The scoreline read 15-8 on Inferno. Team Liquid, the best team in North America, were blowing Extra Salt out of the server in a best of one group stage match at the Intel Extreme Masters Fall 2021 event. As a Regional Major Rankings, teams that advanced deep at the tournament could qualify for the upcoming PGL Major Stockholm 2021.
“They need this two on three to keep the dream alive, or else Extra Salt are snuffed out just before a chance to reach the major,” caster Harry “JustHarry” Russell said.
Just after, Liquid’s Jacky “Stewie2K” Yip netted himself a double kill that won the round. Just like that, he crushed Extra Salt’s goal of attending the PGL Major.
“That was a pretty big disappointment for us,” Extra Salt’s Johnny “JT” Theodosiou said.
JT is the in-game leader of Extra Salt and, in spite of the team’s failure to reach the major, the 22-year-old South African has led the Extra Salt roster to the top of North American Counter-Strike. The organization began in the wake of established NA organizations leaving CS:GO at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, Tier 2 NA teams like Extra Salt have been thrust into the spotlight.
“When everyone was going to VALORANT, I was creating a team,” JT said. “The thing I said to every single player I was speaking to was, ‘a lot of players are going to VALORANT, but these NA qualifiers aren’t going anywhere. If we just stay in CS, grind our ass off this next year, we have a really good chance of qualifying for all these events. If everyone’s leaving and we stay, that means we can take every spot that we want.'”
JT currently resides at one of the apartments owned by Extra Salt in Austin, Texas. He’s there with teammates Ricky “floppy” Kemery and coach Tiaan “T.c” Coertzen. The rest of the team have already left for the holidays. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, JT has only returned home twice in the last three years.
On Dec. 19, JT and his teammates were in the middle of prepping for their last match of the year: ESEA Season 39 Premier Division grand finals. Winning meant booking their ticket to the ESL Pro League Season 16 Conference stage; a European, S-Tier, LAN event later in 2022.
The next day, when the match was slated to take place, their opponents, ChocoCheck, couldn’t field a five-man roster. ChocoCheck forfeited the match and handed the win to Extra Salt by default.
“Pretty disappointed that we weren’t able to play the final,” JT said. “It’s the first premier win for a lot of the team and we would’ve liked to have won it fair and square.”
Still, the team now have another LAN booked on their 2022 itinerary: the ESL Pro League Conference Stage. It’s an event which they’ve competed at before. Extra Salt won the Season 15 Conference Stage in Nov. 2021, qualifying for the main league in March 2022 — yet another LAN to look forward to. The Conference Stages are a new addition and JT said he has mixed feelings about them. On one hand, they give more teams the opportunities to battle their way into the EPL. On the other, winning ESEA Premier no longer qualifies the team directly into the main event as it used to.
Since Extra Salt’s domination in the Season 15 Conference Stage, the team has only lost a single match — the grand finals of Pinnacle Fall Series 3. They head to vacation on an 11 map win streak and are rated No. 22 in the world, according to HLTV’s rankings. Despite the team’s failure to make the major, achievements like these are vindication for the year of grinding they have gone through.
“It hasn’t been a terrible year, but I wouldn’t call it an amazing year either,” JT said. “We expected a little bit better. But, if you put the whole year in context, we did win most of our tournaments here in NA through the first seven months or so.”
For Tier 2 and 3 teams, the goal is always to make as many LANs as possible. Extra Salt are no exception. Like many others who rose to prominence during the online era of CS:GO, some of Extra Salt’s members have been deprived the opportunity to play on LAN, even regionally.
Justin “FaNg” Coakley, who recently gave an interview with HLTV stating his goal to become “one of the best players in the world,” is one such player. He’s only ever played local LANs in Toronto, Canada. Players like JT have had a few more opportunities to play on LAN, but the team as a whole is still starved for the in-person, zero ping, trash-talking, fist-bumping, nerve-inducing environment.
FaNg is the youngest player on Extra Salt and still a relative newcomer to the CS:GO scene. Others on Extra Salt are further down the line in their player development. Notably, there are a lot of eyes on Joshua “oSee” Ohm, one of NA’s best AWPers at the moment. There’s even interest from Team Liquid in the 22-year-old sniper, according to a report from 1pv.fr.
“OSee’s a demon in the server these days,” JT said. “He’s someone that doesn’t respect any other team and he knows his capabilities. When he starts playing Tier 1 teams, he’s going to be fine.”
Then there’s floppy, who recently returned from a brief stint with Cloud9’s VALORANT roster. JT spoke highly about floppy’s communication and what it brought to the team. The leadership and vocal presence were something that the team had been lacking prior to his arrival.
“I told [floppy], ‘I think you actually got better since coming back from VALORANT,'” JT said.
Rounding out the squad are Edgar “MarKE” Maldonado and South Africans JT and coach T.c. JT referred to his longtime coach as the “glue” in all of the many rosters they’ve worked together on.
“He always keeps people in line,” JT said.
As for JT, his development as a player in 2021 has involved taking on a more aggressive entry style — à la Hampus “hampus” Poser or Vladislav “nafany” Gorshkov — as well as improving his calling. He’s augmented his old Cloud9 leadership style by allowing more freedom. Extra Salt always keep set plays in the back pocket, but now they also leave room for mid-round adaptations and individualism.
“It’s been a really big year for me,” JT said. “I’ve improved a lot.”
New Year, new Extra Salt
There’s been much chatter about big esports orgs like Team Liquid, Cloud9, Evil Geniuses and Complexity Gaming — who are reportedly considering signing the Extra Salt core — returning or revitalizing new NA rosters in 2022. JT and other pros are all enthusiastic about the possibility, even if the competition is stiffer at the qualifiers for European LANs. More teams means better practice, something that has sorely been lacking since the great VALORANT exodus of 2020.
“I’m excited to see who comes back, what players come back from VALORANT and what org picks them up,” JT said.
In 2022, Extra Salt have set themselves some lofty, but largely achievable, goals — especially if they can keep their current roster in tact.
“We’re the second best NA team at the moment,” JT said. “Maybe we can show that, we can be the No. 1 team.”