My enduring memory of Wiktor “TaZ” Wojtas is the image of him standing on the stage at ESL Cologne in 2015, awkwardly sandwiched between olofmeister and the interviewer, returning from the pit where the losing teams are banished to ask the crowd to not boo the side that defeated them in the semis. Broken English coupled with a clear message, going above and beyond the call of duty. Two years later, the ironic echo of the same moment, this time without words, gesturing the crowd to cheer on SK, the team they’ve just beaten to qualify for the final but who gave them a damn good game even with a stand-in. Age, wisdom, showmanship – and perhaps most importantly, perspective. No wonder he stuck around when so many decided to fade away from those who made it all begin.
CS:GO’s rapid growth over the course of the last few years meant that many pros tend to cling on to their spots as long as possible, even when it’s clear the game has left them behind. While it’s certainly possible to reinvent yourself and stay relevant in the top tier of the game, such cases are rare. Disappointingly enough, many of the pros decide to just call it a day after their big payday ceases to be, not taking a turn or two on lower teams to pass on their experience.
Virtus.pro’s fabled CS:GO lineup – often mistakenly referred to as the “Golden Five” – was one of those teams that always had a chance. Almost never the best team and rarely having players as part of the top 20 discussion in the Global Offensive era, they were the ones that always seemed to have an X-factor, “the plow”, something indescribable that could suddenly make them title contenders. Sometimes it was a change of roles between events to arrest a slump, sometimes it was TaZ hyping them up after a string of catastrophic rounds in the middle of the series. He may have been difficult to work with, but there’s a reason why he’s still a factor in an age where millionaires and dieticians are beginning to influence the scene.
Fittingly, the intangible elements that made Virtus.pro so durable across all eras were mostly embodied by the team’s in-game leader, TaZ. Too competitive, too much of a perspectionist. His words. Once he was gone, so was the team, and he’s made a strong case since then that perhaps he wasn’t the one who should have been released at the time.
Just like when he was standing atop the stage at Cologne, TaZ proved to be the exception rather than the rule in this case as well. A living reminder that no matter how esports grow, the traits required to succeed never change. Even as the reflexes are no longer what they used to be and the young whippersnappers innovate on things you took for granted, the drive to win and sportsmanship remains valuable. It doesn’t look like TaZ is going to hang up his hat anytime soon – and CS:GO is all the better for it.