At PGL Major Antwerp, ENCE want to seize their place in the sun

Luís Mira

At PGL Major Antwerp, ENCE are fighting to prove that they deserve a seat at the big boys’ table again after a turbulent period. For in-game leader Marco ‘Snappi’ Pfeiffer, it’s also the chance to gain the recognition that has often eluded him.

There was a time when it wasn’t certain whether ENCE would ever get back on their feet.

The demise of their highly-successful Finnish roster in 2020 was an ugly spectacle of infighting and calamitous leadership that played out in public fashion, exposing deep issues in a squad that in 2019 had reached the grand final of the IEM Katowice Major and won a BLAST Pro Series event.

But little by little, ENCE’s name is returning to its former prominence in the CS:GO scene. As the countdown to PGL Major Antwerp hits full throttle and fans are drawn into passionate discussions about each team’s chances, ENCE are emerging as an unlikely candidate to make a deep run in Belgium.

ENCE are ranked fourth in the world — the highest any of their players has ever been — and are coming off a hot streak that includes a final appearance at ESL Pro League Season 15 and a victory in the BLAST Premier Spring Showdown.

Much of their success is tied to the strong partnership between Finnish coach Eetu ‘sAw’ Saha, who took the team’s reins at the end of 2020 as ENCE shifted towards an international project, and Marco ‘Snappi’ Pfeiffer, a veteran in-game leader still chasing history.

The Danish player, 31, still remembers the overwhelmingly negative response when ENCE announced their new team in January 2021.

“No-one really believed in the team,” Snappi tells Dexerto. “That was pretty obvious from comments everywhere.”

Reading the market correctly

ENCE’s early results were nothing to write home about, but as time went on, the team began picking up form, especially after replacing Aleksi ‘allu’ Jalli, who had to take a break from the game due to mental health issues.

To fill the void created by the Finnish veteran, ENCE turned to a young gun in Olek ‘hades’ Miskiewicz. The Polish AWPer, who had been released by Wisla Krakow, quickly signed a permanent deal after proving an immediate sensation as a stand-in.

Head coach sAw is the chief orchestrator behind the team

ENCE turned a few heads with a second place at IEM Fall, but that momentum quickly evaporated after an 0-3 run in PGL Major Stockholm’s New Legends Stage and a last-place finish at IEM Winter.

By the end of 2021, it was clear that ENCE had plateaued and that another roster change was needed to breathe new life into the team. After benching Joonas ‘doto’ Forss, ENCE signed Pavle ‘Maden’ Bošković, who had shown promise during his time with FunPlus Phoenix.

“Maden has brought a lot of energy to the team,” Snappi says. “His energy is infectious to the entire team and he is a very positive guy.

“Everyone contributes, but if I had to mention a secondary caller on the team, it would be him. He’s also a very strong entry player, he’s not afraid to go in first.”

The Montenegrin player has proved to be another shrewd signing by ENCE, who have not moved away from their model of giving talented-but-unpolished players a chance to shine. Snappi is the only player on ENCE who had been in the top 10 in the rankings before; Maden is playing his first Major in Antwerp, while hades, Lotan ‘Spinx’ Giladi and Paweł ‘dycha’ Dycha were debutants in Stockholm.

Snappi has alongside him a group of hungry players eager to prove themselves

There’s no secret, Snappi insists. It’s all about smart spending and having a good eye for talent.

“We’re not in a position like FaZe, G2 or any of these other teams who can sign a proven top 20 player,” he says. “We cannot pick the obvious ones.

“I think sAw and I have done a good job of scouting and agreeing on which players we should pick up. If you are good at it, it’s honestly pretty easy to spot talent that can work. There are multiple players out there that I’m sure could come in and improve most of the top 15, top 20 teams.

“Some of those teams are very good at the moment, but [for others] there are obvious signings. I just think that a lot of organizations and people are blind.”

A work in progress

The CS:GO community at large began viewing ENCE in a different light after the second place at ESL Pro League, but Snappi points out that the team had already shown some decent signs at IEM Katowice, Maden’s third tournament with the team. Despite finishing last, ENCE had close three-map affairs against NAVI and Astralis.

By the time the Pro League event came around, Maden and the rest of the team had gelled properly. Having toned down a gear to play less aggressively at times, ENCE came out almost unscathed from a very tricky group that also included FaZe, Vitality, Outsiders and FURIA. They then had an easier route in the playoffs (fnatic, Movistar Riders and NIP) before the final against FaZe, who ran out 3-1 winners.

Snappi says ENCE’s second place at EPL deserved more credit

Still, Snappi believes that the team’s run didn’t get enough credit in the scene.

“People said that we had a pretty easy playoff run, which is true, but I think most of the teams would have been eliminated in the group that we had,” he argues.

“They wouldn’t have even made it out of the groups.”

The defeat to FaZe was a reminder of the gulf in experience between ENCE and some of the other tier-one sides. It was the first big final for most of ENCE’s players, while their opponents were able to take it as just another match. “We played really badly because of nerves,” Snappi admits. Two weeks later, they had an off day against NIP in the RMR, which cost them a spot in the Legends Stage of the Major.

These are the sort of problems that a team like ENCE has to deal with, and Snappi is well familiar with the process. He is happy with the improvements that the team continues to make and highlights the depth of their map pool heading into the Major. They are ready for whatever opponents might throw at them; the rest will only come with experience.

Proving his worth as an IGL

Seven months later, ENCE find themselves at another Major, this time as the highest-ranked team in the Challengers Stage. (In Stockholm, when they were No.10 in the world, Heroic and Astralis were higher up in the rankings.) It will be impossible for ENCE to fly under the radar now, but Snappi doesn’t think that all this attention will make opponents more wary of his team.

“I think people were already looking at us and knew we were a scary team,” he says. “So I don’t think anything has changed in that aspect. I’m more nervous about us potentially not carrying our momentum.”

Snappi says that it’s coincidence, rather than design, that ENCE are this high up in the rankings on the eve of a Major. He’s not setting any goals for the tournament, but he’s confident that the team can reach the playoffs. Doing so would allow his teammates to check off another box as they are yet to play in front of a crowd.

The best attribute about ENCE is their strong and cohesive group of players without a star grabbing all the attention. Everyone is going through the same process and learning together, even Snappi himself. For all his experience (he began playing competitively in 2008), this is only his third Major, and leading a team that can contend for the biggest titles is still a bit of a novelty for him.

Like ENCE’s history, Snappi’s trajectory in the game isn’t a straight upward line but a mix of highs and lows. Because of this, the community perception of his value as an in-game leader has fluctuated over the years. This begs the question: Does he deserve more recognition?

“When I started leading in Heroic, I got a lot of recognition that maybe wasn’t deserved because it was my first time doing it, and I wasn’t really developed as an in-game leader,” he says. “Then I went to OpTic and I think I got a lot of flack that I did not deserve. People had expectations for us to reach the top five, but the player material wasn’t there, in my opinion.

“Since then, I think I have been underrated. With this team, I think people are giving me recognition again. There have been times when I’ve been overrated and times when I’ve been underrated.

“I have missed out on some opportunities due to age and people believing I was outdated or something. So I’m happy to prove them wrong. I will keep doing that for some time.

“Winning a tier-one trophy on LAN is something I strive to achieve, and this is the first time in my career that I actually stand a chance of doing that.”