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IEM Katowice - The Oceanic Closed Qualifier The Boys Are Back in Town  The Intel Extreme Masters Major in Katowice, Poland in early 2019 is already shaping up to be the biggest major in recent memory. Aside from the regular drawcards of a $1 million USD prize pool, in-game recognition in the form of player/team signatures and ESL’s prestige in event production and support for attending teams & fans, the path to the championship has changed somewhat.  The bottom two Challenger teams from the previous FACEIT London Major will drop back to their respective regions closed qualifiers, with those two spots for the next New Challengers stage to consist of the “best of the rest” - the third-place runner-ups from each region’s Minor will enter a Play In event, done in an effort to ensure the top teams from the Minors regardless of region attend the major. With this, each regional Minor will also drop any returning Challenger side to their region’s Minor Closed Qualifier.  For the Renegades, this means an extra step to return to major glory; instead of an Asia Minor appearance, the boys have returned to Australia to compete for the Minor Qualifier against the best OCE can muster, with the top two teams in the region winning a ticket to ESL Arena in late January for the Asia Minor.  Some believe this OCE qualifier a massive mismatch. RNG’s online form in the North American region has exceeded all expectations for the squad with early qualifications in both the ESL Pro League and FACEIT’s ECS. There is still much to be desired offline for RNG but with only two LANs attended as a squad, and one without coach Aleksandar “kassad” Trifunovic, hopes are high for this iteration of the Renegades to break new ground after more than three years in the esport.  The Oceanic region, on the other hand, was thrown into minor chaos with the departure of RNG’s newest in Jay “liazz” Tregillgas & Sean “Gratisfaction” Kaiwai and the arrival of ex-RNG’s Karlo “USTILO” Pivac to Tainted Minds. The fairly-set top four in the region in TM, ORDER, Grayhound Gaming and Chiefs traded events as they came to grips with their new rosters.  However, OCE continues to surprise when given the opportunity to, especially on home soil. While RNG’s slogfest on stage against Mousesports remains one of the best highlights of IEM Sydney 2018 for Oceanic fans of the game, few can forget RNG’s compatriots in Grayhound eliminating SK Gaming and ORDER going the distance against major winners Cloud 9. OCE’s next best have proven the occasional result against the highest of tiers and, if given an inch this weekend, could very well secure and push for a strong result in January’s Asia Minor.  - - -  With RNG heavily favoured to take out the top spot this weekend, a tantalisingly close battle for second is expected between the next-best in the region - Grayhound, ORDER and TM. All three sides have a similar record over the past two months since the last OCE roster shuffle which included Liazz, Gratisfaction and USTILO.  Gratisfaction’s departure from Grayhound did little to slow the team, with newest pickup Euan “sterling” Moore hitting the ground running with an impressive 1.22 rating (+219 K/D) in GHs 29-10 record with their new lineup. Of their 33 maps, 22 were played against another top 4 OCE team (including GH, ORDER, TM & Chiefs), the most of any other team, with a decent 12-10 record. GH suffered a rough defeat against Chiefs at the ESL ANZ Championship last weekend, despite defeating the same team in the finals of Australia’s ESEA Premier Division to take out the title.  ORDER have a similar record with their newest in Charlie “zeph” Dodd - 26-12 in matches but fewer against the top sides as GH. Zeph’s 1.02 rating (-2 K/D) includes some outstanding solo performances but he has struggled to fill Liazz’s shoes in the bigger matches as of yet. In ORDER’s 15 maps against the top sides, their 8-7 record also comes with qualification to the ESL Pro League finals in Odense, but a shock loss to Paradox Gaming eliminated the side from the ESEA Premier finals, casting quite a question mark over the squad just a week out from this qualifier.  On paper, Tainted Minds have the juiciest lineup of the lot - four players with experience in North America, arguably the best player in the region in Simon “sico” Williams and an ex-Renegade in USTILO. And yet, TM are yet to thrill with their results - just 13-8 with their new lineup and 4-8 against the other top 3. The potential of this lineup is incredible, and with time, we’re sure to see TM return to the winners circle - the question is whether this weekend’s qualifier will be too soon for the green and pink.  Each of the remaining 4 teams in the qualifier - Legacy, madlikewizards, Breakaway Esports and Trident - present a reason to be a dark horse out to disrupt the plans of the expected top four. Of these teams, eyes are on madlikewizards and star player Michael “chelleos” Hawkins, whose 1.37 rating (+336 K/D) is miles ahead of the next best from the region and is outstanding on a team with very little in form against these top four squads.  - - - The Renegades begin their Katowice campaign against Breakaway Esports this Sunday at 10am AEST (11am AEDT, 7pm EDT). An extra life is available for all teams with the event running double-elimination and while OCE’s ferocity cannot be questioned, the expectation for the RNG boys is straight through the winners. Written by Nicholas “Taffy” Taifalos @TaffyAU on Twitter

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