The world’s best Counter-Strike squads take to the server this coming week at the PGL Antwerp Major — the first edition of the pinnacle CS:GO tournament for 2022. Ask any player for their goals heading into the event; most will say to qualify for the next stage of the tournament or to reach top eight and compete in front of thousands of screaming fans.
Renegades’ Joshua “INS” Potter isn’t looking for any of that from the outset. He’s got one goal in mind.
“I want to f**k everyone’s Pick’ems.”
He’s got a point. Renegades, and fellow Asia-Pacific qualifier IHC Esports, have been overwhelmingly voted most likely to finish 0–3 from the bulk of the community.
But, in a world where a Challenger Stage Swiss bracket opens with two best-of-ones, and where pundits believe this iteration of the Major is one of the hardest to predict the outcome of, anything is possible.
Besides, to INS and the rest of RNG, playing under the radar is right where they want to be.
“I think the main time I feel pressure is if we place it upon ourselves,” said INS to Snowball Esports ahead of the Antwerp Major. “Usually I feel more pressure when we’re favourites to win the match. I think going in as underdogs always helps relieve pressure.”
For INS, Alistair “aliStair” Johnston, and Jordan “Hatz” Bajic, this Major is a special one already.
While Renegades qualified and competed at the Stockholm Major, a change to in-game autographs meant all teams outside the Champions Stage — the top eight at the Major — didn’t get their signatures into the client.
But with the decision reversed for Antwerp, INS, aliStair and Hatz are now immortalised forever in the esport they’ve devoted their lives to.
“Getting a signature in the game has always been a dream of ours,” said INS. “I think ever since [in-game autographs] came out, you always looked at them and imagined the day where you finally get your own. It feels even better now considering the situation with the last two majors — ESL One Rio’s cancellation and Stockholm’s autograph change meaning we missed out.”
It’s not to say this one isn’t special for Simon “Sico” Williams or Jay “Liazz” Tregillgas. Sico receives his second signature after his stint at Grayhound Gaming in Berlin, while this is Liazz’s third autograph in-game.
Liazz’s Renegades homecoming under new captain Sico
As 2021 came to a close, Renegades ended their season with a surprise — the departure of long-time member Liam “malta” Schembri. A Renegade for the better part of two years, Malta helped usher in RNG’s era of dominance throughout the COVID-affected 2020 and 2021 seasons which saw the squad win everything they touched at home in OCE — 16 events in total.
Big shoes to fill, and some big names were initially in RNG’s sights, including the likes of Order’s Declan “Vexite” Portelli and LookingForOrg’s Jared “HaZR” O’Bree.
But when a chance to pick up one of Australia’s most successful exports in Liazz arose, it was an opportunity INS and Renegades simply couldn’t afford to pass up.
“As soon as we knew Jay [Liazz] was an option we instantly went for him,” said INS.
“We did explore other options within Australia but at the end of the day we all knew how good Jay was, and he’s someone I personally have always admired and wanted to play with.”
Liazz became available following the demise of the ill-fated Extremum roster in October 2021, and while a return to the organisation that climbed to the top five in the HLTV rankings wasn’t initially on the cards, the RNG crew have done their very best to ensure Liazz is comfortable in the maroon and yellow once again.
“I think from the beginning we just wanted Jay to be as comfortable as possible,” said INS.
I felt [Liazz] was always hard done by with his roles in his time at 100 Thieves & Extremum. I was willing to sacrifice some of my positions to make Liazz as comfortable as possible.Joshua “INS” Potter on the return of Jay “Liazz” Tregillgas to Renegades
Initially thought to be a temporary fill at IEM Katowice, Liazz signed on permanently following their Polish excursion where, with minimal practice with their new fifth, RNG went the distance against OG but fell flat against Entropiq.
But it wasn’t just what he could do on the server. Liazz brought a breath of fresh air off the server to the squad too, which INS cites as crucial to their success.
“It hasn’t been difficult at all [working Liazz into the system]; he’s very easygoing and always willing to improve. He has brought a lot of calmness and experience to this time, which was absolutely necessary.”
While RNG have had limited experience overseas so far this year, Liazz’s numbers are already approaching those seen in 2017 and 2018 that saw him nab the spot on Renegades initially — a sign that, with a little more space and some setup from his teammates, the young rifler is back to his best.
One such change that Renegades have employed recently too has been a switch of captaincy, with Kiwi Simon “Sico” Williams now at the helm for the Australian squad.
“Actually, before the bootcamp for the APAC RMR, I made the decision to give up the in-game leading duties to Sico,” said INS.
“Ever since the RMR in Romania we’ve been transitioning through his leadership.”
INS’s promotion to in-game leadership following the departure of Chris “dexter” Nong to Mousesports back in February 2021 caught many off guard. Some were dubious of the change early on given how taxing captaincy can be on a player’s individual prowess, but INS silenced the critics at the IEM Cologne Play-In, calling a perfect Inferno against OG to qualify for the group stage.
The idea of an unleashed INS would excite fans, but as far as the Renegades system goes, INS says there won’t be anything drastically changing anytime soon.
“Style-wise, I don’t think too much will change for now; we haven’t had nearly enough time or practice for him to implement his own style. For me personally, I’ll be going back to my previous style, which I think suits me better.”
Oceanic Counter-Strike’s illustrious mirage of success
Many questioned just how long it would take for Oceania to rebound after the COVID pandemic all but cancelled the region through 2020 and 2021. Yet inside of five months, the region sees a fourth squad — Vertex — qualify for an international event, the most in recent history.
Joining Renegades, LookingForOrg, and ex-Order, Vertex will make their mark on the European scene at the ESL Pro League Conference when June rolls around.
From the outside, the phrase “the gap is closing” looks truer by the day.
To INS though, when they come at the kings of Oceanic CS, the next best are still a ways off.
“People have been saying the gap is closing for years now, and yeah, while the competition and level in Oceania is improving I think we’re also improving as a roster. We need to continue to work hard individually, and to be motivated to continue our success. I think Vertex will definitely gain some much-needed experience from their trip overseas. Hopefully they can fit in a boot camp as well.”
So the OCE scene is healthy, right? Four international reps in half a year, some great competition at home with upcomers like DGG and Antic taking the occasional map away from the top dogs. What’s not to like?
Unfortunately, showings internationally hide a bitter reality in Oceania — support from top organisations is dwindling, and fast.
The past nine months have seen three big names in OCE drop out of Counter-Strike: first, it was The Chiefs and Dire Wolves, departing the esport after extended stints just a week apart.
Last week, Order announced they too will be stepping back and evaluating their position, with the squad now going their separate ways after over a year together.
LookingForOrg, despite a three month boot camp in Europe and an impressive record at home, still remain without organisational support — nine months after Dire Wolves withdrew.
To INS, consistency and performance at these tier one events, and especially the chance at multiple slots at a Major, go a long way to reaffirming investment in the scene.
“It’s very hard for an Australian org to invest money into the scene, especially if you don’t have a team that is attending all these tournaments, especially the majors,” said INS.
“I think if another Australian team can step up and really become a top tier team within the APAC region, and if we could have two Australian teams attending the Major, it would be huge for Oceania.”
Valve changed the qualification process for the Antwerp Major, setting a guideline for future Majors to come, that saw just four teams from the APAC region compete for two Challenger spots — a decision that saw backlash from a region starved of opportunities.
However, the depth of Renegades and IHC’s runs in Antwerp will determine how much Asia gets for the next Major, set to be in Brazil later this year.
Should one or both of the squads make the Legends — or even Champions — stage, the region will receive bonus qualification slots in the next event, which would go a long way to reassuring organisations of an investment.
The Wild East: How Renegades nearly missed the Antwerp Major
Brushing aside LookingForOrg in their opening series, and with TYLOO falling victim to IHC in a narrow two-mapper, it looked like Renegades’ tickets were all but booked for Belgium.
But as INS had indicated, favouritism doesn’t suit the Renegades whatsoever, and it came back to bite them in a big way, with the Mongolian squad decimating RNG 2-0.
“I think we went in a bit too relaxed and we were definitely caught off guard,” INS reminisces.
“We always go in respecting our opponents no matter what, but we just played too scared and we were too fragile. We weren’t communicating well enough and were punished by a better team on the day.
“They have a very different style compared to the typical Asian Counter-Strike style we’ve played before, and it definitely caught us by surprise.”
RNG overcame TYLOO in the loser bracket qualifier to make it to Antwerp, but it came oh so close to going very wrong for the Aussies.
A 16–5 win on Mirage set RNG up for an easy 2–0, but TYLOO hit back with a monstrous Vertigo CT half, leading 13–2 at the break.
Renegades fought tooth and nail on their own CT side to level the map in epic circumstances, and eventually “The Boys” hung on to a slender double overtime lead to take Vertigo 22–20.
It’s this respect given but not offered in return by opponents that has seen RNG meet their end in numerous tournaments in the past — something that INS is ensuring won’t be happening come Monday’s opening match against forZe.
“Preparation for us is always the same for any tier one event regardless of format, we just need to play our own game and expect aggression and disrespect from a lot of these team at the Major, especially forZe,” said INS.
“This is a good matchup for us and we are confident going into it, and hopefully we can do Australia proud.”
Australia’s already plenty proud of the ‘Gades, that’s for damn sure.
Renegades begin their PGL Antwerp Major campaign against forZe in the Challenger Stage on Monday, 9:15pm AEST. Fellow Asia-Pacific hopefuls IHC take on Astralis at 10:30pm. Stay up to date with the PGL Antwerp Major with our ultimate coverage guide.