It’s not been so EZ 4 ENCE as of late, clearly evidenced by the (admittedly somewhat surprising) roster move they’ve pulled after the major. Removing the unsung heroes of a project rarely goes well in CS:GO – be it the in-game leader or a dedicated support player –, and both the Finns’ awful performance at BLAST Pro Series Moscow and the implications of their different interviews given at the event should be a major concern to those who are invested in their success: roster changes like these almost always benefit from a honeymoon period, and the fact that it started out so poorly to begin with is a massive red flag.
Adding the best individual Finnish player to an all-Finnish lineup is a logical move on the surface. It’s one that’s been long expected from ENCE at some point or another, and it’s been quite clear that this was suNny’s preferred destination over another international adventure as well. The original roster’s meteoric rise over the course of the last year – plus their ability to deliver mostly consistent results over an extended period of time – meant that the change came out of left field for many. It is, however, completely understandable in the sense that the current roster was never going to be able to put up a sustained challenge for the #1 spot in the world, and if anything, it’s the lofty nature of this goal itself that may not stand up to scrutiny. While it is a testament to their accomplishments so far and the ultimate desire for every top CS:GO side, ENCE were unique in the sense that it was never the firepower that allowed them to mix it with the big boys.
They did well without revolutionizing the game or fragging out like crazy, relying on extremely solid and consistent tactical fundamentals, which were enough to propel them past all but the very best of the world. Introducing suNny to this equation means that a major shift is required in the way the team plays, therefore it’s not just a clear upgrade even if 2018’s 16th-best player manages to once again find his form from last year. A reinvention is required, forcing a team that impressed by being more than a sum of its parts to become something very different.
And it’s a big if whether their new signing can fulfill his carry potential again. We simply don’t have a reasonable sample size to consider the impact of such a long time outside the servers in the “modern”, money-filled era of Counter-Strike, and suNny’s ring rust was clearly visible in Moscow, posting awful numbers across the board. It’s not just the fact that he closed the event with a -23 K/D – the entire team was struggling, after all – but that he was the second-worst on his team overall, only beating out Aerial in rating. Not a good look for the player who was meant to be the firepower upgrade, and especially concerning in comparison with ENCE’s decent overall performance in Berlin.
Normally, you could point to teething problems and argue that it takes time to embed a new player into the side. However, this is usually the exact opposite in the case of this kind of a roster move: when an IGL is removed (and the team opts for something other than a like-for-like replacement), his old protocols and strategies tend to live on for a while simply because of the collective muscle memory. It usually takes a few events until their absence really begins to show. The same thing happened when FaZe got rid of karrigan. Though it’s not an IGL story, suNny himself has experience with how the removal a seemingly underperforming cog in the great machine can bring the whole enterprise down: mousesports were never the same again after STYKO’s removal, forcing a complete revamp later down the line.
There are also reasons to suspect that the environment around ENCE is more toxic than the Finns would admit. For starters, suNny is getting a lot of hate for disrupting the fan favorite roster, and though he’s gone on record saying that he’ll use all that as motivation, we simply don’t know yet whether he has the personality traits required to actually be able to do so.
Also, despite all the assurances of kumbaya and hippie love, it’s clear there was fiction in and around the team if you read between the lines. It’s not just Aleksib’s departure, though that one certainly turned into a bigger story than it seemed to be at the start: the aforementioned interview with suNny and allu seems to indicate a concerning backdrop to this change. First, it seems like discontent has risen to a problematic level by the time of the StarSeries i-League Season 7 finals – which suggests that some of the players had very different ideas to proceed off the back of their Cinderella story at the Katowice major. Second, the following quote also seem to suggest that suNny and some of the players were in touch for a very long time – likely angling for a move –, which must have poisoned the atmosphere.
“I think the first month I didn't play much, but then I started to play again and I had many plans going on with other players and team, but we mostly spoke with allu, and obviously some other ENCE players as well, about what can be done and when.”
Emphasis mine, of course. Here’s something else to consider: if ENCE felt like they were underperforming and thought that this roster move was both necessary and a clear upgrade, why make it after and not before the player break and the biggest event on the calendar? That’s certainly what Aerial seems to suggest in the infamous interview, which was basically the PR equivalent of a teamkill – or maybe more like shooting BOT Fergus in the head once you votekicked that annoying guy who kept talking too much. (Something something fakin purpl.) He basically opens the interview by saying “we've been wanting this for at least a few months” before going on to basically trash Aleksib’s in-game leading approach. It’s clear there’s more to this story than what’s been revealed to us, and like with so many other tales involving roster drama, it may take a very long time for the whole truth to come out. As things stand right now, I wouldn't be surprised if it was the IGL who had the last laugh, rather than the rest of the roster, much like how the FaZe story panned out in the end.
For a project which was as impeccably handled so far as ENCE was, this could be their first real misstep so far. Being able to resist the allure of a “star signing” and working on the existing was part of what part of what propelled them to the heady heights they’ve reached during the first half of 2019. Reading carefully through their interviews about the subject, it seems like there was more trouble in the Finnish paradise than many have realized from the outside looking in. If the foundations were less solid than they seemed and the honeymoon period with suNny turns out to be nonexistent, things may get worse before they get EZ again.
Photo credit: HLTV