In Oceania, putting together a squad of five players that can push established rivals to the limits is tough enough. But to show solid progress inside of a single year? That takes a herculean effort.
For 8Ballers though, their success in 2021 thus far is the result of ongoing practice, work, passion and a level of stubbornness in the face of defeat unlike any other.
Oceania’s CS:GO scene was put to the test in 2020, with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic putting a lot of strain on events, teams and organisations alike.
Insult was added to injury following the ESIC sanctions of 42 players between the end of 2020 and early 2021, decimating a bulk of the region’s experienced player stocks.
But esports endured and the competitive ecosystem is healing, in some ways stronger than it has ever been before. A team that exemplifies this in all aspects is 8Ballers.
A passion project of Julian “JoolzCheat” Griffin and Mohammed “MoeycQ” Tizani, 8Ballers has been a slow burn that has culminated into the current line-up that will play in Season 13 of ESL’s ANZ Champs, set to begin in August.
Team coach MoeycQ can easily be mistaken as the leading figure of the 8Ballers project, due to his enormous 12 year career in domestic Counter-Strike and his lengthy list of accolades as a professional competitor.
But Tizani stresses that it was Julian who reached out to him to join in his vision for this squad and to add to what was for the most part, already in motion.
“We played Counter-Strike: Source together back in 2008 and we achieved great things together, going from being amateurs to professionals. Funnily enough it’s a very similar story to 8Ballers,” said Tizani.
“We put in the work and we want to see the results. Pressure gets to the team sometimes and that’s why we had to bring in a [sports psychologist]. Michelle is a necessary addition so the players can excel in the 8Ballers environment.”Mohammed “MoeycQ” Tizani, 8Ballers Coach
Coming into the team initially, it was clear that his new squad had a lot of work to do in order to build on the little knowledge and fundamentals they had.
“They were practicing maybe three nights a week for an hour or so and using Snapchat as a group messenger. I think they only played Mirage. I turned that around and got them on a proper schedule, taught them how to default — the real basics of CS.”
The story of 8Ballers as we know them today didn’t happen overnight; rather, this line-up was first seeded in the middle of 2020, when the original team began competing in Season 35 of ESEA Open.
Unlike other teams in the Oceanic ecosystem that raise talent through academy squads, the 8Ballers project looks to further highlight and showcase the hard-working nature and efforts of their players.
Tizani’s addition to the project is significant because so few teams in OCE have access to the same experience, especially at this level of play.
“Learning Counter-Strike at the highest level is stuff you won’t find in demos or podcasts or on YouTube, it is passed down or sometimes not at all, so it’s all new to these players and it’s nothing that anyone at this level knows.”
Thus the focus of the project quickly became a process of becoming greater than the sum of its parts, where in doing so, the value and quality of the parts would increase over time.
By February 2021 the team had made the necessary roster moves that resulted in the squad we see today. The 8Baller’s mission was now in full-swing — take five hard-working players to their absolute peak.
“This current roster has been together for about four to five months but it did take a long time to find the right group of players,” said Tizani. “You can have all the resources in the world but you need the right people who are capable and have the ability to develop.”
The 8Ballers team environment is demanding in terms of pressure and expectations, but it is in the highest pressure that diamonds do indeed form.
“[Passion] can be a weakness, it makes the losses harder and it builds pressure in those tight games. What people don’t understand is that it’s not an easy task for a group of guys that don’t have much experience. It does really mean a lot to the players, and that pressure will cause us to lose at times.”Mohammed “MoeycQ” Tizani, 8Ballers Coach
While MoeycQ’s role as coach enables a more advanced approach than their peers in the ESEA Open division, the players must adapt to the necessary changes and implement the core strategy at hand.
As such, there is an understanding the team will need time to adjust to new changes. Unfortunately, the team finds themselves playing in Open Division in Season 38, following heartbreaking losses in the ESEA-P Relegations at the hands of Eetswa and Animal Squad.
“Everyone is passionate and this can reflect negatively on our results,” said Tizani. “We bombed out of ESEA relegations after a stellar season and when the pressure is on, it means too much to everybody and we start to flop in some situations.”
In an effort to combat this, 8Ballers enlisted the services of Sports Psychologist Dr. Michelle Pain in May as a means to guide these players through their losses and build resilience to pressure. Other aspects of work include day-to-day routine adjustments, such as diet and sleep scheduling.
The resources available to the players in 8Ballers far exceed that of the other open squads and the team understands that these opportunities come with expectations.
Justin “PacificDonger” Hockey joined the 8Ballers core in January and has already discovered a new level of individual skill and confidence as a result of joining the project.
“8Ballers has allowed me to work on my individual performance and really nit-pick what I have been doing wrong, so that we can fix it and tie it back into improving as a team. Having team bootcamps and Moey over my shoulder has made a really big difference and brought me up as a player.”
Even before looking at how the team has levelled up, Hockey has noticed an improvement in his own play — both in his self-confidence and from a technical standpoint.
“I definitely wasn’t a bright player, but the change within a couple months has been crazy. I used to drop five kills against the better teams but now it feels like they can’t really compete with us. I’m only going to continue to grow.”
Hockey has managed to develop and grow as an individual in circumstances that are atypical to many other top players. While living rurally, there wasn’t much opportunity for Justin to play CS at a competitive level.
It wasn’t until early 2020 when Justin moved, and was able to play regularly once more. Throughout the following months, he would slowly build himself through streaming and working hard on improving.
Justin isn’t in it for the money or glory, but rather to experience the climb and stand at the top on his own merit.
“We play fundamental Counter-Strike. We make a lot of mistakes but as a whole if you look deeper you will see we try to mimic some of the best teams in the world.”Mohammed “MoeycQ” Tizani, 8Ballers Coach
For the 8Ballers, their journey is still in the early stages and despite minor setbacks they have shown their worth by qualifying for the upcoming season of ANZ Champs. There, they will get to really showcase all that they’ve done so far against the region’s finest teams.
The team has no desire to slow down now and want to continue to move from strength to strength in the coming months.
“Our individual level doesn’t suck but it’s not amazing at the moment,” said Tizani. “It will easily take 6-12 months and that’s when you’ll see the team play well with all the tactics and strategies.
The current 8Ballers roster:
Coach: Mohammed “MoeycQ” Tizani
In addition to ESL ANZ Champs competition in August, 8Ballers continues to compete in ESEA Open and LPL Challenger, with their eyes set on making Premier next season.