Virtus.pro has had their ups and downs, but they really need to find an up — and they need it now.
They need it this weekend.
In order to do that, Arturs “bkbgrnrjefek” Hlibovs, Andrey “AndyLendi” Pishikov, Vsevolod “CEBKAJE” Demianenko, Iliya “Unnstable” Grigoriev and Stepan “Kunichan” Zhilin will need to dig deep.
And, as bkbgrnrjefek told theScore eSports on behalf of his team, that process is about finding the style that will work for them right now, in this moment. They’re practicing eight to ten hours a day, six days a week, looking for that answer.
“Well we have been struggling quite a lot for the last two months. We have been trying different stuff lately to find out which playstyle and heroes fit the best for our team in the current meta. We do not prefer any heroes, but we do prefer playing aggressive compositions that we can make plays with. That is what we excel with the most,” bkb explained.
They feel they've found it. But, as bkb mentioned, the past few months of competition for Virtus.pro have not been up to their self-imposed standards. The multi-warrior meta is now solidly established, and that has consequences for the aggressive playstyle favored by the team.
“Aggression and finding off-picks is what we are good at. We also try to be efficient when it comes to our playstyle regarding the map and objectives. If there is a good objective trade, we usually see it,” bkb said.
But relying on picks can be more difficult when the enemy team has two — or more — targets that can’t be easily blown up.
Still, Virtus.pro is very familiar with the dominance of warriors in the current patch. They played against Korean powerhouse MVP Black, known for their peerless multi-warrior comps, at the MSI Masters Gaming Arena at PAX Prime. Before that, the two teams faced off at IEM Shenzhen. It leaves Virtus.pro in a unique spot: they are currently the European team with the most tournament match experience against the team that many claim as the world’s strongest.
“MVP Black are just awesome. We have huge respect for the team. Not only that they are at the moment strongest team in the world, but also they are really kind and awesome people. What makes them so dangerous? Individual mechanics, coordination and fast best-option decisions. We feel like that all the games we played versus them at LAN events were really terrible from our side, but we do think they are beatable,” bkb said.
But while MVP Black may bring the multi-warrior composition to a new level, it was (and is) a familiar paradigm for the Russian-speaking team.
“Well, we didn't see anything new draft wise at MSI because we did scout the teams at home before going to the tournament. So there was nothing to apply to the European scene, even though a lot of EU teams tend to play triple tank a lot, which we tried and didn't like,” bkb said.
Before MSI MGA, Virtus.pro participated in two Europe Opens. Their attendance at PAX Prime cost them the opportunity to play in the third.
At both Europe Opens, there was a recurring theme: it was Natus Vincere who, on the losers’ side of the bracket, sent Virtus.pro packing.
Na`Vi has long been a sort of unknown quantity in the Heroes scene. Few players doubt their ability, but the team is difficult to nail down. Unlike other top EU teams — like Team Liquid — who are known for certain, specific compositions, Na`Vi tends to defy attempts to classify their game. Virtus.pro realizes that this is a challenge for any contender.
“Well I think the match-up comes to playstyle of both teams. Some players from our team actually feel like Na'Vi is stronger than any other EU team because of their playstyle and draft variations. We just have to play our game to beat them,” bkb said.
Despite their elimination by Na`Vi in both Opens, Virtus.pro went far enough in the first one to earn their spot at the European Championship. Now it’s all about getting ready for Prague.
“We are extremely excited, some of the people from our team haven't been in Europe yet so it will be their first time. It's an honor to participate in a first real European LAN event where the top eight teams are participating to qualify for worlds,” bkb said.
Asked if there was a specific team that they viewed as their biggest competition, the team was non-committal. They believe in the gameplan they've concocted.
“Well there are some teams that are in favor for qualifying, but we do not have any biggest competition because if we play our best game, we can beat anyone,” bkb explained.
That sort of optimism is, perhaps, a valuable asset in a competition where every team is a dangerous opponent in their own right. Virtus.pro is by no means an underdog in the current field. They've proven experience as a squad and they know how to turn it on when it counts.
But, Virtus.pro is also known for their enthusiastic participation as members of the competitive scene. They took a moment to offer some goodwill to all competitors at Prague.
“Good luck to all the teams participating at Prague. Let's show Europe some awesome games!”
Finally, when asked why they would be one of the two teams to qualify for BlizzCon, bkb did not hesitate to take the opportunity to display a little bit more of that signature Virtus.pro swagger.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Josh Bury knows that, the day you were born, the very forests of Lordaeron whispered the name CEBKAJE. You can find Josh on Twitter.