IEM Rio Major profile: ENCE
From putting Finland on the map to producing elite international rosters, can ENCE once again defy the odds with a new lineup to make a deep run in Rio?
The modern ENCE is an international powerhouse, a team that has repeatedly exceeded expectations by taking scattered pieces and splicing them together to form a powerful machine. This was, however, not always the case.
The first image that will come to mind for older fans when thinking of ENCE will be the squad of Aleksi "allu" Jalli, Aleksi "Aleksib" Virolainen, Jere "sergej" Salo, Jani "Aerial" Jussila and Sami "xseveN" Laasanen , that made history. The organization had dabbled in Global Offensive since 2013, experiencing several false starts, but it was with these five players that the name ENCE truly burst into the consciousness of the average fan.
The pride of Finland
After a period of time steadily grinding their way through the different echelons of competition, from winning small Finnish LANs to winning ESEA Advanced to winning DreamHack Opens, the squad made their first meaningful steps in the Major circuit by confidently marching to victory at the IEM Katowice Europe Minor — the equivalent of today’s RMRs.
The Finns continued to build upon that momentum, the veteran experience of AWPer allu pairing perfectly with a young and hungry squad, powered by the immense talents of sergej and tied together into more than the sum of their parts by the leadership of Aleksib. They continued their excellent run by posting a convincing 3-1 record in the IEM Katowice Challengers Stage. The squad displayed admirable fortitude in the Legends Stage, as they recovered from an 0-2 start by winning three series against top-20 sides to qualify for the playoffs against the odds.
History will never forget the epic playoff run that ensued, with ENCE conquering the soon-to-be Intel Grand Slam-winning Liquid, second in the world at the time, and an Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev-powered Natus Vincere, then third, to set up a historic grand final showdown against Astralis, the best team to grace CS:GO. They couldn’t quite complete the fairytale by besting Danes and were comfortably dispatched of 2-0, but the Finns had nonetheless rocked the Counter-Strike world.
Unfortunately, the lineup fizzled out not long after despite its potential, the inexplicable decision to remove Aleksib later that year remaining to this day one of the biggest “what if” moments in the game’s history. ENCE limped on for the remainder of 2019 and into 2020, steadily sliding down the world rankings and undergoing several lineup changes until the roster was entirely revamped in 2021.
International underdogs turned powerhouse
ENCE switched to an international, English-speaking lineup, built around a core trio of Marco "Snappi" Pfeiffer, Paweł "dycha" Dycha and Lotan "Spinx" Giladi. Moving away from a Finnish lineup was a bold move for an indelibly Finnish organization, as was gambling on a cast-off from the Danish scene for their IGL and an array of unproven talent, which eventually included Olek "hades" Miskiewicz in place of allu. What resulted was a slow-burn in the early days as the squad spent the first half of the year largely competing in qualifiers and lower-tier tournaments without much success, however they did display their potential around March with a surprise run to the ESL Pro League playoffs.
It wasn’t until September that things really began to come together and a top-eight finish in the following ESL Pro League acted as a teaser for what was to come. The team’s true breakout event came at IEM Fall 2021, a PGL Major Stockholm RMR event, where the European squad shattered all expectations by topping a group containing Vitality and OG, and brushing aside two more top-ten sides in the form of Astralis and G2 to bag an unexpected top-two finish.
Snappi and company continued to impress when the Major rolled around, producing a convincing 3-1 record in the Challengers Stage to progress in what was the first showing at such a high-profile international LAN for many on the relatively inexperienced squad. The inexperience showed in the Legends Stage, where they were eliminated 0-3, but it was still a fantastic showing considering the context. The Major run earned ENCE a rise to seventh place in the world rankings, confirming the team as a legitimate top ten squad.
Pavle "Maden" Bošković took Joonas "doto" Forss’s place on the roster in a bold off-season switch at the end of 2021. It was a head-scratcher to some considering the upward trajectory ENCE were on, but it all made sense after a short adjustment period as ENCE yet again surpassed expectations by going on an immense run of form that included second-place finishes at ESL Pro League and IEM Dallas and a superlative top-four finish at PGL Major Antwerp. This cemented the team as one of the world’s elite squads and earned them a peak No. 2 placing in the world ranking.
ENCE could not quite take the final step and win an elite tournament, and in the most recent off-season they made two changes, one in the name of ambition and one in the name of necessity; the relatively underwhelming hades was swapped out in favour of the up-and-coming Alvaro "SunPayus" Garcia, whilst star rifler Spinx left to Vitality and Valdemar "valde" Bjørn Vangså was brought on to replace him.
New players, same identity
It is early days for a squad that underwent a significant overhaul in the off-season, and as was the case when Maden was brought in at the start of the year, there has been a somewhat painful adjustment period. The first tournament for ENCE was another season of ESL Pro League, and they flopped horribly, picking up a single series win over HEET before being swept by the rest of their group. Snappi was, however, not too troubled by the result. “Kind of like the last iteration, where we had to use Katowice as our event where we learned," the skipper said, "I think Pro League was similar.” Learn they did, and by the time the Road to Rio RMR came, ENCE were in far better shape and comfortably marched through the event with a 3-0 record.
ENCE are a team characterized by an aggressive approach to the game, on both offense and defense, and this was joking alluded to by Snappi in an interview earlier in the year where he said: “We like to say if rushing doesn’t work, rush faster.” Whilst this was a tongue-in-cheek statement, and he later said he felt the comment had resulted in the team’s aggressive style being over-emphasized, it alludes to the way they approach the game.
They are more than willing to turn their T sides into fast-paced, direct affairs, and are equally as willing to carry that aggression across into their CT sides. Individuals are given plenty of autonomy to make plays within a round, and it is potentially Maden who best personifies this. The Montenegrin rifler is often keen on taking a gamble and pushing aggressively to find a gap that creates opportunities. This makes ENCE an incredibly compelling team to watch because, more often than not, they play high-octane Counter-Strike.
What is also fascinating to consider is the nature of its roster, ENCE is one of the best representatives of the new wave of international teams that is taking the scene by storm. Snappi has achieved new heights in the later years of his career by reaching beyond Denmark, dycha left the Polish scene to forge a successful new path, SunPayus left behind his Spanish compatriots despite the squad being at the peak of its powers, valde is attempting to resurrect a career that never quite lived up to his potential, and Maden comes from a nation with precious little Counter-Strike pedigree. ENCE is a melting pot of different cultures and histories.
Top four, once more?
ENCE’s expectations for the IEM Rio Major will be more modest than they might have been had the team held on to Spinx; they very well would have been aiming to at least match their top-four finish in Antwerp if that were the case. Their mindset will have been adjusted with the recent changes, but nonetheless it would be disappointing to see the European squad fail to at least challenge for a playoff berth.
They may very well be lamenting the fact that they were seeded directly to the Legends Stage, as a team in their position would likely benefit from the extra official matches that a Challengers Stage run would grant them. ENCE’s fortunes will be depending on how well they have managed to progress with two relatively new players, as getting the best out of valde and particularly SunPayus will be key to any deep run.
This Major is the perfect opportunity for ENCE to show that their tendency to make ambitious roster moves even when the going seems to be good is justified, and it's a chance for Snappi to prove that he can once again get the best out of a squad made up of disparate parts. The timing of IEM Rio may not be the best for ENCE, but considering the precious few Majors that come around there is still pressure to perform, regardless of how new the roster may be.
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