NertZ, Israel's latest sensation, is living a dream as he gears up for his first Major
Israel may have only had its first Major representative at the PGL Major Stockholm 2021, but the country has become a surprisingly consistent contributor of top-level professionals in recent years. Lotan "Spinx" Giladi was the trailblazer who rocked up in Sweden and made it through the Challengers Stage in his Major debut, teenagers Shahar "flameZ" Shushan and Dorian "xertioN" Berman joined him in Rio, and now Israel has its fourth Major attendee in the explosive rifler that is NertZ.
For NertZ it was very early in his life that he found the spark he had for Counter-Strike, and as is often the case it was a family member who helped kindle the fire. "I saw my brother's friends playing when I was 8 years old," says NertZ, "and I started playing with them and slowly I fell in love with the game." It wasn’t all fun and games for the Israeli however, as his talent soon saw him targeted by accusations of cheating, another tale as old as time when it comes to upcoming CS talent.
"It's a bit of a funny story what happened to me" he begins. "At the age of 12 I started playing in local teams in 1.6 and at some point a lot of people didn't want to play in front of me because they thought I was a cheater, so I stopped playing for 1 year." It’s an experience that might leave some feeling bitter, but NertZ is able to see the funny side of things. "I won't forget that I cried to my mother," he says laughing. In the end it was another family member, this time his cousin Ziv "zi" Tuaf, who encouraged him to come back to the game.
After those initial days experimenting with 1.6, NertZ's career in Global Offensive began in earnest in 2017 with Uniquestars. "It was the team I created that had a lot of potential, and I enjoyed every moment I was there." It wasn’t long before the then-teenager was taking his first crack at the Major circuit, qualifying for the Asia Minor for the FACEIT Major 2018 – that era’s equivalent of the RMR. They only managed to secure a single win at the event, over Asian side 5POWER who counted Andrew "kaze" Khong among their number, crashing out after losing twice to Australian squad Tainted Minds. Despite the failure NertZ was already proving himself to be a talented young individual, as he racked up the eight-highest rating in the event, and his 1.16 impact rating and 88.2 damage per round (2nd in event) alluded to his tendency to get actively involved in rounds, rather than be a passive presence.
Even during his 15-month stint with Uniquestars, NertZ struggled to become a consistent presence in HLTV-recorded matches. As with many players who come through the Israeli scene and play in national teams, opportunities outside of the Major circuit are few and far between, but NertZ was also weighed down by military service. "NOM and Finest were teams I played for part-time," he says, "I was in the army for three years so I couldn't play competitively."
NertZ would regularly pop up to attempt to make his way through the Major circuit, trying again with Uniquestars for IEM Katowice 2019, with NOM for StarLadder Major Berlin 2019, and with Finest for the ill-fated IEM Rio Major 2020. He continued to flaunt his obvious potential, finishing as one of the top-rated players in the closed qualifiers for each of the Majors mentioned, but he was unable to reach another Minor/RMR and twice fell in the consolidation final of the qualifiers. Not only did NertZ continue to post strong ratings, but he did so with an aggressive and proactive playstyle; he was top-four or better for damage per round and opening kills per round, and top-two or better for impact rating at every closed qualifier mentioned.
NertZ played both alongside and against Spinx and flameZ throughout these years playing in Israeli teams, two players who would go on to show their worth in the tier one scene later down the line. Of the four Israeli Major attendees, xertioN is the only one who does not have as much history with the others. Spinx and flameZ were younger and, judging by the performances, less developed players than NertZ at the time, but nonetheless the two youngsters were showing, like NertZ, that they had immense ability.
NertZ thinks the potential for an all-Israeli team is very much there. "I believe in an Israeli team, and in the Israeli players very much, like flameZ, xertioN, Spinx, meztal, HeavyGoDd, BluePho3nix and more." Perhaps it will be a team NertZ captains. "At the end of the day, my dream role is to be an in-game leader after I gain the experience I need to get," he says. "Most of my career I was an in-game leader and I really liked it, so there is something to look forward to."
The opportunity that NertZ had been waiting for came towards the end of 2021. Endpoint, an organization renowned for scouting obscure talent and eventually moving them on to top teams, swooped in and scooped up NertZ, and he joined fellow rising middle-eastern star Mohammad "BOROS" Malhas on the roster. Finally NertZ had the platform needed to showcase his ability, a team with which he could tussle in Europe’s tier two scene and prove whether or not he had the capability to step up to tier one in the future.
It’s no coincidence that this all happened just after he had left the military. "After I finished my military service I finally had time to play a lot and improve, and a month after I finished my service I qualified for FPL." It was only a few months after qualifying for FPL that Endpoint came knocking.
NertZ’s time in Endpoint began with a trial by fire; the team took part in EPL Conference Season 15, a competition featuring the very best teams Europe had to offer outside of the elite, a handful of them sniffing around the top 20 and over half at least battling for top 50 status. It could not have started much better for NertZ and his new teammates as they defeated a heavily favored Eternal Fire squad 2-1 in the first round.
BOROS may have been the team’s highest-rated player in the series, but it was NertZ who pulled his socks up to carry the squad to a vital triple-overtime victory in the first map, posting nearly 100 ADR to drag Endpoint to success on their map pick. Losses against GODSENT and Sprout sent Endpoint packing soon after, but NertZ continued to impress with scoreboard-topping performances in both series, and it was clear from his very first event with Endpoint that the Israeli was a player worth keeping a close eye on.
His debut had made it seem like NertZ was instantly ready to compete in Europe’s tier two online scene, but a string of underwhelming performances kicked off 2022 for the Israeli rifler. "I had difficulty playing at the beginning, I was in the role of the lurker, which I think I am not suitable for," NertZ says when reflecting on his early Endpoint days. This fact showed. In 16 maps played during Pinnacle Winter Series 1, NertZ averaged an underwhelming 0.97 rating and was rarely a strong factor in the games Endpoint won to make the playoffs, wins over solid opposition like 1WIN and K23 coming thanks to the contributions of BOROS and Joey "CRUC1AL" Steusel.
In the losses the team suffered to Apeks and Sprout, NertZ struggled, being rated sub-1.00 for both, and Endpoint were easily dispatched in the playoffs. Then he just about scraped plus-1.00 ratings for three of the next four events, his one good performance helping Endpoint qualify through the Pinnacle Winter Series 2 Regionals. Fortunately, the team was able to succeed when it mattered most, qualifying for the PGL Major Antwerp RMR during this period.
NertZ’s performances improved after this rough stint however, and he began to rack up impressive numbers against strong opponents. He provided by far the stiffest opposition as Endpoint lost to fnatic in a BLAST qualifier in March, posting a 1.21 rating in an 0-2 loss. In April he lead the way as Endpoint narrowly missed out on IEM Dallas qualification, battering Nexus with a 1.71 rating before again serving as the shining light against tier one opposition, his 1.14 rating in an 0-2 loss to BIG far outstripping the 0.90 of BOROS.
By the time ESL Pro League came around in August he was firmly in the swing of things, and despite his team only picking up a single win, NertZ was amongst the highest-rated players of the event, his 1.19 rating putting him in the same league as Mareks "YEKINDAR" Gaļinskis and Casper "cadiaN" Møller.
The one victory Endpoint did score was entirely down to NertZ, as the Israeli gave the strongest evidence yet that he was an elite-level rifler by producing nearly 100 ADR in a 2-0 win over Natus Vincere, the highlight of which was a 115 ADR, 1.73-rated solo carry performance on Dust2. His impact rating for the series was a staggering 1.73, proving that even in the face of the best players Counter-Strike had to offer, he would still show the stones necessary to make plays and carry his team.
NertZ reveals that it was a change in roles that helped bring about this immense performance. "We changed coach and changed our game completely. I changed my role after Kjaerbye left the team to the map control," he states. "It was more comfortable for me to play because we played on the fly and I am a player that takes a lot of initiative in the game." In short, a more proactive role was the ideal fit.
The Major circuit was, however, still a source of disappointment and heartache for NertZ. Endpoint went 1-3 in the PGL Major Antwerp Europe RMR B, finding themselves comfortably dispatched by Ninjas in Pyjamas, Entropiq and Spirit either side of a win against Sprout.
NertZ had one of his worst events of the year (0.87 rating), and he was a non-factor in many of the maps played. His best showing came against Sprout on Dust2, a 1.24-rated showing akin to the level that Endpoint had come to expect from him, but it was a measly bright spot in an otherwise disappointing campaign. Endpoint couldn’t even make it through to the RMRs for IEM Rio Major, flopping in each of the four open qualifiers they attempted. In the final qualifier, the team were unceremoniously eliminated by yologang420 before even reaching the later stages.
Considering the powerful performances NertZ had produced in ESL Pro League Season 16, and the blistering numbers he was continuing to produce in tier two online events, it was only a matter of time before a tier one team would take notice. Endpoint were clearly not going to be able to take the next step, even with a player of NertZ’s quality in the lineup.
The team that ended up taking notice was ENCE. The European squad had catapulted themselves to No. 2 in the world rankings after a string of potent tournament showings in the first half of 2022, but the loss of Spinx to Vitality left them reeling, and his replacement, Valdemar "valde" Bjørn Vangså, was struggling to settle. "I would say that the reason we made the change was that the team just wasn't clicking," opined Marco "Snappi" Pfeiffer in a HLTV interview not long after NertZ signed. "I don't think it was anyone's fault, we just weren't clicking as a group with the team, how we played and played off each other, and that ultimately led to the change."
Mere months into 2023 NertZ had finally climbed his way through the ranks onto a top 20 team, and to boot it was a team whose core had already shown they could compete right at the very top. His debut? The very tournament where a year prior he had displayed his credentials as a tier one star, the tournament where he had truly announced himself on the world stage: ESL Pro League.
Fortunately for NertZ and ENCE, they got the chance to ease themselves into the event with a matchup against ATK and the Israeli hit the ground running with a server-leading 1.31-rated performance in a 2-1 victory. Rare Atom came next and again NertZ shone, even brighter this time as he ended with a 1.52 rating in a 2-0 victory. FORZE did sour the new team smell somewhat by sweeping ENCE aside 2-0, and NertZ had a series to forget as he struggled on both maps, ending both with a sub-1.00 rating and a 0.76 rating for the series overall.
Despite the loss to FORZE, ENCE had secured themselves a playoff berth in their very first outing with NertZ, a promising achievement both for the team and the player himself. NertZ, however, was far from done showing what he could do, and he had a woeful performance against FORZE to redeem.
Redemption came swiftly in the form of a powerhouse showing against the then-world No. 1 G2, NertZ blowing the best team in the world out of the server with a chart-topping 1.41 rating. Most impressive was NertZ’s first map performance, his 27 kills and near-100 ADR absolutely vital in hauling ENCE over the line on Ancient, their opponent’s map pick. Not satisfied, ENCE went on to secure a top-four finish by beating then-world No. 5 Vitality, ensuring their first campaign with the Israeli newcomer among the troops was an overwhelmingly successful one.
NertZ might have had a relatively quiet series against Vitality, and he was also virtually a non-factor in the team’s semi-final loss against Cloud9, but it was clear that he could pull up his socks and carry ENCE against elite teams. If his first Pro League appearance showed he could hang in tier one, his second made clear he was right at home. When asked why he was able to hit the ground running like this, NertZ was clear: "The atmosphere was really good, and from game to game I understood exactly what I needed to do for the team."
ESL Pro League may have been a stiff first test for NertZ on ENCE, but it was by no means going to get any easier in his second: the BLAST Paris Major Europe RMR B. ENCE had drawn a short straw and had been placed in the far more stacked of the two RMRs, where despite their Pro League showing and rise to No. 9 in the world rankings, qualification was far from guaranteed.
Disaster loomed after only the first day, as ENCE were beaten by Monte and FORZE in best-of-ones to put them on the brink of elimination. Whilst NertZ topped the scoreboard against FORZE, he feels he "didn't help the team much" in the BO1 portion of the event. Despite this, he was still confident. "I knew inside of me that we were going to qualify. Maybe I convinced myself, but I really had a good feeling."
NertZ’s feeling seemed to be prophetic as ENCE began to work their way back from the brink. He utterly smashed iNation to pieces with just shy of 100 ADR and a 1.63 rating over the series, but most vital of all was his 1.64-rated Mirage showing. ENCE were 8-12 down and struggling to get going on their CT side, seemingly headed for a decider, when NertZ stepped up to provide 17 kills on the defensive side, winning at least two rounds single-handedly. 500 came next and they were also defeated 2-0, the opening map serving as an example of what NertZ can do to a team when he hits his peak: 121 ADR, 30 kills, and a 1.90 rating in a 16-8 victory on Nuke.
NertZ saved his best work till last, with everything on the line against a top-quality side in Cloud9. The Israeli rifler was simply too hot to handle for the Russians as he racked up 62 kills and 100 ADR in a 2-0 victory, earning himself a server-leading 1.42 rating for his efforts. Not only had NertZ provided the brute force necessary to get things over the line against lesser opposition, he had continued his frankly superlative level against one of the very best sides in the world.
Lest we forget, Cloud9 had worked their way into impressive form prior to the RMR, and they field two of the absolute best players in the world, Dmitry "sh1ro" Sokolov and Sergey "Ax1Le" Rykhtorov. NertZ was of course delighted to qualify for his first ever Major, saying "the moment we qualified to major is a moment that I will never forget, in the last two years I played and sacrificed a lot to reach these levels and in the end it paid off."
Now with the Major on the horizon, ENCE begin in the Challengers Stage with a matchup against flameZ's OG. NertZ is excited and his team is ready. "It’s an amazing feeling, it’s a dream come true," he begins when asked about playing at the final CS:GO Major. "We worked very hard after the RMR, and we come to the Major with a stronger map pool and new things."
No one could accuse NertZ of lacking ambition. "My goal is obviously to win the Major, but the goal as a team is to play your own game no matter what happens." If NertZ continues to play his own game the way he did against Natus Vincere at ESL Pro League Season 16, or against G2 at Season 17, or against Cloud9 at the RMR, this ambition is not out of line.
|BLAST.tv Paris Major 2023 Challengers Stage|