All predictions and opinions in this article are my own and not necessarily representative of the rest of SiegeGG’s staff.
NORA-Rengo: A History
When APAC was inducted into the Pro League, NORA-Rengo were essentially nobodies. Even in the APAC scene, in Season 6, Father’s Back was far more well-known. Yet, it was NORA-Rengo and the eventual APAC champions eiNs (now FAV Gaming) that represented Japan at the first-ever APAC LAN.
Their first-ever intra-APAC Pro League game was against the old Mindfreak team (now Fnatic), and I’d be lying to you if I said anything except that it was one of the most dreary matches I have watched. With it being the first season of Pro League for the region, both teams played extremely poorly, much to the ridicule of the wider international audience. The eventual APAC champions, eiNs were then brushed aside by Team FONTT (now FaZe Clan) with a 10-2 scoreline in Sao Paulo.
The Land of the Rising Sun was yet to properly have a sunrise over the fields of Rainbow Six.
Mindfreak, for their part, took little time to turn things around. Swapping Punisher for RizRaz, they immediately made a statement by qualifying to the Six Invitational 2018, and then making it to the main stage against all odds in a run that included a victory against Team Liquid. Soon after, they were picked up by Fnatic.
NORA-Rengo, on the other hand, took a while longer to get properly going. Playing with Cloud and NoTimeGG alongside Merieux, JJ (then JeN0bq), and Wokka (then Vodkq), they were swept aside by Team CryptiK (now Aerowolf) in a 2-10 loss at the Invitational Qualifier LAN. It was in Season 7, though, where they finally woke from their slumber.
Swapping NoTimeGG for CrazyPapiyoN, their new captain, the Japanese took their time warming up at the Season 7 APAC LAN. Dropping a map to Southeast Asian team Scrypt E-Sports, and then getting crushed by Fnatic in the seeding match, it was clear that they had potential, but it needed a lot of refinement.
This refinement came in Atlantic City, the host city for the Season 7 Pro League Finals. Going up against the incredibly consistent NA titans of Rogue, NORA-Rengo (NR) were the definite underdogs. While the APAC side still lost, the manner in which it happened had put them firmly on the map. An ace in the second round from Wokka, a 5-1 demolishing on the map NR had won, and tight 4-6 overtime losses on maps one and three meant that this side was no longer to be underestimated or trifled with.
With the team now continuously on the hunt to improve, they had identified Cloud as their weakest link, and thus shifted him to a substitute position while bringing in eiNs’ captain, ShiN, on loan until after the Six Major Paris. Unfortunately for them, their performance at the event was -- by their own standards -- less than stellar. Despite beating the later-relegated Obey Alliance in the opening match, they fell to the North Americans in their second meeting and failed to clear the group stages.
Speaking to SiegeGG prior to the Season 8 APAC LAN, Wokka had shed some light on their issues when they had lost to the also now-relegated Team Vitality and Obey.
We are very strong at executing pre-planned strategies, but in the middle of the game we struggle with unexpected things happening. I think that is why we lost.
Moving onto the second-half of Season 8, though, internal differences threatened to break this upward momentum that NORA-Rengo had. CrazyPapiyoN, their captain and a man with incredible impact-frag ability left. ShiN’s loan had also ended, and JJ was apparently feeling jaded and had unofficially left as well. JJ was then brought back until the end of the season, and joining him would be Papilia from Sengoku Gaming (who had been on loan to eiNs for the Six Invitational 2018), and ReyCyil from Cyclops Athlete Gaming.
No doubt, there were questions about how this new-look NORA-Rengo would perform, but these doubts were put to bed very quickly. At the Season 8 APAC LAN, NR dropped nary a map in their quest to go to Rio de Janeiro, taking apart New Life and Aerowolf to qualify before crushing Fnatic in the seeding match. And this time, when they went up against Rogue in a rematch from the Season 7 Quarter-Final game, they were ready.
This time, the 2-1 scoreline was in their favour, and they made history to become the first APAC team to reach the Semi-Finals of any international LAN. While they had a decent shot at making the Grand Final, and started off decently enough against FaZe Clan despite a 4-6 loss on the first map, the home-team advantage was far too strong for even the Samurai to overcome.
Montréal Awaits: Coming to the Six Invitational 2019
Bringing their talent over from the Land of the Rising Sun to the Land of the Maple Leaf for the first time, NORA-Rengo will be feeling equal parts nervous and confident. The team let JJ take a step back as he had requested after the Six Major Paris, and brought in Ramu from the freshly promoted Father's Back -- a player many Japanese fans have described as better than Merieux, and even Wokka.
The integration of a new player is always a risk, but as far as the Japanese Pro League is concerned, Ramu seems to have fit into the team like a glove. So far, the team has won seven maps and drawn one, with no losses -- although their toughest game against Sengoku Gaming Extasy will be on the final play day of the season.
Team captain Wokka acknowledged this, and revealed -- perhaps worryingly -- that they are still “in the middle of figuring out [the team roles]”. Ramu’s history has been predominantly on frag-heavy operators, but with those roles occupied by Wokka and Merieux, the new man has been playing support operators. However, there is no question about his aim or gunplay, and that is something I am sure he will be more than happy to showcase at the Invitational.
Interestingly enough, Wokka also shared that “the players chose Ramu” as the best replacement for JJ, possibly indicating a willingness to move around with their roles to accommodate another fearsome player in their lineup.
At this year’s Invitational, NORA-Rengo has a tough group, but so does every team present. Put in Group D with Evil Geniuses (EG), PENTA, and LeStream Esports (LSE) for company, their road to the main stage will not be easy.
The team will kick their campaign off against the Europeans of PENTA, who will come to Montréal after a bootcamp, and fresh off a fairly successful first half of Season 9 which saw them finish third with 11 points. PENTA this season did suffer two losses, against fellow Group D team LSE and Group B side Team Empire, but they also drew against the defending champions G2 Esports. A draw against ENCE eSports, though, was less than an ideal result for them and NORA-Rengo will be hoping to identify weaknesses in their first opponents through those matches.
NORA-Rengo in the season so far have not particularly shied away from playing any of the seven maps, but are yet to feature on either Consulate or Clubhouse. With the Japanese Pro League broadcast not showing bans, though, the lack of any Consulate or Clubhouse play could be either due to teams happening to ban it against them, NORA-Rengo not feeling up to snuff on those maps, or (more likely) NORA-Rengo wanting to hide their strategies on it -- in which case they would be reluctant to confirm or deny the latter two scenarios.
On the other hand, in the Pro League season so far PENTA has played and won on Bank and Border, won and lost on Coastline, lost on Clubhouse, and drawn twice on Oregon. Villa and Consulate are the two maps we are yet to see them play, and it becomes very interesting when noticing the bans. PENTA banned Consulate in all six out of the seven games played (the exception was when the map was Team Secret’s default ban), and banned Villa a total of three times as well. Oregon and Border were banned twice, with Coastline and Clubhouse once, and Bank was never banned.
It should be noted, though, that in DreamHack Winter, PENTA played on Consulate as the deciding map against Spacestation Gaming that saw them get to the Grand Final and book their ticket to the Invitational itself. What's more, it was on Consulate, under the old rules, where the team had beaten G2 Esports 6-4 in the tail-end of Season 8.
With the way things are shaping up, it is highly likely that Bank will be one of the maps played. Two wins for NORA-Rengo there mean they are definitely comfortable, and PENTA having never banned it this season means the Europeans are as well. Consulate might be another map played, given that neither team has played on it yet, although it might be still banned if it was a comfort ban for either or both teams (i.e. the team is not confident on the map).
As far as the decider goes, there is a slight edge in Villa’s chances, though Coastline will decidedly be off the board after NR suffered their only draw on the map (as seen in the VOD above, against Father's Back) and PENTA lost one of their two games there. Oregon might be banned as well, since PENTA drew against ENCE eSports and G2 Esports on that map, and it is possible Clubhouse will not make the cut either with NR yet to play there, and PENTA having lost there to LSE -- a team that shares a great many similarities to NORA-Rengo. Border, though, is hard to call, and so I feel that three out of Bank, Consulate, Villa, and Border will be the picks for this Group D match.
With NR’s definite firepower advantage over PENTA, and PENTA having suffered losses to the two teams that most play the aggressive, frag-heavy QEC-meta to the fullest (Team Empire and LSE), the advantage is definitely with the Japanese here, and I think they will be the victors.
Of course, this is not so clear cut, especially given the fact that APAC’s unique geographical location makes it hard to play scrims (practice games) internationally. This is, of course, not mentioning that of all the four regions, APAC is -- at least right now -- the least competitive. The five-season delay for APAC to get the Pro League did not help either and Wokka made it clear that he thinks “the difference in experience is huge”. Despite that, I think it is more than reasonable that events play out as I have described especially given past trends and recent history.
While LAN games are tough to call, it is highly likely that the next opponents NORA-Rengo face will be Evil Geniuses, who are favourites to beat LeStream. While EG is, on paper, a stronger team than NR, one does not have to go far back to see that a hyper-aggressive ‘brainless’ playstyle was what sank them in the Season 8 Quarter-Final against a Fnatic that were playing with their coach instead of their captain. It is unlikely, though, that EG has not learnt from this, and with their traditional perception of being the second-best in the world, they are probably going to be the victors regardless of them maps.
Events playing out as such would thus put NORA-Rengo in a do-or-die situation against either PENTA or LeStream. Going by the Pro League results, where PENTA were demolished 1-7 by LSE, it is likely that NR will be facing the latter. This, then will be a fascinating series. Two teams with greatly similar playstyles, and incredible firepower going up against each other -- a test that NR has already failed once in Season 8 against FaZe Clan.
With Ramu, though, and the way NORA-Rengo has been improving every half-season, it is unlikely that they fail a second time. Very interestingly, it is against Team Empire that LSE has been unable to avoid losses -- both in the Invitational Qualifiers, and in the Pro League. As far as maps go, as well, they have only had a perfect record (1 out of 1) on Bank, making it a likely map to be played again.
LSE, though, played both Consulate and Clubhouse thrice -- losing once on the former, and losing once and drawing once on the latter.
However, the match up gets really interesting when looking at how LSE has been banning maps thus far. Leading the list are Bank and Oregon, both banned six times, followed by Border thrice, Clubhouse twice, and Coastline once. Neither Consulate nor Villa have been banned by them. With one of LSE’s wins being on Bank this season, and a consistent attempt to actively play Consulate, these two maps are possibly going to part of the three in this matchup.
Who will win, though? My money is still on NORA-Rengo. The play styles of NORA-Rengo and LeStream might be similar, but NR is closer to the strength of Team Empire than LSE is. Given that LSE has a 0-3 record against Empire, I’m picking the Japanese to win this game as well and make it to the Quarter-Finals on the main stage.
Once that happens, though, it really is anybody’s game. A lot depends on which teams join NORA-Rengo on their side of the bracket, and in which sequence they may end up facing the Japanese.
You could say that on a broader scale the above paragraph can apply to all of NORA-Rengo’s games, and all of the games at the Invitational itself... and to be frank you’d be right. You could make such sort of an argument for many other teams, and you’d be right -- it is all a matter of opinion, after all. But I am of the opinion that NORA-Rengo can make it out of the groups and probably even further than that, and that’s what I am sticking with. It is high time that Montréal got a proper taste of the power of the players from the Land of the Rising Sun.
Catch all the Six Invitational 2019 action from Montréal, Canada from the 11th to the 18th of February. The games start every day from 10:10 AM GMT-5 onwards at twitch.tv/Rainbow6 and twitch.tv/Rainbow6Bravo, with NORA-Rengo’s game against PENTA scheduled for 6:30 PM GMT-5 on the first day.