There are lot of free agent teams in UK CS right now, with various contracts having expired and teams remaining in uncertain positions. We take a look at the two most notable right now, both competing in ESEA Advanced and for the top spots in UKIC Division 1: Ex-Raptors and Ex-Coalesce. While they lack originality in their naming conventions, they each have plenty of talent and enough idiosyncrasies to make them worth picking up.
Who would have expected the ESL Premiership champions to end up orgless? The international combine stunned Endpoint in the Grand Final at Insomnia, and backed up their victory with another LAN title at EPIC.40 last month. But it was announced prior to the latter event that, with their contracts at Raptors Esports Club expiring, they would explore their options.
Part of this comes down to the size of Raptors as an organisation. They only formed in 2022, and they lack big sponsorships. A team like the Ex-Raptors core are looking to take the step from competing in ESEA Advanced onto competing in larger tier two online events, and they played their first CCT Closed Qualifier this month – losing to Spirit Academy and Zero Tenacity. That means they require extra support – most notably salary – which an organisation like Raptors may struggle to afford in the current climate.
While under Raptors, the team made a number of roster changes, but have finally settled on a core that works. The main source of firepower is UK-based Bulgarian AWPer Slaven “AwaykeN” Lyubenov, formerly of OG Academy, backed by young rifles Marco “MMS” Salomone and Reegan “ReegaN” Ward. ReegaN came into the project with a reputation as a mercurial talent, with extremely good mechanics but in need of the right leadership to bring out his best. Enter Rasmus “zodi” Frolich and Dan “papp” Hart, IGL and coach respectively, who are the only two to remain from when the roster first signed with Raptors in autumn last year. Their fifth is veteran rifler Arkadiusz “ifan” Dabkowski, who joined from dripmen in the summer.
The roster is young – aside from ifan, no member is older than 20 – but have shown a ruthlessness in their domestic LAN appearances so far which, combined with their calm under pressure, belies their age. ReegaN was dominant at EPIC40, with a 1.39 average rating over the 4 maps Raptors needed to take down Make A Wish and K10, while AwaykeN produced a scoreboard-topping performance against both Verdant and Endpoint at ESL Premiership Autumn 2023. They currently sit in 2nd place in UKIC League Division 1, with a 4-1 record including a dominant 13-4 over rivals Verdant.
It’s not all plain sailing for the roster, unfortunately: a slow start in ESEA Advanced Season 47 has seen them slump to 0-5 in that league and scrambling to save a spot, a far cry from last season where they narrowly missed out on play-offs. They still remain a team with immense potential, and it would be a shame for them to miss out on a home for long.
The increasingly-misnamed Ex-Coalesce lineup has a new look after two rounds of roster changes. First they brought in Jamie “Tree” Callan over the summer to replace the departing Oscar “AZUWU” Bell, and they initially signed Tobias “shyyne” Sæther’s former Apeks Rebels team-mate Preben “Trax” Martinsen as fifth. Despite a runner-up finish in UKIC Summer Invitational, they opted to part ways with Trax after ESEA Advanced Season 46, and lost star player Oliver “leaf” Jackson, rumoured to be joining an academy project, shortly after.
In place of his long-term compatriot, IGL Ryan “dox” Young opted to stick with a mix of British and international talent. First came Zy “yz0″ Esponilla, a young talent formerly of the 7AM roster that flattered to deceive somewhat with occasional strong results but few deep finishes. Then the fifth came from a slightly unexpected source, former KRC Genk rifler Jacob “rezst” Hemming making his first foray into UKCS.
The team have actually outperformed ex-Raptors so far this season, topping UKIC Division 1 on round differential and securing a 3-2 record in ESEA Advanced – that record including a victory over Endpoint in the opening matchup. Tree has continued to turn heads as the young rifler has successfully jumped to Advanced, while dox and shyyne bring the benefits of their experience to an otherwise inexperienced roster. They also qualified for the Intel Tulpars Masters Reloaded UK Qualifier, having defeated Tree’s former K10 team-mates in the third open qualifier.
There are some issues with the team, but none of them are insurmountable. They have not played much outside of their league seasons, and are unlikely to get invites to tier two online cups like ex-Raptors. Having two international team-mates likewise will necessitate extra investment from orgs if they want to attend LANs, but equally organisations in the UK scene have funded that travel in the past. Signing this team would be a gamble rather than a proven investment, but their young stars have the potential to reach the very top.