mantuu: "I feel like we haven't even remotely reached our peak"
BIG's Polish AWPer is very excited about the future of his team after a strong showing in the ESL Pro League group stage.
Mateusz "mantuu" Wilczewski was a cult player to follow in the lower rungs of German Counter-Strike, where he started his career in 2017 before joining OG going into 2020. He averaged a 1.20 rating during his two-and-a-half years with PANTHERS and ALTERNATE aTTaX, in both Germany and the lower tiers of European competition, which made his move to a newly minted top-flight team appealing to the more hipsterish fans.
The Polish sniper peaked at No. 6 in the world with OG, once in late 2020 and another time in early 2021 after roster changes. He even survived the second set of changes in mid-2022 and became the last founding player on the team, but not for long.
In June, after falling ill and missing the BLAST Spring Final, he was replaced by his substitute at the event in Portugal, Abdul "degster" Gasanov, who powered OG to a semi-final run. mantuu had joked about it on Twitter, but it ended up becoming prophetic.
The benching was hard for mantuu because, at the time, he was pigeonholed into a supportive role, particularly on T-sides, while his successor was given more freedom. Since joining BIG in June, nearly one year after his last official match, the Pole is now not only trying to find his form again, but also finding ways to be more proactive and impactful.
"There are a lot of differences compared to OG," mantuu tells HLTV from Malta ahead of BIG’s ESL Pro League playoff run, which will start on Wednesday against the winner of Eternal Fire vs. Astralis. "One of the things is that they really try to work with me, the AWPer, to adapt my game to their style. They make sure that I have an impact on the game, on the CT side and on the T side, so I have my rounds and my peeks.
"That was what I lacked a bit of, previously. I was always the supportive AWPer on the T side. I had my peeks on the CT side, depending on spawn, but on the T side I was making sure that my riflers were safe. I was protecting them, using utility for them to enter sites, that was kind of my goal. Now, in mid-round situations, or even at the start of the round, we're working closely together to make sure that I have an impact in every single round, in every single strategy. The most impact I can have. That has been super nice because it feels like they want to improve my game and we want to improve our game as a team."
But it hasn’t been easy for mantuu to jump right into the game after a year on the sidelines. A new map was introduced while he was inactive, Anubis, and BIG play Vertigo frequently, which OG perma-banned until his last event before being moved to the bench. He only played on the skyscraper twice dating back to 2020.
"I’m just adapting to how we play on all of the maps," mantuu says. "I wouldn't say I'm in peak form, individually, I'm still trying to find my groove around the team. I have my maps where I play super well and I kind of show my level individually, but my goal is to show that individual level consistently on every single map and to feel confident on every single map."
There was a certain amount of confusion around mantuu signing for BIG due to his history playing for German squads and how communication would work. The Berlin-based team went international in 2019 and 2020, with the additions of Owen "smooya" Butterfield and Ismailcan "XANTARES" Dörtkardeş, but returned to their roots by signing German players and later promoting several local talents from the academy team. In an online press conference shortly after mantuu’s signing, BIG’s assistant coach, Dustin "DuDe" Großmann, revealed that they would communicate in English.
"I'm not taking any German lessons, I don't have any time to take German lessons, I think my head would explode," mantuu says, laughing. "In terms of communication, it was never a problem because the young players, the new generation, everyone can speak English at a really good level." The AWPer does admit that in high-pressure situations the team may revert to German at times, but even then his own past experience helps.
"There are some moments when the guys speak German,” mantuu admits, "like when we played against Heroic, in the last map, Inferno, when it was super close, 14-13, and we were about to win the game. I remember that tabseN just started calling in German. I laughed super hard because I was in German teams before and I can understand some words, and then through common sense I can understand what he's trying to say. So I understood the round, but then I was like, 'You know you just called in German, right?'
"Our coach and tabseN were just laughing super hard and he said, 'Oh, I forgot to speak English, right?' But I understood him anyway and what they were doing. So yeah, in high-pressure situations there are some moments when they speak German, but it's not a problem for me because I can understand it."
BIG surprised in the ESL Pro League Season 18 group stage by beating Monte, Heroic, and taking a map off of ENCE in the upper bracket final, which was played for seeding in the playoffs. BIG made the goal even quicker than they expected, perhaps fearing a hard time through the lower brackets.
"We're even more confident now because the results show that we can compete against very good teams, right?" mantuu says about what's next. "I think that we're very confident going into the playoffs. Even facing the better teams, let's say we face Astralis or Eternal Fire, then we go into NAVI, we're confident playing all of those teams. We're confident in how we play. I don't think we're going in scared and that's the most important thing."
Big Event playoffs will be a first for David "prosus" Hesse and Elias "s1n" Stein, although the latter of the two has a bit more experience, having played the IEM Rio Major's Challengers and Legends Stages.
mantuu is very confident in their abilities, however. "Straight away, from practice, I saw insane amounts of potential from my teammates," he says. "Of course, playing the BLAST groups, which was our first kind of LAN, we saw some people a bit uncomfortable, but once we played the ESL Pro League groups, something changed.
"prosus played insane, s1n had insane games, so I think that it kind of cracked the shell and they're really confident right now. That's the most important part, that they're feeling confident. They had their first tier one events and now they can show what they do in practice because they've been playing insane individually. Especially prosus, his aim is really, really good. I'm super hyped and I think they're also super hyped about these playoffs and also future events."
BIG’s confidence also translates into the team’s mindset when looking at potential rivals in the Pro League playoffs and beyond. "It doesn't matter who we play, that's our attitude, we feel like we can play against anyone," mantuu says. "We can win and have close games against any team, so right now, Eternal Fire or Astralis, it doesn't really matter."
And the excitement doesn’t stop at Pro League. This is just the beginning for the Polish sniper. "This lineup can be insane," he boasts. "I see the potential of the players and we're grinding a lot. We're playing a lot together, we're on the server a lot.
"Compared to my other teams it's like night and day. That's the fun part of it, we have a lot of potential, we're playing a lot, we're changing things up, and the results are showing that we're improving a lot. I feel like we haven't even remotely reached our peak."
|ESL Pro League Season 18|