One of the largest events in the 2021 Japanese calendar has concluded, as the top four Japan League teams joined the top eight Japan Championship group stage teams at these $132,000 LAN Finals.
For a deeper look at the teams and format, check out our pre-event rundown.
The Japan Championship 2021 Finals were a LAN event in Tokyo at Big Sight, the same venue as the Japan League tournament. No spectators were in attendance, however.
The Japanese national scene has flourished over the past two years, having had the fewest tournament cancellations and online finals of any national scene. Most of Europe, and even the nearby Korean Open tournament, hasn’t seen a LAN event since the start of the pandemic.
This tournament also saw the largest gathering of teams outside of the Majors, as 12 teams fought for the massive prize pool, the title, and the trophy.
The first round saw the top four teams from the Japan League -- CYCLOPS athlete gaming, GUTS Gaming, Sengoku Gaming, and FAV Gaming -- face the runners-up from the group stage; REJECTS, Crest, BLUE BEES, and ORTHROS GRIT.
While this should have been an easy set of victories for the Japan League teams on paper, a number of the top teams in Japan really struggled here -- most notably the APAC North relegation-qualified Sengoku.
The Sengoku roster, which includes two members of the old Nora-Rengo lineup, had spent most of last year in a tight fight with FAV and GUTS in the Japan League, showing that they are of APAC North calibre. Nevertheless, they fell at the first hurdle here, as the Japan Open Season 2 champions BLUE BEES took them down 1-2 in the round of 12.
Another upset almost occurred between FAV and the relatively inexperienced roster of ORTHROS GRIT. The now ex-GRIT lineup managed to take map one in a straight 7-0 scoreline before losing the following two maps 6-8, 6-8. This meant that while they were knocked out by FAV, they had also won more rounds than their opponents; 19-16.
After this close call, FAV fell in the next round with a 7-1, 2-7, 1-7 scoreline against GyoGun, with this result winning the challenger a spot in the Japan League relegations.
Earlier in the quarter-finals, GUTS Gaming also suffered a shock, as Zepto took them down 7-4, 7-4.
While these teams struggled against those that were new to this level of play, CYCLOPS played two of their fellow Japan League rosters -- REJECTS and EVA:e -- in the first two rounds, and took both of them down 2-0 (7-3, 7-3 and 7-5, 7-2).
They were finally challenged in the next round by Zepto, as the back-to-back Japan Championship titleholders came within two rounds of being knocked out in straight maps, 8-6, 7-8, 7-4.
On the other side of the bracket, after beating FAV, GyoGun was then toppled by Unsold Stuff Gaming. The USG org used to compete in Japan’s Pro League, and qualified for this event after a second-place finish during Season 1 of the Japan Open tournament.
This set up a USG vs CAG grand-final; a game CAG was extremely favoured to win, considering their 27 game unbeaten domestic record. The reigning Japanese champions had lost just one game out of 40 in the various national leagues.
The finals themselves were a close affair throughout, with the two teams tied at the beginning of Chalet, only for a strong offensive half from USG to win the map 7-4 and take the lead. Following this was Villa, where a mere 3-3 split on USG’s defences was bettered by CAG, who got four on the defence, sending the game to map three, Kafe.
After going up 4-2 on the defence, USG then hit match and series point at 6-3, giving them plenty of leeway to get the final round. Nevertheless, despite USG’s ability to consistently get the opening kill, CAG kept on clutching out rounds, partially thanks to Reon "Anitun" Sakai on Montagne, an operator they had banned in the prior two maps.
Finally, on round 12, USG managed to convert their final map point in a defence thanks to the Clash of “DxD” to take the map 7-5 and series 2-1:
This victory was an almost impossible task for USG to accomplish, considering their almost complete lack of experience. Yet, with this result, they are crowned the 2021 Japanese champions and take home the massive ¥8 million ($70,000) winnings.
For CAG, this caps off what has been a fairly disappointing few months following the Mexico Major. After they failed to qualify for the Six Sweden Major earlier this month, they have now lost the domestic title they have held for three years. The impressive performance of teams like USG, GyoGun, and Zepto is, however, something for the Japanese scene to get excited about as we get nearer to the SI Qualifiers.
While no Japanese team will be competing at the upcoming Six Sweden Major, next month will see the Japan League relegation battle.
Here, the bottom three Japan League rosters of Crest Gaming, Team Northeption, and EVA:e will face the top four teams from the Open tournaments -- YOSHIMOTO, USG, BLUE BEES, and Zepto -- and the top remaining team from the Championship, GyoGun.
After two days of games, the top three teams will qualify for the 2022 Japan League, which in turn gives them a shot at the APAC North League for the 2023 season.
Following this, December will see FAV, Sengoku, and REJECT compete in the APAC North relegations against three Korean rosters for two spots in the 2022 APAC North season. Sengoku and FAV sit on the same side of the bracket, meaning that only one team can make it.
Finally, January will likely see the 2022 Six Invitational open qualifiers, where all of the above teams will likely compete. Depending on the Sweden Major results, it is also possible CYCLOPS will qualify for SI22 via the SI Points standings, meaning they won’t have to play in this tournament.