It is the 17th of February 2020. Spacestation Gaming (SSG) coach Justin "Lycan" Woods paces, perhaps nervously, but his calm visage betrays no emotion.
The occasion? The Six Invitational 2020. The map? Clubhouse. The round? Number nine.
Fortunately for them, despite having next-to-zero HP, Javier "Thinkingnade" DeAndre Escamilla wins the pivotal clutch that sets his team, Spacestation Gaming, back on course... and the rest is history.
Now, almost a year and a half on, Lycan and his five players are ready to do it all over again. However, things have been remarkably different and were nearly even worse for him and the team he coaches.
Following his title win last year, and the announcement of the postponement of the 2021 event due to the COVID-19 pandemic, legendary captain and two-time Invitational winner Troy "Canadian" Jaroslawski had retired from the game in March. Like G2 Esports talisman Niclas "Pengu" Mouritzen had said, his motivation to compete in the game had been lost.
Canadian's retirement, while backed by his now-former teammates and staff, left SSG in the lurch as it came just a week before the start of the 2021 season.
As such, with rules blocking the signing of another player -- even a free agent -- Spacestation Gaming had to draft in its analyst, Luke "Luke" Slota, into its roster for Stage 1 of the North American League.
Predictably, the stage did not go well. SSG finished in seventh place with 12 points, stemming from three wins and three overtime losses across eight games.
The fact that the team could perform as well as it did spoke to the strength of the remaining core players and the newly-signed analyst of Drew "DrewSpark" Spark-Whitworth, as well as Luke, despite his inexperience playing the game at that level.
However, fans took to social media and Twitch chat to voice their displeasure at Luke's performance -- by no means shabby, but perceived to be worse than Canadian's. Luke would finish the stage with a 0.77 rating, ahead of the Susquehanna Soniqs captain Seth "supr" Hoffman (0.76) and beastcoast captain Joseph "Phozzo" Eisenmann (0.69).
Unfortunately, the words affected Luke, despite his best attempts. In response, the SSG team, and much of the NAL field rallied around him, hitting back against his detractors and pointing out that his situation had hardly been of his own making.
Just three days ago, however, SSG announced that Canadian would be returning to the roster as a one-off for the Six Invitational after Luke's passport was unable to be renewed in time.
To know more about SSG's trials through Stage 1 and their approach to the Invitational, SiegeGG spoke to Lycan.
Well, that's been a rough season, hasn't it? Talk us through how the team reacted after Canadian's departure and how did things progress mentality and feelings-wise throughout the season? Was there some frustration at the rules?
Yeah, definitely a rough season in terms of results. Most of our frustration towards the rules was something that manifested when we were told that we were getting zero help. Then, throughout the split when things were not working, it is something that definitely came up, because you feel like you are left alone to rot.
As far as overall mentality, I would say that the boys were pretty resilient; we all have our eyes on picking up our fifth player and starting the grind with whoever that ends up being and just trying to rise to the top again. Sucks we must wait, but we did not get to make the rules. We are basically just playing the waiting game until we can be full strength again.
Luke, despite having never played a professional game before, had to step in at the last moment. He didn't light up the charts, but he didn't do too badly, did he, with the highest number of plants (11) in the stage?
Anyone that’s given a chance like he was would have high hopes and expectations for themselves.
I think what I was most impressed with was how tough he was through it all. At first, I think he dealt with a lot of self-disappointment, followed by the barrage he received by the community. It was hard for him, as he explained in a post-game interview, but he kept showing up every day and he kept trying to learn and get better.
The whole experience through the disappointment and struggle was met by an amazing 6-5 quad-kill against XSET to get us a win and a chance at higher seeding. I was so happy for him and the team, especially after how awful Stage 1 was.
Fans often forget the effect that their words can have on players, who are normal people at the end of the day. How much did their words affect Luke and how did the team rally around him?
Yeah, I think you can clearly say they affected him and the team. No one likes when you mess with their friend and teammate, you want to stand up for them. I think the added rally for defense comes from the fact that he did not ask for this, we were forced to play with him because of lack of rule development.
Something I will add and why I never really tweeted out like everyone else did is that it is part of who we are as professional athletes. We are the best of the best and people stand behind us and cheer for us as their favourite team. How can I ask someone to spend their Tuesday/Wednesday night watching R6 and not be invested? People want to see us succeed or fail hard based on where their allegiances lay and they are going to express that on whatever platform they have.
Mental warfare is a big part of performing well and that is the only place where fans have a part in the games being played. I like that people get into our game and it means that much to them, if they didn’t... why are we even doing this and how would it have a future? I think the biggest problem is when it goes from “shit talk” to actual personal insults or death threats, obviously, but I have no problem with the lighter stuff; its all part of the game.
How much better is it to play your regular season on LAN as well?
LAN has been amazing! I wish we could have brought a better showing, because we always perform better on LAN than online and once we get up and going with our fifth player, I can't wait to get out there. Love that NAL R6 has LAN!
Canadian is back! How did this come about, with Luke's passport expiry to his return to play?
The answer is pretty much in the question itself.
It expired during late 2020 and with the pandemic we never left to go do things like get a passport renewed, because we weren’t going anywhere anyways.
Then, SI2020 (February edition) was coming around and we were only allowed 5+1 (players and staff), so Luke wasn’t going to be allowed to go, there continued to be no reason to rush to get it.
Then Troy retired and we realized… we really needed it now. We tried to get it done, but with how slow the government is working right now because of all the precautions and lowered workforce, it just didn’t happen.
I made a call to Troy and told him the story, we shared a decent pause, and then I pleaded to not make him make me play, LMAO!
Troy has made up his mind on competitive for now and doesn’t see that changing but he is a great friend and amazing teammate, and he just couldn’t let this happen to us, especially after everything. A true homie.
Will the five or so weeks away from play have dulled Canadian's skills in-game significantly? How about his mentality, which your team has spoken to being almost like a sixth player?
This is kind of one of those questions that doesn’t really have an answer until it's too late to answer it.
Skills as far as IGL-ing (In-Game Leadership)? In my opinion, no way. He’s been IGL-ing since Year 1, he’s not going to forget that kind of stuff. Skills as far as shooting? Before he left and definitely after he left, he has spent a lot of time on Valorant, which I think requires more from you in the aim department, so I think we are better off there, in my opinion.
Mentality is a tricky one; Troy is a competitor, he gives his heart and soul to what he believes in. He decided he was done, and we are pulling him out of that. I think being away from the game will help him not hate it right away, but by the end of this thing he might be glad to be done again! We will see!
You now have your 2020 title winning roster again. How do you rate your chances in the groups and for your overall title defense?
Emotionally? 10/10! Realistically? 7/10.
I'm going to be honest; we have a perfect roster in my opinion, it's why we won last year and why we always stayed near the top. The biggest problem we have is we get nine days of practice before we have to go play the best teams in the entire world.
I'm not stupid, that is going to be hard. Do I believe we can find ways to win? 1000%.
What is your goal for the Invitational and how confident are you that you'll achieve it?
My goal is to win it all. I don’t stay active in this game for fun. I’m here to win and I’m here to bring championships to SSG. I spend a vast majority of my time away from my family and I don’t do that lightly.
I’m confident we can find ways to beat every team at SI, the trick will be executing the right game plan. Last year we were so good that we had a countless number of win conditions and it was a lot easier to not pick something wrong.
Now, we will have to be a lot more accurate about how we decide to play teams in order to win. We have some great minds on this team and we have added Luke back as an analyst and we are keeping Drew. We will be working overtime to defend this title the best we can.
Is there anything you want to say to your fans and maybe your competitors?
Love you guys as always, can't wait to see you cheering on whatever team you stand behind. SI2021 isn’t going to be perfect by any means and I, unfortunately, think its gearing up to be an event that gets an asterisk put on it… but all that being said, I’m excited to get international competition again just like everyone else.
I also want to use this forum to say thank you to Spacestation Gaming. Shonduras, Unit, Holladay, and honestly everyone from SSG. We know the expectations for this team. We know we should win. I think its been an extra burden on us through all this is, we are suppose to win.
That being said, after every game, win or lose, I was getting messages from SSG management and employees cheering us on and telling us they knew that we were put in a difficult position and they wanted us to keep our heads up and be excited to look towards the future. I can't tell you how relieving that was to hear every week and how much it meant to us as a team that they care that much.
We love Spacestation Gaming and we hope you guys do too!
Catch Spacestation Gaming next in action on the 12th of May at 9:30 AM ET (UTC-4), when they take on TSM live from Paris.