As Cowana Gaming and MnM Gaming duked it out yesterday evening, no eight people would have been watching the game closer than the Rogue players and coaches. Normally, the team would be watching in order to prepare for a normal league game, or a quarter-finals appearance at some LAN event.
But, this time the close attention was to gain every advantage possible for their final chance to stay in the 2021 European League (EUL).
It is a shocking turn of events when one takes a step back, seeing how the team lost all nine of its Stage 2 EUL games, but tonight is when it should break its duck. It will be the most stressful game in this Rogue roster's career, but I think it certainly has the quality to make it through.
No, I don't think Rogue ever lost their quality. They only lost their form.
Rogue were at the top of the EUL just six months ago
One can hardly forget what Rogue achieved with a stable roster. In Stage 1 of the EUL, the same roster finished top with a 6-1-2 (Win-Draw-Loss) record, only losing 2-7 to G2 Esports on the first day and 2-7 to Team Vitality on the last day.
Prior to this, before having replaced Théophile "Hicks" Dupont and Valentin "risze" Liradelfo with Leon "LeonGids" Giddens and Eugene "karzheka" Petrishin, and before their coach of Laurent "Crapelle" Patriarche had been replaced by Ramiz "rcuth" Cuthbert and Wille "r0usty" Turunen, the team had finished Season 11 of the EU Pro League in first, with an 8-4-2 record.
Arguments can certainly be made that the core of the team was disturbed greatly from its second-place finish in Season 10 and first-place finish in Season 11 (in EU), but the Stage 1 continuation of the Season 11 form means that the very same roster that will play tonight just needs to find its form again.
The ripples from AceeZ's suspension have likely faded
The issue with speaking about mental impacts that circumstances have is that they are hardly ever quantifiable, whether they are positive or negative. However, it is certain that the suspension of Maurice "AceeZ" Erkelenz, due to an apparent attempt at match-fixing, had an obvious impact on Rogue.
Despite the intangibility of it, the suspension could have likely affected the entire team beyond the obvious and presumably deep impact on AceeZ himself. The issue would likely have been further compounded with korey's official warning and the long, drawn out correspondences with Ubisoft and Rogue management would have not been easy to go through.
Aside from the mental impact, though, the team had been forced to bring in Adam "Hxsti" Imre Hostisoczki as a substitute, having had to play him in the GSA Finals and the first five EUL games in Stage 2.
Unsurprisingly, the team chemistry was sufficiently disrupted and Rogue lost all five of those league games. The team had to switch over to scrimmages with Hxsti in place of AceeZ, before switching back prior to his return. But even that did not work out well, as Rogue lost two further matches before the then-worst performer of karzheka was benched in favour of Hxsti.
The constant rotation of players in competive and practice games meant that Rogue was constantly hunting for a way to regain its form. However, with the incident likely well behind the players now, the regained roster stability may just be what is needed for the team.
Information on Rogue is a month old
Rogue last played an official Rainbow Six game on the 16th of December last year, then losing to eventual Six Invitational Qualifier winners MKERS. Since then, however, there has been no information on how Rogue will set up for tonight.
In comparison, Rogue had a full and fantastic show last night. Their only possible source of disappointment will be the fact that another of the three overtime maps had not gone the way of MnM so that they could see Kafe play out as well.
The four maps worth of information, including the 7-2 demolition on Consulate, will likely prove to be extremely valuable in Rogue's preparation for their game tonight. Aside from that 7-2 map, the fact that the other three maps were 12, 15, and 15 rounds long will mean that there is an absolute wealth of day-old, fully visible strategies to counter-strategise against.
Rogue have two coaches and incredible experience
On paper, the Rogue coaching setup is very robust. Pairing rcuth as a Strategic Coach with r0usty as a Performance Coach seemed to work well in Stage 1, but their combination seemed to become ineffective in Stage 2.
Certainly, the coaching setup does deserve some of the blame, but much will be forgiven if their assistance wins Rogue tonight's critical match against MnM. With four maps of day-old data on MnM and a month of time to make improvements since their MKERS loss, as stated above, rcuth and r0usty should be able to get their players the strategies (both in-game and mental) they need to win.
Furthermore, one can hardly look at the playing roster and not be impressed. AceeZ has been impressing at LAN events and in European top-flight competition long before Team BDS' Stéphane "Shaiiko" Lebleu and Team Empire's Danil "JoyStiCK" Gabov became the formidable players they are today, and is still one of the most individually-skilled players on Rogue.
Aside from him, Rogue also have former Team Empire captain karzheka, who is a proven winner with his title-winning Pro League debut and Six Major Raleigh victory. While having underperformed greatly in Stage 2, his previous exploits cannot be ignored and the break may just have been what he needed.
Finally, Lukas "korey" Zwingmann, Jan "ripz" Hucke, and LeonGids are all extremely strong players when on form, with years of tournament and top-flight experience between them. With the break having been a chance for them to mentally reset, the three of them have a good chance to be on-song again -- a scenario that is tough for any team, not just MnM.
What's more, of the five players, the trio of ripz, korey, and LeonGids have all been in relegation fights before. Though having happened years ago, and though only LeonGids was successful (in Season 7, unsuccessful in Season 9), it is likely that they have improved since and will be ready to achieve the success they need tonight.
Together, the team certainly has the experience on how to deal with stressful situations and matches that are of grave importance. While none of their previous appearances have arguably held as much weight as tonight's game, they are not far off from the monumental task that is surviving the nerves of a relegation game.
Rogue have lost... a lot
Failure is truly a great teacher and Rogue have, to their dismay, been receiving many lessons. But their 3-7, 3-7 loss to MKERS may be the most important one in their fight for survival.
While Chaos had got closer to beating MKERS than Rogue had, only Team Secret had actually been able to secure a win. Not even the EUL Finals team of Natus Vincere or the favourites of Tempra had managed that feat. As such, Rogue losing 0-2 to a team set to appear at the Six Invitational is not a death knell by any means.
Combined with the number of VODs they have on their own failings, rcuth, r0usty, and the players have been able to get all the factors in their favour for this MnM match.
Rogue are no longer definite favourites
Last but not least, Rogue are finally no longer definite favourites for tonight. Tracing back to the team's core, there has never been such a scenario, even through its time under Giants Gaming, as LFO, or under LeStream Esport and Millenium. Even in the Six Invitational 2021 Qualifier, Rogue had been expected to win against MKERS.
Tonight, then, will be a unique experience for the team as a whole. A loss will be unsurprising, they are considered 'overrated' by some fans (and even analysts), and while they are in a stressful situation to play a Best-of-Five to defend their spot in the league, being considered underdogs could significantly lighten the load.
Fnatic head coach Jayden "Dizzle" Saunders, as well as Giants Gaming captain Glen "Lunarmetal" Suryasaputra have been vocally enthusiastic about being considered underdogs with the elimination of much of the stress and expectations upon the players.
Prior to the Six Invitational 2020, Dizzle had said, "It is a good feeling going back to being an underdog. We were given a 1.7% chance of making it out of groups [in 2019], and [in 2018] nobody imagined we would even be competitive, let alone would make it out of groups by beating Liquid."
Sure enough, the positioning as underdogs had paid off in 2020 as well, with Fnatic beating reigning Major champions Team Empire and reigning world champions G2 Esports back-to-back at the Invitational. The current Giants roster (then Aerowolf) had also felt far less stress as the underdogs against the then-Giants roster (now Rogue) and had stunned audiences with a 2-1 victory in the Season 10 Pro League Finals at Tokoname.
Of course, all these points are only theoretically true and I could end up looking extremely foolish tonight.
In practice, much can go wrong. Despite all that has lined up for Rogue, their preparation could still be insufficient, their strategies too ineffective, their opponents too strong. They could lose their cool, not turn up, spiral out of control from winning positions.
Their opponents of MnM Gaming are also not to be discounted at all and will have the vigour and enthusiasm to finally get to play in the top-flight, while potentially being able to put the final nail in the coffin of a team as previously dominant as Rogue.
Catch the game in action tonight at 6 PM CET (UTC+1) on the official Twitch and YouTube channels, and read up about all you need to know about the Finals and Relegations here.