Counter-Strike is back in its home country. A pandemic, a move to international rosters and a whole new game—and Australia’s CS hero, Justin “jks” Savage is playing his first match on home soil since 2019.
At the last iteration of IEM Sydney, his team was eliminated in the group stage of the competition. The year prior, he’d made the quarter-finals in a game against MOUZ that is now a part of Australian CS folklore.
But, aside from that one match against MOUZ, playing in front of a home crowd has eluded him.
“I think the first time I was here, there was a lot of pressure on us,” he recounted to Snowball Esports at IEM Sydney, now in 2023. “[But], I’ve kind of proved I can get on the stage, so it’s all good.”
“Kind of proved” is a massive understatement. Since that fateful quarter-final and joining G2, he’s won every other big event trophy that professional players aspire to, excluding a major. In that time, he’s also gained a reputation for being an ice cold player, one that never shows his nerves or emotions—positive or negative.
This afternoon, he returns to the stage of IEM Sydney for the first time since 2018, this time facing Complexity in the semi-finals.
So, how important is IEM Sydney to a guy who seems like nothing phases him, and has won a lot of what CS has to offer?
“If I can say that I’m the only Australian to win Sydney, obviously that would be great, right?” he said with a rare smile, “and just for me personally, it’s a big, big thing for me just to win in front of the home crowd.”
The home crowd of 7,000 keen CS fans that will be rooting for him in the Aware Super Theatre.
Local teams VERTEX and Grayhound were both eliminated during the group stage without winning a map, and Christopher “Dexter” Nong’s Fnatic went out in the latter part of it. As far as popularity at this event goes, jks is peerless.
At the mention of the home crowd perhaps not being as patriotic as he would expect, he laughed. “Like, I would be a little bit disappointed if it [wasn’t a unified crowd], but I think it should be obviously leaning more towards us as the favourites.”
And he’s right, too. If there is one player narrative patrons want to see fulfilled this weekend, it’s jks winning this tournament.
While he doesn’t have a priority order for his dream titles, he admitted that he wants a major, Katowice, Cologne and Sydney. Having knocked out fifty-percent of his career wishlist in the last year—and Katowice for a second time—he’s at the top of his form with his Sydney dream just within reach.
“I think this is my best chance to actually win the event,” he claimed. This seems reasonable for a myriad of reasons, but not all are relating to the success of G2 this year.
We aren’t even playing the same iteration of Counter-Strike anymore, it’s been that long between Australian drinks for jks. CS2’s tier-one debut has landed in Sydney, and there are a lot of questions in the air about how teams will perform here and in the future.
Jks on the T-side plays as a lurker—a player who’s responsibility is to punish CT re-aggression for map control and to manipulate and punish rotations. On the CT-side, he usually plays bombsite anchor roles; a role in which often requires immense patience, reservation and an ability to stay alive or get multiple kills.
Both of these roles are quite passive, but in CS2, peeker’s advantage is everywhere, and teams are more aggressive across the board, including their more passive role players. It’s swing or be swung.
Or at least, it is for people who aren’t jks.
When comparing his thoughts on the sequel to the final days of CS:GO, he said: “It’s more or less the same.
“I don’t think it’s really a big deal unless like I’m holding an angle or something like that and someone swings,” he elaborated. “Obviously [then], they have the advantage. But also after playing, you kind of know when people are going to swing and when they aren’t… So, it’s not really that big of a problem.
“At the moment, it does favour people who peek first. I think it kind of depends on the way people want to play right now. And I think more or less, people are going to be more aggressive so it’s not like I can’t adapt.”
Any longtime follower of jks knows he can adapt too. His first big title was as a fill-in for FaZe at IEM Katowice at the beginning of 2022, where he played various entry roles late in playoffs—a role he’s never played before—and looked like he had been doing it his whole career. So, how does he see the meta adapting, now that we have CS2?
“Honestly, I don’t really know how the meta will evolve,” he admitted. “Some maps are going to be played a little bit differently.” He pointed to Inferno as an example of a map that has already changed a quite a lot following its remake.
As our time with jks wrapped up, it sparked a few musings: he was a very in-demand player this weekend from media and fans alike. How many conversations like this has he experienced throughout the last decade?
For myself personally, as a CS fan and player, it had me ponder how little representation Australia gets in all spheres of the game and how unique his situation is to be interviewed by another Australian now that he’s back home for a bit. What does an opportunity like playing in the semi-finals of IEM Sydney mean to him?
“Oh, obviously, [IEM Sydney] is really important,” he begins, “but of course winning in front of my home crowd is something I’ve always wanted to do, and the only time I’ve ever managed to make it on stage was 2018.
“We did okay, but we obviously didn’t make the semis or any of that. So I think right now… [this] is the best chance that I could have to win the event and is obviously something really special to me.”
And I wish him, from the home crowd, the best of luck.
With jks’ G2 slated to kick off the semi-finals against Complexity, the teams are one step closer to the trophy as MOUZ and FaZe are slated for their own.
Want to know how Friday’s games played out? Our ultimate coverage hub has you covered on the results, today’s schedule and more.