That the Poles would end up team of the year was expected by few, likely not even by themselves. Nevertheless as 2011 ends ESC are the team of the year and in all the right areas. Owners of the best record across the majors, more significant tournament wins than anyone else, more prize money than anyone else, more prize money than any year in their history, the first truly consistent year in their histories and now with pasha initiated into their golden tradition of winning majors. 2011 was the year of ESC, the race is done and the prize is won.
Filip 'NEO' Kubski
Wiktor 'TaZ' Wojtas
Jarosław 'pasha' Jarząbkowski
Jakub 'kuben' Gurczynski
Mariusz 'Loord' Cybulski
Significant accomplishments in 2011:
IEM V EU (3rd)
IEM V WC (2nd)
Xperia PLAY (1st)
ASUS Summer (1st)
e-Stars Seoul (1st)
BEAT IT Russia (5th)
Total prize money won: $104,030
Christopher 'GeT_RiGhT' Alesund
Patrik 'f0rest' Lindberg
Marcus 'Delpan' Larsson
Johan 'face' Klasson
Robert 'RobbaN' Dahlström
Significant accomplishments in 2011:
Dreamhack Summer (1st)
e-Stars Seoul (2nd)
IEM VI New York (1st)
Total prize money won: $76,823
Establishing the team of year
Being as the race for team of the year 2011 came down to the final major event, WCG, and ESC actually trailed by a small margin going into that event it's worth outlining how the Polish team won the team of the year race and by what final margin. At the end of 2011 the only teams left in the conversation are ESC and SK, with Na`Vi's $94,256 looking nice on paper but the Ukrainians only having a single significant international tournament win.
To examine the years of ESC and SK let's break down their meaningful tournament placings into three categories: major, medium and small.
IEM V WC (2nd)
The major tournaments are the most prestigious, historically significant and often most high paying tournaments of each year. Winning other tournaments will add to a players bank account and help establish the background details of success and consistency in his career but the majors define the players who make the jump up to being all time great players and attain a level of CS immortality. As such one's record in the majors should always be the first criterion for judging the overall year a lineup has had.
The Poles have the superior record here, though not by a large margin, being as they placed 2nd in the IEM V WC and 1st at the WCG, tying SK's majors record and then edging them with an additional 4th at ESWC. Since SK Gaming's lineup with Delpan was set months after the first major of the year, IEM V World Championship, the Swedish team has third major placing to even compare. So on majors ESC wins out thanks to winning the WCG at the end of the year. Had SK taken that gold medal it would have been a different story, being as SK would have won two majors and ESC none.
IEM V EU (3rd)
Xperia PLAY (1st)
e-Stars Seoul (1st)
Dreamhack Summer (1st)
e-Stars Seoul (2nd)
IEM VI New York (1st)
I define medium tournaments as those which aren't on the same level in terms of significance as the majors but still have accomodate international competition, decently impressive fields and solid prize money payouts. After a team's majors have been scrutinised the next area to place one's attention is record across the medium tournaments.
On the surface both teams won three of these events each. However, when one considers the competition level of the tournaments won ESC wins out by a considerable margin. Xperia PLAY and Dreamhack Summer were both on the same level of competition, with Xperia lacking Na`Vi but Dreamhack lacking the Poles. Nevertheless both teams beat the other two elite teams in attendance and the rest of the field was impressive.
e-Stars Seoul was a more impressive tournament to win than GameGune because the South Korean event had all four of the world's elite teams (Na`Vi, FX, SK and mTw) in attendance, while GameGune had only Na`Vi of the elite teams in attendance to potentially challenge SK. Even going further down the participants list yields a stronger field for e-Stars in terms of other top 10 teams. That both teams were rare double elimination Bo1 tournaments also makes it convenient to compare them directly.
The final event win for each again scores a victory for ESC as their SEC title easily exceeds SK's IEM VI New York title. The former saw three of the world's elite teams (FX, SK and Na`Vi) attending while SK had no elite sides to worry about in New York, being as mTw were fielding a ringer. The medium event placing which did not yield a win for each team still goes in ESC's favour as their third placing at the single elimination Bo3 IEM V European Championship which was stacked from top to bottom with Europe's best teams is of more significance than SK's 2nd place finish at the double elimination Bo1 e-Stars tournaments.
ASUS Summer (1st)
BEAT IT Russia (5th)
Small tournaments are in this case the events held in Ukraine routinely throughout the year with smaller prize purses (usually around $5,000) and while featuring competitive fields, in terms of the overall level of the participants, typically not coming close to the level of international diversity and number of top teams in attendance. These tournaments are much less important to a team's legacy and overall degree of success than the other two categories, meaning these placings are based used to add in a little background shading to the broader strokes painted with the more significant categories already considered.
The short version would be to say that ESC wins this category by a huge margin based on the face they won the same number of events as SK but additionally placed top three at another two. Throwing in the Poles' fifth at BEAT IT Russia isn't really even necessary at that point, but it adds a tiny rimple of emphasis to this region of focus. All of these events featured two elite teams at most as Na`Vi and SK were never both present at any of them, while the Poles attended all of them.
I've excluded ICSC9 from this category since it was held online, while the rest were all LAN tournaments.
Conclusion - ESC crowned
The fact was a race down to the final event might make it seem counter-intuitive that ESC could have won it by a significant margin but looking at each team's record broken down into these categories shows a significant edge for the Polish team. If ESC had not won WCG then SK would have led the most important category, majors, and being as the Swedes would have won two majors to the Poles none it would have been enough to throw the overall edge into SK's favours in spite of the other categories. Since ESC took down that WCG they lead by a slight margin in majors, a decently large margin in medium tournaments after consideration and then smaller events is also a decent margin. Overall the difference between the two is enough to state conclusively that ESC is the team of the year for 2011.
The year-long saga of the persistent and consistent Poles
To refresh our collective memories of how 2011 played out from the perspective of the team of the year let's retrace their steps on the path to that distinctive end-of-year title from its beginnings in January.
Ukraine plays host to 'The First Great War'
The year began in Kiev at the IEM V European Championship and ESC, under the Frag eXecutors name, managed a third place finish. Coming off their numerous top four placings in the latter half of 2010 this might have seemed like par for the course and no huge step up of note, but in fact the way the Poles went about this placing spoke to them having refined their game for 2011.
First of all they went undefeated in Group A winning all five maps, including wins over mTw and SK. That both of the latter map wins came on inferno, a map which had been a problem child for the Polish lineup the previous year, spoke volumes and saw them going into the playoffs with seemingly no weaknesses, being as this tournament was under old five map pool with one map toss per Bo3.
Their semi-final matchup with mTw was one of, if not the best, series of 2011 as it produced a full-scale back and forth war which achieved epic status as two of the world's elite teams went the full regulation distance in all three maps and the first was even pushed into overtime. The Poles lost that first map, the overtime game on nuke, and came back with a second map win on train which saw a lockdown CT second half save their first half five round effort from putting them out of the event. FX lost the third, inferno, in the final round to see their chances of a title slip away as the Danes wiped the sweat off their brows and let out an exhalation of relief.
That mTw was a single kill from winning the European Championship title, losing only to a once in a lifetime type of performance from an overlooked fnatic side, made the Poles historic semi-final battle seem that much more telling about their level. The message had been sent despite the loss: FX would contend for titles in 2011. A third place decider victory over Na`Vi was a nice bonus but being as those kind of decider games are rarely played at full force by both sides and Na`Vi had suffered uncharacteristic losses it was tough to put a huge amount of stock in the result.
A major final at the first attempt
At March's IEM V World Championship the first major of the year saw FX placed in another group with mTw, avoiding the insanely stacked Group B. There was little doubt in anyone's mind that the Danish and Polish teams would not only progress but decide the top spot in the group. That proved to be the case as mTw trashed FX 16:3 on inferno, reawakening concerns about that map for FX. In the playoffs an early round matchup against fnatic was initially scary, as some of the Polish players said practice online against the Swedish European Champions had not been going favourably, but in the end FX handled fnatic in two straight maps, some NEO magic helping squeeze them through the 16:14 dust2 opener.
In the semi-finals an undefeated SK lineup featuring dennis was hungry for a chance at success, having flopped in the group stage in Kiev. FX began strongly, as is their pattern, and a huge 11 round terrorist half saw them put away the train opener 16:10. The Poles are famous for dropping the second maps of series in unconvincing fashion when up after the first map and that pattern continued here as they lost nuke in unimpressive fashion. Down by seven as T they fought back to make it a respective 7:8 deficit at the end of the first half but then SK put a terrorist beating on them with a clinching eight rounds in 10 placed in the second half.
The decider was dust2 and again FX only squeezed out 16:14 against a Swedish side. This deciding map will go down as one of epic comebacks in CS history thanks to the seemingly impossible hill the Poles found themselves having to climb down the stretch. FX had won the first half as T 9:6, but that didn't look too convincing considered in the context of them at one point having an 8:1 lead. In the second half SK strung together their own run and pushed the score out to 14:12 for the Swedish side, only two rounds from winning the semi-final. FX were not only on the weaker side of the map needing all four of the remaining rounds to stay alive but even a single round loss would crush them economically and leave the chances of even reaching overtime a very distant possibility.
Winning off of force buys and a memorable 1v1 between kuben and RobbaN at the top corner of long A FX came back from the dark brink of elimination to take the map and the series. The release of tension and emotion upon surviving so many do-or-die situations to come out victorious saw the Poles emotionally fatigued, and kuben and TaZ wept openly at their machines in the 10 minutes following the end of the map.
Despite both of those players being veterans of five major World Championship level victories in the past, and this being merely a semi-final win, their reaction was both indicative of the extreme degrees of stress that map had inflicted and the climb back to the top the Polish team had been on ever since their early 2010 failures with new recruit pasha. 15 months after their WCG 2009 victory NEO, TaZ, kuben and loord had reached another major final, and a record-breaking third IEM final. Their dream of another major title, this time with pasha in the fold, seemed like it might actually manifest on that final CeBit day.
Awaiting FX in the final were the reigning IEM World Champions Na`Vi, who were seeking a fourth straight major CS title in less than 13 months. Na`Vi's floundering fourth place at the European Championship had instilled a lot of uncertainty in the community as to whether or not they could still perform at the impossibly high level they had established the previous year, when destiny and greatness had courted them often and with a persistent grace. Still, a semi-final win over perennial victims mTw had Na`Vi registering on people's CS richter scale again.
The final looked to be playing out to the script FX had in mind as they laid down a very sturdy 12 CT round first half on train. If the world's best train Terrorist side team could take four rounds against the world's, and quite likely history's. greatest train CT side team then map one would be in the win column for them. As it was history continued to remain of Na`Vi's side as they took the required 13th CT round on the final round of regulation.
FX seemed to have mentally reset as they took nine T rounds in the first half of map two, dust2, but Na`Vi's brutal play on that map was too much for them in the second and they had no more hero plays up their sleeve, giving up 11 rounds in 12 total to see the Ukrainians take a fourth straight major title.
The proving grounds
If that IEM World Championship final had been heartbreaking for FX then they knew nothing of what was in store, albeit on a much smaller scale, back in Kiev for the Intel Challenge Super Cup (ICSC) 7 final at the end of the same month. Despite a shaky loss to KerchNET on tuscan, a sign of things to come on that map for 2011, the Poles tied Na`Vi on train in group play and moved onto the playoffs. In the final they meet their Ukrainians nemeses and looked to avenge the IEM loss. After winning the first, nuke, 16:12 the second slipped out of their grasp 14:16. Suffering a troubled four round CT first half they had fought back with their own terrorist excellence, yielding 10 rounds, but not been able to match Na`Vi's output. A third map would decide the series.
inferno was a map both teams had had their ups and downs on so when FX took nine first half T rounds they seemed poised to put a legitimate Bo3 win on the Ukrainians. Reaching 14:13 as CT the Polish team had Na`Vi needing all three remaining rounds to win without an overtime session. What's more Na`Vi began that 28th round with a four galil and one AK force-buy. Nevertheless Na`Vi took that round with their default into A and flawless flashes. A failed save on the next round for FX saw them facing elimination for the first time in the series, needing to win the final CT round to reach overtime.
When markeloff found himself 1v4 Na`Vi's chances for taking the game in overtime were very slim. Reducing the disadvantage to 1v3 and planting 2010's player of the year took up an aggressive position behind the double box at the CT spawn arch entrance to B. NEO infamously bunny-hopped around, leading to him being killed, and a shot through the right wall took TaZ down and made it a 1v1. loord had been creeping up the banana but markeloff held on to spray him down and win the series for Na`Vi. Despite FX's great play through the year, and the exciting maps they had delivered to fans, they were no closer to an event win and now seemed to have Na`Vi firmly blocking their path. One could be forgiven for feeling like the Poles were starting to get that sinking feeling mTw had when they realised Na`Vi would crush their dreams of a great year at every turn.
In April Xperia PLAY was hosted at Copenhagen Games and Na`Vi chose not to attend, being as Zeus was in the process of becoming a father. That left the other three elite teams of the year (FX, mTw and SK) to decide the title amongst themselves against a stacked Nordic field. Reaching a semi-final date with mTw the Poles had revenge on their mind from the European Championship and thus began 'The Second Great War' as the two teams managed to produce another great series of 2011. Once more no regulation rounds went unused and overtime was again called into use.
FX took inferno 16:14 but an overtime second map loss on inferno pushed things to a decider. On nuke the match and series again continued inroads into historic territority and in the second overtime FX claimed some redemption from 'The First Great War' as they took the series and moved into the final. The downside of the length of the semi-final, combined with the organisation of the tournament, was that it meant the final vs. SK would be played at 4am local time. Both teams were exhausted and FX felt a some resistance from the Swedes on the first map but after pushing past that found dennis and company easy enough to bowl over for the title and some much needed sleep. The first title of the year, thanks to wins over elite teams and almost $15,000 seemed to be a great omen for NEO and his men.
Easing into the Summer after downtime
Difficulties with their organisation being unable to send them to events, and loord having damaged his foot thanks to extracirricular activities, meant FX's Xperia momentum dissipated and by they attended ICSC8 they had gone two full months without a competitive international LAN match. What's more SK had added Delpan and moved to the top of the pile with a win at Dreamhack Summer. When the two lineups clashed in Kiev it was clear whose level was higher at the time.
FX had suffered a humiliating 0:16 tuscan violation at the AK-laden hands of Moscow Five in the online group stage, losing every CT round. In the LAN group stage they took another tuscan loss to KerchNET and lost both maps against SK, train and inferno. After beating roccat (later known as WinFakt) in two maps in the quarter-final FX and SK met in the semi-final, only for the Swedes to push past them without much difficulty and go on to win another event.
Heading back to Ukraine for ASUS Summer FX were piecing things together on the road back to being an elite team. In the semi-final they survived a three map battle with Lions, losing the first map on nuke in overtime and then winning the third, on inferno, in triple overtime. inferno continued to be an enigma for the Polish side but the win would give them confidence they had figured out some tweaks and these would be displayed soon enough. With Na`Vi losing to domestic rivals DTS in the other semi-final FX took the weaker Ukrainian team in two maps and the title.
The turning of the tide - becoming the world's best team
August's e-Stars Seoul event proved to be the venue for FX to reach the world #1 spot for the first time in the year. All four elite teams were in attendance and the pre-decided maps and double elimination Bo1 structure meant it would come down to when teams met opponents to decide their final placement. That could mean an easy run or a difficult one for the Poles. Their date with Na`Vi in the upper semi-final was less than eventual as they won their first game of forge 16:8. In the upper final they handled SK 16:9 on dust2 to send the Swedes to the lower bracket.
Despite sitting in the final, needing only one map win to their eventual opponents two to take the title, FX could reasonably have been considered 50-50 at best against any of the teams remaining in the lower bracket. mTw, Na`Vi and SK all would stand a good chance on those two maps, FX's worst from the original five. As it was SK made it back for another shot at the Poles in the final. The first map saw tuscan prove another disasterous environment for FX and SK made it a one map game for the title. The subsequent inferno ended up going into overtime and after forcing their A default the Poles managed to snatch the victory and become the first team to eliminate the new SK lineup from a tournament.
October was set to be the busiest month of the year for CS teams, with two IEM events, SEC and ESWC. With all four of the elite teams skipping or failing to qualify for the first IEM the Samsung European Championship (SEC) was the first big event of the month in terms of the world rankings. A shaky group start of losing against WinFakt on nuke ended up helping AGAiN, as the team were now named, as they got the much easier side of the bracket, avoiding SK and Na`Vi. Beating out Moscow Five and Fear Factory in four straight maps they met Na`Vi in the final. The Ukrainians were looking to re-establish themselves after beating SK in the quarter-final for the Swedes first ever Bo3 loss with the Delpan lineup.
The final was one of the best series the AGAiN core have ever played out. Going against Na`Vi on the Ukrainian team's two best maps, which also happen to be AGAiN's strongest, the Polish team showed 2010's team of the year the power of aggressive pressure-play. On the train opener giving up 8 rounds to Na`Vi, knowing they would face the all-time great CT team's best side next, might have seemed like too much but AGAiN showed why the are one of the world's very best T side teams, taking their needed nine rounds within 11 played.
On dust2 the infamous pattern of easing up in the second map would not reappear this day. Despite a back and forth opening to the map AGAiN began putting increasingly aggressive CT pressure on Na`Vi's T side and it worked. The more aggressive the Poles became, pushing up into every angle of B tunnels, the more it hurt Na`Vi and the more tentative the Ukrainians became. This eventually saw the ridiculous spectable of one of the world's best T side dust2 teams unable to leave their spawn without being killed.
AGAiN's monster 12 round CT performance meant that even a run from Na`Vi in the second half could not make enough of a dent and they seized the two map series win to beat Na`Vi in their first Bo3 in 2011 and take a title on home soil, to the cheers of an entirely nonpartisan crowd. AGAiN seemed conclusively to be the world's best Counter-Strike team.
The dark days duly return
If the increasing success and superlative play of 2011 had convinced everyone the Polish team were at a new level the next few tournaments and months would bring them crashing back to down to the level they had been at in the latter half of 2010, fighting for semi-finals and no titles. At ESWC an upset in fnatic's group gifted the Poles the easiest quarter-final opponent they could reasonably have hoped for yet they took three rounds to dispatch of the seemingly resurrected ALTERNATE. The next day they face Na`Vi in the semi-final and found themselves done after two maps that Paris day.
The first map, train, saw an 11 CT rounds first half performance disappear from memory after Na`Vi locked up the first map within 12 rounds of their own CT display. Next up the Poles elected to risk proving themselves on tuscan, apparently having some specific strategies planned. This ended up being a huge blunder against one of the world's better tuscan teams and Na`Vi held them to four terrorist first half rounds on arguably CS' most terrorist-sided map. Na`Vi took a little time but cleaned them up 16:12 overall to take the series in two. In the third place decider a dejected and out-of-form AGAiN against saw themselves taken to three maps by a German team, this time mouz got the victory and the Poles were pushed into fourth at 2011's second major. That AGAiN's only map victory had been an overtime win on the first, nuke, seemed to say it all for their ESWC run.
November rolled around and it would be the worst month of competition all year for AGAiN. Online they had reached the final of ICSC9 by beating DTS 2:1 in the upper bracket final. Then the same Ukrainian team came back to beat them in two straight Bo3, winning four straight maps, to take the title from them. At BEAT IT Russia things began poorly with another tuscan loss, this time to WinFakt in the groups. A quarter-final matchup with Na`Vi saw the SEC AGAiN nowhere to be seen and Na`Vi begin their routine dismantling of the Poles.
Losing another tuscan game in the first map, this time 11:16, only the map selection system, allowing picks before tosses, got them back in the series. They picked nuke, Na`Vi's infamous weak map, and won a game which involved a now infamous ghosting accusation against Na`Vi's ceh9. In the third map Na`Vi controlled the Poles with ease on mirage to put them out in 5th-8th, leaving them scrambling in decider games to even manage to win their eventual prize of $500.
Dreamhack Winter should have been AGAiN's chance to stop their downward spiral, as fnatic's upsets in their group coupled with SK choosing not to throw a game and avoid Na`Vi meant the two other elite teams would almost certainly be in the other side of the bracket from AGAiN. If they could just take care of a newly reformed ESC.sca lineup then they would have a relatively easy run to at worst a top two finish, at least in comparison to the other side of the bracket. The first part of that plan came awry as a tie with ESC meant round difference against the bad teams in the group ended up putting AGAiN through in second, booking them a spot in the same side as Na`Vi and SK.
After mouz threw their final group stage game vs. Lions the Poles got that Swedish side who had caused them some stress at ASUS Summer in the first round of the playoffs. Lions turned out to be one of the hottest teams in the building on that cold Swedish day and blizted through in three maps, winning two without AGAiN reaching 12 rounds on either.
SK's wins at IEM VI New York and ESWC had put the Swedish team back in front for the race to the finish line of being 2011's team of the year, having taken an all-important major title. Still the Polish teams blunders in November had not hindered them entirely, as SK had also not placed significantly at Dreamhack. The year and the race would end in Busan, South Korea, regardless of who won the gold medal.
The major that had major implications but wasn't quite so major for the majority
The WCG was 2011's last major but it paled in comparison to the IEM V World Championship and ESWC in terms of the competitive level of the overall field. Only four of the world's top 10 teams were in attendance and most crucially Na`Vi were not, thanks to flunking the Ukrainian qualifier. As if that weren't bad enough the potential brackets which emerged after people dry-ran the tournament would see ESC, the newly named AGAiN, facing an incredibly easy path to the gold medal game, unless specific teams threw games. Both Mandic and Moscow Five had prime opportunities to throw a map and get into ESC's side but in the end both chose not to.
After the easiest side of a bracket in WCG history, even putting mTw's 2010 side to shame in ease, AGAiN as expected arrived in the gold medal game. There they met SK and the two teams were both two maps from being crowned WCG champions and 2011's team of the year. There was more up for grabs than just that though as three of the Swedish players had felt failure at this exact same stage of previous WCGs, accounting for three separate Swedish WCG silver medal runs between them. That four of the Poles had accounted for all of those silver medals on the Swedish side only added more fuel to the roaring fire heading into that final.
Three maps to decide the team of the year
On paper SK came in with the edge in form, thanks to ESC's recent event failures and they're unchallenged waltz to the gold medal game. Even across the map pool, which stuck to the original five, SK seemed to have the slight edge. Then the map order for the final was announced and bizarrely ESC had gotten their two best maps, dust2 and train, as the first two maps of the series. Not only that but their worst map, tuscan, was the decider. If ESC were going to make WCG history and win three golds they'd surely have to get it done within the confines of the first two maps, a third seemed destined to end in misery after a year of bad memories on tuscan.
The series began with SK looking to be stronger as dust2 had them rush to an 8:1 T side lead. ESC were trying to the kind of aggressive CT pushing which had worked against Na`Vi at SEC but found themselves stuffed by SK's passive setups which looked to exploit just that kind of aggression. Then suddenly things broke back for the Poles and they got some success with dual AWP setups and began to pickup rounds. Now when they exerted pressure it had a similar result to the aforementioned SEC final and they put up rounds over and over to reach only a 6:9 deficit at the end of the half.
Switching over ESC lost the pistol round but didn't let that hold them back from storming to a map win 16:13, winning 15 of the last 19 rounds of play on the map. Up one map they had their best map, train, up next for a chance to end it in two. Starting as CT ESC knew if they held serve at all reasonably that they had the best T side in CS up their sleeve for the second half. Instead ESC fell apart completely in the face of one of the most brutally dominant train T sides of all time, in the context of the two teams playing, as SK stormed and stomped them to the tune of 13 first half rounds. Withint three rounds of the second half train was over and we were moving to the dreaded tuscan.
Truth be told neither team liked tuscan and both had been dropping it at points in the year. Yet both had also promised to themselves and others they were going to improve on the map. Now was their chance to show revitalised play on the map in one of the most high pressure games of their careers. When ESC's T side only yielded seven rounds it was hard to see how they were going to pull out another historic win and get that third gold for the four man core. If SK were anything then they were the best overall CT team in the world, with their devastating array of spraying talents.
When SK reached 12:11 while working as terrorists ESC were in all manner of trouble. The score might deceptively make the game seem like it was still close but the dominant nature of tuscan's T side, the cheaper price of the terrorist's rifle of choice and the nature of the CT money system meant ESC's chances to still claim WCG gold were slim. At this point in time they likely had around a 10-15% chance of still winning the match in regulation. One false move in the first rounds from there on and that would drop to what functionally could be considered zero.
Somehow ESC clawed its way back into the game and had astonishingly reached map point with SK still on 12 rounds. There would be three golden rounds for ESC to close the door on the Swedes. It was the Poles' turn to get tight and find kills hard to come by as they saw rounds slip away, including a 1v1 where kuben decided to engage f0rest and died at the Swedish rifler's gifted hands. At 15:14 ESC could still end it but pressure was back on their side, yet somehow the round played out as though both teams were in a daze. The Polish guys somehow kept ahead and as the numbers went down it became a flowing and peculiar certainty they were going to win it in regulation. They did just that and as they celebrated and pulled out their, somewhat cliched, Polish national apparel they had beaten likely the best team in the world to become the best of the year 2011.
The return to the top of the mountain
A WCG, a golden chapter featuring pasha and a $25,000 first place cheque belonged to ESC. Still the year had one last minor epilogue to be added. In the IEM VI Kiev Stage 3 European online qualifier ESC found themselves stunned out in 9th-12th place. Losing to M5 in an overtime nuke game in the second round of the upper bracket put them facing a long path to the coveted direct five spots for the Ukraine-based event. When they face Anexis on inferno they found themselves out of the qualifier, without even the vague possibility of sneaking in due to other teams dropping out, being as they had not even made the top 7 spots.
With the Poles not having attended either of the IEM VI Global Challenges prior to Kiev, failing to qualify online, not making the Kiev final also effectively meant they would not be able to participate in the IEM VI World Championship, the first major of 2012. So as the year closed with the Poles finally snatching the team of the year title a little sting was still felt looking towards the future.
The year we found ourselves
The significance of ESC's accomplishment of becoming the team of the year for 2011 is not huge in the impact it has on their legacies as players. While in terms of major tournaments they had always been amongst the very greatest teams in CS history it had always been a knock on them that they had never been the team of a year. In 2006 NiP had shined brightest and enough that it counteracted the WCG win of the new Polish lineup. In 2007 their two majors, with one being only a major retroactively, were swept aside thanks to fnatic's sustained brilliance and consistency in the latter part of the year which amounted to a more impressive overall year. 2008 had seen another major added, a second ESWC title, but mTw had dominated the most competitive CS year ever and there was no room for the Poles in the conversation.
2009 saw them made somewhat irrelevant in the middle part of the year thanks to struggles with organisational switches and their form. Meanwhile fnatic were having an all time great year of dominance. AGAiN managed to ruin the Swede's WCG coronation but that was the only moment of joy that year for the troubled lineup, which would see LUq removed less than two months later. Likewise 2010 saw FX in no position to even be suggested as the team of the year, Na`Vi dominating in historic fashion and fnatic picking up seemingly everything else. 2010 had been in many ways the worst year of the Poles' career since they had reached the top, and any chance of being the best team of a year looked slim at best. If Na`Vi didn't keep dominating then surely fnatic would find a way or mTw would get their break?
2010 had been their worst year on all levels. They had not managed to win a major title after a four year stretch of at least one per year. What's more they had earned the least amount of prize money of all of their years since the golden five lineup began, and by far. The $40,668 they took home from 2010 was less than half of even their lowest previous year (2006's $86,500) and saw them only win e-Stars Seoul. They had finally established a run of consistency though, as from the Summer onwards they put up a string of solid top 4 placings from ESWC to Dreamhack Winter.
After the drastic failures of the first part of 2010, seeing them fail to even make the top 6 of the IEM tournaments, the simplistic narrative written up was that removing LUq had irrevocably damaged their famous and much-vaunted natural teamplay. What's more pasha's increased skill level made it look worse that he brought more firepower to the table yet the team lived in the shadow of their golden five years of major success. Winning a major and establishing themselves as the best team of 2011 not only gives pasha a place in their history of winning but even grants him a unique spot of being one of the key pieces in their only truly long-term run of consistently good placings.
While 2010 had seen the lowest year of prize money won 2011 has seen the Poles break their own personal best. With $104,000 won in 2011 they have eclipsed the $100,000 of 2007 to set a new high, another feather in all of their caps. They also produced some of the most incredible high level series of 2011, from their two Great Wars against mTw to the battles with Na`Vi across the year and their nail-biters against SK.
WCG champions, team of the year, most prize money ever won by any of their lineups in a single year and all in an era of a star-stacked SK.swe and with the historic Na`Vi lineup still doing the rounds.
All hail ESC, team of the year for 2011!
2001 NiP (HeatoN, Potti, XeqtR, MedioN and Hyb)
2003 SK.swe (HeatoN, Potti, elemeNt, SpawN, fisker and ahl)
2004 The-Titans (whiMp, Drally, spx, KK, eGene and Eraz)
2006 NiP (zet, SpawN, RobbaN, walle and ins)
2007 fnatic (f0rest, dsn, cArn, Archi and ins)
2008 mTw (whiMp, Sunde, zonic, MJe and ave)
2009 fnatic (f0rest, GeT_RiGhT, Gux, dsn and cArn)
2010 Na`Vi (markeloff, Edward, starix, Zeus and ceh9)
2011 ESC (NEO, TaZ, pasha, kuben and loord)
(Photographs copyright of fragbite and their respective owners)
@Thooorin on twitter.
2001-2002 Pro-cybernews (Editor-in-Chief)
2002-2003 Gamers.nu (Lead Editor)
2004-2005 ESportsEA (Editor-in-Chief, Consultant)
2006-2008 ESportsEA (Editor, Community feature host)
2008 TAO-CS volume 1 (Co-author)
2008 TAO-fRoD (Co-author)
2008-2009 WinOut.net (Editor-in-Chief, Consultant)
2009-2012 SK Gaming (Editor-in-Chief)
2012-2013 Team Acer (Editor-in-Chief)
2013-2014 OnGamers (Senior eSports Content Creator)
Pro bono publico:
2001-2002 XSReality (Site administrator)
2003-2004 Team3D (Editor-in-Chief, Consultant)
2012-2013 fragbite (Blogger)
2013-XXXX [POD]Cast (Co-host)
2005 Down with the s1ckn3ss
2009 fRoD Quick and nasty (part 1)
Events attended for coverage purposes:
2001 CPL London (Pro-cybernews)
2001 WCG Qualifier (Pro-cybernews)
2002 CPL Summer (Gamers.nu)
2002 WCG Qualifier (Gamers.nu)
2002 CPL Oslo (Gamers.nu)
2002 CPL Winter (Gamers.nu)
2003 CPL Cannes (Gamers.nu)
2003 Clikarena (Gamers.nu)
2004 CPL Winter (ESportsEA)
2009 WEM (SK Gaming)
2010 IEM IV European Championship (SK Gaming)
2010 IEM IV World Championship (SK Gaming)
2010 Arbalet Best of Four (SK Gaming)
2010 Arbalet Cup Europe (SK Gaming)
2010 e-Stars Seoul (SK Gaming)
2010 WCG (SK Gaming)
2010 WEM (SK Gaming)
2011 IEM V European Championship (SK Gaming)
2011 Assembly Winter (SK Gaming)
2011 IEM V World Championship (SK Gaming)
2011 Copenhagen Games (SK Gaming)
2011 Dreamhack Summer (SK Gaming)
2011 SK vs. FX showmatch (SK Gaming)
2011 e-Stars Seoul (SK Gaming)
2011 ESWC (SK Gaming)
2012 IEM VI Kiev (SK Gaming)
2012 IEM VI World Championship (SK Gaming)
2012 WCS Europe (Team Acer)
2012 Dreamhack Open Valencia (Team Acer)
2012 Dreamhack Winter (Team Acer)
2012 IPL5 (Team Acer)
2012 HomeStory Cup VI (Team Acer)
2013 IEM VII World Championship (Team Acer)
2013 MLG Winter Championship (Team Acer)
2013 LCS Europe Spring Week 10 (Team Acer)
2013 WCS EU S1 Ro16 (Team Acer)
2013 LCS Europe Summer Week 9 (Team Acer)
2013 WCS EU S2 final / LCS Europe Summer playoffs (Team Acer)
2013 Riot S3 World Championship (Team Acer)
2013 Battle of the Atlantic (OnGamers)
2013 Battle of the Atlantic (OnGamers)
2014 LCS Europe Spring Week 5 (OnGamers)
2010 IEM IV European Championship (ESL-TV)
2010 IEM IV Asian Finals (ESL-TV)
2010 IEM IV World Championship (ESL-TV)
2010 IEM V Shanghai (ESL-TV)
2011 ESEA-invite S8 (WinOut)
2011 GameGune (WinOut)
2011 SEC (WinOut)
2013 Dreamhack SteelSeries CS:GO Championship (DH-TV)
2014 Dreamhack Steelseries CS:GO Invitational (DH-TV)
2014 Dreamhack Summer (DH-TV)
2014 Gfinity G3
2014 Dreamhack Stockholm CS:GO Invitational (DH-TV)
Pro bono publico:
2010 ESWC (lvl^)
2010 Arbalet Cup Dallas (lvl^)
2010 GameGune (lvl^)
2010 fnatic PLAY (lvl^)
2010 WCG Nordic (SK Gaming)
2011 Dreamhack Winter BEAT IT (whisenhunt)
2011 EPS Winter (whisenhunt/ESL-TV)
2011 WCG (whisenhunt)
2011 IEM VI Kiev EU qualifier (SK Gaming)
2013 FACEIT Sunday Cup April 28th (FACEIT)
2013 Prague Challenge (District)
2013 FACEIT Sunday Cup September 8th (FACEIT)
2013 FACEIT Monday Cup September 9th (FACEIT)
2014 ESEA Invite S15 LAN finals (NiPTV)
* Winner of the Heaven Media 'E-sports Journalist of the year' awards for 2012 and 2013.
Throwback Thursday: SK Gaming in Counter Strike 1.6
The CPL & SK Gaming - 20 Years of eSports
HeatoN enters Esports Hall of Fame
SK's Impossible Dominance in 2003
Moments: ESWC 2011
THE NEW JERSEY