July 15 2022; spectators at IEM Cologne were taken by storm by a Spanish squad which crushed an in-form Team Liquid, eventually heaving them to the 6th spot in World Rankings.
This wasn't the first time Movistar Riders had stunned top tier teams, however, as long time viewers of the game well knew. Not more than a year ago, they had carried out a similar feat finishing 5th place at IEM Fall 2021. Besides Upsets, both of these events shared yet another discovery — the Sun was rising.
Stepping in to the scene
Alvaro “SunPayus” Garciawas 8 years old when he saw his brother play Counter-Strike 1.6 and was enthused by it. It instantly became SunPayus' avocation as he would sit and play the game for hours whenever his brother was away. It was later in 2016, that he discovered Global Offensive, changing his life forever. He started playing in cafes and found his first team there in Myrtia Wolves.
“I realized when I started to understand the game more and started to play in some Spanish decent teams when I was around 17-18, in the LVP in Spain.” He explains.
Read more: The Future of SunPayus and valde in ENCE
In a region struggling to produce talent, SunPayus worked his way up with local teams like KPI and Wygers. In Wygers, he had great chemistry with his mentor André "BARBARR" Möller, who helped him refine as an AWPer.
“I learnt a lot from my Wygers coach, Barbarr, he is such a nice coach and person.”, SunPayus says of his climb in the early days, “And in Caronte/Iberian I learnt a lot about the T3-T2 scene, because I was doing the IGL role also, and I started to develop a lot of my gamesense/understanding of the game.”
Caronte was the next home for SunPayus, but his stay, however, was only temporary as the organization became strapped. It didn't stop the trio of Raúl "DeathZz" Jordán Nieto, David “dav1g” Granado Bermudo and SunPayus from marching forward under the name of Iberian Family. SunPayus’s rating surged from 1.07 in KPI to 1.10 in Wygers to 1.24 in Caronte to finally 1.26 in Iberian Family. His burgeoning form put him into the crosshairs of Movistar Riders who were looking to build an all-Spanish roster. As a result, the trio joined Alejandro “alex” Masanet and Alejandro "mopoz" Fernández-Quejo Cano in August of 2021.
Reaching new heights with Movistar
As fortuitous as it was for him to join the best Spanish team, it was still an onerous task to take over the AWP from Owen “Smooya” Butterfield’s capable hands, who, during his brief stint at Movistar recorded a meritorious 1.25 rating. Unlike many young individuals who struggle in their first months of joining a new team, this 22-year-old faced no such prejudice. In his first three events, he maintained a consistent 1.15 rating. In a conversation with HLTV, Movistar’s coach Galder “bladE” Barcena spoke highly of his young AWPer:
"SunPayus still has a lot to prove, but I could tell you that he’s the perfect player. The way he thinks in and out of the server, his attitude, his desire, the way he sees the world. He doesn’t overthink, he’s prepared to deal with any situation be it good or bad, he’s a fast learner and applies what he learns or if what he applies doesn’t work he tries something else… He’s open, he adapts quickly, he has talent, and he’s confident in himself. Counter-Strike is a mental game and his head is in the right place for it. He was destined to be a great player and if he keeps at it he will only get better."
The team chemistry also felt great. There was a strong connection on and off the server between the members. It was only a matter of time before the world discovered Movistar Riders. And as the Spaniards were looking for opportunities to prove themselves, they realized that they were staring down the barrel at their first tier one LAN event, IEM Fall.
A close call at IEM Fall 2021 Europe
From playing against tier 3 teams to being put in the ring to hold his own against top tier teams at his maiden LAN event — it was a tough row to hoe for the inexperienced AWPer. And when no one expected it, SunPayus emerged like a phoenix. The slew of upsets started with the BO1 against Complexity; where the Spaniards clutched the last 5 rounds out of 6 to win 16-14. Afterwards, Movistar defeated Sinners and Endpoint, before winning both tiebreakers to set up a match against NIP in the quarterfinals.
The Quarter-Finals started as a close affair on the first two maps with both teams narrowly taking a map off of each other; one ending with a 16-14 scoreline and the other ending in overtime. Unfortunately for them, the inexperienced team ran out of gas on Nuke.
"The biggest thing we learned from the best-of-three was that we needed to have some snacks and water to stay hydrated and keep our energy levels up.”, SunPayus told HLTV, “You could tell in that decider that the comms didn’t have the same energy. I noticed I was more tired, we all were, except maybe mopoz, who remained active." The decider map ended as a 16-5 demolition by the Ninjas.
The SunPayas phoenix takes flight
While their dream of lifting the trophy was dashed, they didn't stop there. In the 5th-8th place decider, they met Copenhagen Flames. Or should we say, the danes met a fiery SunPayus. The Spanish AWPer posted a 1.51 rating against the Danes, after going 31-10 on Copenhagen Flames’ pick of Ancient. The next victim to experience his wrath was G2. Following a nail-biter of a final map that ended 16-14 in the favor of MoviStar, the team cemented a fifth place finish at the event. In just a month, the new roster had heaved from 66 in the world ranking to 14th. SunPayus took home a stellar 1.14 average rating and heaps of positives from his first LAN experience.
However, as the honeymoon period seemed to come to an end, MoviStar fell off a notch. They finished last place at Blast Premiere Spring Showdown 2021, were eliminated in the Challenger Stage of PGL Major Stockholm 2021; after losing to Virtus.Pro, Entropiq and Heroic, and they failed to qualify for PGL Major Antwerp 2022; losing to Endpoint and Spirit in the EU RMR. However, the young star didn’t look at it as a setback. Instead he tried to take away every positive from his tier one experience and build on it for the future. When confronted about the losses by BLIX, he admitted they were more educational than the wins at IEM Fall.
“It felt really nice to play a T1 lan for the first time in my career, it helped me to get some experience against top teams in lans scenarios, but I got more areas that needed to be improved at the PGL Major mostly.” - he said.
Movistar goes missing
The next shot Movistar got at a tier one tournament was ESL Pro League Season 15; after overcoming Godsent, RBG and Anonymo in the ESL Pro League Season 15 Conference. The opening game against Godsent went swiftly, as the Brazilians fell on Mirage and Nuke. SunPayus didn’t show up. They took a huge stride next game against Players and they won once again but the star AWPer was still missing.
Much like what had been the case with Movistar before, they again went missing in the following events. In Blast Premiere Spring Showdown 2022, they were matched up against Astralis and failed to pose any resistance. In IEM Dallas, they finished last place after losses to Mouz and G2. At the Roobet Cup, they once again met Astralis and were once again humbled by the Danes.
Their misery finally saw an end at ESL Challenger Valencia 2022, where the Spaniards came on top. Led by Sunpayus, Movistar Riders made quick work of Hummer, Mibr and Sprout; landing in the finals against Outsiders. In the final, he went from strength to strength which was enough for Movistar to narrowly edge out the Russian team. It was evident from all these results that SunPayus held the key to success, and when he didn't show up, the team struggled.
On fire again at IEM Cologne 2022
Movistar blasted through the doors of IEM Cologne 2022 after dismantling MIBR and Vitality in the Play-Ins. The team that squared off Movistar Riders in the opening match was G2. Many fans who turned out for the match were expecting a quick and easy win for the international roster. However, what materialized in that stadium of Cologne shook everyone watching. The AWPer the crowd were witnessing wasn’t the same they had seen in Dallas. SunPayus was humiliating G2 as Movistar took both Vertigo and Inferno, leaving the spectators in shock. A K-D of 42-21 and a 1.88 rating from the man of the hour was evident of the carnage that had just taken place. SunPayus was breathing fire.
Next on the chopping block was Vitality. On Vitality’s map pick of Mirage, Movistar stomped — winning 16-4. The second map, however, gave them a taste of their own medicine as it was Vitality’s turn to win 16-3. Map three was Nuke, a strong suit of SunPayus where he has a 1.46 rating on the CT side to his name this year. And rightly so. He completely dismantled the offense of Vitality, going 13-5 in the first half. Movistar eventually came out on top, upsetting yet another top tier team.
When asked about how it felt facing big names, SunPayus said: “It doesn't go in my head at all, I mean, it is just another game for me, I just have to do what I practice everyday with my teammates, so I don't focus on names at all. I think it fuels me up a bit, because I wanna be proud of myself and my work, so if I am playing vs best players in the world, it means im doing something good.”
Despite losing to Natus Vincere in the following match, this story of playing spoiler with tier-1 teams didn’t cease for the Spanish team. Eventually falling finally to FaZe, who went on to win the event, they managed to knock Team Liquid off their perch to earn a 3-4th finish. An overall 1.16 rating made SunPayus the 11th best player at the event. He was the second best CT player, with a rating of 1.46 — surpassing even s1mple. It was clear that the hatchling SunPayus was a couple of years ago had now turned into a superstar AWPer, ready for the highest echelon of Counter-Strike.
Landing with ENCE
In the wake of Lotan “Spinx” Giladi’s departure to Vitality, ENCE signed SunPayus and Valdemar "valde" Vangså in order to compensate for the lost firepower. It came as a surprise to few when they benched Olek “hades” Miskiewicz in order to make room for their new AWPer.
The former ENCE AWPer was highly inconsistent with his performance. In big events especially, he would put a lot of pressure on himself which reflected in his statsheet. A 0.77 rating in PGL Major Stockholm 2022, a 0.9 rating in IEM Winter, a 0.96 rating in PGL Major Antwerp 2022, and a 0.84 rating in IEM Cologne 2022 illustrates his subpar results in important events.
Adding SunPayus to ENCE’s line up will definitely be an upgrade in terms of firepower. Another element that SunPayus brings to the team is his incredible understanding of the game. As mentioned previously, he had experience leading teams back in his early days. Even in Movistar, he helped alex with calls that even led them to wins. This can no doubt help Marco “Snappi” Pfeiffer in developing a loose structure with a lot of mid round calling.
In an interview with HLTV, Snappi spoke about how it opens up new avenues for the team. “Before we would often have an end goal within our defaults because we had multiple inexperienced players that wouldn’t communicate much or offer nades/ideas within the round. With that it is obviously harder to just 'play the round'. Now both SunPayus and valde are very vocal, so our playstyle will probably shift a bit more in a more 'free' direction with mid-round calling, without fully forgetting our explosiveness.”
He also spoke about how he will be able to unlock SunPayus’s true potential.
Another change that people might see with this new roster may be in the map pool. Inferno, a map ENCE hasn’t played since July 2021, has been one of the many strengths of SunPayus. His 1.31 rating powers him to the 5th spot in terms of best players on the map in 2022.
The jump to tier one is by no means an easy feat for any player. In contrast to a few events he played every year against the elite, it is going to be daily business for the youngster. However, he has proven, time and time, again that even in the most dire straits, he emerges like a phoenix. His riveting AWPing style will be put to test first at ESL Pro League Season 16, starting mid September.