Anything But Smiles: 15 Months of ENCE Roster Turmoil

The Finnish professional esports organization ENCE has been amidst a significant downward spiral over the course of the past year and a half, culminating in the final break-up of the formerly formidable roster.

Within the past month, there has been slow and brutal exodus of players from ENCE, with the organization recently breaking their silence with a public statement about the roster

“We take full responsibility for not understanding the severity of the existing problems”

ENCE (Twitter)
Photo Copyright © HLTV.org

Many have come out of the woodwork to criticize ENCE for the belated response to some of the allegations made against current ENCE AWPer Aleksi “allu” Jalli made by his former teammate Jere “sergej” Salo.

There has been speculation about internal conflict at ENCE ever since IGL/Captain Aleksi “Aleksib” Virolainen was benched following the 2019 Starladder Belin Major to be replaced on the active roster by Miikka ‘suNny’ Kemppi. ENCE handled it in a manner that suggested turmoil within the organization and the façade that the decision was that of a voluntary one made with Aleksib’s knowledge and/or consent:

After careful evaluation of the situation with the current team dynamic, the team and management agreed a change was necessary for ENCE to keep pushing towards consistently making championship contending runs in international tournaments.

Aleksi and the team have digested the forthcoming changes well in advance, and have been fully focusing on the upcoming Major for the last two weeks after their well earned summer break. — ENCE (Press Release)

Fans were immediately skeptical, and further attempts from the Finnish organization to clarify the details behind the benching were met with criticism for the lack of any new or useful information.

Grddy on Twitter: “@ENCE What did you address actually? You told us nothing new.”

From Twitter

CS:GO Journalist Jarek “Dekay” Lewis was one of the first to approach the situation informing viewers on his Twitch.tv livestream that he was made aware from unnamed sources that Aleksib did not leave the active roster of his own accord, or given proper notice, and was instead benched without warning or discourse.

Aleksib himself confirmed Dekay’s and other’s findings in a TwitLonger on the 23rd of August, 2019:

I’ve been benched from ENCE. This came out of the blue for me, and at first it hurt. Now, I just have to deal with it. Despite the hardships, such as a failure at a tournament or having differing opinions, we were still able to stay on the right path and reach success.

AleksiB (TwitLonger)

Uncovering the dirty wake left in tow of ENCE’s decision, Reddit user u/xNieminen posted on the r/GlobalOffensive Subreddit summarizing/translating a Finnish article from the news outlet Ilta-SanomatThis uncovered small details that suggest major issues within the dynamic of the roster and organization as a whole.

One specifically entailing ENCE’s marketing director Joona “natu” Leppänen comments during the previously mentioned ENCE TV episode:

“ at the beginning of August and we gave Aleksi a week to go through the shock”

Joona “natu” Leppänen (ENCE TV)

u/Nieminen was quick to point out how this was a weird comment to be making after the press release which had specifically mentioned:

”Aleksi and the team have digested the forthcoming changes well in advance,”

Joona “natu” Leppänen (ENCE TV)

Implying that ENCE had only given Aleksib three weeks notice before the biggest event of the year, the Starladder Berlin 2019 major. Alongside this u/Nieminen was also quick to point out Aleksib’s response to an HLTV interview of Jani “⁠Aerial⁠” Jussila:

“I think the atmosphere is really great, we’ve been wanting this for at least a few months.”

“With Aleksib we just tried to play default and did the same executes all over again, so that’s how it’s different with allu — always trying something new”

Aerial (HLTV Interview)

Aerial’s comments were met with surprise from Aleksib who made that much clear in a follow-up Tweet in response to the interview. This must have been especially shocking after Aleksib was quoted as saying “…(He) will always have a special place in my heart…” — Aleksib (Twitch.tv).

It is also worth bringing up how Aleksib’s contract was extended prior to the benching, which included a higher contract buyout, presumably in preparation for the benching in order to make the most possible capital in selling Aleksib to a new organization.

Following Aleksib’s benching, ENCE would go on to peak with their only good S-Tier performance with a second place finish at the CS:GO Asia Championships 2019 losing 0–2 to Mousesports. Clearly, Aleksib wasn’t the problem, given their long list of poor results post-Berlin major.

ENCE eventually made the move to sign Elias “Jamppi” Olkkonen in a bid to create allu’s idea of a six-man roster in March of 2020. At this time suNny transitioned to IGL, taking over the role from allu who had been shotcalling since Aleksib’s benching and transition away from ENCE. Seemingly in an attempt to right the now heavily listing ENCE ship.

This six-man roster was supposed to be something similar to what we see with Vitality or Astralis, but rather ended up being only a way to keep a full five-man roster for Valve events, given Jamppi’s VAC ban on a previous account. This put Sami “xseveN” Laasanen onto the bench, for the purpose of stepping in for Valve events and majors.

After this the dominoes began to fall.

The first to go was ENCE’s hope of fielding any sort of “true” 6-man roster in the style of Vitality when xseveN signed to HAVU on the 7th of August. However, ENCE formed an agreement as a part of his new contract to allow xseveN to continue to play for ENCE in Valve-sanctioned events.

Then as of the 28th of September 2020, the ESIC Spectator Bug Report was released implicating 37 coaches in the CS:GO community. ENCE coach Slaava “Twista” Räsänen was one of those 37 implicated in the ESIC report. Twista was found to have used the bug during 47 rounds during his time under iGame.com in a minor qualifier match against Tricked, and six rounds of a Hellcase Cup game against Spirit Academy. These violations resulted in a 15.75 month ban from the ESIC, and ENCE made the decision to move Twista to an analyst role, leaving ENCE scrambling to fill the newly formed hole.

After finishing 16–18th in ESL Pro League S11 Europe, 9th in Road to Rio Europe, and many more similar early bow-out showings in S-Tier tournaments, on the 22nd of October Aerial notified ENCE that he would be taking an indefinite sick leave.

Next, it was announced on November 17th that sergej would be benched as a part of a mutual agreement. ENCE reported that sergej would be leaving the active roster due to lack of motivation, and that he wished to fulfill his obligated military service with the Finnish armed services. Many attributed this to simply be burnout due to the solely online nature that professional Counter-Strike has taken over the course of the past year due to the Coronavirus pandemic. This left only allu as the final remaining player form the roster that was assembled in April of 2018.

Photo Copyright © HLTV.org

On December 14th, allu would appear as a guest on the show HLTV Confirmed to discuss what was happening with the roster and the recent changes. allu came out and recognized, albeit measurably too late, that the team really did not respect what Aleksib brought to the table as both an IGL and as a captain.

“I’m not a dictator who decides everything and how everything needs to go.”

allu (HLTV Confirmed Podcast)

However, a tweet from sergej on that very same day during the show would turn the attention of the Counter-Strike community onto a lead that provided much better context for the roster coming apart in the way it did:

I wouldn’t take everything what @alluCSGO said/says as granted. He isn’t as simple and harmless persona as it may look. Theres a reason hes the only one left in the team from the original roster.

sergej (Twitter)

In a follow-up that same day sergej would also come out in another tweet to say that he wouldn’t be providing any further information on the matter, citing that it was a mental health matter not for him or for Twitter to handle. However, as a parting statement he would follow-up to mention:

“Old teammates can back up my tweet though. Just wanted to let this out cause no one else did/could.”

sergej (Twitter)

What came to light on the 14th of December shines a harsh light onto allu and the management of ENCE.

The coffin finally sealed on the 17th of December as Aerial was signed off of medical leave with ENCE to HAVU, and 5 days later suNny would be benched with the intent to transfer according to reported talks with GODSENT.

With all of the groundwork laid, it is clear that ENCE’s management has seriously messed up multiple times along the lineWith it all out in the open in the way it is now, it is only a matter of time before other former members or stakeholders of ENCE come out to recount events similar in manner to what sergej recounted of allu.

On December 23, allu finally responded to sergej in a series of tweets describing how sergej should have brought up these issues in the open so they could have been discussed properly, citing that he had never heard these thoughts from sergej or any other teammate prior. While admitting that he could have improved how he handled things, his apology/response seemed to leave much to be desired, coming off more as a deflection than a proper response and/or apology.

The common thread throughout this whole equation, as no surprise to much of the community, is allu. Whether it is the sum of a series of bad decisions, a product of ego, or anything else for that matter, is something that is yet to be uncovered. What we do know, is that as reported by Ilta-Sanomat back in November of 2019, allu is also currently a 6.5% shareholder in ENCE, which would support the theory of him pulling the strings with the roster.

What we can also surmise, is that ENCE as we knew it no longer exists. Formerly competing in the Top 5 of professional Counter-Strike, they are now relegated to clawing back into relevance.

With the next S-Tier event on ENCE’s timeline being in March with ESL Pro League Season 13, they have their work cut-out. With only allu, doto, and Jamppi currently signed to the roster, they only have 3 eligible players (xseveN loan from HAVU) for Valve-sanctioned events, and currently 0 RMR points after the roster changes.

After consulting Jeffrey “Mnmzzz” Moore, (Dust2us writer and LiquipediaCS admin) there are only three likely scenarios through which ENCE could qualify for the 2021 Fall Major (should it actually happen):

1. ENCE convinces at least 2 former members (sergej, Aerial, or suNny) to return and ENCE keeps their old points

2. Assemble a completely new lineup and do well enough through RMR events to earn enough points to qualify

3. Valve resets RMR points due to the nature of the major being cancelled/rescheduled several times to where the points are beginning to become irrelevant

Things are looking bleak for ENCE, and certainly not EZ. Whether the past year and a half have been results of a complacent management, overcontrolling shareholder, or likewise; ENCE needs change. They have an opportunity to remedy what they tore down, but they also have a high likelihood of dropping from relevance permanently. Your move, ENCE.

Originally posted on my Medium.com blog December 24th, 2020. This is a very early example of my writing, but I keep it unedited in order to better serve as a reminder of where I’ve come from.

Anything But Smiles: 15 Months of ENCE Roster Turmoil | by Jacob Halfman | Medium