Santino ‘try’ Rigal helped 9z pull off one of the biggest CS:GO upsets in recent memory when they beat Vitality earlier in 2021. In an exclusive interview with Dexerto, the 17-year-old star discussed that match and what he sees for his future in the game.
15 April 2021 was a day for South American esports to remember.
Minnows 9z, then ranked just 88th in the world, shocked world No.8 Vitality in the first round of the BLAST Premier Spring Showdown.
It was a less-than-ideal sendoff for Vitality’s Cédric ‘RpK’ Guipouy – who was moved to the bench after that match, as announced by the French organization days earlier. He ended up not playing anymore before confirming his retirement from the game a few months later.
On the broadcast, CS:GO commentator Mohan ‘launders’ Govindasamy labeled it “one of the best upsets I’ve ever seen”, and rightly so: Vitality, the BLAST Premier Fall champions, were overwhelming 1.03 favorites to advance in the tournament.
To rub further salt into their wounds, 9z were without Martin ’rox’ Molina, who missed the online event in Europe due to personal reasons. In his place was Rajohn ‘EasTor’ Linato, a Spanish AWPer playing in Europe’s tier two.
The match featured two Majors winners and Mathieu ‘ZywOo’ Herbaut, the best player in the world of 2019 and 2020, but it was try who stole the show. As 9z’s players leaped from their chairs and hugged each other in celebration after the 2-1 series win, all eyes were on the 16-year-old Argentinian, who had put in a series-high 1.57 HLTV rating to power his team to victory.
“I don’t have words to describe it,” he told Dexerto. “It’s something that I never imagined could happen.
POV: GANASTE CONTRA VITALITY pic.twitter.com/cjwGJHhiYS
— 9z Team (@9zTeam) April 15, 2021
“ZywOo is one of my references, like s1mple, for example. It made me very happy that I had a great performance against him.”
It’s startling how quickly try adapted to the highest level in South America after being promoted by 9z from their academy team in March 2020. The young Argentinian was named the 11th best player competing in Brazil in 2020 by DRAFT5, showing incredible promise with the AWP after initially struggling with the weapon.
As 9z traveled to Europe for the BLAST tournament, the hype surrounding try was palpable. And if there were any questions about whether it was warranted, they were answered that day.
“I think so,” he said when asked if he’s looked at differently since that match. “I think it was a surprise for many people.
“I don’t know if people followed the Latin American scene, if they saw the tournaments I played in Brazil, but the game against Vitality was surely watched by many teams.
“I definitely think there is a before and an after that match. Because winning or having a good performance against Vitality opens many doors.”
Try knows just how important it is to make the most of these rare opportunities to compete abroad. Brazil may send the largest contingent to PGL Major Stockholm – in part because of the three teams that qualified via North America -, but the rest of the Latin American scene is still struggling to catch up.
For 9z and other teams in the same situation, the excitement of facing the world’s best teams is followed by the frustration of reverting to a lower tier and losing whatever gains they made while on the road.
“It’s very hard because we play against the best teams in the world, and back home they’re not even close to that level,” try explained.
“It’s very stressful because you need to readjust to the game style in South America, which is very different from the one in Europe.”
A new opportunity
Now with their full roster in Europe, 9z will be looking to topple another giant in the first round of the BLAST Premier Fall Showdown. This time, it’s Team Liquid standing in the South Americans’ way.
— Santino Rigal (@tryRSS) September 13, 2021
The two teams are over 50 world-ranking places apart, but that doesn’t seem to faze try. If anything, he is relishing the opportunity to test himself against Gabriel ‘FalleN’ Toledo, the ‘Godfather of Brazilian CS’.
“Just like everyone else, I followed SK when they were the best team in the world, so I feel very motivated to play against him,” try said.
“I admired them when they were the best team in the world.”
Try, who turned 17 on September 23, is still in the nascent stages of his career, but there will come a point when he will have to decide the next step for him.
Other Argentinian players, like Ignacio ‘meyern’ Meyer and Luca ‘Luken’ Nadotti, have had to join Brazilian teams to further their careers. And while some of these players have endured mixed fortunes abroad, this seems to be a natural progression for try, who has unquestionably outgrown the South American scene.
FURIA have been touted as a potential destination for the young Argentinian. The Brazilians have struggled in the AWPing department since Henrique ‘HEN1’ Teles’ departure in late 2020 and have had to make do with academy player André ‘drop’ Abreu after removing Paytyn ‘junior’ Johnson.
Try believes that his future “will depend” on whether 9z will move to North America – a plan that was announced at the end of 2020 but that has yet to materialize.
Questioned about a potential move to FURIA, he said: “It could be a great step forward in my career, but the contracts and all that stuff make it harder.
“It would be a good move for me and I would like to play in a team like that.
“A necessary step? I don’t know. It depends on what we do with 9z, and if we move to another region or not – my understanding is that we will.”
To this day, Argentina’s second-place finish at The World Championships 2016, in Belgrade, remains the country’s biggest achievement in CS:GO. Many believed that Cinderella run could be the harbinger of a new chapter for Argentinian esports, but the country has struggled to remain relevant in the game.
For try, looking abroad for talent – 9z feature players from Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil – is the only choice for a team like his to be competitive.
“If we keep this roster, I think we have a good chance to qualify for the Major next year,” try said. “But if you’re talking about a full Argentinian team, I don’t think the level to reach a Major is there.”