Bad News Eagles are once again in the top 16 of a Major after cruising through the Challengers Stage of IEM Rio. Theirs is the type of story that is growing ever so rare in the CS:GO scene.
“They are not part of the circuit, they are not there with the big boys, but they are playing like them.”
As Bad News Eagles’ players leaped up from their seats and gathered for a group huddle, joined by manager James Banks, after soundly beating GamerLegion in the third round of the IEM Rio Challengers Stage, Australian caster Chad ‘SPUNJ’ Burchill, like the CS:GO scene at large, was left in awe.
There is an unmistakable, unique purity to an underdog tale, and over the years there have been many such stories at CS:GO Majors, from Luminosity’s 2016 win in Columbus, to Cloud9’s 2018 victory in Boston (where Quantum Bellator Fire also made an extremely unlikely run to the quarterfinals) after going down 0-2 in the Legends Stage, to ENCE’s 2019 grand final appearance in Katowice.
Most romantic underdog stories in esports are one-offs, unable to be maintained because the special set of circumstances that went into them are never seen again. But that’s not the case of Bad News Eagles, who are continuing in Rio de Janeiro the captivating story that they began to write in Antwerp, almost seven months ago.
There’s definitely something special about the Kosovar-Albanian team, the first to reach a CS:GO Major without the backing of an organization since dAT’s ESL One Cologne 2014 appearance. Bad News Eagles have gained many admirers in the scene not just because of their in-your-face approach — reminiscent of 2015 fnatic, according to analyst Janko ‘YNk’ Paunović — but also because of their unexpected success in spite of limited resources.
The Bad News Eagles tag was set up in February 2022 after the players parted ways with BLINK following a breakdown in negotiations with the management over contract renewals. A team made up of players who came through the FACEIT Pro League — which explains their aggressive, pug style —, they overcame the odds when they qualified for PGL Major Antwerp in May and reached the Legends Stage, featuring the top 16 sides in the world.
They had done enough, the players thought when they returned home, to secure the backing of an organization that could allow them to take the next step in their development. To find some stability in their personal lives.
The reality, however, was very different.
With gambling and sports betting illegal in Kosovo and Albania, most of the usual suspects — betting companies with deep pockets — were out of the picture. There were meetings with prospective international sponsors, but talks broke down as the marketing budget for Balkan countries is usually very limited.
A number of esports organizations also came knocking, but that, too, was a dead end. Some clearly wanted to take advantage of the sticker money that the team would earn in the future, while others, despite being well intended, lacked the infrastructure that the players were looking for.
Rather than make a deal with the devil that would come with a heavy price or settle for less than what they are worth, the players decided to continue their journey as Bad News Eagles, using sticker revenue and tournament winnings to support themselves. The team has just one sponsor to help alleviate the burden, Albanian electronic retailer gjirafa50.
“For us as a team, salary is not the most important factor in this decision but the staff that an organization has and how they can help us develop in and out of the game,” the team wrote in August. “Another really important factor is the opportunity to bootcamp regularly without issue. This for us is where visas are also very important.”
Running it back
Between the Majors in Antwerp and Rio de Janeiro, Bad News Eagles competed in a raft of online tournaments to pocket prize money and remain relevant in the scene. There was also a small four-team LAN event in Prague, which they won. “It’s been a really busy schedule, having all these tournaments, every day a new tournament,” BNE player Flatron ‘juanflatroo’ Halimi said. “Trying to prepare for everything, not catching a break, being exhausted all the time.”
Such is the life of a tier-two CS:GO team in the current landscape, where ESL and BLAST hold a tight grip on the scene with their franchise tournaments. The limited spots for non-partner teams are decided by complicated multi-stage qualifying systems that resemble a seven-layer cake.
The CS:GO Majors, with their open qualifying system, offer the best chance for a team like Bad News Eagles to compete on the global stage. So they put all their focus on making sure they were in the best possible shape for the European RMR leading to Rio. It was the end-all, be-all, for the team, and they passed the test by beating Eternal Fire, Astralis and forZe in the RMR.
It seemed like the team could finally catch their breath, but then their participation at the event came under threat due to visa issues. In the end, it took the timely intervention of Kosovo’s Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Hajrulla Çeku, for the team to overcome another hurdle.
Nothing has ever come easy for Bad News Eagles, but that’s part of their charm and one of the reasons why many rejoiced as the Kosovar team booked a place in the Legends Stage with a flawless 3-0 record following victories over 00 Nation, BIG, and GamerLegion.
Hard work, consistency and persistence are the keys to Bad News Eagles’ success, team coach Klesti ‘stikle-’ Kola says. James Banks, who is helping the team free of charge, told Dexerto that he sees many similarities between their mindset and the laser focus displayed by the Luminosity/SK team when they were on the rise in 2015 and 2016.
Bad News Eagles have already equaled their result from Antwerp (where they went 3-2 in the Challenger Stage), and anything that they get from the competition now will be a bonus. They looked like a solid unit in the Challengers Stage: every player did their part (though Rigon ‘rigoN’ Gashi and Dionis ‘sinnopsyy’ Budeci were a clear step above the rest), and the team displayed a phenomenal CT side (their 82.7% winrate was the highest during the first two days of the event) that is heavily based on intuition. stikle-’s job is trying to find the right balance between aggression and discipline, but for now, this style seems to be working. And the team’s confidence is unshakable. “We’re not done,” sinnopsyy said after the victory against GamerLegion.
Nobody expected a (relatively) ragtag bunch of players with almost no prior tier-one experience and no financial backing to make the top 16 of a Major, and to do it not once but twice is a remarkable feat. In a scene turbocharged by blood money where the gap between the elite and the rest has never been wider, Bad News Eagles are a good reminder of the beauty that can be found in open circuits and in the stories of underdogs.
“The way I see our boys is as a passionate, dedicated, and determined family,” Banks said. “They have the hunger and drive, they know what they want to achieve, this is their dream and they’ve sacrificed so much to get here. But they are not done. We are not done!”