Falling at the final hurdle: ATK vs ENCE
Earlier today ATK squared off versus ENCE in their opening BO3 at ESL Pro League Season 17, a daunting matchup made even worse by ATK's recent unfortunate showings in online European events such as Elisa Invitational Winter and BetBoom Playlist Urbanistic. After getting stamped out on their pick of Anubis, ATK recovered with a tight 16-14 win on Vertigo to take the series to an Ancient decider, where ENCE pulled through after some close rounds.
Returning to their roots on Anubis
Anubis has been a staple pick for ATK in the domestic sphere, with the squad picking it in almost every ESL Challenger League match they have played this season. ATK has been far more selective about bringing out Anubis since venturing to Europe, with the squad only allowing the map to go through as a decider if it made it through the veto.
In their match versus ENCE, ATK was thoroughly trounced for the vast majority of their CT-side, down 1-9 before a heroic 1v2 from stand-in Aleksandar "CacaNito" Kjulukoski allowed the squad to finally string together some rounds. ATK would go on to rally to a 5-10 half and win the second pistol round to boot, but ENCE quickly swept them aside on the defense to steal their pick 16-6. Could more Anubis practice in official matches have been a boon for ATK ahead of this all-important game?
Showing resilience on Vertigo
Being down on their own map pick in such a dominant fashion surely put ATK in an unfortunate headspace leading into the second map. Thankfully, ATK found a saving grace in the form of their Swedish import Jonathan "b0denmaster" Bodenmalm, who posted a respectable 1.27 rating to keep ATK competitive versus the strong showings from Guy "NertZ" Iluz and Pavle "Maden" Bošković.
Generally for ATK, Vertigo has been a map that the squad has seen only limited success on, with just two wins on the map over the past three months, both narrow victories over paiN. As such, this win alone should be lauded by the ATK camp, especially considering the level of their opponent.
Close but no cigar on Ancient
Things started off rough for ATK on Ancient, as the squad started their run with an early 1-6 round deficit. The international side clawed back to a more respectable 6-9 half thanks to a 1.21 rating from IGL Gareth "MisteM" Ries on the CT-side, putting them a stone's throw from taking control of the map.
Although ENCE snatched the second pistol round, ATK quickly started to put together a streak that put them just two rounds away from tying the match. Unfortunately for ATK, after breaking the economy of ENCE MisteM's men faltered versus a full eco round at a scoreline of 9-11, shutting down any momentum for the squad and reinvigorating ENCE.
While ATK will be disappointed to walk away from their opening match with a loss, there is no doubt that there are some takeaways the squad can be proud of. Good showings from Swisher, b0denmaster, and MisteM across this series kindles hope that there is further potential for ATK in this event, something cemented by their win on Vertigo.
ATK's impending match in the lower bracket versus Liquid may seem daunting at first glance, but considering Liquid's horrific performance versus Asian side Rare Atom, paired with ATK's resilience versus ENCE, there is potential for the international side to be the ones to send the domestic top dogs to the Last Chance Stage.