Karzheka: "I wouldn't risk naming ourselves or anyone else as favourites"

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In our third article in the Invitational Insights series, we talk to Team Empire captain karzheka about his team’s preparation for the Six Invitational 2020.

Team Empire, ranked first in the SiegeGG team rankings, is arguably the best team in Rainbow Six: Siege right now. While arguments can be made for the North American team of Team SoloMid (TSM), it is unquestionable that Team Empire was dominant in nearly all of 2019.

Having only just qualified to the Pro League in Season 9, it was not long before the Six Invitational had awaited the team -- the first for the players together, but the second for the duo of Daniil “JoyStiCK” Gabov and Artur “ShepparD” Ipatov. Then, despite having little international experience, the team lit up the screens of viewers. Immortals was first to fall, 0-2, before fan-favourite Spacestation Gaming (SSG) lost 0-2 as well.

Team Empire lost to G2 Esports in the grand final of the 2019 Six Invitational.

In the playoffs, some trouble was to be found, but both Team Liquid and the electrifying NORA-Rengo could only manage a map each. Then, in one of the closest single-map performances ever, Team Empire forced G2 Esports to the 22nd round on Coastline, but eventually lost and ran out of steam for the remaining two maps. Nevertheless, the team kept marching on, and went to the Season 9 Finals in high spirits despite having only just replaced Artyom “Shockwave” Simakov with Danila “Dan” Dontsov.

DarkZero was first dispatched, 2-0, before Fnatic managed to turn the tide on one map in the semi-finals, but Empire prevailed in the end with a 7-0 map three. In the grand final again, in the debut Pro League season for the team, Empire seemed to be set to lose. Down a map, and facing two match points on the second, one of the biggest chokes in the game from Evil Geniuses allowed Empire a way back into the game. Taking the map to overtime, Empire pushed things to map three and won while staving off an attempted Evil Geniuses comeback, with Dan the team’s MVP for the event.

Team Empire with the Six Major Raleigh trophy. (Photo: ESL)

However, the team was yet unsatisfied, and despite a shaky start to Season 10 of the Pro League went to Raleigh as the second-favourite. Once again, the team did not lose a single game in the group stages, beating TSM 2-1 and MIBR 2-0, and then beat FaZe Clan and Team Secret in the playoffs by 2-1 scorelines to once again keep a perfect record of grand final appearances going. Here, G2 Esports stood little chance, and Empire exacted revenge for six months prior, taking the game 3-1 and a first Major title.

Unfortunately, it seemed that the five Russians and lone Estonian seemed to take their foot off the pedal for a while, slipping to fourth place in a highly competitive and unpredictable EU Pro League. Thus having missed out on the Pro League Finals, the team’s stock dropped slightly, but with a scintillating first half of Season 11 so far -- second only to Rogue -- it seems that Empire is hitting its stride at the right moment.

To know more, SiegeGG spoke to team captain, Eugene “karzheka” Petrishin:

Despite having won the Six Major Raleigh, your team has been put into one of the arguably harder groups. Does your team have any gripes with the seeding process?

I'm okay with the seeding -- you need to beat everyone to be crowned world champion so, I don't care who will we face in the group. 

Season 10 of the Pro League did not go well for your team, what happened then, and how has the team rectified the issues?

I feel like we were just tired of the game, we spent like one month away from home. That was the first time we were not at home for so long, and all we did was play the game and get better, so I guess we just got tired of the game after the Major. Can't really say if that won't happen again, we will see in the second Pro League split.

Your team has been seemingly back on form so far in the Pro League. How are you ensuring you will be peaking right at the Six Invitational?

I can't say much, I guess that's just about motivation. There's a huge drive from our side to improve on our previous placement and lift the hammer, that's it.

Observers are classifying your team as the favourite to win the entire event after your near-win last year. Would you agree with that assessment?

I wouldn't pick any favourites, because if you are watching the Pro League, you can see that literally anyone can beat anyone, especially in Europe, so I wouldn't risk naming ourselves or anyone else as favourites.

How do you think that the double-elimination playoffs will change the dynamic of the event, and what is your opinion of the one-map advantage in the grand final?

First of all, I am okay with the map advantage in the grand final. The team who made it through the upper bracket and didn't lose their “first [chance to make a mistake]” should have an advantage. Overall, I think the double elimination bracket will give teams some freedom -- players will play a lot more risky and feel more confident since they will know they won't leave the tournament if they lose (once).   

Your team has been described as one that does not deviate too much from your prepared strategies, making it both a strength and a weakness for you. Have things changed?

We will see, we’re still working.

Do you think that your team will be able to kickstart another era of dominance in Siege if you win the Six Invitational? Or is the age of a dominance like G2’s over?

I am not sure, but I consider the previous year as our domination -- getting second place at the Invitational, then winning the Pro League Finals, then the Major... of course, we didn't get to Tokoname, but still I'm sure it was our year to shine. It will be harder, though, in this season, as there are a lot of strong rosters right now. Right now, I guess there is no team that is ready to create its own domination era.

Do you have anything else to say to your fans?

Make sure to watch the Six Invitational, it is going to be a promising event. Support all the teams, and as for our fans, we will try our best!

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Team Empire plays Fnatic in Group A first, with matches against either FaZe Clan or DarkZero Esports scheduled afterwards. Check back here at SiegeGG for more Invitational Insights and full coverage of the event as it comes.