In case it wasn’t yet clear, DreamHack has finally arrived in Melbourne, and with it comes EPL Challenger. Eight teams will descend upon Rod Laver Arena on Friday and battle for a spot at ESL Pro League’s Conference and a $100,000 USD prize pool.
For one half of our home reps in Vertex, DreamHack nearly wasn’t going to happen at all.
“There was a real chance at the start of this we wouldn’t be able to attend this event,” said Vertex’s Toby “BRACE” Barnes to Snowball Esports ahead of the celebration of esports in Melbourne this weekend.
“We are just happy to get to play some legends of the game like FalleN on LAN.”
With a full roster to be properly finalised, among other developments, the Wolfpack’s preparation has been severely hampered. As such, BRACE is hoping Vertex gets on the server and get their fundamentals right.
“We’ve had some pretty rough circumstances coming into this event so I’d be happy if we played some composed CS with good teamplay,” he said.
Despite the less than ideal start to their DreamHack adventure, BRACE and the Vertex spirits remain high heading into their opening best-of-one against Brazilian squad Imperial. Hell, just getting to play in front of a home audience is a privilege itself—one BRACE has been dreaming about since forming the squad in 2019.
“I think playing on stage at a LAN like this is a goal for a lot of the players in our scene,” said BRACE.
“Everyone on the team feels very lucky to have this experience.
“It’s an amazing opportunity to be able to represent Australia in front of a home crowd. At the time of the last IEM Sydney [in 2019], we had just started the core of the team in ESEA Open that brought us here today.
“It’s pretty insane it’s taken us this far.”
It’s been quite the journey for BRACE, which culminated in an international appearance at the EPL Conference last season. As his and Vertex’s first overseas event, the experience proved invaluable to BRACE.
“It was an amazing experience to be able to go overseas with some of our closest friends, for some people it was their first time out of Australia,” said BRACE.
It felt pretty surreal to finally qualify for a LAN event with the boys and we definitely didn’t take it for granted.Toby “BRACE” Barnes
“During the LAN we suffered hard from a lack of composure. Our preparation was very strong for the matches where we knew exactly how the other team played, but [we] couldn’t counter it in the match and made some very uncharacteristic mistakes,” the Counter-Strike star explained.
Despite exiting the Conference in straight sets, BRACE brought back with him a complete new outlook to captaincy, and relished in the opportunity for more consistent practice. It’s this outlook that has been clearly visible in the Vertex playstyle in Oceania following their return from Sweden.
“At the bootcamp personally I learnt a lot about how I want to approach calling T and CT stylistically and learnt how to build systems more efficiently,” BRACE explains.
“Scrimming 6 times a day against all the top teams in CS accelerates your progression fast.”
Vertex entered the off-season needing firepower after the loss of James “Roflko” Lytras and Tom “apocdud” Henry. It was believed they had found it in the form of the fiery ex-Order duo Declan “Vexite” Portelli and Matthew “Valiance” Hartrick.
But before barely any officials were played, the two were gone; Valiance opted to take a break from competing, while Vexite moved to Grayhound.
“It’s unfortunate we never got to play a season with that roster, said BRACE.
“I think role wise the team was a perfect fit and everyone had an insane work ethic. Essentially we built the roster after EPL-C, played the DreamHack Melbourne qualifiers then went straight into player break. Honestly, we hadn’t put in much work strategically into that roster but we did lay a strong foundation in terms of talking about how we want to approach a lot of situations.
He continued: “For both T and CT we went through the common decision forks in rounds and decided which decisions the team valued higher.”
The late changes hindered the Wolfpack’s preparation for DreamHack heavily, and they rushed to fill the remaining two spots.
Kiwi Christian “ADDICT” Pendleton makes a return to the ‘Pack, with Peter “BL1TZ” Athanastos rounding out Vertex’s roster for DreamHack.
Both were stand ins for Vertex at the RMR qualifier, and while BL1TZ’s stint as a member of the Wolfpack ends after DreamHack, ADDICT is set to make a full-time return to the roster.
“ADDICT was the first person we approached when we knew we had to find a new teammate,” said BRACE.
“He’s an intelligent and calm player and fits into the team socially very well.
“Since his stint on Aftershock he’s taking a lot more initiative—we hope to have more news on his situation shortly.”
It’s a Brazilian head-to-head for both our Aussie teams at ESL Challenger.
Grayhound open proceedings with paiN, while BRACE and co. take on “The Last Dance” of Imperial.
Neither of our hometown heroes are favourites, and should both lose the opening best-of-one, it’ll be an all-Aussie elimination match—with one team going out playing just one map against international opposition. It’s something BRACE feels could have been changed for the better of garnering experience against some of the world’s best.
“From the perspective of gaining experience, it would be nice to be in separate groups and play teams from different regions,” said BRACE.
“Both teams would rather not play each other considering we play each other domestically almost every tournament and scrim each other regularly. One of the exciting things about playing these events is seeing how you match up against teams from other regions.
It’s a different game playing against players that you have played hundreds of times. everyone has picked up on how individuals make decisions and their team’s tendencies.Toby “BRACE” Barnes
“However, these groups do seem favourable for us and Grayhound—with Entropiq and OG in Group A it would be significantly harder to progress.
Domestically, BRACE believes the changes to the top squads in Oceania will make for a far more competitive season than last.
Grayhound, then Order, all but dominated proceedings once again—similarly to their form throughout COVID lockdown.
“I think Grayhound pulled ahead domestically in the off-season,” believes BRACE.
“Prior to the off-season shuffle we would’ve been their biggest competition for international spots so this set us back a little bit.”
“Vexite is an incredibly strong player and once properly implemented into their system he should improve their T sides drastically.”
“I’m not exactly sure what roster Encore will use moving forward, but it seems like they will be getting an insane upgrade in firepower if they secure AZR and Gratisfaction full time.
“Rooster also should become stronger when Nettik gets unbanned, so hopefully this season will be more competitive than the last.”
Vertex kick off their ESL Challenger Melbourne campaign against Imperial tomorrow at 1:50pm AEST. Keep up to date with everything ESL Challenger via our ultimate coverage hub.