If you were in Sydney over the weekend, you might’ve felt a wave of absolutely electric energy radiating from the Aware Super Theatre. The cause: IEM Sydney 2023 took over Sydney’s ICC for three huge days of Counter-Strike 2 competition featuring top esports teams from around the globe, all part of SXSW Sydney.
For the uninitiated, IEM — the Intel Extreme Masters — is an official Counter-Strike 2 tournament organised by ESL. This is the first time in four years that IEM has returned to Australian shores, and also marks the first CS2 tournament since the shift from Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (which reigned supreme from 2012 until late September 2023 when servers switched over to the first person shooter’s successor).
While the $250,000 USD prize pool and big esports names like FaZe Clan are part of what made IEM Sydney 2023 a major drawcard, it’s perhaps the crowd within the fully sold-out stadium that made the event truly the ‘Big Reunion’ ESL touted in the first place. Having only attended live CS:GO matches at DreamHack Melbourne (also presented by ESL) since it also hit Aussie shores in 2022, this was truly something altogether different.
The official IEM Sydney 2023 website tells prospective attendees that they’ll “witness firsthand why Aussies are renowned for being the liveliest, rowdiest, and undeniably funniest crowd on the face of this planet,” and the crowd delivered on that promise in spades. From rousing chants that echoed across the Harbour, a seemingly-infinite amount of shoeys, an attendee dressed as Jesus delivering sermons to an enthralled crowd, or the many who brought gaming laptops to open Counter-Strike 2 cases while seated in the crowd, the attendees became their own character in IEM Sydney’s roster of teams.
It’s clear from audience reactions to high-intensity plays, such as in the Mouz versus FaZe Clan Semi Final on the Saturday of IEM Sydney 2023, that local esports fans are ready to welcome major esports tournaments back onto our shores, and what a way to usher in the era of competitive Counter-Strike 2.
Even for those streaming at home, the crowd’s boisterous chanting, booing, and cheering for some absolutely amazing plays was coming through loud and clear (a special shoutout to G2 Esports, who had the crowd going wild thanks to player Justin “jks” Savage, a local Australian talent). But having watched the Grand Final stream from home after attending the rest of the event in person, nothing truly compares to the unique energy and vitality of being in and amongst the crowd, in the moment, hanging off every switch in the lead, hard-fought eco-rounds from underdogs, and clutch. The Barmy Army and soccer fans have nothing on this bunch — one only has to look at the crowd reactions to the Caches (Australia vs United Kingdom) show match to see that.
FaZe Clan ultimately took home the IEM Sydney 2023 trophy this time round after a nail-biting grand final against Complexity that went to map three after a few pretty decisive 2-0 wins for both teams. FaZe, ever the crowd favourite, cruised through the semi-finals, taking out young guns Mouz (who put up a valiant effort with a substitute player) and G2, respectively.
I’ll personally be thinking about IEM Sydney 2023 for some time to come (as well as downloading Counter-Strike 2 the moment I arrived home, much to the horror of anyone who has ever witnessed me playing a first-person shooter), and I’m sure plenty of other attendees are feeling the same after a weekend of hype like I’ve never seen before. Getting to be one of the first to witness CS2 on a grand tournament scale and see how the meta has changed is pretty special, and it’ll be interesting to see just how the plays coming out of this event continue to impact the meta even on more amateur levels going forward.
Maybe it was the flowing beers or the excitement of a grand return to Australia that made the event what it was, but whatever was in the air was as incendiary as every molly thrown, leaving me hooked and ready for the next one. The next IEM has some big boots to fill, and Aussie crowds have well and truly shown the world how esports punting is done in style.
Lead Image Credit: Sarah Cooper – ESL Australia
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