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US Division Stage 1 Recap: Spacestation Gaming Tops League, DarkZero Esports Wins Major

Ahead of the resumption of the 2020 competitive season with Stage 2 of the US Division, here is a recap of all that happened in the first stage.

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As the competitive format transitioned from the old ESL-run one to the new-FACEIT run one, some things changed while others largely stayed the same.

The first stage of the United States Division of the North American League saw teams in the “bottom four” draw closer to the teams occupying the top four spots, but not be able to unseat them. 

For multiple seasons, the top four spots in the US Division have been occupied by a shuffle of four teams: the Oxygen Esports core roster, Spacestation Gaming (SSG), TeamSoloMid (TSM), and DarkZero Esports (DZ). The other four spots have been a bit of a revolving door in terms of teams as relegations ensure that none of the worse teams stay in professional play for very long. Currently, the four teams at the bottom rungs are eUnited, Disrupt Gaming, Tempo Storm, and the Susquehanna Soniqs.

Disrupt Gaming rookie njr.

Of those bottom four, the Soniqs and Disrupt particularly impressed. Disrupt was picked to finish last in the NAL, but surged at the beginning of the season, impressing fans and other teams along the way. Disrupt played quite a few map threes, but couldn’t finish out crucial maps and faltered down the stretch, losing 0-2 to Soniqs and Tempo Storm to finish out the regular season. Despite their record, Nick “njr” Rapier might be the rookie of the year if he continues at his breakneck pace. He currently leads the NAL in Entry split, and made several impactful plays for Disrupt as the season wore on.

The Susquehanna Soniqs also impressed, even though they weren’t with their full roster for the vast majority of the season. Visa issues sidelined Alex “SlebbeN” Nordlund and Santino “Gomfi” de Meulenaere. Once the Soniqs got their full roster back, they were a force to be reckoned with. They looked excellent during the end of the regular season and during the 'Mini-Major' Qualifier, where they took eventual North American Six August 2020 Major champion DarkZero to the absolute limit in a 1-2 loss.

Tempo Storm improved close to the end of the season, but started off extremely slow. Now, they have droppped Italian import Manuel "Sloppy" Malfer in favour of Sam "Jarvis" Jarvis in hopes of preventing a similar setback.

On the other hand, eUnited were a different story, as their aggressive and sometimes wild playstyle couldn’t produce results in the meta of Stage 1. The team stands in danger of being relegated if it can’t find its way soon. They have a ton of firepower on their team, Alexander “Yeti” Lawson and Leo “Alphama” Robine are genuinely great players, but they can't do it alone. As such, the team will be hoping that swapping Seth "Callout" Mik and Roman "Forrest" Breaux, and dropping head coach Colby "Bagel" Smith for 18 year-old Evan "Kanzen" Bushore and former Luminosity Gaming player Richie "Rexen" Coronado works out.

Hyper at the Six Invitational 2020.

The winners of the Mini-Major, DarkZero, had an incredible start to the regular season before falling off. The losses didn’t seem to affect Paul “Hyper” Kontopanagiotis’s regin of terror. The DarkZero entry player posted the best Rating of any player during the regular season, and was an absolute problem for every team he faced. When all is said and done, Hyper could end up as the MVP for the whole year with the way he’s playing. 

Spacestation, the reigning Invitational champions, stumbled out of the gate with a loss to Oxygen before regaining their form later in the season. They fell short in their bid to defend their crown in the Mini-Major, but it’s just online play. Spacestation, while not technically the most recent NA champs, are still the most recent NA LAN champs, and that counts for something. How much it counts for remains to be seen, as it’s a long road to Invitational 2021 -- a road that may have no destination.

Beaulo at the Six Invitational 2020.

TSM maintains its second-place status from Pro League Season 11, in both Mini-Major and regular season results. TSM found their way late in the season, and blazed their way past a solid Oxygen roster to take the No. 2 spot. Superstar Jason “Beaulo” Doty was as fearsome as ever, and was excellent for TSM during the Mini-Major.

Oxygen Esports was incredible at the beginning of the season, and rode a strong defense in an early-season upset of Spacestation. They faltered down the stretch and were the first team to exit the Mini-Major, but the additions of Franklyn “VertcL” Andres Cordero and Spencer “Slashug” Oliver paid off well. 

The upcoming Stage 2 of the US Division will be testy, as fired-up challengers like Susquehanna Soniqs and Disrupt will look to upset the hierarchy of the league. The top four will still jockey for position and all eyes will be on Mini-Major champions DarkZero.