Written by: Richard Lewis
Another day, another mainstream sports star decides to invest in esports. It’s certainly not surprising at this point, although maybe the acquisition of Renegades by Boston Celtics player Jonas Jerebko could raise a few eyebrows. After all, Renegades, on the surface at least, look to be a classic example of narrative over substance; a team everyone wants to succeed because of their story, but has failed to deliver for a while now.
Renegades’ popularity can be attributed to their background. A team of straight-talking Aussies, who for years balanced blue-collar lives with chasing their esports aspirations, in a lot of ways they could be any of us regular Joes. When Renegades picked them up, even neutral fans were happy that this team was being given a real opportunity to move to America and become professional, no longer juggling day jobs with Counter-Strike. Good results were fleeting, as the team served up little more than mediocrity and vows to improve didn’t seem to pan out.
I said for a while that Renegades were a much better team than they were given credit for, but they never seemed to do everything in their power to prove me wrong. They would have their occasional flashes, picking up upset results and looking as competitive as anyone else in North American. They had players who were capable of delivering star performances. Yet whenever it really mattered, the team would capitulate, not just losing but losing hard. They were an impossible team to back at any point.
There were some good reasons for this. I knew from speaking with the players that the set-up was, in their opinion, sub-optimal. Their now retired captain Chad “spunj” Burchill told me in a lengthy interview, that the players were staying in a casino in Vegas, which sounds like the high-life until the realities set in. The lack of a secure practice space, constantly having to eat out, and team time meant six people huddling up in one room.
For Burchill, there was even worse pressure having to act as a player-coach, spending his extra hours going through his team’s (and opponents) replays using the information to cobble together a playbook. Having been a more cerebral player in the latter stage of his career, part of the reason he is becoming a successful analyst, he didn’t have the time to fine-tune individual skills that he needed to contribute to the scoreboard. He repeatedly begged the owners for some assistance, most notably prior to their attempts to qualify for the MLG Major in Columbus, but was told there were simply not enough resources to cover the extra costs that assistance would involve.
Still, in the eyes of many, these were no excuses, especially given how outspoken the team could be in regard to some of their opponents or media coverage. Patience wore thin, and most people simply discounted the team from the running of most competitions. People didn’t seem too excited when the roster was bolstered by the acquisition of Ricardo “Rickeh” Mulholland, reputedly the best player left in Australia after Renegades left. It didn’t seem a lot had changed. Then came the official announcement of the Jerebko acquisition, and the results began a surprising upturn.
Since the purchase, they had looked a lot more competitive, defeating Team Liquid and SK Gaming, the latter including a 16-0 clean sweep that ended the involvement of stand-in Gustavo “SHOOWTIME” Gonçalves with the Brazilians. They followed this up with routine wins over Selfless and Splyce, teams in that second tier of North American CS. It was a hot run of form that was their best for some time.
So when they came to ELeague’s preliminaries facing an OpTic Gaming team in disarray, I believed they would win, and continue to the portion of the tournament where they would be joining us in the studio. They had overcome Luminosity relatively easily and split a series with complexity, then beat newcomers eUnited at a canter. Everything pointed to another chapter being written in the mildly disappointing saga of OpTic Gaming’s involvement with Counter-Strike. Instead, it was a flashback to the bad old days, a team that looked paralyzed by the spotlight, the pause you see in animals crossing the road before the fight or flight mechanism kicks in.
The first half of Cache barely saw them in the game at all and by the time they were warmed up, OpTic’s lead was insurmountable. Moving on to dust2, the numbers were more favorable for Renegades. They’d triumphed on this map four out of the five times they’d played it since the purchase, including that schooling of SK Gaming. A three map series seemed inevitable. This time, they lost the game after getting a sizeable lead, crumbling under OpTic pressure with a pivotal moment where Will "RUSH" Wierzba was able to drop down from short and catch the team out.
And with that, their ELeague season was over, another anti-climactic storyline as the team looked to reinvent themselves. It’ll be a rude awakening for Jerebko and their General Manager, former Team Liquid coach James O’Connor, who probably thought they had got themselves a bargain “fixer-upper.” Make no mistake about it, there’s going to be a lot of work ahead for this team, especially given the overall improvement that has occurred in North American Counter-Strike over the past nine months. They will need to develop that will to win that has eluded them so far, a stronger mentality needed when the stakes are high. Hopefully, O’Connor can also give some of his tactical input that will help them find ways to counter opponents as games start to slip from them. It will be a long road, and the latest member of the Counter-Strike fraternity will be hoping that the honeymoon period isn’t already over.