When MKERS had qualified for the Six Invitational 2021, they had made history in a fair few ways.
Not only had they been the first Italian team to qualify to the world championship, they had also been the first team not in the first or second tiers of formal domestic competition to qualify (though forZe had done the same, but at the Six Major Raleigh).
Its players can likely only hope that Italians rally behind them like the Tifosi do for Ferrari in Formula 1, with the legendary group of motorsport fans almost religiously devoted to the team.
That adulation, however, comes with pressure, which will be on the Italians anyway despite them not even being in the Challenger League yet. After all, they brought down European League sides Rogue, Chaos, Natus Vincere, and Tempra Esports in stunning fashion to storm to the last European qualification place.
However, much time has passed since they had managed that. The qualifiers had ended in mid-December last year, with the event originally scheduled for mid-February and then postponed to mid-May.
In these five months, the meta has changed significantly, with teams that looked to be on the ascendancy, such as Team Empire and Giants Gaming with their November Major wins, crashing hard.
For their part, MKERS have looked fairly strong in the games that they have played. While they did lose to MACKO Esports in the PG Nationals 2020 Finals, they have looked indomitable in 2021.
In the Italian national competition, the PG Nationals (PGN), they won all but one of their seven games. Their campaign this season started off with three back-to-back 7-0 victories and the Invitational-qualified team won the next three games while only conceding six rounds in total (including a 7-3 win over MACKO).
While they did lose 6-8 to Outplayed, it was very clearly a game where MKERS was conserving its strategy to an extreme, as it has been all throughout the season so far.
In the 2021 PG Nationals, MKERS have only played three maps, of which Kafe was played five times. In addition, they have either not banned any operator or banned Recruit (on attack and defense) in every single PGN game.
Their choice to hide strategies also extended to the Challenger League qualifiers, though not as extremely, as they banned their first operators since the PGN 2020 Finals against DeathroW in a 2-1 victory, and also against their next three opponents while on course to a first place in this first qualifier.
The move is hardly new, nor is it anything particularly surprising. After all, while MKERS have no experience playing against this calibre of teams regularly in official games, they can rely on a lack of information on them to surprise their far more experienced opponents.
As such, to find out what makes the dark horses of MKERS tick, SiegeGG spoke to its captain, Alessio "Aqui" Aquilano.
Well, it's been quite some time since you have qualified for the Invitational hasn't it? We've not seen much from your team except in the PG Nationals and these CL Qualifiers. How has the team been?
Indeed, some time has passed, but we do not deny that we approach every day with great enthusiasm. The team is doing well. After the Six Invitational qualifier, we took a nice break and went back to work more motivated than before.
Given that your team is qualified for the Invitational, yet had to play in the Challenger League qualifiers and PG Nationals, how hard is it to fight against a sense of complacency for those tournaments?
Anything that requires consistency is not easy. In recent months, our preparation has been focused on the Six Invitational, but this does not mean that the other objectives were less important. It cost us a lot of effort, but it doesn't matter, we always want to give our best.
During the Six Invitational qualifiers, how confident was your team that you'd make it? At what point did it truly become real? Was it when you beat Rogue?
We didn't expect qualification, we were sure to be a good group, to be solid and the chance to participate in such a difficult event was the challenge we needed.
There was never a point where we were sure we could make it, but we never lost the trust.
The game against Rogue was our first major challenge, it certainly motivated us.
This will be the first international event for your team. How are you guys preparing for it? Has the lack of top-flight opposition in official games been a boon (you get to hide your best strategies) or a bane (you don't get tested as hard)?
It is always difficult to prepare for something you do not know and we have prepared as we always have. We worked on our gaps in game and also out of it (the mental aspect), which certainly makes a difference at this level.
PG is our league; playing without precise strategies or bans is just a precaution that we felt we had to take, as we would be observed (by our Six Invitational opponents) and we had to find teams with more expert preparations than ours at the Six Invitational.
We have respect for all our opponents. Consequently, we play every game in the same way without underestimating anyone. We have had the opportunity to train with very strong teams, so this has allowed us to learn to never let our guard down.
Is there any pressure on your shoulders, being the first full Italian team at an international event (much less the Invitational) and with some fans actually believing you to have the capability to have a deep run at the event?
Being the only Italian team to have qualified for an event of such importance can only make us proud, so we have a responsibility, yes, but we don't feel that we are under pressure. On the contrary, we are excited at the idea of comparing ourselves with the best in the world.
What is your goal for the Invitational and how confident are you that you'll achieve it?
Our goal is to carry our flag to the top of the world. We believe in ourselves, we believe in our abilities, and we will give everything we have to succeed.
What is your opinion on the changed format for the Invitational and how do you rate your chances in the group?
The new format gives us more possibilities and, above all, more margin for error. Our goal for the groups is definitely Top 4; we definitely feel that we will deserve it.
Is there anything you want to say to your fans and maybe your competitors?
We want to give our fans a special thank you. Thanks for believing in us, thanks for being there, we will take to the field together in the hope of making you proud.
We wish our competitors good luck, hoping to give a good show to all fans.
Catch MKERS next in action on the 12th of May at 3:30 PM CEST (UTC+2), when they take on Parabellum live from Paris.