ESEA Premier (now ESL Challenger League) hosts sixteen teams a season, and yet, casual fans will only recognize two or maybe three of those top teams, the ones who have a chance against North American giants like Liquid. Outside of those top teams, most of the players are largely shrouded in anonymity. NA fans would be hard-pressed to name a player outside of Extra Salt, paiN Gaming, or perhaps Triumph.
However, Party Astronauts seek to break that mold. Party Astronauts is filled with colorful NA characters like Josh “PwnAlone” Pigue and Ben “ben1337” Smith, staples of the North American ESEA Premier scene. Their name and logo are a perfect representation of their brand, a fun group of hard-working players, a safe haven for fans reminiscing on the North American Counter-Strike of 2016.
The Road Behind
Although Party Astronauts have been a staple of Premier, their road has been anything but smooth sailing. The team currently has no financial backing, as professional as their branding may seem. However, that wasn’t always the case. As many know, organizations willing to sign and promote Challenger League teams are few and far between, with many dropping out of the esport entirely in the last year. The Party Astronauts squad was one of the victims of this efflux of organizations not once, but twice.
The first iteration was under the banner of New England Whalers featuring PwnAlone, ben1337, Jonathan “djay” Dallal, Ramal “Rampage” Silva, Brendan “Bwills” Williams, and their coach Joeseph “Muenster” Lima. Under that name, the team achieved few meaningful results but did have an extremely strong Premier Season 35. There, they had an almost undefeated 15-1 record and finished playoffs in 2nd place. In addition, they placed on HLTV’s top 30 list for a month during that period, a huge achievement for the team. However, the bliss didn’t last long, Less than a month after that result, New England Whalers released the team citing their inability to continue funding the squad.
Luckily the team managed to find a sponsor in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and played under High Coast Esports. Under that banner, the team achieved a 3-4th finish at Dreamhack Open in March as well as an ESEA Cash Cup victory in Spring, but more often than not fell flat against Extra Salt and Bad News Bears. Once again, tragedy struck the team as High Coast Esports was also forced to release their team due to a lack of funding. Ever since then, the team has been orgless and playing with the name Party Astronauts, the same name ben1337, PwnAlone, djay, and Rampage played under before being signed to High Coast.
The Road Ahead
Now it seems the team has hit their stride, as they made a strong run in the playoffs of Season 38. After a solid regular season, they stumbled in the semifinals to Extra Salt, but made a strong lower bracket run to get revenge on the Salters in a best of 5 thriller, clawing back from a default map disadvantage and clinching the final map in double overtime. With that victory they secured themselves $20,000 and a trip to Europe to compete in ESL Pro League Season 15 alongside their North American big brothers Liquid and Evil Geniuses.
The story of Party Astronauts is truly an incredible and inspiring one. Storied faces combine with raw North American talent to create a team which is hungry, yet measured. The experience on the team shines through and their aim stars take them to yet another level. Simply through hard work and dedication, these five teammates and their coach beat teams with financial backing, with no organization of their own to represent. Truly, it shows just how deep the North American talent pool really is.
When asked about their goals, Muenster, their coach, responded, “my broader goal for the team is to simply improve consistently.” ben1337said, “Just improve as a team, that’s all that matters.” This past season, they’ve achieved together more than any of them individually have ever done. Djay and Infinite spoke about the importance of winning Premier and securing an EPL spot, and now they’ve done that too.
Soon they’ll get the chance to prove themselves internationally and make a statement in Europe. On further goals, both djay and ben1337 wish to qualify for a major and get a permanent homage to their name officially in the game via a sticker. While they missed out on qualifying for the PGL Stockholm major, with the leaps and bounds they’ve been making, it’s not impossible that Party Astronauts get a ticket to CSGO’s eighteenth major tournament.
In closing, Party Astronauts are the modern rendition of 2016’s North American Counter-Strike scene. They make it incredibly difficult to not root for them. They’re a group of wonderful and sometimes bombastic personalities who show themselves to fans. Party Astronauts have some of the most recognizable names in the Challenger League, and their story is one that just puts a smile on your face. Five players and a coach where “everyone really cares but can also have fun at the same time” join together to play the game they love. Then, they get churned and spit out of the machine not once, but twice, thrown into disarray and uncertainty. Somehow, from such hardship, the team rises and accomplishes feats that they never have before, all while sporting a fun and vibrant logo. And now, they’ve accomplished some of their wildest dreams, and got a ticket to play and practice against new competition on the other side of the world.