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CAG keenly aware of small missteps in 2021, eager to extract maximum returns from SI 2022

Nine months on from a disappointing SI 2021, CAG are keen to use their experience gained to give a performance they can be proud of.

Image via Ubisoft/@kirill_vision

At the Mexico Major, CYCLOPS athlete gaming had made history by forcing the first-ever tiebreaker match in competitive Siege. Eventually knocked out by eventual champions Team oNe, they’d received a ringing endorsement from their player Karl "Alem4o" Zarth, who said CAG had been the toughest team they’d faced.

Then, the dominant and fearsome CAG fell off. The Japanese team only got nine points in Stage 3, with leaders mantisFPS getting 17. They subsequently lost in the first APAC Playoffs round to Elevate, before being eliminated from Sweden Major running by Dire Wolves in the lower bracket.

But now they’re back, having slogged through a gauntlet of Talon Esports, Dire Wolves, and Invictus Gaming in the Six Invitational 2022 APAC Qualifier.

“It’s a mix of emotions,” said CAG analyst Riccardo "Hybrid" Massimino Font. “Obviously, we’re happy that we qualified for SI, but … we wanted to qualify through the [SI] Points system.”

CAG had missed out on the Top 16 in the Global SI Points standings and had thus not directly qualified to SI 2022. Had they gotten one more round in their first match against Team oNe in Mexico, they would have been through -- and they would have denied oNe a title win.

“[That game]... it was like a mental block from the players,” recalled Hybrid, revealing how the players had begun to dwell upon what would happen if they did not get that vital third round. “If you constantly think about that, you will never prove that thought wrong.”

A lot of what went wrong in 2021 for CAG involved razor-thin margins. Not only did they need just one more round against Team oNe to make it to the Mexico Major playoffs, but they would also have qualified for the SI 2021 playoffs had they won either of the two 7-8 losses to Team Empire or BDS Esport. One round in either of the three games, as well as in the 7-8 loss against KIRA Esports in Stage 1, would have also seen them through to SI 2022 on SI Points. 

Hybrid also pointed out that preventing mantisFPS’ Sihun "Nova" Lee from getting a 1v3 in Stage 3 would have also potentially led to overtime, and a direct berth at SI 2022 for CAG. Or the match for seventh against GUTS Gaming in the Stage 3 APAC Playoffs, which was a dead-rubber 7-4 win for GUTS, he continued.

“As a coach, as a person that’s inside the team, you think about all the times that something went wrong for just a second,” said Hybrid, ruing the missed opportunities.

But, cliche as it may sound, failure is a great teacher and Hybrid is counting on those missed opportunities having taught his players important lessons. In the lead-up to SI 2021 in May last year, Hybrid had stated that his team’s goal was to “gain experience”. SI 2021 had only been the team’s second-ever international event, and the nine months since have taught CAG some harsh but valuable lessons.

“I think [now] we need more experience on LAN, but it’s something I am [confident] will happen sooner or later,” he said, explaining his team’s overarching goal for 2022.

CAG is also one of the few teams to have a roster that has been undisturbed for over two years; they last made a change in December 2019. Such a lack of changes is rare in Rainbow Six Siege, but Hybrid believes that eliminating that volatility has helped his team become more effective at implementing improvements.

Despite that, their qualification came off the back of a poor Stage 3, after Hybrid had stated that doubling down on aggression was the key for his team at the Mexico Major. Hybrid revealed that he and Fumiya "Fuji3" Fujisaki felt it necessary to reexamine that decision, but shied away from it due to how long it would take for the players to adapt and no guarantee it would work.

“That’s what you saw also at the Closed Qualifiers,” said Hybrid. “I think we played very similar to our performance in Stage 2.”

The lesson learned from the experience since? In Stage 2, CAG had been wildly confident of winning. They had played with freedom and no fear. This time, they knew that they had to win and took care not to give away freebies to the opposition while still preserving most of their aggression. Nevertheless, Hybrid acknowledges that aggression is a “gamble” and hopes that the results will follow at SI 2022.

APAC teams have been historically disadvantaged internationally, but Hybrid is looking towards changing that perception at SI 2022. If all goes according to plan, it’ll not just be DWG KIA in the running for the title, but also CAG.

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