able to get to the team, we would take them. But the situation was that we found five really good Finnish players that clicked really well together."

Five core areas are the focus of ENCE's academy program (Image courtesy of ENCE)

So why consider players outside of Finland when the goal of the program is to develop Finnish talent? Diversity is good, natu points out.

"We don't want to limit ourselves that we're not going to bring imports into the lineup. Those guys can also give a certain different mentality, perspective, and approach to the Finnish guys. And then they have to learn about communicating in a different language. I only find it as a positive that there's diversity," natu reckons.

Having experience speaking English in-game would certainly help in a potential future transition into the main roster, which is currently compiled out of five (six, once Alvaro "SunPayus" Garcia officially joins) different nationalities. It's clear that this is something ENCE has kept in mind and is already actively working towards, as the two key strategical figures behind the main team in Marco "⁠Snappi⁠" Pfeiffer and Eetu "⁠sAw⁠" Saha are helping the academy roster get off the ground.

"Snappi has already been working with the boys on the team and Eetu [sAw] has been working with George [Whitey]," Ikonen shares. "We are already kind of trying to emulate that we have some sort of mirroring regarding the playstyle and tactics, because if at some point in the future we have that kind of talent in academy, the gap would be as small as possible to go to the main roster."

You can see that this is a project that has been in the works for a while and that ENCE has thought things through beyond just making the decision to enter the academy scene. The Finland-focused program is more than just a commercial product, and it is here to stay as one of the pillars of the ENCE's long-term plans, Ikonen concludes:

"This is not a PR stunt. This is something that ENCE sees will be a really big part of where we want to go as an organization."

Finland Joona 'natu' Leppänen
Joona 'natu' Leppänen
Age:
37
Team:
No team
Rating 1.0:
0.88
Maps played:
188
KPR:
0.61
DPR:
0.71
Denmark Marco 'Snappi' Pfeiffer
Marco 'Snappi' Pfeiffer
Age:
32
Team:
Rating 1.0:
0.96
Maps played:
1591
KPR:
0.65
DPR:
0.67
Ukraine Valeriy 'b1t' Vakhovskiy
Valeriy 'b1t' Vakhovskiy
Age:
19
Rating 1.0:
1.06
Maps played:
459
KPR:
0.70
DPR:
0.63
Finland Eetu 'sAw' Saha
Eetu 'sAw' Saha
Age:
30
Team:
Russia Ilya 'm0NESY' Osipov
Ilya 'm0NESY' Osipov
Age:
17
Team:
Rating 1.0:
1.18
Maps played:
263
KPR:
0.78
DPR:
0.60
#1
 | 
United Kingdom AgirhanB
Cool
2022-08-08 21:54
10 replies
LIES: Natu and co sold out their finnish team even thought they had advertised to their finnish investors that their main team would always be finnish, and they lied and changed it to international team to make more money for themselves against wishes of their finnish sponsors and finnish investors who wanted finnish team. CANNOT GO LOWER!
2022-08-08 23:04
9 replies
#39
 | 
Finland Tearsofjoy
source: trust me bro
2022-08-08 23:44
1 reply
Xd +1
2022-08-09 15:42
#43
 | 
Germany Mexzy
TL;DR
2022-08-09 01:26
+1 Natu cannot be trusted. Or rather he has proven himself to untrustworthy, which is even worse.
2022-08-09 02:55
Those investors must be really mad there is a bigger return on their investment.
2022-08-09 06:46
I think the investors were happier having a top 5 team rather than top 70 tier 4 Finnish team :D
2022-08-09 11:55
#68
 | 
Finland Palomies
So the investors wanted a team of bums and no return on investment instead? Must be Saudis then. Or maybe this information just fell out of your ass
2022-08-09 15:00
1 reply
hltv.org/news/4408/top-10-players-caught.. I meant sponsors, they give team money, not get it. Finnish sports WERE TOLD THAT THEY HAVE FINNISH TEAM, well, natu lied and cheated to get more money to himself. Do you really trust guy whose reputation is 'cheater' (natu)? He cheated many times, not surprise that he cheated his sponsors also.
2022-08-12 13:10
They should invest in Havu then
2022-08-09 16:50
wow really cool to see striker multitasking on hltv confirmed and writing this article!
2022-08-08 21:55
2 replies
#13
 | 
Poland bot_taz
i luled
2022-08-08 22:09
He’s just that good.
2022-08-08 23:11
#3
 | 
Finland Delre
Ence dog solos
2022-08-08 21:55
#4
 | 
Finland iamjoe
finnish cs on top
2022-08-08 21:55
ok
2022-08-08 21:56
#7
 | 
Poland Tikdem
ok
2022-08-08 21:56
okay
2022-08-08 21:58
SunPayus finnish rising star
2022-08-08 22:01
1 reply
+1
2022-08-09 06:00
Cant beat kova Kek
2022-08-08 22:01
1 reply
you read the article right?
2022-08-09 01:46
#15
 | 
Finland Keheveli
really nice
2022-08-08 22:15
#16
 | 
Finland Julist
based natu
2022-08-08 22:17
Sun will pay us
2022-08-08 22:17
Let's go Finland! Sad that ENCE Academy didn't make the playoffs at the Academy League tho, better luck next time
2022-08-08 22:31
#21
 | 
Sweden Mullden
[oath] natu … what a legend
2022-08-08 22:31
1 reply
good clantag
2022-08-08 23:37
#23
 | 
Finland Stonkamies
This is something that Finnish cs has needed. We have lot of promising youngsters, but there has never been enough professionalism for them to get into next level, I hope this helps with that. NA cs would also need something like this, maybe team like liquid should do something like this themselves.
2022-08-08 22:39
3 replies
I mean USA has for example development program in ice hockey, so why not for esports as well?
2022-08-08 23:00
2 replies
US also likes Ice hockey a hell of a lot more than CS
2022-08-09 17:56
1 reply
+1
2022-08-11 16:49
#24
 | 
Guatemala feerzein21
jOELZ on LAN would develop Finnish scene by %1000
2022-08-08 22:47
Pretty cool, also who else just figured out that Endpoint has an academy team?
2022-08-08 22:49
3 replies
Didn't read the whole article, so my bad. Just realized what you meant with your comment. :D
2022-08-08 22:58
they don't have a recorded map on hltv lol
2022-08-09 02:12
They disbanded, idk why hltv hasn't updated the roster page yet.
2022-08-09 13:18
#27
REZ | 
Sweden gNeJS
I guess this explains the Finnish 5 stacks typing buthurt things everytime i win. Please stop esportal is a place of peace and chill.
2022-08-08 22:54
1 reply
#35
REZ | 
Sweden gNeJS
And ofc best of luck to Ence Academy, fun project.
2022-08-08 23:14
they are bad
2022-08-08 23:00
Yung ballu
2022-08-08 23:13
#36
 | 
Jamaica Haloman
Ence wants to find the best new talents from Finland and make them and Finnish cs big again and then reach top3 and then SELL the best players for profit and become a meme again. Its an old tactic from the Finnish government.
2022-08-08 23:23
2 replies
+1
2022-08-09 03:00
#53
 | 
Finland Nollegee
+1 we want to sell our succes to others to be bad again.
2022-08-09 06:23
it seems that generally Finland is investing a lot in csgo these days, a lot of new teams with funny finnlandian names
2022-08-08 23:28
Keep investing in 10 y.o. game, that's a safe bet for your future
2022-08-08 23:56
4 replies
thats what cis and navi are doing too lmao
2022-08-09 01:43
Safer than investing in a 1 year old game. CS has proven that it has staying power.
2022-08-09 06:48
1 reply
+1
2022-08-11 16:50
More like 23yr old from my point of view
2022-08-09 06:57
Natu talking about how players need good example while meanwhile he himself scammed Aleksib for a new contract just to bench him couple weeks later.
2022-08-09 01:05
#42
 | 
Serbia vuk1sha
good
2022-08-09 01:06
Mitå vittua -Ludwig "Anomaly" Fat Guy in Malta
2022-08-09 02:45
Natu should ask himself why the finnish scene isn't relevant anymore.
2022-08-09 02:54
5 replies
genuinely what happened
2022-08-11 16:50
4 replies
Well its tied to Aleksib and Ence situation in 2019, in which Natu had a significant role in making the contracts and giving advice. And the next 18 months after that in which time ence basically poached all talents of finnish scene to stay relevant and still ended up dying. And natu could have noticed the internal problems of ence much much sooner than the team broke up. But thats not the big problem. The big problem is that after the aleksib roster move natu was the face towards fans explaining the situation. For example saying, "you would agree to decision if you knew all the facts" with never giving the facts. Or keeping few interviews and stuff where he promised to explain the situation but never did. Only said that the decision was purely to make the team better, which it obviously wasn't. And the worst part being that when the fans didn't agree his "explanation" natu then blamed the fans for their critisism and said that fans don't matter to them at all. Basically that all fans can fuck off. And this all led to fans being angry towards ence and towards all the players in ence. Because ence was getting so much negative critisim all the time and kept taking all the best finnish players there was, it basically led to decreased motivation to like top10 best finnish players of that time and in the end breaking of 4 or 5 top finnish rosters, who had to fill the holes ence left. We are just now starting to recover from all of that bullshit. Which at least partly was there just because natu decided to be an asshole towards the fans.
2022-08-11 20:24
3 replies
oh yes i see now didnt anyone else inside ence have this sort of view why what happened or smn? but yea sounded like a dick
2022-08-11 21:36
2 replies
Yeah I don't know. My best guess is that the success (and money) came too fast that year and everyone there thought they are better than others and forgot how much work was done to get there. And that the actual power was in too few hands. And in next year the team was already doomed without massive changes, but nobody wanted to accept the facts soon enough, admit the mistakes they made. The bad internal working environment was something that seems to have come as surprise to management though even now nobody really understands how its even possible. Regardless, I'm still waiting an apology or an explanation from natu which he promised and until he gives one, I have nothing good to say about him. And more than that I'm hoping sooner rather than later the next finnish team to make it top1 tournaments even occasionally so I can be excited again. And forget all that stuff that happened before.
2022-08-11 21:52
1 reply
i doubt natu would give an apology seeming how he acted about this ence issue i doubt hed be the types of person to apologize anyways, i hope ence academy do well and hopefully even make it to t1
2022-08-11 23:31
#51
 | 
Russia czern0bog
nice
2022-08-09 06:00
Natu must be biggest fraud in the scene
2022-08-09 07:34
1 reply
wtf
2022-08-09 11:11
#58
juho | 
Finland Ep^
Good jobben
2022-08-09 08:36
GL! Good article
2022-08-09 10:20
good GL
2022-08-09 10:40
Allu legit made a better team tho
2022-08-09 12:27
1 reply
#70
ZEIEI | 
Finland LEPl
But that one ain't academy team. Did you read the article?
2022-08-09 16:01
FINNISH CS OH MEGA LOL
2022-08-09 13:40
#66
 | 
Finland Lolipowerr
Yeah yeah old clanbase cheater talking shit again.
2022-08-09 13:50
Jinxed
2022-08-09 14:38
1 reply
you'll see
2022-08-11 16:51
#72
 | 
Finland Pukki_Goat
Thank you MR. ENCE!
2022-08-09 17:01
this is genuinely a super cool project i look forward to suomi cs in the future
2022-08-11 16:43
#87
 | 
India Lunat1c777
Nice
2022-09-05 17:28
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