LookingForOrg no more. After a gruelling nine months that saw stints at home and abroad paid for out of pocket, the LFO crew have finally found solid ground at Encore ahead of their second international event in as many weeks.
Encore Esports Club debuted officially at IEM Dallas, and was founded in the lead-up to the first North American CS:GO LAN since before the pandemic.
It’s a brand new experience for the squad, and as Jared “HaZR” O’Bree told Snowball Esports, there’s plenty more to come from the young organisation.
“There definitely is a major difference between [LookingForOrg and Encore], even just in the short term,” said HaZR.
We will definitely be expanding and making [Encore] a proper organisation — bigger than just Counter-Strike.Jared “HaZR” O’Bree on the founding & future of Encore.
“After being orgless for something like nine months there is a massive difference even just with the stress of balancing funds for these international trips we’re making.
“It’s not cheap to make these things like bootcamps happen. Having support again is a huge weight off the shoulders for sure.”
A month earlier, the team found themselves in Stuttgart at their second international bootcamp. Stress was off their shoulders there too—at least to begin with—following word that an organisation was interested in acquiring the LookingForOrg team.
“Basically right before we were going over to Germany to bootcamp at 1337Camp we got approached by this org that seemed extremely keen to pick us up. We were really confident they would be able to support us.”
“Long story short — after offering to pay for the bootcamp and salary and getting contracts sent to us, they pulled out.
“It definitely was an annoying time for us but thankfully this Encore opportunity popped up for us just before we went to Dallas.
“Special thanks to 1337Camp though, who offered their bootcamp place for free when we were orgless, which was incredibly nice of them.”
It was a minor inconvenience for the team, who were happy just to find themselves back in the proverbial home of Counter-Strike in Europe for the second time.
Their first outing in January proved fruitful for experience, but despite taking a different approach than their previous peers and entering multiple tier two/three tournaments in the lead-up to ESL Pro League, Encore struggled to put up wins.
“Our first bootcamp didn’t work out too well in the beginning, as we were trying to do that bootcamp by ourselves using the prize money we made the previous year and bringing our own PCs over to an AirBnB in Sheffield — unlike our current setup at 1337Camp,” explains HaZR.
“Also, Mike [ap0c] had to fly home due to a private emergency mid-bootcamp and we were forced to use stand-ins, so it was a stressful time for us for sure.”
The first stint overseas for an Oceanic squad is always the toughest, so despite the lacklustre results on paper, HaZR and Encore took plenty away from the experience.
“Even though we had a rough start to the first bootcamp I feel personally I learnt a lot in that first stint. I don’t think we had any nerves in-game or anything.
“I think this just showed me how important it is just being comfortable and worry free outside of the server and stuff like that.”
Stint number two kicked off in Dallas last week—alongside our first female international reps at Mindfreak—but drawing PGL Antwerp Major Champions FaZe Clan in the opener wasn’t ideal in the slightest.
“IEM Dallas was always going to be a really tough event for us, especially being the worst ranked team there,” said HaZR.
Their run wouldn’t get any easier either — a best-of-one loss to FaZe meant elimination later that day against a weakened but still mighty Astralis, who ultimately overcame Encore and sent them packing 2-0.
“It was going to be a big mountain to climb from the very start. I don’t think we got to show much at all to be honest.
“I kind of dislike when tournaments are run like this where you play the opening match and then the elimination match is like, seven hours later on the same day. But it was still going to be hard to beat Astralis even if it was on a different day.”
This week’s ESL Pro League Conference, HaZR says, will be a completely different story — and there would be no better way to kick off the event than a win over fellow Aussie side Order.
“Versing another home team will be pretty fun for sure — I mean we play these guys so often it can sometimes be a bit of a grudge match,” said HaZR.
“We definitely want to have a good showing at this event. There are quite a lot of teams that, in our eyes, we should be beating. Qualifying through to Pro League groups should be a goal for us.
“It’s great having all these opportunities back for OCE CS. I think we’ve been really affected by the COVID era just because we’re so isolated.
“I just hope now that these opportunities are back we can actually start building on our region’s skill and improve results again.”
Order, then Renegades, defeated Encore at the PGL APAC RMR in their only meeting in 2022.
But in 2021 Encore, as both LookingForOrg and Dire Wolves, took down the Oceanic juggernauts not once, but twice — handing Renegades two of just three losses to OCE opponents all year.
HaZR played an important fragging role in both of their wins, but it couldn’t have been done without the leadership of Benson “Liki” Niuila, and while the team boasts an incredible source of experience in Mike “ap0c” Aliferis and Euan “sterling” Moore, it’s the 23-year-old in-game leader who guides Encore through their sets.
“Ben [Liki] does the majority of the pre and mid round calls for us,” said HaZR.
“We can call stuff and suggest stuff on our own obviously but it’s him mainly for the most part. I don’t think the leadership has changed much since [former coach Mike “HudzM” Hudson] left as Ben has been leading for the whole time.”
HudzM worked as an analyst and coach for the Encore core for the better part of a year, assisting the squad with event preparation — something that HaZR outlines as a pressure point against the big dogs of the Counter-Strike world.
“HudzM helped with a lot of things like with the preparation side of events and analysing the opponents we had. That’s another thing we’ve noticed — compared to these big tier one-two teams, you’re already on such a backfoot against these guys who have so much staff support.”
“Having no coach and analyst is quite hard. But it’s still possible to be good with only the five of us. We just need to work a lot harder.”
The pieces are slowly coming together for the Encore side, but for HaZR, his year-over-year growth in CS:GO is steady, and at just 20, his best years are still to come.
For him, the next step after obtaining international experience is to build consistency against the world’s best.
“I think my main individual goal at the moment is to actually start performing well against these top 30 teams,” he said.
“I can have really good maps against them, but obviously it’s going to be hard to get that consistency together against such good teams.
It’s like when I first started at home — you’re going to get farmed by the big teams until you make that breakthrough to the next level.Jared “HaZR” O’Bree on comparisons between starting out at home and competing abroad.
“Another goal is also just being at these events trying to gather as much experience as I can. You can’t worry about individual stats too much here though.
“The major goal is to play overseas as much as possible, it’s the only way to truly get better and build on your game.”
It’s an all Australian (and Kiwi) derby to open the ESL Pro League Conference on Thursday night, as rivals Order and Encore go head-to-head at 8:30pm AEST.
Keep up with our OCE reps via our ultimate coverage hub.