North Africa and South Africa in esport showdown

Once a local team reaches the top the only way they can continue to improve is by looking for stronger opponents - we’ve always thought that meant taking on teams from Europe, North America or Asia - how wrong we were.

05 October 2017 - 15:41 By Good Luck Have Fun
An esports CS:GO player prepares before a match.
An esports CS:GO player prepares before a match.
Image: Scott Peter Smith

ESL is holding its CS:GO African Championship this weekend at the Rage gaming expo in Johannesburg.

ESL Africa is unique in South African esports because it’s the only competition that gives local teams a chance to test themselves against other sides from around the African continent. Specifically the northern part of the continent.

Once a local team reaches the top of the South African scene, the only way they can continue to improve and reach their full potential is by looking for stronger opponents. We’ve always thought that meant taking on teams from Europe, North America or Asia, but what we as an esports scene have been overlooking for far too long is that we have some opponents ready and willing on the African continent.

So we got in touch with a familiar face who has had a chance to look at the African teams in action while casting ESL Africa for Kwese Sports, the man with a hat for every occasion, Michael ‘Axtremes’ Harmse.

Before we get into talking about ESL Africa and whether or not we’re better than the northerners, Axtremes did a little interview within an interview for us with the Tunisian Counter-Strike captain from 2015 and 2016, Bahaeddine “Attiaz” Attia, to find out a bit about the North African esports scene.

Producers prepare for the final CS:GO tournament at the annual Rage Expo last year in Johannesburg.
Producers prepare for the final CS:GO tournament at the annual Rage Expo last year in Johannesburg.
Image: Scott Peter Smith

What he discovered was that in 2015, north African Counter-Strike was on the rise in a big way. They had international events coming to the region for the first time including the Efrag African Qualifiers which had an insane US$100,000 prize pool – that’s the good American dollars, not a cheap alternative like Zimbabwean dollars. At one point in the competition it also had 70,000 people watching online, which pretty much blows all South African esports viewership numbers out the water.

But in 2016 the prize pools dried up as events didn’t return and the previously stable rosters that had started making names for themselves disbanded. Attiaz did say that there are now a lot of new teams with great potential, but they need some time.

And that brings us nicely to ESL Africa and why Axtremes is such a fan of the competition.

"We’ve never had an undisputed continental champion in Africa. There’s always this metaphorical asterisk next to the name of an African team from either side of the equator when they go overseas: You haven’t played against the teams from the other side of the continent and proven yourselves to be the best from your region. The closest we came was TWC, but at 200 ping SA teams couldn’t quite compete. "Now, on a level playing field, we get to definitely prove that SA teams are the best in Africa. Or we get to be slapped down and proven to be as arrogant as our African neighbours tend to think us South Africans are. Either way, it means the next time an overseas trip to Europe or North America happens, the team going could very possibly be hailed as the best in Africa. "That very likely means more mainstream media attention and more expectation – both of which are great for our sport. Ultimately if we get to do this regularly it can only help improve the overall level of CS in Africa, which is great for everyone. The goal should be to use this to graduate to more intentional success for the teams that do well here. And money. Lots and lots of money. That’s a great benefit. ;)"

An undisputed African champion you say? Sounds like the winners should be walking away with championship belts. We really hope there are championship belts. Please give the winners champion belts! Pretty please.

Dimitri 'Detrony' Hadjipaschali from Bravado Gaming shows off his skills at Rush esports event at the Sandton Convention Centre.
Image: Scott Peter Smith

Axtremes raises a good point: We have tried to compete on the continent before, but that pesky ping issue reared its ugly, and we mean really damn ugly, head again. With the ESL Africa finals being hosted at Rage in South Africa and the two best North African teams being flown down to compete, we’re going to see something we’ve never had the chance to see before – a battle to be the best in Africa, but on an even playing field. And how does Ax think we’ll fare against the north?

"It’s pretty tough to say definitively without actually seeing the SA and NA teams directly competing. I trust Christopher “Apocalypse” Lautre from DC’s opinion a lot as a current pro player and one of the best CS brains locally. His observation was that their aim looks to be as good, if not better than our own, but their overall tactics look a lot less developed.

"Considering they get to play against the top Europeans regularly and on services like FACEIT, it’s no wonder they look incredibly sharp from a mechanical aim point of view – particularly their first shot accuracy. We’ve seen some incredibly skilled players pull off some breath-taking shots and sprays so far. Guys like Kheopz from, Lazeeeyy from Drink Pizza and Johnqt from Vibora look incredible."

While we’re discussing our chances against the north, which teams should you be looking out for?

"We had the match us analysts were all interested in last Thursday: vs Vibora. Those were the two teams that had looked the most impressive so far and it was the match that would give us a lot of context as to how good each team actually are. They split the BO2 series just to confuse us.

"Both those teams look to have some incredibly good star players as well as better teamwork than some of the other teams we’ve seen. We expect them to be at or near the top of the table by the end of the group stages."

There’s a Game of Thrones reference that’s just dying to be made here with all this north vs south talk. But we’ve avoided making it the entire article because in that comparison South Africa would be King’s Landing, where all the bad guys are. Well, the undead are the bad guys, but the alive bad guys are the southerners in King’s Landing. And we don’t want to be them.

We’ve never had an undisputed continental champion in Africa.
Michael ‘Axtremes’ Harmse

Also, that would probably make Bravado Gaming the Lannisters and Andreas or Dimitri Hadjipaschali Cersei. We’re pretty sure neither of them want to be Cersei.

But enough about Game of Thrones, let’s talk about the style of play in the north and how it compares to ours.

"Their style is pretty much across the board all out aggression from what we’ve seen. Very little in the way of map control or running down the clock. More about taking fights early on in the round (or flat out rushing!) and trading effectively rather than trying to fake out their opponents or sow misdirection and force CT rotates.

"They tend to force buy an inordinate amount to try keep the pressure on their opponents which leads to very back and forth rounds and far less full buy rounds for both sides than we’re used to seeing. They seem to favour taking aim duels over and above anything else and as I mentioned before, their aim is pretty scary. A big contrast to the slower map control style of the top SA teams."

The northerners have clearly never heard the story of The Tortoise and the Hare. Spoiler alert: Slow and steady wins the race.

So if Ax had a gun to his head or, sticking with the Game of Thrones theme, a knife at his throat, who does he think will come out on top?

"We’re expecting Energy and Bravado to make top two in the SA conference – unless Big 5 are able to continue their upward trajectory and surprise one of those two . Assuming it’s the aforementioned and Vibora that make it, it might very well be quite a tough fight for the SA teams. The overall style of the North Africans is almost a hard counter to the way Bravado and Energy like to play, and is not dissimilar to the hyper aggression of the Turkish team Space Soldiers that destroyed Bravado last year at WESG Dubai. "Fortunately for us, if the SA teams do their homework and research their opponents, it’s not impossible to counter. They can’t try to win off the back of their aim. It has to be built on their teamwork, map control, set executes and overall co-ordination. As Attiaz mentioned, most of the NA teams are newer, almost “mix” teams and that’s reflected in their approach. "If we try to out aim them we might get manhandled. If we play our natural game and slow down their early aggression with molotovs and well-placed counter-flashes, SA should take it pretty comprehensively in my opinion."

Did you hear that, kids? Listen to Mr. Axtremes and do your homework so you can do well and make your parents proud. Also you might get a sweet championship belt. We’re still holding out for it.

Either way ESL Africa has brought some new blood to the South African scene, northern blood. And hopefully the Game of Counter-Strike will be as bloody and full of death as its TV counterpart. No dragons unfortunately.

This piece was written by Good Luck Have Fun, a website that tells esports stories.