Virtus.pro's missing piece: supra
Virtus.pro's roster has struggled in recent times, but supra could very well be the missing piece.
Virtus.pro's name has almost become synonymous with Counter-Strike, having fielded teams in the franchise since the early 2000s. While VP is based in Russia, its Polish roster, which housed the likes of Jarosław "pashaBiceps" Jarząbkowski and Filip "NEO" Kubski, was the most popular and successful to date. The Polish squad, often dubbed as the "Virtus Plow," was very dominant in the early days of Global Offensive, winning multiple titles and even a Major in 2014.
The end of an era
Nothing is eternal, though, and even the Virtus Plow couldn't avoid making changes, as Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas was the first to leave the team in 2018 following a four-year tenure with VP. As the team's performances continued to dip, more roster changes ensued, but no new iteration could live up to the former roster's legacy. By late 2019, VP had given up on the Polish scene and decided to go back to its roots, looking to pick up a CIS roster, with the StarLadder Berlin Major 2019 finalists of AVANGAR being the most attractive prospect.
A promising yet struggling team
Though it peaked at #3 on the HLTV world ranking, the majority-Kazakh AVANGAR roster was ranked #15 at the time of the transfer to VP. Though the team had been climbing the ranks in 2019, establishing itself as the second-best CIS team at the time, VP's new roster was unable to perform at the same level coming into 2020. The team had terrible placings at EPICENTER 2019, DreamHack Open Leipzig 2020, ICE Challenge 2020, IEM Katowice 2020, and ESL Pro League Season 11. It became rather apparent that the leadership issues that plagued the roster in AVANGAR hadn't been resolved in the New Year.
In May, Timur "buster" Tulepov left the active roster due to burnout, with Latvian superstar Mareks "YEKINDAR" Gaļinskis coming in as a replacement. While VP subsequently won the BLAST Premier CIS Cup, results have been scarce this year. Luckily, the team has had decent placings at RMR events, placing third at WePlay! Clutch Island and managing to stay in the Major qualification race. YEKINDAR's addition certainly provided more consistent firepower, but the team still struggled to convert their efforts into victories as leadership was still very much in disarray.
Returning firepower, persisting issues
In August, buster came back to the active roster as VP parted ways with Major-winner Dauren "AdreN" Kystaubayev, with leadership being handed back to Dzhami "Jame" Ali. While the team hasn't been very active in recent times, it's still rather apparent that things haven't clicked in the Virtus.pro camp. Jame and Alexey "qikert" Golubev are touted to be some of the region's best talents, but both have played hot potato with the in-game leader role since the AVANGAR days. With neither being entirely comfortable with the role, it becomes apparent that VP needs a new leader, someone who has experience as an IGL, and the desire to carry out the necessary duties.
The questions then become who to replace and who to pick up? To answer the former, it's unlikely that VP parts ways with Jame, qikert, or YEKINDAR as all three-star players can carry their weight, individually speaking. Often viewed as the weak link on the team, Sanjar "SANJI" Kuliev has stepped up in recent times, but, indeed, his name was also on the chopping block once buster was ready to come back. At the same time, buster himself isn't safe, considering that he has had relatively lackluster performances since re-joining the active lineup. Ultimately, it's almost certainly going to be between buster or SANJI, and it just becomes a matter of if VP wants a lineup where anyone can step up at any given time or if it wants a dedicated support player.
VP's Estonian hero
With many of the great CIS captains retiring in recent years, capable leaders have become relatively scarce in the region. Still, one name is criminally being left out of the conversation: Anton "supra" Tšernobai.
While the Estonian's experience at a professional level is still minimal, what he has showcased in his tenure with Gambit Youngsters suggests bright things to come. Having joined Gambit in April 2019, supra led the team of upcoming CIS talents to somewhat decent results, winning MSI Gaming Arena 2019, Nine to Five #1 and #2, and CTRL PLAY LEAGUE. In fact, supra led Gambit Youngster on a 38 map-long win streak before being moved to the bench to make way for Abay "Hobbit" Khassenov. With AWPing phenomenon Dmitry "sh1ro" Sokolov and rifling aim-star Sergey "Ax1Le" Rykhtorov on the roster, it's not hard to understand why supra was often outshined in Gambit. Still, he was easily the team's third-best player while also being the IGL, all at 18 years old.
Gambit Youngsters have been on a roll during the break, they sit on a streak of 30 consecutive maps and 15 consecutive series won.— HLTV.org (@HLTVorg) August 7, 2020
During this run, they won four tournaments and earned nearly $100,000, which is more than their earnings in all of 2019 and the first half of 2020! pic.twitter.com/WTZbtd5NDj
A worthwhile gamble
Indeed, if supra were to join Virtus.pro, he would need to adapt to a new tier of play, facing more tier 1 teams than ever before. His lack of experience would certainly be apparent initially, but with qikert or Jame as co-captain, he would be able to catch up relatively quickly. It's also worth mentioning that Gambit Youngsters was supra's first team, and that, despite that fact, he was able to elevate that squad from nothing to a stable top 30 team. While VP may be weary of supra's limited experience, realistically, his previous accomplishments make him the best candidate for the job.
When the stars align
With a dedicated IGL, qikert and Jame could focus solely on maintaining their individual forms. Sadly, supra was dealt a rather unfortunate hand as he was recently benched by Gambit ahead of the organization promoting the roster from Gambit Youngsters to Gambit Esports. Still, it's impossible to take away from supra's achievements as he: led a team from nothing to the top 30, managed to keep his team in the top 30 and win events, and maintained solid individual performances along the way. While VP may give Jame more time to lead the team, it would be a mistake on the organization's part not to jump on the occasion and sign a young capable IGL who could feasibly solve all of your problems.