IEM Sydney 2018 - Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!
Crikey, what a week.
IEM Sydney 2018 was the second iteration of a venture into the Oceanic region by ESL for CS:GO on a major scale, with 2017’s event at Qudos Bank Arena deemed a massive success. Regardless of the success, it seemed impossible that this year’s return to Olympic Park could ever live up to the expectation and hype that Sydney gave at the inaugural event last year.
IEM Sydney 2018 didn’t just top 2017 - it blew it out of the water and then some.
Six huge days of CS:GO saw titans fall, underdogs emerge and the improbable come to life. From day one right through to the final round, no team was safe and no predictions would be guaranteed, culminating in a final stage that had fans salivating from their seats - whether that be at home or in the arena.
For the Renegades, a repeat of last year’s efforts would be unacceptable. Winning an event is always the target of any team, but the real dream for the boys would be to play for the close to 10000-strong Aussie fans on stage. A showmatch didn’t satisfy Aaron “AZR” Ward, Justin “jks” Savage and Karlo “USTILO” Pivac’s drive to play for the crowd, so any opportunity to hit the stage competitively would be jumped upon immediately.
How about an opportunity as soon as day one of the group stage?
After a spirited twenty five rounds from late call-up Legacy, the Renegades were warmed up but would need to overcome the European superstars FaZe Clan to claim the first spot on the stage. FaZe weren’t at their best of recent but they would improve with time as new in-game leader Xizt was only just beginning to gel with his new team.
Nevertheless, a 0-5 record against FaZe had even the most hopeful Renegades fan struggling to find a way for the boys to win with many already writing them off to the lower bracket, especially when FaZe opted for Overpass as their pick - a map RNG had barely touched.
The series would begin on RNG’s Train pick, and after a USTILO pistol 4k it went south. FaZe put on a 10-1 run on CT, with the boys picking up the slack at the end of the half to make a respectable but still disappointing 5-round T side.
The Renegades had made comebacks on the map before, as recently as last fortnight’s Pro League match against SK no less, but on LAN they’d need something special after the pistol win. Enter the AWPing prowess of Justin Savage, who since NAF’s stint in the maroon and gold had fallen into a secondary AWP role, particularly on Train.
USTILO’s 24-frag performance got the boys back within striking distance but it was jks’ 13 AWP kills including a 3-1 first pick against GuardiaN, as well as a 1v2 to lock down map point. RNG capitalised, putting on a massive 11-2 CT half as jks led the boys to a Train comeback 16-13.
USTILO kept his form on Overpass as RNG looked the goods early on but FaZe worked out RNG’s CT hold, and the boys struggled to adjust to FaZe’s new site hits. From 6-1 down the Europeans wanted map three, grinding back the half with five straight rounds before jks turned on the jets for a 9-6 half lead thanks to his 1v4, including 3 on the retake.
Another pistol round to RNG shot them to 12-6 but their T side was lacking, mainly due to the lack of preparation on the map. GuardiaN stepped up on the CT side with some impressive B site AWP holds as RNG could only break CT economy once. They can be proud of a 13-16 loss though, with many signs pointing towards a decent sleeper pick with some more preparation.
Inferno would be map 3, and Joakim “jkaem” Myrbostad kicked off proceedings with a nice T side 3k. FaZe looked lethargic across both bombsites with GuardiaN’s AWP the only thing keeping it competitive as RNG blasted to a 7-0 T side lead in very little time, including 5 bomb plants. FaZe eventually got on the board with a close couple of defuses, but the losses mounted and kills every round meant FaZe cash was kept low. The Europeans recovered well to manage six CT rounds but momentum was with the Renegades.
FaZe took their first pistol of the series and began the map recovery, with both sides trading gun rounds and keeping each other’s economy modest but eventually it fell apart for RNG. FaZe found their opening through NiKo and GuardiaN’s double AWP and strung on the rounds to take it the distance before RNG finally broke through to force overtime.
Grit and determination don’t begin to describe FaZe and the Renegades in overtime - both teams threw everything they had at each other. An absolutely phenomenal triple OT followed with each team having an opportunity to clinch the map and series, but just as one side looked to overwhelm, the other hit back. AZR had carried RNG in regulation but USTILO’s individual performance in overtime, often playing from pit on CT, was the key to the Renegades keeping up and eventually on double match point.
At 24-22, RNG switched up and went for a fast T hit onto B. With 2 match points it was worth the risk but ultimately it was up to jks in a 1v2 to prevent OT4. He did, in a perfectly played AWP/AK clutch to wrap up an exhausting 4 hour series to guarantee top two in the group and a stage appearance - a dream come true, particularly for the Aussies.
- - -
Friday May 4, 6:30pm, Qudos Bank Arena. The Renegades entered their quarter-final matchup against Mousesports to rapturous applause and cheering. A majority-Aussie team for an Aussie crowd on stage meant that Mouz immediately were the enemy and were treated as such.
The enemy struck first - perhaps it was nerves on RNG’s part but despite the overwhelming noise of the audience Mouz were ready to play, firing to a 7-0 start on CT Mirage before RNG opened their on-stage account. Mirage was short-lived, as the crowd were all but silenced following a 16-7 demolition.
Inferno would be RNG’s proving ground once more, but Mouz only had eyes for a semi-final berth. RNG’s T side against FaZe looked great but Mouz had plenty of content from that triple-OT marathon to utilize, and they were looking like wiping the Renegades’ chances after an 11-4 CT half.
So began yet another climb back for the Renegades, all too used to a second half recovery. After yet another pistol round win, RNG were pushing to be back in it, and at 9-11 AZR’s 3k site hold made it look like a map win on the stage was possible. RNG needed more though - oskar’s AWP finally waking up on the T side threatened to spell doom as Mouz hit 13-10.
Noah “Nifty” Francis has had some pretty special moments in esports but what would come would have to top anything he’d experienced to date. The whole RNG outfit were firing but it wasn’t looking like enough until Nifty went NUCLEAR.
Nifty wanted nothing more than to have his Aussie teammates experience a winning feeling on that stage in front of that crowd, and with a little help he dragged RNG out of the doldrums and into yet another OT as he and USTILO wrapped a 2v3 to thunderous applause.
There had never been a more one-sided audience but Mousesports’ resilience was credible; with the crowd cheering every single moment that went RNG’s way, and booing anything Mouz did, the Europeans held strong against insurmountable odds.
But try and try as they might, no one was feeding off of the atmosphere of the moment than Nifty. A 4k to kick off OT2, a mid pick almost every round, then this in OT3 - the crowd went absolutely bonkers as Nifty approached 50 kills.
Finally RNG broke the 2-1, 1-2 OT lock to take all 3 CT rounds, but they were once again stopped twice in succession by the ever-formidable Mouz. Their chance came in OT3, and it was once again Nifty with this - a full-flashed entry onto second AWP chrisJ, before back-to-back kills in the 3v3 retake eventually wrapping up the map 25-23.
The stats spoke for themselves; in a 68-round map Nifty finished with 51-28, 98ADR, 43 AWP kills and a record-breaking 1.56 rating for a 60+ round map, including a cataclysmic 43-5 KDR in rounds won, including 3 4k’s.
Now close to 4 hours in, the series still had a third map on Train. The loss did little to break Mousesports - with everything against them they held for yet another 5-0 start on the T side before a double break by RNG, jkaem and AZR leading the way. AZR was instrumental as RNG developed a strategy to halt the Mouz execute while jks’ AWP once again rattled away on B.
The boys held a narrow 8-7 lead before Mouz took the CT pistol. RNG’s T side economy kept strong with 3 bomb plants from the following 4 rounds, eventually resulting in a break following a nice T split at 8-12. With Mouz’s money broken RNG turned the match, guaranteeing economy advantage with another 2 from 4 plants.
Mouz were winning the gun rounds but an immediate break meant they couldn’t afford the upgraded weapons for the next one to two rounds; it was a matter of whether RNG had left the recovery too late. They hadn’t - a bomb plant at 14-14 was held and the boys held map and series point.
Mouz found multiple picks and RNG were forced to execute towards B with a player disadvantage. In the 2v4 with jkaem, jks went huge finding three kills but in a frenzy peeked for the fourth, and suNny held his nerve to find both jks and jkaem to AGAIN force OT.
Their chance lost, RNG faltered. They had spent all of their energy on holding the map in regulation and Mousesports were totally still and stoic in the way they held onto the match. A calm and collective chrisJ and ropz took control of OT, taking three straight before Oskar’s AWP rang out in the map point.
It was too much for RNG, going down in over four hours to Mousesports 15-19 in map three. A loss, sure, but this series along with the FaZe victory in groups will go down in the memories of the fans as arguably their best played series with this lineup.
- - -
There was no better place for the Renegades to pull off such an incredible performance, but to overlook the other local talent in attendance would be folly. TyLoo took down SK and Cloud 9 to make the stage and finished one better, dropping to eventual champions FaZe. Grayhound Gaming are the talk of the town after recovering from a sloppy day one to eliminate Brazilian legends SK Gaming, before also taking a map off of FaZe.
Even the EU giants themselves; written off after a their shock loss to RNG, FaZe improved over the course of the event to find themselves claiming the tournament win 3-0 over arguably the most consistent team Astralis. The records will reflect a 3-0 but with all three maps holding a two-round margin, it was hardly a whitewash.
From the hospitality to the die-hard fans, from the casting talent to the playing talent - IEM Sydney 2018 was an insane experience for any and all involved, and many of us are eagerly awaiting the next installment. Thank you Sydney, thank you Australia - we’ll be back!
Written by Nicholas “Taffy” Taifalos