Sico Mode: The humble Kiwi playing for keeps as the Stockholm Major approaches

Simon “Sico'' Williams talks quarantine survival, a switch from the AWP to pack rifle and the team's successful but tumultuous 2021 campaign.

Given little chance by the punters, Renegades were on cloud nine after their miraculous victory at the IEM Cologne play-in. While their run ended early in the main event, to finally stretch their wings overseas and test themselves against the world’s best after a year of online competition was a reward in and of itself.

Season 14 of the ESL Pro League would have been Renegades’ chance for more international experience, and to double down on their Cologne form in a LAN environment once more.

Then came the bad news.

Renegades rifler and secondary AWP Simon “Sico” Williams recalls the rumours circulating in July. “We started hearing talks towards the end of Cologne, and at the start of quarantine, that [EPL] was likely to be held online due to Malta toughening entry restrictions.”

It wouldn’t get any better; not only was the Maltese tournament switching to an online format, the Renegades crew were looking at life in Europe — not an option on the table given qualifiers for events, particularly the RMR and Stockholm Major, were held regionally.

“The day after we left Cologne on July 13, the Australian government axed 50% of the return flights,” said Sico. “There are already over 35,000 Australians trying to return home, so you can imagine that flight availability and the increasing cost just becomes absurd.

“It felt like a bit of a slap in the face after having such a great run at IEM Cologne, then to suddenly be in quarantine and told EPL is online, and then to have the Australian government crack down on travel even further.”

“The main problem moreso lies in the return, not really the departure. It was quickly apparent the new Australian travel return restrictions were far too severe, rendering the trip impossible.

“I can’t really say that I’m surprised though, being slapped with perpetual lockdowns and restrictions feels like the norm now. The situation just became impossible and meant we would for sure miss the next RMR event.”

The drawbacks of esports in quarantine

It’s a heavy blow for the Oceanic giants, who have travelled internationally just three times since the beginning of 2020. But adding insult to injury — the brutal but necessary 14-day hotel quarantine upon their return to Australia.

“We’ve done two quarantines now,” said Sico. “The first one was off the back of a less-than-ideal two month stint in Malta for ESL Pro League and the Katowice play-in, and then obviously the most recent Cologne tournament.”

Fortunate timing, however. Renegades returned in July following their stint in Germany in the midst of the player break. 

Had it been mid-season, practicing or even competing at all would have been incredibly difficult given the lack of equipment in hotel quarantine.

“After the first long trip we came back and had nothing to play for in Australia, but we definitely needed a reset from CS. After Cologne, it was a week into the player break so we obviously weren’t going to play much CS there either.

“I think we would only practice in quarantine if absolutely necessary due to schedule. The conditions aren’t as amazing as you can imagine with poor chairs and desks, and we have to find and hire computers in whichever state the government places us in for quarantine, which is difficult.”

Backlash had arisen over Renegades’ ‘fly-in, fly-out’ method to compete overseas — a method that the team had employed since the acquisition of then-Grayhound Gaming in 2019.

But between living at home, the convenience of bootcamping and the ecosystem of event qualification, Sico believes the method is still the go-to.

“The current plan still remains the best option. If we were situated overseas right now we would miss RMR and OCE qualifications for tier one events. When the world was normal and travel was fine, we were getting good, long boot camps which felt pretty optimal, especially considering we were in Europe most of the year anyway.”

The art of the role switch

IEM Cologne brought about a major change in the Renegades camp. With Chris “dexter” Nong’s European adventure at Mousesports well underway, the RNG core, now with Alistair “aliStair” Johnston, needed a new captain.

It turns out they had a world-class replacement ready to go — Joshua “INS” Potter.

Sico echoes coach David “Kingfisher” Kingsford’s sentiment about INS’ temperament, highlighting the importance of calmness and patience in a team captain.

“Cologne was a big test for us and Josh [INS] had some great confident calls and reads,” said Sico. “Our team is generally pretty good at giving ideas and mid round calls so we help out, just like when Chris [dexter] was captain. We have similar general theory for defaults etc. but Josh also brings his own strategy and ideas on top of that.”

“INS is slotting in well, he’s super level headed which you need in an IGL and you can feel his improvement on the tactical side the more we play.”

The changes didn’t end there. Now with arguably the best two Australasian AWPers in aliStair and Sico, who gets the nod for team sniper?

The decision came after the EPIC League Oceania final — OCE’s previous RMR event — in which Renegades survived back-to-back overtimes to win 2-0 over close rivals Order.

“After [dexter] left and when we decided on aliStair I told the guys I’d be happy to swap to rifle if needed, as I feel confident in pretty much any role,” said Sico.

“Ali is very mechanically gifted and I felt like he needed more space to shine and show how impactful he can be on the AWP. It was also easier for me to understand our system as a rifler from playing in the lineup for much longer.”

“It was nice to get a taste of LAN competition again and feel the genuine excitement and passion for the game creep back.”

The move is already paying dividends. aliStair was the highest rated AWPer at the IEM Cologne play-in with 0.51 AWP kills/round, while Sico proved instrumental in Renegades’ qualification, in particular with his 27-kill effort against OG in the now-infamous Inferno masterclass.

Finishing ‘21 on a high

Renegades may begin the second half of 2021 with ESEA Premier, but all focus is on IEM Fall — OCE’s final qualifier for October’s PGL Stockholm Major.

RNG lead Order healthily in the RMR points ranking, and should they qualify for the grand final, their lead will be insurmountable and their tickets to Sweden booked.

But they’re not out of the woods yet, and Sico believes the region has never been more competitive, despite the setbacks from the COVID pandemic resulting in fewer local tournaments.

“In terms of tournaments in OCE it’s taken a big hit this year compared to 2020 where there were quite a few domestic events,” he said.

“But the region is in a decent state team wise, it’s pretty competitive in the top six. There are younger players you see in the top teams now which is good for the long-term.”

As for the major itself, should Renegades qualify?

“I’m just hoping it gets hosted on LAN somewhere, and we have no issues attending if we qualify.”

Renegades’ next match will be against Paradox on September 1 for ESEA Premier — read our event preview here. It’s all in preparation for IEM Fall Oceania 2021, with open qualifiers starting September 9.

Nicholas Taifalos

Nicholas "Taffy" Taifalos got his start publishing the escapades of some of Australia's pioneers in Counter-Strike and Dota overseas. Now, he turns his eye to events closer to home, from grassroots projects to the height of Oceanic competition and everything in-between. He still hopes for the day Dota makes a glorious return to the pinnacle of OCE esports.

Nicholas Taifalos
Nicholas Taifalos
Nicholas "Taffy" Taifalos got his start publishing the escapades of some of Australia's pioneers in Counter-Strike and Dota overseas. Now, he turns his eye to events closer to home, from grassroots projects to the height of Oceanic competition and everything in-between. He still hopes for the day Dota makes a glorious return to the pinnacle of OCE esports.