Knowing Aerowolf: The Gatekeepers of APAC

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With Aerowolf set to play at their first international LAN event since the Six Invitational 2017, I take a look at their history and what can be expected from them.

Surprising as it may sound, Aerowolf is a very old team. In fact, some might remember them as a certain Team Envy at the Six Invitational 2017.

One of the original teams to come out of the then-amateur APAC scene at the start of Year 1, they have the honour of not only being the first team from the region at an international event but also being the first APAC team to win a map against international opposition.

Slaloming through an Asia-only online qualifier for the Six Invitational in 2017, they defeated what would become Cloud9 in the present to book a berth in the inaugural iteration of Siege’s most prestigious tournament. Comprised of Glen “Lunarmetal” Suryasaputra, Adrian “Ysaera” Wui, Warren “Reveck” Lim, Harri “Quantic” Hong, and Nicholas “Kori” Chin, the team was to go up against eRa Eternity in the first match of the six-team tournament.

Team Envy at the Six Invitational 2017 (via Team Envy)

Despite lacking any formal competitive structure, any form of the Pro League or even something like Go4s, Team Envy (as they were then known) came out swinging. Matching their far more esteemed opponents blow for blow, they actually drew first blood when they won the first map of Clubhouse by a 6-5 scoreline. However, they could not sustain the Singaporean dream and fell on maps two and three.

With no Pro League to return home to, Quantic temporarily joined European team Barrage eSports for Season 4 of the Pro League while studying in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately for him, while he had decent performances, his team won no games. Coming back home, he rejoined Team Envy, and was soon greeted with the news that APAC would be inducted into the Pro League from Season 6 onwards.

Renaming themselves to Tyde for the online season, and having had Kori depart, they added Richard “shinbagel” Shin to the lineup. After getting signed by Team CryptiK prior to the APAC Finals, they nearly made it to the global Pro League Finals, but were beaten by eventual champions eiNs (now FAV Gaming). At 5-5, defending on the third map of Kafe, with 5 men available on each side, Tyde conceded the round, and thus their dream to continue their campaign internationally.

This loss would, much to them and their fans’ agony, create a pattern -- a pattern that would eventually see them assume the unenvious title, “Gatekeepers of APAC”. Every single time Aerowolf would go to an international event in whichever form, they would end up losing to the eventual champions, and though there would be one exception, the reputation had been solidified. Players were added and players left, but the results stayed the same.

At the Six Invitational 2018 Qualifier LAN, Team CryptiK lost to Mindfreak twice in the double elimination bracket. Then, at the Season 7 APAC Finals, they lost to eventual champions Fnatic once again, though not for a lack of trying. At the Six Major Paris Qualifier LAN, it was the same story -- this time it was Element Mystic (now Cloud9) who felled them. At the Season 8 APAC Finals it was NORA-Rengo, and in Season 9 it was Fnatic once more. The only exception is at the Six Invitational 2019 Qualifier LAN, where they lost to FAV Gaming, who then lost to the Cloud9 roster (then under mantisFPS).

One could very much call it a curse. Others could define it as a mental block, a constant inability to capitalise on their opportunities. And some could simply say that Aerowolf simply don’t have what it takes when it comes to their skills.

Truth be told, it is hard to really pin things down. As the English-language Pro League caster for the Southeast Asian (SEA) region where Aerowolf plays, I have theories, especially after having spent a fair bit of time with them, but even I cannot say with certainty as to why they have never qualified to another international event.

A curse is, of course, preposterous -- but also bandied about as a tongue-in-cheek jest. A mental block it may be, but despite having gutted their original lineup -- of which only Lunarmetal and Ysaera remain -- they have yet to see success. And as far as their skill goes, it would be an unfair characterisation of them. Aerowolf is an incredibly hard-working team, scrimming religiously and dedicating themselves to Rainbow Six as much as their lives allow, but they always seem to lack the X-factor.

The full statistics from the Season 9 APAC Finals for the top four teams

This season, despite the addition of longtime underaged substitute Patrick “MentalistC” Fan to the main roster, as well as the explosive Matin “SpeakEasy” Yunos, they failed to qualify once again. MentalistC was in fact with the team since it was formed, although being underaged at the time made him ineligible to play until the Six Invitational Qualifier LAN this year, but even his injection was just insufficient against Fnatic.

In Season 9 of the Pro League, not only did Aerowolf lose four games, three of those were to teams that they were expected to have brushed aside. These losses had put them in such a poor position that their qualification to the APAC Finals itself was under threat.

Aerowolf only secured their ticket to Sydney on the final play day after a miraculous recovery from the lowest-placed team to defeat Aerowolf’s sudden rivals, Scrypt E-Sports, and after Aerowolf were essentially gifted a free round when two of Xavier Esports’ players disconnected well into the action phase, leading them to gain the one point needed to get ahead of Scrypt after having an inferior head-to-head record.

However, despite this perennial underperformance and inability to qualify for an international event, Aerowolf are still very respected and feared by their peers. This was most telling in Season 8 where, after a loss to Xavier Esports in the online seeding match for the APAC Finals, every other traditionally number-one team also lost -- widely assumed to avoid facing Aerowolf in the first round. Why this respect, if Aerowolf never qualifies?

The answer is because of the depth of experience, skill, and well-practiced strategies that Aerowolf brings to the table. Never has a team that faced Aerowolf not have to struggle and play some of the best Rainbow Six they ever had, such is how far Aerowolf pushes each eventual APAC champion.

Fnatic’s coach, Jayden “Dizzle” Saunders, who coached his side to victory against Aerowolf thrice, summed it up succinctly:

Aerowolf have been a formidable team, in their numerous iterations, since the inception of APAC. The reason they are well respected within the scene and as an opponent is they perform well in multiple metas and they are smart players with very good mechanical skill.

They adapt and learn more quickly than any other team in APAC. They are comfortable playing any lineup on any map. They are very fluid in the way they play.

The reason we are more wary of them than any other team is they play the most similar to us, that being they can do anything at any given time. We know each other very well. And that can make you both predictable but fearsome, when you understand each other like we do.

If Fnatic, two-time Six Invitational quarter-finalists and two-time Pro League semi-finalists, fear Aerowolf, they do so for a good reason. Underestimating Aerowolf can be a fatal flaw. This season, despite their horrendous online performance, they turned up in Sydney and kicked things off with an absolute bang.

The Cloud9 quarter-final was a 2-0, as many had predicted, but it was a 2-0 in favour of Aerowolf, against all odds. When casters around the globe had been polled by SiegeGG, not one had picked Aerowolf to win. Having seen the Aerowolf online play every week, I had also been confident that they would capitulate to the Koreans -- the same Koreans who had very nearly taken a map off G2 Esports at the Six Invitational 2019. Other APAC casters, such as James “Devmarta” Stewart, had also agreed. Yet, Aerowolf had not come to play and blew Cloud9 away 7-1, 7-1.

The statistics from the Season 9 APAC Finals quarter-final between Aerowolf and Cloud9

They had performed far better than anyone had been expecting against Fnatic too, even with the Cloud9 result from the day before in mind. After losing map one, they turned around to clean up Fnatic on the second map of Oregon by a 7-1 scoreline once again. On the third map, they kept Fnatic honest and recovered to tie things up after they were down 3-5. Unfortunately for them, they just couldn’t keep the momentum going.

Now, after being invited to the Allied Esports Minor in Las Vegas, Aerowolf finally can strut their stuff on an international stage without being taken down by the eventual APAC champions.

DarkZero Esports, their first opponents, are the team to beat, according to the players at the Minor. It is almost certain, though, that they will not be underestimating Aerowolf at all, having scrimmed together once and having watched their games at LAN.

The team and its fans will be extremely happy that Ysaera has finally hit top-form like he did over a year ago, and will be looking towards important contributions from MentalistC and SpeakEasy as well, just as they had done at the APAC Finals.

The statistics from the Season 9 APAC Finals semi-final between Aerowolf and Fnatic

However, three men alone cannot win the game, and much of Fnatic’s success can be attributed to how well their strategies had been able to keep star player Jeremy “HysteRiX” Tan quiet, much like what they had done to Nathan “nvK” Valenti from Evil Geniuses at the Season 8 Finals, leading him to have the worst LAN of his life. Fortunately for him, the loss does not seem to have dented his confidence, saying, "we're going to win the whole thing".

Finally, one of the best In-Game Leaders and Montagne players in the region, Lunarmetal, will also be a player to watch, now that MentalistC has been able to lighten the former’s IGL-load as the secondary IGL and allow him to focus on his own gunplay.

From L to R: SpeakEasy, Ysaera, Lunarmetal, MentalistC, HysteRiX (via @AerowolfProTeam)

Despite Aerowolf arguably being the third or fourth-best APAC team, they are not to be trifled with, and they are sure to be proving that point over the weekend. Their opponents, no matter how esteemed, will have to be careful, lest they fall prey to the wolves and become their first-ever international meal.

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Catch Aerowolf in action at the Allied Esports Minor over the weekend from 7th to 9th June, starting at 12:10 PDT (GMT -7) on the first and third days, and at 11:10 PDT on the second day.