Heading into the Six Invitational 2021, not many had expected much from Team Empire. After all, the team had finished in ninth place in the EUL in Stage 1. But Empire topped Group A with a record of 8-1 and though two 2-0 losses against Oxygen Esports and Team Liquid knocked out the Russians, the improvement was clearly visible.
“We just tried to work on our strats, fix our mistakes, especially on communication”, began Danila “dan” Dontsov. “That made us feel more confident. We did not change anything before Stage 1, that is why teams knew how to play against us. After SI, we decided to change our strategies on every single map and I think that worked.”
However, Team Empire once again started the next EUL stage on the wrong foot. A 0-7 loss against BDS Esports on the very first game-day was followed by an overtime defeat against TrainHard eSport.
“Our match against BDS was already over after the map-phase, because BDS is a strong team in Kafe and our (Kafe) is not good”, recalled dan. “We had a good game against TrainHard, but we made some crucial mistakes, so we started working on not losing those certain rounds.”
A month and a half have passed since that overtime loss, and Team Empire are still unbeaten since then. The Russians went on a run of six consecutive regulation wins, which only ended after an overtime win against bitter rivals G2 Esports.
Although both teams will be traveling to Mexico, Empire’s final-day victory against G2 saw the Russians climb to the top of the standings for the first time in Stage 2. As a result, the Russians are now fourth in the overall EUL standings.
“When you start playing competitive Siege you feel hyped for every tournament, but after winning trophies you start playing because you like to play”, said dan when asked about his trajectory. “You obviously want to win, but you do not feel the same hype.”
The Russian player highlighted that this season has been “good” for him as it had helped him regain his confidence after a tough year. In Stage 2 of the EUL, he had been ranked eighth overall and was fourth-best in terms of Entry K-D. It's all about “doing what [the] IGL says”.
Such a good run -- and finishing alongside BDS as the best European team at the SI21 -- has set the expectations high for Empire at the Mexico Major.
“We don’t feel any pressure because, nowadays, all teams are at the same level”, explained dan. “LATAM has an aggressive play style which is hard to counter for some teams, however I feel like teams are really close this time, although there are favorites, obviously”.
Empire's path to success in Mexico will start in Group D, where the Russians will face Team Liquid, TSM FTX, and Invictus Gaming. The matches against TSM and Liquid, in particular, will be ones to watch, as Empire had won at the Raleigh Major and against Liquid at the Six Invitational 2019 before losing to the Brazilians this year.
“You must understand what the team wants to play. They usually roam a lot, some others play an aggressive style on site and some other teams focus on holding angles," said dan when asked about the Brazilian dominance. “The key is to adapt once you are playing as you cannot know (their specific gameplan) before the match and after the match it is too late.”
And if a Russian says it, so it must be. After all, Empire has been Brazil’s kryptonite.
The Europeans have won seven out of eight matches against Brazilian teams, as Empire's surprising group stage run at SI 2021 included wins against Team Liquid, FaZe Clan, FURIA, and Team oNe. After losing in the Upper Bracket Final, Empire’s second win against oNe in the competition was its last in the tournament, as Liquid ended its LATAM and Six Invitational run.
“Team Liquid are in a similar situation to ours, they have their defaults, every player knows what to do,” said dan. Confidence against the Brazilians, then, is not an issue.
On the contrary, Empire’s recent results against North American teams have been disappointing. In fact, the Russians’ only loss in the SI 2021 group stage came against DarkZero Esports, while their defeat to Oxygen Esports saw them drop to the lower bracket.
“I honestly cannot understand what NA teams are doing. We played on Clubhouse, they pushed Blue and threw fifty flashes, fifty nades… in those games I sit there the whole match and I think to myself, ‘what am I supposed to do?’”, said dan with a hint of frustration.
Now, after more than two years, Team Empire has the chance to win again. The Russians are certainly on form right now, but their performance against the North Americans in particular may just be vital to a potential third international title.
Catch Team Empire next at the Six Mexico Major against Team Liquid, set to be played on the Rainbow6 Bravo Twitch channel on August 16th at 1 PM CDT (UTC-5).