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The Reward of Opportunity

Nikhil Kalro

Sport, and by extension life, is about inclusivity. At times, it can be convenient to ignore this factor, especially when a tried and tested formula of players and teams help rake in millions of dollars through sponsorships, gate receipts, viewership, advertisements and broadcast.

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Photo Credit: IEM | Eric Ananmalay

The natural tendency is to use the golden goose to get richer, while ignoring the pitfalls. It isn’t until push comes to shove that opportunities open up for the lesser teams, who are equally hard working and deserving, but aren’t able to enjoy the same privileges for no fault of theirs.

A fine example of this is how things work in the cricket world. There are 10 Test teams, and another huge layer of teams below them who work equally as hard, but breaking into the big league and getting opportunities to play in a World Cup are far and few.

The limited opportunities they get to showcase skills against the top sides are hard to quantify because they’re mostly having to hit the ground running. This is where esports bucks the trend. There’s a tournament for all seasons, opportunities for different teams across different regions. And IEM Dallas 2022 exemplifies this fact.

Beyond the popular contenders like FaZe Clan, T1 or G2, there are others for whom this opportunity is a window into the big league, an opportunity to fight teams they wouldn’t otherwise, and therefore a chance to make a statement. Take for example BIG and Movistar Riders – two teams who may have not been here at the event. 

But the unfortunate visa situation that put a stop to hopes of Natus Vincere and Entropiq’s participation has opened up opportunities for them to compete in one of the biggest CS:GO biggest tournaments of the year. Sure, BIG and Movistar Riders aren’t title-winning teams, but this is in many ways a lucky break, a reward even for the good progress they have made over the last couple of years. This tournament marks the next step in their development as a team.

For teams such as Movistar Riders, every opportunity to compete also brings with it the added motivation of playing for the prize pot. Money may not be a driving force for teams that have massive sponsorship deals or a following, but for the rest of the pack wanting to make the move up, this is a reality they contend with day in and day out, which is why Movistar Riders crashing out of the semi-finals of the Pinnacle Cup after losing to Finest was particularly heartbreaking. 

They lost an opportunity to pocket $80,000 that was awarded to the champions, and $20,000 for the finalists. While the loss itself may have been a bitter pill to swallow, the Riders have an opportunity to make amends with their debut at IEM by taking on G2 Esports. Win or lose, they will also then go head-to-head against MOUZ or ENCE in what is being billed as one of the greatest tournaments of the year.

Isurus, the team Riders beat in the quarterfinals, typify the struggle of an average team that trains hard all year round for their time in the sun. They underwent a two-month bootcamp in Europe, even as some of their bigger contemporaries were training and playing tournaments round the clock. Then Isurus returned to South America to feature in the RMR Americas and the Pinnacle Cup IV. 

More often than not, this struggle of teams to get to where they are is amplified and noticed only when they make it through to Major and world events. What of the several that don’t? This is why in many ways, the Riders are an inspiration for the other teams who have not had the opportunity to get to Dallas. Their participation at IEM also guarantees their presence in yet another massive event, where they will be able to test their abilities against forces such as FaZe, ENCE, FURIA and Cloud9.

BIG are another team that trains as hard as any other, and this is a lucky break for them, having fought through the European RMR. They too have earned the right to be here, albeit with dollops of luck coming to their rescue. They played Entropiq in the winners’ bracket final, a team that had one of the best runs in the qualifiers, taking down the might of Fnatic and Copenhagen Flames convincingly.

At the time of the match happening, BIG wouldn’t have a slightest inkling that they would be invited to Dallas due to the visa issues of Entropiq. The series between BIG and Entropiq was massively close for the first two games. Entropiq even secured a five-round lead in the first half, before BIG came storming back. 

In the end, Entropic won the game, but by pushing them to the final game and right to the end, BIG demonstrated their ability to hold their own in the face of a challenge. This big-match experience isn’t easy to buy, and unless teams have opportunities to do so, hours and hours of training and bootcamps alone aren’t going to be beneficial.

And so, as big as this is an opportunity for the big boys like FaZe Clan, in BIG and Movistar Riders, among others, there is hope for smaller teams in Israel, Vatican, Serbia, elsewhere in Europe. One opportunity can open up a world of other opportunities. It doesn’t matter if it’s by accident or design. If you can make a statement there, the possibilities are endless. 

Which is why their win will feel like a win for so many teams that try hard and compete, push their budgets, expand their purses beyond their means at times, to keep the flag flying. With the hope of one day, being able to compete at a Major. To earn recognition and reward. After all, that’s the essence of inclusivity. 

It gives the smaller teams the motivation, desire, drive, hunger and dollops of enthusiasm to stay grounded, focused, committed to push their boundaries, push barriers and become flag bearers for future teams from their regions.  At IEM Dallas 2022, even before a game has been played, this inclusivity on display is itself will be worth a celebration.