David “DAVEY” Stafford found out about Counter-Strike the same way many people are introduced to future interests: By an older sibling. He was shown a video of Virtus.pro competing years ago and realized that was something he wanted to do.
Fast forward a few years to Davey competing in the same tournament — a major — as the famed Polish club.
“(My brother) showed me a video of them playing on a stage and stuff, and I thought, ‘I want to do that,’” said Davey, a member of the Splyce team that exited in the group stage of this week’s MLG Columbus Major. “That’s what made me want to start playing and now I’m playing at the same event as them. It’s pretty awesome.”
The week was filled with moments of awe like that for Davey and the rest of his teammates. It was the first major for Splyce, an organization less than a year old with a roster that formed at the end of December. The excitement was there. The team’s inexperience, however, showed quickly as Splyce was eliminated rather easily.
Splyce managed to win only eight rounds in losses to Fnatic and FaZe Clan.
“Don’t let the nerves get to you,” captain Arya “Arya” Hekmat said. “Playing against Fnatic, when we played them at first, we thought they were just gods. But then we got a kill, it’s like, ‘OK, they’re not that great. We can continue to do this, we just gotta run with it.’
“It was kind of a wake-up call.”
Davey also said the team was under-prepared, which he didn’t realize until getting on the stage and seeing the level at which his opponents played.
“You felt like you were prepared,” Davey said. “But when we were playing, the other guys were just way more prepared than we were, and you could tell they were more confident than us. You could tell we were just not fully ready for it. Next time we will be.”
The organization is still so young that growing pains are to be expected. Heck, Splyce received a major assist just to earn a second chance to qualify for the major. Splyce failed to earn a spot in February’s LAN qualifier, finishing runner-up in January to Enemy in the North American qualifier. But when Mongolian club The MongolZ was denied visa applications for the LAN qualifier, Splyce was invited.
Splyce entered that tournament dismissed by many as having a chance to make the major, but it defeated Counter Logic Gaming and the now-disbanded Vexed Gaming to win its group and earn a bid to the $1 million tournament.
“I know we got here because the MongolZ dropped out. But we lost to Enemy at (the NA qualifier),” Arya said. “We gave up an early game during the qualifier, which made us play through all the way (out of the loser’s bracket). We ended up beating OpTic and so on. So I really felt like if we weren’t as burned out as we were going into that final, we would have won and we would have earned our spot here simply from winning that.
“But at the same time, it was a blessing. I still felt like we earned it.”
Skeptics of Splyce might have been proven correct with the team’s struggles this week in Columbus. Still, the experience of playing in a major was valuable for a team — Arya, Davey, Andrew “Professor_Chaos” Heintz,” Abraham “abE” Fasli and Jason “jasonR” Ruchelski — that’s still trying to jell.
Davey reflected on his first ever professional event a few years ago, when he was a rookie playing against guys like Fnatic’s Patrik “cArn” Sättermon and the old Evil Geniuses team. It had a similar feel to Columbus this week in terms of the magnitude of the moment.
“I’m in the presence of all these great players,” Davey said, reflecting. “That’s sort of when it clicked in. I want to do this. I want to be like them.”
The theme, both then and now, was the same: There’s still more work to do.