We don’t often get first in a major eSports competition. A mobile game player got first in WCG once. Our Project Gotham Racing team was feared by everyone in the Championship Gaming Series, a televised league in the US in which players received yearly salaries. Our main claim to fame is Queensland-based player Legionnaire nabbing a Bronze in Starcraft: Brood War at WCG. But that all changed last year, in a little known tale of Aussie battlers taking Gold in international Battlefield 3.
It’s those larger competitive games people care about. It’s not just familiarity -- larger communities beget larger pyramids of skill. The more who play, the better the best are. And in the major titles, Australia rarely claims top spot. We can’t practice with the rest of the world -- hell, it’s hard enough for Sydney to practice with Perth - largely due to a geographical disadvantage that not even the broadband revolution could fix.
Battlefield 3 fits into that scene in an odd way. It’s a great game for eSports, with the potential to go toe to toe with Call of Duty, yet it’s received absolutely no support from EA whatsoever. Spectators, referees, tournament mods... It’s all an incredible chore without the functionality built in, and it’s a testament to the game that its fans stick with it.
Our story begins with the ClanBase Nations Cup, a highly regarded Battlefield 3 tournament that takes teams from countries, rather than clans. Primarily based in Europe, it’s like the World Cup of Battlefield. Team Australia mainly consisted of Team Immunity players, including Josh “DeathDog” Edwards, who had twice declined an offer to receive a yearly salary to play Counter-Strike in the Championship Gaming Series in the US, in order to focus on his studies.
He doesn’t regret it - it landed him a sweet job with BenQ as a result - and having become enamoured with Battlefield 3, we spoke to him about how Australia got involved in this competition.
“We heard the NationsCup had been announced, didn’t know they were looking for a team in Australia,” says DeathDog. “But the team captain, SadAct at the time, found out and suddenly we’re enrolled in this NationsCup comp and we’re going to be playing on middle servers in the US against the Euro teams, and we’ll have 400 ping and they’ll have 100-200 maybe. So preparation wise, we were thinking to ourselves, how are we going to pull this off? How are we going to win the first game?
“The first game, we didn’t even think we were going to win it to be honest. It was a big challenge because our pings were so high, but we ended up coming through with the win. After that, it was a bit of a learning curve for us. We ended up buying a VPN which we’d connect to. It was a US VPN of some kind, but we ended up pulling 150-200 ping off that. So the majority of our games we were playing on 150-200, which is a lot better than 400 off the first game, for sure.”
Oddly, there were no Americans in the competition, so it was mainly Europeans fighting it out on American soil. They’d have a large ping too, though not as much, and they wouldn’t have the same 5am wake-up calls for matches. But Battlefield has a different netcode to other FPS games, so pings like 200 aren’t as fearsome as they are in, say, Counter-Strike.
“You just don’t need to be so pinpoint with it. And if you miss a couple of shots, it’s not too big a deal when your gun is pumping out 900 RPM. So CS is a lot lower than that, and takes a lot more precision, but Battlefield is still a good game, still pretty challenging.”
Team Australia had to come to terms with the European playing style. They use vehicles a lot better than anyone else, and their teamwork is spot on. On our side, however, was some excellent infantry skills, evidenced in DeathDog’s stellar Counter-Strike history.
But crackshot aim didn’t matter when Team Aus came up against the first real obstacle: A Finnish fighter pilot, Zenappi, recognised as the best in the world.
“Initially we played [Finland] in the group stage,” says DeathDog, “and this pilot ended up just destroying us. He was the ultimate pilot for air to ground. We had no reply for him, because any time we’d get a jet up, he’d just shoot it down, camp the runway, and when he killed the jets he’d just pop back around start killing us on the ground. He ended up almost triple or quadruple the kills the rest of his team had.”
After that loss, the team started thinking of ways they could possibly win, as hopeless as it seemed. For the time being, they played the tournament of their lives, eliminating top Euro teams and emerging from the group stage to arrive at a tough match with Poland in the semi-finals.
That gave them more practice against the European playing style - but Poland, also a team with a good pilot, would give them an opportunity to test out something they’d been talking about: A plan with the potential to take out two jets with one stone.
“We kind of developed a strat where we’d use our jets not to tackle their air units, but we’d literally use them in the most scumbag way possible,” chuckles DeathDog. “Well, not really scumbag... It’s tenacious, we didn’t want to give up. So we used the jets to ram their air units out of the sky. At the same time, we used them to bail out on flags.
“So essentially we turned our jets from air units into high velocity missiles you could put a person in, and just use them to ram and then jump out, land on a flag, and then everyone spawns on that. You start capping it. So we tried to deal with their air that way, it’s kind of, you keep them scared but also, you’re aggressive on every flag.
“It’s a wacky way to do it, but you have to do what you have to do.”
It was like something out of The Mighty Ducks. A completely unconventional strategy that the Europeans didn’t know how to deal with. Esports at its finest. But would it be enough to take on the world’s best pilot?
When the final against Finland started, the first map was infantry-based, and holding objectives against infantry wasn’t a problem. The individual performances required to protect flags were like speaking DeathDog’s first language. He was raised defending bombsites in Counter-Strike, outnumbered. A few insane RPG shots from DeathDog on choppers, and another great shot on a jet from teammate Redding proved to be a morale booster.
“Redding actually took out that jet pilot with an RPG while he was flying over him,” says DeathDog. “And that kind of gave us the momentum to just go, ‘You know what? We’re not even scared of this guy.’
“The main thing was our use of air units to ram. On top of that to bail out on flags aggressively. And usually we ended up giving [flags] to them, that’s another trick that we had. If they’re piling up their chopper, and their jet, and their infantry squads on one flag, we’d usually just drop it, and say let’s go hit this other one. And then maybe we’d even suicide and bail out again from another jet. It was all very coordinated, it was pretty precise, the way we did it.
That solved the problem of mobility. On Battlefield’s wider, more open maps, moving from one point to another would be very hard if your enemy had guaranteed air support.
“You definitely want to try and maintain air superiority. But we couldn’t do that. Just due to the fact that we didn’t have any adequate pilots on our team. The other team had a chopper and a jet, which is the max under that rule set -- they weren't allowed to have 2 jets. And we had nothing. And that’s how we came up with the idea of using our air units to do something a little bit silly, and it seems a little bit odd but it worked out for us in the end.”
Finland couldn’t adapt. Even as DeathDog's UI bugged out, he was able to pull off moves like the one at 1:10 in this highlights video. And as morale grew, Team Australia found itself doing things it didn’t even know it could do.
“I remember SadAct was going ‘We can actually do this, we can win it!’ And after that we started taking out their choppers, and taking out their jets more often than not. We actually had an infantry guy, Tetra, get in one of the jets, and purely off of momentum and off a high from us winning, he just took out that jet pilot by himself, and he’s not even a pilot. So it can show you what attitude can do when you’re playing a game, I know it’s just a game, but you feel everything.”
The inevitable high-horse forum comments from the other side ensued. Finland kicked up a stink, but when Australia won the competition, people took notice. And when Finland’s only excuse was “They rammed our jets”, the rest of the world had no sympathy. “If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen,” was the global sentiment. Team Australia refused to play someone else’s game, and forced Finland to play its own.
The next iteration of Battlefield will have spectator and eSports functionality, but for now, all we have are articles like this, and DeathDog’s own Youtube videos (which also received a Frag Reel Friday post shortly after).
So the next time you recount Australia’s eSports accomplishments, be sure to include the time we threw out the playbook, formed a flying V, and became global Battlefield 3 champions in 2012.