IEM Sydney: A Celebration of the Game in the Southern Hemisphere

The infamous banter towards Mousesports for their elimination of our hometown heroes, some infamous and frequent bevvies and arguably the one esport game that we all love to watch: Counter-Strike: Global Offensive – The attempted retelling of the stories of the Intel Extreme Masters of Sydney in it’s past, present and future.

I’m sure I can say on behalf of all Aussie CS fans that we all look forward to the 3rd to the 5th of May each and every year. This is a time to rejoice, chuck down some bevies and have one too many shouts of potentially offensive banter towards one particular English-man on the talent desk in the Arena. This tournament is arguably the greatest esports experience in regards to CS:GO in the entirety of the Southern-Hemisphere. As a new journalist/writer this is also my very first dip into the abysses of an exciting and ground-shaking, live Counter-Strike experience. Something that I have very much looked forward to since my introduction to the scene in my “early days” in January 2018.

With 16 teams, $250,000 USD and a tournament that is included in the Intel Grand Slam (Season 2), this tournament is one that teams are alluded to play and attempt to win. First, it is important to consider, the history surrounding IEM Sydney and how it came to be.

IEM Sydney was not built in a day, a week or a month – somewhat similar to Rome. According to their website, it instead took years and years of planning along with market research to turn dreams into a reality. In 2017,  this was the definitive first year in which IEM was hosted in Sydney, Australia. This marked the first time in which the game would be played on 5 separate continents. In its first year alone, the tournament drew crowds of around 7,000 each day on the main playoff days, and approximately 8 million viewers watched the tournament online. The first iteration of Sydney even won “Best New Show” at the Exhibition and Event Association of Australasia Awards for Excellence 2017. As IEM put it on the same website, “This event is for the fans. It’s for you. With a bigger, better and longer IEM Sydney returning in 2018 the only question left to answer is; will you be part of history once again as a new chapter in Australian esports is written?”

To respond to the abovementioned quote about being placed on the right side of history, as George Santayana (Spanish Philosopher), once stated: “Those who remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Or in other words, as a variant: Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. This is an easier version in my eyes to understand and as a consequence, we often tell ourselves that history repeats itself, so what side of history do you want to be on this May? The esports industry is the internet industry of the 90’s. Do you want to see the successes of Counter-Strike in terms of Aussie CS history? With the rise of the Renegades, I’m sure this is the case. With the fans behind them all the way, I am absolutely excited with the potential they possess to win the whole damn thing.

The Renegades at IEM Katowice 2019: Photo courtesy of ESL

In terms of the best all-Aussie line-ups not in Oceania, the Renegades have proven to the world that they are a serious contender to the top teams in the world. After a poor showing at the London FACEIT Major in mid-2018, the core of Aaron “AZR” Ward, Justin “jks” Savage and Joakim “jkaem” Myrboastad would be welcomed by two new faces on the 30th of September 2018. Jay “Liazz” Tregillgas and Sean “Gratisfaction” Kaiwai would join the team, from ORDER and Grayhound gaming respectively. The additions rejuvenated a Renegades core that had never seemed to be able to make deep runs at tournaments in tier-1 CS ever before. However, today is a different day my fellow mates. Ever since the Major bootcamp for IEM Katowice in Poland for the boys, they have only improved, day by day. There has been a special spark to their performance, almost as if they had finally realised, they were living in a simulation – a simulation where they were capable of great things. In the last few months they would achieve the following notable results:

  • 5-8th at StarSeries & i-league CS:GO Season 6
  • 3-4th at TOYOTA Master CS:GO Bangkok 2018
  • 5-6th at ESL Pro League Season 8 Finals
  • 1st at Asian Minor Championship Katowice 2019
  • 5-8th at IEM XIII – Katowice Major 2019
  • 3-4th at StarSeries & i-League CS:GO Season 7

The most notable outcome of all of these achievements for the boys was being the first ever time in history that an Australian and OCE team had made it to the top-8 of a Valve sponsored Major. Something that had never been done before in the history of global Counter-Strike. In recent times, they would also be capable of defeating MIBR, take maps off of Natus Vincere and be able to fight to the tee against teams such as Mousesports. This is a revelation for the Australian scene that has long seen the Renegades suffer from a period of stagnation. A period in which they were never capable of making that reach to beat some of the European and North-American superpowers.

 This period is no longer the case, as the Renegades are a serious contender in recent times and are currently ranked at 7th in the HLTV rankings as of the 22nd of April. On the 8th of April this year, no this was not a late April Fool’s joke, I’m being absolutely deadest. the boys would be ranked in the top-5 HLTV rankings for the first time ever in the history of our land’s counter-strike history. The Renegades are looking more and more dangerous than ever and they are continuing to prove to their haters to not take their major run as a fluke. The Renegades are not a joke and neither is their play. They have been absolutely flat out with their improvements and are definitely a dead set contender. They are yet another reason why we are all looking forward to IEM Sydney in 2019. The boys are here to stay and let’s see if they can take it out in Sydney.

Another Aussie team on all of our minds is Team Grayhound. The team is all and ready to go with the recent addition of Simon “sico” Williams to the line-up to replace Euan “Sterling” Moore, the team has looked shaky at times, but is bound to make a deep run at IEM Sydney 2019. With Sico’s experience and the same core of 4 of Erdenetsogt “erkaSt” Gantulga, Chris “dexter” Nong, Oliver “DickStacy” Tierney and Liam “malta” Schembri, these four have been together since April of 2018. Grayhound gaming are the second most likely team to succeed in terms of the Oceanic teams at the event. Not only are Grayhound gaming extremely popular in the AU scene, due to the mere presence of Dickstacy’s stickers and the persona surrounding the man, but they also have the big guns to back it up. Grayhound’s qualification to the IEM Katowice 2019 Major showcases their skill ceiling and their innate ability to compete and fight with the very best. Just think back to their 2018 run in the lower bracket where they eliminated SK-Gaming 2-1. Anything is possible with these boys. They are a true blue Australian contender in regards to underdogs.

The last-mentioned, but not forgotten, Aussie team at the event is the Sydney Chiefs Esports Club. With the win in the Sydney Derby to qualify for IEM Sydney 2019 against up-and-coming team Break Away Esports. In their dominant win in a 3-0 dominant victory, tucks and co showcased to their rivals and the scene that IEM Sydney is their home ground. This was their third appearance at IEM Sydney, all of which have qualified with 3 vastly different line-ups. However, there has always been one man on that line-up since 2016: tucks. He is the heart and soul of the team and his performance will be definitive of the Chiefs successes in Sydney. Their roster situation is another story to be told. As in 2019, on the 15th of January the team signed Peter “BL1TZ” Athanasatos and tucks returning to the starting line-up after a stint on loan with Tainted Minds. The chiefs are capable of anything as long as their roster remains intact for longer than a few months, and I honestly believe that they are capable of an underdog run at IEM Sydney. If you look at their Liquipedia team page, you will see the mere amount of changes in an entire year. However, with a roster of new additions in March of 2019, consisting of Chris “ofnu” Hanley and Ryan “zewsy” Palmer on loan to the chiefs – I’m hoping that this roster is here to stay.

In terms of the chiefs, in-game-leader and tenured member, tucks, he was interviewed about his prospects for 2019 IEM Sydney, his time on the Chiefs and his greatest memory ever in CS:GO. The following are his answers listed verbatim.  

As he has been playing for the Chiefs since 2016 and only a short stint away from the team to be on loan to Tainted Minds, I asked him what has allured him to the Chiefs over the years. Tucks said, “I love the Chiefs brand and organisation, it’s a big pleasure of mine to be representing the Chiefs for as long as I have been.”

In relation to his short time on loan to Tainted Minds, he stated, “I enjoyed my time with Tainted Minds, it was a really strong team and had all the players I had wanted to play with during my career. I only joined on a short-term contract so they could find a more suitable player for their roster so they could compete at minors.” Quite a remark from a role-model in the Oceanic scene, if I’d say so myself.

I also mistakenly stated that he was the IGL of the team due to an outdated Liquipedia page and a lack of research on my end, when I asked about this role, he expressed that, “BL1TZ is the IGL and he’s doing a great job!”

In regards to his new teammates in ofnu and Zewsy, I asked about the contribution that they brought on board to the team and in what way. Tucks stated, “Zewsy and Ofnu heavily, heavily contribute to our team, they have a lot of experience and a great mind for CS. It’s the first time in my whole career where we have 6 people contributing to our teams improvement in and out of the game.”

Last of all, I sought out his greatest memory in all of his years since playing the game. Tucks stated, “So far I think my favorite memory would have to be IEM Sydney 2017 where we beat Renegades and North.”

In regards to the formation of his current team he said, “We built that team from the ground up and improved together over a long period of time, those guys (Alistar, INS, Malta & Pecks) were some of my best mates at the time so it was amazing being able to achieve something like we did with them.” A team with his best mates, this is a story that is one we all dream of achieving one day and it is amazing that Tucks was able to achieve such with his best pals.

With Tucks’ enthusiasm and optimism heading in IEM Sydney 2019, there are no walls to what this man can do. Only the team’s own personal barrier can stop their own individual performance on home ground.

Subsequently, the next chapter to Aussie gaming is one important factor to consider.

With the fan support of the entire Aussie crowd and fan base, it will important to consider the potential that each team has to make a deep run at IEM Sydney. Regardless of whether their success, they have done well in making IEM Sydney already. However, for the fans let’s hope that we end up with some stoked Aussie CS:GO esports athletes. Subsequently, it is important to consider this new chapter that was referred to by IEM.

This new chapter is one in which Australians are slowly realising that gaming is no longer something to make fun about on main-stream media, but something to take incredibly seriously. When there is $250,000 US dollars on the line and other serious money in the scene. Too often, gamers and esports individuals have been ridiculed for their supposedly “dumb career decision” in just playing video games. It is time to evolve this thought. It is also important to have a backup plan, but people are finally showing that a career is possible in CS and other avenues, given the uprising financial support. Overall, you don’t want to be on the wrong side of history! The abovementioned attitude is something that must be changed in Australia, yet, will possibly never be capable of being changed. We can only hope to showcase the positive influences that esports has on individuals and show that to the world unaware of the esports vacuum we live in. 

FaZe Clan celebrating their IEM Sydney 2018 victory with stand-in Richard “Xizt” Landström: Photo courtesy of Helena Kristiansson/ESL

In the 2017 event of IEM Sydney, only 8 teams played in a BO1 swiss system group system to qualify to the playoffs. In which there were no quarter finals. Instead teams who won 3 games in the group stage, would make it to the semi-finals straight away (oh how far we have come!) During the very first playoff stage in Australia in 2017, Brazilian core SK gaming, Canadian/North-American/Spanish mix team Optic Gaming, European-mix FaZe Clan and All Danish team Astralis would be the first to make the first ever semi-finals in IEM Sydney history. The finals would end up in a SK Gaming vs FaZe Clan final, where SK would best FaZe 3:1 in a Best-of-five series. At the time on the 29th of May 2017, several teams from the top ten would all make the lengthy airplane commute to Sydney in order to display their talent. This is something we should be grateful of to this very day. Especially considering the time and the impacts of the travel that a tournament like this has on those that decide to play in Sydney. The risk that the first international teams took to travel to Sydney is something that must always be remembered. They gave us a chance to grow our CS scene.

To give a little bit of context to the first IEM in 2017, this was a period in which Sweedish-legends Fnatic still had Olof “Olofmeister” Kajbjer and when the Renegades still had Nemanja “nexa” Isakovi? on their respective rosters. Time is only speeding up to become faster and faster, am I right?

However, the risk that these first teams took to travel to Australia, an entirely new target market, the Aussies, is crazy to even contemplate. The thought alone is risky for a business such as ESL who already has several preestablished tournaments all across the world. The journey to take it to Australia, where they did not know how much interest they did have in the tournament, a part from the years of market testing is absolutely incredible to think of. Subsequently it is truly something we should all be appreciative about. This simple and tremendous risk taken has proven to be incredibly beneficial to all parties involved at IEM and in Sydney.  

In 2018, IEM Sydney only became bigger and better. This time around it was a 16-team tournament, with a double elimination group format. There were two groups and the seeding was determined by ESL CS:GO World Rankings. The very first matches would be best-of-one’s and the following matches would be best-of-threes. Yet, the most intriguing aspect this time around was the increasingly famed names that played in Sydney. This included house-hold names such as Cloud9, Fnatic, mousesports, G2 Esports, NRG Esports as well as Oceanic teams like Grayhound Gaming and Chiefs eSports Club. Last year, I can still remember Ollie “Dickstacy” Dexter’s Mirage B Apps hold against SK-Gaming! Or when we remember Hansel “BnTeT” Ferdinand absolutely slaughtering the Renegades at top Banana with an ace. How about Will “RUSH” Wierzba’s ace to keep Cloud9 alive in Sydney. These are all moments that we remember distinctly and I hope more distinct world-shattering moments are made this year.

Top Plays from IEM Sydney 2018 – ESL

In the same year’s playoffs, the Renegades would make the stage for the first time in Australia at the tournament and would take mousesports to the brink of defeat, with a little bit of Nifty magic and some extreme fan support for the boys. Chinese and Indonesian mix team Tyloo surprised everyone by beating their OCE Minor rival, the Renegades, achieving the top spot and making an automatic semi-final spot in their group. Tyloo would eventually lost to FaZe Clan, even after taking a win off of the 2018 Major grand finalists in Boston. Astralis would face the mouse-trap in the other semi-final and would trap them with their exquisite cheese. This would culminate in a FaZe back to back grand final appearance and they would be facing their commonly faced rivals in the Danes. This time around, FaZe did not have to face the perils of SK-Gaming, and instead took down Astralis in a dominant but closely played 3-0 victory. Something that shocked every single fan in the venue and online viewer. Due to the heavily favoured Danes as well as the beginning of the Astralis era at DreamHack Masters Marseille. Regardless of the 3-0 win by FaZe, all games were close and the 2nd map, Overpass, would even go to double overtime. How is that for a grand final? FaZe upsetting the Danish squad that had just began their era in a B05 finals in front of 7,000 shouting and passionate Aussies. This is a grand-final that we all dreamt about.  

In 2019, with no Astralis, present due to travel and health issues, and a FaZe clan that has evolved in ways no one would ever think, who will take out the cake in Sydney? Will FaZe make their third consecutive grand final? Will Liquid ever win a tier one tournament? will MIBR finally show up and prove that there are serious at the top level of CS after their 16-2 win against world-beaters Astralis, when considering their poor performance at ESL Pro League Season 9. Will the Renegades take out the whole thing on home-soil and prove to the world that they are a serious top ten team? Will Tarik’s content finally pay off for NRG by means of a victory for the new line-up? Will the Ninjas in Pyjamas be capable of returning to their 82-straight-win glory days and win their first tournament since IEM Oakland 2017? Will Henry “HenryG” Greer finally win the Caches? These are all insightful and important questions that must be asked and will be answered in two short weeks. Will Chad “SPUNJ” Burchill finally lose the caches? I’m sorry, I don’t understand how that last question got there. However, the real question is how the madness will all play out! IEM Sydney is not just about the outcome – it is also about the stories surrounding the journey to the outcome.  

I could continue for hours and hours with hypothetical questions, but all I know is that we should all be incredibly grateful and hyped for the teams that continue to come to Sydney for our enjoyment and we should appreciate every single second of it – no matter the outcome. Australia is ready for another display of the tactical prowess, amazing comebacks and incredible underdog runs. We are ready for another showing of tier-one CS. Let’s just hope that IEM Sydney pushes other tournament organisers to realise that Australia is a real market for growth. We love our games; we play them and we love to see the greatest level of talent compete in every single game. According to PwC, one of the Big Four accounting auditors in Australia, they estimated that the esports industry in Australia will grow to $21 million by 2022. Yet to Australians and other esports athletes, money is not everything. To these players winning is sometimes more important. Creating a legacy and ensuring that they have something to tell their grand-children in 50 years-time. That is something that is far more important.

To conclude, to express the sentiment displayed by the Australian fans in the in Sydney and across the world wide web: “Yeah the Boys.”

Source: ESL

IEM Sydney 2019 action kicks off from April 30th to May 5th 2019. For more information and tickets to the event, visit the ESL site here.