Header image by Sarah Cooper
Rainbow Six: Siege is, in relative terms, a very young esport. Compared to behemoths like Defence of the Ancients 2 (Dota 2) or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS: GO), it has leagues to go, but it already has a very clear “old guard” formed. International audiences would identify teams like Evil Geniuses (formerly Continuum and Biggity Boo Bop), G2 Esports (formerly PENTA Sports), or FaZe Clan (formerly Santos Dexterity) as this old guard, but unfamiliarity with the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region might cause them to skip over possibly the oldest team in the region -- Aerowolf.
Aerowolf: A Competitive History
The Pro League for Rainbow Six started just four month after the game’s release, and it clearly had a strong effect even where it was not initially launched. Season 1 came and went, and as the online portion of Season 2 came to a close, the Asian region came to life -- and so did a bunch of Singaporeans known as Team Envy. Starting things off against Father’s Back, and what would later become Cloud9 and FAV Gaming, Envy was victorious in the first-ever Asian community cup.
So continued the grind for Team Envy, a team that had nothing to play for except the love of the game. Also participating in a Japanese-led “International Exhibition” cup held for teams across Asia, and an Australian CyberGamer cup, Team Envy was getting practice in, though would only know what the practice would be worth at the end of the Season 3 Finals when the inaugural Six Invitational was announced. All of a sudden, the grind meant something.
With four online qualifier cups to be played online to find the four best Asian teams for a final, online qualifier for the Invitational, Envy won the first qualifier cup, and then the final qualifier to become the very first Asian team at an international event. Going up against eRa Eternity (now Rogue), a Glen “Lunarmetal” Suryasuptra-led Montagne push would see Envy take Clubhouse, and while that would be it for the Singaporeans, this achievement would be monumental given the far more structured system the North Americans of eRa had. This would be made even more impressive by the fact that Adrian “Ysaera” Wui had been forced to bargain with his military commanders to get time off to compete in the Invitational at the halfway mark of his two-year National Service and could thus hardly practice for the event.
Best in Asia they were, then, but they would soon start a journey of just being second-best. When the Pro League was finally introduced to the APAC region in Season 6, now including Australia and New Zealand, Team CryptiK (as the team was then known) was the favourite to win. However, the Southeast Asian (SEA) representatives were pushed hard in the very first match of the single-elimination APAC Finals that would see the top two teams qualify to the Pro League Finals. Facing eiNs (now FAV Gaming), they would win the first map convincingly, lose the second in the last round of overtime, and would lose the third despite being on the advantageous defense on Kafe in the final round of overtime, with all members left standing on each side with 15 seconds left to go.
This would be the first taste of heartbreak for the Singaporeans, and it would be a taste they would struggle to wash off for two years -- with Kafe being a coincidental feature in nearly every attempt.
With the structure of the APAC Finals being as it was, it was clear that Team CryptiK was the second-best team there, but single-elimination meant that they would not get to prove it on the international stage. Second-best would, very soon, become almost like an unwanted mantra for the team. In all seven further instances but one, the team that would beat the Singaporeans would go on to win the overall event. Team CryptiK, or Aerowolf as they would be known from July 2018 onwards, would be given the unwilling title of “gatekeepers”.
The next APAC LAN event they would participate in would be the Six Invitational 2018 APAC Qualifier LAN, another event they would be favourites for. However, the former Xbox squad of Mindfreak (now Fnatic) would beat them twice on their own road to qualification to deal them a second loss in as many events. Come the Season 7 APAC Finals, Fnatic would send Aerowolf packing and become the champions once again, while Element Mystic (now Cloud9) would beat them in the Six Major Paris APAC Qualifier LAN, and in Season 8 it would be NORA-Rengo in Tokyo.
Roster Changes: In Search for that Perfect Five
Aerowolf would be chopping and changing their roster in search for the ever-elusive edge, with Nicholas “Kori” Lim, Harri “Quantic” Hong, and Warren “Reveck” Lim from the 2017 Invitational roster having left the team. In and out would come many other names -- Richard “shinbagel” Shin in Season 6, Allessandro Billy “Array” Adi Dwiputra in Season 8 and half of Season 9, Ni “SPirited” Tung Ming as a substitute for Season 9, and a Jasper “Xesoxs” Tay that never made an official appearance for the team. Nothing seemed to work, however, as Lunarmetal and Ysaera looked for the answer, alongside the Season 7 recruit Jeremy “HysteRiX” Tan.
The team’s roster volatility reached its zenith in Season 9, however, which also coincided with the worst online showing from the players throughout their history. With Xesoxs initially drafted in as Reveck’s replacement, the lack of time meant he could not commit to the team. With the Pro League season being delayed, the Six Invitational Qualifiers were played first, and SPirited was called into action for the online portion. However, with Patrick “MentalistC” Fan -- one of the hottest APAC prospects, with Aerowolf since 2016 as an underaged substitute -- having turned 18 just before the qualifier LAN, another change was in the offing and MentalistC went to Sydney instead.
Once again, the team lost -- though this time it was not to the eventual champions -- and much soul-searching was to be done. With Array leaving halfway through the season, yet another change was to be made, with Matin “SpeakEasy” Yunos being brought in as a replacement instead. Unfortunately for Aerowolf, the team dynamics were once again affected, and the team paid the price with a heavy 0-2 defeat to Scrypt E-Sports that put their unbroken run at APAC LANs at risk. It was only thanks to a miraculous double-disconnect from Xavier Esports (that allowed them a point in their final match) paired together with an incredible 2-0 victory by Generic eSports over Scrypt that sent Aerowolf squeaking through by one point.
At the APAC Finals, everyone expected the recently signed Cloud9 roster to win over the Singaporeans -- by 2-0 margins, even. Aerowolf, though, flipped the script, and smashed Cloud9 7-1, 7-1 to set up a fourth date with Fnatic. Once again, though, the gatekeepers “curse” loomed large, and a 5-5 comeback train on the third map was thwarted by a bugged defuser, and Aerowolf lost to the eventual champions yet again.
Then invited to the Allied Esports Minor as the lone APAC team, Aerowolf was part of a 16-team contingent fighting to win the tournament and qualify for the Six Major Raleigh. Predictably, Aerowolf did not win, but what was more shocking was the manner of the defeats endured -- 7-8 to DarkZero Esports, 7-8 to the Susquehanna Soniqs, and 2-7 to LeStream Esport (now the Vodafone Giants). Lunarmetal would later reveal that the team was mentally at one of its lowest points then.
Things began looking up for them, though, as the Singaporeans beat Xavier Esports for the first time in a year -- and that too by a 2-0 margin, something they had never managed -- and then repeated the feat later on as they qualified for the Six Major Raleigh APAC Qualifier LAN. Yet again, though, they lost to the eventual champions.
At this stage, it was well and truly unclear what it was that Aerowolf needed to change. Just prior to the Qualifier LAN, the team had also drawn a map each against NEX Esports and Scrypt E-Sports -- certainly not season-threatening, but concerning results at the very least. There was a deep, underlying issue with Aerowolf, but it seemed that not even the team knew what was wrong. Nearly each and every time, the team lost by narrow margins and was almost always the second-best. Whether it was luck, a lack of skill, or both, something always failed to click. Some pointed towards the inability to go full-time, some felt SEA as a region itself was just too weak, while others almost did not dare to ask if it was a problem propagated by the only two members still on the squad since the team was formed -- Lunarmetal and Ysaera.
The Inability to Go Full-Time
While the impact of each of these potential factors was incalculable, the biggest effect on the players was undoubtedly from the former. While teams like Fnatic and Cloud9 had gone full-time, Aerowolf simply could not, despite their arguable skill. One of the reasons was National Service, as Ysaera had been hit by in the team’s preparation for the Six Invitational 2017. While none of the team was serving, the sword always hung over their heads -- especially so for HysteRiX, who knew he would have to serve sometime around January 2020. SpeakEasy and their new subsitute, Jordan “jrdn” Cheng will also have to enlist when they finished schooling.
The other reason was, as is common in esports, education. Each member of the Aerowolf team, with the sole exception of Ysaera, has been studying throughout every single competition he has taken part in. SpeakEasy and jrdn both study in a vocational education institute, HysteRiX studies in a polytechnic (a pre-university institute), MentalistC studies in a junior college, while Lunarmetal is pursuing an undergraduate degree.
SpeakEasy and jrdn may arguably have the lightest academic load, but it still is an incredibly tough one to bear, especially while trying to play Rainbow Six professionally. With the structure of Singapore’s social system so heavily based on meritocracy, there is immense pressure on everyone to perform well academically and bring oneself to a point where they can secure as good a job as possible, be able to support a family, and own a house. A university degree is seen as a necessity for most well-paying jobs and good options begin to dry up the lower down the food chain one goes.
HysteRiX has it harder, having been able to secure a spot in an academically more rigorous polytechnic, and under even more academic pressure was MentalistC. A junior college in Singapore was a virtual ticket to a good course in a good university, but one had to perform well. Doing so while balancing a Siege career, though, is far easier said than done and the eighteen year-old MentalistC was suffering physically and mentally. Lunarmetal, of course, had it the hardest with his university studies, but was seemingly able to juggle his studies and competitive career at a level that perhaps only the best in both fields can.
The Daily Struggle to Keep Playing
Balancing school and part-time work, the mental toll from losing eight APAC LANs was just as heavy on Lunarmetal and Ysaera as it was on the others. Nearly two years Aerowolf had tried, and nearly two years Aerowolf had failed. It seemed that the team was going in circles, the players had become has-beens, and that they would never see anything close to the heights they had achieved in 2017 -- with Pro League Finals and Minors now more glamorous than the inaugural Major. People wondered how someone could experience so much failure, so much of a pull from all sides, and still keep going on. Truth was, Aerowolf’s players themselves struggled to answer that, with Lunarmetal and Ysaera thinking about retiring every single day. Yet, thanks to what may have seemed like a misguided call to their families, or an intense fire to their fans, they trudged on.
MentalistC, though, was finally worn down by the stress and other factors. A Chinese national, he had only been able to live in Singapore as a dependant when his father had secured a job in the country. Unfortunately for him, his father was repositioned outside of Singapore sometime during Season 10 of the Pro League, which meant that his residence in Singapore hinged solely on his education here with a student visa. Having initially come to an agreement with his parents to take a gap year in 2020 to pursue Siege full-time, the dream was brought to a screeching halt. Now, he could not take time off from school as that would mean he would not be able to reside in Singapore, while balancing it with Siege would likely cause his health, grades, and play to spiral, and pursuing Siege full-time elsewhere in SEA (such as Hong Kong) was simply not a viable option with the lack of success and exposure. This, then, left him with just one option -- to take an indefinite sabbatical.
Fate, however, wanted to throw yet another twist into the Aerowolf tale. Coming into the Season 10 APAC Finals, Aerowolf had been put up against Fnatic in the first round -- a team they had never beaten in four attempts. What's more, their next opponents would be either Cloud9 or NORA-Rengo, both of whom had decisively beaten Aerowolf in the past. Despite a stellar online season, with a 10-1-1 W-D-L record, the Singaporeans had failed to secure the first seed and were predicted to pay the price.
A sudden switch in their mentality, though, proved to be the winning formula. Four times they had lost to Fnatic by the closest of margins, but they would not allow it to become five. Aerowolf ground out a hard-fought 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 win over Fnatic despite nearly throwing away a 5-0 winning position on the third map -- a position the Aerowolf of the past would have certainly lost from.
Upon securing the win, MentalistC burst into tears, months of stress washing away in a release of the floodgates. The hard work had been worthwhile. The hard work had paid off. Lunarmetal, too, was overwhelmed, though somehow kept himself composed in the interview that followed.
Their historic victory was then followed up by a 7-1, 7-2 decimation of the second APAC team to have qualified for every international event since Season 7 -- NORA-Rengo -- and suddenly Aerowolf had done it. Rising up, hands aloft in a challenge to their upcoming international opponents, SpeakEasy made sure to mint an iconic image in the Siege history books, to remind everyone of the season Aerowolf beat both Fnatic and NORA-Rengo in one weekend.
The gates were closing, but the Aerowolf players had shaken off their gatekeeping shroud and had become the gatecrashers.
Not only had the team qualified for the Season 10 Finals in Tokoname, and then sweetened the deal by defeating Wildcard Gaming to take first seed, they had also pencilled in a return to the biggest Siege tournament after three long years -- the Six Invitational.
What Changed and What Now?
The winning formula, as Lunarmetal had put it, was their determination to keep their heads up. With years of failure weighing upon them, years of stress from having to study and work while playing Siege lurking like a shadow, it would have been all too easy to lose morale. This time, though, Lunarmetal had ensured that his team would be prepared to handle the challenge, to shake off each round thrown away and move on to the next with renewed vigour.
Not only had this inability to prevent a mental spiral lost them eight opportunities at international events in the past, it had threatened to do so once again in Season 10 as well. Border, arguably, should not even have been a map lost had Lunarmetal not made a careless first-round mistake and had Ysaera not rushed into attempting to deny the plant while staring at the Fnatic planter's back. Clubhouse, too, was nearly lost, with Aerowolf losing five straight rounds to allow Fnatic to equalise the scoreline at 5-5, but the mental preparation had paid off, and Aerowolf had hung on.
Now, the team first faces the Vodafone Giants -- the fearsome European team that had crushed them 7-2 in July. In the unlikely event the Singaporeans are successful, they will face either DarkZero Esports or FaZe Clan. However likely their win, though, the Giants will not have an easy task beating Aerowolf. Even though their opponents have so much else on their plate, are largely limited to APAC scrim partners, and often come up with their strategies on their way to school or even events, an Aerowolf that can shake off thrown rounds and bounce back is an Aerowolf to be respected -- feared, even. Doing whatever it takes to continue playing, despite setbacks at almost every turn, speaks to a level of determination and grit most would be hard-pressed to match.
Moving on, Aerowolf will see a small boost after May 2020 when Lunarmetal will graduate and be able to go full-time, though it is unclear if MentalistC will still be around. While he will be playing at the Season 10 Finals in Tokoname in a few days, his future in Siege for the Six Invitational 2020, and beyond, is yet unknown, and it is currently looking as if jrdn will be taking his place. HysteRiX's enlistment in January is sure to also throw a wrench into the team's preparation, but his role being non-combat will make his ability to participate in the Invitational a lot easier.
What may make life easier for all of them would be an upgrade in organisation, as well, something that the players are likely to be looking at. While Aerowolf as an organisation has no inherent issues, being small has limited the pay and support it can give to its players.
Regardless of what happens, though, Aerowolf have now broken into the international conscious for the next four months and will be giving it their all to stay there. If their history is anything to go by, the team will find a way to make their dreams come true -- with or without the support of their peers.