A dream is easy to conceptualise in the confines of a duvet late at night. Fantasising about the upper limit of what’s possible is cathartic, comforting, motivating, and most of the time, unrealistic. This isn’t necessarily because that dream is unreasonably lofty, or overly-ambitious though. Rather, most of the time it’s because that long-term goal takes a lot suffering to achieve. We pull the duvet tighter rather than rip it off when it comes to waking up early; preferring to fantasise rather than act.

Bravado Gaming, in this sense, is a group of players who act.

While the majority of matchmaking and semi-professional superheroes leave their 100+ ADR games in the tendrils of semi-consciousness before sleep, Bravado have been actualising them on international stages.

As of writing, they’ve set-up an IndieGoGo campaign to raise money so they “can continue paying the rent, utilities, food, subscriptions, internet, vehicle, gas, and any other associated costs to keep [the team] in Austin, Texas to compete further for another 3 months.” Their story is still in its infancy, and has its roots on stages that exist in the periphery of the communities attention. As such, many mightn’t know the nuance of their rise or lack the reference points for understanding where they’re at as a team. And as a result, lack context to answer the question: are they a team worth funding?

Rivalry VIP

Straight out of main

Bravado come from South Africa, one of the most isolated regions in the world to play Counter-Strike. ESL have a presence in ZA having run the last two seasons of the African Championship which began in 2017. There’s also an open season of ESEA, some local tournament organisers running smaller LANs, and other than that, not much. More-so than lacking domestic opportunities though, is the distinct absence of international event slots for South African teams.

In comparison, at least Australian/New Zealand teams are able to find their way into a high number of Asian/ANZ qualifiers despite a relatively small domestic LAN circuit. ANZ sides have IEM Sydney, EPL Finals, Dreamhack Masters events, a sprinkling of random Asian events and much more to battle for a place in.There’s a road to big events and, as such, a carrot, albeit not as big as other regions, to dangle in front of sponsors. Internationally in 2018, South African sides were able to play at just the PLG Grand Slam, Dreamhack Mumbai, and WESG, or in simpler terms, not much of a carrot.

With no clear road at home, Bravado assessed their options and decided to pave their own way abroad in North America at the start of 2018. It wasn’t, however, as though they were welcomed into the region on a red carpet with champagne offered in one hand and direct invites in another.

Bravado Sonic

The South Africans started their international campaign grinding through open qualifiers and an ESEA Main season. “They came out on top [in the Main season] as any seriously structured team should have done as they were likely the only salaried team in the entire division” MDL Caster and former MDL player Alexander ‘mauisnake’ Ellenberg outlined. While they easily managed to top main and make it into MDL though, the same could not be said for their attempts at qualifying for the intensely contested NA slot at international events. “In qualifiers, they had some ups and downs” said mauisnake. “They didn’t even make it out of any Open qualifiers for for 2 whole months [around Febuary/March] [...] after this though, they began qualifying to closed qualifiers rather consistently.”

But even making it into closed qualifiers regularly, Bravado continued to fail to make it onto LAN. In fact, they were knocked out in online qualifiers 16 times in a row; from losing to Dignitas in the first round of the Open NA Marseille qualifier in March, to Furia in the Open NA Dreamhack Atlanta qualifier in October.

Consistently falling short to the shark pool of online NA competition and not being able to make it into Pro League from MDL started to take its toll on the team financially. While they had made tremendous leaps in improving their own game and widening their individual skillset, there was little in way of prize money to show for this.

“Every time, we made a closed qualifier, we were just so short of making it to the offline finals, but we kept our heads up, persevered and pushed harder than ever. We knew we couldn’t give up now, regardless of our financial situation or our status in the USA. We couldn’t disappoint.”

- Andreas ‘cent’ Hadjipaschali, Co-founder & Director of Bravado Gaming

With this background pressure mounting on the South African side, finally, on their 17th try they were able to make it past a dangerous NA qual to qualify their first international LAN - Dreamhack Winter 2018 (DHW).

Bravado detrony

Something to prove

With an opportunity to finally attend a LAN, albeit small in the scope of the international circuit, Bravado looked to pull no punches in their preparation for it. Many fans had turned their noses up at watching DHW given there were no top ten ranked teams in-attendance. Bravado, being ranked at #49 were not afforded the same dismissive mindset standing amongst relative giants in LDLC, G2 and Optic ranked #12-14 in their DHW group. As such, the South Africans bootcamped before the event.

“We decided to come a week early so we could scrim the European teams and all. That gave us a better idea of how we were against these teams and the kind of standard we were playing. It allowed us to set a level for our game and have a better expectation heading into the LAN” said Bravado player Aran ‘sonic’ Groesbeek.

This choice paid off massively as their play was quickly amplified from a side-note to front-page news after the first day. While they were separated by an impossible amount of distance, experience, resources, and fame from the likes of G2/Optic, Bravado managed to beat both in closely contested Bo1’s. Miraculously, they topped their group, and made it into the semi finals. There, they managed to beat a cold Ex6tenZ Galaxy, quickly earning themselves a grand final appearance in a fashion few NA teams, let alone ZA teams have managed. While Bravado would fall to a strong ENCE in the finals, for their first legitimate international run rooted in NA soil, such a result raised a wave of hype for the roster.

This would build with their subsequent qualification into the Katowice Americas Minor, and victory at Dreamhack Mumbai.

On-paper, these results are paradigm shifting for a team coming from South Africa. There is no precedent for a team of this region to ever transcend domestic play in way of qualifying for international LANs through NA, let alone beating EU teams at these LANs. In this sense, out-of-the-server they are the sole pioneering representatives of a small, but active region on the world stage. Beyond just their flag though, Bravado are also an important team in-the-server for the ecosystem of NA play.

Bravado fadey

EU flavours on a ZA team in NA

When I interviewed Bravado after their loss to ENCE at DHW, one of the big questions I had internally was ‘how does a team fail to win so many online games in NA, and then win higher stake and pressure LAN matches against EU teams?’ Traditionally, we expect the inverse for inexperienced sides who come out of the online NA circuit. For example, Complexity won the Dreamhack Summer 2018 NA qualifier and then bombed out of groups with Renegades to Optic/Gambit. Likewise, Torqued qualified for Tours and lost to both Gambit and AGO to come last in their group.

Their coach, T.C gave an interesting answer as to why he thought they were able to do so well against EU teams:

“We play a more structured brand of CS, we play a very European style. And that kind of makes it easier for us to play against that style, whereas when we come to NA and all these teams are kind of just rushing us, bursting us, we are kind of like "what the f*ck are they doing?" a lot of the time [laughs]. But then at the same time, we are like, "that also works" [laughs]. So right now we are at a stage where we are trying to play a mixture of the two. So I think the main thing going back to NA will be not getting caught off-guard by that play is what we need to work on, mostly. Once we can avoid 'that' style of play, and counter it in our game then we will be able to put up a solid showing against NA sides.”

Mauisnake echoed this sentiment saying that Bravado are “generally more composed than other NA teams.” He noted especially “good flashwork” and how well they train. “Their practice days can include 1-2 hours of server time and roughly 4 scrims. Server time consists of going over strategies via demonstration, dry-running, and theorycrafting [...] the scrims will be against top MDL teams and low-middle level Pro League teams. On top of the ~6 hours of daily practice, many of the players can be consistently spotted in FPL games.”

It’s also worth mentioning that this look of Bravado has been together since JT and Fadey joined at the start of 2017. On the 18th of January, the side will mark their 2 year anniversary together. This long stint as a cohesive unit combined with their time in a gaming house has forged together a foundation of understanding on which their more European style emerged from.

“With us playing hundreds and hundreds more of games and spending much more time in practice together, our decision making in different scenarios have grown an exponential amount since arriving in America” said Bravado player Johnny ‘JT’ Theodosiou. “Our communication specifically is something I say we have an edge over other teams, we’ve been a team together for so long and we’ve always worked on our communication and I’d say it’s one of the largest reasons for our success at the moment.”

With this in mind, Bravado are an interesting entity in far more ways than the novelty of their region. They are a team confident in deploying a refined style on LAN against EU teams, but are battle-hardened in the trench-warfare of online NA play. Bravado bring a certain level of drive, discipline and strategic input that pressures the more puggish, individually driven American sides in a way that forces evolution.

This doesn’t necessarily mean they will follow the route of Luminosity/SK/MIBR and win a major by 2021. But for example, mirroring the trajectory of a team like Renegades is not totally out of the question, especially given the relative inexperience on many of their players. They have the benefit of speaking English and sharing cultural norms with the West allowing them to pick-up many players from NA or vice versa. And in-general, they represent the continuing growth of CS:GO as an international game, and competitive pursuit.

Donating money to their IndieGoGo campaign mightn’t correlate to South African hands lifting European trophies. It will equate, however, to the growth of a good team in a region where good teams generally trend upwards and can stay abroad. And that seems like something worthwhile.

This is the link to their campaign: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/project-destiny--2#/