As Counter-Strike 2 debuts in Australia with the game’s first big event, IEM Sydney, BLIX goes over the top five players to watch at the tournament.
After MOUZ secured the last Counter-Strike: Global Offensive big event at ESL Pro League Season 18, the scene is now ready to restart from a blank slate. While it’s unlikely the biggest favorites will falter, even if the new MR12 best-of-one matches give underdogs a chance to shine, starting off strongly might mean being able to establish oneself as a contender straight away. It’s also particularly fitting that Counter-Strike 2 will debut in Australia, a region left in tatters by the Covid-era restrictions now aiming to return to being the home of high-level international. Between established stars, rising prospects and returning legends who will shine Down Under.
Ádám “torzsi” Torzsás
Rising through the ranks as one of the hottest prospects on the Big Green, when Hungarian AWPer torzsi was first promoted to the main MOUZ lineup at the start of 2022 many expected him to be a clear upgrade over a struggling Fredrik “acoR” Gyldstrand. However, Christopher “dexter” Nong’s style of calling clashed with torzsi’s preference, apparently limiting his performances even in MOUZ’s sporadic big event deep runs. One such case was at the IEM Rio Major, when the German organization made it all the way to the semifinals before collapsing against eventual winners Outsiders.
Looking to re-establish themselves as a true contender for the first time since the Robin “ropz” Kool era back in 2018, MOUZ secured the services of highly rated Polish IGL and former academy member Kamil “siuhy” Szkaradek, with the signing coming as a last chance for torzsi to prove his worth in tier-one. And so he did, securing the MVP medal as the organization took its first big event win in almost four years at ESL Pro League Season 18. In only his second event under siuhy, torzsi produced his best-ever performance on the biggest stage, even narrowly out-sniping Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostilyev in the grand finals.
Now, the Hungarian has to prove he is capable of producing such a level consistently, especially as the CS2 transition will shake up the scene’s pecking order. If the Maltese event showcased torzsi’s high survivability and his importance as a reliable fragging presence in siuhy’s system, not enough credit has been given to the Hungarian’s impressive opening duel stats, with a 57.5% win rate on the offensive side and a stellar 72.9% on CT, only cleared by Nicolai “device” Reedtz and Ilya “m0nesy” Osipov among AWPers. Considering MOUZ will debut against Australian underdogs VERTEX, the scene is set for another impressive event from torzsi.
Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken
FaZe’s Twistzz will reach Sydney on a radically different path, having produced a plethora of disappointing performances during the past few months as the international superteam fell further and further behind the competition. Despite dominating the tier-one scene in the first half of 2022, FaZe failed to remain dominant going into 2023 and have only recorded two top-four finishes in the entire year, with a lone tournament win at EPL Season 17. As the 2019 IEM Sydney MVP the Canadian is no stranger to the arena, and he will need to perform at his peak level if Finn “karrigan” Andersen’s quintet wants to salvage an unacceptably average season for their standards.
Even with impressive peaks in FaZe’s deeper runs, 2023 is still Twistzz’s worst statistical year in Big Events since he first debuted on the international stage with TSM, and this is both a cause and a consequence of the team’s dwindling form. The Canadian is his team’s second-worst performer against the upper echelons of the scene, only predictably trailed by IGL karrigan, and has become worryingly unimpactful even in his CT side holds. While he is far from being FaZe’s only or biggest problem, especially as Helvijs “broky” Saukants’ AWPing has attracted similar criticism, it’s now clear that this level is unsustainable if FaZe actually want to compete for titles again, especially as ENCE, G2 and Vitality keep progressing.
The transition to Counter-Strike 2 might represent an unexpected lifeline for Twistzz and his team, who had as little time to adapt as many of the other contenders. Assuming karrigan and coach Filip “NEO” Kubski are actually ready for the event and the team’s tactical struggles have even just partially improved, an in-form Twistzz will be a tell-tale sign of a FaZe to be reckoned with. Whether this reversal of fortunes is little more than hopeful speculation is still to be seen, but with an EU shuffle potentially developing the Canadian needs to start performing soon in order to avoid becoming replaceable.
Janusz “Snax” Pogorzelski
Counter-Strike 2’s first big event will also mark Polish legend Snax’s return to the upper echelons of the scene, with GamerLegion taking a punt on the 30-year-old veteran five years after he was kicked from his last real tier-one team, MOUZ. The ever-hungry Pole has nonetheless been keeping in shape over this time, plying his trade for multiple Polish and international teams, and even helping ENCE secure a second-place finish at IEM Dallas as a stand-in last year. After much consideration and multiple offers, Snax finally felt he was comfortable enough with the English language to take on the IGL mantle and promptly signed for the IGL-less GamerLegion.
Snax joins a team that was picked apart after reaching the highest of highs, a Major final at the BLAST Paris Major in May. Star rifler Mihai “iM” Ivan was the first to depart, being the newest recruit of NAVI’s international project, followed shortly after by IGL siuhy as he returned to MOUZ. A failed experiment with Kazakh Sanzhar “neaLaN” Iskhakov at the helm left GamerLegion without a true identity, a leader in and out of the game, and a star who will push the quintet through the hardest matchups. These are the issues Snax will need to fix over the next few months if he is to re-ignite his tier-one career.
Considering how much time has passed since his last stint in an international-level team, the complicated transition to a new game in Counter-Strike 2, and the short amount of time the still newly-established IGL had to implement his system, it’s hard to expect anything from Snax and GamerLegion at the event. Still, if his previous stand-in appearances are anything to go by, the Polish old-timer can still hang with the big dogs from an individual perspective. A debut matchup against FaZe will provide him with a tough challenge, but still one he can overcome if the team manages to click at the right time.
Vladislav “nafany” Gorshkov
Russian IGL nafany’s removal from Cloud9’s active lineup was simultaneously one of the most predicted and least controversial moves of the off-season, as the North American organization finally pulled the plug on the Gambit project they acquired in April of 2022 to sign superstars Ilya “Perfecto” Zalutskyi and Denis “electroNic” Sharipov. The pressure of having to win titles with two of the best players in the world on his team had turned nafany into an error-prone space-creator and inefficient caller. The Russian also apparently left his team on a sour note, as Abay “HObbit” Khasenov blamed his lack of tier-one experience for the team’s lackluster results.
Still, nafany showed plenty of maturity and even claimed to be ready for his removal in an interview with HLTV.org. While finding another opportunity in tier-one looked unlikely, the young Russian was selected by the organization BetBoom to build a new roster from scratch, giving him a never-before-experienced amount of freedom. The quintet, sporting Aleksandar “zorte” Zagodyrenko on the AWP and former Spirit and VP riflers Pavel “s1ren” Ogloblin and Aleksandar “Kair0N-” Anashkin, is basically all nafany could ask for: a young, talented quintet with plenty of international experience.
As the team qualified for IEM Sydney with relative ease, taking down OG, NiP and 9INE in the process, all eyes will be on nafany to reaffirm himself as a tier-one level IGL both tactically and individually. For what concerns the latter, the youngster will benefit from Kair0N-’s aggressive presence and will occupy a series of more varied roles. However, the concerns about nafany’s tactical depth (or lack thereof) will probably not be dispelled straight away, especially as BetBoom only signed Viacheslav “innersh1ne” Britvin as their coach a couple of weeks before the event. What’s certain is that he could hardly build a better team to make his comeback with, and he will need to prove he wasn’t, in fact, the problem.
Denis “electroNic” Sharipov
The man who replaced nafany as the IGL in Cloud9 is also on this list, as the four-times HLTV Top 20 rifler looks to take another step forward in his career and return to consistent tournament contention after NAVI faltered in 2022 and early 2023. His decision to join C9 further reinforced the Russian team’s identity as the scene’s new superteam, as they now fielded world top-three AWPer Dmitry “sh1ro” Sokolov and one of the strongest four-man rifling cores ever assembled.. electroNic would take once again take the IGL mantle for the quintet, a continuation of the failed NAVI experiment which had already been heavily scrutinized.
Results failed to arrive, however, culminating in a humiliating elimination from ESL Pro League Season 18 at the hands of Complexity, Liquid and Eternal Fire. electroNic himself struggled, but it was the system itself that caused the greatest concerns, as HObbit, in particular, failed to adapt to his new roles and dropped to career-low ratings. Cloud9’s issues were undoubtedly hard to diagnose, but the first culprit was necessarily a weak map pool and a general lack of teamplay and coordination, which often left C9’s stars in unwinnable positions. The performances were so worrisome that electroNic was stripped of the captaincy, with HObbit now leaving him free to operate as he did in NAVI’s brightest days.
Now freed from the pressure and limitations of captainship, electroNic needs to prove he can perform at the scene-best level he produced multiple times over his career and also play alongside another dominant rifling presence like Sergey “Ax1le” Rykhtorov. And so he did in CS:GO’s last online event, BLAST Premier Fall Showdown, where he produced his third-best tournament performance in the last two years. IEM Sydney can be the start of a new era for Cloud9 and electroNic, but little is known about the team’s preparation for the event: we’ll just need to see how on point HObbit's IGLing and the Russian’s much-beloved high-octane rifling are on their return to LAN.