After a 1-3 exit out of StarSeries i-League Season 5 (SLI), Virtus.Pro ended the tournament with another disappointing finish. With their only win against a struggling Gambit, the major winning team look to be a shell of their former selves.
While disappointing, Virtus.Pro’s exit comes as a surprise to no one considering their form. Embarrassing losses to teams no one has ever heard of online, failure to qualify to tournaments like ESL Cologne 2018, and lack of any real results for more than a whole year, it’s easy to write Virtus.Pro off as just a team that will never post results again. So how did a team that goes from almost winning a major in 2017 to going on a year-long slump? What are the current problems VP have? And is there anything VP can do to fix these issues?
It’s not NEO
Whenever teams do poorly, fans and viewers are quick to blame the person doing the worst statistically. The player at the end of all the pitchforks seems to be none other than Filip “Neo” Kubski.
While NEO’s performance definitely isn’t up to par, the reason behind his lack of impact isn’t just in his hands alone. NEO isn’t set up to be a playmaker and as an anchor, he isn’t a liability. In their series against Renegades at Starladder, NEO was entry-fragged a total of 4 times throughout the series, the lowest on the team. Not to mention, in terms of raw stats, his ADR is within 2 points of the two teammates ahead of him, and he still has the burden of shot-calling and tactics. If Virtus.Pro had one thing going for them this tournament, it was that they weren’t lacking in tactics. Elaborate smoke executes, coordinated CT aggression and their ability to generate picks looked just fine.
If NEO is the catalyst to their ability to still generate creative and effective strategies while not being a liability in terms of constantly getting entried, then it’s hard to say he’s the problem. Yes, it’d be nice for him to be like gla1ve and have a huge statistical impact while calling, but VP clearly have bigger issues than NEO
VP’s performance at this tournament was actually an improvement from what we’ve seen earlier. Tactically, they looked like they had a solid game plan. Individually, players like Jarosław ‘pashaBiceps’ Jarząbkowski and Michał ‘MICHU’ Müller looked fantastic with the former going toe-to-toe with the likes of s1mple. So while Virtus.Pro look much better, what seemed to be the biggest issue? Closing rounds were by far the worst issue Virtus.Pro had.
Against Renegades, Virtus.Pro dominated the opening pick battle 45-29 and against Navi, they kept up in first picks 24-28 in a series where they lost 2-0. But stats aside, just watching the game would infuriate anybody who is a fan of fundamental counter-strike. Losing 5v4s is acceptable and even losing a 5v3, but Virtus.Pro have lost countless 4v2s and 5v3s. Even in rounds where Virtus.Pro won, we see 4v2s converted into only one player on VP staying alive. On just Train alone versus Renegades, we saw VP lose a 5v3 (round 1), a 4v2 with bomb control (round 2), a 3v1 (round 12), and 5v3 (round 18).
This level of anti-clutch is unprecedented, and all of these rounds fall apart because of individual bad decisions. Repeeks, smoke pushes, and miscommunication were in full supply with VP at this tournament. The good news for VP fans is this is completely fixable. Since VP was favored to win these rounds because of their own play, all that VP needs to work on is discipline. Individual players need to self-reflect why these easy rounds are being thrown by the wayside and fix it for next time.
Speaking of losing 2-man advantages, the individual player most responsible for rounds falling apart seem to always be Paweł ‘byali’ Bieliński. Individually, he and Michu are the most mechanically talented on the roster. However, the decision making by byali should be questioned. These terrible decisions happen in the most pivotal rounds where VP have a clear advantage.
In round 1 on train versus Renegades, Byali was the first to get picked playing a bad position. In round 2, byali got caught pushing the smoke in a 2v4 when the bomb was down. In Jkaem’s 1v3 on round 12, Byali was the first to die trying to face.
Byali isn’t the only VP player that causes these rounds to fall apart, but he’s got the highest tally. Byali’s risky playstyle definitely has its perks (he was the primary reason for their win against Gambit), but he needs to understand time and place. Him going for a hero smoke push to clutch a round is fine, him going for it in a 4v2 just doesn’t make sense.
The Big Apple but Snax isn’t hungry
Once a top 5 player according to HLTV.org, Janusz ‘Snax’ Pogorzelski has had a drastic fall from grace. He’s had a subpar individual performance, a poor showing as an In-Game Leader, and question marks on his motivation. As a result, he’s also at the end of the pitchfork.
To be fair to Snax, most of the criticism is unwarranted. Snax never had a superstar rating, was never the type of player to single-handedly carry Virtus.Pro, and his individual performance, while not up to his standards, has been above average. However, he leaves a lot to be desired. He’s also lost the ability to impact rounds like he used to.
The main trait he has seem to lost is his clutch factor. Previously, Snax was known to win 1v4s if need be, but the only clutch he had during this tournament was a 1v2 against Gambit. Snax hasn’t changed his role, and he’s still commonly the last man alive. If Snax wishes to get back on his A-game, he’s going to need everything he used to have.
Dread it. Run from it. VP is still gonna lose to pistols
Virtus.Pro are terrible against forcebuys. The problem isn’t uncommon as teams like NiP, Tyloo, FaZe, and Liquid all get eco’d frequently. One caveat though, the problem these teams have is that they don’t seem to have an anti-eco setup. VP very clearly have these setups.
When it comes down to it, VP still convert their second rounds very well. It’s the late round anti-ecos that they need to win that they fall flat. Compare VP’s default on round 17 on Cache to how they lost round 23. In round 17, the utility usage by VP was stellar and their default leading up to the round gave them control of A. Round 23 however, Virtus.Pro were caught on the entry as 3 players on the B bombsite wiped them out.
Virtus Pro and plenty of other teams can mitigate this by not cutting corners like other teams. Navi is fantastic at getting map control on ecos, Astralis use their utility perfectly during anti-ecos, and SK has fantastic mid round calls that allow them to come back into eco rounds where they give up a kill. If VP wants to at least lose fewer ecos, they should take notes from some of these others teams.
Teams need good mental fortitude if they want to compete at the highest level. Virtus.Pro is severely lacking in that department. When VP are feeling it, they can win tournaments out of nowhere. Otherwise, they slump for months. Even in their games, pivotal moments where they let the emotion get the best of them are the cause for them falling apart. A crucial mistake is made in a round, and VP go from 12-10 to 12-16. It’s become routine when pressure is mounting that’s when VP seem to fall apart. We saw it in their Eleague Major Final against Astralis, we saw it at Epicenter against SK, and we saw it against Mouz at V4. As VP get closer to the win, the adrenaline seems to get the best of them. As a result, it falls apart and the Poles seem to never feel inclined to put it back together.
There are plenty of ways to address this problem. For one, a sports psychologist may mitigate a lot of the emotional problems that plague the team. Second, tactical timeouts could be a great means of keeping everyone level-headed during important rounds. The psychological toll of going from arguably the best team in the world to a team that’s not even favored to make it out of groups can’t be understated. It may even contribute to the other problems of VP.
At the end of the day, Virtus.Pro doesn’t have one singular issue that can be fixed in a definitive way. Virtus.Pro isn’t so far gone that they’re beyond salvation, but it’s going to take a lot. Starladder might have been a disappointment, but this gives time for VP to reflect. VP are the owners of their own fate as they’re the ones who must come up with something.