Being consistent at international tournaments is a goal that just a handful of teams have fulfilled. Since their international debut in 2019, Team Empire have played in four Grand Finals -- and won half of them.
The Raleigh Major saw Empire win their second piece of international silverware. Two years later, the Russians lost their chance to add a third after a nail-biting final against Team oNe.
However, for Empire player Danila “dan” Dontsov, those wins and losses are a thing of the past. The Russian admitted in an interview with SiegeGG that the roster’s main objective is winning a Six Invitational. Despite losses at other international tournaments being difficult to swallow, the 20-year-old professional confessed that “every SI loss is very hard, (personally) even harder than losing a Grand Final”.
Empire's start to the season was dreadful as a ninth-place finish in Stage 1 left the team with no Six Invitational Points by the end of the first split. Their luck quickly changed, as a second-place finish in Mexico and a qualification for Sweden granted the Russians a shot at their dream for the fourth time in a row.
“We learned a lot from this, one of our strongest virtues is that we can fix our mistakes really quickly,” said dan.
But in order to achieve that, Sweden comes first. Historically, one of Empire’s main issues has been the team’s map pool. The Russians are known for having a short map pool, something that left Empire in dire straits against Team oNe.
According to dan, “it was a huge problem (against oNe), Coastline was the most important map”. The Russian player went a bit further, and stated that “if BDS had won against us, they would have won the Mexico Major”.
If that was not enough, the introduction of Bank saw one of Empire’s most iconic maps, Consulate, being removed from the “Siege” esports map pool. Curiously, two out of Team Empire’s three losses during Stage 3 have come there, against Cowana Gaming (7-8) and BDS Esport (2-7).
“Consulate was one of our best maps... we are still getting used to [the map pool update]. Always had never played [Bank] and some other players forgot how to move around the map. I think it is a good map though,” said dan.
Looking at Empire’s Stage 3, the Russians have only played on three maps after nine matches -- Club (four), Kafe (three), and Bank (two). Empire have banned Oregon in every single EUL Stage 3 match, with Chalet being their second-highest banned map. These two maps are very common in Brazil; undeniably the best region in the game nowadays.
Although this could be seen as a worrying stat, the team could also be banning these maps on purpose to hide their potential in future BO3 games or even a BO5 series.
Regarding Empire’s season, Dan thinks that it can be defined as a season “with really big problems”. The team’s main efforts “were on fixing our mistakes, not on focusing on our opponents, but that changed against French teams like Vitality as they are mechanically skilled players, fast peak you and pre-fire you”, said dan.
As per dan, Team Vitality is a “very strong team” and at LAN “will be one of the favorites” as “their playstyle is perfect for LAN competitions”.
Nevertheless, dan is glad to have these problems, as thet “force [his team] to constantly improve”. That is one of the main reasons behind Empire’s consistency, as the Russians have qualified for six of the last eight international competitions -- only missing out on the Pro League Finals in Season 10 and 11.
That incredible consistency comes from Empire’s work ethic. The team has been at the top of Europe since its promotion to the top-flight, stunning teams and ending dynasties along the way.
However, it is incredibly hard to keep momentum alive. When Empire went downhill, the Russians not only missed out on Pro League Finals in Seasons 10 and 11, but also were first rounded from the Six Invitational 2020 by Fnatic, and lost to Virtus.pro at the Russian Major League S4 Finals.
On both occasions, Fnatic and Virtus.pro were considered the Cinderellas. This can be linked to what dan considers to be one of the most important factors to decide not only matches, but tournaments: motivation.
“I am sure oNe were more motivated, they are all young players. It is a combination between motivation and experience that makes the best team”, said dan. The Russian had raised a similar point in a previous interview with SiegeGG, with the ability to “[feel] the hype” considered important.
It does not matter how Team Empire plays in Europe, it seems. The team will almost always deliver a good international performance. After their great display in Mexico, the Russians travel to Sweden hungry for some redemption. But with SI 2022 qualification already in their pockets, their hearts are already set on lifting the hammer.
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