Following a nationally televised qualifier, the New Zealand esports community have announced their first ever Commonwealth Games squad, with representatives in Rocket League, Dota 2 and eFootball set to face off against the Australian representatives for Oceania’s spot at the Games’ pilot esports event in July.
Officiated by the New Zealand Esports Federation, the country’s official body for esports, the crowning of the inaugural E Black squad represents another huge step for esports in the region. For NZESF CEO Jonathan “Arkadian” Jansen, the Commonwealth Games holding an esports event is a fantastic opportunity — telling Snowball Esports ahead of the qualifier that “we’re very excited to be hosting such an historic event.”
“Naming a national squad to represent New Zealand at country-representative events is a great way for us to help the general public understand the skill, dedication and development that goes into successful esport teams.”
With the nationally-televised broadcast hosted by both Arkadian and Matt “Smite” Ross, Kiwi esports fans old and new had the opportunity to watch their national representatives determined in eFootball, Rocket League and Dota 2 — the first two being played live during the stream.
eFootball — Joshua “JMKKing” King
With the eight-month old game only releasing fully in mid-April, it has been a challenge for both finalists to fully adapt to FIFA’s lesser-known cousin.
For Aidan “Azylu” Young, that was both exciting and daunting. “It’s a brand new game so it’s a bit mysterious on how I’ll fare up, said Azylu, who flew up to Auckland to play the final in-studio, adding that he definitely felt he had enough experience to “put up a good fight”.
His opponent for the day was Dire Wolves’ Joshua “JMKKing” King, who himself had made a temporary switch from FIFA to play in the qualifier. A single best-of-five stood between both players and a spot on the E Blacks — and it was safe to say nerves were running a little high.
With a limited number of teams available to play from, both Azylu and JMKKing opted to play as Bundesliga powerhouses FC Bayern München. According to JMKKing, out of the big names available in the ten-team competitive roster, Bayern “just have the best all-round squad”.
A clinical 1-0 victory in the first game of the series went JMKKing’s way courtesy of a Robert Lewandowski screamer before Azylu bit back in the second, scoring two goals of his own to turn the series into a best-of-three.
Game 3 was an absolute nailbiter, with plenty of shots from both sides coming extremely close. The full 90 minutes went by without a single goal, with Azylu finally breaking the deadlock in the first half of overtime. With what seemed like every man back on defence, Azylu was able to close out the game and take himself to match point.
Just when the series felt like it couldn’t get any more tense, Game 4 reared its head. A goal apiece early in the match was as far as both teams got, but with overtime not enough to separate the two — a penalty shootout was left to break the deadlock.
Both Azylu and JMKKing opened their shootout accounts with three quick goals, shielding their controllers from each other to not give away their intended target. However, tragedy struck for Azylu on his fourth shot, as under the command of his opponent, superstar keeper Manuel Neuer pulled off a spectacular save.
JMKKing scored his fourth to put the pressure on Azylu, and despite the latter nailing his next shot, the Dire Wolves pro put his fifth in the back of the net to take the series to a decider. For King, having played on LAN before meant he felt very calm staring down the barrel of a must-win penalty shootout, saying “of course the penalty shootout was a close call” but “there were a bit of mind games in there”.
Azylu drew first blood in the decider and immediately looked to lock down the game. However, a fantastic break from JMKKing was enough to tie up the game, and a second goal just after half-time was all he needed to close out the championship.
Speaking to him after the game, he said that his focus was on “improving for the upcoming qualifier” and will likely seek the help of overseas eFootball pros to make that happen. Regardless, New Zealand has a strong contender to match up against the undecided Australian representative.
Rocket League — Underdogs
Also played live on broadcast were the Rocket League finals between Underdogs and Rust-Eze, the latter surviving being knocked into the lower bracket of the eight-team double elimination qualifier by the former to set up the grudge match finale.
With a 1-0 advantage courtesy of qualifying through the upper bracket, Underdogs wasted no time in staking their claim as the best Rocket League team in New Zealand. Third time was the charm for the series’ first goal, as Joshua “dx7” MacDonald launched it in after two shots bounced off the crossbar, putting the Underdogs 1-0 up in the process. He followed it up with a second and third minutes later, and all of a sudden Rust-Eze were down 0-2 in the series.
Not to be left out, Tyler “Kenny Salmon” Williams drew first blood for the Underdogs in the second game before Rust-Eze’s Caleb “Caleb” Durrant hit the back of the net to tie the game up with three minutes left on the clock. Underdogs soon broke back into the lead, with dx7 spiralling in his fourth and fifth goals of the night before Kenny Salmon slammed in one of his own to take their team to championship point.
With everything on the line, Rust-Eze put up a valiant fight in the third game of the series, holding the match nil-all until halfway through the game — but a clutch demolition in transition freed up dx7 to shoot yet another goal. The floodgates were opened and two more quick goals went the way of the Underdogs, and before long they’d closed out the series 4-0.
For Underdogs team captain Dean “Scarth” Bagrie, the finals played out exactly how he’d envisioned it. With a short turnaround from registrations until the qualifiers began, his focus had been on assembling a team that would gel quickly and require minimal training.
Recruiting based on previous team experience with both Kenny Salmon and dx7 and with only one scrim ahead of the tournament, the newly-minted Underdogs had stormed through the upper bracket and comfortably cruised to Thursday’s final.
With the win in hand, both Scarth and the rest of the Underdogs are already hard at work preparing for the upcoming qualifier against the as-yet undecided Australian representatives. When asked what the plan was, Scarth simply replied “keep it fun and simple, and we’ll do better”.
Dota 2 — 5 ½ Kiwis
In the most dominant display out of the three qualifiers, Dota 2 team “5 ½ Kiwis” stormed to the title in impressive fashion, becoming New Zealand’s national representatives without dropping a single match.
After escaping their pool 4-0 and seeding directly to the semifinals, the team knocked away fellow contenders “Prince Harry” to advance to the final against “No Liches”, who also hadn’t dropped a single match during their pool play.
However, No Liches were no match for the Kiwis come finals time, with a clean sweep etching 5 ½ Kiwis into the history books as New Zealand’s first international Dota 2 representatives.
According to captain Sam “fury” Johnson, the team had come together quite quickly but all players had impressive resumes that put them in good stead to take on the best Dota 2 teams in the country.
Fury himself had played on the old Athletico squad, with Jordan “Zavier” Baker, Tobias “Tobzino” Sveaas and Thomas “LY” Argueso all having prior competitive experience; the former two playing together on Dark Sided, while the latter spent time on Team Oracle alongside being one of the best ranked players in the region.
Both 5 ½ Kiwis and all-female team Sweetbix are the subject of an upcoming documentary based on the teams’ runs to the Games, with the latter also being confirmed to attend the Games after making it through pool play into the qualifier’s playoffs.
For Arkadian, the E Blacks initiative is something he hopes continues long into the future.
“While esport orgs come and go, I believe the E Blacks is set to be a force for good in the esports community that we can use to highlight our best and brightest, and to be strong role models for the esports community and promote the values we hope to become recognised for as a sport.
“My hope is that this type of event is something that future generations of Kiwi gamers aspire to and something they can use to help their parents understand what they are working so hard towards.”
With the squad named, all eyes are now set on the upcoming clash with the Australian representatives. With only one spot per esport awarded to Oceania, in order for either country to make it to Birmingham, they’ll have to take out their compatriots across the ditch — and a trans-Tasman clash with international representation on the line is sure to be a spectacle.