Grayhound didn’t win a map at IEM Katowice 2019. They played Vitality far closer than they should’ve been able to on Nuke, taking the Frenchmen to overtime by posting a big CT-side score. But overall, they weren’t able to greatly affect the proceedings of CS:GO’s first major of 2019. As the first Australian/New Zealand (ANZ) team to the main stage since Immunity in 2015 however, they were still a big deal.
Deploying talent cultivated in the local ANZ circuit, Grayhound managed to carve a path to the major and represent the best of a growing region. They have played in their fair share of international LANs for a roster so isolated, but Katowice was their first taste of Counter-Strike’s biggest stage. Undoubtedly, the ambitions and confidence of ANZ’s best team grew from this experience. And with that, directly after Katowice came the announcement of sterling’s removal and addition of ICON Esport’s (formerly known as Tainted Mind’s) Kiwi AWPer sico.
While there’s far bigger roster moves occurring post-major, quietly, in the background, this sico/sterling swap is another big step for Grayhound’s journey to consistent international relevance.
To understand the addition of sico though, one must first understand Gratisfaction.
Grayhound were the most internationally tenured roster in Australia throughout 2018. Domestically, they were regularly tested on both LAN and in online qualifiers by their peers, but their international results edged them as the best team in the region. They became the face of ANZ CS through deploying a robust, fundamentally sound style that would confidently shut down the mistakes of other domestic teams. The lynchpin to these win conditions was Gratisfaction’s AWP play in the context of the Grayhound system.
For stretches of time, Gratisfaction was the de facto best player in Australia, often being rivalled by his teammate and captain, Dexter. He at once balanced a highly consistent, position-based AWP style with flexible utility usage and forward pressure on T-side. The New Zealand sniper managed a certain level of confidence, selflessness and consistency that made him a monster across all facets of domestic play. He gave room and resources for players like malta and DickStacy to shine in more supportive roles.
It was no surprise in this sense that Renegades looked to him as one of the first local options to recruit. On one hand, his exodus helped re-establish the ANZ region internationally, as he played a key role – alongside liazz – in the big playoff finish of Renegades at IEM Katowice 2019. On the other though, it left a huge space in the Grayhound system which needed to be filled.
The replacement for these big shoes was sterling, a young New Zealand-based AWPer who had been kicked from Chiefs in the middle of the year and was posting big numbers with Legacy in the lower end of the scene. “Sterlings' style is very similar to Gratifaction’s in that he gets consistent frags that are necessary”, outlined Dexter after the move was announced. Sterling, a quieter personality, played a similarly positional style of AWPing to Gratisfaction, but without the same versatility in aggression or utility usage. “Sterling is just a little bit different from Gratisfaction. He's a lot more passive I think. They need more time to get a better system going”, said Zewsy of ICON Esports (formerly Tainted Minds).
Sterling, despite issues in his style, was still able to post solid numbers at the Asian minor. He was instrumental in big games against Vici and MVP, forming a solid foundation for the erkaSt/dexter T-side combination to thrive.
Punishing looser Asian sides is one thing though, and trying to work advantages against legitimate international entities like Vitality, Fnatic, and Cloud9 is another. He may have finished with a decent-enough relative rating in these games, but was rated the fifth-least aggressive player of the tournament, while simultaneously posting nearly the lowest flashes thrown on Grayhound. While he was consistent when he did take a shot, the depth around this play was clearly lacking.
This is where sico comes in. He looks to be for Grayhound the type of AWPer sterling stylistically struggled to come to terms with. “For me, Sico has the right amount of aggression and 'playmaking' that I'm after. Both on CT and T side, he is able to react on his own accord to force a pick, and be able to communicate it properly so that I can react as an IGL and call a strategy around that”, said in-game leader Dexter.
On both ORDER and ICON Esports/Tainted Minds, sico was well-renowned for his playmaking ability on the AWP. When the momentum of the game is going his way, sico has some of the most devastating forward pressure in the region. Playing against him, he’s the “only player to actively be the most annoying and presence on the map make us scared because of his versatility”, further said dexter.
Sico will look to become a staple of Grayhound’s fragging core, and the foundation for continued domestic dominance and international campaigns. With his added versatility and more aggressively inclined style, Grayhound are looking to compound the experience learnt while overseas in Katowice. They are currently the most internationally seasoned roster domestically, and now with the talent to match. As the ANZ region continues to receive spots at big events and IEM Sydney 2019 looms around the corner, Grayhound look poised to score impressive results.