Virtus.pro Stumble Over Back-To-Back Victories At DreamHack Open December
Virtus.pro have closed out the year with a victory at their last event - albeit with some hiccups in between. They have certainly not looked as dominant as they did back at Flashpoint Season 2, which is quite ironic given that the playing field at this DreamHack Open December event was of a much lower calibre. But in the end, the only thing that matters is the victory.
And a victory they got, but the perhaps biggest surprise of DreamHack Open December came in the form of sAw. The Portuguese team hasn’t been particularly strong as of late. At DreamHack Open Fall, they failed to get out of the Group Stage, finishing behind the likes of BIG, GODSENT, and FaZe Clan. In a bracket with forZe, Gambit, Nemiga, and Virtus.pro, they shouldn’t have made it out of the groups - and yet, they did.
THE UNDERDOG STORY OF SAW
Losing to Nemiga in the Opening Match, they were dropped down to the Losers’ Match early on. They set themselves on top of Movistar Riders to reach the Decider, where they had to face Nemiga once more. This time around, however, they were much better prepared and made this a close affair. Nemiga probably thought that, if they had beaten the Portuguese on Dust2 and Nuke already, they could go for the exact same Best-of-Three setup as before. However, sAw shocked them with a 22-19 win on Dust2. Suddenly, the Belarusians stood with their backs against the wall. Back in their first encounter, sAw had won the second map, which made this a dangerous situation for Nemiga. But they prevailed, thanks to Anton “speed4k” Titov putting up a 1.62 rating on 27 kills. Without him, they would have been down and out already.
But sAw eventually broke them on Nuke, where their Spanish player, Omar “arki” Chakkor, secured 25 kills for a 2.0 KDR. This very unusual performance out of the squad earned them a place in the Semi-Finals, where they had to go up against forZe. This should have been their downfall, but perhaps forZe were a little too sure of this. They let themselves be upset by four overperforming Portuguese players, who simply steamrolled them for a quick 2-0 victory. So sAw quickly and surprisingly made their way to the Grand Finals. Their opponents, Virtus.pro, had a much harder time in the bracket.
VIRTUS.PRO STRUGGLED AGAINST DOMESTIC OPPOSITION
First, Virtus.pro swept through their female opponents of XSET. Granted, Julia “juliano” Kiran and her companions had some really bad luck in this group draw, facing the title prospects in their very first match-up. After VP had dispatched them, they went on over to forZe. There, the struggle began.
As it appears, Virtus.pro sometimes really need time to get into a match. On three separate occasions during DreamHack Open December, they lost the first map, only to then dominate most of their opponents on the following ones. They lost a 12-16 Mirage map to forZe, who wound up almost sealing the deal on Dust2. Thankfully for Virtus.pro, Mareks “YEKINDAR” Gaļinskis and Timur “buster” Tulepov both reeled in 25 kills to keep them at bay. The team narrowly won out on a 16-13 scoreline, setting the stage for a third map.
But on Train, VP really let themselves slip. They started off strong and secured the first five rounds, but suddenly, forZe kicked into a higher gear and ran away with nine rounds on their Terrorist half. At this point, the game was very much over already. Despite their best efforts, Virtus.pro couldn’t grind this deficit down anymore and gave way to a 16-12 victory for forZe, who made their way to the playoffs.
This, unfortunately, meant that YEKINDAR and his men had to take a detour through the Decider Match. ESPADA proved to be a much bigger challenge than they could arguably have anticipated. While this team is actually ranked as #27 on HLTV, most of this is due to the current region separation. Playing against domestic competition only has severely inflated their rankings. In February, they were outside the Top 50 and have now climbed about 25 ranks in the past few months.
While this ranking obviously doesn’t tell the full story, they made the first map hell for Virtus.pro. Only a 1v3 clutch at the hands of Dzhami “Jame” Ali helped them over the finishing line after two entire overtimes. But even after that, ESPADA weren’t broken. Tying the first half on Inferno, they even took the lead on a 10-8 scoreline soon after. Unfortunately for them, Virtus.pro finally found their form. They only let two more rounds slip and brought the match to an end on this second map.
While they did eventually make it to the playoffs, they hadn’t put up a single convincing performance so far. Even worse, Gambit Esports were waiting in the Semi-Finals. Hot on the heels of a DreamHack Open November win, this team of Russian prodigies looked to take down the favourites even before the Grand Finals. For a time, it looked as though they would be able to.
A one-sided 16-6 victory for Gambit sent Virtus.pro onto Vertigo, which was their opponents’ map pick. But none of this mattered, as virtually all the VP members finally woke up to play to their actual level. After a strong comeback on Gambit’s part, Jame and his troops narrowly edged them out on a 16-14 scoreline. Finally, Virtus.pro found their footing and eliminated the Gambit boys on the third map.
VP FINALLY MADE IT
Going into the Grand Finals, they only had sAw to worry about. Their raw individual skill should have been more than enough to best them already - but as we mentioned before, it wouldn’t be a true Virtus.pro match without them losing the first map. A 16-7 scoreline marked the occasion, as Christopher “MUTiRiS” Fernandes snatched 23 kills and a 1.67 rating. YEKINDAR secured 5 small kills throughout that entire map, which was a warning sign for the remainder of the match. However, he quickly made up for that. On Vertigo and Train, they only allowed their opponents to get nine and ten round points, respectively, before heading onto Dust2. With a 2-1 map lead, Virtus.pro were now finally in the driving seat.
They really showed this throughout the fourth map. It took sAw nine rounds before they finally got on the scoreboard and they had to go into the offence with a 4-11 deficit. But for some inexplicable reason, Virtus.pro didn’t know what to do on the CT side. They lost round after round and gave away so many kills that they suddenly ended up on a 14-15 scoreline.
At that point, sAw played into the hands of VP. They attempted a quick B Site rush - probably to surprise their opponents - but ended up running into the AUG of Alexey “quikert” Golubev. Five quick kills later, the sAw offence had been stopped dead in its tracks and VP had finally broken them. Four rounds after that, Virtus.pro secured the 19-15 overtime win to end the map, match, and Grand Finals of DreamHack Open December.
While this obviously feels like an achievement of sorts, it comes on the back of a phenomenal finish at Flashpoint Season 2. There, they had to compete with - and actually beat - the likes of Fnatic, BIG, and OG to win the event. Here, they almost gave away a Best-of-Five to a Portuguese team that had no real business being in the Grand Finals in the first place. The domestic curse struck again and made it unable for Virtus.pro to beat forZe, a team that is objectively worse than them. From the get-go, this was a tournament that Jame and his men had to win decisively. In the end, their victory wasn’t as much a statement as it was an indicator that they’re not ready for prime-time just yet.
Images via @Virtuspro