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The Giants Gaming players' first trophy is much more than just silverware

Having struggled for years prior to their Season 10 success in 2019, the Six November Major win for Giants Gaming means more to the players than what some may realise.

Much has been said about the Giants Gaming roster, particularly when it comes to the new format. Currently serving his National Service, Jeremy "HysteRiX" Tan has been enjoying a particularly stunning purple-patch, having finished top of the APAC North Division in both Stage 1 and Stage 2 of the 2020 season. As a result, his team only lost a total of two games in the league, securing nine wins out of 10 in each stage.

In the Six August Major, though, his team could not quite get the success it needed. Perhaps due to pressure -- from themselves more than from fans -- the Singaporean team could not bring home the trophy on Singapore's own National Day.

November, though, was when things would change. Once again receiving a bye to the semi-finals of the six-team Major, by virtue of the first-place Stage 2 finish, Giants Gaming had to play Xavier Esports once more. Having struggled past them in the August Major in the identical fixture, not much changed this time around.

Clubhouse, once more the first map, was lost in overtime again and the next two maps were once again extremely close as Giants closed out the win with yet another 7-5 on Kafe. The players and fans may well have felt a sense of déjà vu, what with the Xavier game, and then the grand final match slated to be against Cloud9 once more.

This time, though, the lethargy from the National Day was gone and Giants Gaming looked lethal. While Cloud9 was not far behind at all, eventually losing 0-3 with a 20-24 round count record, the victory was vital in codifying Giants Gaming's claim to the best team in APAC North. For their coach of Ellis "GiG" Hindle, this was his second top-tier victory, with the players ensuring that he got his fair share of credit for their win.

But, beyond the win itself, this November Major marked the team's first piece of silverware in the three years it has been formally active, and the gravity of that should not be lost on viewers.

The Perennial Struggle for the Singaporeans

Back in 2017, team captain Glen "Lunarmetal" Suryasaputra and Adrian "Ysaera" Wui had made Rainbow Six history by becoming part of the first Asian team and players to make it to an international event in the form of the Six Invitational. Struggles and failures then plagued the team, however, as it failed to make it to an international event through qualifiers for the next two years of formal competition.

Ysaera (in focus) and Lunarmetal (out of focus) are the two members that have stayed with the team since its Six Invitational 2017 appearance. (Image: Team Envy)

The one international event that the team would attend, the Allied Esports Minor, saw the team crash out winless, leading the players to wonder if their dogged pursuit of a professional career in the game was worth it. Finally, October was when the team broke its "gatekeepers" curse, beating Fnatic for the first time, becoming APAC champions, and qualifying for the Pro League Finals.

There, it beat the former Giants Gaming roster, was signed by the organisation, and attended the Six Invitational once again in 2020. However, it crashed out without a win and lost its chance to prove itself again with the cancellation of the Season 11 Finals. Now, though, with a trophy finally in hand and an organisation backing them with financial, coaching, and administrative support, the Giants Gaming players are finally seeing their hard work bear fruit.

The road has been tough in particular due to Singapore's inherent barriers towards competitive sports and esports. Of its five core players, only Lunarmetal and Ysaera are truly full-time, having completed their National Service obligations a few years prior (and Ysaera having had to do it alongside much of his Pro League tenure). At the same time, they have certainly had to make sacrifices as well.

Lunarmetal had to juggle his undergraduate degree throughout most of his competitive career -- having completed it just prior to Stage 1 of the 2020 season -- while Ysaera chose to drop out one year into his polytechnic diploma, well before a college education came into the picture.

A decision like that in a country like Singapore is certainly not to be taken lightly. With the structure of Singapore’s social system so heavily based on meritocracy, there is immense pressure on everyone to perform well academically, for that is the 'Singaporean blueprint'. Studies, stable career, family, house, and retirement.

The social pressure against breaking out from that mould is immense, especially in something as alien as professional video gaming. And when it came to their own families, things were far from easy at the start for the duo.

"They had a lot of concerns and worries about it, mainly because I wanted to quit school without finishing my diploma," says Ysaera. "They were still very supportive regardless, but because it was a very long journey before any kind of success or income actually came in, I guess I felt the pressure to give up and quit if it wasn't working out anytime soon."

Echoing his sentiments was Lunarmetal. "They were very apprehensive at the beginning," he stated. "We had a lot of disagreements, with my dad especially, about how I was spending my time. What made it worse was that I was in my sophomore year in university, arguably the most important part of your education when you go out to look for internships, build connections etc. Instead, I spent my nights playing games and my weekends watching VODs."

Things are better now, however. For Lunarmetal, he believes that his financial independence is a key component towards his family's acceptance and understanding, as well as the sheer passion on display during his team's games. Ysaera agreed, stating that "this year was a complete turnaround in terms of support from family and friends, and also performance, ever since the pick-up by Giants".

Still, the fears of their families have not vanished. "Of course, my parents still have their doubts regarding the stability and career path, but now they're calling me after our matches, watching and keeping up with my games even without me updating them, and are overall being very supportive (e.g. planning meals so they don't clash with my schedule)," shared Ysaera.

The rest of the core players in HysteRiX, Jordan "jrdn" Cheng, and Matin "SpeakEasy" Yunos hardly have it any easier. The former is currently in the midst of completing his two-year National Service (NS) with the Singapore Police Force, with a modicum of luck making it so that he is able to come home each night to keep playing. However, that luck has also meant that his schedule leaves him with little time for himself, with most of his day split between his day-job with the police and his 'night-job' with the Giants.

Much like his teammate, jrdn (and likely SpeakEasy), too, has little time for himself. Late nights and early mornings are commonplace for these players, with socialisation greatly limited thanks to these tightly packed daily schedules. Jrdn's rise is particularly impressive, in particular, given that he only picked up the game in 2018 itself.

The Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the November APAC Major, SpeakEasy, likely has not had it much easier, if at all. Also schooling, his and his teammates' levels of performance have been somehow just as good -- if not better -- than many of their truly full-time contemporaries.

What's more, jrdn and SpeakEasy will soon have to join HysteRiX in serving their country and it is unclear (and unlikely) that even one of them will be able to get a posting that will allow them to come home daily as HysteRiX does.

As such, despite the success and upturn in fortunes, the future for Giants Gaming is still cloudy given the challenges on the horizon. However, come what may, the Singaporeans have shown that they have the grit necessary to push through and it is clear that these players will be giving it their all throughout. For now, they will be happy to enjoy a brief respite as the competitive scene takes a short break, before coming back in force for the upcoming APAC Finals and Six Invitational 2021.