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Despite failing to make the London major by the skin of their teeth, Ence has had an increasingly successful 2018. The Finnish organisation continually went above and beyond expectations, winning two LANs, qualifying for the upcoming WESG and playing in multiple premier tournaments. Not just that, but they did it while taking some high-profile scalps en route in best of three matches.

It’s an incredible feat, especially when you keep in mind that Ence – possibly due to the presence of a legendary Fin in the organisation, Joona “natu” Leppänen – plays what many call ‘real’ Counter-Strike. Unlike many of the other up and coming European teams which rely heavily on a scrimmy play-style with high upset potential, they played a much more consistent, tactical style.

Unfortunately for them, that very style meant that they have a much lower chance of actually breaking through and consistently getting wins over teams that were higher ranked. Ence played more standard, cookie cutter Counter-Strike, that teams in the upper echelons had dealt with in the past – generally with players more skilled than yours.

Ence is at a point where it can only progress further by the development of their incredibly young players. Unlike international teams, or teams with incredibly vibrant domestic scenes that have a wealth of talent to pick from – yes Denmark, I’m looking at you – Ence doesn’t have access to many players that would immediately give them the big firepower they need to suddenly push towards aiming for the top 5 mark.

Exception: Miikka “suNny” Kemppi.

SuNny

The star of one of the early international teams in Counter-Strike that was able to get substantial success, suNny proved himself to be a talent to keep an eye out for underneath the banner of PENTA Sports. Despite the success of the team – making the Krakow major in 2017 – the project seemed destined to fail as players were being picked out for teams with deeper pockets, and more storied pasts.

For suNny, this was a blessing, as he got to be the final piece of the Mousesports lineup that within the first month of its existing was able to come out first place of the ESG Mykonos event – not the most stacked field, but it was a sign of things to come. Within those very days, suNny’s friend and legendary Finnish player Aleksi “allu” Jalli too was playing under another international team, OpTic Gaming.

Sunny went on to reap success in Mousesports the way he probably never would in a local team, and proceeded to gather praise, titles, and a rightful place in the top 5 teams of HLTV. Playing a huge part of Mousesports succeeding against elite teams like Faze, and Astralis, suNny was at the top of his career. Without an organisation that had the funds and players to provide adequate backup, bringing both him home with Allu seemed impossible.

2018 started harshly for Allu, who was removed from OpTic, and (seemingly) forced to come back to Finland to play under the banner of his old team: Ence esports. At the time, it seemed like a stop-gap for the player before he would probably end up moving on to a bigger team.

Meanwhile, given the size and success of Mouse, it seemed impossible that suNny would ever be welcomed back into a potential Finnish superteam. The new year though, definitely shows indications why we could expect that very roster to assemble.

Diminishing Returns for Mousesports

While not confirmed, I have it on reasonable authority that suNny’s contract extends to the latter half of 2019, or early 2020. With a year left on his contract, this is the ideal time where you want to sell off a player for a high value, rather than extending it to a point where teams would just much rather wait out his contract in an attempt to give an offer during free agency.

Why sell? Well, suNny’s performance as of late has been somewhat poor relative to days past. Interestingly, it’s the last LAN with Snax on the team where his tides seemed to begin to take a turn for the worst. In the past three months (the time period where Styko has been reunited with the lineup), suNny has had a 0.98 rating versus teams in the top ten. While that in itself doesn’t sound the worst, what’s more shocking is the fact that out of sixteen maps, nine of them have him below 0.9. Five of those maps have him below a 0.8.

Perhaps even more worrying, is the frequency of which he doesn’t perform adequately well versus teams that aren’t even in the top ten. We’ve seen him fall to around a 0.8 rating against teams like Valiance, Renegades and Luminosity.

For a team like Mousesports, which requires suNny and Oskar to be the two big boys of the team against the titans of the game, these numbers simply aren’t enough. With the Styko move earlier in the year, we’ve seen that Mousesports as a team is willing to go for big gambles to try to climb up in the rankings yet again. Although you might question whether they would be willing to make the cut, I expect suNny to be looking to leave as well. He has had flashes of brilliance extending even to the minor, but it isn’t set in stone.

The question then comes in, why would a team even be interested in a star player who is so inconsistent?

Structural Differences for suNny

The interesting thing about the inconsistency in his rating is, that it probably stems from problems with how he’s used within the team – something that’s somewhat visible by comparing terrorist side defaults they ran with Snax, in comparison to with Styko. Specifically, in mirage – a map where suNny went from almost never having a negative rating to basically having only negative ratings.

The default that Mousesports was running with Snax was more centred around having Sunny aggressively take mid control with support from Snax, and Oskar there as the AWP to back them up. In comparison, the default that Mousesports was running against Valiance at the minor had suNny being played solo towards the apartments area, with Styko and ChrisJ supporting Oskar’s AWP towards the middle side. SuNny was switched out to a significantly more defensive role, where he’s more waiting to intercept CT aggression rather than being the aggressor himself.

Throughout interviews, it was clear that Oskar was unhappy and unable to perform – citing communication issues with the new roster as being the fault. Meanwhile, suNny pounded away and reached peak form. Immediately after Snax was removed from the team, and certain positions were switched around, suNny’s form took a massive decline.

Mousesports may have chosen to prioritize Oskar over the Finnish star, and it’s understandable why. To compete with the very best teams in the world, it seems almost necessary to have an AWPer who can go against the likes of Guardian, S1mple or Device. Unfortunately, that means that suNny can no longer perform to the fullest on this roster due to not being played around the same way. The problematic situation is, that there aren’t many top teams who don’t already have star riflers and would be willing to dedicate those kinds of resources on the server.

And that’s where we bring it all back to Ence. A team which is much more likely to dedicate resources to suNny, a team that could still be in the top five with his addition, and a team where he gets to play with his fellow Fins, and finally unite with Allu to potentially make a superteam.

The question still remains, does Ence have the money for a big buyout?

Of Redbulls and Allu

Entering into 2019, Ence made a big announcement that they had acquired a sponsorship deal with Redbull. This could be the big paycheck that Ence needs to afford a big buyout for suNny – and if there’s any time when it’s worth it, then it’s now. You’ve got a team on the verge of breaking out into the top of the world by playing structured Counter-Strike, and this could be your only year to properly exploit it. Why?

Contracts again.

In 2018, while signing Allu (off the back of another large deal they had with a Finnish hockey club) it was revealed that his contract was to be two years long. It’s expected that his contract too will expire in early 2020, and with only a year left on that, this could be the last year where they can comfortably try making a run for the top to incentivize him to stay on. Allu is a player who has time and time again been offered slots on well-paying, international teams. Should he feel that he’s not living up to his potential then it isn’t unreasonable to see him change to another team – despite any desire he may have to stay in Finland.

The stars are aligning, suNny isn’t functioning well under Mousesports’ system, Ence is on the cusp of breaking through to the top 5 and recently might’ve gotten the money they needed to actually pursue a deal like this. What makes the chances of this happening even sweeter is that Mousesports themselves too would probably appreciate money should they wish to buyout another player after the enormous Snax buyout went awry.

Ultimately, there are only two ways I don’t see these roster moves happening, is if either Ence performs ridiculously well at the major, or if they don’t think it’s worth changing the structure of their team to alot resources to suNny. Secondly, if Mousesports just don’t want to sell him to Ence due to the likelihood of them becoming a strong rival.

The cards are all there for a potential Finnish championship team. Let’s see if Ence wants to play the game

Photo credits: Dreamhack, Adela Sznajder
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