Throwback time — 2018, and the Asia Minor for the FACEIT London Major has just seen Middle-Eastern qualifier Uniquestars defeat a stacked 5POWER Gaming 2-0 to secure the subregion’s first series win at the Minors.
Featuring names like Guy “anarkez” Trachtman and Guy “Nertz” Iluz, Israel’s Uniquestars would ultimately fall to Aussies Tainted Minds and miss out on the playoffs, but nevertheless, Israel was now on the map.
Three years later, they’d have their first representative at a Major — Lotan “Spinx” Giladi represented ENCE at the PGL Stockholm Major, with his trajectory landing him now in powerhouses Team Vitality.
Now in 2022, Israel have their first shot at a core line-up on the Major stage in Rio through JiJieHao International, and Tal “meztal” Hahiashvili and the squad aren’t going to let the opportunity slip through their fingers.
JiJieHao defeated Chinese qualifiers Rare Atom 2-1 (16-4, 11-16, 16-10) to keep their Rio dreams alive, but as meztal said to Snowball Esports, the squad were ruing their loss to IHC in the event opener and were desperate to make amends.
“I know that we were going to win this [against Rare Atom] — we were supposed to win yesterday against IHC really,” meztal said.
“I personally didn’t play my best game [against IHC] and I am sure that if I did, we would have won. I’m really confident we can win again today if we come in with the same mindset and do everything as planned.
“Even against Rare Atom, we felt like we should have won in a more dominant fashion. In Inferno we strayed too far from our game plan really, but I believe we’ll be ready today.”
While Inferno escaped the Middle Eastern qualifiers they made up for it with a solid Mirage defence and brilliant teamplay to book their spot in Sunday’s final qualifier against Grayhound. But most impressive was how JiJieHao conducted themselves on Ancient.
Against Grayhound, Rare Atom were nigh unstoppable on the map, carving out the Aussies 16-2 in a dominant display — and yet, meztal and JiJieHao were far from convinced.
“We weren’t impressed with [RA’s] Ancient against Grayhound at all, it actually looked really bad but they still came out ahead 16-2 somehow, so we were really confident in picking it,” he said.
On the flipside, JiJieHao were hanging with event favourites IHC on the map, but the squad were unable to close Ancient and snatch it away from the Mongolians.
“We forced ourselves out of our own game against IHC, we played their game instead of ours, and I know our game would be much better than [Rare Atom] on the map.”
From the outside, JiJieHao International is an odd mix. Forming just a couple of months ago, the Israeli core of meztal, Maoz “BliePho3nix” Paz and Mori “MOREE” Mizrahi were joined by two Russians who had otherwise gone unwanted in the greater EU/CIS region.
One one hand was young gun Dmitriy “facecrack” Alekseyev, who rose to prominence on forZe throughout 2018 to 2021. Together, facecrack and forZe qualified for the StarLadder Berlin Major, where they fell just short of a Legends Stage berth.
On the other hand — one of the most storied and experienced Russians in Counter-Strike in Vadim “DavCost” Vasilyev. The six-time Major attendee was last seen with INDE IRAE but had spent the bulk of the late 2010’s with Team Spirit.
Meztal believes the pair are a key to JiJieHao’s success in the experience they bring both in, but particularly outside of the server.
“DavCost and Facecrack have so much experience. They both have been in big teams, DavCost has played in six Majors,” meztal explained.
“Inside the game we learn so much from them as we’ve grown, but outside the server, they bring experience in how we prepare for matches and be in the right mindset for it. They know when to chill and not be too stressed before games and that’s really important.”
The Middle East’s proximity to Europe has given JiJieHao valuable experience against some of the world’s best, but while they may not be as geographically challenged as Oceania or parts of Asia, the events JiJieHao can compete in and attend have been few and far between.
But now, after emerging from the Middle Eastern qualifier over a determined NASR Esports, meztal and JiJieHao are eager to make it to the biggest show of them all — and push Israel to new heights in Counter-Strike.
“I think that Israeli players have always been good, we just needed a breakthrough and heaps more experience,” meztal said.
“Players like Spinx and flameZ and Nertz have proven it possible, these guys have always been good, grinding FPL-C for a long, long time. As soon as they get a chance to show it they prove it possible.
“It’s the same with us right now. We’re still learning of course but we just needed the right opportunity with the right players and organisation. The Israeli scene just needed a little more time and support.”
Meztal celebrated his 22nd birthday while airborne on his way to Melbourne for the APAC RMR, but there’s only one gift he and JiJieHao are gunning for, and that’s the final spot at Rio.
Between them and Counter-Strike legacy is the home squad Grayhound. The ‘Hounds have looked far from their best at this event, and given meztal’s confidence and belief in his squad, the Aussies can’t afford to let up in the final qualifier.
For meztal, winning a series at the APAC RMR isn’t enough to satisfy his expectations. JiJieHao came to Melbourne with a single goal in mind, a goal they believed they should have secured through day one’s series against IHC.
“I just know that if we focused more on ourselves on day one we would have won for sure. It doesn’t matter if it would be IHC or Grayhound in the final match — we are here to qualify for the Major.”
Only one can join IHC and the rest of the world’s best in Brazil for the IEM Rio Major in November.
The final APAC RMR best-of-three series begins at 1pm AEDT, live from the Intel RMR Stage at PAX Australia.
For more, head to our ultimate IEM APAC RMR coverage hub.