As we look forward to the Season 9 Finals in Milan, the games are heating up with the results being as close as ever in almost every matchup. Seven games out of the eleven played in NA, EU, and LATAM went to the full twelve round limit, meaning that even with the sixth-pick function disabled, we saw some of the longest play days ever this week.
North America - A New Face on the Scene
The key matchup this week saw DarkZero Esports play Team Reciprocity in a fitting opening to the half-season as we saw the returning player of Brandon "BC" Carr show exactly why he is so renowned in the North American region.
Despite achieving a 1.83KD, however, this wasn’t enough for DarkZero to tip the balance in their favour as it was clear neither team was going to let this matchup slide away from them. In the end, with 3-3 splits in both halves, the game ended in a draw -- a result that most definitely aids DarkZero’s title hopes, but could have been a lot better.
While still sitting in third place as they did at the beginning of the week, a draw against the second placed team of DarkZero Esports now means that Team Reciprocity is stuck behind DZ on “head-to-head round difference”, which is 13-11. Should DZ and Reciprocity end the season drawing on points, as is a real possibility, DarkZero will make it to the Milan Finals due to their one extra round won in the first half of the season.
Following this came a very interesting matchup between Rise Nation and Spacestation Gaming; two teams debuting new changes to their rosters, with both teams likely confident to get a victory. Spacestation’s confidence stemmed from their recent Six Invitational appearance where they made it to the playoffs and were the only team to take a map away from the eventual champions, G2 Esports, while Rise Nation must have been confident that they could repeat their 7-1 win over SSG six weeks ago.
Despite a close matchup, SSG came away victorious -- and by some margin. With over a two KD, Rampy can be largely thanked for this result, however, the more important story likely comes on the other team. Rise’s new pickups of Giuliano "Krazy" Solon and Tomasz "Acid" Adamczyk sit firmly at the bottom of the team’s player statistics with a 0.71 and 0.84 rating between them on operators such as Jager and Nomad, showing that the new entries to the team are possibly struggling to fit into the roster so far.
While the first play day back did throw up a number of new storylines, probably the biggest new change we saw was the introduction of the newest voice to the Pro League -- Rob "Flynn" Flynn -- who stepped in to replace Devin "mzo" Becker while he’s on medical leave for this half of Season 9. This is the first real change to English language casting lineup in over a year since mzo came onboard to replace Sean "BloodBath" Rosenbaum for the Six Invitational 2018, and it seems as if Flynn has fit right in with the team with seemingly positive reception throughout. The staff here at SiegeGG wish mzo the best and hopes he gets well soon!
Latin America - Black Dragons Back to Form?
Next came the LATAM region with two key matchups between the traditional “big-four” teams. FaZe Clan took on Ninjas in Pyjamas, while Team Liquid faced Immortals. Continuing the trend seen in North America came more twelve round games, with both these games going the distance and just one round separating each game’s teams.
In the first matchup between FaZe and NiP, a rematch of the Six Invitational opening game which FaZe had won in dominating fashion, NiP had a real bite to their play, showing that their new signing of Arthur "Ar7hur" Schubert as a coach has certainly suited them well.
In the end, the reliable fragging of Leonardo "Astro" Luis, as well as FaZe’s own new signing of Ronaldo "ion" Osawa, led them to a desperately needed tight victory. While still four points off of the league leaders, this victory has realistically kept them in contention for a spot at the Pro League Finals for what would be their eighth major tournament in a row.
The second standout game came between the only LATAM team to make it out of the group stage at the Six Invitational, Team Liquid, and a roster that looks increasingly to be an “online-only” team in Immortals. While Immortals made no actual changes over the mid-season and the team remains as the only one in Latin America without a coach, Liquid recently dropped their in-game-leader of Guilherme "gohaN" Alf for their own ex-player Paulo "psk1" Augusto, making this top-two clash an even more important game for the roster.
In a very similar situation to that of Reciprocity vs DarkZero, the eventual draw that this game ended in is essentially a net victory for Immortals after they won in their first meet-up, 7-5, meaning that they keep the head-to-head round advantage and remain in the first position. This result was almost single-handedly thanks to the ex-Liquid player of José "Bullet1" Victor, who certainly got some revenge over his old team as he racked up a massive 3.0 KD across the otherwise tight game.
While those were the big-named games, there was also an interesting result between the newly revitalised Black Dragons roster and the fourth-placed ReD DevilS roster. Black Dragons, who had recently gained two new players in Pedro "pzd" Dutra and João "muringa" Deam, and a new coach in Henrique "sSeiiya" Sanchez, took this game by storm as they took down RDS in one of the most dominating games in recent Pro League history.
While ReD DevilS have had a mixed season so far in the Pro League, statistics like these are simply unheard of at the high levels of competitive play -- when even the Montagne-main is achieving a 3.0 KD, it is clear they’re playing on simply another level compared to their opponents.
While we have to wait till their game next week against Team Liquid to see whether this performance can be maintained, this shows the immediate and drastic impact that their new additions have made to the squad which, possibly, could make them LAN contenders if it is repeated next week.
Europe - Secret Back On Top?
The first half of Season 9 was marked by a complete upheaval in the European region -- G2 Esports closer to the relegation zone than to a LAN spot, Team Secret at the very bottom, and Team Empire shooting straight up from the Challenger League to go undefeated in Pro League. Now, as we enter the second half of Season 9, and with surprisingly few roster changes, almost every team either had the challenge to make it back to their “usual” standings or to retain their first half standing.
This dynamic was very clearly shown in the first game where the back to back World Champions tried to make it back to the top of the EU Pro League, while LeStream was keen to preserve its LAN spot. Although many people predicted a G2 victory for obvious reasons, LeStream took an early lead and were incredibly close to taking the match and, despite Alphama’s valiant attempts fell in the end, were forced to a draw on Villa.
While clearly both teams would’ve wanted more out of this game, LeStream will be happy enough with this result as it took two points off of G2, severely hampering their path to the top -- LeStream could now lose a game and remain ahead of G2 no matter how well G2 play.
Elsewhere in Europe, we saw confident victories from Team Secret and Team Empire, as well as an apparently accidental Tachanka pick from karzheka, which went as well as anyone would expect.
Overall this week just tightened the race in Europe, with the league becoming a four-way fight for second, and a three-way fight to escape the relegation zone. This is perhaps the most competition Europe has seen for years, however, like always, there's an almost undefeatable roster in the first place -- except in a stunning change of pace, it is not G2 Esports but instead Team Empire.
Asia-Pacific - Giants Toppled
For the entirety of Year 3, each sub-region had a very clear leader -- Fnatic in ANZ, NORA-Rengo in Japan, Aerowolf in SEA, and mantisFPS in South Korea. However, that might be about to change. While mantisFPS still are standing strong, and were even crowned the Korean national champions this week, the other three teams all failed to get a victory this week, putting their regional leadership in question.
Firstly came Fnatic in their debut game with their newest pickup of Ryan “Speca” Ausden, who was playing in place of Acez. This game started horribly, however they did manage to claw back in both maps to a 6-6 draw against Oddity Esports. This puts Fnatic behind 0RGL3SS within the region, though they are still in an excellent place to qualify for the Season 9 APAC LAN with a seven-point lead over the third-placed team.
Then came NORA-Rengo in their first-ever Pro League game without their star-player of Yudai "Wokka" Ichise, who retired from competitive play after the Six Invitational 2019. This went even worse for NORA as it did for Fnatic as they lost both maps against CYCLOPS athlete gaming in crushing 2-7 defeats.
While they remain in the first position in the region, with CAG, FAV Gaming, and Sengoku Gaming Extasy within two points of them, it is now feasible to think that the team which finished joint-third at the Six Invitational may not make it to the APAC LAN, let alone to Season 9 Finals.
Finally, we had Aerowolf who has been in a steady decline for the last year, and now with their 2-7 and 3-7 defeats against Scrypt E-Sports this week, it is fairly likely they won't make the APAC LAN at all. Both Scrypt and Xavier Esports have looked better than Aerowolf recently in a major upheaval for the region, a pattern we have been seeing across the whole of the APAC region.
And so that’s my roundup of the first week back in the second half of Season 9 as we saw competition heat up and tighten in all four regions. Keep an eye out on SiegeGG for more Pro League updates and results as we get closer to the Season 9 Finals in Milan.