ROG Masters has gone global. For the past three months, ferocious face-offs unfolded worldwide, determining the six best CS:GO teams from APAC, EMEA, the Americas, and China, and setting the stage for the Grand Finals in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The very best from each region arrived in Kuala Lumpur for the final showdown. Spread across four days, the event would advance from group stages through quarter- and semi-finals before the big battle for bragging rights, an enormous trophy, and combined prize pool of $235,000 USD.
ROG Masters’ goal is to bring pros of all levels into the arena. From the inexperienced to the tier one players, these battles mix new challengers, hardened veterans, and diverse teams with worldwide ranks from 11 to 99. This year’s ROG Masters not only promised heart-stopping action, but in the lead up to the finals, it truly seemed to be anyone’s game.
Tying it all up
Gambit and 5Power face off during the group stage.
At a secret esports stadium 40 minutes outside Kuala Lumpur, the group stages began with two goals: testing teams’ mettle and seeding the initial brackets. Group A and B frontrunners would head straight to the semis, while second and third place teams would clash in quarterfinals. Action was split between a small stage and private team areas. With six teams and matches to complete, not everyone got the spotlight. Team booths became catch-alls for everything from relaxing and snacking to warming up and competing on ROG Strix GD30 desktops and ROG Swift PG248Q 180Hz gaming monitors.
As the Group A matches began, everyone was quickly introduced to one formidable contender. A team on the cusp of the worldwide top ten, it’s no secret that Gambit was favored to take the entire Grand Final. Meanwhile, their opponent, 5Power, was the major underdog. As the teams fought their way through Overpass and Cache, it became clear that 5Power couldn’t stave off Gambit’s superior might, and the games were a clean sweep.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Gambit, though. Recent roster shake-ups caused rumblings that the powerhouse might not hold their edge, even with juggernauts like Mikhail 'Dosia' Stolyarov, dubbed X GOD by devoted fans. In the next match, USA challengers Splyce were the definite wildcard. Even so, it was surprising when Splyce put major dents in Gambit’s game. On Mirage, Gambit’s own map pick, Splyce prevailed 19-16. Daniel 'roca' Gustaferri was noted as a player to watch, and he was consistently good throughout. Splyce forcing Gambit into tiebreakers was an unexpected hurdle that few had predicted.
Gambit's Hobbit focuses on the match.
Meanwhile, Group B matches played out behind the scenes, foreshadowing the action to come. In an unexpected upset, Grayhound Gaming punched way above their weight, winning a clean 2-0 against both Russia’s Vega Squadron and China’s TyLoo. TyLoo likewise folded against Vega Squadron. No one knew how these games might shake out between teams with such different styles. Now they had an inkling. Grayhound could hold their own. The brackets were set. A sure bet and a dark horse had seeded directly into the semis. This was shaping up to be an exciting four days.
Frontrunners, meet underdogs
TyLoo’s coach looks on as they play in the quarterfinals.
In the quarter-final best-of-threes, Splyce was facing down TyLoo behind closed doors. Everyone watching the streams was waiting with bated breath to see how the newer USA team fared, especially with ex-Cloud9 player Semphis in their ranks.
During the Group Stages, Splyce caught Gambit off guard with an unexpected tiebreaker. It was a far cry from the predicted “ez 2-0 Gambit” predicted by many. Meanwhile, TyLoo underwhelmed, seeding last against Grayhound Gaming and Vega Squadron.
Now on Train, Splyce took TyLoo by surprise, closing out the first half 10-5. TyLoo attempted a strong second-half push and managed to put eight rounds on the board, in no small part thanks to players bondik and BnTeT's multi-kill streaks. But Splyce played a careful game against TyLoo’s aggression, and they pulled off a clean but close 16-13 win.
Splyce coach Zachary 'Eley' Stauffer watches intently as his team competes.
Splyce lost map two, so it all came down to Cache. The teams traded rounds in a breathless, first-half neck-and-neck before TyLoo scrabbled into a five-point lead. Splyce almost evened the scoreline as Ts, even eking out a thirteenth point during a frantic B-site skirmish that left bondik stranded and waiting for detonation. Sadly for Splyce, TyLoo needed just one more round point, and they got it. Tyloo was proceeding to the semis, but they’d been forced to seriously step up their game. And though Splyce may have been eliminated, they had plenty to be proud of, holding their own against some huge opponents.
In the other match, 5Power Club took on Vega Squadron in another case of underdogs against favorites. But, quite unlike the Splyce versus TyLoo battle, 5Power seemed under powered, even on familiar Cache. While dobu tried to save his team with double and triple kills, Vega Squadron’s superior T game proved unstoppable to the tune of 2-0.
The second day had fewer surprises than the first. But now, the true test awaited. It was on to the big arena, the semis, and then the grand finals. And, while Gambit might have been a favorite, there were still plenty of surprises in store.
Shaking up the semifinals
Teams warm up in the onstage booths as the commentators and analysts discuss day three.
Clutching their ROG swag bags close, fans filtered into the stands of Kuala Lumpur Convention Center, a massive, double-tiered auditorium in the middle of Malaysia’s bustling metropolis. Energetic music thrummed and the crowds waved and clapped inflatable noisemakers to the beat.
The cacophony grew in anticipation as the announcers began their countdown to the day’s first battle. Australia versus China. Grayhound and Tyloo. The big question was whether the Aussies would prevail once more. They were certainly chomping at the bit to win. “It’s been a long journey since the Australian qualifiers,” said Erdenetsogt 'erkasSt' Gantulga, also acknowledging how much easier it was playing against Australian teams than Asian ones. But the whole team was confident they could win, even against Gambit.
And team TyLoo who had shown signs of weakness during the group stages, was just starting to perk up during the quarterfinals. “TyLoo has been very underwhelming. We’re going to need to see bondik shine again,” said analyst Iain 'SnypeR' Turner. But could bondik really carry the team?
"I'm here to help them to improve themselves, right," bondik said. "They're listening [to] me a lot, and I do really appreciate it because you know I have some authority in their eyes. So they're listening me all the time and [it's a] good feeling when someone [is] listening all the time, you know? They know that I'm [an] experienced player. I played a lot of tournaments, so they just respect me."
The teams squared off on Overpass, Grayhound Gaming beginning as the Ts. TyLoo took the first pistol round with a pristine two-tap from BnTeT, but the Aussies nudged ahead with a round eight, 7 HP classic clutch by Dexter. Their lurker, he was known for clutching the most on their team and was delivering true to form. Their second half pistol round had the announcers screaming in glee when Gratisfaction executed an incredible triple headshot, and Dexter immediately followed with a double kill. TyLoo’s handful of rounds wasn't enough to stop Grayhound’s purebred power.
By Cobblestone, the analysts had ruled TyLoo out, predicting a 2-0 Grayhound win. Indeed, when Grayhound reached 14-9, victory seemed certain. They were just two away from the grand finals. But then, improbably, TyLoo put not one, not two, but seven rounds on the board as the Ts. It was a shocking recovery. “I don’t want to hear any of this ‘China number one nonsense’,” SnypeR, after the map ended. “Bondik was showing absolute god-tier performance.”
Audience members used inflatable noisemakers to applaud even more loudly.
He was right. Bondik finished the game with an eye-watering 32 kills in 30 rounds. And in a moment that was surely payback for an earlier lurk by Dexter, bondik had an incredible moment when he sneaked in behind Gratisfaction, held his fire, picked off DickStacy in the distance, then finished Gratisfaction at close range. For Grayhound, certain victory had suddenly become a third map.
Perhaps it was this defeat or simply lack of Inferno experience. Whatever the reason, Grayhound never recovered. TyLoo mopped up 16-11, and captainMo even had an opportunity to shine with a massive A-site AWP quad-kill and a glimpse of his former glory. TyLoo, the team everyone had written off, made an incredible comeback to shake everything up.
Vega Squadron and Gambit take the stage for their semi-final showdown.
All eyes were now on Gambit. They’d already been knocked down a peg by Splyce, but could they take on Vega Squadron and go to the grand final? Players secured their headphones, positioned their keyboards askance, and dropped into Overpass for a nail-biting best-of-three. Gambit’s cheering, blue-and-yellow Kazakh flag-waving fans leapt up at every opportunity to root for their favorites. But, while the beloved Kazakh team took the initial pistol round and had an amazing round 17 clutch defuse, Vega Squadron ultimately claimed the map 16-10.
Pro players often rotate their keyboards diagonally, allowing more room for big mouse flicks in games like CS:GO.
Still, Gambit took Mirage 16-12, which pushed the game onto Cache. This is where Vega crumpled. Fitch had an amazing round 11, securing a 1v4 clutch through smoke, hastily defusing the bomb in breathless seconds. “This is probably the craziest game of Counterstrike I’ve cast this year,” said commentator Kevin 'KaRath' Zhu in awe, as Gambit added yet another round to their blistering 10-1 lead.
Hobbit and X-GOD Dosia weren't hanging back, either; they pocketed round 16 for their team with low HP double-kills, and Cache wrapped with a crushing 16-1 defeat, leaving fans screaming themselves hoarse and Vega Squadron gone for good.
A gripping Grand Final
The trophy awaited, but only one team could claim it.
Hundreds of teams, three months of qualifiers, and three elimination days all came down to this. The crowds were abuzz with anticipation and the giant, golden ROG trophy shone at the center of it all.
TyLoo and Gambit were already seated inside the warm onstage competition boxes. The stage lights beamed across their faces as they fixed intently on monitors, mice flicking as they warmed up. These teams’ earlier group matches proved gripping, and the grand finals were no exception.
TyLoo and Gambit once again took the spotlight, but this time on the big stage.
While TyLoo got an early lead on Overpass as the CTs, Gambit began a calculated comeback. “They haven’t really been clawing their way back into it, it’s been quite smooth and steady,” observed commentator Hugo Byron. Indeed, it didn’t feel frenetic or rushed, but was still a nail biter.
The kills rose. Advantage TyLoo, then Gambit. But, after a tactical pause, disaster struck for TyLoo. Round 28 slipped away as fitch dropped captainMo with his AWP. On a long, slow rotation, TyLoo arrived at A-site with just 20 seconds to spare. But they forgot to check their angles, and BnTeT easily picked them off. The crowd went wild.
Kazakh fans jumped up to cheer for their favorite team: “Gambit! Gambit! Gambit!”
Overtime loomed, as did the 15-14 Gambit scoreline. But in round 30, TyLoo completely fell apart. The economy was against them, and bondik’s 37 kills and sharp skills weren’t enough to stop a last-minute pick-off by Hobbit and hair’s breadth loss.
It didn't look good for TyLoo on Inferno, either. It was already a weak map for them, and they were leaning heavily on bondik. Gambit simply dominated. This was practically home turf for them, and they put a monstrous nine-point lead in the first half as Ts. The rest was cake. AdreN got a completely clean round 17 quad-kill with the M4A4, lining them up and mowing them down. With a couple more rounds in the bag, TyLoo rolled over 16-4. There were no miraculous recoveries for them today.
Gambit’s captain AdreN is like a big brother to his team. He also pulled off some epic clutch plays throughout the tournament.
Luckily for the Chinese team, this was a best-of-five. But if Gambit won Train, the grand final would be theirs. From the start, the teams were swapping every few rounds. TyLoo’s BnTeT, captainMo, and DD were playing well, taking the pressure off bondik. By halftime, the 9-6 scoreline hinted this game might actually go to five maps.
But just into the second half, Gambit made a CT comeback akin to TyLoo’s previous performance. They put five consecutive rounds on the board, bringing the scoreline 12-11. TyLoo clawed into a 15-12 lead, but kept making mistakes that sent the rounds Gambit’s way. BnTeT burned alive, giving his opponents an unexpected advantage, and the game went into MR3 overtime following an astonishing 30th round where TyLoo dropped the bomb at B upper, but couldn’t find Gambit's mou before the clock ran out.
“What a round to win from Gambit, what a play from fitch!” Howled the announcers. “So many mistakes from TyLoo, and every single one gets punished.”
Commentators Jordan Mays and Hugo Byron shouted in excitement over both Gambit’s and TyLoo’s wild plays.
Gambit quickly and aggressively pushed the OT scoreline to 3-0. By the fifth round it was down to 2v2 on A-site. TyLoo’s DD tried to sneakily knife Hobbit, but the tricksy player sneaked around, caught DD off-guard, and swiftly executed him with the AK. Just like that, it was all over. Gambit fans in the audience lost their minds, screaming, hugging, and jumping up and down. Gambit stood up inside their boxes, faces inscrutable. Only when they began high fiving and brought it in for a group hug was it clear that they realized they’d won.
It was a rollercoaster of a ride. Gambit had come within what seemed like a hair’s breadth of losing, and many switched loyalties to root for them as they clawed their way up from a seemingly-impossible scoreline. But, in the end, they’d done it, fighting exactly the kind of incredible battle so often seen at ROG Masters. Hoisting their trophy high through the fog, sparks, and confetti, their broad grins said it all. From Kazakhstan to Kuala Lumpur, this was what they came here for.
After a hard-fought four days, Gambit came out on top.
By Kimberly Koenig