Four open qualifiers and one closed qualifier later, the dust has finally settled on Stage 1 for the domestic circuit of South Asia.
Having come to a conclusion yesterday, the US$6,000 (₹450,000) South Asia Nationals had kicked off on the 20th of March with the same format as 2020.
Four open qualifiers had been played to determine the eight teams that would head into the Closed Qualifier, to be played from the 16th to the 18th of April.
There, the Six August 2020 Major South Asia winners of Union Gaming had failed to progress, while the November Major and Stage 1 and 2 winners of MercenarieZ (MrcZ) had only slipped through in the fourth and final qualifier.
The top two teams in this Closed Qualifier were set to then progress to the APAC Playoffs, played between them and the second to fourth placed APAC North and South teams to crown a Stage 1 APAC champion.
Read on to find out how MercenarieZ and KIRA esports made it through the Playoffs and set themselves up with matches against APAC South's Knights and APAC North's Cyclops Athlete Gaming (CAG) in the APAC Playoffs.
Favourites Knocked Out, Old and New Victorious
As a roster, KIRA e-Sports hardly had much practice together. Its final Open Qualifiers-ready roster had only come together 10 days prior to the first Open Qualfier and fans had reason to believe that Deimos Force, in the first round itself, would knock KIRA down to the Lower Bracket.
Meanwhile, MercenarieZ's roster was the most experienced, with four of its players having been in the squad that had lined up against Cyclops Athlete Gaming (CAG) earlier this year in the Six Invitational 2021 APAC qualifier. However, its struggles in the Open Qualifiers led most to believe that the team would not win the Closed Qualifier -- though the fan poll indicated most believed that they would progress to the APAC Playoffs anyway.
KIRA esports, however, kicked off their campaign here with a dominant 2-0 (7-3, 7-2) victory over Deimos Force, before doing the same (2-0; 7-2, 7-4) to a Mischief Gaming team that had beaten the top seed of Virtual 5 e-sports.
MrcZ would meet them there in the Upper Bracket Final, though they would struggle somewhat more. They were pushed to overtime on one map in their 2-0 (8-6, 7-1) quarter-final win against Endangered and then dropped a map against Extraordinaire Esport in their 2-1 (5-7, 7-3, 7-4) win.
The Upper Bracket Final would present the first opportunity for both these teams to secure qualification to the APAC Playoffs; an opportunity that MercenarieZ would seize.
While dropping the first map of Villa by a heavy 3-7 margin, MrcZ would win the second map of Consulate 8-6 after being down 5-6, before then winning on Coastline in a dominant 7-3.
KIRA, meanwhile, would drop to the Lower Bracket Final, where it would meet Extraordinare Esports (EXT). However, the majority-Indian KIRA squad would not let a second opportunity slip, taking down EXT in 2-0 (7-5, 7-4) fashion to confirm a spot in the APAC Playoffs alongside MrcZ.
The Best-of-Five (Bo5) grand final was then all that was left, affording MrcZ a one-map default win by virtue of their lossless Upper Bracket run. This match would not only be for the larger prize pool and the title of South Asian champions, but it would also determine which team faced the Knights and which team faced CAG in the APAC Playoffs.
The first two maps, Villa and Coastline, had also been played the day prior in the Upper Bracket Final. However, the results would be reversed this time, as MrcZ would take Villa 8-6, lose Coastline 4-7, before bulldozing KIRA on Clubhouse by a 7-1 margin.
This 3-1 overall victory would thus crown them South Asia champions for a third time and set them up with a date with Oceania's Knights.
KIRA esports, meanwhile, would settle for second and will face CAG instead -- the victors against MrcZ in the Six Invitational 2021 APAC qualifier.
Catch the APAC Playoffs this weekend, from the 23rd to 25th of April, where some of the best APAC teams will come together in only the second such event with South Asia included. The eight teams will be playing for their shares of Six Invitational (SI) points, in anticipation of the 2022 event.
The APAC North and South league leaders of Cloud9 and Elevate, however, will play in a separate match to crown the overall APAC Stage 1 champion in 2021.