Project Destiny: Bravado's search for "real Counter-Strike"
Ahead of DreamHack Winter, the first event for which Bravado have qualified in North America, we went back to the organization's beginnings in CS:GO and to how the team got molded into what it is today.
Bravado will compete at DreamHack Winter 2018, which marks the first event they have qualified for from outside of their home region. It isn’t the first time the South African organization will be in attendance at Elmia, however, as Bravado played the DreamHack 2014 Major—back when Majors still had invites—, although only one of the players from that lineup remains active today. A lot has happened for Dimitri "Detrony" Hadjipaschali and Bravado since that Major, a period of time with domestic success but with several international defeats and numerous roster changes. Bravado have spent the last ten months in the United States to put South African Counter-Strike on the map and follow the tradition of other teams from peripheral regions, such as Brazil's Luminosity or Australia's Renegades.
When asked about some of the most impactful moments in regards to the team’s composition, Detrony starts off by going all the way back to the days after that DreamHack Winter 2014 Major, when his brother Andreas "cent" Hadjipaschali decided to step down from the active lineup to run the organization full-time. “I had been playing with him in teams, mainly Bravado, from the early age of 16 or 17,” he says. "He always had me under his wing and taught me a lot, so it definitely took a toll on me.”
The South African team ended in 13-16th place at that Major, where they got crushed by fnatic, 16-2, and Cloud9, 16-1, in the GSL group stage. They placed the same at ESWC the following year—when that event was still in its glory days—with a renewed roster. One of the changes from the line-up that had competed in Jönköping was the absence of Roberto "blackpoisoN" Dall'Occo, South Africa's most notorious player at the time, who had just moved to Sweden to try his luck in Europe. Upon returning from ESWC, which took place in Montreal that year, the seed of the Bravado we know today was planted when cent asked his younger brother what he wanted to do with the team. ”[He] offered to move me overseas to live and compete abroad to find or build a team,” recalls Detrony. "The other option was to come back home and create a line-up with the best available up and coming players in South Africa.”
Bravado then made one of its most significant signings to date, bringing on the then-16-year-old AWPer Aran "Sonic" Groesbeek, who had been tearing up the local scene while playing for Energy, one of Bravado’s direct rivals. Not long after that, Ruan "ELUSIVE" van Wyk was also brought on board, setting up the core of the current line-up, and blackpoisoN was recalled upon returning home from his European stint. Shortly afterward, Tiaan "T.c" Coertzen was brought on as coach after he decided to leave his then team, Energy. "I told the team that I was going to stop playing after the ESWC qualifiers in June and probably retire,” says the coach- “I was in my last year of medicine, but I was watching Bravado play at the ESWC qualifiers and I just thought that I could help these guys improve a lot. This allowed me to focus on finishing my degree while helping them in my spare time.”
Bravado plowed through South Africa, winning ESEA Open over Rhys "Fadey" Armstrong's and Johnny "JT" Theodosiou’s carboN to qualify for the ESEA Season 22 Global Challenge LAN, and the WESG South & East Africa Qualifier. They then came in second in the WESG Africa & Middle East Qualifier in Dubai—which they were initially going to skip as the dates clashed with the Global Challenge LAN, but ended up attending because they could not secure visas for Poland, where the ESEA event was taking place—to clinch a spot at the 2016 World Finals, in China.
That year’s ESWC once again did not go the way of the South African squad, who went out in 17-24th place following two losses to Kévin "Ex6TenZ" Droolans’s LDLC and one victory over the Indian team Overcome in the group stage. They then traveled to the United States to play the following season’s Global Challenge LAN after winning another ESEA Open, but went out in an underwhelming 5-6th place in the eight-team tournament despite a good start with a win over TSM. They then fell to LDLC once again and lost their last match in California to Rogue.
Despite not getting the desired results, traveling to California ignited a spark in the Bravado players, as T.c explains: "The first time we all went to America was for the Global Challenge LAN in California and that’s pretty much when everyone said: ‘This country is awesome, we’ve got to move here!’ There is just so much to do, even when we’re not practicing or playing CS we’re always having a good time.”
2017 began with the WESG World Finals, where Bravado were unable to make it out of the round-robin best-of-two group stage, in which they tied to Signature, lost to Space Soldiers and Kinguin, and took a consolation victory over FIVE. That marked the last event for this roster as blackpoisoN and Ashton "Golz" Muller were replaced by the last two pieces of the puzzle, Fadey and JT. "My dream was to try to make it as a pro internationally, and when Bravado showed me that they could make that happen, there was no way of saying no to the opportunity they gave me," JT said.
When asked about parting ways with blackpoisoN, one of the organization's members from the early days, Detrony had this to say: “He brought a huge amount of value to both rosters in Bravado, before and after his return. He is an extremely talented player with a great understanding of the game, and he brought that back with him after returning from Sweden and playing FPL there for around a year. He injected a lot of this into our team and was a big contribution to the development and improvement of our performances. After WESG 2016, in early 2017, the team decided to part ways with him for some internal reasons which I don’t feel necessary to disclose and wish to remain private, but I can say is that he is doing a great job with Energy, helping and developing the team and players. They have done great so far, and a lot of credit to him.”
By the time they signed for Bravado, JT and Fadey were both quite young, 17 and 18, the former still in high school. “At first the mixture [of youth and experience] led to a few conflicts because the older guys in the team would see things differently than the young guns,” says T.c. "But we managed to learn how to work with each other, instead of against each other, and how to find common ground more quickly. I would say it actually counts in our favor now and it prevents us old guys from getting stuck in our ways.” At the time, Project Destiny, the name given to the venture of bringing Bravado to North America, was already in the works, but it couldn’t happen quite yet: “We wanted to make the move after Sonic finished school at the end of 2016/start of 2017, but then the whole lineup change happened, which left us in a similar situation with having to wait for JT to finish school at the end of 2017," T.c explains. "We were also a new roster and had to prove ourselves, so we weren’t really in a rush to make it happen.”
The team had some early struggles, like losing the ESL African Championship to blackpoisoN’s Energy, although doubts were quickly dispelled as they were able to win their last ESEA Open Season in South Africa, sealing their move to North America as ESEA offered them a spot in the Main division in the new continent. This move has been opening doors for Bravado since the second they left, offering a much more vibrant scene for the South Africans to take advantage of. “I'm enjoying America so much, it is a pleasure to wake up every day and play Counter-Strike,” says Fadey, giving an example of the perks of moving to Arizona. ”In South Africa we could only get scrims at 7PM or 8PM and then after those scrims everybody had to go off for the night. It's very enjoyable being able to start scrimming from 2PM or 3PM.”
When asked to compare South Africa and other regions that have managed to field teams playing in the international circuit, Fadey says: “South Africa is the most isolated region due to having a small population compared to Brazil and Australia. On top of that, South Africa has fewer people (relative to total population) that have and use their computers for gaming." JT echoes that sentiment, adding that "individuals can still push themselves to try to compete internationally the way we have. That’s actually what we’re trying to showcase.”
The announcement was made in January of 2018 and the team played their first match in North America the following month, right before heading to China to play at WESG 2018. In Haikou, Bravado became the first South African team to make it out of a group stage at an international event, technically, but that was only because two of the four teams in their group, Viva Algeria and Ukraine, had forfeited their slots at the tournament. The South Africans then lost seven maps to four rivals, Envy, Space Soldiers, ORDER, and TeamOne, but unlike previous international events where things had not gone well, the quintet stayed together and kept working on their goals in North America. The only change this time was that JT took over the team’s in-game leadership. “It’s definitely something I enjoy, but it’s also very stressful,” says the South African youngster. "It is a role I’m comfortable with and I’m learning, and, although I still make many mistakes, my team trust me and want me to lead.”
The team won back-to-back ESEA Seasons upon returning, one in Main and one in MDL, although unluckily for them it was one of the MDL Seasons that did not provide a spot in ESL’s flagship league. "We had a pretty shaky run last season, and we didn't expect to make playoffs by the end of it," says ELUSIVE, "When we made the playoffs we knew we had nothing to lose and we approached the games with little to no pressure, especially since it wasn't a move-up season. We were happy with the win, but the main goal is to become a Pro League team." During that time, Bravado also showed that they could consistently reach a lot of closed qualifiers, and they were granted a six-month extension from their sponsors to remain in North America and keep fighting to reach one of the top leagues in the region.
Bravado recently got eliminated from this past season's MDL playoffs by cantwinalan in a match that saw both maps go into double-overtime. “We approached this season with a different mentality and we were very confident," ELUSIVE explains. "The season went a lot better and we ended up with a good seed, but we fell short in the quarter-finals We expected to make it to the MDL LAN, but the pressure and mindset going into that game ended in a loss for us. Instead of treating it like any other game we treated it as do-or-die, and that was a mistake. We're very disappointed in the result, but we’re motivated to make up for it.” Sonic adds that ”it was a disappointment and it was unfortunate, but by no means will it hinder our progress as a team. Our focus is still there and there is always next season as well as many other events to qualify for. It’s not the end of the world.”
The South African team had already been rewarded for their efforts on American soil 15 days before the loss to cantwinalan, however, by qualifying for DreamHack Winter 2018. They did so in convincing fashion, beating teams like INTZ, Luminosity, and Rogue. With their last LAN event going back almost eight months, I asked Sonic what he thought about competing in Jönköping. "LAN is always a different story, the environment is more intense and the pressure to perform is overwhelming," he notes. "However, if we manage to keep our heads straight and our belts buckled, I feel like we can play our game and perform at the level we need to.”
For Detrony, going to the event with this team is particularly special. "We have been trying to qualify for an offline event outside of South Africa for some time now and we finally did it," he says. "Going through a tougher route than the other qualifiers we have played. It was also one of the last, if not the last, big online qualifier of the year, so the timing was perfect. It was very relieving that the work we have put in has paid off. DreamHack is also a special event for me since I have attended this specific one twice before and never achieved the results I wanted or intended to. I am hoping that there will be improvement and progress here. It also feels great being back at a prestigious event such as this, I can’t wait!”
Bravado traveled back home for a few days after the season in North America ended, and then to Sweden, where they have been bootcamping before the tournament. The South Africans will not have an easy time in Jönköping, as they have been put into the more stacked of the two groups, along with ENCE, G2, and OpTic, all well ahead of Bravado in the ranking. This time, however, Bravado already have a victory tallied, which is having qualified for such an event from one of the top two regions in the world. No matter how it ends, the journey they have taken to be here makes them perceive whatever comes next as bonus. “Our goals and dreams are what keeps me and my teammates motivated, and we’re not planning on quitting anytime soon," says Sonic. "We make one another happy by simply being friends, and seeing the man next to you motivated and full of fire raises spirits. We all love this game and competing. To be able to do that in an environment which is so saturated with industry leaders is a blessing which many take for granted, but not us.”
“We will have to wait and see,” says T.c, when asked about how the team will perform on LAN compared to online. “Look, to be completely honest, the team is ridiculously strong and on our day we can compete with some of the best. Unfortunately, on our bad days, we can also lose to teams that we really shouldn’t be losing to. We’re still learning and growing as a team and figuring out how to be consistent. I think everyone on the team will agree that even though we have been together since January 2017, we have only been playing ‘real Counter-Strike’ for the past 10 months, since we moved to America. Anything before that doesn’t count and you’re a fool if you think otherwise."