The first set of the quarterfinals matches of the IEM Katowice 2019 Major has ended, and one team, ENCE, stand out as the biggest story of the tournament so far.
A few years ago, you wouldn’t have pegged ENCE as a Major-caliber team, let alone, a Top 10 team. They were the CS:GO team that most people knew for their memes rather than their performance. In fact, the longstanding meme, EZ4ENCE, originated from a sarcastic remark about how bad the Finish esports organization’s CS:GO squad was. For years, people spammed it in jest, often when ENCE Esports made the sort of mistakes expected from a lower-tier team. However, fast forward to today, and people are spamming the #EZ4ENCE as a way to show support for ENCE Esports, who have gone from butt of jokes to a Top 4 team at the first CS:GO Major of 2019 with a shot at making an even deeper run.
How did that happen?
ENCE’s Slow Rise to the Upper Echelon
Seldom do you see CS:GO teams these days rise from the bottom. Often, the best lineups are built around a core of two-three known players who’ve played together for a long time and are almost immediately thrust into contention. However, for ENCE, their journey to the top was very real.
In March of 2018, ENCE announced their acquisition of Aleksi ‘allu‘ Jalli, a player who many know mostly for the redbull meme — the meme originated when allu was with Ninjas in Pyjamas back in 2015 and was caught by the presenters on voice communications saying, “Are those Red Bulls only for the commercials, or can you actually drink them?”. Not a lot thought much of this move, especially since allu hadn’t really seen much success with OpTic Gaming following a relatively good stint with FaZe Clan for a good chunk of 2016 and 2017.
Two months later, ENCE would announce their complete roster, which was composed of Finish CS:GO players that had seen very little play internationally. In fact, one of their players, Jere ‘sergej‘ Salo, was then just 16-years-old.
Slowly, ENCE would build their reputation, winning both online and local LAN tournaments. Eventually, they’d get a shot at playing at a big event as they placed in the Top 8 at ESL One Cologne 2018. However, it wasn’t until the StarSeries & i-League CS:GO Season 6, where they won it all and sergej became the youngest player to ever win the HLTV MVP award, that the team, once considered by many as a joke, started changing the meme.
Qualifying for the Major
Although ENCE had shown that they could keep up with the proverbial big boys of the scene, up against the true contenders, the all-Finnish lineups’ inexperience would show, and with very few chances of playing at big events to actually gain the necessary experience to improve and take their game to next level, ENCE had no choice but to bide their time.
In 2019, their big chance finally came.
Up against the favourites, mousuesports and North, at the Europe Minor Championship, ENCE absolutely crushed their competition. Once they had qualified for the Major, they played with the same fire and ferocity. Even with their backs against the wall and when they had every reason to fold, the young team dug deep and secured their status as “Legends” by ending the New Legends stage with a 3-0 run following their 0-2 opening.
Had ENCE walked away with a Top 8 finish at the IEM Katowice 2019, no one would’ve held it against them, especially since they had the unfortunate luck of facing off against one of the two best CS:GO teams in the tournament in Team Liquid.
Instead of losing though, ENCE did as what they have done so many times this past year — they surprised everyone.
How ENCE Beat Team Liquid
Team Liquid had every bit of an advantage heading into the IEM Katowice 2019 quarterfinals. They had arguably one of the most skilled lineups in the world and each player already had plenty of experience playing at the game’s highest level. Meanwhile, their opponents, ENCE, had none of that. Outside of allu, none of them had ever played at a Major before, let alone made it to the playoffs.
To put it simply, ENCE had every bit of a reason to let the magnitude of the moment and pressure get to them.
Instead, what happened was the other way around.
Team Liquid looked more like the inexperienced team in their matchup against ENCE. They constantly made the wrong calls and failed to adjust in each subsequent round. Even though each of their players had the occasional flash of brilliance, the entire team, as a whole, just failed to play off each other. Not to mention, when push came to shove and the pressure was on them to end the match when they led, 15-8, in the second map on Inferno, the North Americans just couldn’t figure out how to counter Aleski ‘Aleksib‘ Virolainen and his defaults, which allowed the Finns to come back and clinch the series in overtime, 19-16.
Did Team Liquid choke? Probably. However, saying so would discredit just how well ENCE played, and considering how they were able to come back from such a huge deficit, it’ll be interesting to see what ENCE have up their sleeve next as they head into their semifinal matchup against Natus Vincere.
The all-Finnish lineup are arguably the biggest underdogs in CS:GO to have made it this far, and they now have a fair shot at immortalizing themselves with a perfect Cinderella run just as Cloud9 and OG did at the ELEAGUE Boston CS:GO Major and The International 2018, respectively.
Of course, we shouldn’t be counting chickens just yet. The relatively young and experienced team will still have to go through Natus Vincere and potentially one of MIBR or Astralis to take home the trophy and win the Major.
That’s a tall ask, but ENCE are anything if up for the challenge.
Either way, regardless of how this all turns out, ENCE have already gone further than anyone initially expected, and they’ll have even more chances to disrupt the current status quo in the future if they keep this up.
What do you think the ceiling is for the all-Finish lineup? Are they a Major-winning lineup? Can they consistently contend for championships as presently constructed? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments down below.