Through a disrupted preparation, an incomplete roster and facing insurmountable odds on the Rod Laver Arena stage, Vertex gave the Aussies fans something to cheer about in their 7th-8th finish at DreamHack Melbourne last fortnight.
It’s a moment veteran rifler Liam “malta” Schembri won’t forget in a hurry, with it being his debut LAN in front of a home audience on such a scale.
“I’ve never played in front of a live audience here,” malta said to Snowball Esports. “It’s a lot different in front of the Aussies. When they’re chanting your team or your name — [it] makes you feel like the man. It was awesome.”
Malta and the Wolfpack were sublime in defeat on the ESL Challenger stage. Down 11-4 in their opening best-of-one against eventual grand finalists Imperial, Vertex fought hard on CT to bring the map back.
Through CT aggression and top-tier utility usage, Vertex wrestled back control of Inferno but could not finish off the Brazilian outfit, who sent the Wolfpack into the lower bracket 16-13.
“I think we made a lot of simple mistakes on our T side,” surmised Malta. “I don’t think they forced too much out of us but we definitely didn’t show the sort of CS that we can play.”
I think when you’re on stage in front of the crowd you’re feeling the energy; sometimes it can lift you up, but sometimes it can pile on extra pressure too.
Liam “malta” Schembri
“On the T side we felt a little rattled, but we didn’t have too many expectations coming in. Imperial just punished the mistakes we were making. We won one gun round, a few force buys and the pistol, but when we dropped the follow-up anti-eco it definitely blew the wind out of our sails.”
Malta went on to explain Vertex’s philosophy heading into the Imperial comeback, highlighting the importance of controlled aggression when on defence. “CT at the moment is kind of the meta. You have to disrespect the T side a little, because the M4A1 is so good and the fights pretty much begin in your favour.
“Teams cheat map control on CT, especially on Inferno. You kind of want to save utility for the late round, but most of the time on CT it’s just so advantageous in these fights that you just have to go and kill—especially at 4-11 down.”
The loss meant an all-Aussie affair in elimination with a best-of-three against Grayhound, and despite an opportunity to ambush the ‘Hounds and numerous man-advantage rounds, Vertex crumbled to a devastating 0-2 (3-16, 5-16) defeat against their compatriots.
While Malta’s expectations for the Grayhound series—and the event as a whole—were slightly lower due to preparation difficulties and an ever-changing roster, he believes that Vertex are one good day away from taking down the top dogs.
“I think maybe we put more pressure on ourselves because we know we can beat them on a good day,” Malta said. “At the same time, we put our odds at 20%; we knew there was a chance but when those guys get going they can just steamroll. They match up so well against other OCE teams because they’re just so confident and they always have a read on how we play.
“For the Grayhound guys, they have three players who are just insanely good when they’re on and have a read on the situation. It’s tough to stop them once they’re snowballing.”
DreamHack Melbourne marks seven months since Malta joined the Wolfpack, following his departure from the Grayhound core—then Renegades—after nearly four years with the team.
Malta explains it wasn’t as much of a change of CS:GO scenery as it appeared to be when the move was initially made.
“In terms of the organisation, Vertex is a lot more like Grayhound is—a lot more laid back and not taking ourselves so seriously, which is what I like,” he said.
“It’s a lot funner to make content for ourselves and the Aussie audience rather than just something for the sponsors, but I get why we had to do that in the past [at Renegades].
“In terms of the teams, I think David’s [coach Kingfisher] involvement is a big difference at Grayhound; where he would run practice while Josh [INS] had input here and there, which in turn freed up Josh a lot more to rifle, Toby [BRACE] really takes the leader role to the next level.
“He’s really in charge of the team, he makes all the final decisions—he’s really a true in-game leader, which is good for us as a smaller org. We don’t necessarily have enough funding for something like a sixth man as a coach so he does a lot of work behind the scenes that doesn’t get noticed.”
Vertex scored two of Oceania’s brightest in Declan “Vexite” Portelli and Matthew “Valiance” Hartrick during the off-season, boosting their stocks massively coming into a packed Q3 2022 calendar.
However, when Valiance was forced away from Counter-Strike due to personal reasons, and Vexite received a call up to the kennel at Grayhound, Vertex were far from the pack that qualified for DreamHack in the first place.
But the return of Christian “ADDICT” Pendleton, who left Vertex in February, has proven fruitful early on, with the 21-year-old slotting right back into his old squad.
“He was so good today, he really kept everyone positive—he’s really sharp,” Malta said of ADDICT’s offline debut. “We lost a few bad rounds particularly on Inferno—a couple 4v2’s, a 3v1—but even in those rounds, we were only in them because of Christian’s impact earlier in the round.”
“Since we had Vexite and Valiance, before Valiance had to step away and Vexite made the move to GH, that roster we had that we qualified with felt really good. Everyone was set in the roles we had, everyone felt really comfortable where they were.
“I feel like that’s where we’ll finally end up. ADDICT has slotted really well into Valiance’s role since he left, but it’s key to have all five people who are happy in their roles then have a proven star who is out of place.”
Now two weeks on, Vertex are set to grace an Aussie crowd once again when they take to the Fortress Melbourne stage this weekend.
The Wolfpack will meet Rooster in their opening Counter-Strike battle on Saturday, and they’ll be out to make up for their shortcomings at DreamHack.
Beyond BLAST OCE Masters this weekend, Malta’s eyes are on the second step of the podium—right after they lock in a complete roster.
“I think a stable roster over the next few months would be good,” laughs Malta. “Realistically our goals are to reach that number two spot. I think right now Encore has that spot with Aaron [AZR] and Sean [Gratisfaction] back, but I think with the right fifth we can easily be competitive with them.
“Right now with Declan [Vexite] joining GH, he’s a f*****g beast, I think Grayhound are a little out of reach, but we can definitely gun for second.”
Vertex are back in action this weekend at the BLAST OCE Masters LAN in Melbourne, hosted in the Alienware Arena at Fortress.
Spectator tickets for the event are on sale at the Fortress official website.