The conclusion of the Jönköping Major last week effectively marked the end of the 2022 season for 16 of the teams, but the qualifiers for the Six Invitational 2023 began with just a week's worth of a break.
APAC North kicked things off in APAC, with 29 teams taking part in the Open Qualifier that started on Dec. 3. Four of 25 teams from the all-BO1 Phase One moved onto join four teams that had already qualified directly to Phase Two thanks to their Japan League and Korean Open results.
Played on Dec. 4, this phase started with four BO1 quarter-finals. The format switched to a BO3 from the semi-finals onwards, with the semi-finals themselves deciding the two teams that will proceed to the combined APAC Closed Qualifier on Jan. 14 and 15.
Here's how things played out.
While Phase One largely featured lesser-known teams from tier-three and below, Talon Esports were perhaps the biggest name there. They were playing alongside Japan League teams ENTER FORCE.36, former REJECT player Kyohei "Take" Koyama's new team, Team Northeption, IGZIST, and Lag Gaming.
In a stroke of misfortune, IGZIST found themselves taking on Northeption in the very first round and were eliminated, while Lag Gaming were disappointing in their play and lost in the second round to DELTA eSports.
Meanwhile, Talon qualified to Phase Two with little difficulty -- only losing four rounds across their three matches played. ENTER FORCE also qualified, seeing off a strong challenge from Japan Open team GyoGun and also from DELTA.
Joining the two were Northeption, who only dropped one round in their second and third game combined, and the unknowns on System, who got a first-round bye.
The four teams from Phase One then joined FAV gaming, PANTHERA, Fnatic, and DWG KIA in the second phase on the next day. Only two matches separated each team from a place at the APAC Closed Qualifier on Jan. 14 and 15.
FAV continued their disappointing 2022 season with a 5-7 loss to ENTER FORCE, while Talon Esports' run was ended by the same margin by their compatriots on DWG KIA. Fnatic, meanwhile, had no trouble beating System 7-2, while Team Northeption were pushed to maximum overtime in their win over PANTHERA.
The semi-finals played simultaneously saw one end barely a few rounds after the first map of the other ended. ENTER FORCE, despite their strong run so far and their upgraded roster with former REJECT player Take, were blown away in 7-1, 7-1 fashion by Northeption.
DWG KIA and Fnatic clashed in the other semi-final, with the first map going the way of Berlin Major attendees DWG KIA in 7-4 fashion. However, the new Stage 3 Fnatic roster continued to show the improvements that had served it well in APAC North and in the Japan League.
A close map two saw them win 7-5 to peg DWG KIA back and push things to the decider, Clubhouse. However, the map that was once a stronghold for the Koreans and was where they beat reigning world champions Ninjas in Pyjamas back-to-back on their debut was no longer so for them. Fnatic took the win in 7-4 fashion, progressing to the Closed Qualifier, and ending DWG KIA's hopes of a second Six Invitational appearance.
Team Northeption then proved the superior Japanese team in the grand-final, winning 2-1 in the grand-final after three overtime maps and securing first seed from the APAC North Open qualifier.
An identical open qualifier will be played for APAC South teams on Dec. 10, with two teams there also proceeding to the combined APAC Closed Qualifier on Jan. 14 and 15.
SANDBOX Gaming and Dire Wolves await the four Open Qualifier teams there, with Dire Wolves undoubtedly the favourites after signing Wu "Reeps96" Weichen in Stage 3 and also having a decent showing at the recent Jönköping Major.
This Closed Qualifier will feature a double-elimination format, with all matches BO3 until the grand-final, which will be a BO5.
Only one team will qualify for SI 2023 from the Closed Qualifier, joining CYCLOPS athlete gaming and Elevate as the third and final APAC team there.
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