DarkZero is a roster with so much to prove at this coming LAN event, despite placing first in North American Pro League by a wide margin with 33 points earned this season (nine9 more than runner-ups Team Reciprocity -- the largest gap of the primary regions). It would seem that DarkZero should come into this event as favorites considering the strong domestic performance we witnessed, however this is simply not the case.
Dating back to when DarkZero first acquired the SK Gaming roster in late 2018, they have had struggles at Major and Premier LAN events. The roster failed to qualify for the Six Invitational 2019, lost in the first round at the Season 9 Finals (albeit to the eventual champions, Team Empire), and crashed out in a major disappointment for all of North America in the group stages at the Six Major Raleigh.
Needless to say, the entire team will be looking to improve upon their previous performances. Now, DarkZero has had a stable roster for approximately six months -- their last move was replacing Jarvis with Hyper in late May. Hyper joined DarkZero after becoming the highest rated player in North America for a struggling and now-relegated Rise Nation. Hopes were that this would be the move to put DarkZero over the line internationally, providing a well-structured and methodical team with much-needed fragging power, but so far they have failed to materialise. A strong showing domestically throughout Season 10 again has him taking the top place as the highest rated NA player in our SiegeGG player stats, with his 1v4 clutch against Rogue probably being the highlight of the season.
Now, with perennial LAN attendees Team Empire, G2 Esports, and Evil Geniuses all missing out on the Season 10 Finals, the door is wide open for another team to begin their dynasty, and DarkZero will be hoping they are the next in line. With only loss against Luminosity Gaming this season -- coming in the very second play day itself -- and three draws (two against Spacestation Gaming and one against Team Reciprocity), their online performance has been nearly impeccable.
However, with offline performance translation still lacking, observers are yet to consider them favourites. Thankfully, with FaZe Clan down a man, with retired Rainbow Six pro Nino "ninexT" Pavolini making a temporary comeback to fill in for Ronaldo "ion" Osawa, who failed to secure a visa, they should get a much-needed boost to their LAN hopes. If successful, they will take on either Aerowolf or Giants Gaming, with either game set to be a rematch from the Allied Esports Minor.
To learn about the mentality and preparation of DarkZero coming into this event, SiegeGG had the opportunity to chat with Paul "Hyper" Kontopanagiotis:
Your team placed first in NA this season, going 9-3-1 and finishing with nine more points than runner-up Team Reciprocity. With such a strong domestic season, how do you feel this will translate to the upcoming Season 10 Finals?
I believe that our strong season in the online Pro League will translate as long as we are all feeling confident as players and truly feeling whole as a team.
You made the switch from Rise Nation to DarkZero earlier this year. How has the transition been, and what changes within the team were made to help this switch?
Making a switch from a team that plays super loose to a team that plays super tactical and methodical is extremely worrying. However, I feel like I get along with most people, and all the DZ guys are super friendly and welcoming, so that played a huge part in our team dynamic this past season. Role-wise it was bumpy at first, finding what we were comfortable with and what had the most success, but it only took about a month to fully iron out all the major issues.
How is your team preparing for this event? Will you be attending a bootcamp?
Being in a team house has the same benefits as a traditional "bootcamp" but transitioning from a seasonal practice mindset to a tournament mentality is what we believe is the most logical -- we have a lot of things we didn't show in this online Pro League season that we are very excited to showcase at this event.
It seems DarkZero has struggled at LAN events recently, failing to progress past the first round in the Season 9 Finals, and falling out of the Six Major Raleigh in the group stage. What has the team done to change this?
Hopefully we will prove to everyone that the whole stigma behind "DZ not being a LAN team" is wrong, and until we do so, we will always have that reputation, but I think that is gonna motivate me and the team to have future LAN success.
Do you have any thoughts on the teams considered to be LAN favorites, such as EG, Team Empire, and G2 failing to qualify for the Season 10 Finals?
I believe the competitive gap between all regions is a lot closer than people think, however Team Empire and G2 are still the best teams in the world in my eyes.
How excited are you and your team for visiting and playing in Japan? I imagine it will be a unique experience.
Visiting Japan has always been a dream of mine. As soon as I heard that the Pro League Finals will be held in Japan, I was extremely excited to try to qualify for them. I’m kind of sad they won't be held in Tokyo, but I think I'll visit when I'm there.
What is the overall goal of your team, for this event and moving forward?
The goal of every event we go to is winning it. Moving forward, DarkZero wants to constantly improve, plateauing as a team is unacceptable.
Do you have anything to say to your fans?
Thank you to all the DarkZero supporters and all of my long term fans, I am gonna do my best in Japan!
Catch DarkZero Esports in action next weekend as the Season 10 Finals get underway, with action slated to start on both the 9th and 10th of November at 10 AM JST (UTC+9). DarkZero will first take on FaZe Clan, and if successful will then face either Aerowolf or Giants Gaming on their potential journey to the Grand Final.