The Road to the Katowice Major continues for the Renegades this week at the Asia Minor Qualifier and to help preview the action we caught up with RNG veteran Justin “jks” Savage to talk 2018, his bonkers performance in Denmark at the ESL Pro League Finals & the first CS:GO major for 2019.
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The ever-heated discussion for “Australia’s best CS:GO player” seemingly knows no end. Many lists will focus a little more on the developed domestic scene - the charisma of DickStacy, the potency of Sico, the youth of Chelleos, the tactical prowess of Dexter.
Many will include the first solo pioneers of the country - Rickeh, in his time since his tenure at RNG, has played for CLG, Rogue and now compLexity in the North American region. More recently, former RNG IGL Yam took a spot in Europe to compete with the Turkish players on ex-Space Soldiers.
Either way, if your list skips out on Justin “jks” Savage you’re dreamin’.
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2019 marks the fifth year in the Renegades for the Aussie veteran and in that time he has established himself as a very capable teammate & an incredibly consistent force in his new home in North America. To him though, “Australia’s best player” was just a ripple in a much larger pond.
“I don’t feel pressure if I’m considered the best player in Australia, but personally I’d rather be one of the best players in the world. Back in the day my goal was to be the best in Australia for sure, but I’ve been past that point for a while now – I definitely want to be one of the best in the world and to be internationally noticed.”
Indeed, he did just that at the Renegades’ final event of 2018 in Odense for the ESL Pro League Season 8 Finals. In undoubtedly his best performance in a big event jks demolished any and all in his path carving a 1.35 rating at the event, far ahead of next-best NAF (1.31) and the event MVP device (1.26), while also topping statistics for kill differential, damage per round and total kills.
“I was just really comfortable. Once you have a few good opening games you just gain confidence. I was getting into the routine of warming up, then I go to play and I’m confident because I had a good game the day before, and I know everyone else was playing well, so it just made everything better.
“I had some issues mostly outside of the game affecting me leading up to [ESL Pro League Finals], so I basically went into the event with a different mentality and attitude compared to how I would normally. It's something I'm trying to build and improve upon and carry on into the tournaments coming up, and our sports psychologist has been helping me a lot with that.
“Most of us spoke and agreed that we would give it our all because it was the end of the year before we went on holidays – it wasn’t like we had another three tournaments before the break so we just put in all the energy and motivation that we had.”
Practice had been hard to come by in the lead-up to the event for RNG; between completing online league matches for EPL and ECS, heading to Sydney for the Asia Minor Closed Qualifier, then finally to Bangkok for the Toyota Masters event in Thailand, RNG had little time to catch their breath to prepare properly.
“Our practice really was just the actual tournament matches at the Closed Qualifier in Australia, then the actual tournament matches in Thailand. Then came the Germany boot camp for 4-5 days – that was great, we tried to fit in as many games as possible against EU teams because we missed so many days & weeks of practice at these other tournaments.”
A proponent for RNG’s playoff performance in Odense, and particularly for jks, was the comfort and accessibility provided by organiser ESL, both providing in the server and for the players during downtime.
“As a team our performance was really good, I mean we made playoffs, we were all playing well individually. We were all really confident, we had a game plan going into each game. It was also an ESL tournament, everything was sorted for us; the tables, the PCs, the rooms – everything was perfect, which definitely helped.
“For myself, there seems to be a kind of a trend – before I go home I seem to have really good tournaments. I guess I was really excited to go home for the break.”
The timing of the player break has been a source of controversy in the past, with many players feeling that it would make more sense competitively to cap off the “season” with the Major rather than starting anew fresh off the break. For jks and RNG, it’s even more difficult to follow up from the player break given their time away from one another.
“Before it went the Minor, the break, then the Major. At least this time the break is before the Minors so it’s not as bad as before but especially for us back then when we had a European, an American and us Australians it was absolutely impossible to do any practice without a bootcamp.
“At the end of the day, we spend so much of our time away from home because it’s so far away that we’d rather not spend that time practicing, whereas other teams in Europe and America can just head home and still practice together.”
“Obviously it’s the sacrifice we have to make but at the same time if we want to play competitively, that’s how we have to do it.”
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2018 was certainly a year of ups and downs, from wins at StarSeries and the Asia Minor with NAF to the failed runs at the Boston & London Majors, to opting to return to their roots and bring in Oceanic blood in Jay “Liazz” Tregillgas and Sean “Gratisfaction” Kaiwai in September.
Most notably though was the fluctuations in jks’ individual performance and attitude differences between the start of the year with former IGL Nifty and star NAF, and the current lineup with Liazz, Grat and Joakim “jkaem” Myrbostad.
“Over time Keith [NAF] took upon the star role on each map, he would play the positions where you had the most room to get the kills and close out the round, which is something that I had done for 2-3 years, so I had to give up these positions.
“But I was fine with that – it was tough and challenging because it was something I wasn’t used to, but Keith was really good at getting the job done in those positions as well, so it was for the good of the team.
“Now with Jay [Liazz] and Sean [Gratisfaction] I’ve gone back to playing some of those old roles. It’s not the same as it normally was before NAF – I feel like I have a lot more freedom this time around, more chances to be more aggressive if I wanted to, which helped a lot [in Odense].
“Keith was young but a lot more experienced, he had played a lot of matches and had a few event wins under his belt [before he joined RNG], whereas Jay and Sean had a lot less experience when they first joined up.
“It was a lot harder to tell Keith what to do because he had his own ideas around how he wants to play, whereas Jay and Sean, they’re coming into what I think is a big opportunity for them, they have the mentality to do whatever the team needs to see the team winning. They’re always willing to learn – it’s a little easier to mould them into the players that we need them to be.”
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The Renegades are chasing their fourth straight Asia Minor title in Katowice. With TyLoo already through to the Challenger stage following their run in London, and with a potential three spots for Asia up for grabs, jks is looking forward to the chance of a second Oceanic roster at a Major since RNG and Team Immunity in 2015 in the form of Grayhound Gaming.
“I hope it's Grayhound. It’ll be really good to have two AUS teams at the Major again. I think MVP PK should be there too – I don’t follow them too much but they’ve been at a few big tournaments and they’ve had some decent results. It’s kind of hard to tell between MVP PK and CyberZen or Vici, it can really come down to who plays better on the day.”
RNG will open their Asia Minor affair against the Middle Eastern qualifier Aequus Club. Hailing from Israel the team is as much of an enigma as one can be at such an event, but jks isn’t fazed at the chance of another upset - so long as RNG can focus on their own game.
“It’s sometimes hard to get information on [some Asia Minor teams] – at most we’d get positions that they’d play and even then that’s not always accurate when compared to a more fortified team like, say, Mousesports.
“Putting aim, knowledge and experience together we should be the better team when we play our own game right. We don’t see it as underestimating them, it’s more about confidence in that we’re the better team because we have more experience.
“The other teams at the Minor are good teams – obviously we lost to Grayhound [at the Minor Closed Qualifier] and CyberZen [at StarSeries i-League 6] in the best-of-one – it doesn’t play too much into thinking about that as long as we’re confident in ourselves.”
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At 23 jks is very much in his prime, but it doesn’t stop the occasional thought about what comes next for the bright Aussie star. Taking it year by year, the focus is more about personal satisfaction through competing at the very top while having fun.
“It’s a little bit different for me, I have to live away from home and sacrifice time with my family and friends. Every 6 months I’d come home and so many things have changed and everything has just passed by. It sounds grim but that’s the way I see it. At the same time though I love winning and playing CS is really fun, especially playing and winning matches on stages, let alone just playing in front of a big crowd.
“It’s definitely not something you get to experience anywhere else, an opportunity you never really get, but at the same time it’s a feeling that I don’t think I’d be able to ever replace if I quit. As long as I’m having fun and I’m always improving for myself and with the team at every event, then that’s all I’d need to keep playing.”
The Renegades begin their Katowice campaign on Tuesday night AEST against Aequus Club. You can catch their opening match live on ESL’s Twitch channel, and keep up to date on the Asia Minor event page on HLTV.
Article & Interview by Nicholas “Taffy” Taifalos
@TaffyAU on Twitter