Azad “topguN” Orami is a legend in the Australian scene. Part of the Vox Eminor lineup that dominated the region for over two years and a member of the ill-fated Championship Gaming Series’ Sydney Underground franchise, topguN was once one of Oceania’s most internationally-decorated players. However, his decision to step down from CS in mid-2015 and focus on his family saw him miss the further opportunities his former teammates were provided. Since then, topguN’s appearances in official CS matches have been sporadic, now playing in a mix lineup alongside players like Peter “pecks” Nguyen, Marcus “gotz” Fonti and Nikhil “Nikkez” Victor.
topguN’s ‘Fighting 4 Freedom’ recently attended the ESL AUNZ Season 8 Championships in Sydney, where I spoke to him about the CGS experience early in his career, his time on Vox Eminor and why he continues to play.
Not many people watching Counter-Strike now know about the Championship Gaming Series, a very ahead-of-its-time league in 2007, and your participation in it. Tell me about that experience.
It was definitely well ahead of its time. That’s probably why it didn’t last too long. It was 2008, many years ago during Counter-Strike: Source, when we heard about this company, the Championship Gaming Series. They were in the States back then, and Europe, and we heard that they were going international; they were coming to Asia and Australia, and we were going to have a squad in that. We built ourselves a little superteam with myself involved, Havoc, deathdoG; some of the sharpest players back then who would’ve been 17 or 18. Unfortunately for Havoc, he was actually too young, so he missed out.
We rostered up a team and it was definitely next-level. They were paying us a salary, a very lovely salary. Back then, it was around $30,000 USD. When you’re 18 years old, back then, getting almost three grand a month, it was unheard of, especially in Australia. We definitely felt like we were living the dream with CGS. We were going overseas, playing with huge audiences, crowds and stadiums. It was just a great experience for me.
That level of investment in esports wouldn’t be reached again for at least another five years. Did CGS give you an unrealistic expectation of what was to come from playing Counter-Strike at a high level?
No, not really. I was pretty young and dumb. I wasn’t thinking business-wise. I was more excited about the travelling, competing and proving myself against the world’s best than money. Money was all a bonus. It puts a glitter on it, a real star-studded feel behind it, like it was the real deal. Not for a moment did I ever think it was going to stop so suddenly, the way it did when the recession came through in the States. I didn’t think, either, for the rest of my life, the next six to ten years or however I’d be competing, that this is the level I’ll be, and that this is where it starts and it’s only better from there. I never thought of it like that. I wasn’t really business-savvy. It didn’t really cross my mind. Saying that, it probably should have. In hindsight, now that you’ve mentioned it, it probably could have, because it was that very star-studded feel. It was kind of a really big deal. Maybe that’s probably why, subconsciously, I was aware that it probably wouldn’t last that long because it was too much too soon. It bit off more than it could chew. But nah, it didn’t trick me; it didn’t catfish me or anything.
If I’m not mistaken, the Vox Eminor lineup that became the best team in Australia at the start of CS:GO formed in Source and then made the transition to the new game.
That’s actually a good question. I can’t remember if I played for Vox in Source. There was a team with AZR, dimojR, ScottyBoomser and myself. Maybe I was.
It was a big blur for me because it was around the time I actually went to prison – I did a bit of time in prison – and then I came out and stopped playing Counter-Strike for a while. That’s when Boomser and VoxE approached me and asked if I wanted to get back into it. I jumped on board and I think it was late in Source. Then, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive came out and we kind of moved on from there and became the Vox that people loved.
What set that famous Vox Eminor lineup apart from the other teams in the region? Was it just sheer fragging power or were you doing more tactical work in a fairly underdeveloped period?
Individually, we definitely had the talent. We got the pick of the bunch. Myself, I wasn’t too experienced then but I still had been around and done a lot in terms of the game, so we kind of get to pick from the lot. Originally, we had a player called Boomser. He was probably the best IGL I’ve ever played with. The way he led his team and had us thinking and feeling in rounds, we were ahead of our time. I feel like, nowadays, teams are playing like that. Not to say that they’ve caught up to us; mechanically and all that, they’ve surpassed us all. Definitely, I think we did have good strats and individual skill combined and we probably had all of the international experience in that squad back then. Because of that, like I said, we get to pick the players we wanted, like, for example, Justin [jks]. When he started shining, we were quick to gobble him up. Look at him now.
Touching on that international experience, you attended three Majors in CS:GO, but only managed to win one game out of six played in total. What did you personally take away from those events?
It’s a lot of what I try and tell the players today that get the opportunity to go overseas. Obviously, going overseas, playing against the best on the big stages and coming out with the losses is not a nice feeling. But, the opportunity of being there for a week, two weeks, a month, however long teams get to stay there for, and bootcamping there is golden experience.
That’s pretty much why the level of Counter-Strike in Australia today is where it’s at. It’s not just one team anymore. Before, when it was just Vox Eminor, I would dream of the day I was overseas and there was another Aussie team there. That was a dream, but now, today, it happens; teams like ORDER, Grayhound, Chiefs and Avant. All that time they get overseas, they then bring it back for the rest of the community to feed off. It just increases the level of our game here. Obviously, it’s devastating not getting the best results overseas. But, in terms of those bootcamps and learning what we needed to better ourselves individually and as a squad, it’s never for nothing.
The Vox boys moved on without you in 2015 due to the level of commitment becoming too much for you…
That’s what everyone keeps saying. I don’t want to admit I got KFC’d.
But, nah, I just kind of hit that point in my life where I couldn’t commit the hours needed. Everything was getting more serious, it was getting more professional, and I was getting engaged and married. Back then, there was no salary. You did it for the love of it, for the passion, for the drive, for the competition. There was no funding. Not that Vox didn’t pay – they paid for everything – but there was no income. I couldn’t support a family, I couldn’t buy a house; all these other things I had planned outside of the game. I obviously had to choose one or the other. My wife came first and it all worked out. I’ve got a house now, I’m married, I’ve got a son, and I’m still here. It was worth it.
The money did start to come in for your old teammates not very long after you stepped down, with their transfer to the organisation Renegades who paid player salaries and moved the team to America. Do you have any regrets from that situation?
It was like three months, if that. It was definitely really soon after. There’s no regrets, absolutely not. Whenever I think about my wife or my son or my life today, you can’t regret anything. Obviously, the boys are where they’re at today and I would’ve loved the chance. But, realistically looking at it, with a wife and a mortgage, it would’ve been one or the other. I can’t regret anything, but who wouldn’t love the chance to go over and live that life?
Since that time, you’ve had a few short stints in different teams, like Legacy in 2016, Sydney ROAR for the last two seasons of Gfinity, and now this Fighting 4 Freedom mix. What keeps you coming back? Is it a pure love for the game or is there still that competitive drive?
There is definitely a fire in me that loves to compete. We just got smashed, but I don’t have an ego where I’m thinking “I used to be the best, I was on top, now I’m not so I might as well quit”. My ego’s not big enough to let that affect me. I don’t mind, I don’t care. In fact, I kind of love it, seeing all of these young players come up, go beyond and take it to the rest of the world. There’s a sense of patriotism in that. The reality is that I love to compete. Whether I come first or last, it’s all the same thing. It’s a community and I’m just happy to be part of it. Why I originally came back, funnily enough, is I had a workplace accident. I was grinding at work, doing all that kind of stuff. I was a father and a worker; I didn’t have time for the computer. Then, I had an accident at work which rendered me home-bound. That’s when I got the opportunity to play at IEM Sydney in 2018 for the Aussie team. Since then, I haven’t looked back. Gfinity was coming around. I got into that and made a team. That fire keeps growing and I’m going to make the most of that because of the time I’ve got at home from this accident at work.
Do you see yourself continuing to compete for as long as you can?
As long as I can. The truth is, I should probably start looking to commentary or something production-wise and look into that avenue. All that sort of stuff is a lot of fun and it’s probably what I should do if I was smart enough, but I love to compete. As long as I’ve got a group of boys that respect that and don’t think I’m useless enough – they think I’m good enough to still compete with them – then I’ll do my best with whichever group of boys that want to play.
You did a bit of commentary at the ESL One Cologne Major in 2014. Was that ever something you thought of going into?
It’s not something I ever really thought of, no. That opportunity came and it was a lot of fun. I don’t even know if I did well or not. I watched back the VOD and I kind of feel like I made a fool of myself. You know, you’re your biggest critic. But, it definitely was a lot of fun. From that moment on, I was more thinking “ah, y’know, whatever, if an opportunity comes I’ll take it”. But, nah, I just wanted to compete. I just wanted to become the best player I can be. It unfortunately didn’t last too long after that.
I’m interested in the discussion around a ‘retirement age’ in esports, specifically Counter-Strike. What are your thoughts on that?
The thing with gaming is that it’s new. We’re still the first generation of gamers. That age frame is only going to get bigger and bigger. We don’t know yet. I started at a young age, so naturally I would be able to play a bit longer. I probably should retire now; I’m 30 years old and turn 31 this year. I’m not at the peak of my game, but still good enough to compete.
What happens is, I started at around six or seven, but my kids will start younger. I think, naturally, that retirement age will get pushed back. It’s not athletic or physical; it’s all mental. Your speed might decrease, but it’s miniscule. It’s a really interesting topic and I’m really into it. One of the things I’ve read on is that it’s not actually that I’m getting slower – my reaction time isn’t dropping – it’s the fact that there’s more stuff on my mind. I’m not a 16 year old that’s just got his homework that I don’t care about. No missus, no boyfriend or whatever; he’s got nothing to concern himself with. He’s just so involved in the game. That’s why he’s so good. When you’re a 30 year old man with a mortgage and a family or whatever, there’s just a couple of things that run through your head that also affect your gameplay. That was something I watched and read on that was really interesting.
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