PGL's Kraków Major is the second Counter-Strike: Global Offensive major of the year following the highly successful ELEAGUE Major held in Atlanta back in January, but the date is of particular importance to the Renegades.
Not since 2015 at ESL One Cologne has the team partaken in a "Major", where in Kuala Lumpur the all-Australian squad led by Chad "SPUNJ" Burchill had little trouble defeating a very young South-East Asian and Chinese scene to eventually qualify through to Germany.
>To say a lot has changed since their previous qualification is a serious understatement - no less than four roster changes, two coaches, four stand-ins and breaking the full Australian line-up for the first time to incorporate players from the European and North American regions.
And that's before we get to the Asian Minor, taking place in early June in Beijing, China.
From Australia to the World - Renegades Roster Changes
Following the departure of Nicholas "Peekay" Wise as coach and the introduction of Aleksandar "Kassad" Trifunović as the team coach - the team's first member from outside Australia - it became clear that acquiring talent from overseas was not out of the picture to improve results.
This was tested after the departure of captain Yaman "yam" Ergenekon and main AWP Rick "Rickeh" Mulholland. The Renegades used the services of little-known Swedish player Simon "atter" Atterstam over the coming weeks, with mixed results both offline at Dreamhack Las Vegas and online in the NA region. Combining with stand-ins ranging from coach Kassad to ex-Complexity Canadian Michael "Uber" Stapells, it was obvious the organisation was treading new ground.
Now though, led by Serbian export Nemanja "nexa" Isaković, new former Selfless AWP Noah "Nifty" Francis and with only two of the original Vox Eminor core remaining, the new-look Renegades will have to tough it out in one of the most competitive Asian qualification events ever. Given the form the now Australian-American-Serbian squad bring to Beijing, anything is possible.
The Evolution of the Asia-Pacific
Oh how times have changed.
While the Renegades have been busy with league play and events in North America, the Asian CS:GO scene has exploded. Now home to teams from the Middle East to Singapore and as far south as New Zealand, the Asia-Pacific and Oceanic scenes have seen an influx of investment and money from both sponsors and event organisers alike, sensing opportunity over the past four to six months. For comparison, TyLoo, the #1 Chinese team currently playing CS:GO, played in 17 events in the early era of the game in 2014 and 2015; in 2016 alone, the event total numbered 40, with many hosted within the Asia-Pacific area.
Events like the ESL ZEN League for South-East Asia & Oceania and the China Cup, which saw international invites from Sweden and Denmark play against top-tier Chinese teams, allow for local teams to experience offline competitive CS:GO against other international regions for the first time, and boy are they learning quickly. The region was tested to its limits with its first premier-level international tournament in January with the World Electronic Sports Games. Even though the Chinese teams did not stand on the podium at the end of the event, the experience gained from competing against tier one attendees cannot go unchecked.
The scene appeals even to international analysis talent, with South Korean venture MVP Project acquiring the services of former Source and 1.6 player Ronald "Rambo" Kim as team coach from the United States. The region can only further develop considering Valve's recent venture with Chinese publisher Perfect World Entertainment to develop CS:GO servers in the country - the sky truly is the limit for both China and the rest of the Asia-Pacific.
The Chinese Challengers - TyLoo & Flash
The talking point of this iteration of the Asia Minor will most certainly be the teams representing China - invite team TyLoo and rising qualifier Flash Gaming. Many were sceptical of TyLoo's decision to cut their squad over contract negotiations and supposed undiscussed transfers to other teams, which effectively to many, divided the Chinese competitive scene across three teams instead of one or two "super-teams".
However, having since acquired the services of Indonesian superstar Hansel "BnTeT" Ferdinand, TyLoo have looked nigh unstoppable in China. The squad has lost just two maps in their past 30 matches against the best China can throw at them, an absolutely dominant record in the region. Despite failing to win a map at Starladder i-League Season 3 in Kiev, they took IEM Sydney champions SK Gaming and an ever-threatening Gambit Gaming to the distance, proving TyLoo can remain competitive against world-class teams.
Flash Gaming, on the other hand, are the next exciting prospect of the region. Similar to Danish powerhouse Astralis, the organisation is partially player owned and consists of two of the former TyLoo core and coach Qi Fang "Karsa" Su. Along with former MVP Karnal and JYP Gaming Malaysian Andrew "kaze" Khong and previously Vici Gaming's Kunhua "LOVEYY" Bai, Flash stomped their way through the Chinese qualifier for the spot in Beijing, winning comfortably over a highly-respected Vici Gaming in the final series.
Not much of Flash has been seen to date, but with their qualifier record at 6-2 in maps and boasting international experience from the former TyLoo core, they will most certainly be at their peak at the minor and will be as hungry as anyone for a qualification spot.
Oceanic Redemption - Team Immunity
IEM Sydney simply added more fuel to the roaring inferno that is Oceanic CS:GO over the previous months. Previously always in the shadow of League of Legends, CS:GO now sits fairly comfortably at the helm of esports in Oceania thanks to organisers such as Electronic Sports League (ESL) and the Australian Esports Media Group (AEMG), with other event organisers no doubt considering a trip down under.
And while the Renegades disappointed at Sydney despite the event being the first offline LAN the new line-up has attended, it was Australian minnows Chiefs eSports Club who picked up the mantle, upsetting tier one Danish team North and putting Australia firmly on the map. With IEM Sydney a major success on all fronts, and with events in the region tripling in number and prize pool, the opportunity now exists for success at esports in an area of the world so far away from its neighbours.
Team Immunity overcame the Chiefs to qualify for the Asia Minor, despite a late roster change that saw previous in-game leader James "JAMES" Quinn step down in the lead up to the Oceanic qualifiers. Consisting of former Athletico and Tainted Minds player now stand-in Travis "wizard" Richardson, long-time Immunity member Cal "bURNRUOk" Henderson, scene veteran Mohammed "MoeyCQ" Tizani, young Kiwi gun AWP Sean "Gratisfaction" Kawai and Mongolian expat Erka "erkaSt" Gantulga, they'll have their work cut out for them but are looking to replicate the organisation's efforts in 2015 to make the major for the second time.
The SEA Approaches - The MongolZ, Spotnet, Signature, 7642
Mongolian star Enkhtaivan 'Machinegun' Lkhagva's spent much of the back end of 2016 with North American team SPLYCE, whose combined 5 players from differing regions unfortunately had a mediocre season. His return to The MongolZ in East Asia has seen his in-game rating return to that of old, and alongside a majority of his original team, threaten to cause upsets in the grand scheme of the minor. As do the two Thai squads Signature Gaming and 7642, who entered the scene and defeated the very favoured and experienced JYP Gaming and B.O.O.T in clean fashion.
Finally, Team Spotnet. The Middle Eastern qualifier saw long-time Middle East champions Risky Gaming take on the Lebanese and Jordanian core that won out in three maps. A brilliant showing by Spotnet got them to the minor, with their only map loss in the region coming in the qualifying final against Risky since the inception of this squad. Expectations will be low, as with the Thai squads - but with thousands watching, the chance for investment will grow, and with any luck more opportunities will rise for talent in the region to compete at the highest levels.
With their years of international experience and inter-regional competition, as well as their decent results against the top-tier North American teams, the Renegades are expected to qualify through to the Major Qualifiers to take place in late June. However, don't assume for a moment that the region will let the Renegades return to the States for free; the competition will be at its toughest. The Asia Minor - June 1-4, Beijing, China.
Written by Nicholas "Taffy" Taifalos