Building the Green Wall: The recent rise of OpTic Gaming

OpTic is the best North American Counter-Strike team and one of the best teams in the world. Its victory at ELEAGUE Season 2 shocked the world, which was followed by taking second place at ECS Season 2 and then closing the year out with three wins in four matches to qualify for next month’s ELEAGUE Major. The building of the team was at times slow and at other times explosive. The Green Wall was built brick by brick until one day it appeared out of nowhere. This is the rise of OpTic from the second tier of NA teams to the top among the region.

The story started 11 months ago when OpTic moved into CS:GO and bought the Conquest team that consisted of Damian “daps” Steele, Keith “NAF” Markovic, Shahzeeb “ShahZaM” Khan, Will “RUSH” Wierzba and Peter “stanislaw” Jarguz.

The roster debuted at ELEAGUE’s “Road to Vegas,” in a match against Lounge Gaming and won 2-0. The foundation of the team came from this initial lineup. NAF and RUSH were the star players. Both were up-and-coming riflers with potentially great firepower. ShahZam was as good of an AWP as was available in the region. Daps was a good in-game leader and stanislaw was a dedicated support player, something multiple NA teams lacked. Going into the Americas Minor before April’s MLG Columbus Major, they looked to be favorites in getting out.

Instead, OpTic was upset by Splyce and then lost in the last chance qualifiers to Winterfox. The next few months were drudgery as OpTic continued to try to claw its way forward, and it ended up exploding when the team finally kicked ShahZam. After some drama, OpTic acquired Óscar ‘mixwell’ Cañellas on April 13. The pickup seemed underwhelming at first, but mixwell quickly became the star of the team as a primary AWPer. Mixwell became the first brick that elevated the wall. OpTic began to improve results in the region with a surprise win over Tempo Storm (now known as Immortals) at the Americas Minor and qualified for the Cologne Major in July.

This was enough for OpTic to be seen as either the third or fourth best NA team after the likes of Team Liquid, Cloud9 and Counter Logic Gaming. At that point, OpTic was a decent Tier 2 team with best-of-one upset potential, but not much more. The next piece of the puzzle was the recruitment of Tarik “Tarik” Celik.

Tarik was essentially a prisoner of the CLG organization. CLG was another NA team that had risen to surprising heights and appeared to be on the cusp of becoming a solid top 10 team. It never worked out, as tarik was never able to bring his best game against the Europeans, and the team never changed rosters to try to reach to the next level. As time passed, Tarik seemed to become disillusioned with how far the team could go, so when Cloud9 came knocking with a potential buyout, he was excited to try his luck.

That buyout never happened, as CLG set the price at a very high price. Frustrated with the team and the organization, Tarik had plans to quit being a pro and become a full-time streamer for CLG until his contract expired.

Then OpTic made its move and acquired Tarik on Aug. 20 — the second brick in the wall. As the biggest name on the team and the one with the most star power, he forced the team through drastic changes. OpTic initially removed stanislaw from the lineup but then changed their minds. They removed the AWP from mixwell and gave it to tarik and then NAF before giving it back to mixwell. The first two months were growing pains, as they tried to figure out who did what and where. Who got the AWP? Who didn’t? And what kind of leader was stanislaw going to be?

The initial LANs afterward were a struggle. OpTic lost in the quarterfinals of Northern Arena Toronto after losing to Heroic and lost at ESL New York with a 2-3 record. At ESL Pro League Season 4, OpTic barely made it out of its group and was immediately eliminated from the playoffs by Cloud9.

Northern Arena Montreal was a pickup, as OpTic won the event and beat G2 2-1 in the final. Even then, the G2 match was the sole meaningful win as OpTic finished second in its group and played Heroic in the semifinals. It didn’t help that OpTic went to DreamHack Winter the next week and finished last in the group.

By that time, OpTic had attended six LANs in two months. The seventh was the ELEAGUE playoffs. The constant flying and traveling should have burdened the team. After all, there is less time to practice, less time to prepare and less time to scout opponents. But the one necessary thing OpTic gained from the schedule was experience.

Many of the other top teams in the world already had the experience of hectic travel and playing their best in suboptimal conditions. OpTic was still full of young players, many of whom had always had problems performing at a high level against Europeans. After flying around and slamming their heads into the proverbial wall, they forged an identity.

Tarik and mixwell took the star roles and were the engines of firepower. NAF, RUSH and Stanislaw filled out the roles as passive riflers, entry fraggers or general support players. After passing the AWP around like a hot potato, they finally settled on the system of having mixwell be the main AWP with tarik or NAF picking it up when they had confidence. Their T sides are what makes this team one of the best. The strategy is based around hitting bomb sites hard and fast. They can either go for picks or have players like tarik and rush go in and have the rest trade based off what those two do.

The final two pieces of the wall came at ELEAGUE, and no one saw it coming. NAF and RUSH ascended to a new level of play. Both dominated their opponents in a fashion they had never before done. That, combined with Stanislaw’s change of pace and impactful skill as a leader, made it so every player could feasibly take over a round at a moment’s notice. The amount of skill shocked the world. Even with an easier run than other teams at ELEAGUE, they were still upsetting teams people rightfully rated higher than them. Their run consisted of mousesports, FaZe and Astralis.

The ELEAGUE Season 2 playoffs were a mass of upsets, but none was as massive as OpTic eventually winning the entire tournament. It could have been a fluke, after all. The victory in large part came from RUSH and NAF reaching levels never before seen. But they followed that the following week at ECS in beating their eternal NA tormentors (Cloud9) and then FaZe in a rematch from ELEAGUE. Afterward, they beat EnVyUs in the playoffs before finally going down to Astralis in the finals.

OpTic’s year capped with the Major Qualifier. They beat TyLoo, lost to FaZe and beat Ninjas in Pyjamas and HellRaisers to make it out of the qualifier. With these three tournaments, OpTic has announced its arrival as one of the best teams in the world. There are still teams they have to add to their victim list if they want to claim their spot as one of the best in the world. Luckily for them, they will get their chance in next month’s ELEAGUE Major with all the world’s best teams in attendance. The Green Wall has risen and we will see how strong it is when faced against the best there is.

Cover photo courtesy of Turner sports/ELEAGUE

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