Three maps into a long Best-of-Five (Bo5) with beastcoast, it looked like Altiora’s Cinderella story was coming to a close.
They were the best of Canada, punching their ticket to the NA SI Closed Qualifier by absolutely blitzing the odds-on favorite in their region, Mirage, in a 3-0 waxing during the CA Finals. It was a victory Keagen "P3NGU1N" Smith said they weren’t surprised by, even if it did surprise fans.
“I think blitzing through Mirage was what we expected out of ourselves,” he said. “We have a really high standard of play we want to meet every time we play. But, it definitely instilled confidence that what we were doing was right and everything was going in the right direction.”
Their spot was earned, but coming from the Canadian Division (CAD) doesn’t earn much respect from fans in the world of North American Rainbow Six. This is despite Canada having a long history of individual contributions to the game.
Troy “Canadian” Jaroslawski, Owen “Pojoman” Mitura, and Davide “FoxA” Bucci are all massive internationally-known names, but there have been precisely one all-Canadian team in previous iterations of Pro League: Ace Gaming, which participated in Pro League Season 2, when Presidential Plane was in the map pool. The broadcast booth has a distinctly Canadian flavor as well, Parker “INTERRO” Mackay and Jesse Chick are canucks.
If Altiora pulled back those final two maps, it would be the first time an all-Canadian team qualified for SI.
They bested their previous opponents in the Qualifier, Challenger League (CL) team RentFree, in a three-map bout, but beastcoast was performing like a different animal. After a blistering 7-4 victory on Kafe, Altiora stumbled, and lost Consulate with a dismal 2-7 round count. It lost Club House almost as quickly, the scoreline on that map coming in at 3-7.
It could’ve all fallen apart, if not for a spirited, borderline unintelligible rant by Zachary "SpiriTz" Dionne following map 3, according to Brandon “Euphoria” Sathongnhot.
“The team morale was definitely low on Maps 2 and 3, but after losing the third map we had a talk all together about being happy of how far we come and win or lose, we will play like it’s the most important game of our lives,” said Euphoria. “I also believe I hyped up the team by repeating a phrase over and over that I heard off another team’s voice comms, ‘It’s not over until it’s over’.”
“After Map 3 we felt really down but SpiriTz gave Eskaa a pep talk in French,” said Sonar, “and everyone’s vibes began to grow and we knew we can climb back into it.”
“Sonar, P3NGU1N, and I did not understand what he was saying,” Euphoria said, “but it was hilarious and definitely brought the energy and motivation back.”
It was less of a climb back in and more of an eruption back in. Altiora raced to a 5-0 round lead on Map 4, Villa, and never looked back en-route to a 7-4 victory. It was on to Map 5, Theme Park, for all the marbles.
Comparatively, by raw round count, Altiora’s start to Theme Park was slower. The first half ended 3-3, but Altiora was attacking, notoriously difficult to do on Theme Park. Strategically and emotionally, it was a massive victory, and Altiora cruised on defense en route to a 7-4 victory.
"I definitely learned a lot but the most important one is to never give up," said Eskaa. "This roster has the best mental (game) I’ve ever experienced on a team and it’s probably what helped us comeback twice in our series against both Beastcoast and RentFree."
“The defining moment for me was the Armory/Throne round right before the final round,” said P3NGU1N. “We got super hyped and we said we need to make this last round count and it was super fun and intense.”
“ESSSSSS-AIIIIIIIIII! ESSSSSSSS-AIIIIIIIIIIIII! ESSSSSSSSSS-AIIIIIIIIII!” yelled SpiriTz as the final kill came through on round.
The event culminated at that moment. P3NGU1N’s parents rushed into his room to celebrate with their son, chaos erupted over the comms, and reality began to set in -- they had just made it to the Six Invitational.
The victory made Altiora fan-favourites almost overnight -- they’re easy to root for, a full team of scrappy underdogs from a country that has a long history of individual contributions to the game.
Being the first Canadian team at SI has given Altiora a sense of purpose. “The belief people have that Canada was a weak region pushed us to prove that Canada is just as good if not better than any other region,” said Euphoria.
"I think the support has been unbelievable and I’m really thankful for that," said Xavier "Eskaa" Avoine.
The way Altiora plays is fast, punishing, and in-your-face. The high mechanical skill of the team, particularly Eskaa and SpiriTz, is on display early and often. It’s quite a bit hack-y to use hockey terms to describe a team from Canada, it almost feels lazy, but watching them feels like they’re constantly on a breakaway. The defenses and flank watches of their opponents spread so thin that it’s easy for someone to slip through, and once they do they’re off to the races.
During the five maps against beastcoast, Eskaa had two or more kills each round across a staggering 11 rounds. SpiriTz eclipsed that number by one, with 12 multi-kill rounds, including a leadoff quad-kill in the second round of the first map. Their matches are defined by multi-kills and pedal-to-the-metal runs, once they’ve started it can be difficult to slow them down.
However, they’ve only been tested against CAD teams and NA CL teams, and the competition they’ll face at SI will be far fiercer. It’s a challenge that Euphoria is excited to meet head-on.
“It was definitely motivating to be the underdogs of the tournament,” he said of the Qualifier. “I'd say it pushed us to prove everyone wrong and that we weren't a team with insane luck, but a team with unbelievable skill and synergy. Also, the belief people have that Canada was a weak region pushed us to prove that Canada is just as good if not better than any other region.”
“It’s unreal being the first Canadian team to make Invite,” said Logan "Sonar" Parker. “It should show everyone that CA is a relevant region and not to be taken lightly.”
“Yeah, it’s motivating for people to doubt you,” said P3NGU1N. “It makes you want to prove everyone wrong.”
"I think it’s a great opportunity to show that Canada as a region is competitive and deserves to be considered seriously by the Siege community," said Eskaa. "It might sound weird, but I’m trying to say we’re not a joke. We’re not some Tier-3 region."