Post IEM Sydney: Considering the Chiefs and Australian Counter-Strike

Where does Australia stand amongst the CS world?

Throughout 2014 and 2015, Vox Eminor (now Renegades) were Australian CS’s fully realised potential at the time and were given enough opportunity to break into international competition. They successfully did what no Australian CS:GO team had done before, and what only a couple of team has done since – successfully transcend domestic play.

Outside of Renegades, the overall pattern of Australian mediocrity abroad did not instil hope for Chiefs heading into IEM Sydney. Even what might be a super-team of Australia’s hottest talent on-paper couldn’t contest with the established names, and more importantly, established systems that the European’s and North American’s brought  in and out-of-game.

Chiefs however, did what analysts and pundits (myself included) thought impossible, successfully beat two international teams on domestic soil – Renegades and North.

Although these two wins were more-or-less inconsequential in the scheme of international play, within the scope of Australian competition, they provide invaluable insight to the infamously speculation-based and uncertain question of ‘where does Australia stand amongst the CS world?’.

It’s easy, especially given the North game, to look at the Chiefs performance at IEM Sydney and get carried away, or at the very least look back unduly on their run through the rose-tinted glasses of Australian hindsight. The upset also can get people, fans of Chiefs especially, carried away with the scope of the wins and unfairly compare and extrapolate the results to other regions.

It’s therefore worth establishing the context of their victories, the actualities of where the scene stand following the upsets, and what they actually mean overall.

One of the more interesting elements of their run in Sydney was the convincing win over Renegades. A 16-5 scoreline, on one of Renegades stronger maps in Train immediately gives the long sought after evidence to assert that Chiefs are the best team of Australians, rather than the best team in Australia. The implication from that notion, is then that the Chiefs should be the one in America, as opposed to Renegades.

These opinions are largely based on the pedigree of Renegades as an organisation, rather than the actual form with the current line-up. The Renegades we saw at Sydney is not the same Renegades we saw beating up North America throughout 2016. This is an entirely different entity that is significantly weaker – in the moment at least – than almost any other Renegades roster we’ve seen before.

IEM Sydney was their first LAN together, and marked some of their first matches without their coach – Kassad – being able to assist young IGL nexa in communication with the rest of the side. Their map pool is largely based on performances with their all-Australian roster from before, as opposed to working around the two new additions. On top of this, they are currently in the process of completely changing their style to a more methodical, passive approach.

These key points led to a Renegades clearly uncertain, uncomfortable, and confused with how to approach not only their own game, but the confidence fuelled style of Chiefs.

This is in complete contrast to the Chiefs who have the longest surviving four-man core currently in Australia, had a two week bootcamp leading up to the event, and are playing at one of the highest peaks of form we’ve seen from an Australia side in history. They boast a clearly defined, well-practiced approach to the game, highly tested map pool, and reduced (but definitely present) pressure playing as the underdogs.

These two forces are diametrically opposed in nearly every aspect and should be considered thoroughly before making any direct comparisons or constructing unfair narratives.

To really make the argument that Chiefs are the team of Australians that should be in America over Renegades, we have to at least give Renegades a chance to prove their case. This would mean seeing them have at least 2-4 months more time to fine-tune their communication, refine their style, and most importantly, have a larger map pool to evaluate.

The North win, likewise, has it’s key pieces of context as well. The most obvious of which is the level that INS hit during the game, combined with simultaneous failing of North’s stars.

It would be fair to say that in the months leading up to IEM Sydney, INS was a top three, if not the best player in Australia. His consistently high level of play in the star role in a team made up almost entirely of stars put the Chiefs over all competition domestically, and cemented them as the best team in the region.

To expect though, that INS would successfully find and then utilise his domestic confidence against international competition is something no one could expect. While it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume a highly volatile and explosive player like Alistair could take teams off-guard, the more clinical, rotate based style of INS was one that Europeans have historically been able to exploit.

As such, although INS might very well have been the best player in Australia, his 30 bomb against North was by nearly every metric, a statistical outlier. On top of INS’s insane performance, Cajunb and Aizy were both uncharacteristically  losing duels, and as a result, regularly giving up pressure and allowing Chiefs to execute their bank of tactics on one of their favourite maps.

What’s more, the game itself ended at 16:13, with a nail-biting finish. Had INS not played at a career high, and North’s key stars played at such lows, the match could’ve easily swung the way of North.

Although there is no taking away the victory, one must consider the isolated nature of the win, and not let it pervade the evaluation of Chiefs as a roster.

In saying all that though, the overall feeling of where Australia stands is still murky at best.

There is no doubt that Australian CS is at least two years behind the rest of the world in terms of infrastructure, investment and overall attitude to the game. Top teams struggle heavily with the practice environment and the scene’s neighbours in Asia grow stronger every day. Chiefs at IEM Sydney though, as well as sides like Tainted Minds and Immunity, have shown that the overall space has grown dramatically in the last six months.

The Chiefs and their run at IEM Sydney, even in spite of the context, have played a massive role in promoting this growth and bringing eyes to the space. Something no team has been able to do on such a scale in years.

That alone, even if their play might’ve been inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, makes their campaign in Sydney one to remember both inside of game and out.

Upsets alone however, don’t build a scene. The keys to making Australian CS:GO truly flourish will be in decreasing the frequency of massive Australian shuffles, transforming the behind-the-scenes drama and practice attitudes into professional mindsets, and giving the right opportunities to the right people.

These are the broad strokes required to take Australian CS to the next level, and are far bigger than what Chiefs victories alone can achieve.

So remain optimistic, relish in the Chiefs success, but don’t become unreasonable or illogical in establishing the narratives and expectations moving forwards.

Photo credits: ESL (Official) / Steph Leung (Chiefs Esports)

Freelance Aus journalist focused on esports and its stories. Follow Max on Twitter @max_melit

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