Image: Ubisoft/Kirill Bashkirov
It’s a new look for SANDBOX Gaming coming into this Major, but the Koreans look better than ever.
They were greatly disappointed in Stage 1, when a last-minute instruction from ESL forced them to use a VPN left them in severely unfamiliar territory against a very potent Chiefs ESC. They had spent much of the stage priming for Lee "Nova" Si-hun’s move to a coaching role and Lee "GoodBoy" Ji-heon’s debut, but only got one BO1 in APAC North and one BO3 in the APAC Playoffs.
Despite some of the circumstances being out of their control, SANDBOX knew that they had effectively played the entire stage at partial strength. Fortunately, T1 chose that moment to leave the scene and its team was left without contracts.
While DWG KIA got one player, SANDBOX effectively won the transfer window with the signings of Junhyuk "FanXy" Lim as a coach and Hyeonjin "Arukaze" Hwang, replacing Hyojun "Harp3rXD" Lee.
“We couldn’t qualify for the Major, the Charlotte Major, so we put a lot of effort into solving the in-game communication problem,” said Nova, through his team manager’s translation, in an interview with SiegeGG. “It didn’t work out well, so we were thinking of replacing members. … The timing was right, as the T1 was disbanded.”
Both new signings were signed for specific purposes; Arukaze to help improve the level of communication within the team and FanXy to help Nova in his new role as a coach, given the former T1 and DWG KIA coach’s experience. Sure enough, the changes seemed to work and SANDBOX qualified for the Berlin Major, even beating DWG along the way.
The VPN incident in the Stage 1 APAC Playoffs also sparked a change that was decried by many pros; a removal of the Playoffs itself for Stage 2. The stakes for each of the seven matches in the stage were also raised, as dropped points could be costly -- and were for CAG.
Arukaze and GoodBoy, however, revealed that he found the new format better for himself.
“The new tournament rules made me feel less burdened,” explained Arukaze, also speaking through the translation. “In the case of playoffs, there were a lot of things to analyse.”
But it wasn’t all as smooth sailing, with SANDBOX struggling past CAG in 8-7 fashion and even losing 5-7 to sixth-placed Talon Esports on the penultimate APAC North play day.
Furthermore, the last time SANDBOX went to an international event -- albeit with just three-fifths of this new playing roster -- they crashed out without much impact. At SI 2022, they were bottom of their group, though they got to the quarter-finals at the preceding Sweden Major.
“The absence of a coach was critical,” revealed Nova, “So it was very difficult for us to share the feedback and analyse with the other players, so the last Invitational was very difficult.”
As such, it’s hard to discount SANDBOX much -- if at all. Communication has been a key facet that the Koreans have been working on since the end of Stage 1 and made two decisive moves to address it before it was too late, before Stage 2 even began.
“The key point is the communication,” ended Arukaze. “GoodBoy and I are going to the international competition for the first time, but we are trying to [combine] the communication (we bring to the table) with the experience of the rest of the members.”
Catch SANDBOX Gaming on the international stage again at the Berlin Major, which will run from Aug. 15 to 21, and read up on everything you need to know about the event.