aliStair’s spirit renewed as Grayhound make redebut at DreamHack Melbourne

Grayhound aliStair streaming at DreamHack MelbourneJoao Ferreira for ESL

Iconic Oceanic CS:GO organization Grayhound has been reborn out of the ashes of ORDER. For Alistair ‘aliStair’ Johnston it’s a fresh start with some old friends, with no better place to don the jersey for the first time than at DreamHack Melbourne ⁠— the first LAN at home in three years.

Grayhound, with their iconic tropical sleeves and Aussie banter, are back on the global Counter-Strike stage.

With the downfall of ORDER forcing the team to find a new home, it was an easy decision for manager and owner William Gray to revive the brand. For the players, it was the smartest decision too as they mount a run towards the Rio Major later in 2022.

DreamHack Melbourne and ESL Challenger was the first time AWPer Alistair ‘aliStair’ Johnston has donned the Grayhound jersey, in front of a crowd of thousands as Australian esports celebrated its first LAN event in three years. The 24-year-old has stage experience of course, but it had a different meaning playing in front of friends and family.

“I know where they were all seated with my group of mates and my old man at the back,” he told Dexerto. “It’s amazing. They’ve never been able to experience this live, I’ve never had them in front of me like that. To have the crowd so loud for them to see as well is special.”

You could feel the energy in the bleachers whenever one of the Aussie teams was on stage. Any big play was met with a rapturous applause, and there was arguably none louder than aliStair’s no-scope against Imperial, or his 1v3 clutch against Vertex ⁠— Wings Up’s win against OG was the only thing close.

“Having the crowd there and knowing they were behind us ⁠— if you have big moments, you’re going to try and hype everyone up. We can hear it as well so we’re like ‘oh sh*t’.”

Vertex joined the hounds as the two local reps in the eight-team event, and while neither posted incredible results ⁠— Vertex bowed out in straight sets while Grayhound fell short of playoffs against Imperial ⁠— neither team had their spirit broken.

“I think we’re definitely enjoying it and trying to capitalize on it because who knows how many more opportunities you get to play in front of a home crowd? 

“We’re definitely trying to rile [Vertex] up and getting to play an Australian team in front of an Aussie crowd was good for everyone. We were bantering with them, they were firing back ⁠— everyone gets along well, really well.”

However the entire event played out in the shadow of Oceanic esport titan ORDER going under. The top-tier organization ran out of money weeks out from the big event, before contracts were terminated on September 1.

For aliStair and his teammates, it was a stressful time having the rug pulled under them in the lead-up to the big home return. aliStair had represented the organization for more than three years, and it was his home in Australian Counter-Strike. But the team quickly readjusted their sights as the Road to Rio continued.

“It got broken to us right before we played the RMR and straight off the bat it was not like it should go down,” he said. “We were pretty gobsmacked and completely surprised. 

“We sort of just said the only way we get out of this okay is if we stick together, win these upcoming competitions, and do some damage. Right now we’re on the right path, setting ourselves up well, so it’s good.”

The ORDER news compounded on top of plenty of disappointment for Australian esports generally. The global health crisis hurt the region significantly more than others as players would have to brave triple-digit ping for any international practice. No events in-person and domestic online leagues were fine for European squads keeping warm, but for the big fish in the small pond it was suffocating.

While borders were lifted in time for the end of 2021 and events like IEM Cologne and the Stockholm Major, it still set the region back. aliStair was content with treading water after being put on the then-Renegades roster, but the team had hit their ceiling in Oceania.

“It turned us into an island and we couldn’t go over and compete. We were practicing against ourselves and it’s quite hard. There’s a bit of a gap in scrims and stuff outside of the top 4. 

“It didn’t affect me too badly because I was happy to be in this system and this team. I didn’t realize how much of a jump and how much better Counter-Strike we would be playing under this roster. It was a huge learning curve for me that I feel up to par with now, but I was just happy to be here with the boys.”

With all that being said though, Grayhound and the rest of the Oceanic scene is primed to grow across the following months. Rivals Encore have made big moves with Aaron ‘AZR’ Ward and Sean ‘Gratisfaction’ Kaiwai coming in for the RMR.

There’s some hope across the rest of the scene with new rosters like DGG thriving domestically, and events like DreamHack Melbourne help level up the rest of the scene.

“They come here and I’m not sure if many teams did scrim ⁠— I know Evil Geniuses did ⁠— but if teams keep coming here and practice against Australian teams, it’s amazing. These AU teams get that experience and it puts more exposure on the scene. It brings people into this building that makes things grow. It’s good for the whole scene having these events come to Australia.

“We’re pretty competitive with NA. Europe is a lot harder, and it’s quite hard because we didn’t get to test our full line-up here and get Vexite in for some experience because that would have been a big thing for him. As long as Australian teams can get time against European teams, the entire scene will grow.”

With the four-team RMR in October and just one best-of-three against Rare Atom separating Grayhound from the Rio Major, DreamHack Melbourne proved to be invaluable experience for the roster regardless of result.

“It’s giving us the stage experience. Having four of us up there playing on stage in front of a crowd, it’s going to be the same at PAX [for the Asia RMR]. It might be smaller, but it’s good to test the nerves and shake them out.”

It might not have been perfect prep without Declan ‘Vexite’ Portelli in the line-up, but it’s been enough to reinvigorate aliStair to keep competing and crack into the top echelons of global Counter-Strike, not just domestically in Australia.

“I am going to keep riding it out with the boys for sure. I feel like I’m playing a different style of Counter-Strike at the moment, trying to learn constantly and dialing back on my super aggressive style I was previously. We’re headed in the right direction ⁠— as a team and individually.”

“Having Vexite come in, working around him and making him comfortable and filling in gaps where I need, I’m happy to do that because that’s going to produce us the best results.

“We are focusing on ourselves and know that if we’re playing well and keep winning it’ll put us on the map. The results will show after we put in the work.”

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