New York, New York
If you want to believe in NRG, watch round 30 of their ESL One New York match versus FaZe on Inferno. Down 15-14, facing a team stuff full of superstars or former superstars, in an elimination match, at their first LAN back from sitting out the Valve Major, NRG sent Vincent "Brehze" Cayonte to sneak down mid. Taking FaZe by surprise as they moved five into banana, he grabbed a free kill on Finn "karrigan" Andersen and took out two more before they could root him out of his foothold near T-spawn. From their there, NRG went on to secure overtime, take the series 2-0, and make a semi-finals appearance at the $250k tournament.
With their most recent top-four finish at StarSeries & i-League CS:GO Season 6, NRG have reaffirmed their spot in the worldwide top-10 and continue their slow creep up towards a more venerated position within the scene.
As an organisation, NRG hardly rolls off the tongue when you think of the storied teams of CS:GO. They are no Cloud9 or Team Liquid, let alone FaZe, Astralis, G2, mousesports, Fnatic, or NiP. What little pedigree they have in terms of players isn’t much either. The longest standing member of their roster, Jacob "FugLy" Medina, had his glory days on Team Liquid all they back in 2015 achieving results like a first and a second at two iBUYPOWER offline cups, and a top-four at IEM San Jose. He was the player removed so Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev could lead Liquid to the promised land at MLG Columbus and ESL One Cologne 2016.
The same story goes for Damian "daps" Steele, the team's in-game leader: A long tenure, a spattering of decent results few and far between, more fame as the guy removed, fairly or unfairly, to make room for a better roster. Liquid removed him in 2015, OpTic removed him in 2016, and he was even briefly taken out of a starting role at NRG in 2017 to coach, before slotting back in a few weeks later.
Maybe some positive things have been said about the potential of Breeze and Ethan "nahtE" Arnold the past couple years, but up-and-coming-surely-will-be-a-star-one-day reputations are almost a dime a dozen in the bowls of tier-two North American play. Cvetelin "CeRq" Dimitrov has been a genuine talent, but the idea of a stud import turning around the luck of a LAN-locked tier-two North American team reeked of the desperation that failed Splyce so with Enkhtaivan "Machinegun" Lkhagva in 2016.
And for a while, there was nothing to suggest that they would achieve the middling greatness they later cut out for themselves. This exact five-man roster formed on Jan 15th of this year when nahtE was brought in to replace Allan "AnJ" Jensen, and they didn’t attend a LAN together for almost five months.
Then, at IEM Sydney, they finished 9-12th after losing to G2, who was then playing with Oscar "mixwell" Cañellas Colocho, in the second round of the loser’s bracket. Perhaps in their opening overtime loss to Astralis on Overpass, you could see a flash of the team they would become, but they still were not there yet at IEM Sydney.
The coordination on their CT-side faltered and there were some boneheaded plays now and again. Another point of concern was the lack of consistency among their three leading player in terms of raw output. Perhaps, it’d be easy to toss this LAN aside mentally as LAN gitterns or a nervous first showing, but on the flip side, they are a team who succeed at their first offline event because they are unknown or understudied. And almost the same pattern played out at their second event together at the ESL Pro League Season 7 finals with a 9-12th exit.
The pick up of former OpTic coach Chet "ImAPet" Singh came exactly at the right time. While NRG got good enough online to start making these high-level LANs on the back of strong Cerq performances, they never broke through. The departing OpTic coach, known for his anti-strating and upset-artistry on CLG, was brought in on May 21 just five days after their EPL result. From the outside, the pickup seemed like a clear note to the world that they didn't just want to be in the mix; they wanted to start taking scalps.
And they did.
At the all best-of-three StarSeries & i-League CS:GO Season 5, NRG snagged best-of-three wins over VG.Flash Gaming, HellRaisers, Renegades, Team Liquid, and North in their run all the way to a second place finish after running into Na’Vi in the finals. These matches showed NRG at their best. Even with more data of them out there, and their leading Overpass pick denied to them by Team Liquid, NRG looked more prepared tactically and individually going into this tournament
Here, nahtE showed the exceptional level of his current game, fearlessly taking and winning a high percentage of duels and showing off an uncommon ability to find multi-kills off of spray transfers. Then, Breeze also has had more consistent success along with a more risk-oriented route going for pushed and flanks in a style not unlike a Fernando "fer" Alvarenga or Håvard "rain" Nygaard.
Then, you have a more variable tertiary star in Cerq with the AWP. While accolades have been heaped onto the Bulgarian import throughout 2018, his raw mechanical ability and the ostentatious quality of many of his kills have led some to overestimate his raw output. Still, his ability snag kills and break open rounds is always an "X-factor" or a useful bonus for NRG.
FugLy and Daps buoy the young roster in more supportive roles as you would expect, but NRG’s overall system bucks assumptions you might have given Daps’ public persona or past team history. Instead of slow round consistently concluded by a five-man attack on a site, NRG attaches more importance to the mid-round confrontation and uses girthier and more risk-oriented gimmicks than previous Daps sides.
Carrying that momentum forwards, NRG grabbed similarly strong, but not earth-shattering results in the following months/ They placed top-four at ECS Season 5, first at the less-stacked IEM Shanghai, two more top-fours at ESL One New York and StarSeries & i-League CS:GO Season 6, with two disappointing showings at the North American Minor and DreamHack Masters Stockholm stitched in there.
Perhaps you mentally cast aside the Americas Minor result via the wonkiness inherent to inter-regional contests, and the Stockholm 13th-16th placing when you consider their early run-in with Na’Vi, but look at their most recent best-of-three match versus Vega Squadron if you want to see the best argument for NRG being overrated or incapable or reaching the next level. Despite easily tossing aside the famed unorthodox play of TyLoo in the finals of IEM Shanghai, NRG seemed incapable of properly responding to the ever-bellicose Vega on either side of the map. Pushes weren’t expected, attacked weren’t properly staggered or spread, not enough duels were won.
These failures invite an easy question: Do NRG choke?
This team’s trajectory shot up this year from some mix of breakout performances, developed leadership, and supplementary coaching, but they seemed to hit a firm upper limit when none exists. Outside of Astralis, Liquid, and Na’Vi at the very top, there are no stalwart gatekeepers keeping tier-two teams or former tier-two teams from reaching their own dizzying heights. CompLexity made into the playoffs of a Valve Major, ENCE just won a 300K event. Outside wins over North or a declining FaZe in a group stage, NRG still lack a team defining win. The can make a top-four or match another middling team, but they never best the biggest fish.
In an episode of Peeker’s Advantage and on Twitter, Daps has suggested his team does, indeed, have a mentality problem in these high-stakes matches, but is that an easy excuse for the harder challenge?
NRG are nearing greatness, but they are not there yet. For now, if they don’t make a prudent roster change or improve their map pool or fix that intangible, possibly mental, barrier, they will have to close in on the best, again, by surprise.
Do you think NRG will win another large event this year? Comment below your thoughts!