From emergency replacements to Melbourne Champions: Movistar Riders win big at ESL Challenger

From the sidelines to the top of the podium in Australia.

A week ago, Movistar Riders were ruing a missedx shot at CS:GOs last Major, failing to qualify for BLAST Paris with early exits at the European RMR qualifiers. But on April 30, the Spanish squad defied the odds halfway around the world at ESL Challenger Melbourne.

Receiving a late invitation to DreamHack down under after The MongolZ withdrew to prepare for Paris, Movistar Riders went undefeated to win ESL Challenger Melbourne, the $50,000 prize, and a spot in ESL Pro League Season 18.

It feels amazing. We were invited at the last moment, we came here and won the trophy, said Alejandro ‘ALEX’ Masanet after their 2-0 (16-10, 16-13) victory against fellow European representatives Bad News Eagles. Its super special for us. We worked hard for this.

Its the second time Movistar Riders have met BNE on LAN in 2023, falling to the Kosovans at CCT Central in Malta back in Feb. 2023. I think we are a completely different team since CCT, said ALEX. We built up some important confidence and experience there and at ESL Pro League Season 17, and it mattered in the end.

Movistar Riders have spent the better part of 2023 competing solely online in Europe, failing to make a dent in various lower-tiered tournaments. But on LAN, the squad is a different beast. Its an element of their game that ALEX and coach Galder bladE Barcena has been working on to improve.

Its something we are trying to work on because we know were a different team on LAN, but almost every single game has been online for us, ALEX said. [In Melbourne] though, we felt hyped a lotwe played like we did in practice. Whatever it is, we make it work better on LAN.

Without the pressure of expectation, the Spaniards pounced on their opponents at Melbourne, who were seemingly caught off-guard, with the squad defeating Rare Atom and ECSTATIC on their way to the trophy.

But it was their two wins against Bad News Eaglesa best-of-one in the group stage and the best-of-three finalthat were most impressive, especially given their record against the Kosovo natives. They didn’t do the things they usually do, ALEX said, pointing out BNEs shortcomings on Ancient in the grand final.

It was very easy to take mid-controlwhen we played them last time, they didn’t let us play comfortably. Today it was completely different.”

Related: Broken seeding just made top CS:GO teams BLAST Paris Major journey much harder

When I realized that, I told dav1g that he can take everything in the middle, and I could change up a mid-round call. I tried to mix it up and do different things in each round, and it was hard for them to adapt.

Most memorable to ALEX and the Movistar Riders outfit was the crowd. It has been seven months since Australia had last seen top-tier Counter-Strike at DreamHack last September, and the audience was ravenous for the actionespecially for hometown heroes Grayhound, who fell in tragic circumstances to BNE in the semifinal.

Photo by Sarah Cooper via ESL Gaming

It was, for me, the best ESL Challenger event, said ALEX. The crowd was supporting everyone at once, it was funny to play with this crowd.

Missing the EU RMR, and thus the BLAST Paris Major, had put a dent in Movistar Riders plans for the rest of the calendar year, but the squad will be in high spirits after such a momentous win. The Spanish outfit returns home to boot camp ahead of their next round of tournaments after the Paris Major.

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