Photo: By Helena Kristiansson for ESL
The first time the CS:GO Major was hosted in the Spodek Arena in Katowice was 2014. It was the second ever Major in CS:GO history and at that event, Virtus.Pro broke out to international acclaim as they won EMS One Katowice over NiP in the finals. Over five years have passed and that Virtus.Pro lineup no longer exists and hasn’t since 2018. As we head into the Champions Stage of the IEM Katowice 2019 Major, now is the opportune time to reflect on the legacy of Virtus.Pro as that is the true aim of all competitors at the Major. The battle for legacy.
The Virtus.Pro lineup of: Janusz “Snax” Pogorzelski, Pawel “byali” Bielinski, Jaroslaw “PashaBiceps” Jarzabkowski, Filip “NEO” Kubski, and Wiktor “TaZ” Wojtas transcended all of esports. Most lineups die within three to six months. A vast majority of them die before the one year mark. In Virtus.Pro’s case, their team lasted longer than a presidential election. From September 2013 to Feb. 6, 2018 the five man lineup lasted over four years and three months.
Virtus.Pro were an anomaly. An exception among exceptions. The only team in any game to have lasted for that long and continue to find competitive success. No team has fallen, risen, fallen, and risen again to challenge for international titles. With so much history, there were too many highlights to name.
Some remember them as the Virtus.Plow. The awe-inspiring T-side team who crushed their opposition with dominating and aggressive tactics. The nickname was bequeathed to them after a dominating victory at IEM Katowice 2014. Virtus.Pro then slumped, to only then rise back up again in 2015.
By that time, the CS:GO landscape had changed. NiP and VeryGames were no longer the big forces in the world and had been usurped by the likes of Fnatic, TSM, and EnVyUs. Many consider that to be the most competitive era of CS:GO as the top teams were incredibly close. The Fnatic lineup was the best Swedish lineup of all time and arguably the greatest of all-time: Freddy “KRIMZ” Johansson, Jesper “JW” Wecksell, Robin “flusha” Ronnquist, Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer, and Markus “pronax” Wallsten. The TSM lineup was one of the best the Danish lineups ever assembled as it had: Finn “Karrigan” Andersen, Andreas “Xyp9x” Hojsleth, Nicolai “device” Reedtz, Rene “cajunb” Borg, and Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen. The EnVyUs lineup was the best French team in CS:GO history with: Vincent “Happy” Cervoni, Fabien “kioShiMa’ Fiey, Edouard “SmithZz” Dubourdeaux, Richard “shox” Papillon, and Nathan “NBK” Schmitt.
Virtus.Pro was competing with those teams for titles. At ESL One Cologne, they were one round away from eliminating Fnatic in the semifinals. To this day, that is the most iconic Fnatic series that lineup ever played. Virtus.Pro had them dead to rights, but the team called a timeout and pulled out an incredible comeback to win the map and the series. Virtus.Pro’s games against TSM were legendary as they put up some of the best Counter-Strike games in history. The best series the two played was at ESL ESEA Pro League Invitational where they dueled in a bo5 with Virtus.Pro coming out on top in a nailbiter 5th game where VP won 16-14.
In 2016, Virtus.Pro slumped again. After hitting a funk, they were once again able to find their way back to the top in the middle of 2016. The world had changed again. This time, the Brazilian lineup of: Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo, Marcelo “coldzera” David, Fernando “fer” Alvarenga, Epitacio “TACO” de Melo, and Lincoln “fnx” Lau were sitting upon the throne of Counter-Strike. At ESL One Cologne, that Brazilian team was unstoppable. The only team that challenged them at all was Virtus.Pro. In the semifinals of that Major, the two teams battled for supremacy with SK coming out on top 2-1.
Soon after, the CS:GO scene shifted into the uncertainty era. After SK won their second Major, they were unable to continue their dominance over the scene and different teams kept winning each events. Among those teams, the most consistent was Virtus.Pro as they won DreamHack Bucharest and got two second places with losses to Na`Vi at ESL One New York and North at EPICENTER.
The beginning of 2017 had Virtus.Pro battling Astralis in the ELeague Atlanta Major Finals. It was another tense battle that went down to the wire. Astralis were able to outplay Virtus.Pro in those finals and take the Major. Soon after Virtus.Pro got their revenge at DreamHack Las Vegas. Soon after, Virtus.Pro went into an irrecoverable slump and resurrected one last time at EPICENTER where they battled SK in one of the most epic bo5 finals of all-time.
Virtus.Pro played in so many different eras against so many different teams. With so much history and so many different matches, it was hard to pinpoint what exactly was Virtus.Pro’s legacy. Some point to their tactical innovation. As a team, Virtus.Pro were continually able to get out of slumps due to their ability to swap roles, create new tactics, and set the meta on new maps. They did it with maps like Cache, Mirage, Train, Cobblestone, and Nuke. Each time a new map came into the map pool, they figured out how to play the map and often set the tone for how the map was to be played from that point on.
When we look at the individual personalities, they were an eclectic bunch. TaZ was the hype man and a warrior. Someone with a big spirit and a bigger mouth. A totemic figure in the team whose natural personal flamboyance translated into fantastic in-game aggression. NEO was the legend. Arguably the greatest player to ever play CS 1.6, he was a smart clutch player in CS:GO who only achieved star status from late 2016 to early 2017. PashaBiceps was the aggressive hybrid player. A man who only knew how to move in one direction, forward. Byali had incredible aim and Snax had an instinctive level of play that allowed him to create sensational plays with incredible levels of impact.
None of the players were anywhere close to all-arounders, each had a specific niche or style of play they were the best at. When they combined their disparate values and skills together, they became greater than the sum of the parts and that is Virtus.Pro.
Their history, their style of play, their individual ticks, all of these points are different facets of who they were and what made them great. But for me, that wasn’t their legacy, but rather parts of it. If I had to condense Virtus.Pro’s legacy to a single sentence it is this.
Even though Virtus.Pro lost many big matches in their careers, we always thought of them as winners.
It is a paradoxical thought. Nearly all of my fondest memories of Virtus.Pro have them losing to the other team: Fnatic at ESL One Cologne 2015, SK at ESL One Cologne 2016, Na`Vi at ESL One New York, Astralis at ELeague Atlanta, SK at EPICENTER. Yet the idea of them being underperformers or chokers has never crossed my mind.
That is the crux of the matter. When I look back at those games now, it’s clear to see that Virtus.Pro left nothing behind them. Virtus.Pro never truly lost, they got beat. This is a distinction that Shane “rapha” Hendrixson made on Daniel “ddk” Kapadia’s podcast where he says,
“I’d rather be beat than take a loss. A loss is my own fault where I made a mistake and handed the win to the other guy.”
This isn’t to say that the Virtus.Pro players never made a mistake, the made plenty of them. After all, every player on that team had distinctive strengths and weaknesses. What made Virtus.Pro special was that in order to overcome that, they fought to win games, never to not lose games. They never let games past by them, they always fought with everything on the line. With other teams, you could always talk about potential that a team has. With Virtus.Pro, that talk never came up because what you saw in the server was what you got. Whatever amount of skill and form they had on the day.
For me, that was their legacy. A warrior spirit that refused to die. Every time the team fell down, they got back up. Each time a new era came into being, Virtus.Pro forced themselves up back into the mix. For Virtus.Pro, their greatness comes from the fact that they fought in distinctive eras: the NiP era, the Fnatic era, the LG/SK era, the uncertainty era, the beginning of the triumvirate in 2017, and one last hurrah in the SK/FaZe rivalry at the end of 2017.
Virtus.Pro don’t have an era, but they are rivals to all of the greats of nearly every era, whether that was NiP/VeryGames early on, Fnatic/EnVyUs/TSM in 2015, LG/SK and Na`Vi in 2016, or Astralis in 2017. No other five man lineup can boast of playing in such disparate eras against such a wide array of teams.
When I think of Virtus.Pro and their legacy, it isn’t the victories that inspire me with awe, but the defeats. Every time Virtus.Pro was defeated, they forced their rivals to play to their absolute limits. Who can forget Fnatic having to pull out a miracle pause at Cologne, Xyp9x having to win an 1v2 on Overpass, gla1ve calling a masterful tactic on Train, or coldzera and FalleN forced to pull out impossible clutches and calls at EPICENTER?
Virtus.Pro’s legacy isn’t written in their victories, but in their losses. Each time Virtus.Pro confronted a great of an era, they never shied away. They never backed down from a fight. They fought for every year, every month, every series, every map, and every round. They forced greatness out of their rivals at every juncture, whether that was NiP, LG/SK, Fnatic, or Astralis. If those teams could ascend, they became the victors. If they couldn’t, then Virtus.Pro came out on top. For Virtus.Pro, all of their victories came from the same spirit they fought with in their losses.
As IEM Katowice 2019 heads into the Champions Stage, I couldn’t help but reminisce about the Virtus.Pro’s legacy. After all, Katowice is synonymous with that Virtus.Pro team. While none of their players will be participating in this Major, their void has been filled with teams and players looking to create or further their own history and their own legends.
There is no better place to do that than in the playoffs of the Majors. These matches are the moments that can define a player’s career. Victory and defeat plays a large role in how a player or team is viewed, but so does the spirit. After all, Virtus.Pro have lost huge matches, yet we still think of them as warriors and winners. So when the time comes, when you are in that arena with thousands of fans screaming, with the pressure mounting, think upon the Virtus.Pro legacy.
Fight for every inch, every round, every breath. Fight till the last vestiges of your being give out, then get back up and fight again. Force every ounce of potential and greatness that you are capable of and leave it on that stage.
For that is what Virtus.Pro have done. They fought for over four years. Virtus.Pro fell many times, but each time, they got back up. During those four years, they played in widely different eras and against of the greatest teams of all time. They forced all of them to their absolute limits and played exhilarating games that awe us even today.
That is Virtus.Pro, a team with the force and drive to fight again and again. That is what they have left behind, that is the Virtus.Pro legacy.