SK Gaming have probably had the weirdest start to 2017 out of all the teams in the world. The year began with Ricardo “fox” Pacheco standing in after Lincoln “fnx” Lau was removed from the team at the end of 2016. This left many people assuming that SK’s goal at the ELEAGUE Major would be to secure a top eight position, but they went one round better and made top four. While that roster served them well, everyone already knew that once the Major was over fox would be replaced by João “felps” Vasconcellos, who is the new permanent member of the team.
With felps on the team people assumed it would take SK a few events to really get going with their new player, especially as their first test, DreamHack Masters Las Vegas, was just a few weeks after the Major. However again the Brazilians surprised people and took home second place, with many saying that they could retain their title as best in the world in a matter of weeks.
Heading into IEM Katowice they were once again unexpected favorites, with a top four finishes all but guaranteed by many of the top analysts. But there, in the Spodek Arena, it all fell apart. The chemistry that we had seen in Vegas seemed to stay in Vegas, and SK looked like they were struggling to function as a unit, with clear communication issues and a lack of strategy. This was what many had expected weeks before, but after their impressive run this fall back to earth was a shock to everyone.
“We had felps, he’s a new player and we are trying to adapt the team, to find good combinations,” says Fernando “fer” Alvarenga, SK’s entry fragger, when discussing what went wrong in Katowice. “Like me and felps, because he plays so much like me, he plays totally the same as me. We like to play aggressive and do our individual plays. In Las Vegas it worked because when you do individual plays and it works, it’s good – you can win. But when it doesn’t work, like this event, it’s bad. I think it’s not the best option to play as individuals, so we’re gonna try to change. We had a conversation and we’re gonna try to change the approach and find the solution for the team to win.”
Finishing in joint last place and taking home just $4,000 from Katowice was obviously a massive disappointment for the team. The core members of SK have enjoyed a consistently impressive form over the last 18 months or so, winning multiple competitions and being regarded as the team to beat, so falling back to the bottom of the table was a hard pill to swallow. However the team is already working on making it back to the top, and are confident that it won’t take them long to return to the top of the scene.
“I think we don’t have too much to change because we know how to win,” says fer. “So the good thing in our team is that we can find the problems, like really fast. We can see the mistakes and say ‘guys, this is the mistake, that’s why we lost,’ or something like that. Then we know we have to change that, and we are fast at doing that, so I think we can win the next Major.”
Winning a Major is obviously the goal for any professional CS:GO team. Not only do they have one of the highest prize pools in all of Counter-Strike, they also bring with them the prestige and the title of world champions. This is something that fer has achieved twice in his career, something few others can claim, and it continues to be his ultimate goal. However as a two-time Major winner he mentioned that he would like to see Valve make some changes to the events they run.
“I think Valve should make like The International for CS,” says fer, referencing CS:GO’s sister esport, Dota 2’s $20m-plus annual championship. “Have one big International per year and then two smaller Majors or something. The first Major everyone was like, ‘whoa, the first Major, this is so cool’ and things grew, but I don’t think the Major is still growing continuously. So they have to put on another tournament, a big tournament to get people hyped again.”
The topic of having an International-style event for CS:GO is one that has been discussed many times by seemingly everyone in the scene. There are a lot of positives to the idea, but there are also downsides which have hindered the competitive Dota scene and its growth over recent years. One of the biggest issues with The International is the ludicrous crowdfunded prize pool. Last year the total prize pool was over $20m, with the winning team taking home more that $9m. These kinds of prize pools have resulted in some of the top teams generally playing in fewer events, as there is little incentive to play in a five-week online league for $50,000, if you have a realistic chance of taking home $9m from one event.
“Yeah, I think the attitude of some players would be like, ‘okay, I will play the tournament that gives out $20m, and then this tournament’s like $100k, so maybe not.’” says fer. “When it’s like that, it’s bad, but you have to think okay, we have this one big tournament we want to play, but we have to play the other tournament because the rank counts. For me, I want to play all the tournaments. Well, we can’t play all the tournaments, but I want to play the maximum amount of tournaments we can. I think it’s the mentality most will have.”
While having an event like The International may not work for CS for a number of reasons, some manner of change to the formula would be welcome, just to keep things fresh. One possibility would be to return to three Majors a year, as the scene has changed substantially since then. Back when we had three Majors a year there wasn’t all that much movement among the top teams in the scene, meaning the top four would often look very similar. But now that is a very different story, with teams being closer than ever.
“I really like the way CS is right now, with other teams winning. It’s good for the scene,” says fer. “It’s bad if just seeing – even us, like SK wins this tournament, oh, SK wins the next one, it’s nothing cool to see for the fans. It’s nice to see other teams winning because you can see that the other teams are improving and seem strong. Like the top ten teams can easily be beating each other. It’s cool to see, I like that a lot.”
Just how the scene will end up changing over the course of the next few months we have no idea, as Valve holds all the keys and as we all know, they aren’t the most talkative of publishers. However CS:GO right now is in a good place, and the future looks bright. As for SK, they have some work to do, but they have been in situations like this before and have always found a way to bounce back, so don’t expect to wait long before we see them lifting another trophy.