APAC, since it was inducted into the competitive Siege ecosystem, has always needed to make the most of its opportunities.
Only a total of seven APAC teams have ever qualified for international competition, though an eighth (Father's Back) attended DreamHack Valencia 2019 after its first-come first-served system got them a slot.
Cyclops Athlete Gaming (CAG) from Japan is one of them.
It first got its chance at the Six Major Raleigh in 2019 after defeating the favoured Aerowolf in the APAC Qualifier LAN, but its inexperience showed when it could only get nine rounds in total against G2 Esports and Rogue in Group B.
While CAG has been extremely strong in Japan, it has not always had the success it has desired at the APAC level. Since Raleigh, CAG has not attended any international events, as it missed out on the Season 10 Pro League Finals and the Six Invitational 2020.
CAG finally broke that streak earlier this year, defeating Xavier Esports (now Elevate) in the grand final of the APAC Qualifier. As such, two years on from its international debut, the Japanese team is back, fresh-faced, for the biggest tournament in Rainbow Six: Siege.
Since that Raleigh Major appearance, not much has changed within the ranks of the Japanese team.
There has been only one player change; Shohma "Shokei" Shiotsuka was dropped at the end of 2019 in favour of Taiyo "Ayagator" Hirayama. Meanwhile, their coach of Hibiki "XQQ" Motoyama was replaced by the coach-analyst duo of Fumiya "Fuji3" Fujisaki and Riccardo "Hybrid" Massimino Font at the start of 2021.
While CAG has not had a dramatic rise in performance levels, the success is certainly visible. The team went on a 12-game win streak across all competitions (for a total of 15 games without a loss or draw) since the addition of Fuji3 and Hybrid, finished second in APAC North, and fourth in APAC overall.
The team has also been lethal in the Japan League, having a 6-0 record so far.
But while its results have been strong in APAC, CAG still has some ways to go before it can be considered an international challenger.
The team is very cognisant of that fact, but refuses to be cowed by the challenge presented by only its second international appearance. It is a fine line to walk -- having self-confidence, but not overconfidence -- but the duo of Fuji3 and Hybrid are seemingly helping the CAG players walk it well.
To know more about how CAG is taking the positives from its performances this year, but is still keeping keenly aware of the improvements it needs to make for the Invitational, SiegeGG spoke to Hybrid.
It seems that your team has been steadily improving all throughout the past year, from sixth, to second, and now to fourth in APAC overall. How has the team been working to make those improvements?
We wanted to fix all the problems that were preventing us from being a top contender in APAC and to do so, we had to understand and find the right solution for each one of them.
Before, we were a team that would rely mainly on our fragging power and would ignore the possible weakness of our opponents. Now, thanks to Fuji3, we are able to understand ourselves better -- in particular in the mental and attitude aspects -- and he has been fundamental for the growth of each individual in the team.
We are also relying more on studying and exploiting our opponents' difficulties to always put us in the driver's seat during a match.
Obviously, the Invitational is a lot bigger than APAC and APAC North. How does one prepare, both in-game and mentally?
We know that we are heading to SI as one of the biggest underdogs of the tournament, but we are preparing ourselves to perfect our play style and also to be as confident as possible.
If we go into the matches with a 'losing' mentality, we should not even play, so we are working to be confident but also humble.
Your team has been lethal in the Japanese circuit too, only dropping one map across six wins (an undefeated win record) so far in the Japan League this year. How different is your approach to that league? What do the differences depend on?
Most of the teams in the Japan League are still a bit too young and inexperienced to challenge us with the confidence to win. We know that we are the titans in there but we must not let our guard down, because there are some really good teams in there that I'm confident saying will soon challenge teams in the relegations of APAC North.
The play style is a bit more loose than the one in the larger APAC and this comes, as I said before, from that inexperience that a lot of players have. But, it's just a matter of time before the competitions start popping in the Japanese circuit as well.
That Fnatic loss marked the end of a ridiculous 15-game win streak across all competitions. So, it seems that aside from some small missteps (and perhaps some ‘strat-saving’), your team has been incredibly consistent. What has been the key to this -- a consistent roster, perhaps?
I think that after you figure out how you want to play each match and you are able to lead it towards a specific direction, it is up to your opponent to change it and create problems in your original plan.
Fnatic was really prepared for the match against us and they gave us troubles in all departments.
There are multiple reasons to why we had this strong consistency, but, as you said, a stable roster is probably one of the biggest ones. Our last addition was Ayagator, and it happened more than a year ago, so it's pretty clear that all the members of the roster are comfortable with each one of their teammates.
This will only be the second-ever international event for your team after the Six Major Raleigh, though Ayagator was not present there. How are you guys preparing for it?
We are going into SI with the goal of gaining experience, as we think that it is the only thing that can help us take the next step to improve even more. Despite this, we are still confident that we will be able to challenge and cause problems for the other teams.
What is your goal for the Invitational and how confident are you that you'll achieve it?
We would be really pleased to be able to pass the group stages; we are aware that it will be really difficult, but we think that if we perform at our standards, we will be able to achieve it.
What is your opinion on the changed format for the Invitational and how do you rate your chances in the group?
I think it's nice system both for the viewers and the teams, because it builds a lot of possible new interesting stories and also it allows teams to face against multiple teams from other regions.
We are aiming to finish as high as possible and it would be amazing to be in the top four, but, as I said before, our goal is to finish at least between fifth and eighth place.
Is there anything you want to say to your fans and maybe your competitors?
To our fans, in particular the Japanese and Italian fans, goes a massive thank you for all the support during APAC North and the APAC Playoffs. We will try to represent the Japanese and APAC community as best as we can.
For our opponents, I just suggest to not underestimate us, because we are hungry for recognition outside of APAC.
Catch Cyclops Athlete Gaming next in action on the 11th of May at 10:30 PM JST (UTC+9), when they take on DarkZero Esports live from Paris.