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Virtus.pro thrives on pressure in a way few teams can

Shots taken at Dreamhack Masters Las Vegas 2017 held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Do you ever feel an increased amount of pressure?

It’s another day in the office. But maybe it’s a bad thing as pressure is good for you sometimes. I miss it, but it returns in tight situations in the game.” – NEO

Pressure is a peculiar phenomenon. It is an unseen force every player must face if they wish to compete professionally. There are orders of magnitude to it: going from online to LAN, group stage to playoffs, playoffs to semis, semis to finals, one championship to winning multiple. It is always there in the background. It is your alter ego, the inner voice that questions your ability, the creeping doubt that thinks every possible failed scenario, the part that makes you stop being yourself. Pressure is the enemy, and if you flinch for a single second under its scrutiny, that is all it takes to falter.

The fear of failure is a core part of everyone. A rare few can ignore it, most learn to eventually deal with it, and many never do. Then there is Virtus.pro, which seem to thrive on it. This isn’t to say the team wins every finals it reaches or takes every high-pressure game. If you look at VP’s history, the team is somewhat erratic in this regard. But they almost never play themselves out of the game. The other team must surpass VP to take the win; they will never hand the opponent the win.

Pressure can make you fall, but it can also make you sharp. Under pressure, your mind can conjure a million reasons why you can and will fail. Some take this to heart and crumble in the high-stakes matches. Others take this to make themselves even stronger. The pressure conjures a million reasons why they fail, but their will conjures the one way they will win. Under pressure, they don’t think “I can’t win,” but rather, “I must win.”

For Virtus.pro, the pressure already mounted by the time they reached Las Vegas for the weekend’s DreamHack event. While Virtus.pro was the No. 1 ranked team during the parity era, they won only two tournaments during that period: ELEAGUE Season 1 and DreamHack Bucharest. VP finished second in three premier tournaments over the last four months, losing EPICENTER to Dignitas, ESL New York to Natus Vincere and the ELEAGUE Major to Astralis. They were incredibly hungry for a win.

That wasn’t enough pressure for Virtus.pro, and Wiktor TaZ Wojtas decided to up the ante. TaZ is the frontman of Virtus.pro. His main form of motivation is talking big trash and forcing himself and his team to back up those words. After VP lost to Astralis in the ELEAGUE Major final, TaZ went on Twitter and vowed to beat Astralis the next time they played.

At DreamHack, TaZ backed it up in the first semifinal map against Astralis and demolished them on Nuke. Virtus.pro got its revenge against Astralis and closed out the series 2-1 in emphatic fashion. After a 16-4 rout on Train, TaZ did an interview swearing to beat up SK Gaming if they met in the finals.

TaZ’s actions aren’t just great entertainment, but a means by which he can fire up his team and get them emotionally invested in the games. Others might shy away from the pressure of publicly claiming yourselves the favorites, but Virtus.Pro seeks it out. You have to be bold to talk big, and you have to be incredible to back it up.

While TaZ is the most obvious outward example, all of Virtus.pro has this mentality. First and foremost, we see it in their bold in-game decisions. On the deciding game on Mirage, Virtus.Pro was in a pickle, to say the least. They were down 12-8 and on low economy. SK had locked down the CT side with strong mid control and VP had an ugly choice to make. Either they could all-in on a weak force buy or cede another round for a stronger buy later. If the former failed, it would all but guarantee SK’s victory.

Filip NEO Kubski, the in-game leader, elected for the former. Duncan “Thorin” Shields once wrote an article about NEO’s style as a 1.6 player, claiming “NEO’s style is instead about using anything he can get his hands on to make an impact on the game with.” In an incredibly bold call, NEO bet it all on his read that SK would continue to be mid focused. They then rushed down the B-site through apartments, won the force buy and turned the tables on SK. Later on, TaZ pulled out an incredible 1-v-2 clutch to win the game.

That is the essence of Virtus.pro under fire. When everything is on the line, they don’t take the safe route, but the risk. This instinctively aggressive mindset has made them one of the most entertaining teams to watch in CS:GO and is why so many teams have them pegged as the hardest team to play against. They never wilt under the pressure. You have to beat them out of the game.

In many ways, their out-of-game philosophies also mirror that. They are one of the most iconic teams in CS:GO due to accomplishments, but also thanks to their idiosyncratic attitude. Virtus.Pro doesn’t buy into the superiority of youth or the attraction of changing rosters when fortunes go south. They have some of the oldest veterans and have stuck together as a five-person lineup longer than anyone in CS:GO. TaZ (jokingly) swore he was going to keep playing the game till he was at least 40; NEO isn’t so sure, but he can’t see a time when he isn’t playing Counter-Strike; Jarosław pashaBiceps Jarząbkowski, in typical exuberant fashion, thinks they’ll keep playing for 40, 50 years from now.

Virtus.Pro is a team that never shies away from the pressure. They embrace it and throw themselves into the fire to be forged again and again. They refuse to give up. Where other teams choose the theoretical safe play, they bet it all on their trademark boldness and that has made them beloved across the world.

Cover photo by Jonathan Tayag

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