The first international foray into Oceanic Counter-Strike: Global Offensive by event organiser & producer ESL came back in October 2015 with the ESL Crown Invitational.
With just AU$55,000 and change on the line, and only two international teams in attendance, there were significant worries that the event would not capture enough attention from both local fans and online viewers in the more dominant timezones of Europe and the Americas to warrant a return to the region in a major capacity for an offline event.
Enter, IEM Sydney – ESL’s second stop for the year in their CS:GO calendar, and this time a far more lucrative US$200,000 prize pool, with international invites tripled and an open qualifier for both Asia and Oceania teams to assist in development in their respective scenes. Tickets for the event have sold faster than even European events of a similar calibre and with an all-star broadcast planned, the event should not only be an entertaining week for fans & players, but will also act as a spotlight upon the ever-growing and active Asia-Pacific CS:GO scene.
8 teams will go head-to-head in the Swiss stage bracket before the emerging top 4 take to the stage at the Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney, playing to a crowd set to exceed 20,000. We’ll look at each team, their form coming in to this event, and what it will take for them to make it to glory in Sydney this week.
Astralis – The Benchmark
Led by Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander, the Danish super team has begun 2017 in stellar fashion, taking home the goods in the first major of the year at Atlanta, then sweeping through IEM Katowice in comfortable fashion. Dropping only one map in the finals for Katowice against world-class teams Natus Vincere, Heroic and FaZe Clan, Astralis are out for blood in Sydney. Given their record both offline over the first quarter as well as their ESL Pro League 4th place position with one week remaining in the league, they are undoubtedly the favourites going into the event. Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz is widely considered to be the most consistent he’s been in his career, and with many of Astralis’ European opposition not in attendance, IEM Sydney should act as solidification for the current number one team.
FaZe Clan – The Able Competitor
The rivalry between the current top two teams on the globe gets tighter and tighter as FaZe Clan’s honeymoon period with their newest member Nikola “NiKo” Kovač seems to have no end. FaZe was just one of two teams able to knock Astralis off an offline victory so far in 2017, with both recent meetings between the two sides going the distance in maps. Online, FaZe shines even brighter with an incredibly impressive 14 wins from their past 16 maps in the top-flight leagues in Europe. Finn “karrigan” Andersen’s addition to the squad also must not go unchecked, as the Danish leader will look to eclipse Astralis over the coming months leading up to the next CS:GO major in July. Expect FaZe to be on the stage on Saturday, with a finals berth very likely.
North – The Dark Horse
To leave North out of an equation for a grand final is prediction suicide. Mathias “MSL” Lauridsen’s team’s improvement since forming in January has been beyond noticeable. Finishing their run in the ELEAGUE Major in the top 8 and guaranteeing their next major spot was the target of the former Dignitas squad, and with Philip “aizy” Aistrup firing on all cylinders since joining the squad, they silently rose to the top spot in the ESL Pro League across the past two months. They sit just outside the top five but a solid event here against some staunch opposition should see them as a major threat heading into July’s PGL major.
OpTic Gaming – America’s Hope
It has been quite a rollercoaster for the North American squad over the past month, who come into Sydney on the cusp of potential elimination from the ESL Pro League finals for the first time, but also off the back of a surprise 3rd place at cs_summit. Outside of SK Gaming, they represent the Americas here and without current stand-in leader Jason “jasonR” Ruchelski, questions have been raised as to whether OpTic can go against the European heavyweights as they have done before. However, they’ve been in similar positions before, and it’ll come down to a high standard of teamwork and co-ordination that they have posted before against teams they were not favoured against to make it to Saturday’s semi-final.
SK Gaming – Ever a Threat
They aren’t quite the monster that they were in mid-2016, but Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo’s Brazilian super-squad continually show they threaten to return to the devastating form that saw them win two majors in the one year. The loss of Lincoln “fnx” Lau saw a slight drop in form but the victory at cs_summit over Gambit Gaming saw off American teams that looked to challenge them as the number one team in the region. The cs_summit victory coupled with their strong online showing sees SK a great chance at making the semi-finals, but the question for the Brazilians is whether they’ll be good enough to overcome the top two in Astralis and FaZe.
Renegades – Fan Favourites
Five Australians no more, but don’t doubt for a second that Aussie fans have abandoned the team. Now led by Serbian talent Nemanja “nexa” Isaković and picking up former Selfless AWPer Noah “Nifty” Francis, the remnants of Australia’s early major hope Vox Eminor remain strong, as Justin “jks” Savage, Aaron “AZR” Ward and Karlo “USTILO” Pivac consolidate their team’s strength in the North American scene. Only finalising their roster a fortnight ago, the Renegades have shown to be a tough opponent taking maps off SK online. However, their offline results leave much to be desired; a disappointing showing at DreamHack Las Vegas and the ELEAGUE Major Qualifiers left a sour taste in the team, leading to many roster iterations and a new coach. Still relatively untested, the Renegades line-up will likely need to overcome OpTic, SK or North if they wish to make it to Saturday.
Vici Gaming – Beasts from the East
For a long time, Vici Gaming (formerly VG.CyberZen) lived in the shadow of China’s top CS:GO team TyLoo. Now though, picking up an on-fire talent in WingHei “Freeman” Cheung and sticking by in-game leader Zhuo “advent” Liang and main AWP Weijie “zhokiNg” Zhong, they overcame a newly formed and spirited TyLoo to qualify for the event. Previously taking maps off region leaders Renegades and upsetting Virtus Pro at StarLadder i-League Season 2 finals, Vici could be an outside chance at pulling off upsets against even OpTic; however, it’ll take a monumental effort from the Chinese five to make it past Thursday’s Swiss finals to the main stage on the weekend.
Chiefs eSports Club – The Local Heroes
If there’s anything Tyler “tucks” Reilly and Australian local qualifier Chiefs have going for them, it’s the crowd. Renegades are most certainly the fan favourites and surely have the best chance to make the main stage, but everyone loves an underdog story. Defeating Tainted Minds to qualify, they are undoubtedly the best team Oceania can post outside of North American exports Renegades & Winterfox. It’s a whole new ball game for the Australian team here in Sydney, with a first-round matchup against world number one Astralis. If they manage the miraculous, they’ll need the momentum to carry them through an unlikely finals qualification but nonetheless the best experience they could get this close to home in their quest for CS:GO success.
Written by Nicholas “Taffy” Taifalos