Welcome to what may turn out to be the most brutal, wild event in professional Siege this year. Eight teams have ground their way to the APAC finals, and now there are a mere two matches between them and Tokoname. At the same time, they need only lose once, and their chance to fly the flag of APAC at the region's biggest event ever will slip through their fingers.
So let's get right into it -- what happened on the first day?
Match 1 - FNATIC (1) V AEROWOLF (2)
I think it's fair to say no one saw this coming. Fnatic is out. If you have a chance to watch any VOD today, I'd make this the one -- this was a hard-fought, close series that no one really saw coming. Fnatic came into the match as the shoo-in to reach finals, and Aerowolf has never qualified for thr Pro League Finals, so what happened here?
Map 1 - Villa (5-7)
Whilst all 3 maps this series share the same scoreline, Villa was possibly the only map where any team seemed to be in control of the matchup. After a first-round loss, Aerowolf were never behind again and managed to take an even 3-3 half on attack, whilst also carrying a relatively confident defense, with some rather unique play coming out in the process that Fnatic was slow to adapt to, such as this Ela shotgun roam from SpeakEasy.
Whilst all of the maps were close, this was perhaps the clearest cut - going 3-3 on Attack on Villa gave Aerowolf an advantage they capitalized on with a solid, inventive defense.
Map 2 - Border (7-5)
As our own InfianEwok put it, Border is where good teams go to die, and Fnatic should be very grateful to Virtue that they were able to survive to face another map. It's rare these days to see such an individual player performance define a map, but his Ash really saved them on the attack, netting 18 kills in 12 rounds.
That said, even with such an insane individual performance, the map hung on a knife-edge, and it boiled down to an absolute melee in the final round, with an attacking push in the final 15 seconds that could have easily lead to overtime.
Map 3 - Clubhouse (5-7)
This was a crazy, crazy map. As close as the scoreline was, it does not tell the full story. Aerowolf took a quick 5-0 lead on attack only to lose 5 straight rounds in a row, only to have to scrape the last two rounds of regulation together -- one with a fantastic adaptation to Clash that Fnatic just couldn't deal with on bedroom, and a crucial 2v4 clutch on Servers where Ysaera played Maestro and his 81 bullets perfectly, using intel and pre-fires to secure a trip to the semi-finals.
Both teams struggled with hard breach denial this map -- Aerowolf's Bandit tricking on servers was a dead end, and Fnatic missed a few impact tricks of their own. With how fine the margins were this whole match, Fnatic, in particular, must be kicking themselves, and any team watching the map should be confident in taking Aerowolf to Clubhouse after watching what turned out to be a defense saved by individual play more than anything else.
Match 2 - CLOUD9 (1) V NORA-RENGO (2)
With Fnatic's shock defeat on the cards, both Cloud9 and NORA-Rengo came into this match knowing the winner is only a victory versus Aerowolf away from Tokoname. Though with this, it seems nerves played a bit of a role.
Map 1 - Bank (7-4)
As the second half started on this map, I doubt many would have predicted this outcome. As NORA-Rengo went 3-4 up on a top floor defense after C9 brought a Nokk out for an unconvincing first attack, it was looking dire for C9. But then, NORA-Rengo didn't win another round.
Bringing a number of atypical attacks to the table, C9 asked questions of NORA-Rengo that they clearly had no answer to, with mixups like planting in lockers on the basement site and overall pacing that was throwing NR's defense off its game.
Watching the last four rounds without context, and you would clearly say Cloud9 looked the favorites. The impression you got was that NR simply wasn't ready for the attacks that came, and ultimately that's what lost them the map.
Map 2 - Clubhouse (1-7)
This was a map arguably lost in the operator ban phase. Cloud9 banned out Thatcher whilst attacking first, a decision that proved extremely costly, winning a mere single attacking round (with an adaptation onto a Montagne push that should have come a few rounds earlier), struggling to open up the key walls on multiple occasions, including one particularly unfortunate grenade incident.
Frankly, Cloud9 never really got going on Clubhouse. It seems they tried to throw a LATAM-style curveball with a Thatcher ban but didn't have the preparation to play about it on their own attack. When NR got on attack themselves, they quickly pulled out two straight attack victories and it was onto the final map -- could Cloud9 pull it back?
Map 3 - Kafe (2-7)
This time, it was NORA-Rengo's turn to ban Thatcher, and whilst that was not necessarily the main culprit this time, Cloud9 brought another toothless attacking side to the table, with NR sweeping the first half 0-6, even though Cloud9 seemed to have the advantage in multiple end-round situations. ReyCyil certainly wasn't about to give Cloud9 hope.
After that, the map was all but over. Cloud9 got 2 consolation rounds on defense, but it was clearly only ever a matter of time before NORA-Rengo ground out the single round to take them to semi-finals.
Match 3 - CYCLOPS (2) V TRIPPY (0)
After NORA-Rengo produced a convincing victory, it was time for the new top seed of Japan to show their mettle, against TRIPPY, the amateur second seed from Korea in arguably the day's most one-sided matchup, though maybe also the most interesting.
Map 1 - Consulate - (7-5)
This is one of the weirder maps of Consulate I've seen in a long while, and one of the most entertaining. I don't think I've seen a team that has not one, but two very different strategies for defending Tellers/Archives, and it was almost enough to win them the map.
Meanwhile, Cyclops was hardly being typical themselves, bringing Nokk, sending BlackRay solo through the garage, and maybe not taking TRIPPY seriously enough, leading to them barely squeezing out 2 rounds on the attacking half, with a crucial final round which turned the tides in CAG's favor.
Once TRIPPY got on the attack, the cracks began to show. The ability to dictate the flow of the game fell into Cyclops' hands and the only round they were then able to secure was a very sketchy garage attack. The unusual tactics were still there from TRIPPY, such as mid-round rushes and Montagne strategies, but with way less success and Cyclops took a streak of convincing rounds and when they eventually took the lead it never looked like TRIPPY were going to get it back.
Still, this was a map of fine margins and TRIPPY certainly did not look like amateurs on Consulate.
Map 2 - Kafe (7-3)
Unfortunately for TRIPPY, after going from a weak offense on Consulate they were forced straight onto the attack on Kafe, and so, the pattern continued. They only won a sole attack round on reading room with a direct offense that capitalized off some mistakes on the side of CAG.
The next time they were able to pull a round together, they were already on match point, and they clearly didn't have as much prep on Kafe as they did on Consulate, clutching both of their defensive rounds from disadvantageous positions.
Ultimately, the sheer gunpower of CAG was able to grind out the last round they needed with a frag-focused attack from Train that overpowered the amateur team and sent them into semis.
Whilst TRIPPY was sent home, they can be proud of their performance here. The strategies they were showing on the Defence of Consulate certainly show promise and their performance on Kafe wasn't entirely poor either. Facing arguably the best team left in the bracket, they held their own.
MATCH 4 - XAVIER (1) V WILDCARD (2)
After Fnatic's earlier shock defeat, Wildcard was now left to ensure that the ANZ region gets some representation in Tokoname -- but how would they fare against the team they lost against in the last APAC Finals?
Map 1 - Kafe (7-3)
It seems all sorts of weird strategies are being brought out at APAC finals, and Xavier maybe brought out their best on Kafe attack. Wildcard had absolutely no answer for their executions onto Cocktail and lost all three rounds they tried to defend there, which essentially lost them the map. Eschewing hard destruction for more utility and flank watch, the roam presence lead to nothing and Xavier managed to utilize these slow executes to gain a 4-2 lead on the attack, which gave them a great foothold to take onto the defensive side to close out the map.
Lycolis was particularly great on Kafe -- playing a flex role on the attack with Blackbeard, Finka, and Jackal, and being a menace on defense with Mozzie. Wildcard never looked like they were getting back into it and ultimately the map victory was swift for Xavier.
Map 2 - Coastline (1-7)
For one round, it looked like Xavier had it in the bag -- another successful execute on the attack after slowly gaining map control, and Wildcard didn't look to have an answer. But then, at long last, Wildcard picked up a gear.
The answer, ultimately, turned out to be pretty simple -- aggression. Spawnpeeks, runouts,a taking fights turned out to be Xavier's undoing, being unable to execute onto sites without a full team and getting caught out over and over by lack of good intel and an ineffective roam clear playing against them. After losing early picks, their strategy seemed to fall apart. Wildcard carried their intensity straight into the attacking side and took the match to Clubhouse with the momentum on their side.
Map 3 - Clubhouse (4-7)
In the final map of the day, we were given something far more conventional -- Clubhouse isn't conducive to slow executes without hard breachers. It was a change that should have been more successful than their attack was on Coastline, but turned out to be quite average, with multiple rounds falling apart due to issues such as not being able to open server wall when there wasn't too much devoted to stopping them.
That said, it took an incredible shot from below from Ethan to ensure Wildcard took that crucial fourth defender round.
The sides switched, but the momentum didn't -- Wildcard quickly got onto a 2-6 match point after taking two convincing rounds with quick, effective map control, culminating in strong executes, which left Xavier on the ropes.
Xavier clawed two good rounds back on Church and CCTV, but being forced onto bedroom/gym, a failed roam in Cash room left them disadvantaged on the final execute, which they couldn't clutch the same way Wildcard had earlier.
Xavier was looking to come back into it -- and had they taken that round on the weakest bombsite in their rotation there's a good chance it could have gone to overtime -- but Wildcard were definitely deserving winners in the end, managing to adapt where Xavier couldn't quite.
And that's a wrap!
A significant 11 maps later, the first day is finally over, and it's pretty much had everything -- upsets, close matches, pocket strategies -- overall, a fantastic start to APAC Finals. Tomorrow, we'll find out who is going to represent APAC at the region's biggest-ever R6 LAN -- be sure not to miss it.
The shedule for tomorrow is as follows: