Image via Ubisoft/Kirill B.
Sweden is a place that many a DWG KIA fan may hold fond memories of, after what happened there in November last year. It’s also a place where equally as many would love to forget the pain they felt.
DWG stunned the Rainbow Six Siege world in only their second-ever international event, and only their third-ever top-flight split as a team. They were lethal in APAC North and crushed their group at the Sweden Major, before brushing past compatriots SANDBOX Gaming.
They also very nearly took down eventual champions FaZe Clan in remarkable fashion; the match was decided on the final possible round of the final map, and with a 1v1 fight that was one bullet away from going in DWG’s favour.
Byeonguk "RIN" Jang, the player who lost that pivotal engagement, broke down on stage right after. Had he won that fight, his team would have become the first from APAC to ever make it to the grand final of an international tournament.
“We felt really sad after that loss,” reflected DWG KIA coach Gwonjae "HoundBird" Jang in an interview with SiegeGG. “But we don’t feel like there’s any sort of superstition -- good or bad -- with Sweden. We view it as a stepping stone [for future success].”
That Sweden Major alone has skyrocketed the stock put into DWG, and Houndbird stated his team feels “grateful” to be considered one of the best in the world. Many have begun to view DWG as legitimate title contenders after they pushed FaZe harder than Ninjas in Pyjamas did in the grand final, and SANDBOX captain Seongsoo "EnvyTaylor" Kim went as far as to back DWG as the likeliest APAC team to win SI 2022.
It’s hard to think of this as the same team that released the majority of its original roster and signed four new players and a coach less than two weeks before the start of the 2021 season.
“From the beginning, we wanted to make it to the Invitational in the shortest possible time,” revealed Houndbird. “At the Mexico Major we reached the quarter-finals, at the Sweden Major we got to the semi-finals… so it feels like we’re taking it step-by-step. This time the goal is to make it into the Grand Final.”
But, as is unsurprising for an APAC team, Houndbird was also keen to point out that other teams in the region (SANDBOX Gaming and CYCLOPS athlete gaming, in particular) also have the potential to win the SI 2022 title.
That statement is a definite possibility in 2022. CAG were touted as the toughest opponents by Mexico Major champions Team oNe, DWG KIA nearly beat the Sweden Major champions, and SANDBOX have constantly been the team for DWG to beat domestically.
“We weren’t exactly underestimated [before, at the August and November Majors], but now our efforts -- our blood, sweat, and tears are finally being recognized,” said Houndbird, of the positives of the higher expectations. “But we feel a lot of pressure [now] because we feel we need to meet the expectations of others.”
The shift in public perception of DWG KIA’s abilities has not been entirely rosy for the Koreas, though. While opposition teams didn’t underestimate DWG at both 2021 Majors, said Houndbird, the expectations for his team have now risen dramatically and his players have begun to feel the pressure.
It’s a new feeling for DWG KIA, who have resoundly been considered the underdogs for the entirety of the 2021 season so far. The closest equivalent to that would be the nerves they felt prior to the Mexico Major, but the Koreans took down reigning world champions Ninjas in Pyjamas in back-to-back games at that event.
It is much the same in this lead-up to the Six Invitational, according to Houndbird.
“The pressure also plays a positive role at the same time,” he said. “It makes us really able to dig deep into the tiny, meticulous details into how the other teams are playing.”
The consideration of DWG as viable title contenders has not only caused an increase in expectations and pressure; it also comes with intense tactical scrutiny. No longer will the Koreans’ plans for attacking executes and defensive setups be a surprise to anyone, which means that whatever they do must be done without errors -- unforced or otherwise.
While Houndbird alluded to secretive plans in the DWG camp, he also revealed that his team had primarily been working on eliminating its weaknesses more than reinventing its strategies.
DWG KIA will head to SI 2022 eager to face Ninjas in Pyjamas once more, to take down the world champions amidst their title defence, and will certainly be shouldering the hopes of an APAC title win. But only the 12 days from Feb. 8 to 20 will tell us if they will be successful.