Big 5 – The most improved team of ESL Africa

The Thulani “LighteRTZ” Sishi-led Big 5 eSports has come on in leaps and bounds since their debut in Season One of the ESL African CS:GO Championships. Made up the remnants of previous White Rabbit Gaming and Aperture Gaming lineups, they’ve certainly made their mark on the championship after finishing a highly commendable third in the inaugural season.

Disclaimer

Some of you may be aware of the video I did on MIX KOMPANY at their inception before renaming the team to Big 5. I’m personally glad to see Big 5 are doing well, even if I didn’t agree with the way the team was formed in the first place. I’ll not discuss that previous video here. But if you’re interested, I’ve provided the link here.

Big 5 in ESL Africa Season One

The broadcast talent on ESL Africa Season One were not too sure what Big 5’s actual level was when compared to the rest of the field after their opening game. Their first opponent was the fearsome Energy eSports side. The same aforementioned Energy team that went on to win the league stage of the tournament and then narrowly lost out to fearsome rivals, Bravado Gaming, in the final. It was tough to make an accurate assessment of the new squad based on that one match, despite how close the scoreline was versus Energy on Train. As we found out later through their performances in subsequent weeks, Energy were far better than we’d realized and consequently so was Big 5.

Thulani “LighteRTZ” Sishi at SA ESWC 2016 Qualifiers – Photo courtesy of HLTV.org

When they easily dispatched of perennial third place finishers in South African CS:GO, Damage Control, we knew for certain that Big 5 were a new power in the top tier of the local scene. When they did it again in the third/ fourth place playoff match on finals day and after a 3rd/ 4th place finish in ESEA Open Season 25, it only served to reinforce their credentials.

It could be argued that a number of their victories in the first season were down to the deficiencies of their opponents as much as a reflection of their own abilities. Going into Season Two, they’ve made a marked improvement in terms of their overall level of play.

Their current lineup:

  • Thulani “LighteRTZ” Sishi
  • Hadlee “konv1ct” Smith
  • Alexander “Spartan” Lazarides
  • Jean “kustoM” Herbst
  • Mark “Spazz” Jebens

Hadlee “konv1ct” Smith at SA ESWC 2016 Qualifiers – Photo courtesy of HLTV.org

Big 5 are a team made up of several highly experienced players. LighteRTZ is an ex Bravado, Energy and Aperture Gaming player. He has vast experience at the top level of Counter-Strike in South Africa, as well as being a former Sharks Rugby player at junior levels. He knows the work that is required to succeed.

konv1ct is a long-time Aperture Gaming man and was a fixture of several lineup revisions. Hadlee is always a consistent performer with the AWP. kustoM was usually on high-level teams with his best mate Zeo, and traveled with Energy to Copenhagen Games last year. Spazz is a young player that showcased plenty of potential most recently in xTc Gaming.

Spartan is the closest thing they have to a star player. This fiery young player has been consistently top-fragging for the team in recent weeks. His aggressive approach to CS along with his impeccable aim has been a huge asset to the team.

Alexander “Spartan” Lazarides at SA ESWC 2016 Qualifiers – Photo courtesy of HLTV.org

The balance of the team

LighteRTZ, kustoM and konv1ct have all claimed the title of “star player” in the past on previous teams in their respective CS journeys. Currently they are all highly experienced, consistent players without necessarily hitting those sorts of levels that could prompt one to classify them as star players. Spartan has been the guy that’s opening up bombsites and getting those crucial multi-frags before getting traded. Alexander is the player that offers up the high impact kills that decisively turn a round in their favour.

This blend of experience, consistency and fragging power has been instrumental to their success. Since the addition of Spazz for ESL Africa Season Two, a more stable young player than Puffy that he replaced, the team has looked far more balanced. Puffy was a primary AWPer, which meant that with players like konv1ct and kustoM on the roster that are equally adept with the sniper rifle, it was oftentimes a bit of a lottery as to who would pick it up. Added to that, Puffy’s notoriously streaky nature in terms of hitting shots and risk-taking, meant that the AWP wasn’t always having the impact such an expensive weapon should have. Spazz’s introduction has given them another option in terms of entry-fragging and another player willing to do the hard work and lay the foundation for his teammates to shine.

The right game plan

A feature of Big 5’s approach to rounds on the Terrorist side has been their slow map control style wherein they spend the majority of the round establishing control of various parts of the map before executing on a bomb site with only a few seconds left. This Na’Vi-esque T style is not unusual to South African teams as we tend to take a lot of inspiration from European and CIS teams’ Counter-Strike. What’s differentiated them from the likes of Damage Control has been their willingness to switch up the pace. To play fast and and play explosively early round to catch their opponents off guard. They’ve also been very quick to adapt their style to counter what their opponents are doing.

Their huge upset against Energy in last Thursday night’s encounter on Train was a perfect example of this. After Energy took the first map, Cache, in convincing style, Big 5 looked like they had no chance of challenging the log leaders. Train is traditionally Energy’s strongest map. How could they hope to compete? Big 5 had the correct game plan. They played a very fast, aggressive Terrorist half. Big 5 got in Energy’s faces early round and didn’t allow them time to set their Counter Terrorist side defence. Many of the rounds could almost be called all out rushes, so ferocious were their site executes. It completely demolished one of the best teams in South Africa and set Big 5 up for a famous victory. It also helped that Konv1ct seemingly had the map of his life with the AWP.

Jean “kustoM” Herbst at SA ESWC 2016 Qualifiers – Photo courtesy of HLTV.org

What do Big 5 need to do to win a title?

The only thing holding them back in my opinion is their relative lack of star power. Both Bravado and Energy have multiple star players that they can fall back on to deliver big fragging performances if their game plan isn’t working or if either Sonic or Domsterr are having an off day. Big 5 don’t have that luxury. I feel that to compete with the top two teams on a more consistent basis, they need another young, star player to replace one of their experienced journeymen players. A bit more youth and explosiveness would do them the world of good. Alternatively they’ve need another player to step up to the plate and start delivering those sorts of performances every week alongside Spartan.

In conclusion

Right now, Big 5 are to my mind, the third best team in the country based on recent results. They need to gain entry to more competitions and perform at that same level to cement that status within the minds of Counter-Strike fans at large. It’s very possible that they will.

Big 5 still have the smallest chance of beating Energy into second place and making it to the ESL Africa Season Two Finals. If they beat Damage Control handsomely on Thursday and Bravado dispose of Energy just as emphatically it is possible. But it is incredibly unlikely to happen from where we’re sitting.

Counter-Strike never stays the same for long though. Plenty of teams will be looking to deny Big 5 and a team like Damage Control will also be equally committed to regaining third place from them. It’s an exciting time in South African CS:GO!

About @axtremes

Michael "@axtremes" Harmse is one of the more prolific CS:GO Casters and analysts in the SA Scene - he's seemingly everywhere! He enjoys living, eating and breathing CS:GO...as well as real food and oxygen of course...on the rare occasion Zombie lets him outside. And guitar! He likes guitars. Stare in wonder at his magnificent visage at youtube.com/axtremes/ and shake your head at his spectacularly misguided opinions.