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The Second Entry - Talking The Conclusion of the U.S. Division's Stage 1 and the Mini-Major Qualifier

Stage 1 of the US Division has drawn to a close. Let's talk about a very confusing final day.

We have finally concluded the regular season of sorts in the U.S. Division of the NAL, and despite some excitingly new results, the season rankings fell mostly in line with what was predicted. 

This isn't to say that the season wasn't exciting, far from it -- the format of the NAL and advent of Best-of-Threes (Bo3s) have made North America by far the most exciting professional R6 league. Spacestation Gaming, the reigning Invitational champs, sit atop the rankings. They're followed, in order, by TSM and Oxygen Esports, the latter of which looked like the best team in the league at one point. DarkZero looked strong as well, but failed to secure a spot in the four-team mini-major. They went to the major qualifier, along with the Susquehanna Soniqs, Tempo Storm, and Mirage Esports from Canada. 

Let's talk about a weird week in the U.S. Division. 

Stat of the week: Let's talk about the seasonal leaders and LaXInG

We would be remiss to not at least mention the excellent performances from Brady "Chala" Davenport and Mitch "Dream" Malson, but their performances are overshadowed by the end of the season stat leaders. 

Jumping out off the lists are the two Spacestation Gaming players that lead their respective categories, Troy "Canadian" Jaroslawski in Plants with 18, four higher than the next, and Dylan "Bosco" Bosco, who leads in clutches with seven. Nick "njr" Rapier, a rookie, leads in Entry split with 15, superstar Jason "Beaulo" Doty leads the K-D split with +47, and Paul "Hyper" Kontopanagiotis leads in Rating with 1.33. Chala doesn't lead any category, but shows up massive in Entry split, KOST, and Clutches. 

However, one of the players tied for the lead of the KOST stat, Gabriel "LaXInG" Mirelez, isn't just on the leaderboards in KOST.

Looking a tad bit further down the list, we can see LaXInG just below Hyper's 1.33 Rating with a 1.19 Rating. He's second only to Beaulo in K-D split. He doesn't grace the Plants or Entry split leaderboards (for the record, he has a +2 in the latter), but he has four 1xX Clutches on the season, tied for third. 

While he doesn't hold one statistical category outright, LaXInG has been very impactful so far this season. He's been so impactful that based on these stats, despite Hyper's heroics for DarkZero, despite Chala's eruption back into professional play, and despite njr's stellar rookie season, I feel comfortable calling LaXInG the most impactful individual player during this stage. 

"LaXInG's playstyle is the most unique out of any other Siege player," said Loviel "Velly" Cardwell, when asked what makes him so dangerous. "There's always an expected rotation or stationary spot that players generally have but LaXInG thinks outside of the box...The scariest thing is, he wins rounds off of plays like that. LaXInG is the unexpected and this type of playstyle has made him a superstar in the scene."

He does it all: he clutches, roams, kills, everything you want a player in his position to do. He may take a bit of flack for his slightly unorthodox methods, some earned, some unearned, but the numbers don't lie: LaXing has made a significant impact on this stage.

Clip of the week: Rampy sending LaXInG to the shadow realm

I must admit, I'm a sucker for some good hatch drop clips. So, you can imagine my excitement when Nathanial "Rampy" Duvall dragged LaXInG to Rainbow 6 hell with Buck's Skeleton Key. 

It's definitely a tough place to be in for LaXInG, largely due to the strong roam clear from Spacestation. Once they found out where LaXInG was, they bottled him into a corner then sucked him below for an easy shotgun kill. Unfortunate for LaXInG, well played from SSG. 

Regular season storylines of the week: Wednesday's admin decisions highlight tough, but fair calls

Imagine, for just a second, that you're Oxygen Esports. You lose a tough 2-0 to Spacestation on Monday, only three rounds separated you from cementing your first place finish in the league against the Invitational champions. 

On Wednesday, you play TSM. In the middle of the first map, Consulate, you're up 4-3 in man count, down 3-4 in round count overall. You're set up relatively well for a plant and to potentially tie the game in round count.

Instead...your entire house loses internet. Since enough time has passed into the round, the round goes to TSM. You're down 5-3 instead of tied 4-4. You lose that map 7-5, the extra round would've at least pushed the game to overtime. You lose the series 2-1. 

If you're Oxygen, you have every right to be frustrated. That's an incredibly impactful event. It didn't outright win TSM the game, Oxygen sure had their chances down the stretch, but in hindsight it's a heartbreaker. 

The call from the admins, however, is fair. It's heartbreaking if you're an Oxygen fan or player, but the rulebook is clear. 

Similarly, on Wednesday Disrupt faced a similar tough admin ruling. During yet another njr multi-kill round, he pieced two people while crouched in a windowsill.

Per the rulebook, you cannot crouch in a windowsill and this peek is illegal. It's absolutely devastating for Disrupt, who had to reset down 5-4 to Tempo Storm. They would go on to lose the match 2-0, and Tempo Storm locked in their qualifier spot instead of Disrupt. 

If you're Disrupt, it's harsh but ultimately fair, and also unfortunate since you've notably had another run-in with the rulebook (Zachary "Nyx" Thomas's banned skins fiasco). 

Life isn't always fair, but when there's a rulebook already in place, it must be followed, regardless of circumstance. That's no solace to Disrupt, Oxygen, or their fans, but it's reality all the same. Best to do as Nyx did in the skin fiasco: accept the things you cannot change or accept that you made a mistake, do your best to not make a mistake the next time or work to ensure the thing out of your control is now in your control. 

Qualifier recap

DarkZero esports rebounded and took home the "mini-major" qualifying spot in a thrilling 2-1 victory over the Susquehanna Soniqs. While many DarkZero members expressed their frustrations with their caliber of play and many Soniqs players vented frustrations with a long day of playing and a format that gave them the shaft, the actual game played was prime entertainment. Every single round, especially in the last map, felt like anyone could take it at any given moment. While there were glaring issues with teams' post-plant execution and intel game, the result was excitement all around. 

Tempo Storm and Canadian League representative Mirage fought in a battle to determine who would come in last place, and Mirage took a 2-0 victory. While Mirage played well, it's worth highlighting that both of the teams forced to play back-to-back Bo3s lost their second games (Mirage and DarkZero played in the opening match). All the same, Mirage put on a show and proved that the Canadian portion of the NAL is not one to take lightly. 

The qualifier served as a microcosm of the first stage of the U.S. Division -- top teams were challenged by an improving bottom half of the league but ultimately came out on top, and the formatting gave certain teams significant advantages as play wore on. In order to move forward, the U.S. Division and the Qualifier schedules will need some adjustments to ensure that teams aren't play back to back games, a clear disadvantage due to rest and prep time. 

Three quick thoughts

This format needs some tweaking: While the double GSL format is clearly superior to previous iterations of professional R6, there are some small adjustments that could be made to make it even better. First on the list are the play days, there's no reason that teams that play twice in one week have to face teams coming off a week of rest. There are ways to give every team adequate preparation time for each match, instead of one team having a whole extra match's worth of film on their opponents. 

I want to see more Gentlemen's Agreements: On Monday, the Susquehanna Soniqs and Disrupt Gaming agreed to a "Gentleman's Agreement," a pact of sorts, that they both would not play Echo during their match. To their credit, they did not. There needs to be much more of this. If you believe something is bad for the competitive scene, enter into an agreement to play without it to show to the viewer exactly why your way is better. Until it's put into action everything is theoretical. If Ubisoft won't put it on the test server, professionals need to do it themselves.

Spacestation back on top: It wasn't easy, but Spacestation have regained their No. 1 spot in the U.S. Division with a win over Oxygen. The Kings of NA reign again, and will be the favorites heading into the online mini major. A victory there definitely won't mean as much as an international LAN major, but a win is a win is a win. You have to take them where you can get them, especially in the middle of a global pandemic. 

Tweets of the week

Catch the upcoming North American mini-major from the 14th to 16th of August, starting at 6 PM EDT on the official Twitch and YouTube channels and follow us on Twitter for more coverage of all the mini-majors around the world.

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